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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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  Chapter 12
  
  January
  
  Harry found himself walking to the pitch on the first cold Sunday in January. He'd received a note from Harris telling him they would be testing the brooms. He was told to report to the pitch at ten, in his quidditch uniform. He was also told he wouldn't need his broom.
  
  So he'd gone about his normal routine for a Sunday morning before going to the locker room to change. He stretched a little bit before walking to the pitch, and immediately regretted being early.
  
  Aside from Lewis Harris, there were two other sponsors. Harry recognized the logos on their robes. Next to the sponsors, however, were reporters and cameramen. A lot of them. More than Harry could quickly count.
  
  He debated walking back to the locker room and acting like he had forgotten something, but that thought didn't last long in his head.
  
  "Harry!" Lewis yelled. Harry cursed himself for being punctual.
  
  "Hello," he said as he walked toward the sponsors.
  
  "Good morning!" Lewis responded, clasping him on the back as if they were old friends. Harry couldn't help but shrug away from the touch.
  
  "Yea, you too," he said quietly.
  
  "I hope you don't mind, Harry, but we've decided to make this public." Harris sounded a tad too excited. Harry didn't really care if there was an audience, though.
  
  "That's fine," he said. He glanced around and saw that some students did appear to be filtering down onto the pitch. He noticed someone dressed in quidditch official garb was examining three brooms near the reporters. He could tell one of the brooms was the same type as his Lotus, so he could only assume the other two were the Renault and Mercedes.
  
  "Good! Now I'm sure you wouldn't mind answering a few questions before we start?"
  
  "I guess not," Harry said. Admittedly, he wasn't sure if he really had a choice in the matter. Harris then moved him over to face the reporters. He hoped the questions would be limited to quidditch and flying. It wasn't so bad when he was asked about that after the first task.
  
  "Harry! Are you prepared for the second task?" one asked immediately.
  
  "Not really," Harry said. "I'm working on it though. I still have nearly two months," he responded honestly. So much for the questions being limited to flying.
  
  "So not worried about not being prepared?" Another asked.
  
  "No. I'll come up with something," he responded. The reporters looked a bit surprised. Harry shrugged as he finished speaking. As he thought about it more, he wasn't sure if he would have honestly answered that question had he had a plan formed, simply to not be questioned on what the plan could be. Of course, it hadn't really occurred to him to lie to reporters before. He'd been nothing but honest in the past.
  
  "They say you had quite the ball. In fact, it is rumored that Rita Skeeter is writing an article about your multiple partners during the dance," one of the reporters said. Harry blinked and looked at the middle-aged witch who awaited his response.
  
  "Was that a question?" he asked. The reporter flushed, and some of the others chuckled quietly. He hadn't meant to sound like an ass, he just didn't know how to answer the statement.
  
  "How do you feel about that?" The reporter asked snottily. Harry was annoyed, but he figured he had it coming.
  
  "I don't really have an opinion. I don't read anything she writes," he admitted. Of course, he didn't read anything any of them wrote. But he figured it would be bad form to admit that.
  
  "No other comments?" the witch asked. Harry shrugged.
  
  "Just one. Isn't it a tad low to write an article about someone and not even ask them for an interview or a quote?" Harry asked. The other reporters laughed, one of them shouted something that sounded like agreement. The reporter blushed furiously and Harry simply looked around the group again.
  
  "Harry!" a young male reporter shouted. "Are you looking forward to flying with Krum again?"
  
  "Yea, I am," Harry said. "Viktor is amazing on a broom. I hope I can learn something from watching."
  
  "Not worried that this test could show one broom to be completely superior to the others?" a different reporter asked. Harry hadn't thought about that, so it took him a moment to formulate a response.
  
  "Not really," he said. "I assume the brooms were tested before we got them. At the very least we've all played a match so far and I don't think any of the brooms seemed superior to the others."
  
  "So you're not going to favor the Lotus?" another reporter asked.
  
  "I'm just going to fly whatever they tell me when they tell me. I'll try my best on each broom," Harry admitted. The answer seemed to appease the reporters. It helped that they all noticed Krum and Sinclair were approaching the pitch, each wearing their school quidditch uniforms.
  
  The reporters turned their attention to the new pair. Harry felt momentarily disappointed about not being the center of attention. But then he realized that he hadn't wanted to talk to the reporters, so he felt considerably more relieved.
  
  He meandered over to where the official was still checking over the brooms. He watched the official for a moment, before looking over the brooms himself.
  
  At just a quick glance the Lotus appeared to be the middle of the three. The Renault was the most compact of the brooms. Harry assumed it probably handled the best. The Mercedes appeared to be the fastest, at least just judging by how it was built.
  
  "Enough," Harry heard Krum say. Apparently Viktor had grown tired of the questions. "We came to fly. Let us fly."
  
  "I couldn't have said it better," Sophie said from next to him. She'd been asked the fewest questions of the three. Harry couldn't help but notice her English was impeccable, although she had an odd accent. Krum gave her a brief smile.
  
  "Alright, alright. Reporters please clear over to the sidelines," Harris said. The reporters obeyed, grumbling as they did. "Okay, now you three. We're going to start you on your own brooms and switch off for each task. We're going to start with a standard sprint. Length of the pitch against each other. We'll flip brooms and go back, flip again and do one final run. You all have that?"
  
  "Sounds simple enough," Harry said. The other seekers agreed.
  
  A few moments later Harry found himself floating between Viktor and Sophie, waiting for the official to drop his arm, the signal for them to start. His arm fell and the three seekers sped down the pitch as quickly as they could. Krum won, followed by Harry and Sophie.
  
  They switched brooms quickly and raced back on the official's signal. Krum won again, on the Lotus, followed by Sophie then Harry on the Renault. They flipped again and raced one last time. Harry won on the Mercedes, followed closely by both Sophie and Viktor.
  
  They followed that drill with agility and quickness drills. They flew back and forth the short end of the pitch, as tightly as they could. They sponsors had set up markers for each turn they had to make.
  
  Krum set the fastest time again, but this time on the Renault. Harry was second, also on the Renault, and Krum put in the third fastest on the Lotus. The Mercedes flopped at that drill. Each of the seekers barely finished on the broom.
  
  After they focused on a variety of drills that involved quickly changing direction and keeping speed, as well as staying on a specific line. The Renault and Lotus were rather evenly matched there, but again the Mercedes lagged a little bit behind on the reaction time. It was the only set of drills where Harry and Sophie matched Viktor. In fact, murmurs could be heard from the crowd that for some of these drills the young Harry Potter actually out flew the Bulgarian star.
  
  Finally, they drilled feints and dives. The Mercedes and Lotus topped the drills there, again with Krum far outshining the competition. The highlight being a superbly executed Wrongski Feint.
  
  "Alright everyone!" Harris's magically enhanced voice echoed through the stadium. Harry looked around to see that a rather large crowd had gathered in the stands on the pitch. "While we prepare for our last event we have decided to offer a lunch break!" The Lotus sponsor made a sweeping gesture as he finished talking. Several large tables appeared on the pitch, with piles of food on each.
  
  Harry watched from above as students left their seats and made their way onto the pitch. The excited conversations melded into one loud rumble below him. He noticed Sophie flew off toward some Beauxbaton's students, and Viktor landed near some Durmstrang ones. Harry searched for a familiar face below him.
  
  His eyes first found Roger and Lilly, who looked to be arguing over something. He still wasn't sure if Roger really knew what happened to end his night at the ball. But no one had said anything so he assumed the captain didn't. Of course, that didn't mean he felt like approaching him immediately.
  
  He looked for Fleur next, but didn't see her so he continued to look for someone he knew.
  
  He saw Ron and Hermione. Hermione looked annoyed and was attempting to argue something with Ron, who didn't appear to be paying attention. He still looked a bit surly. Harry knew he was upset about the Ball, but it wasn't his or Hermione's fault that he'd done nothing but brood during the entire thing.
  
  Either way, he turned the lotus, which he tested feints last with, and began to descend toward his friends. But then he saw something out of the corner of his eye. It appeared that Miss Greengrass swatted Mr. Malfoy. This warranted further investigation.
  
  He turned the broom toward the group of Slytherins who were approaching one of the tables.
  
  "Hello Daphne," he said, landing his broom next to them.
  
  "Harry," Daphne smiled.
  
  "Go away, Potter," Draco interrupted.
  
  "Hello, Draco," Harry said. "I see you're still wearing your C. You know, most people would only wear that on their uniform. I do hope you have better luck in the later rounds."
  
  "Shut up, Potter. You're strutting around with that A emblazoned on your chest."
  
  "Only because they required I wear my uniform. I don't see you complaining about Krum's C."
  
  "Boys!" Daphne exclaimed. "Enough bickering, food time. Why did you come over here?"
  
  "I saw you slap Malfoy. It amused me so I decided to see what that was about," he said as they grabbed some sandwiches from the table. Harry was hungry, so he picked up a ham and turkey sandwich.
  
  "Oh. He wouldn't shut up about Viktor and how they were pen pals. I got annoyed so I hit him." Daphne explained as she picked up a sandwich as well.
  
  "Sounds like a good reason," Harry laughed.
  
  "Go away, Potter. None of us give a damn what you think," Draco said.
  
  "Testy, Draco? Fine, I'll leave," he turned to go. But then he got an idea. "Care to join me, Daphne?" The Slytherin looked at him for a moment.
  
  "Where are you going?" she asked. Her gaze shifted over toward Ron and Hermione. Harry could tell that she didn't consider that an upgrade from Draco and his cronies.
  
  "I was probably just going to fly around a bit," Harry said, hoping Daphne would find that a better option. He got back on the broom and looked at her.
  
  "Okay." She got on to the broom as well, pressing herself against him. Draco said something as he took off, but Harry didn't fully make it out. He took her up about fifty feet before carefully turning around on the broom to face her, before starting on one of his sandwiches.
  
  "So what brought you out here today?" he feebly attempted to start a conversation.
  
  "Boredom mostly," she admitted.
  
  "Ouch. Are we at least entertaining?"
  
  "Very. Although Draco is seething. He just can't understand why you of all people gets the honor of flying around with Krum," Daphne said.
  
  "Oh, and what did you tell him?" He started on his second sandwich.
  
  "That maybe if he practiced, like at all, he'd have a shot."
  
  "Bet he liked that."
  
  "Oh yes. He told me I was lucky I was pretty because I clearly just didn't get it."
  
  "Ouch."
  
  "And that would be why I slapped him," she said, daintily finishing her lunch.
  
  "Well he does have a point. You are lucky you're pretty," Harry teased.
  
  "I'll hit you too, Potter," She responded, narrowing her eyes. But she softened when she saw he was smiling.
  
  "Why do you still hang around with him?" Harry couldn't help but ask.
  
  "I don't, usually," she admitted. "Since Tracey started dating Titus I usually hang around with them. Malfoy just likes to be everywhere."
  
  "I see."
  
  "It gets worse as he gets older. The elder students weren't afraid of putting him in his place when he got too annoying. Now they're starting to let him do just about anything he likes."
  
  "That does sound a bit annoying," Harry admitted. Daphne just shrugged.
  
  "What do you think they're going to make you do for the last bit?" She asked. Harry could tell she was simply changing the subject.
  
  "No idea. I overheard the sponsors discussing a race, though. So, I imagine something like that. It does sort of look like they're designing a track up there." Harry said.
  
  "Hmm. I guess you're right," she said. "Fly around a bit. I'm getting sick of seeing Draco staring up at me."
  
  "Alright," Harry said, shifting himself back onto the broom properly. Daphne leaned against his back as he started to simply fly around the pitch. He lazily weaved between the hoops at one end before cruising back down toward the other.
  
  "Oh come on at least try something I couldn't do myself," she commanded. Harry laughed and pulled the broom into a steep climb. Daphne cried out and grabbed onto him.
  
  "So something like this?" He turned quickly and pushed the broom straight toward the ground. Daphne grabbed onto him and held on rather too tightly. She didn't scream though, which Harry had expected. He pulled out of the dive a few inches above the lake and looked over his shoulder to see Daphne carefully opening her eyes.
  
  "Okay, you're insane," she said.
  
  "You wanted something you couldn't do," Harry responded with a quick laugh. "I'd have pulled up even later if it was just me." He pulled the broom up a bit and slowly flew back toward the pitch.
  
  "Yes, but something that doesn't result in death would also be appreciated," Daphne said coldly.
  
  "Oh come on. That move wasn't even that dangerous. And if you notice, we're both still alive. So it certainly didn't result in death." Harry laughed.
  
  "You really are insane," She teased.
  
  "I'll take that as a compliment."
  
  "It was intended as such," she said dryly.
  
  "Anything else you want me to do?" he asked.
  
  "No. Nothing really." They were silent for a few moments. Harry flew in a circle around the lake, and eventually back toward the pitch.
  
  "Looks like they may want me back now," he said, and indeed the sponsors did seem to have finished organizing the final event.
  
  "Yes it does," Daphne said as they flew back to the pitch. She gazed down at the ground for a few minutes before adding. "Oh, and don't look now, but the French witch looks jealous." Naturally, Harry looked immediately. Daphne wacked him on the shoulder as soon as she did. "I said don't look!"
  
  Fleur was staring up at them, but then again, so were quite a few people on the pitch. She did; however, wear a rather interesting expression. She half smiled in a way that indicated she wanted to be a lot happier than she was. Her eyes also focused on Daphne, rather than Harry. Harry couldn't help but think that she may have been wonder if she could have been the one on the broom. When she realized that Harry was watching her, she looked away and quickly retreated toward the Beauxbaton's contingent.
  
  "I guess she is. I thought I wasn't supposed to mention other girls around you."
  
  "You're not. But it's okay when I bring it up. And having a Veela jealous of me is pretty awesome. If I do say so myself," Daphne said. Harry again didn't have the heart to mention that during the ball it had been irrelevant who brought it up.
  
  "If you insist," he laughed, landing the broom near the group of Slytherins he originally stole her from. She slid off of the broom and moved toward her friends.
  
  "Thanks Harry," she said, gazing over her shoulder at him. "Good luck in the last event."
  
  "You're welcome. Thank you," he responded, shooting back off into the sky. He floated next to Krum and Sinclair as the main three sponsors flew out to meet them.
  
  "Alright!" Harris yelled. "Our final event will be a race! We'll give you each five laps alone at our target track. And after that we'll do a full out race. We're going to shoot for twenty-five laps. We'll put you on your own brooms here, simply because they should have different strengths and prosper at different times on the track.
  
  "We've based the track off of a famous circuit that has long been a fan favorite. It's done to scale with your broom speeds, which should give you comparable lap times.
  
  "Miss Sinclair will be given the track first, followed by Mr. Potter, and then Mr. Krum. So, whenever you are ready, Miss," Harris said. Sophie nodded and flew up further above the pitch to where the track was magically marked out into the sky.
  
  The French seeker waited for the signal from Harris before speeding off across the track. Harry and Viktor watched her to for a few moments, both eyeing the sharp turns on the circuit above them. After she completed her first lap, 1:21:949, and her second lap 1:18:302, Harry spoke to Viktor.
  
  "So can I ask you one thing?" He asked, not sure if he should call him.
  
  "Keep tight in corners, outside line in, inside line out," Viktor said.
  
  "Uhm. Thanks, but that's not what I was going to ask," Harry said. Not quite understanding fully what Viktor meant with that, but he assumed it would help on the track.
  
  "What then?"
  
  "You know that pen pal assignment we had over the summer? Well, did you really write to Draco Malfoy?" Harry asked. He'd wondered about that ever since Draco had bragged.
  
  "I do not know," Viktor said. "Which one is he?"
  
  "Blonde one, about my height," Harry said.
  
  "Ah, poor duelist. Talks too much."
  
  "Uhm yea. So was he your pen pal during the summer? He brags about it."
  
  "No idea," Krum said. "Agent wrote letters for me during the season." Harry looked at him as Sophie finished her last lap. He didn't have time to respond before Harris's voice rang through the stadium again.
  
  "And that makes Miss Sinclair's fastest time at 1:17:102. Now, Mr. Potter, please approach the track!" Harry obliged, flying up to where Sophie returned from.
  
  He waited for the signal to go from Harris. When the sponsor's arm finally dropped he shot off through the course. He shot forward into a quick right followed by a quick left. It only took to the first turn to understand what Viktor's words had meant. He came up on it wrong and lost a lot of time righting himself into the third turn. A long looping right hander that led into a quick straight ending with a sharp right to left chicane.
  
  Followed by another quick chicane into hard, slow left hander that let out into a quick right. He found himself on a long stretch again. He could almost get the Lotus up to top speed before a quick right-left chicane that he almost felt like he slid through. After that there was another long stretch that slowly curved to the right.
  
  Unfortunately, he lulled himself a bit as he pushed the broom and he completely missed the braking zone on the upcoming right-handed hairpin. He shot wide but recovered enough to speed off down the final long stretch.
  
  He felt as if he was on that straight forever. At least until a final, very tight, right-left chicane. He knew Harris announced the lap time as he sped back past the starting point, but he couldn't hear it. He knew he could be faster than the first lap, so he focused on that.
  
  "And with that!" He heard Harris yell as he finished his fifth lap and pulled out of the course. "Young Mister Potter's fastest time is a very impressive 1:15:682. He dropped two seconds off of his previous lap. Mr. Krum is going to be hard pressed to top that!" Harry couldn't help but grin as he heard that. He flew back toward Sophie as Krum flew toward the track.
  
  His record didn't last long though. Krum beat it on his third lap, then topped it again on his fourth, and shattered it on his fifth.
  
  "Just wow! Ladies and Gentleman, Viktor Krum puts in a 1:14:120. It's no wonder he's the professional!" Harry just shook his head in awe. He watched the Durmstrang seeker fly back around to the starting line. He and Sophie joined him, although they both knew they didn't particularly stand a chance in the actual race.
  
  An hour later he found himself working his way back to the locker room to change out of his uniform. Krum had won the race, but Harry had made it closer than most people expected. All in all, it had been a rather fun day.
  
  Most of the crowd was dispersing back to the school, carriage or ship. Very few actually noticed Harry as he walked toward the locker room at the end of the pitch. He ducked quietly into the locker room. He'd intended simply to change, but decided on a quick shower as well. It wasn't until halfway through the shower that he remembered Fleur's clue about the egg. Of course, the egg was locked in his trunk in his bedroom. He made a mental note to check that the next time he cleaned himself.
  
  He stepped out of the shower, toweled off, and wandered back into the main part of the locker room to change back into his school uniform. He left fully intending to simply head up to the common room and spend the day simply hanging out with his friends.
  
  He let out a deep contented sigh as he stepped into the brisk air. He turned toward the castle when he heard her soft, accented voice.
  
  "'Arry," she said quietly.
  
  "Yes Fleur?" he asked.
  
  "You flew well today. I wanted to congratulate you on zat," she said carefully. Harry couldn't help but smile a little bit. But he kept his distance. He hadn't spoken to her since the ball and he wasn't sure what to expect. He frantically tried to remember what Daphne had advised, but his mind was simply drawn back to a mulligan.
  
  "Thank you, Fleur. So the show was enjoyable?"
  
  "Oh yes. I believe zat ze racing was lost on most of ze spectators. But ze broom drills were entertaining," she spoke carefully as well. Harry felt tense and he wasn't really sure why. Fleur looked concerned too.
  
  "Well that's good," Harry admitted. "It was rather fun. And hey, at least lunch was provided, right?"
  
  "You know my preference on lunch, 'Arry. While it was a nice gesture, I will still be eating a larger dinner in ze carriage tonight."
  
  "I guess. That risotto would have been delicious this afternoon."
  
  "Yes, but challenging to eat while you fly around."
  
  "Probably. But regardless. It would still be delicious."
  
  "You 'ave no argument from me," she said. Harry noticed she was toying with her wand, but he didn't mention it. "But I saw you were flying with zat girl."
  
  "Daphne? Yea, it was fun."
  
  "I doubt zat," she laughed.
  
  "Why is that?"
  
  "Flying like zat is not fun. It is scary," Fleur admitted with a cute nod. Almost as if she thought that the nod settled everything.
  
  "You said you liked flying in one of your letters," Harry responded.
  
  "I was being diplomatic. It is okay when used as a means for transportation. But when it is done like you, it is simply scary. And I was merely being diplomatic in ze letter," she scoffed.
  
  "I bet I could get you to like it," Harry challenged.
  
  "Zat is doubtful. Lilly could not make me enjoy it." She smiled rather politely.
  
  "Oh. Maybe. But I'm a better flyer, and probably more fun to sit with on a broom."
  
  "I would not be so sure of yourself, 'Arry," Fleur teased.
  
  "Oh, something I should know?" Harry asked.
  
  "Non," Fleur said quickly. "'Ave you followed my advice on ze egg?"
  
  "Not yet," Harry admitted sheepishly. "I've been a tad busy. I was going to sit down with it tonight or tomorrow and attempt to work it out."
  
  "You should. It sounds difficult," Fleur said.
  
  "Well you could always just tell me. You know, I just flat out told you for the first task," he teased. She glared at him for a moment.
  
  "Yes, but I already knew ze first task," Fleur countered.
  
  "That's so just a technicality," Harry argued. "It was the thought that counted."
  
  "Maybe. But I want to beat you, 'Arry Potter, so I will not simply just give you information. No matter 'ow nice it was zat you did for me," Fleur said.
  
  "That is certainly not fair," Harry said with a quiet laugh.
  
  "It is not. But I did say I wanted to win."
  
  "So I'm a threat?"
  
  "Of course. You are tied for ze lead."
  
  "Guess I'm not too little for the tournament then?" Harry teased. Fleur flushed a deep red.
  
  "I was concerned for your safety!" she argued.
  
  "But not concerned enough to simply tell me what the task it?" He continued. She opened her mouth to comment, but quickly closed it, pressing her lips tightly together. She said something in French that sounded rather annoyed.
  
  "Are you simply arguing to annoy me now?" she asked.
  
  "Well that, and to not have to figure out the clue myself," Harry joked.
  
  "Zat is not going to work, 'Arry." She crossed her arms and looked at him. She had a curious expression on her face. Almost like she couldn't quite finger why Harry was even bothering to keep trying.
  
  "Well that's a shame. I take it people don't argue with you much?" He asked.
  
  "It depends on ze topic. Men argue with me about what zey think I want all ze time." She said coldly. Harry was going to point out that she didn't quite answer his question, but a stray thought slipped out of his lips instead.
  
  "Well then what do you want, Fleur?" he asked, staring into her blue eyes. She tilted her head to the side.
  
  "And why would you be interested in zat?" she asked. Harry smiled and decided to stall for time.
  
  "Fancy a walk around the lake with me, Fleur?" he asked, gesturing to his side. She crossed her arms.
  
  "You did not answer my question," she replied.
  
  "Oh, I'll get to that. But since you won't answer my question about the task, I may as well wait a minute before answering yours. Now, walk with me?" he asked again.
  
  "You are just doing zis to make me go with you," she accused, keeping her voice rather calm and level. Harry laughed.
  
  "Hardly, Fleur. I have nothing else to do today and have been given the opportunity to walk with a friend. That is what I wish to do."
  
  "Regardless, you are being intentionally frustrating." She scoffed at him, keeping her arms crossed across her chest and staring directly at him.
  
  "So are you," Harry said. He turned and started to walk slowly near the edge of the lake. He didn't bother to look back, despite the fact that every cell in his body wanted to see how Fleur reacted. He didn't have to wait long to discover her reaction. She walked up next to him.
  
  "Answer my question," she demanded.
  
  "I am interested in what you want, Fleur because I rather like you, and I consider you to be a friend." Harry paused. "And I prefer if my friends are happy." He kept walking, not looking at her. He didn't know if that put him into the dreaded 'friend-zone' or not.
  
  "Zat is very kind of you, 'Arry," she said. "Your friends are very lucky."
  
  "They'd do the same for me," Harry responded. After all, they had. Sure, sometimes Ron needed a bit of prodding, but there was one in every bunch.
  
  "You are very trusting," she said. Harry couldn't tell if it was a compliment or an insult.
  "I'm not, really," he said. "With my friends, yes. But it was a long time before I really had a friend."
  
  "And why was zat?" she asked.
  
  "My cousin, mostly. But I'd rather not talk about it," Harry said, as forcefully as he could.
  
  "Why not?" Her voice was so soft, Harry could barely hear her over the wind.
  
  "Because it's unpleasant and I rather not think about it. And you don't answer any of my questions as is, so," Harry responded. He hoped it didn't sound too snotty.
  
  "I am sorry, what was ze last one?"
  
  "I asked what you wanted, Fleur," Harry replied.
  
  "Oh yes. I doubt what I want is very different zan what you want," she replied. Again, Harry noticed she didn't directly answer him. It was becoming rather frustrating.
  
  "I highly doubt that, Fleur. I have a feeling we're not in the same league as for what we want." Harry laughed hollowly.
  
  "Well zen. What is it zat you want?" Fleur asked. Harry just started laughing.
  
  "Really Fleur? I've asked you that same question twice. Once, you act like I have no business knowing, and the next you simply turn it back on me? I don't really see why I should bother answering that," he explained. Fleur stopped walking for a moment. He was sure she wasn't particularly happy with him. But he just continued his walk.
  
  "Wait 'Arry," she said, catching up to him quickly. She paused for a moment before continuing. "I want a lot of zings. I want to win zis tournament. I want all of ze Beauxbaton's students to be cheering for me at ze final ceremonies."
  
  "All your wants are centered on the tournament?" he asked.
  
  "No. Zey are not. But zey come to mind first. Some are more simple. I want dinner, for example. Some are more complex."
  
  "I was asking about the more complex ones."
  
  "I understand. But those are ze ones zat are more difficult to talk about," she responded.
  
  "Only with people you don't trust," Harry said. Of course, the things he wanted the most were very basic. But, she had a point. He wasn't sure if he would talk about them with just anyone, either.
  
  "Maybe not. But I find zem very basic. I want to be loved and cared for. I want someone to appreciate me for all zat I am. I want to be happy. You know, I want to find ze 'one.' I want my family to be happy. I want my sister to have better luck as a younger girl zan I did," she explained, recounting as if from a list.
  
  "I see. You were right." He said.
  
  "About what?"
  
  "We're not that different. Your wants are perhaps a tad more detailed than mine. I really just want a loving family that I can call my own," he said carefully. After all, he did love the Weasleys. But no matter how nice, helpful, or caring that they were, they were not his family.
  
  The Mirror of Erised had left a rather strong impression on him. And while he tried not to think about it, there were many occasions where he simply couldn't help it. The book of pictures he had helped, sometimes. But on other occasions it just made it hurt more.
  
  "I am sorry, 'Arry," she said. Harry knew it was simply because she could think of nothing better to say. Harry could tell she felt sorry for him, and in the grand scheme of things, the absolute last thing he wanted was pity.
  
  "It's okay. I'm at school most of the time, anyway. And it won't be very long before I can find someplace else to live."
  
  "Moving out right after school zen? 'Ave you thought about where?" He hadn't really. He also hoped it would be much sooner than when he was done with school. Still, he'd heard nothing about Sirius becoming free.
  
  "London, probably," he said quietly, simply because he still didn't know where Sirius lived, and that seemed like the next best idea.
  
  "Ah. Zat seems like a good choice. Although, with ze way you fly, you may want to find someplace closer to wherever your home stadium will be," she said. Harry couldn't help but smile at the compliment.
  
  "I'm not sure professional quidditch is something I want to pursue. I didn't even really know anything about how the sport works on that level," he admitted.
  
  "I am sure Viktor would answer any questions you could 'ave," she said.
  
  "I'm sure he would too," Harry said. He was sure of no such thing, but Viktor had been pleasant with him about everything else so far. Harry looked over at her for the first time since starting the walk around the lake. He noticed she was flushed. He couldn't tell if that was simply form the cold, or from some type of earlier embarrassment. He assumed the cold.
  
  Her hair also blew in the breeze. Well, floated in the breeze seemed to be a better way to describe it. Harry watched it for a moment, thinking of how to word it. He gave up after a moment and just looked at her face. If he hadn't known better he would have said she was glowing slightly. But he thought that must have just been his vision after flying all day.
  
  "So," she said after he simply looked at her for a few moments. "You do not want to win ze tournament?" He couldn't help but laugh.
  
  "Of course I do. I'd like dinner too. So I guess our smaller wants are pretty close too."
  
  "Zat zey are. So I take it you will not be letting me win ze tournament?" she teased. He looked at her for a moment. Her hair seemed to be swaying more in the breeze. Harry smiled a little bit.
  
  "Nope. Too much of a competitor at heart. I mean, I'm annoyed I lost a race and I've never even raced before." he smiled back at her. She nodded.
  
  "That's what I 'ad 'oped. But I figured it may at least be worth a try."
  
  "Yes. It never hurts to ask. I take it you won't let me win, either?"
  
  "Of course not," she responded. He noticed that her hair had stopped swaying in the wind and simply fell down her back now.
  
  "Well, now that that's out of the way. Care to join me for dinner to solve the other want?" Harry asked.
  
  "Oh. I am sorry," Fleur shook her head. "But I 'ave a few other zings zat I must finish."
  
  "Oh, like what?" Harry asked.
  
  "Well first I have to go change. Sophie is going to let me use ze Beauxbatons quidditch locker room for zat. And zen after I believe I will be going for a swim," Fleur said. Harry stared at her for a moment, wondering why the girl who had complained of the cold winter have any interest in swimming in a nearly frozen lake.
  
  "And you think the way I fly is dangerous. It's probably considerably healthier than giving yourself pneumonia."
  
  "I will be perfectly alright," Fleur said. "Enjoy the rest of your day."
  
  "I will. Thanks. Don't freeze to death in the lake." They split then. She took the path that led back toward the pitch and the locker rooms, and he the path that led back to the hall. He couldn't help but wonder just how cold the lake must have been. At the very least he knew he didn't want to find out.
  
  It was less than a little over a week later when he realized that he would have to find out. He could only hope that it would be warmer in late February than in the middle of January. Of course, he should probably be more worried about having to be under water for an hour, rather than how cold the water would be.
  
  He'd skipped class that morning, mostly because a Monday morning potions lecture hadn't sounded the least bit appealing, and wandered down to the locker room with the golden egg in toe. On the way down he watched Viktor Krum jump off the Durmstrang boat and into the lake. Harry couldn't help but think that all of the foreign students must be just a little bit insane.
  
  Once inside the locker room he stepped into the large shower room. Fleur's advice was to open the egg underwater so he decided to simply fill one of the tubs that were usually used for helping with sore muscles and relax in it with the egg for a moment.
  
  He'd yet to use one of the tubs, but he knew the other players had. They had raved about the baths. Harry simply hadn't really had a reason to utilize them, having not taken a serious hit so far.
  
  After twenty minutes he grew sick of constantly having to dunk his head to listen to the message. He memorized what he could, before climbing out of the tub and toweled himself dry. He changed into his practice uniform, figuring he'd work on the clue until practice started.
  
  Harry had an interesting idea as he finished changing. He took a stool from the locker room into the large bathroom and placed the egg on it, directly under one of the shower heads. He opened the egg and winced away from the shriek. Harry then turned the water from the shower on and positioned the water so it sprayed square into the egg.
  
  Sure enough, the shrill cry turned into the beautiful song almost as soon as the water hit. He cast a quick drying spell on his clothing, he'd only had his sleeve wet but that was enough to bother him. He propped the door to the showers open and walked back into the main area of the locker room. He could still hear the song so he lay down on the couch and listened for a few moments.
  
  He'd brought some of his text books with him to the locker room, so he took the opportunity to summon them from his locker to the couch. He started to page though them slowly, looking for anything that would help with underwater exploration. He knew there was probably some simple charm or something that would make everything simple and he would have to locate it.
  
  He wasn't having any luck when Lilly and Titus entered. They were arguing about a potion, Harry thought. But he wasn't paying close enough attention to them to make out the specifics.
  
  "What is that?" Lilly asked after a moment. Harry still wasn't really paying attention.
  
  "I don't know," Titus said. "But she sounds hot, and like it's coming from the bathroom. I'm going to go check her out."
  
  "You're a perv. Harry, what's with the song?" Lilly asked again.
  
  "It's the clue for the second task," he said.
  
  "The egg that just shrieks? Cho was telling me that's all that happened when Cedric opened his."
  
  "Yea. But when you open it under water, or with water rushing into it, it sings that song instead." He said. Lilly nodded a little bit and she and Titus just listened to it for a moment as the song looped around again.
  
  "So they've taken something from you. And you'll have an hour to look for it?" Titus asked.
  
  "Apparently. I'm assuming it's in the lake, too. The whole 'cannot sing above the ground' bit and all," Harry said.
  
  "That seems like a good idea. We saw Krum swimming around earlier," Lilly said.
  
  "Yeah. I saw him dive in this morning, too," Harry said.
  
  "You a good swimmer?" Titus asked.
  
  "Not at all," Harry responded. In truth, his swimming ability was limited mostly to doing his best to prevent being held under the water by Dudley. But he wasn't about to admit that.
  
  "Well that could be a problem." Titus added.
  
  "Yes. But I'm a little more worried about holding my breath for an hour," Harry responded.
  
  "I take it that's what you're looking for now?" Lilly asked.
  
  "Yea. I've found some interesting stuff, too. Like underwater lighting, and how to transfigure stuff into fish. But I'm not sure either of those are going to be particularly helpful," Harry admitted, turning another page. "I'll probably spend a good deal of time in the library after practice."
  
  "Why don't you turn yourself into a fish?" the chaser asked.
  
  "I thought about that, but I don't trust myself enough to transfigure myself. We haven't done any of that yet. And while that'd probably help me get to whatever they take. I'm not sure how much it would help me rescue it, or get out," Harry commented. "And I'm not sure how intelligent of a fish I would be."
  
  "What about just like specific body parts? Like your arms or feet into fins or something?" Titus asked.
  
  "I'm in the same boat there, too. I'd likely screw up the casting day of and waste too much time trying to fix it. I'm sure there has to be something easier."
  
  "Oh!" Lilly said after a moment. "The Bubble-Head Charm! I can't believe I didn't think of that sooner!" Harry looked up at her.
  
  "How's that work?"
  
  "It creates a bubble around your head. Used for breathing in toxic areas or underwater. I don't know how to cast it though. It's on our charms calendar for next month. Malcolm or Herbert might know."
  
  "You're assuming I don't know?" Titus snapped.
  
  "Well basic potions ingredients and their effects stump you. So yes, I'm assuming you don't know," Lilly responded. The Slytherin simply glared at her, but didn't press the issue so Harry also assumed he didn't know. He flipped to the index of the text he had to see if the charm appeared there. But it didn't.
  
  "What's with the merpeople singing?" Fred asked as he and his brother entered the locker room.
  
  "How do you know that's a merperson?" Titus asked. Fred and George exchanged a knowing glance, before simply shrugging.
  
  "Let's just say there are some in the lake," George said.
  
  "What would you have been doing deep enough in the lake to find them?" Lilly asked.
  
  "Trust us. You'd rather not know." George responded.
  
  "Now, what's with the song?" Fred asked again.
  
  "It's the clue to the second task. The egg sings it in water, so I have one of the showers running into it." Harry figured it was better to simply explain it rather than to let Lilly and Titus distract them into the story of however they wound up at the bottom of the lake.
  
  "So you're trying to find a way to hold your breath for an hour while searching for something important to you?" George asked.
  
  "That's what it seems," Harry said, closing the book.
  
  "And what have you come up with?" Fred asked.
  
  "Well, I first thought about transfiguring myself. But I don't know how well that would work. Lilly just brought up the Bubble-Head Charm, but she and Titus don't know how to cast it."
  
  "It's a fairly straightforward," Fred said. He took out his wand and pointed it at George. He said a quick incantation and a watery looking bubble appeared around George's face. George waved.
  
  "Well that looks like it would work," Harry said, staring at George.
  
  "How do you know how to perform the charm?" Titus asked.
  
  "We spent a great deal of time working with dungbombs. We learned quickly," Fred said. "We'll show you how to use it. But I'm not sure I would suggest it for the task ahead."
  
  "Why not? It looks efficient." Harry said, still eyeing George, who simply stood there with the bubble around his face. Fred nodded.
  
  "Oh it is. However, we're assuming you're going to have to do more than simply swim around on the bottom of the lake looking for something?" Fred asked.
  
  "Probably. I expect there are things in the lake that will probably be annoyed with us," Harry said.
  
  "My thoughts exactly," Fred replied. "And now you see the innate weakness of the Bubble-Head Charm." Fred held up one finger rather dramatically. He reached over and poked it into the bubble around George's face, before quickly pulling it to the side, creating a large gap in the protective charm. It fixed itself rather quickly, though.
  
  "It repaired itself," Harry commented. George removed the charm with a nod.
  
  "Yes. It does repair. However, whatever was outside winds up inside. So you'd wind up with a face full of water, if something poked your bubble," George explained.
  
  "We used to break each others in a room full of dungbombs when our research wasn't going exactly according to plan," Fred added.
  
  "I see," Harry frowned. That had been the best idea so far. "Well, do you two have any more suggestions?"
  
  "One," George said.
  
  "We developed something similar to the Canary Cream earlier in our inventing. But rather than a bird, it turned the person into a giant salmon," Fred explained.
  
  "It was rather hilarious. It had one downfall with which we hope our new partner can help us," George continued.
  
  "You see. It's very hard to breathe with gills. George nearly suffocated during testing," Fred added.
  
  "So we've shelved those for a moment. One of the central ingredients, though, is a fun little plant called Gillyweed. I'm surprised it wasn't the first thing our resident potions mistress thought of," George nodded toward Lilly. She cursed under her breath.
  
  "Of course! It's not used in many potions, though. As you said, no matter what, people tend to keep the gills. Except in Gillywater, for some reason." Lilly seemed to ponder that for a moment. He half expected a Hermione-esque lecture to start, so he looked away from her.
  
  "Indeed. We happen to have some left over that you could test, if you like. But we doubt it's enough for more than fifteen minutes under water. You'll have to order your own. The apothecary in Diagon alley has some for a fair price," Fred said.
  
  "But what exactly does it do?" Harry asked.
  
  "Webs your feet and hands a bit and gives you gills, pretty much," Lilly explained. Fred gestured to her this time, indicating she was right.
  
  "Well I guess I'll try it out then," Harry said.
  
  "Fantastic," George said. "We'll give you some after practice. But now go shut that egg up before I have that stupid song stuck in my head for the rest of the day!"
  
  Author's Note: This chapter, much like the previous, changed a great deal from the original draft. Half the reason the update took so long was because I finished about 75% of it, and then scrapped it. At first, it opened with a frame of Sirius and Dumbledore discussing the plot whole that is Barty Crouch. Then it cut to the broom test, which was written as a newspaper article, rather than having it down as it is here, and finally ended with a similar scene. However, only about 20% of the chapter dealt directly with Harry, and there was no Fleur/Daphne, or really any character. So I reworked it.
  
  That being said, I'm still not particularly happy with it. I think I wrote myself into a filler hole, but the next chapters are Tasks and Quidditch, so I have that to look forward to. I'm sure the broom testing bit will be tedious for quite a few of you. Props if you can identify the track they mimicked, but I doubt I did a good enough job explaining it.
  
  There has also been some reviewer interest in the original drafts of this story, which feature many different things. For example, Chapter One doesn't exist in the way it does here. It is simply Harry's letter to an unknown pen pal, who turns out to be Miss Seslion. Who, at the time, was named Sophie. She's a bit of a cross between the current Lilly, and the Beauxbaton's seeker. The original draft is about 28k words, and mostly just letter interaction between the two. They wrote quite a few more than Harry and Fleur did. When I'm done, I'll consider posting it as a 3-4 chapter Omake, but it's unedited and frightfully boring.
  
  I've also started to plan another fanfic loosely based off of the 1991 Michael Shaara novel For Love of the Game that was later turned into a very mediocre movie. It would feature Harry and Luna, but likely a more mellow and worn out with the world Luna. Solely because I'm not sure I'm capable of writing a canon Luna (Which is the reason she was not his ball date). It would probably only be 5-6 chapters, and likely under 70,000 words. But it's very preliminary at the moment, and I wouldn't expect to see anything else about it for quite some time. Some reviewers may be disappointed that my second planned fic is not Harry/Daphne. But I can't think of a plot there yet.
  
  Regardless, thanks for all the reviews and support, I appreciate every last one. I should stop writing here now as the AN is likely to become longer than the chapter itself. Feel free to PM me with any questions/comments/concerns, I'm likely to respond to those more readily than anything else.
  
  Thanks again. I hope you enjoy the update.
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  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Beta work on this chapter by Onichun and Cammiles2003
  
  Chapter 13
  
  The Great Lake
  
  Harry and Ron walked quietly through the passage to Honeydukes. They had the invisibility cloak with them, but weren't wearing it at the moment. Harry figured that since so few people knew about the passage, the risk of running into anyone was rather low. And even if they did run into someone, it would likely be someone sneaking out of the school the same as them.
  
  "So what are we doing again?" Ron asked. Harry rolled his eyes. Ron hadn't listened to much of the plan past sneaking into Hogsmeade. He had to give his friend credit, when he wasn't being a prat, and spiders weren't involved, he'd usually go along with anything.
  
  "I want to drop some stuff off for Sirius and I need to stop at the apothecary to pick up some stuff," Harry explained.
  
  "What could you need? You hardly ever go to potions!" Ron asked.
  
  "It's for the second task," Harry said. "I need Gillyweed. And Lilly asked me to pick some stuff up for her, too."
  
  "What's that do?" Ron asked.
  
  "Kind of turns you into a fish. It's really strange. Your feet and hands go all webbed and you get gills. It's really painful above water, but underwater it's not so bad." Harry explained. He'd used the Gillyweed that the twins had given him alright. They were right, it only lasted about ten minutes. He'd simply submerged himself in a bathtub and floated there. He'd been perfectly able to breathe. Still, he'd yet to try swimming with the Gillyweed. He planned on buying enough to try it out a couple of times. Although, he still wasn't at all interested in going into the near-frozen lake.
  
  "So the second task is under water?" Ron asked.
  
  "I think so. The clue is a tad vague. But I think we have to find something in the lake. Either way, Viktor and Fleur have been swimming around in the lake, so," he said.
  
  "But that could give them an unfair advantage!" Ron exclaimed. "They'll have the lake scouted!" Harry hadn't thought of that before.
  
  "I doubt it will matter much. They're sure to set up something different for the actual task. I'll probably test the Gillyweed in the lake later anyway," Harry said. Ron didn't quite seem satisfied with the answer.
  
  "Well at the very least you can try to gain the same advantage," Ron said.
  
  "That's the plan." Harry nodded, figuring agreement was easier. They were silent for a bit as they continued down the path toward Honeydukes. Harry couldn't help but wonder who originally constructed it, and for what purpose. He didn't know enough about Hogsmeade to know what could have been there before the sweet shop, but it amused him to think of various things being smuggled in for the students to partake of centuries earlier.
  
  "So, can I ask you something, Harry?" Ron asked after a few minutes of silence.
  
  "Yea, go for it," Harry replied.
  
  "What's he like?" Ron asked.
  
  "Who?" Harry asked.
  
  "Krum! Viktor Krum! You have to introduce me!" Ron exclaimed.
  
  "He's sort of dating Hermione, I think. Why haven't you asked her?"
  
  "I have. She told me he's nice, although stand-offish, and doesn't really like to spend a great deal of time in large groups. They don't spend that much time together anyway. He's always practicing or working on the tournament," Ron explained.
  
  "Well I've only spoken to him a few times. He seems nice. A bit surly, but nice." Harry responded.
  
  "Oh," Ron sounded a tad disappointed. "Skeeter was talking about how you and he and developed a deep friendship."
  
  "Well she made that up," Harry laughed. "Seriously. I've barely spoken to him. He gave me some advice at the broom test, and some advice with dealing with reporters. That's about it."
  
  "Oh. But you talked to him some at the ball," Ron said.
  
  "Yes. But it was mostly just because our dates were talking," Harry responded. "Oh, you want to hear something interesting?"
  
  "What's that?"
  
  "You know how Draco has been bragging about Krum being his pen pal?" Harry asked.
  
  "Of course. Hard to forget that. The bastard doesn't shut up about it." Ron responded, sounding a tad annoyed that Harry brought it up.
  
  "Well see, Krum doesn't have a clue who his pen pal was. Turns out he didn't even do the assignment. Didn't bother with it during the quidditch season. His agent wrote the letters for him," Harry explained. Ron looked at him for a moment.
  
  "So Malfoy probably paid to write to some agent, rather than the star?" Ron asked in disbelief.
  
  "Seems that way," Harry replied.
  
  "Oh that's classic." Ron laughed rather too loudly. It echoed through the passage.
  
  "I thought you'd appreciate that," Harry said quietly. Ron talked about it for a few more minutes, but Harry didn't find the conversation overly appealing. At the very least his friend seemed to be in a considerably better mood than before, so that was nice. Ron didn't speak again until they neared the end of the tunnel.
  
  "One other thing I've been wondering, too, Harry?" he asked.
  
  "What's that?" Harry started to shake out the cloak so they would both fit under it as they snuck up through Honeydukes's cellar.
  
  "Did you really kiss a Slytherin?" Ron asked quietly.
  
  "Does that matter?" Harry responded.
  
  "Well she's a Slytherin. And I overheard her bragging about it with some of the Hufflepuffs the other day," Ron said. Harry couldn't help but laugh, a rather uncontrollable laugh, which didn't seem to help his friend's mood. He couldn't believe Daphne had actually acted on that comment. Ron scowled at him and snapped. "What?"
  
  "Nothing," Harry responded. "But yes, she's a Slytherin. She also tastes like fruit punch. It's rather pleasant. And, I gave her permission to brag."
  
  "You what?" Ron asked.
  
  "She asked if she could brag about being my first kiss. I said yes," Harry said. "I mean, I thought she was joking."
  
  "It doesn't bother you?" Ron asked. Harry could tell that his friend wasn't quite sure how he would feel in a similar situation, and was going to use Harry's reaction as a starting point.
  
  "Not in the slightest," Harry said. "I never really thought about it."
  
  "I see," Ron said. "Still. Doesn't something just feel wrong about kissing a Slytherin? Like tonguing with a snake!"
  
  "I speak snake," Harry said dumbly. Ron laughed.
  
  "So you kiss them too?"
  
  "Only one. And her tongue was perfectly normal," Harry responded.
  
  "How was it?" Ron asked. Harry noticed that his friend seemed a tad more timid for a moment.
  
  "It was fun," Harry said. "I don't really know how to describe it. Soft and warm. Close." Harry struggled for the words.
  
  "So are you two dating then?" Ron asked.
  
  "Erm," Harry responded. He hadn't really thought about it. He certainly didn't think so. It wasn't like they had midnight trysts or make-out sessions in broom closets. Although, that would be rather fun. Maybe he should ask if she was interested. That would certainly be an interesting conversation. "I don't think we are. We're just friends. Well, rather tense friends."
  
  "So you're not going to be dragging a Slytherin around with us then?"
  
  "I doubt it." Harry had to bite his tongue. Ron was just trying to be funny, he knew.
  
  "Well that's good. Looks like we're almost there. You should get the cloak ready," Ron said. Harry nodded and tossed it over himself, holding it up so Ron could get under as well.
  
  The potions ingredients were easy enough to buy. He had them packaged and sent to Lilly at the castle. When the shopkeeper rang up the order Ron had gawked at the price.
  
  "You're spending that much money on her?" He asked. Harry shook his head, hoping the Gillyweed wouldn't be that expensive when he bought it. He really did hope Ron wound up rich one day, just so he wouldn't always be commenting on money.
  
  "No. She gave me the coin, to the knut, for the purchase," Harry lied, counting out the money. She'd simply said she'd reimburse him and asked for the receipt. Harry hoped that his friend would take it better if he didn't know it was Harry's money. Ron blinked a bit as he thought about that.
  
  "Oh." Ron watched as Harry counted out the money out carefully. His strategy appeared to have worked.
  
  "Yea. Have to make sure I get her the receipt, too," he said as the shopkeeper moved the parcel over to the corner, next to a few things he would mail out later that day.
  
  "And is there anything else you will need today?" The shopkeeper asked.
  
  "Yea. There is. Do you have any Gillyweed?"
  
  "I do. How much are you looking for?" That was a good question. Harry wasn't sure how it was commonly sold. He hoped the owner wouldn't be too suspicious. Of course, deep down he knew the owner recognized him, and could probably assume what Harry was likely to use the herb for. And, at the very least, the owner had not said anything about how they were in his shop, and it was not a Hogsmeade weekend.
  
  "I'm not sure. I need it to last an hour. I'd like three that would last me an hour, and a few others that would last for shorter durations. Just like five minutes tops. I'm not sure how the stuff is usually sold," Harry admitted.
  
  "Not by duration. Usually by weight" The shopkeeper said. "But I can measure it out for you to your specifications. For a fee, of course."
  
  "Uhm. Okay. That'll work," Harry said. He wasn't sure he really had a say in the matter.
  
  "Good. I will get that organized for you. Is there anything else you will need?"
  
  "No that should do it," Harry responded, gazing around at the potions ingredients in the shop. It didn't take the shopkeeper long to organize the Gillyweed.
  
  "Okay, the larger packets are the ones that should last you an hour. The smaller ones are the shorter duration ones. Try to keep them wrapped as they are to preserve freshness," the shop owner explained.
  
  "Okay. I can do that. They will be okay until the end of the month, right?" He asked.
  
  "Yes, they should be fine. Now to conclude our business." The shopkeeper started to write him up a receipt. Harry winced a little bit at the cost, but quickly started to count out the coins he needed. He had just enough. Thankfully, Ron was too busy looking over some ingredients in the corner to see how much it had cost. He would need to get some more gold out of his vault. He'd spent nearly every bit he'd brought. But that would simply give Hedwig something to do.
  
  A bit later, after a stop at The Three Broomsticks for a quick takeout order Harry and Ron found themselves walking down the main street in Hogsmeade. The town was bustling a bit more than usual. Harry noticed some elder Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students waiting around and assumed they didn't face the same regulations as Hogwarts students. It must have been good for business in the town.
  
  "So what ingredients were you looking for?" Harry asked Ron as the shops shifted into a more residential area.
  
  "Oh. I was reading about this potion that supposedly makes you irresistible to girls," Ron blushed as he spoke.
  
  "And where did you find this potion?" Harry found the idea amusing. It sounded rather like a tabloid.
  
  "Oh it was at the back of one of the magazines we have a subscription for because of the tournament," Ron replied quickly. The response did just make it seem more like a tabloid.
  
  "And you think that actually works?" Harry asked.
  
  "Well, love potions do. It can't be that much different, right?" Ron asked. Harry wasn't sure if his friend as joking or not.
  
  "Those are also illegal, you realize," Harry responded.
  
  "Yes, they are. But it's not like you're going to turn me in," Ron joked. Harry shook his head.
  
  "Yes, I suppose you're right," Harry laughed. He noticed a shaggy black dog approach from one of the yards.
  
  "Hey Snuffles," Ron said as the dog trotted up to them. Sirius barked once and led them to a path which eventually brought them to a mountain cave. As he shifted back, Harry handed him the carryout.
  
  "Thanks, Harry," Sirius said as he eagerly dived into the fried fish.
  
  "No problem, Sirius," Harry responded, setting his bag down in the corner of the cave. He opened it and began to rummage through it as Sirius ate.
  
  "Oh and Ron. That potion you were discussing earlier. What were the ingredients in it?" Sirius asked with a mouthful of food.
  
  "Uhm. Let me think," Ron said. He paused for a moment before listing the ingredients. Sirius was smirking after the first two ingredients, and broke out laughing when Ron finished listing all of them.
  
  "Oh that will certainly make you irresistible to girls," Sirius managed to say while still laughing and eating. Harry was rather impressed.
  
  "Really?" Ron asked staring at the fugitive with complete disbelief.
  
  "Oh yes. But likely not in the way that you expect."
  
  "Well what does it do?"
  
  "Oh mostly prankish things. Like double your ear size, make all your hair fall out, and bind your legs together. It sounds like it would prevent you from speaking, too. Of course, with some of the other ingredients you listed, those would likely be the least of your problems. Some things are best just not mixed. End result would be what it said though. You'd be irresistible to look at. And probably irresistible not to laugh at too," Sirius explained between bouts of laughter.
  
  "That would be rather unpleasant," Harry said from the corner. He was fighting back the urge to laugh as well. Ron flushed a deep crimson and moved over behind Harry. He didn't speak for a few moments, and changed the topic when he finally did.
  
  "What did you bring?" Ron asked, gazing over his shoulder.
  
  "Just some stuff from the twins that Sirius wanted to see," Harry responded, pulling things out and starting to line them up on one of the rocks in the cave.
  
  "What did they give you?" Sirius asked. It took Harry a minute to realize just what Sirius said, as his mouth was full of food.
  
  "Just looks to be everything that they talked about. I'm not sure what most of it is just by glance," Harry admitted.
  
  "I can tell what they are," Ron said, he then started to identify each of the objects Harry placed on the rock. After a few moments he'd identified and defined every item the twins had sent.
  
  "Well done. It's a good thing Harry brought you along," Sirius said. Ron flushed at the compliment.
  
  Once Sirius finished eating they tested each of the products. That hadn't gone quite according to plan. The cave was caked with various nastiness by the time the time they had finished But at least it only took Sirius a few minutes and Harry's wand to clean up all the fake blood and vomit from the various Skiving Snackboxes.
  
  "Well, those were certainly some of the most interesting things I've tried lately," Sirius said. Harry couldn't help but wonder just how many prank items his godfather had sampled since prison, but he didn't comment.
  
  "I'll tell them you said that," Ron responded.
  
  "Anything else the twins should know?" Harry asked.
  
  "No. They're in the right direction. They're going to need a few more items before they'll be able to successfully launch. But they have time," Sirius said.
  
  "I'll let them know that, too," Ron said. Harry couldn't help but think Ron was trying to gain a larger role in the twins business. Then again, maybe he just wanted to feel important.
  
  "Good. Now, Harry have you figured out the second task yet?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Yea. That's the reason I came to Hogsmeade today. Snuck out to buy some Gillyweed," Harry admitted.
  
  "So the task is underwater?"
  
  "Yea. The egg contained a message that would only play with water running into it that something would be taken from me, and I'd have an hour to find it."
  
  "And you're sure the Gillyweed will last for an hour?"
  
  "No. But I bought more than I think I'll need and I'm going to test it before the task. If it doesn't, I'll buy more. I had the shopkeeper separate it by duration, so I hope he's right. I plan on bringing enough to last for more than an hour. I think I'm going to attempt to learn the Bubble-Head charm, too. But I'm not sure how effective it would be when cast underwater," Harry explained.
  
  "It's incredibly ineffective," Sirius said. "Cast on the surface or not at all, really. But it's a good charm to know in a pinch. Here, give me your wand. I'll show you how to do it." Harry handed his wand over and Sirius demonstrated the charm quickly by showing the motions and making Harry repeat the incantation. It only took Harry a few attempts to cast the charm effectively. He could immediately see why Fred and George and suggested against this method. It felt flimsy as he moved around the cave. After a few moments he removed it.
  
  "Well I think I can figure it out from there. I'll probably practice it a bit more. It may come in handy either way," Harry said.
  
  "Yes," Sirius responded. "It never hurts a bit to know more. And you don't know what the final task will be. What's your plan for the lake then?"
  
  "I figured I'd take my wand and that knife you gave me for Christmas and just look around. I'm not sure how spells work underwater, though," Harry admitted.
  
  "Most work the same, although they can be a bit slower. I'd stick with stunners for the most part. If you can get behind anything, that'll work better," Sirius said.
  
  "That's good to know," Harry responded.
  
  "Yes. Now I read a Skeeter article that said you were quite the ladies man. Who's the flavor of the month?" Sirius teased.
  
  "No one," Harry laughed. "I should probably read that article. I just danced with a bunch of friends at the ball but she turned it into that."
  
  "Well you must be a well sought after bachelor. Rumor is this Miss Greengrass has her hooks in you at the moment. Any truth to that?" Sirius asked.
  
  "She's fun. But no, not really," Harry said.
  
  "Come on, you need to get yourself a girl," Sirius teased.
  
  "Working on it," Harry glared at Sirius, a little annoyed by the line of questioning.
  
  "Same girl as before?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Yes," Harry responded.
  
  "Need some advice?"
  
  "Probably," Harry admitted.
  
  "Well your father was always the slow and steady type. Took him forever to woo your mother. And I really mean forever."
  
  "I'm not sure I have forever with her. She is leaving at the end of the year."
  
  "Well that could be a problem. You could always take my approach," Sirius smirked.
  
  "And that would be?"
  
  "Go right after her, of course," Sirius laughed.
  
  "I'm not sure she should appreciate that. She's part Veela, she'd just think I was charmed."
  
  "A French Veela? Damn Harry, you have high tastes," Sirius said. "You sure you're just not interested in her because of the aura?" Harry just glared at him.
  
  "I'm sure." Harry said.
  
  "Well then a mix would be the best. Let her know you're interested, but don't push it." Sirius said.
  
  "She thinks I'm just a kid," Harry responded.
  
  "Well you are," Ron said. Sirius ignored him.
  
  "Then be her friend and wait for a moment to arise between the two of you. When that comes, don't miss your chance," Sirius advised.
  
  "But how will I know when that happens?" Harry said.
  
  "You won't. You'll have a split second decision to make. And if you make it wrong, you'll know immediately that it's gone," Sirius said.
  
  "That's helpful," Ron laughed.
  
  "He's right," Harry responded.
  
  "Well, you have a few months to figure it out," Sirius teased.
  
  "Yea. But I'm worried that won't be enough time," Harry said.
  
  "Then make sure it is," Sirius said. Harry had nothing else to say at that point. The three chatted quietly for a few hours before Harry and Ron had to head back to the castle.
  
  The final weekend in February approached faster than Harry would have liked. He walked out to the lake that morning alone, wrapped in a heavy cloak to protect from the cold winds. He momentarily regretted the decision to simply wear the light swimming uniform they'd given him under his cloak. But oh well, there wasn't much he could do now without being late. He just hoped there'd be plenty of towels to help him warm up after the task.
  
  Harry had tested the Gillyweed shortly after he purchased it. The test was surprisingly productive. The shopkeeper hadn't lied about the portions either. The first package lasted exactly an hour. Harry had explored the lake for about a half hour before simply swimming around the surface, waiting to see how soon before it wore off. He was delightfully surprised to notice that the icy water didn't seem nearly as cold when he used the herb.
  
  Of course, that was what allowed him to assume he wouldn't need to dress warmer for the task. So perhaps he shouldn't be praising that development. Oh well, he was almost to the lake now. At least before someone distracted him by calling his name.
  
  "Harry wait!" he recognized the voice so he stopped, but didn't turn to face her.
  
  "Daphne," He said quietly as she caught up to him.
  
  "You look like you're freezing! What are you even wearing under that?" She was completely bundled up, mostly in Slytherin colored things, but it was clear she was at least supporting the Hogwarts champions over the other two schools.
  
  "Just the uniform they wanted me to wear," Harry responded.
  
  "But it's freezing out!"
  
  "I'll be fine once I'm in the lake."
  
  "In the lake? The lake has to be freezing!"
  
  "It is. But I've got that taken care of," He said. She looked at him for a moment. He could tell from her expression that she didn't think there was a chance he truly had that taken care of. But after a moment of thought, she decided not to press that issue.
  
  "Fine, but what if you freeze to death before the task even begins?" Daphne asked, crossing her arms over her chest in a way that suggested no answer he could give would be adequate.
  
  "Well, then I guess I'll be the only champion to die while not even participating in a task?" Harry suggested.
  
  "You joke too much," Daphne responded crossly.
  
  "Well, it's that or complain that I'm freezing. Joking seemed like the better option," Harry admitted. Again, Daphne paused for a moment.
  
  "You really are nothing like the rumors they spread about you," she said.
  
  "That's good to know. But I imagine most people aren't," he responded. She was silent for a moment. He turned to continue walking toward the lake.
  
  "Wait," she said. Harry turned back toward her and saw she was taking off her green and silver scarf. She stepped up closer to him and wrapped the scarf expertly around his neck. He immediately felt warmer, and it smelled rather like her. Both were nice attributes.
  
  "Thanks," he said.
  
  "No problem. I'm just returning the favor for the cloak before," She responded. They started to walk toward the lake. Harry realized, as they walked in silence on the chilly February day, that he could be quite happy with Daphne, if he wanted to be. She was nice, she was fun, she was pretty, and she liked him. The problem was that it wasn't Daphne that his mind lingered on. Maybe if things didn't work out he would pursue the Slytherin witch. But he wasn't ready to simply give up on Fleur.
  
  The pair kept walking, slowly, toward the lake. Daphne stuck close to his side, blocking a great majority of the wind from hitting him. It was a rather nice gesture, even if the slender girl didn't block out much of the wind. They were silent until they made it to the lake.
  
  "Well, I have to go down over there now," Harry said, nodding toward where the judges and sponsors waited.
  
  "It looks like you do. Wonder how we're going to actually be able to watch this event?" Daphne asked, gazing out over the lake.
  
  "I have no idea. But I'm sure they'll have thought about that," Harry replied.
  
  "Looks that way. There's stands all around the lake," Daphne said. Harry looked around the lake and noticed the grandstands.
  
  "Yea but the water will really obstruct the view," he commented.
  
  "Probably. We'll find out though. Well, I'll find out. You'll be too busy swimming around," she responded.
  
  "Yes. You will. Do you want your scarf back?" he asked. She looked at him for a moment.
  
  "No. I should be fine. Keep it as a memento. And, you know what. Take this for luck, too." She leaned forward and kissed him very softly on the lips. Harry kissed her back, lightly.
  
  "Those are lucky?" he asked when she pulled away.
  
  "We're about to find out," She shrugged. "At the very least I get to steal another kiss before you run off with the French witch." Harry wasn't sure how to respond to that. He could feel the blush rise in his face. It didn't help that Daphne simply laughed.
  
  "Well thanks," was all Harry could think of to say.
  
  "You're welcome. Good luck, Harry," she responded before turning and walking off toward the stands.
  
  He walked the final distance toward the judges and sponsors. He was the last champion to arrive, losing out to Krum by less than a minute. As soon as he showed up Ludo Bagman pulled him aside.
  
  "You all ready to go, Harry?" he asked. "Got everything planned?"
  
  "Uhm, yea. I'm good," Harry replied.
  
  "You sure. Need any last minute advice?" Bagman asked. Harry raised an eyebrow.
  
  "Aren't judges supposed to be impartial?" he asked. Bagman didn't seem phased in the slightest.
  
  "Perhaps. But the tournaments are never fair. Are you sure there's nothing you need?" Bagman asked again.
  
  "I'm sure," Harry said, moving himself away from Ludo despite the judge's attempts to lure him back. The first person he ran into was Fleur.
  
  "Oh, 'Arry! Good I was sent to find you," She said. She, like him, appeared to have simply thrown a large warm coat on over her uniform.
  
  "Good, they're ready to start?" he asked.
  
  "Zey should be in a minute. Zey want us over there for pictures," she tilted her head to indicate the direction.
  
  "Alright. Let's go," he said and they moved over to the corner where they were forced to disregard their warm cloaks and stand in their uniforms while a series of reporters snapped group and individual pictures. It was painfully cold, but the champions did their best to not look like they were completely and utterly frozen. When that was finally done Bagman joined them on a large magical raft that slowly moved out to the center of the lake.
  
  Harry moved to the edge of the raft and looked down at the water. He couldn't see anything in the water.
  
  "Are you ready?" Fleur asked behind him.
  
  "Yea. I think so. You?" he responded.
  
  "I believe I am," she responded. "Although I do not enjoy water."
  
  "I don't either. Too many bad memories," Harry responded, remembering Dudley forcing his head underwater.
  
  "Do you wish to talk about it?" she asked.
  
  "No," Harry laughed. "Maybe some day. But not before diving into that black abyss as part of the Triwizard Tournament. Why, do you want to talk about it?"
  
  "Zair is not much to talk about. I just do not like water or swimming," she responded.
  
  "Good enough," Harry said. He turned to face her as the raft stopped. After a moment the champions were gathered up. Harry watched Bagman perform the charm to enhance his voice.
  
  "Ladies and Gentlemen!" Bagman exclaimed. "Welcome to the second task of the Triwizard Tournament! For this task we've snatched something valuable from the champions! They will have an hour, on my signal, to find it in the lake and bring it back to the surface.
  
  "That may seem simple. But the lake has been filled with all manners of aquatic beasts! They will face issues at every corner! And on top of that, none of the champions know where the items are being held! They will need a fair bit of luck to complete this task.
  
  "But now, to address the concerns many of you have had. I see many of you staring at the water, no doubt wonder how you will see anything during the task! Judges, if you would?" Bagman gestured to the judges who each appeared to cast a spell. Harry saw the water start to clear considerably.
  
  "Each champion will also be marked. Miss Delacour will be blue!" Bagman paused and cast a quick spell on her. "Mr. Krum will be red. Mr. Diggory will be yellow, and Mr. Potter will be green." Bagman cast the rest of the spells on each champion.
  
  "Do not worry, either. The spells placed on the lake only work for people looking at the lake. Everything will still be dark for our champions! Now, the four of you. Your hour begins!" Bagman pulled a large pocket watch out of his pocket and stared at it for a few seconds. "Now!" They scattered. Krum and Diggory were off the raft in a blink. Fleur took longer to slip into the water. Harry paused, caught momentarily off guard. But he recovered quickly and pulled out the first piece of Gillyweed. He threw it into his mouth, then took Sirius's knife and his wand and dove into the icy water.
  
  For the briefest of moments he thought the Gillyweed had failed. He only had a couple of short spare amounts in his pocket, so he decided to surface and attempt the Bubble-Head charm. But as he swam up the water seemed to warm, and he felt the gills form on his neck.
  
  He inhaled the water quickly, marveling at the strange feeling as his lungs pulled the oxygen from it. It felt like nothing he could really explain. When he first tried it, he'd assumed he was drowning and immediately tried to surface. That had simply resulted in a searing pain in his lungs while he attempted to gasp for air. So he'd thrown himself back underwater and tried to breathe again. The closest he could get to describing it was that it felt almost like drinking and breathing at the same time. Of course, he didn't particularly care what it felt like, as long as in an hour he was alive, back in possession of whatever was stolen from him, and out of the water.
  
  It took a moment to orient himself. Once his eyes adjusted to the darkness he grabbed his wand in one hand and the knife in the other. He immediately regretted not brining his wand or the knife when he tested the Gillyweed. The slight webbing in his hands made each more difficult to hold than he'd expected. But he'd make do.
  
  He couldn't tell which direction the other champions had picked. Nor could he see much ahead of him. He paused for just a moment, before picking a direction and swimming off in it. It only took him a few minutes to realize the folly of that. He highly doubted that whatever was taken would be simply held in suspension in the middle of the lake. He swam to the bottom as quickly as he could.
  
  Harry paused for a moment to simply look around. He had, at the very best, ten meters of good visibility. The surrounding area was filled with different types of weeds and plants he couldn't identify. Nothing around him gave him any clue as to where the other champions were. He soon realized that nothing around him even gave the faintest indication of life.
  
  He could only think of one way to determine which direction he needed to travel. Harry closed his eyes and took three deep, watery breaths. He thought for a moment and then simply picked a direction and swam off in it. He kept himself a few meters off the ground as he scanned for anything that could serve as a hiding spot for the hostages.
  
  He didn't find anything. Not a single living thing, excluding the plants. That seemed far, far too strange. But he could think of nothing better to do than simply keep swimming. Unfortunately, he soon ran into the edge of the lake.
  
  Harry paused to think of which direction he had been going. He assumed east, but he hadn't particularly focused on it when he started swimming. He could imagine the people watching above laughing at him as he was obviously nowhere near the target goal and was instead just floating around staring at the edge of the lake.
  
  He turned and set off at a different angle, hoping it would lead him somewhere closer to the target destination. Still, he saw nothing that looked very promising. But he could think of nothing better to do than keep swimming.
  
  Eventually, something in the distance caught his eye. It appeared to be a large ruin. Collapsed marble columns littered the bed of the lake. He couldn't really describe the building, but it reminded him of some sort of a temple. At the very least it looked like it needed to be investigated.
  
  Swimming closer to it didn't reveal anything too important at first. Nothing particular stood out on the exterior. There were some symbols carved into the stones that he did not recognize. They appeared to be some sort of hieroglyphic. He spent a few minutes trying to figure out what they were for, but decided that was a waste of his precious time.
  
  Harry circled the ruins once, simply to examine it from all angles, knowing full well he'd have to enter it if he wanted to accomplish anything productive. He took another deep, watery breath before working up the courage to swim into the dark ruins.
  
  Inside it was even darker. He could see very little that wasn't directly in front of his face. He swam forward before deciding that was futile. The place was too small to hide whatever had been taken without there being some type of indication. He paused in the middle of the small room and raised his wand.
  
  "Lumos," he muttered, a bubbly sort of sound came out, but his wand lit up anyway. He was right. There wasn't anything in the ruins aside from some rubble. He looked around for a few moments to make sure he hadn't missed anything. As he looked around he felt a shiver run up his spine. That seemed odd, as he hadn't noticed anything, temperature wise, since using the Gillyweed.
  
  He turned and found himself staring at one of the ugliest creatures he'd ever seen. It had brown skin, two long and very brittle looking arms, which each had long and brittle looking fingers, and it had tentacles. Lots and lots of tentacles. It used the tentacles to float in the water, and it also had some protruding out of its odd shaped head that Harry could see no practical use for. It also had slanted eyes and Harry would have sworn it was smirking at him. Which was rather disheartening as it showed a row of small, sharp teeth. He recognized it as a grindylow almost immediately.
  
  Harry raised his arm to combat it, but it reached out and grabbed onto his arm, pushing it out of the way and not letting it go. Harry couldn't get the angle to cast on the creature as it forced itself toward him, biting at him. He struggled to move his arm, but it had little effect. The creature was surprisingly strong and it had caught him off guard. He tried to stay away from its sharp teeth as the creature attempted to move closer to him, while still holding his arm out of the way. Apparently it was intelligent enough to realize that the wand was indeed a threat.
  
  He couldn't think of what to do. He knew he had to break its grip somehow, Professor Lupin had made that point clear in the lesson. He couldn't help but think of how disappointed Lupin would be that he was bested by a creature he'd been taught to defend himself from. He brought his other hand around and tried to mash the things fingers with his fist. But it anticipated his strikes, and shifted its grip appropriately, all the while still trying to bite into him.
  
  That's when he remembered what was in his other hand. The grindylow had not recognized the knife as a threat. It was clearly far more concerned about the wand than the knife. Still, Harry hesitated. There had to be another way. He'd really only intended to stun the thing when he saw it. Still, he wasn't about to be lunch for a grindylow.
  
  He relaxed his muscles and lifted his entangled arm as much as he could. The grindylow took the bait and attempted to press itself as close to his chest as he could. Harry wrapped his free arm around it and pressed the dagger toward its back.
  
  The creature cried out. A painfully shrill shriek. Its grip loosened on his arm and with one quick smash from his free fist he was free of it. He pulled the dagger back and swam away from the grindylow, pointing his wand at the creature. It stared at him, obviously furious, for just a moment before fleeing. Harry followed it out of the ruins, but didn't stalk it any further than that. Instead he simply rubbed his sore wrist for a few moments, before swimming off. He didn't know where the grindylow was going, but he knew that Merpeople often domesticated them. So he figured following the blood trail was likely a good bet.
  
  Disappointingly, the trail thinned after a while, before Harry found a dead grindylow on the floor of the lake. He couldn't help but feel bad for the creature, even thought it was trying to kill him. He didn't have time to do more than give it a quick nod, and wish it the best on its trip to wherever grindylows went after their death.
  
  But that did mean his best shot at a trail was dead in a heap at his feet. He couldn't come up with a plan that was better than simply continuing in the direction that the creature had been traveling. So, after the briefest of pauses, he kept swimming.
  
  He wasn't certain how much time had passed. His best guess was about a half hour. He had to admit, he was terrified. He couldn't help but feel that he hadn't accomplished anything yet, and that angered him.
  
  But he kept swimming. There was little more that he could do.
  
  Thankfully, he started to hear something. At first it was too faint for him to make out. In fact, it was so faint he assumed he was just imagining it. But as he kept swimming in that direction it grew louder and louder. And the louder it grew, the faster he forced himself to swim.
  
  Harry had to admit that Titus had been right, too. The merperson singer did sound rather attractive. He'd have to make a joke about that later.
  
  A few hundred meters later he saw a ravine appear at the bottom of the lake in front of him. He swam toward it and saw the merfolk village beneath him. A great deal of the merfolk were circled around a large plinth in the middle of the village. Even from the distance, Harry could see people were tied to the stone. He swam toward it, fully expecting to have to fight the merfolk.
  
  But they made no move to challenge him. The simply watched him approach. One even pulled a leashed grindylow away from him. He nodded his thanks and could have sworn that the creature nodded back at him. It didn't take him long to approach the stone plinth. When he finally arrived at it he noticed just what was tied to it.
  
  At first he saw Cho Chang, her head falling lazily to one side. Harry would have assumed she was already dead, but there was a steady stream of bubbles coming from her mouth as she breathed. He swam around to the object and next saw a young, silvery-blonde haired girl. The only thought he spared her was that she looked remarkably like her older sister. He swam around again.
  
  Harry nearly dropped his knife and wand as he saw Hermione helplessly tied to the stone. His first urge was to immediately save his friend. But he knew he should check the final part of the stone.
  
  But his heart nearly stopped as he saw Ron Weasley chained to the rock. He swallowed hard. It occurred to him he would likely miss Hermione just as much as Ron if he were to lose them. He didn't know which was his was his to save. Of course, he wanted to save all four.
  
  He moved quickly to Cho and brought Sirius's knife to the knot that positioned her on the stone. A moment later a trident found his throat.
  
  "You only take your hostage," the merperson said, moving the trident from his throat, toward Ron. Well, that at least solved the problem of which was his hostage.
  
  He looked back toward Ron and felt the same pang in his chest. He imagined having to tell Arthur and Molly that Ron had died in the lake, because he had been unable to save his friend. Really his brother. Harry knew, deep down, that Ron represented exactly what he'd told Fleur he'd miss. A family.
  
  Still, he turned back to the merperson and spoke.
  
  "But they're all my friends. I don't want them to be hurt." It came out a bubbly mess, but the creature seemed to understand it.
  
  "That does not matter, Champion Potter. You only save your hostage. Those are the rules," it explained coldly. Harry opened his mouth to argue when he saw Cedric Diggory approach.
  
  The Hufflepuff wasted no time. He swam right toward Cho, completely ignoring the merpeople. Cedric untied her with an astonishing quickness and raced off as if some demon was on his tail.
  
  It only took Harry a few moments to realize that demon was some kind of giant shark. And it was swimming directly after Cedric. Except now it was a shark with Krum's body. He swam quickly to Hermione and started to bite at her ropes. Harry hit him in the ribs and offered Sirius's knife. The shark-man took that, cut Hermione free, and handed it back to Harry, swimming off with her without a word. Harry couldn't help but wonder if he could even speak as a shark.
  
  Of course, he realized that such idle speculation was simply wasting precious time. He looked around, hoping for any sign of Fleur. But he saw nothing. He knew the hour had to be almost up. He couldn't wait forever. He had to make a decision. The merfolk singing changed their song to make it seem like he only had minutes remaining.
  
  Harry made his decision then. It wasn't even a hard one. Ron represented the family he never had. He represented the frightening possibility of losing a family again. But this time, losing a family while he could feel and remember the pain.
  
  Yet on the other side of the stone was the exact same thing. Gabrielle, yes, that was her name. He recalled it from one of Fleur's letters. She too represented the family he didn't know. She also represented the family he wished he could have, every bit as much as Ron did. And frankly, he cared far too much about her older sister to simply leave the girl tied to the rock.
  
  Harry realized that he meant that too. He really did care for Fleur. Far more than he'd cared for anything ever before, with the possible exception of Ron and Hermione. He was not about to let some stupid task in some stupid tournament prevent her from being happy, even it if meant he had to fight the entire merpeople village to get her sister out of the lake.
  
  Of course, his epiphany wasted precious time.
  
  He moved to Ron and he quickly cut his friend loose. He grabbed the red-head by the arm and pulled him over toward Gabrielle. He quickly cut her loose too, with the result of having the trident pressed once again to his neck.
  
  "We told you. Only one hostage," the merperson said. Harry slowly pocketed the knife, as non-threateningly as he could.
  
  "Are you going to kill one of the champions?" he taunted. For some reason he just didn't think the creature would harm him. Yes, people had died in the tournaments before, but something like this would certainly end poorly for merpeople in general. The merperson didn't seem to have an answer for that. Harry raised his wand. If he weren't underwater he'd be sweating against the metal on his neck.
  
  "We do not need to kill to prevent you from taking both," the merperson responded. Harry leaned back, away from the trident. The merperson seemed to think he was backing away, so it lowered the trident. Harry took that advantage.
  
  "Stupefy," he said, pointing his wand square at the merperson's chest. It slumped over, dropping the trident. He saw two more swim toward him and he quickly stunned those as well. Harry then spun around and looked at the remaining merpeople. None of them appeared like they would challenge him, so he put his wand away before grabbing one of Ron's hands, and one of Gabrielle's hands, holding on as best he could with his slightly-webbed fingers.
  
  He swam upward, toward the surface. He knew his hour was nearly up. He tried to make his air last as long as possible. He knew the Gillyweed would run out very soon. He kept swimming up as quickly as he could, pulling the two bodies with him. They seemed to get heavier and heavier the closer he got to the light of the surface.
  
  But he pressed on. He knew he had no choice. He attempted to gasp for one last breath of watery air, but the gills were gone. He felt his chest tighten. It wouldn't be long now, he knew. He'd either drown, or get them to the surface. Drowning would be worth it, he thought, as long as he saved the other two.
  
  He felt dizzy. Everything felt wrong. Everything started to feel cold again. And everything was going completely dark.
  
  But then everything changed. He could breathe and it was bright. Too bright. He gasped, over and over, feeling the air as it entered his lungs. Harry pulled Ron and Gabrielle above the water and onto the platform he was near. The other champions were huddled under towels there. And there was a great deal of noise.
  
  He barely registered being wrapped in the towel, or being fed the Pepperup potion. It was Ron who spoke first.
  
  "Why'd you bring the French girl?" he asked.
  
  "I didn't want her to get hurt," Harry said dumbly. "And Fleur hadn't shown up."
  
  "You would," Ron laughed. "We weren't in danger, Harry." Harry blinked.
  
  "Well that figures," he said dryly. Rising to his feet. He wobbled a little bit, but it felt good to stand. He saw Fleur talking to Gabrielle, looking incredibly relieved. He couldn't help but eavesdrop on her conversation.
  
  "Ze grindylows, zey swarmed me! I am so sorry, Gabrielle! Zey popped my bubble. I thought I was drowning!" The little French girl seemed too dazed to register her older sister's words. But they hugged, and everything seemed to be okay. He saw that Fleur's uniform was torn in several spots. And that she had cuts on her face as well as ugly bruises on her arms. In fact, the bruises looked very similar to the one developing on his arm from where the Grindylow grabbed him. He didn't want to imagine facing one of those creatures without being able to breathe.
  
  "She's pretty beat up," Ron said as he pulled himself to his feet as well. Harry could only nod. Fleur looked over and saw him then. He gave her a weak smile and a brief nod. She moved quickly over him.
  
  "'Arry! You saved 'er! She was not your to save but you saved 'er anyway!" She then leaned forward and kissed him once on his left cheek, and then once on his right cheek. He knew he should say something, he knew he should do something. Everything seemed to slow down for those few moments. He could still feel her soft lips on his cheek as she moved away.
  
  He'd missed it. He realized. That was the kind of thing Sirius had spoken of. That was the moment he'd needed to act on. Harry felt his stomach drop. He knew he wouldn't get a chance like that. Perhaps it simply wasn't meant to be. No, he couldn't believe that.
  
  "And you 'elped!" he heard her say to Ron. He watched as she kissed Ron on the left cheek, and then the right as well. His friend's face quickly matched his hair.
  
  "Yea, a bit," Ron muttered. And then Fleur turned back to Harry and everything seemed to slow.
  
  "And you saved 'er!" she said again, leaning forward and kissing him again on the left cheek. He knew what to do next. Perhaps, as with Daphne, he got one mulligan. Regardless, he was going to take his chance. She moved in to kiss his right cheek, but her lips never got there.
  
  Harry shifted his head, closed his eyes, and pressed his lips against hers. Fleur tensed immediately, becoming almost defensively rigid.
  
  He heard the gasp from the crowd. Followed by the silence as everyone around contemplated what they saw. Followed by the mutterings from annoyed and disappointed students.
  
  Still, she didn't move. He traced his tongue over her lips, thankful he had some practice, his arms slid protectively around her, his eyes remained closed. Blood pounded in his veins, he could hear his own heartbeat.
  
  He didn't know how much time passed. It felt like hours, but he was sure it wasn't more than a second or two. But after that, Fleur's mouth opened, her lips parting wonderfully against his, as she kissed him back.
  
  Author's Note: And finally back to the tournament as a whole. This chapter stayed pretty much according to the original plan, excluding the bits with Daphne, which were added in. I've very little to say about it, to be honest.
  
  On a related note, I recently re-planned the final chapters of this. It rounds out at 19 chapters, so around 50,000 more words, if things stick to the plan. I have no intention of writing a sequel. Edit: Coincidentally, this chapter was finished on Friday, but due to errors it isn't posted until today. is still having those errors, but I think I've figured out a way around it. But, this weekend I did start the other story. The first chapter is at about 7500 words. Expect that as soon as I can create new stories. I should still be able to complete the next chapter of Letters within the week, too.
  
  Also I'm probably going to go back and clean up chapter 1-4. But I likely wont change any of the content, just clean them up a bit more. If I do, I'll make a comment on the next update. That's also something that may have to wait until the story is complete.
  
  Next up is the second quidditch match, Hogwarts v. Beauxbatons. I may write the first chapter of a different story instead, simply because I feel doing so will help with the next couple of chapters here.
  
  Regardless, I hope you enjoy the update. Thanks for all the reviews, I appreciate every last one. As per usual, the best way to contact me is likely by private message, although I believe my e-mail is public in my profile, too. Just make sure the subject is something I'll notice.
  
  Thanks again.
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit, as unfortunate as that is.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Cammiles2003 for the beta work on this chapter.
  
  Chapter 14
  
  Flight
  
  The events following the second task were a blur. Harry remembered Fleur sliding away from him. She didn't spare him anything more than a curious glance before working back to her family. He also remembered someone telling him his scores. They were pretty good. He'd received points for being stupid enough to assume that the hostages were in mortal peril. But he'd lost points for initiating an attack on Merpeople.
  
  He disagreed heartily with that last point, as the trident to the throat felt like ample cause to cast a few stunning spells. Karkaroff and Maxime had disagreed. He didn't care, though. He was only a point behind Cedric with one task to go. For the first time he thought about winning the tournament, and simply not trying to survive.
  
  The sponsors and judges didn't mention what the final task was. The only reference to it was that they would find out soon enough. Of course, he managed to avoid the whole post-task interview by having his housemates swarm him. So that was a plus.
  
  He barely had the time to throw his robe back on over the towels he was wrapped in before a horde of Gryffindors swarmed him on the shore of the lake. He was cheered and pushed through the crowd, being moved quickly toward the castle. He'd forgotten the scarf he wrapped around his neck was green and silver, as well. But the fact didn't escape his housemates.
  
  "What's with the serpent scarf?" Colin Creevey asked as what appeared to be the entire Gryffindor house escorted him back to the common room. Harry really had no interest in another party with his housemates. He wanted to go and find Fleur. But he knew he'd been pushed far away from the French witch. And he doubted she was in the mood for a party right now. He hoped she was at least having fun with her parents and sister. He'd have liked to meet them.
  
  "He's dating Daphne Greengrass," Katie Bell said, rather snottily. He was? Why was he the last one informed of this. "It's probably her scarf. I'm sure she's very thrilled he kissed the French champion."
  
  "Why did he do that if he's dating Daphne?" Colin asked, looking incredibly confused. Harry opened his mouth, intending to refute the statement, but Angelina Johnson spoke over him.
  
  "He was probably just overcome by her aura," she said. Harry again was going to debate that point, but the conversation continued without him.
  
  "Her what?" Colin asked.
  
  "You haven't noticed, Colin, how you want to do anything for her whenever she's around?" Katie asked. Again, she sounded rather irritated.
  
  "I don't know," Colin said. "She's not really around me much." Harry debated opening his mouth to comment that whenever she was around him he certainly didn't want to do anything she wanted.
  
  "Oh, and you don't notice how every boy looks at her the second she enters a room?" Angelina asked, scrutinizing the younger student.
  
  "Uhm. Not really," Colin said, blushing a bit and looking confused. Harry was starting to feel bad for the kid, so he decided to really just interrupt now, despite the fact that he knew they'd try to talk over him.
  
  "Enough. I didn't kiss Fleur because I was enamored by her aura," Harry said. "And I'm not dating Daphne Greengrass."
  
  "I told you," Katie said. "He may have taken her to the ball, but he's not about to date a Slytherin!"
  
  "That's not true," Harry said weakly.
  
  "What?" Katie asked.
  
  "If it wasn't for Fleur I'd probably date Daphne," Harry admitted.
  
  "But she's a Slytherin," Angelina commented, as if that ended any possible debate.
  
  "And I'm a Gryffindor," Harry said, intending to point out how little that really mattered.
  
  "Yes, so you shouldn't date a Slytherin," Katie said. "You should date a Gryffindor instead."
  
  "Asked them, they were all busy," Harry responded dryly. "But regardless, I'm not dating Daphne Greengrass."
  
  "But you kissed her. And you're wearing her scarf." Katie said.
  
  "I kissed Fleur, too. Am I dating her now? Do I have some strange harem triad thing going on? Does Fleur get Monday, Wednesday and Friday, and Daphne the other four days? Hell, I could kiss you right now, Katie. Would we be dating?" He was getting slightly annoyed about the line of questioning. Katie blushed furiously as his comment, but she recovered quickly.
  
  "Would you want to date me, Harry?" she asked, batting her eyes at him. He paused for a moment. Harry hadn't thought about that before. Sure, Katie was pretty enough, and fun to be around when they were on the house team together. But no, he didn't really want to date her. He wanted to date Fleur.
  
  "It could be fun, Katie. But I'm trying for Fleur," He said as diplomatically as he could. Apparently it was the wrong answer.
  
  "Oh I see. Not interested because I'm not a Veela?" She scoffed.
  
  "That's not it, Katie," He said. "I just really like Fleur. And it's not because she's a Veela. It's because she'd kind, caring, a fierce competitor, and is helpful and nice!" Harry argued. He realized a bunch of those fit Katie as well, but that wasn't the point.
  
  "And you know all of that how?" Katie crossed her arms, looking skeptical.
  
  "That's a good question," Angelina commented.
  
  "She was his pen pal," Colin said. Harry blinked and looked over at the younger boy.
  
  "How did you know that?" he asked. He certainly didn't remember telling many people who his pen pal was, nor did he remember simply talking about it in public.
  
  "I asked Hermione who your pen pal was. She told me," Colin said. Harry nodded a little bit. He could picture that conversation readily enough. The over enthusiastic Colin trying to learn everything he could about Harry, even after three years in the school. Hermione probably just told him because she figured it would get him to leave her alone. Still, no harm no foul.
  
  "Wait, the French Veela was your summer assignment?" Angelina asked.
  
  "Yes. She was. We kept writing into the school years. I promised to write her more often too. But with the quidditch and the tournament I haven't really gotten around to it," Harry admitted.
  
  "You idiot," Katie said.
  
  "What?" Harry asked.
  
  "She's probably furious with you then. You can't promise to write her more letters then just not!" Katie looked completely aghast. They were in the common room by then. A party had started without them. Harry received various congratulations from many of his housemates, but was quickly dragged back into conversation with Katie and Angelina.
  
  "Wait, that's bad?" He asked.
  
  "Of course. She was probably waiting for your letters and they never came. Total asshole move, Harry," Angelina said.
  
  "Shit," Harry said. "I never thought about that."
  
  "Obviously," Katie responded.
  
  "And she's probably furious that you just kissed her in public too. Not only did you ruin the super-romantic first kiss moment with anyone, but you failed to realize that there was pretty much nothing else she could do other than kiss you back!" Angelina said. Harry hadn't thought about it. "And why did you decide to do it anyway?"
  
  "Erm. No. I hadn't thought of that," Harry said. "And I got advice from a friend. He said to take an opportunity if I found one. To make her not think of me as a kid. I thought that worked."
  
  "Who gave you that advice? That's not at all what women want!" Angelina said.
  
  "It sounds like something that Titus Button character would have suggested. Apparently he's been with half of Slytherin. Fancies himself to be quite accomplished with the ladies," Katie said.
  
  "I've heard of him," Angelina said. Harry just shrugged as the two girls conversed. He didn't particularly know much about Titus. He seemed to be into Tracey, but he saw very little interaction between the two. Angelina and Katie continued to debate about the Slytherin. Somehow it had changed from an annoyance that he claimed to be good with women, to the two agreeing that they wouldn't mind to have him alone in a broom closet for a while. Needless to say, Harry didn't quite understand that.
  
  "Wait a second," he said after he decided he really didn't want to be a part of that conversation any longer. "Weren't you both annoyed a minute ago that I was pursuing Fleur?"
  
  "Yes," Angelina said. "But then you said you were her pen pal."
  
  "How does that change anything?" Harry asked. He was completely and utterly confused. Women were complicated.
  
  "Well you see, before we just assumed it was the aura. But if you really were in communication well before you knew about it then it becomes so much more romantic!" Katie said.
  
  "And if it was the aura then you'd have probably written a letter a day," Angelina said.
  
  "I never thought about that," Harry said.
  
  "I get the feeling there's a lot you haven't thought about, Harry," Angelina said.
  
  "Probably," Harry responded, not knowing what else he should say. "I still don't really get it. But I'm really not interested in her because she's a Veela."
  
  "I'll take your word for it," Katie said. "Of course, that still doesn't let you off the hook for hanging around with a Slytherin."
  
  "Really?" Harry rolled his eyes. "Daphne is great. You'd probably like her if you ever hung out. She's happy and fun. And she hates Malfoy, so that has to count for something."
  
  "Hardly," Angelina said. "Everyone in Slytherin hates Malfoy, except for Crabbe and Goyle and they probably do, but they're too stupid to realize that they do."
  
  "Well regardless, she's nice. You'd like her," Harry said. The two girls looked at him skeptically.
  
  "If you insist," Katie said. Harry knew that neither of them really had any interest in finding out whether or not he was right about that. It was a shame, really. But such was life. The girls started to converse about boys, and Harry knew that he missed any chance he'd had of getting advice from them on how to handle the situation with Fleur.
  
  He walked away from Katie and Angelina when he realized that he didn't particularly want to hear which of the Hogwarts males had the best backside. Everyone he walked past offered him some sort of congratulation on the task, or wished him luck in the upcoming quidditch match. He smiled and thanked each person. Most of them by name, regardless of their year. He even had a few quick conversations with some of them, on a variety of topics.
  
  It occurred to him that at the start of the year he'd have probably simply looked away and muttered something intended as a thank you under his breath, but now he was perfectly comfortable with the attention. He still didn't really want the attention. But he was comfortable enough to talk and smile now. He couldn't help but wonder what changed. He didn't think about it for long as he found Ron and Hermione a short time later.
  
  "Hey guys," he said. Ron looked up and practically cheered.
  
  "Harry! You kissed the Veela! What was that like!" He exclaimed. His friend found a butterbeer from nearby and offered it to Harry, who took it before answering.
  
  "Soft, wet, and slightly salty," Harry recounted dryly.
  
  "So no fruit punch?" Ron joked.
  
  "No fruit punch," Harry smirked. "But in fairness she had been swimming around in a lake for a while. I'll need to try again to give a better example of the results." Ron laughed far more than that commented deserved.
  
  "Fruit punch?" Hermione asked, looking up at the two boys. Naturally, she was reading some gigantic tome rather than joining in the party.
  
  "Nothing," Harry said, but Ron spoke over him.
  
  "I asked him what it was like to kiss Daphne and he said she tasted like fruit punch," Ron said in one breath. Harry glared at him.
  
  "Oh," Hermione said, going back to her book. Harry looked down at her for a moment. He knew he probably shouldn't ask, but he couldn't resist.
  
  "So, the thing international quidditch star Viktor Krum would miss the most. That's quite the honor," Harry teased.
  
  "Quiet," Hermione said.
  
  "Oh come now," Harry teased. "I thought you said things weren't serious. Next thing you'll tell me is that you're going to summer in Bulgaria with him."
  
  "How did you know that?" Hermione asked, slamming the book shut and looking slightly alarmed.
  
  "I didn't. But that's pretty cool," Harry said.
  
  "You're going to spend your summer with Viktor Krum? That's awesome," Ron exclaimed. Harry looked over at him for a moment, and then looked back at Hermione.
  
  "I haven't said whether or not I will. It would be fun but he has Quidditch nearly constantly, and I doubt my parents would let me stay with him," Hermione said.
  
  "Well if you like him, it sounds like it could be fun," Harry said. "If you get the opportunity, I say go for it."
  
  "Yes, but he's so much older than me. And I'm not sure if I'm ready for a serious relationship," Hermione said.
  
  "Well, tell him that. I'm sure he'd still love to have you visit. And who knows what may change in six months," Harry said. "I know I'd do it with Fleur."
  
  "You're male, of course you would. Oh, and you and Fleur have a relationship now?" Hermione teased. "After an awkward forced kiss?"
  
  "Oh, you've kissed Krum more?" Harry asked.
  
  "Indeed I have," Hermione responded dryly.
  
  "You've kissed Viktor Krum? How was that?" Ron asked. Hermione opened her mouth to comment, but as she did the Weasley twins came over and started to ask Ron questions about something or other. Harry was glad they did, he didn't really want to know what kissing Viktor Krum was like. But still, something bothered him.
  
  "What was up with him?" Harry asked.
  
  "Oh. That. I told the twins how he'd been acting this year and they said they'd do something about it if he looked like he was going to get super jealous again," Hermione said.
  
  "What did they do?"
  
  "Well the second you kissed Fleur he got this strange look in his eyes, and then they both hit him with a Cheering Charm at the same time. And he's been like that ever since," she explained. Harry was glad he hadn't been drinking the butterbeer at the time.
  
  "Oh that's too good," he said.
  
  "I don't know. It seemed rather mean," Hermione admitted.
  
  "I think it is classic," Harry countered. Hermione decided to change the subject.
  
  "So how furious is Fleur?" she asked.
  
  "Why does everyone think she's going to be mad?" Harry scowled.
  
  "Because you grabbed her and forced her to kiss you," Hermione said. "Girls don't like that."
  
  "Well, I thought it was nice," Harry said, crossing his arms.
  
  "I'm sure you did, but that's not the point," Hermione said. "You removed her choice in the matter."
  
  "She could have moved away," Harry said.
  
  "The crowd probably would have reacted poorly to that," Hermione said.
  
  "Well, maybe," Harry said. "But she doesn't strike me as the type to care overly much about what people think."
  
  "Oh come on now, Harry," Hermione scolded him. "Everyone cares what other people think. Would you want to be booed and jeered by a crowd as large as that one was today? Because that's likely what would have happened had she simply pushed you away."
  
  "I guess not," Harry said, looking down at his feet.
  
  "Well you should keep that in mind when you finally talk to her. And I would suggest talking to her soon," Hermione said. Harry nodded a little bit. That sounded like good advice. He already knew what about he would say too. That he was carried away in the moment, but it wasn't her aura. He knew perfectly well what he was doing because he cared for her. He'd cared for her since she wrote him the letters over the summer. And he was sorry that he hadn't written to her since she'd been here. And that they hadn't spent much time together. Hopefully she would accept that.
  
  "I will. I'll find her tomorrow after practice," Harry said. "Thanks Hermione. I really do think you should give Krum a chance. He's a pretty good bloke."
  
  "From a school that wouldn't even accept me as a student, Harry," she responded. Harry felt she had a point. But then again he'd just argued that not all Slytherins were evil, so he should probably be willing to argue the same thing with Durmstrang students.
  
  "People are different, Hermione. Just because he goes to Durmstrang doesn't mean he hates Muggle-Borns. He certainly doesn't act like he hates you. And he's been nothing but nice to me."
  
  "So what, you think I should just run off with him?" She spoke rather sternly.
  
  "No. But I don't think you should dictate any of your actions based on the fact that his school has a history of bigotry," Harry said.
  
  "You're probably right. I don't know, though. I don't want to just be some quidditch groupie girlfriend. But I do like him." She said.
  
  "Well, talk to him about it. If he doesn't understand, you'll know it wasn't meant to be. And if he does, then you'll work something out," Harry said, giving the most generic advice he was capable of thinking of.
  
  "I know. But thanks, Harry," she said. He nodded and was going to comment further when Cormac McLaggen came up. The reserve keeper smiled a little too much at Hermione for Harry's comfort, but that was irrelevant.
  
  "Hey Harry, Davies wants to do a quick scrimmage tonight to prep for tomorrow's match," Cormac said.
  
  "You have to be kidding me. I'm exhausted," Harry complained.
  
  "I know. But he needs you to play beater. I have to go find Alicia and the twins now," he said, moving off. Harry just groaned and made his way away from the party and toward the pitch.
  
  Harry rather disliked playing beater. He'd have much rather been on one of the chaser lines, like Cho was. But he'd proven he was significantly better with a beater's bat than she was, which made it seem closer to a real match. Still, he didn't do much. He mostly flew around, put himself near a bludger, and wacked it at Titus, who used it as a lethal weapon against Alicia, Lilly, and Ginny.
  
  It was somewhat amusing. But it would have been more fun if he was better. It certainly didn't help any that he was exhausted, and his body hurt from swimming far below the lake for far too long. So mostly he floated by the hoops and chatted with Herbert while the chasers were in the other zone.
  
  He could tell Roger was getting slightly annoyed with his behavior. But it was getting late, and he felt like he was dead. Every fiber of his being just wanted to crawl into bed and go to sleep.
  
  When Titus was otherwise busy tracking down both of the bludgers like some kind of beating machine, Harry floated idly by the stands and chatted with some of the people who showed up to watch practice. Most notably Tracey and Daphne. Of course, Tracey was less than receptive of his presence.
  
  "You're blocking my view of my boyfriend's ass, Potter," She spat at him as he flew by. He decided to float next to Daphne instead. She was silent for a moment, then looked up at him.
  
  "Shouldn't you be playing?" she teased.
  
  "Yes, I should be. But I feel like I'm going to fall off the broom, and every time I hit the bludger I feel like my arms are going to fall off," he said.
  
  "Weakling," Daphne commented.
  
  "Hey now. I've had a rather busy day," he said.
  
  "So I noticed. Just this morning you were too cold to walk down to the lake. I had to give you a scarf," she teased. "Which I notice you aren't wearing now."
  
  "It wouldn't go well with the uniform," Harry said. "And Roger probably wouldn't be happy with me for wearing a tie with the uniform."
  
  "It doesn't look like Roger is particularly happy with you now, anyway," she said, glancing over to where the Captain had just scored. He flew past them, then.
  
  "Get into the game Potter, or so help me I'll start Chang tomorrow," he said as he sped off. Harry just groaned.
  
  "He's tense," Daphne said.
  
  "Very. It's not helpful," Harry said. "I'll act like I care about being a beater for a few minutes, that should appease him." So he flew back up into the game.
  
  It didn't particularly matter, though. Amazingly, Titus was more than fine playing by himself. Harry spent the majority of the time chasing after one of the bludgers, hoping it didn't turn and smash him square in the face. Whenever he finally caught it he just hit it in the general direction of either Titus, or an opposing group of chasers, and hoped for the best. Usually it didn't work out.
  
  When his chaser side had a fifty point lead, he floated back down toward Daphne.
  
  "My arms hurt more now," he said dumbly.
  
  "Swimming all day and then hitting an iron ball around will do that to you," she responded dryly.
  
  "You're right. It will," Harry responded. "But I would have preferred some sort of pity followed by a nice relaxing massage to sarcasm."
  
  "Well, if you want to give me a massage, that's fine. But I'm not sure how that would help your arms. And I doubt the French witch would like that much."
  
  "Probably not. Of course, everyone seems to think that she'll be furious with me for kissing her," Harry said. Strangely, it never even seemed like a faux pas to be talking about this with Daphne.
  
  "Well she might be. I wouldn't be, though," Daphne said.
  
  "You wouldn't?"
  
  "Oh no. I'd have thought it was hot. You can grab me and kiss me whenever you like," Daphne said.
  
  "I'm not sure the French witch would appreciate that," Harry said, figuring it was his turn to use that excuse.
  
  "Probably not. You never know, she may get jealous and decide she wants you," Daphne said.
  
  "For some reason I highly doubt that," Harry said.
  
  "Oh? How would she react then?" Daphne asked.
  
  "Knowing her? She'd probably gaze at me with an amused smile and feel happy for me," Harry admitted. She may come off as cold at times, but that was how he expected Fleur would have reacted to that situation.
  
  "So, you're telling us that the French champion would react pretty much exactly how Daphne reacted when she saw you frenching the Frenchie?" Tracey asked. Harry noticed she had her arms crossed over her chest and still looked like she didn't care for his presence.
  
  "That's how you reacted?" Harry said, looking over at Daphne.
  
  "Pretty much," she admitted. "I was happy for you. I could tell, ever since I watched you dance with her at the ball, that you were hung up on her. I will admit, I hoped she'd slapped you, cursed you, and otherwise made a mockery of you so I could step in. Unfortunately not so much."
  
  "So every Slytherin does really want something embarrassing to happen to me at any given moment?" Harry teased.
  
  "Naturally," Daphne responded. "We're cunning, you see, and we tend to find ways to make those situations benefit us."
  
  "And how would you have benefitted from that, Daphne?" Harry asked, although he had a feeling he already knew the answer to that question.
  
  "That's easy. Granger was busy and Weasley is an idiot, so I'd have been the first to your side. It would have been oh so easy to wrap my arms around you, say something mean to the French girl had she not left, and simply comforted you. I could have easily made you feel like the only person in the world that matters. And after that? Well after that you're mine Harry Potter," she smirked at him when she finished speaking. Harry couldn't help but be a little taken aback. And perhaps just a touch worried.
  
  "That would have probably worked," Harry admitted.
  
  "I know it would have worked, Harry. That's not the point. The point is that she didn't slap you, and I think she may actually not think you're just an immature kid overcome by her aura. It's disappointing, but I can live with it," Daphne said.
  
  "I'm glad. You know, Daphne, I'm rather glad I asked you to the Yule Ball," he said.
  
  "You mean you're rather glad that Titus conveniently got us together for the Yule Ball," she countered.
  
  "If you want to put it that way, sure," he said. She just nodded in agreement. She didn't speak for a moment, choosing to let her gaze focus on the practice match instead. Harry turned the broom so he was watching as well. Nothing too unusual seemed to be happening.
  
  "Promise me one thing, Harry?" Daphne asked.
  
  "What's that?" Harry's eyes followed the quaffle as one of the chasers completely outmaneuvered Roger and scored easily past McLaggen.
  
  "When things don't work out between you and the French girl you give me the first shot at winning your affections."
  
  "I can agree to that. Although, I'm not sure how hard you'll have to try if that point ever comes," Harry said.
  
  "That's good to know," Daphne responded. "So we're just friends, then?" she asked.
  
  "I'd like to stay friends. I'm not sure we were ever really anything more than that," Harry said.
  
  "We weren't, Harry. But we would have been," she paused for the briefest of moments. "You know, there are plenty of guys that would be crushed to simply be in the friend zone with me."
  
  "I'm sure. But you've made it pretty clear that I can get out of it rather easily if need be," Harry responded.
  
  "I suppose you're right," Daphne laughed. They chatted for a few more minutes. Harry focused more on watching the practice then. Roger was struggling, but there wasn't much he could say about that. Lilly and Alicia were playing incredibly well. As were Fred and George.
  
  His eyes followed the Weasley twins for a moment. He watched Fred pass a bludger brilliantly to George, who had a much better vantage on the opposing chasers. George nailed it perfectly with his bat and it shot into the fray of chasers. Harry saw its path and winced. He knew what was coming.
  
  The iron ball flew in very quickly, Alicia never had a chance. Harry would never forget the loud crack it made as it impacted on the back of her head. She slumped to the side and fell off of her broom. Harry heard screams from the crowd. He pushed his broom into a dive in her direction, momentarily forgetting just how weary he felt. He didn't think there was any chance that he would catch up.
  
  But he did, just a couple of meters off of the ground he pushed his broom under her falling body. She impacted onto him and forced them both to the ground.
  
  The blood was the first thing he noticed. The next was that, at the very least, Alicia was still breathing. He pushed her slumped body off of him so he could stand. He felt like he was in one piece. His broom appeared to have survived too. He had no idea where Alicia's flew off to. Frankly, he wasn't particularly concerned about that at the moment.
  
  His teammates landed next to him, each looking shocked. George looked the worse of all of them. No one did anything more than look frightened.
  
  "Someone levitate her. Keep her level, we have to get her to the hospital wing," Harry said. "And we have to do it as quickly as possible!" Roger snapped out of the frightened daze first and did what Harry asked. The entire team followed suit. Harry lagged behind, feeling a bit dazed himself, but otherwise no worse for the wear.
  
  He was the last member of the team to arrive at the hospital wing, moving slowly on his sore muscles. Madam Pomfrey had already stabilized Alicia. She was magically cleaning the blood out of the girl's hair as Harry entered.
  
  "Don't tell me you managed to hurt yourself as well, Potter," the nurse said. Harry shook his head.
  
  "No more than normal," he responded. Pomfrey laughed.
  
  "If that's the case then I better check you out. Apparently nearly being stabbed by merpeople wasn't an exciting way to spend your day, you have to catch a falling chaser as well?" she scolded him, shaking her head. "Why is it always you, Potter?"
  
  "I don't know. But in fairness, I didn't do much catching, she just sort of landed on me," he admitted.
  
  "Yes, I gathered that. I should probably look you over, just in case," she said.
  
  "Alright," Harry responded, figuring it was easier than arguing that he was okay. The nurse scanned him with her wand briefly.
  
  "Well you're in one piece. Pretty beat up, but otherwise intact. Which is better than usual," the nurse said.
  
  "How's Alicia?" he asked.
  
  "She's stable. But that's the best I can say," the nurse looked around at the quidditch team. Harry realized she probably hadn't explained the diagnosis yet. "I'm assuming she has a concussion, and that her brain is swelling from the impact. It will likely affect her vision."
  
  "Isn't there something you can do?" Roger asked.
  
  "I've done what I can do, Davies. I closed the wound and made sure she's stable. She should recover, but it will take a great deal of time."
  
  "But isn't there something more you can do? You can fix a broken bone in a second!" Roger looked rather desperate.
  
  "Re-grow them pretty efficiently, too," Harry commented.
  
  "Yes, but bones are easy, they simply need to be put back together. Brain injuries are considerably more serious," she explained.
  
  "But there has to be something more that you can do," Roger begged.
  
  "There are things I could do, Davies, but I'm not going to attempt them when she's in stable condition. The magic could have drastic effects on her brain. It's far too dangerous for me to attempt them now when I know her recovery will simply be a few months."
  
  "A few months?" Roger groaned. "We have a match tomorrow!"
  
  "And she will likely not even be awake for that. Unless you're willing to front the bill for an incredibly expensive, and incredibly dangerous magical brain operation. Since I know you're not, you should just trust me that letting her recover naturally from something like this is best. So you better just deal with it," Pomfrey said. Roger looked around.
  
  "Well, you're starting then, Malcolm," he said. Preece just nodded. No one was in the mood to talk. Ginny looked slightly disappointed that Preece got the nod over her.
  
  "Yes, deal with the team on your own time. For now get out of the hospital and let Alicia sleep. I've already notified her parents. They'll likely be here soon."
  
  "Okay, let's go," Roger said, he spent another moment glancing at the injured, sleeping chaser before he left. The team followed him out.
  
  "Harry," Pomfrey said as the others left. He paused and looked back at her. The nurse was rummaging through some potions. She found the one she was looking for and gave it to him. "It's a numbing draught. Take it tonight and you shouldn't feel like death for the match tomorrow. It's perfectly legal, too. Only you would think to break someone's fall with your own body. Saved her life, you know."
  
  "Thanks," was all Harry could think to say. He wouldn't ever admit that his plan had been to try to catch her, he'd just absorbed the blow instead. Still, he was glad Alicia would be okay, even if it took a couple of months. They'd just have to win tomorrow so she'd get a shot to play against Durmstrang in June.
  
  Harry stepped out of the hospital wing in time to hear Roger tell the rest of the team to go to bed. The captain's words seemed weak. Harry, for one, thought the situation could be considered his fault. They probably shouldn't have even attempted the practice that night. But Roger was just trying to make sure they wouldn't be bounced from the tournament by Beauxbatons.
  
  Harry started to walk back to the common room. He intended to chug the potion Madam Pomfrey gave him and sleep like a rock. His only real concern was waking up in time for the game. But he figured someone would come and get him if he didn't. He let out a large yawn and started to walk back toward the Gryffindor common room.
  
  "'Arry?" a familiar French accented voice said from behind him.
  
  "Yes Fleur?" he said, turning to look at her. She looked mostly disheveled. Her hair was everywhere, she wore a robe wrapped tightly around her body, and slippers on her feet. Harry thought she looked like she'd just gotten out of bed. But at the very least, she looked relieved to see him. That had to count for something.
  
  "Zey said zat one of ze 'Ogwarts chasers fell and was seriously injured," Fleur said. "Zey did not know who. Zey also said zat you saved her." Her accent sounded even worse than normal. Harry realized why she was concerned.
  
  "It wasn't Lilly. It was Alicia," Harry said. "She got hit by a bludger in the back of the head. She's doing alright now, though."
  
  "What 'appened?" Fleur asked. She looked visibly relieved.
  
  "A bludger caught her in the back of the head," Harry repeated.
  
  "No. After zat," she said.
  
  "Oh. She kind of slumped on her broom," Harry said, demonstrating briefly with his body. "And then she fell off."
  
  "And you caught her?"
  
  "Well no. I got under her and then wound up slammed into the ground. My back actually really hurts," Harry admitted. "But Pomfrey, the nurse, thinks that I cushioned the fall enough that she'll be okay in a couple of months."
  
  "You are very brave," Fleur said. Harry shook his head.
  
  "No. Just very reckless," he replied.
  
  "Do you make a 'abit of saving defenseless people?" she asked.
  
  "Well it's not intentional," Harry said. "Usually it's a case of right place at right time. Or wrong place, if you prefer."
  
  "You really are a strange one," she responded. Harry just shrugged. His conversations with other women coming back to him quickly. He decided to simply say what was on his mind.
  
  "I'm sorry, Fleur," he said. She crossed her arms over her chest and stared at him.
  
  "For what?" she asked.
  
  "For not writing to you again, even though I said I would, and for just kissing you in public. I was operating on some mediocre advice, there," he said, looking straight at her. Fleur looked rather amused.
  
  "Well, I did not write back to you either. It 'as been a very busy year, 'as it not?" she asked, tilting her head to the side.
  
  "To say the least," Harry said.
  
  "Yes. You do not need to apologize for zat. I am curious, what advice were you operating under?" She tilted her head to the side. Harry decided that it would probably be the best if he just told her.
  
  "Well I talked to my godfather. He said that if I saw something that could be a chance I should take it. He said that it would take something like that to prevent you from thinking I was just a kid. I rather like you, Fleur. I have since we exchanged letters," he explained, figuring it would be best if he simply put it all out on the table.
  
  "Interesting advice," Fleur said. She took a few steps closer to him.
  
  "Tell me, 'Arry. Why did you save my sister in ze lake? Was it merely an attempt to get closer to me?" she asked.
  
  "To be honest, Fleur, that thought never occurred to me," he admitted. He wouldn't say it, but he was disappointed she would even think that. "I saved her for the same reason I tried to save Alicia. I never thought about not saving her. Hell, I tried to save all of the hostages when I got there."
  
  "Zat is what my friends said. You are very noble," she responded. "Of course, zat was only after zey finished making fun of me for being caught off guard as you kissed me."
  
  "I did apologize for that," Harry pointed out. Still, the idea of Fleur's friends taunting her about it was fun to think about.
  
  "As you should," Fleur said. "If it occurred in private I would not 'ave reacted ze same way," she admitted.
  
  "What would you have done?" Harry asked. She slapped him. Rather hard. It stung quite a bit for a moment, but it didn't hurt nearly as much as his back or arm. Still, he rubbed it gently as he turned back to look at her.
  
  "Zat. But now I must ask you something," she said.
  
  "Well you have my attention," Harry replied, still rubbing his cheek a bit.
  
  "When you asked me to ze ball. Did you really do it because you were worried I would not be able to find a date?"
  
  "No," Harry laughed. "Was that the excuse I gave, I can't even remember. I asked you, Fleur Isabelle Delacour, because, as I said, I rather like you. I understand you think I'm an immature kid. I disagree. But that's that. Now, if you'll be kind enough to excuse me, Fleur, I'm exhausted." He turned to leave. Fleur followed him for the first two steps.
  
  "Wait," she said. He turned back to face her, giving her the most attentive look he could muster at that point.
  
  "I do not feel zat you are an immature kid," she said. "I realized around ze ball zat you are more zan you seem. I often think about your offer to ze ball. It certainly would 'ave been a better night."
  
  "Probably," Harry admitted. He figured it would be bad form to admit that he'd had a great time at the ball regardless.
  
  "Do not interrupt me," Fleur scolded. "Where was I? Oh yes. I am accustomed to people wanting to do zings for me. I assumed you followed Rodger because you simply wanted to save me. But I now realize you would 'ave probably done the same for any girl."
  
  "Probably," Harry said again. He hadn't really thought about that before, but he certainly did have a record for saving people who were in otherwise precarious situations.
  
  "You would 'ave. It is just who you are. Now. Zair is a rather large gap in our ages. We 'ave quite a few different zings that we must deal with in ze future. So I do not know if zis has any chance of working. But if you would like, 'Arry, I would love for you to accompany me to zat town ze students go to next weekend," she said. Harry noticed she appeared to choose her words carefully. She also blushed a little bit as she spoke. Fleur Delacour couldn't be nervous about asking him out, could she?
  
  "Are you asking me out on a date, Miss Delacour?" Harry teased. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him a cold stare.
  
  "I would have assumed zat much was obvious," Fleur said.
  
  "If I say yes can I brag that I'm dating Fleur Delacour?" he asked. She shook her head in annoyance.
  
  "Only if you feel zat it will make that blonde witch you associate with jealous," Fleur said. Harry laughed a little bit.
  
  "I think it would. Although what an ego boost it would be for her to think you're jealous of her," Harry said.
  
  "I am jealous of her, 'Arry. Ze ball she had should 'ave been ze ball I had. Now will you go to dinner with me in ze town or not?" she said.
  
  "Of course I will, Fleur," Harry responded.
  
  "Good. Come by ze carriages at seven. Now, one more thing," she said, stepping closer to him.
  
  "What's that?" he asked, tilting his head to one side. She didn't respond with words, but rather kissed him, very softly, right on the lips. She tasted wonderful. Harry's eyes closed as he kissed her back for a moment, until she pulled her lips just a few centimeters from his.
  
  "Now we are even for surprise kisses," she whispered against his lips. Her breath was tantalizingly hot on his skin. All he wanted to do was kiss her back. "I would wish you luck tomorrow in ze quidditch match. But I feel I must pull for my school. Good night, 'Arry."
  
  "Good night, Fleur," he said, attempting to move his lips back to hers, but she'd stepped back away and was moving back to the carriages. He was too tired to do anything but watch her go.
  
  The somber mood of the locker room prevailed over everyone inside. Only Malcolm expressed any excitement for the game, but he was smart enough to not act too excited around the rest of the team. Harry was sure that Malcolm, like the rest of them, could feel the loss of Alicia's presence. There did just seem to be something missing.
  
  Of course, Harry may have also attributed that to the pain potion he'd consumed the night before. Yes, it had worked, he certainly didn't feel any pain when he woke up. Of course, he was so groggy he barely remembered where he was and that he had a quidditch match to play. The icy air had woken him a bit, but the warm locker room was lulling him back to sleep.
  
  He inspected his broom, simply to make sure that nothing was wrong with it after the fall. It appeared to be in perfect working order. Cho had volunteered to let him use hers for the match, just to be safe, but he thought his looked fine, so he'd simply had her look it over as well. Neither of them could find any fault. And really, if something was wrong he could always just call a time out and switch brooms.
  
  After he finished with that he simply paced around the locker room. He intended to keep moving in order to keep himself awake. He took note of the team as he walked around. George looked pretty worn out. Harry doubted he slept much. They all knew the bludger wasn't his fault, but he was sure the twin felt terrible about it. And George knew that Alicia would want him to go out and play his heart out and get her a win.
  
  Eventually, Roger led the team onto the pitch. The cold air helped rouse Harry a bit, as did the booming voice of Ludo Bagman.
  
  "Ladies and Gentlemen!" Ludo yelled over the crowd. "Today we have the final qualifying match in the Quidditch tournament. Hogwarts and Beauxbatons will play to determine who gets the pivotal rematch against Durmstrang!
  
  "But this match needs no build up. You all know why we're here. So let's introduce the French team! We have team captain and keeper Bourdais, followed by Rousseau, Besson, Ardant, Morin, Garron, and Sinclair!" Harry watched the blue robed players fly out over the pitch as the Beauxbaton's contingent cheered loudly. The Hogwarts team mounted their brooms then and waited to be announced.
  
  "Same as last time, just fly out when your name is called," Roger said.
  
  "And now for the Hogwarts team! I present you with Fleet, Weasley, Weasley, Davies, Preece, Seslion, and Potter!" Harry shot across the pitch, following closely behind Lilly. He rolled the opposite way as her when they reached the opposing hoops and looped back toward his own goal as Bagman continued.
  
  "Preece is subbing in for the injured Alicia Spinnet. She took a dive off of her broom during a practice session yesterday. Word is she's out with a concussion, but in very good condition. We hope her the best," Bagman finished for a moment. Harry flew around their defensive zone, enjoying how the rush of wind through his hair made him feel much more awake. He noticed some of his friends in the crowd as he flew by. Ron looked slightly dazed as he sat next to Hermione. Harry wondered if that Cheering Charm had finally worn off. He flew back toward the rest of the team after a moment.
  
  Of course, it may have just been because Viktor Krum was seated on the other side of Hermione. Harry could only imagine what was going through Ron's head as he was about to watch a quidditch match with his idol.
  
  "Alright, let's give this all we've got and win," Roger said. Clich?d words, but that didn't particularly bother Harry. They lined up and waited then. Harry floated above Fred, diagonally from where Sinclair lined herself up.
  
  "The official is in position!" Bagman yelled. "And we're underway! Seslion wins the draw from Garron. She passes it to Preece. He relays it to Davies who takes the shot! It's batted away easily by Bourdais.
  
  "Garron with the quaffle now. Passes it back to Morin. Returns it to Garron. Garron passes it across the pitch to Ardant. Seslion tries for the steal but an excellent bludger from Besson got into her path. Morin with the quaffle now. He shoots! Saved by Fleet. But there's no one there for the rebound! Garron into the center ring! What a save by Fleet! But no, Morin gets it back, Fleet is too far away to stop that one. 10-0 Beauxbatons.
  
  "Seslion on the inbound to Davies. Davies moves down toward the center of the pitch. He tries to dump it blindly to avoid a bludger but Seslion isn't there! It's picked up by Garron who's all alone! Wait, Fred Weasley hits a bludger toward George, he goes for the shot on the speeding Garron! He misses badly! Garron scores 20-0 Beauxbatons! This Hogwarts line is looking a tad skitterish at the start of the game," Bagman announced.
  
  Harry couldn't help but think he was right. Even from his vantage the chasers looked slow and slightly outmatched. Obviously the Beauxbatons team wasn't going to roll over and just let Hogwarts advance. But he could already tell this match was going to rely on his ability to catch the snitch. He cut between a group of Beauxbatons chasers as he looked for the snitch. It created enough of a distraction to allow Roger to score the first goal of the game for Hogwarts.
  
  Lilly followed it with a wonderful steal on the inbound. She relayed the quaffle quickly to Malcolm who tied the game up. But after that the tide quickly tilted back for Beauxbatons. Confusion on a play call from Malcolm led to another Beauxbatons break away. This time they scored easily.
  
  Harry focused on finding the snitch as quickly as he could. When it suited his location on the field he helped out the chasers as much as he could, but Bourdais was playing exceptionally well in the hoops for Beauxbatons.
  
  Thankfully, Fleet was also playing well, as the Beauxbatons team was getting an incredible amount of chances. Harry realized quickly that they weren't playing nearly the defense that they had against Durmstrang. Part of the problem, Harry noticed, was that George looked afraid to hit the bludger at anyone. His shots were all a few feet off, and the Beauxbatons team noticed it. They constantly attacked the area of the pitch he was defending.
  
  Davies scored another goal for Hogwarts to tie it up, but it didn't matter. Beauxbatons had found their weakness and they exploited it. Before Harry even had time to react he noticed that the scoreboard near the announcers booth read Beauxbatons: 60 Hogwarts 30. He watched as Roger got nicked by a bludger on the arm, and Lilly dove out of the way to avoid another. It led to a turnover, though. Thankfully Fleet saved the shot.
  
  Harry saw that the two chasers weren't ready to join back into the play, though, he darted over toward the official and called time out. He joined the other players near the bench in time to hear Roger speaking to George.
  
  "Come on man. You have to be better out there. Get your head in the game. I know yesterday sucked. But it wasn't your fault. We need you!" the captain said to George. Unfortunately, George remained completely passive. He muttered things like 'I know' and 'alright' but Harry could tell he didn't want to be playing. Fred was trying to help his brother as well, but it didn't appear to be working. Harry looked toward the bench. Only one other player didn't look shell-shocked like the rest of the team. In fact, he looked as focused
  
  "Screw it, Roger. Titus, replace George for the rest of the game. George, you're still the starter, but that accident yesterday was hell. Sit this one out, we'll get you the rematch against Durmstrang." Harry spoke as firmly as he could. Titus stood and grabbed his broom and bat, looking toward the captain. Fred looked like he wanted to argue with him, but George just shook his head and sat next to Ginny on the bench. Roger nodded a bit to Harry. The official stopped by to tell them their time out was up. They kicked off as a group as play resumed.
  
  "Well, we're back to the action now," Bagman announced. "It looks like Titus Button is replacing George Weasley at beater. That's obviously an attempt to bolster their defense. Interestingly, it looks like Potter made the call on the substitution. We'll see how that pays off for them.
  
  "Looks like its starting off well. Button completely broke that play up with a well placed bludger. Hogwarts recovers it. Another well placed bludger, this time from Weasley, distracts Bourdais and Davies scores!"
  
  Harry felt relieved the second the quaffle went through the hoops. He went back to focusing on the snitch and ignoring everything else. Sinclair seemed perfectly content to follow him by then. He paid little attention to her. If she made a rapid move he'd consider adjusting, but, unlike the previous match, this time he was confident he could out fly the opposing seeker.
  
  The Hogwarts team started to mount a comeback. But Beauxbatons managed to stay a couple of goals ahead at nearly all times. Harry took a moment to see how Titus and Fred paired up as beaters. It was certainly a downgrade from Fred and George when they were both in top form, the teamwork just wasn't there. The two seemed to have decided to defend their own zone as best they could. They appeared to have little interaction with eachother. But the Beauxbatons team was getting fewer shots, so Harry decided it was a plus.
  
  He kept flying. Searching for any sign of the magical golden ball that would seal the win. Finally, he saw it. Unfortunately, it was speeding straight toward him. But he knew it would be out of his reach. He just hoped Sinclair wouldn't spot it. If she did, she'd have nearly the perfect line to it from following him. He banked away from it, hoping that the French seeker would take the bait. She did.
  
  He pulled the broom as hard as he could the other way, knowing that Sinclair could probably maneuver easier than he in the tight space, but he wasn't going to put himself into a position where he needed to completely outmaneuver her. He placed himself where he thought the snitch was going, and forced the Lotus to full speed. Sure enough, he ran it down quickly, and had a large gap over Sinclair. It tried to cut away from him, but he anticipated the move and blocked it. Again it tried to cut back and resume, but Harry caught up with it and a simple swipe of his arm ended the match.
  
  "Potter has the snitch!" Bagman yelled over the cheering fans. Harry circled up and around toward the center of the pitch where he met his teammates as Bagman continued to shout. "Hogwarts wins 240-120. Hogwarts will face Durmstrang in the final match of the year!" Harry was swarmed by his teammates. Everyone hugged him at least once.
  
  When they finally let him breathe he looked through the crowd. His eyes found Fleur quickly. She was smiling at him despite her friends looking rather upset about the outcome. Next he saw Daphne, who sat next to Tracey and cheered enthusiastically. Finally, his eyes found Ron and Hermione, both of them cheered for him as well. But perhaps most telling was Viktor Krum, still setting next to Hermione. He wasn't cheering or clapping, instead he was simply staring at Harry, with a smile on his face. Harry could tell he wasn't the only one excited for the rematch.
  
  Author's Note: Not much to say about this chapter really. It sets up what everyone already knew would happen, with the final quidditch match. And, it only took them like six months, but Harry and Fleur are finally almost sort of a couple. More on that next chapter.
  
  There's all sorts of things I want to say about reviewer comments on Daphne/Fleur, but I think I'll hold off on that until Fleur's character appears as more of a main force. It comes back to the reason why Lilly's role was significantly reduced from the original plan. I always knew that the other girl would be far more appealing for a large chunk of the story. Hopefully, by the end, everyone likes Fleur just as much. But we'll see.
  
  I did, as referenced in the last chapter, write the first chapter of a different fanfic. However, due to site errors, I can only upload new content via use of different hyperlinks, and cannot create new content. Otherwise, I'd have posted that already. Oh well. It'll be up when the site is fixed. Until then, I need to think of a better title for it.
  
  Next chapter will probably be a tad shorter than the previous few installments. I have less planned for it than I usually do per chapter. But that's subject to change based on whatever I think of while writing.
  
  Other than that, thanks for all the reviews on the last chapter, I appreciate them all. As always, the best way of contacting me with any questions or comments is through PM. I hope you enjoy the update and have a happy racing season, as both major series start on Sunday!
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, and I am making no profit off of this.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Cammiles2003 for the preliminary beta work on the chapter.
  
  Chapter 15
  
  Relationship
  
  The week passed quickly. Harry found himself constantly surrounded by people. He would have sworn that every student at Hogwarts came up to congratulate him on the victory over Beauxbatons, and wish him luck in the rematch against Krum. Well, every student except for Draco Malfoy. But he was completely fine with that.
  
  Of course, it helped that Viktor Krum often sat with Hermione at meals in the Great Hall. Ron gloated about it nearly constantly, which improved his mood greatly, and angered Draco to no end.
  
  Harry enjoyed Krum's company as well. The older player didn't talk with him much, really he only talked to Hermione consistently, but Harry still enjoyed the stars company. Even if their conversations were often limited to quidditch and flying. At the very least Krum imparted some valuable advice to Harry.
  
  Harry was running late for breakfast on one such morning. He ducked into the Great Hall to pick up some toast before heading toward the pitch. He noticed Ron attempting to converse with Krum. It was a tad strange how much Ron reminded him of Malfoy during those moments. Krum responded to most of the questions politely. But his replies were very contrite.
  
  "Good morning, Harry," Hermione said as he grabbed the pieces of toast off of the Gryffindor table.
  
  "Hey Hermione," he responded. "Oh and hey Viktor, Ron." He took a big bite of toast. Krum nodded at him, but Ron simply kept talking to the quidditch star.
  
  "You have practice this afternoon, I assume?" she asked.
  
  "Yes. Probably not going to go to Charms," he admitted, causing Hermione to scoff at him.
  
  "What else is new there," she spat. "You'd think you'd be more interested in learning as to help out with the tournament."
  
  "I'm doing alright for myself," Harry teased. It drew a laugh from Krum.
  
  "If you insist," Hermione said. "Come on Ron, we'll be late if we linger any longer." She stood and left. Ron followed her, grabbing a couple of pieces of toast as he left. Harry found himself alone at the table with Viktor Krum. Most of the students were leaving the hall to head to whichever class they had that morning. Harry had simply planned on going for a run and then flying around for a bit, or maybe visiting Hagrid. Of course, Hagrid did have a class that morning, and if he got too close he'd wind up having to help care for one of those exploding scorpion things that scared him half to death. So a mix of that and Krum's bored expression made Harry wonder just what the older boy was doing that day.
  
  "I was going to just screw around on my broom before practice," Harry said. Krum looked at him appraisingly. "Want to join me?"
  
  "Well," Krum said. Then he simply shrugged. "Sure. I have nothing better to do."
  
  "Cool," Harry responded as he finished his last piece of toast. They both walked quietly down to the pitch. Harry ducked into the Hogwarts locker room to change into a practice uniform and grab his broom. Krum told him he'd have to go back to the ship to change and grab his own broom.
  
  Harry was first back to the pitch. He mounted the broom and simply started to leisurely fly around the pitch, circling through each of the hoops as he did. He decided to see just how quickly he could weave through the three hoops on one side of the pitch, shoot out toward the other hoops and weave through those three as well.
  
  It started off pretty well. He got through the first three hoops easily. And he came out on a perfect line toward the opposing hoops. He cut in perfectly and banked hard to the right coming through the middle hoop. But he misjudged the quick turn and clipped his broom on the hoop, spinning wildly toward the center of the pitch. He recovered quickly only to hear Krum's laughing.
  
  "Nice recovery," the Bulgarian said, floating up next to him. "But you misjudged the distance there."
  
  "I noticed," Harry replied grumpily, glad he just embarrassed himself thoroughly in front of the older player.
  
  "It was actually a nice move," Krum said. He was laying down on his broom with supreme balance. "Could use it to really confuse a keeper. Just be careful not to fly into the keeper. Penalty."
  
  "You're giving me advice?" Harry asked, sounding a little bit surprised. He certainly hadn't expected that.
  
  "Yes," Krum responded simply. He slid back into a normal position on the broom and spun to face Harry.
  
  "Not worried I'll beat you?" Harry asked.
  
  "No." Krum laughed.
  
  "Ouch," Harry responded. He wasn't sure what to think. He hated Krum for a moment. He thought the older player was a complete and utter cock. But that just made him want to beat him more. And through all his comments, Krum was still smirking. Could he know that such comments would push Harry even harder in the final match. After a moment, Harry spoke again. "You know, I'm ahead of you in the other tournament."
  
  "With one event to go. It will be a fantastic comeback for Krum," Viktor said.
  
  "You're very confident," Harry said dryly.
  
  "Become a professional seeker. You will be too. You have to think you are going to win, Harry, or you will not win," Viktor responded.
  
  "I guess that's good advice," Harry said. Still, he had a very hard time thinking he could ever be quite as confident as Viktor Krum.
  
  "It is. You will use it. But now I will start training you," Krum said. "Now you must keep up." Krum sped off toward the castle.
  
  It took Harry a moment to react, but he chased after the older seeker. Krum flew dangerously close to the castle. He ducked between two of the towers before pulling off a quick hairpin around another. Harry missed that badly, but Krum slowed down to let him regain the ground.
  
  At least until he decided to shoot off toward Hagrid's hut. Krum smoked him in a straight line, and he knew it. Harry kept up as best as he could until Krum curved over the forest. The older seeker patched ahead with a series of quick S-turns. Harry kept up with him through that. He even gained some ground.
  
  But when he got close enough that he thought he could probably reach out and grab the end of Krum's broom, the Bulgarian moved into a steep climb. Harry pressed himself as low to the broom as he possibly could and followed. He was pleasantly surprised that he started to gain ground.
  
  At least until Krum complicated the climb with a series of complicated twists and turns and direction changes. Harry hadn't ever tried to maneuver that much in a climb and he wasn't particularly confident with following the Bulgarian. But Harry did the best he could, and when Krum finally stabilized out of the climb, was considerably closer than he would have expected. Still, the more experienced seeker didn't stay level for long.
  
  Instead, Viktor pressed himself into a rather leisurely feint, at least as far as feints went. Harry followed with ease. Even the corkscrewing move that Krum added wasn't particularly difficult for him to follow. Of course, Harry wondered when Krum was going to pull out of the feint, as the forest was getting closer very quickly.
  
  But Krum didn't pull up. Instead he dove right through the trees and righted himself around ground level. But he didn't stop. He just kept flying through the forest. In fact, he didn't even slow down. It would have been breathtaking to watch, but he was rather focused on not crashing head-first into a tree. Krum kept that up for a few hundred meters before he lifted off of the ground level.
  
  Harry thought he was going to climb out of the forest, but instead he just started to weave even closer to the trees. Harry kept up the best he could. But that wasn't saying much as the trees sped by. He couldn't help but think that crashing into a tree at full speed on a broom would be a pathetic way to die. But, at the very least, it would make for an interesting obituary.
  
  Thankfully, Krum found the end of the forest. Harry held his breath until he was clear of the final trees. The two seekers shot out of the forest, past an alarmed looking Bartimus Crouch, and sped off toward the lake. Wait, Harry thought. Hadn't Crouch missed the last task. He vaguely remembered not seeing him at the judges table for the competition. Of course, before the task he was too busy worrying if the Gillyweed would work. And after, well after he was too busy marveling at just how soft Fleur's lips were. Still, he vaguely recalled something about Crouch being sick. He didn't care, though. He needed to catch up with Viktor.
  
  Krum was simply flying in a large, fast banked circle around the lake. Harry followed as quickly as he could. Krum let off just a bit to allow Harry some time to catch up. Of course, as soon as Harry got close again, Krum continued with the aerial acrobatics.
  
  This time the Bulgarian seeker flew back toward the castle. Again, he maneuvered around the towers, flying even closer to the stone structures this time. Harry found it was already a tad easier to keep up than it had been when they started.
  
  Krum appeared to notice this too, as he started to maneuver more through the infrastructure of the school. He dived toward one of the courtyards and weaved expertly through both people and arches. Harry followed, causing most people to shriek and flee. Quite a few swore at him. But Harry didn't have time to stick around and apologize because Krum climbed back up into the air.
  
  Harry kept following, willing his broom to go faster with each passing moment. Krum flew straight toward the Owlery. He was moving so quickly that Harry was convinced he was going to fly straight into it. In a way, he did. But Viktor also came out on the other side surrounded by a swarm of frightened owls. Harry had little choice but to follow him, hoping desperately that he didn't collide with one of the birds. He didn't. But Hedwig did try to keep up with him for a moment, hooting angrily at the early-morning distraction from her nap. Fortunately, the bird gave up and flew back to the roost after only a few moments.
  
  Krum banked away from the castle and flew back over toward the pitch. Harry could tell what he was going to attempt long before he even tried it. The Bulgarian sped off toward the far hoops as quickly as he could. He flew through it and weaved through the other two hoops before flying off down the pitch. Harry made up quite a bit of time at the sharp corners, but Krum pulled away again as they raced toward the other set of hoops.
  
  Krum arrived first and weaved expertly through the first two rings but he misjudged the third. Harry watched as Viktor attempted to correct himself, only to slam against the side of the ring and spin off much like Harry had on his first attempt.
  
  "I win," Harry said, not even bothering to suppress a laugh as he came flawlessly out of the third ring. The laugh didn't last long, though, as he realized then just how winded he was. He had to admit that was quite a feat, he hadn't felt this drained from simple flying since the first couple of practices the team had for the tournament. Krum pulled the broom out of the spin and took a moment to right himself before speaking.
  
  "Yes, you do," Krum admitted, looking a tad more like his surly self than Harry had seen when he was around Hermione.
  
  "You know, people say I fly like I'm insane. But they've obviously not watched you carefully enough," Harry admitted and Viktor perked up after that.
  
  "Yes. Quidditch flying is fun. But you do not get the chance to fly like that often. And having it be a race makes it even more fun," Viktor said. Harry couldn't help but agree.
  
  "Yea, that was a blast. I thought you were trying to kill me in the forest," Harry said.
  
  "I was," Krum responded. "I am amazed you kept up through that. I thought for sure I'd be carrying you to the hospital."
  
  "Me too," Harry said. "Now I have to ask. Before you flew off like a maniac, you said you were going to train me? Why would you want to train me, I'm going to beat you." Harry tried to sound as confident as he could. Regardless, it drew a smile from Krum.
  
  "I will win," Krum stated.
  
  "You wish," Harry interrupted. Krum rolled his eyes but continued.
  
  "I will win. But I want it to be the best possible match. You have talent, but you are raw. When I was your age I practiced eight to ten hours a day. Hermione said you only really started practicing this year?"
  
  "Well, we had some pretty intense practices last year, too. But yea, this year has been by far my most quidditch heavy year," Harry admitted.
  
  "Then you have a lot of catching up to do," Viktor said.
  
  "I guess I do," Harry responded, finally really catching his breath.
  
  "Good, we will work on that then. Must put on a good show in the last match," Krum said.
  
  "Great," Harry groaned. "More practices like that? You're going to kill me."
  
  "No. I have watched your practices. Your captain is good with chasers and beaters, but does not know what to do with seekers," Krum said. Harry was going to argue, because he felt Roger had he and Cho prepared well enough. But he realized how fruitless arguing with the man who's largely considered the best seeker in the world could be.
  
  "Well," Harry said. "I'd be stupid to refuse. When do we start?"
  
  "We already did," Krum said. "We will practice three times a week like this until shortly before the match."
  
  "Well that should be fun," Harry said.
  
  "Yes. I look forward to it. Now, did you see the judge outside of the forest?" Krum asked.
  
  "Yea. It looked like Crouch. He's with our ministry. I thought he was ill," Harry said.
  
  "He was not at the last event," Krum said. "I am also not sure if he was at the Ball."
  
  "Well, let's go check it out," Harry said, flying off toward the forest where he had seen Crouch. There wasn't any sign of him.
  
  "Strange," Krum said, hovering close to the ground. "There does not appear to be any sign of him."
  
  "Yea. Weird. Oh well. I have to get to practice soon," Harry said and started to fly back. Krum followed him without a word. But Harry did notice the older seeker looked over his shoulder at the forest a few times as they flew. Harry gazed back over the grounds and noticed that Professor Moody was walking toward Hagrid's hut. Harry banked toward the professor.
  
  "Professor Moody," he shouted as he flew by. The older man nearly jumped out of his fake leg.
  
  "Potter," he said hoarsely.
  
  "Heading to Hagrid's?" Harry asked in a rather pathetic attempt to create a conversation.
  
  "Yes, Potter. He wanted me to make sure some of his creatures are healthy," Moody replied. "Apparently he has plans for them later."
  
  "That's a scary thought," Harry admitted. "But, I was wondering, sir, what do you know about Mr. Crouch?"
  
  "Crouch?" Moody looked rather surprised to be asked. "Not a whole lot. Why do you ask?"
  
  "Well, Krum and I thought we saw him near the forest. But we were flying pretty hard and didn't get a particularly good look."
  
  "I seriously doubt you saw him, Potter. It's all over the papers, he's been sick for months. He left your friend's brother in charge." Moody said gruffly.
  
  "Well that would seem unlikely then. We must have been mistaken. Have a good day, sir," Harry said, attempting to sound as cordial as he could.
  
  "You too, Potter. And do try to come to class for once. Your O.W.L year is going to be unpleasant if you need to cover both fourth and fifth year," the professor advised.
  
  "I'll try," Harry said, before flying off with Krum.
  
  "That was strange," Krum commented, flying up next to Harry.
  
  "A little bit. But it does make sense," Harry said.
  
  "If you think so. I know who I saw," Krum responded.
  
  "I thought it was him too. But it just must not have been," Harry argued. Krum just shrugged his shoulders.
  
  "No. It was him," Krum said. Harry thought it was too. But he didn't see much of a point in pressing it. He'd been flying as fast as he could past the figure, and certainly hadn't even bothered to look back. And there hadn't been any sign of him when they flew back.
  
  "Hermione did mention you were stubborn," Harry commented.
  
  "Funny, she says the same thing about you," Krum said. "And she agrees with your professor. You must go to class more often." As the conversation shifted, neither of them noticed that Professor Moody started to walk toward the forest, rather than toward Hagrid's hut.
  
  "I probably should. I do go to most of them. Well, probably about three fourths of them. But it's so easy to not when there's no repercussions," Harry said. "Do you think I should go more?"
  
  "That is up to you," Krum responded. "I do think you will be easier to beat in June if you go to class more now."
  
  "So that's a yes?" Harry teased.
  
  "It is very close to one, yes," Krum responded. The older seeker paused for a moment. "Can I ask you a question about Hermione?"
  
  "If you want. But I'll warn you. I'm atrocious with all manners concerning girls," Harry answered. He found it a little hard to believe that Krum would possibly need any form of advice from him.
  
  "You cannot be that bad. You have the French champion and that pretty blonde," Krum commented.
  
  "Well, the pretty blonde sort of fell into my lap. And I've been trying to get Fleur to notice me since they arrived," Harry countered.
  
  "You should see if the blonde is interested in the French girl," Krum said. Harry looked at him for a moment. He'd be lying if he said he hadn't thought about it. But he knew that would never, ever, be more than a fantasy.
  
  "That really just sounds overly complicated," Harry said. Krum just tilted his head back and laughed. Harry crossed his arms and let the older seeker laugh for a few moments before speaking again. "Are you quite done? You had a question about my best friend, I believe."
  
  "Oh yes," Krum responded. "I do not think she likes me that much." Harry couldn't help but think that wasn't the question. Really, it wasn't even a question.
  
  "So you wanted to ask me what?" Harry asked.
  
  "Why is this?" Krum asked. "What can I do to make it better?"
  
  "I have no idea. Hermione is shy and she doesn't have a lot of close friends. You're the first boy who's really shown a direct interest in her, at least that I'm aware of. I'd suggest taking it slow," Harry said. "I mean, she told me you invited her to Bulgaria. She'd love to go, but she doesn't think her parents would let her, and she really doesn't want to become a quidditch groupie."
  
  "I see," Krum responded. "I guess I am too accustomed to how people act around me. Tell me, does she fancy Ron?" Harry could sense just a tinge of jealousy from Krum. He couldn't help but chuckle a bit at that.
  
  "I don't think so. Ron is, for lack of a better word, clueless about most things though." Harry admitted.
  
  "Yes. He is also a bit trying," Viktor said, clearly not afraid if he offended Harry with the comment about his best friend. But Harry knew that the Bulgarian was right. "But when he sulked for the entire ball staring at her. Well, I thought the only reason she agreed to go with me was to make him mad."
  
  "Hermione wouldn't do something like that. If she hadn't been interested in you, she wouldn't have gone to the ball with you," Harry said.
  
  "I have noticed she is very independent and strong-willed," Krum commented.
  
  "Yes, she is. And she's an excellent friend. Just take things slowly with her if you're really interested," Harry said.
  
  "Thank you, Harry," Krum responded. "I appreciate the help."
  
  "As do I, Viktor. The last match should be fun. I'm looking forward to it."
  
  "Me too," Krum responded. "Now go and practice more so you stand a chance."
  
  By the time the next weekend rolled around Harry was just as sore as he had been since the practices had first started. The workouts with Krum were definitely tiring, although they mostly consisted of chasing after the Bulgarian. Harry figured out quickly that Krum was acting as a snitch during these sessions. Krum made him fly in directions and patterns that Harry hadn't even imagined before.
  
  To make it worse, every time he felt like he was getting closer to the other seeker, Krum flew faster and more skillfully. Still, in just a week he could already see how he was improving. And he wasn't the only one that could tell the difference, either.
  
  "You're really getting good. It's going to be fun to watch you thrash Malfoy next year," Daphne said as she and Harry wandered around the castle, in the general direction that they both assumed would lead to the Great Hall, if the staircases cooperated.
  
  "Don't let your housemates hear you say that," Harry responded. Daphne had found him after Tracey and Titus left for Hogsmeade. He wasn't sure how she'd found him, but she had. He was heading outside to meet Fleur for his own date, but he couldn't think of how he could ditch her without being overly rude.
  
  "I expect some of them will be secretly rooting for you to embarrass Draco on the broom. They'll probably just hope that without Wood we can score enough so that catching the snitch isn't a guaranteed win," she laughed.
  
  "Well, I'll make sure to embarrass him thoroughly just for you," Harry responded dryly. "Wouldn't want to let my Slytherin following down."
  
  "Cute, Harry. Whatever excuse you could have for simply coming out and winning, right?" She teased.
  
  "Well I'm certainly not going to lose to Draco Malfoy," Harry commented.
  
  "Well, very few duelists did last time. I notice you weren't in attendance," Daphne said. Harry had missed the second round of dueling.
  
  "Yea, Roger wanted to hold a practice then. Figured it would be away from spying eyes of Durmstrang," Harry commented, quoting his captain.
  
  "Well you didn't miss much. Cedric and Adrian aren't bad. But Draco hasn't improved at all. It was almost painful to watch. We're last there now, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons are tied for the lead," she explained. Harry already knew that, but he didn't see a point in commenting about it.
  
  "It's a shame that they have to fight with a handicap," Harry commented.
  
  "Yes it is. At the very least it's better than the academic competition," Daphne said. Harry also hadn't gone to that, either. He didn't even know who was on the team
  
  "How's that?" Harry asked.
  
  "It's just a bunch of prissy Ravenclaws answering questions as arrogantly as possible. Then three prissy French students to the same thing, followed by three prissy Durmstrang students. I'm surprised Granger isn't on the team," Daphne commented.
  
  "She volunteered," Harry said, recalling the conversation. "But McGonagall staunchly refused to let someone on the team who wasn't in their seventh year. She has let Hermione attend some of the study sessions, though," Harry explained. Hermione had been very annoyed at McGonagall for that, but it had simply caused her to spend even more time studying, if such a thing were even possible.
  
  "Well. It's dull either way. Would be better if Crabbe, Goyle, and Longbottom were on the team," Daphne said. "Watching the three of them bumble around and attempt to intelligently answer questions would certainly be amusing,"
  
  "Hey now," Harry scolded. "Neville isn't dumb. And he's a great bloke that's brilliant at Herbology." Harry couldn't help but defend his friend. Daphne just shrugged her shoulders.
  
  "If you insist. He's abysmal in potions and useless in defense. I've heard he's just as useless as everyone in creatures, but I haven't witnessed that," Daphne said. Harry could tell he wasn't going to change her mind. He even resisted the urge to comment that Neville hadn't been the only student dumb enough to get mauled by a hippogriff in the previous year. And frankly, Neville hadn't flourished in any of the subjects, so accurately coming to his defense in anything other than Herbology was difficult. Although he was improving with Moody.
  
  "You aren't in creatures or Divination, are you?" Harry asked, although he already knew the answer to that question.
  
  "Observant of you," Daphne responded dryly.
  
  "Well what are your electives?" Harry asked.
  
  "Ancient Runes and Muggle Studies," she responded quickly.
  
  "Muggle Studies?" Harry asked. He certainly hadn't expected that from a pureblood, and knowing Daphne she was probably trying to pull a fast one on him.
  
  "Muggle Studies," Daphne affirmed.
  
  "I didn't think any Slytherins took that," Harry stated.
  
  "I'm the only one in our year,"
  
  "Well, why are you taking that?"
  
  "I'm interested in history and law," Daphne said. "It's the closest subject to that that's offered."
  
  "Muggle Studies does history?"
  
  "Yes. A lot of what the Muggles think happened compared to what we actually did. It's interesting, really," Daphne explained. "The bits on culture are a tad boring. But I enjoy it."
  
  "I bet that makes you a bit of an outcast in Slytherin," Harry said.
  
  "Not really," Daphne replied. "Some of the older students have taken the class as well. Everyone just assumes I'm in it because it's easy. Same reason most people take creatures."
  
  "I guess that makes sense," Harry said. He jumped over one of the fake steps on the staircase and landed in near the entrance to the castle. Daphne took a much more careful route, daintily stepping over the fake step and moving next to him. He had to admit, it did sound like a better option than Divination.
  
  "The Entrance Hall?" she asked before batting her eyelashes adorably at him. "Are you taking me to Hogsmeade, Harry? That's very nice of you, but how do you know I don't have plans?"
  
  "Actually, I have a date with Fleur," he responded. Her face fell quite a bit.
  
  "Oh? The Frenchie wasn't mad at you? That's a shame."
  
  "She was mad enough to slap me. But she then asked me to go to town with her today," Harry explained.
  
  "Damn. Maybe she won't show up and I'll have to substitute for her," Daphne teased. "I have to see you attempting to flirt with her, too." Harry realized that he wasn't going to get rid of her easily. He figured he'd be better off letting her tag along for now.
  
  "I doubt she won't show up," Harry said.
  
  "Yes, but I'll take my chances," Daphne commented. They walked in silence for the next couple of minutes. When the left the castle Harry led Daphne toward the Beauxbaton's carriage. Fleur was standing outside of it. She had a Beauxbatons cloak wrapped around her shoulders, but she wasn't wearing her school uniform. Instead she wore a pretty yet simple dress. It looked lighter than anything Harry would have considered appropriate for the season, but Fleur didn't appear to be cold. It occurred to him that the outfit was probably enchanted to prevent that.
  
  Regardless, Harry was glad he'd decided to wear Muggle clothing as well. Most students did on weekends, but he wasn't sure what Fleur would have worn. He'd picked out some of the things that fit him the best when he'd gone shopping with Hermione.
  
  "Told you," Harry said as they walked toward the carriage. He noticed Fleur crossed her arms and looked slightly annoyed.
  
  "She's even all dolled up for you," Daphne said. Harry had no idea what she meant, but as he got closer he noticed that she was either cold, or wearing some blush. Her lips also looked a little bit redder than normal.
  
  "What?" Harry asked, Daphne didn't respond.
  
  "Good afternoon, 'Arry," Fleur said as they approached. "Who is your friend?"
  
  "Oh, uhm. This is Daphne. Daphne, this is Fleur," Harry said, realizing just how awkward this situation was about to get. Thankfully, though, Daphne saved him.
  
  "A pleasure," she said, giving Fleur a nod of her head. "Harry talks about you quite often." Harry wasn't sure if that was true or not. He couldn't really remember talking about Fleur with Daphne when she hadn't brought it up.
  
  "Oui, et vous," Fleur responded. Harry could sense that she wanted to say more, but she didn't. Perhaps that's why she switched to French for the moment.
  
  "Well I'll leave you two then," Daphne said with a faux smile. "Enjoy your date, Harry," she added, putting the emphasis on the first letter of his name. She gave Harry a large, full hug then, pressing herself as closely to him as she could. She followed that with a lingering kiss on the cheek, dangerously close to the corner of his mouth. After that she let him go and started to walk off toward the castle. Fleur made sure she was out of earshot before speaking.
  
  "Why did you 'ave 'er come with you?" she asked. Her voice was rather cold.
  
  "I didn't," he responded. "I couldn't think of a way to get her to go away without being rude."
  
  "You are a strange one, 'Arry," she said, eyeing him up.
  
  "You've said that," he responded. He was getting a tad sick of hearing it. So he changed the subject. "You look very nice today. I like what you've done with your hair." She had it up in a bun. Harry actually thought it looked better down, but she didn't need to know that.
  
  "Thank you," Fleur said, still sounding a tad frosty. "You do as well. It is nice to see you in something zat fits so well zat isn't a quidditch uniform."
  
  "Well, shall we?" Harry asked, gesturing to the carriages that transported students to the town. He was amazed at how uncomfortable the brief interaction with Daphne had made the entire situation. Fleur just nodded and moved toward them.
  
  The first few minutes of the date remained awkward and silent. Harry sat close to her in the carriage, but she didn't say anything, or even really look at him. After a few minutes he gave up and spoke.
  
  "I'm sorry, Fleur. She did just sort of follow me. I didn't know she'd do that in front of you," he said, trying his best to not sound annoyed at how he perceived Fleur acted. To his surprised, she chuckled lightly.
  
  "You do not need to apologize, 'Arry. I am not irritated with you. Daphne, you said zat was her name?" She asked. Harry nodded a little bit and she continued. "She is very cunning, zat one."
  
  "Yea, she is," Harry said, remembering the conversation he had with her shortly before Alicia was injured. Of course, that didn't help him figure out what exactly she was trying to accomplish. "But what was she trying to do?"
  
  "She was trying to irritate me, like pointing out zat I cannot properly say your name," Fleur said simply. "And it was working. I rarely find myself jealous of another girl. It took me a moment to decide 'ow to react."
  
  "What?" Harry asked. "Oh, and I like how you say my name."
  
  "That's kind of you. But, she wanted me to do something stupid. Something zat would reflect poorly on me in your eyes. So she could point out just 'ow terrible I am when you recount ze evening for her," Fleur explained.
  
  "That's not very nice of her," Harry said.
  
  "No. But I 'ave to admire it. She certainly knows just what she wants and she is willing to try to attain it," Fleur said. She did sound like she admired the girl, too.
  
  "Well that was rather sneaky of her," Harry said. "I'm sorry that she did that."
  
  "Again, 'Arry. It is not something you need to be apologizing for," Fleur said. "Now, entertain me by telling me what you 'ave planned for our trip to 'Ogsmeade."
  
  "I erm," Harry mumbled. "I hadn't really planned anything." He could feel the blood rushing to his cheeks. Way to blow your first date, Harry, he thought. He hadn't known that he was supposed to be the one who planned what they were going to do. He wasn't even sure if Fleur had been to Hogsmeade before.
  
  "You're cute when you are flustered, 'Arry," she said. "You are in luck, though. Unlike many of my schoolmates. I 'ave not done anything in 'Ogsmeade past sit in the inn with some friends. So I am sure I will enjoy whatever we decide to do."
  
  "Well that's good," Harry said. "I know you said you wanted to do dinner, too. But I don't really know any restaurants in Hogsmeade. Well, except for The Three Broomsticks."
  
  "Good," Fleur said. "We shall find one then. It will make ze experience all ze more fun."
  
  "If you insist," Harry said.
  
  "Which I do. Trust me. We will duck into some little restaurant zat most students do not even know exists, and we will share a nice meal over ze candlelight."
  
  "Sounds like you really didn't need me to come up with a plan," Harry laughed.
  
  "Of course I didn't need you to," Fleur said. "But I only 'ave dinner planned out. You will need to think of what we shall do before then."
  
  "Well, that shouldn't be too hard. It's only a couple of hours," Harry responded. Fleur nodded her agreement about the same time that the carriage stopped moving. Harry quickly stepped out of his side then turned to help Fleur get out. She didn't need the help, but looked appreciative.
  
  "Thank you," she said as she stepped back onto the ground. "Where shall we start?"
  
  "Well, you said you haven't been here before? How about we take a walk up the street and stop at anything that catches your fancy?"
  
  "That sounds fine for now," Fleur said. They started to simply do that. Harry pointed out all of the shops as they walked past. Fleur listened as he talked. It wasn't long past Honeydukes that he realized he was freely talking about the secret passage in the basement and the secrets of the Marauder's map.
  
  "So wait," Fleur said after they ducked into the sweet shop. "You're telling me zat you 'ave a map which shows everyone in ze castle as well as ze secret passages in ze school?"
  
  "Yes. It was made by my father's friends when they were at school. They liked to go out and explore," Harry admitted. "It can be a pain to read at times, though. Especially if many of the students are congregating in one area. The dots become hard to read."
  
  "Zat is unbelievable, 'Arry," she said. "If you were any other person I would think you were making it up to try to impress me."
  
  "If you like we can sneak into the basement and I can show you the passage," Harry said.
  
  "I'd prefer you bought me this chocolate bar," she said, holding up the candy. "And zen 'elp me eat it while we resume our walk."
  
  "I can do that," Harry laughed. He took the candy bar from her and purchased it. They walked back to the street then and continued to lazily walk around. Fleur took the candy bar back and opened it as they walked. She offered him a piece as he kept talking. Unfortunately, their leisurely walk was interrupted.
  
  "Harry!" Rita Skeeter's fake, silky voice cut through the air. "And the French champion? My my, this article will sell even better than the last one about the Slytherin girl. Whatever are you two up to now?"
  
  "Walking through Hogsmeade," Harry said.
  
  "How entertaining. Are you on a date?"
  
  "No comment," Fleur said quickly.
  
  "That sounds awfully like a yes" Rita said.
  
  "I thought it sounded more like a 'go away' to be perfectly honest," Harry responded. They attempted to walk away from Rita, but she followed them.
  
  "Not so fast now. You know I can't pass up a scoop like this. You have to give me an interview," she gave them both her faux smile.
  
  "We don't 'ave to do anything with you," Fleur said. "You're the reporter who insinuated I charmed my way into the tournament. I 'ave no wish to ever speak with you."
  
  "Well I have to write something," Rita attempted to argue. "My readers will be very interested to know how you charmed young Harry here. They'll be furious." Harry felt that sounded a bit too much like a threat.
  
  "I'm not charmed, Rita. And if you have to write something, try actually writing a fact for once," Harry spat. "Now if you wouldn't mind. We have better things to do right now." The pair walked away from the reporter. Thankfully, Rita didn't follow, she merely yelled after them.
  
  "You'll regret that, Harry. I haven't forgotten what you said about my last article. I'll make you pay."
  
  "What did you say about her last article?" Fleur asked.
  
  "I've no idea. I haven't even read anything she's done," Harry said. "Last I heard she was writing an article about my time at the Yule Ball. Did she really say you charmed your way into the tournament?"
  
  "Yes. She wrote an article shortly after ze selection and in it she implied zat ze only reason I was ze Beauxbatons champion was because I used my aura against ze goblet," Fleur said.
  
  "Could you even do that?" Harry asked.
  
  "No," Fleur said. "It is an inanimate object. I can only charm living things."
  
  "I wouldn't have thought so. She'll do anything for a story," Harry said.
  
  "Yes, she will. But we should not let zat ruin our evening. You were telling me ze most interesting stories of your father and 'is friends. Please continue," she said, breaking off another piece of chocolate and offering it to Harry. He thanked her and continued the story. He felt that he needed to explain the origins of the map so started with how the marauders wondered where Lupin disappeared to, and how they eventually figured out just what was wrong with their friend. By the time he finished telling that story they were walking on the path that led back to the Shrieking Shack.
  
  "So your father's former friend, and your former defense professor was a werewolf? And your father became an animagus with 'is friends to spend more time with 'im?" she asked, clarifying the points of the story.
  
  "Yea, that about covers it," he replied.
  
  "They were very good friends," she responded.
  
  "Yes, they were. You see that house up there?" Harry asked, pointing to it.
  
  "Yes," Fleur responded.
  
  "That's the Shrieking Shack," Harry said.
  
  "Oh?" Fleur interrupted. "Is it named zat because 'Ogwarts students sneak off to it to engage in nefarious activities?" She smirked at him.
  
  "No," Harry couldn't help but blush. "It was built the year Lupin came to school. The people in the town thought it was haunted because of the noises coming from it when he transformed," Harry explained. "It's also where I learned the truth about my godfather. But that's a story for another time." Harry would have liked to tell her the truth about Sirius. But he was sure their fledgling relationship wasn't ready for that. And for all he knew Rita was probably following them, eavesdropping onto their conversation.
  
  "What? You can't just end on zat cliffhanger!" Fleur argued.
  
  "Sorry, but I'm hungry, and it really is a story that will be better at another date," Harry said. He'd have liked to take her up to Sirius and introduce them. But he wasn't sure how she'd react to the suspected felon. And he knew it would be better if fewer people knew about Sirius.
  
  "Did you decide on a place to eat?" Fleur asked.
  
  "I'm the one that has to pick now?" Harry responded jokingly. "I thought that little restaurant that appeared to be the first floor of a house looked nice."
  
  "Me too," Fleur responded.
  
  "Cool. Let's go check it out then," Harry said. He turned around on the path and started to walk back the way they came. Fleur followed him. They didn't talk on the short walk back to the restaurant. But the silence was no longer completely uncomfortable.
  
  Harry wasn't sure when it happened, either. He couldn't pick out when the atmosphere of the date changed. But he knew he was enjoying himself, and he if he could judge by the way Fleur looked at him when he was talking, she was also enjoying herself.
  
  There was one more thing he didn't notice until they arrived at the restaurant as well. Again, he wasn't sure when it happened, or how long it had lasted. But Fleur's hand was in his when they arrived at the restaurant.
  
  The rest of the date continued in the same fashion. They were one of the only couples in the small restaurant located a few streets off of the main drag of town. Harry also assumed they were the only students in the restaurant, as all the other patrons seemed older.
  
  The hostess seemed rather surprised to have students in the restaurant as well. But she recognized them immediately and after only a few moments of gushing, she sat them at a secluded table in the corner.
  
  Harry and Fleur conversed about the tournament for a few minutes, each guessing at what the final task could be. Harry didn't think that anything they came up with sounded like a possible event, but he certainly hadn't had dragons or the lake on his list of tasks.
  
  Eventually the conversation shifted to each other. Harry asked about her sister. Apparently Gabrielle was madly in love with him after she learned of the lake task. Fleur talked adoringly of her sibling and her parents. She shared funny family stories. She even let him in on the scolding her mother had given her for not writing that she was dating Harry Potter after he kissed her following the task.
  
  They ordered their food amidst one of the stories. Harry ordered the fish and chips and a butterbeer, Fleur ordered one of the daily specials, a coq au vin. She ate diplomatically when it came. Harry thought it smelled delicious, but he could tell Fleur thought something was missing from the dish. Still, she didn't mention it and ate nearly all of it.
  
  During the meal the conversation shifted to him. She asked questions about his first few years at school, and he answered them as honestly as he could. She held his hand in the middle of the table after they'd finished their meal. All the while he explained Nicholas Flamel's stone, Tom Riddle's diary, and even a little bit of time-turner mishap. Of course, he still didn't give her the name of his godfather. But she didn't pester him on that point. When he was finally done explaining she stared at him with wide eyes, shaking her head.
  
  "You are remarkable," she admitted. "You were not kidding. You do like to run off and save people. Don't you?"
  
  "Well, I don't usually think about it," he responded. "I usually just act."
  
  "Zat is a gift, 'Arry. Many people seem to be lucky that you use it," she said, squeezing his hand just a little bit. "I now do not doubt zat you didn't save my sister for me. You saved my sister because you could not fathom leaving her. You are special."
  
  "Your sister wasn't in any danger," Harry said as he blushed and looked away.
  
  "Zat is not ze point," she responded. "I would not 'ave saved Ron Weasley 'ad I arrived first. And ze other champions proved zey would not as well. Yet you did. And you would do it again."
  
  "Well, I don't know about that. If I could go back I may leave them," Harry said.
  
  "You would not," Fleur commented. Her voice incredibly soft. "Zat is not who you are."
  
  "Maybe," Harry said. "But for now let's talk about something more fun. I feel like I've just been narrating my life. Would you like to get some dessert?"
  
  "Well it 'as been interesting," Fleur argued. "But we should probably catch a carriage unless we want to walk back to ze school. You know, ze Beauxbatons elves make excellent desserts. Come back to ze carriage with me and we will partake?"
  
  "That sounds like an excellent idea," Harry responded. The waiter, who spent far too much time staring at Fleur than Harry thought was appropriate, had already left their check. Harry paid it generously and they left the restaurant.
  
  There were still some students lingering in the town as they walked back to the carriages, but not many. The ride back was rather uneventful. Fleur held one of his hands in her lap and rested her head on his shoulder. They talked of nothing in particular.
  
  When they arrived back on the school grounds Fleur led him from the small transport carriage to the large Beauxbaton's carriage. Harry was surprised that some of the French students chatted happily with him.
  
  He was again struck by the elaborate decorations as he entered the carriage. Fleur took a moment to remove her cloak and summon an elf. She communicated with it in French, before it disappeared. Harry moved toward where she'd led him the last time he visited, but she stopped him.
  
  "No. We won't use one of ze sitting rooms zis time. Follow me," she said and walked through the entrance and down a couple of narrow hallways. Harry noticed the carriage seemed considerably less populated the further she led him through it. Eventually she led him down a secluded hallway filled with doors that didn't appear to have any opening mechanism. She pressed her finger against one of the doors and it shimmered away before his eyes. Fleur gestured for him to enter and he did.
  
  Once inside he gazed around a messy room. Messy may have been too strong of a word, but it certainly had a 'lived in' feel.
  
  "I am sorry for ze mess," Fleur said. "But I get annoyed when it is spotless."
  
  "Me too," Harry said. "You get your own room?"
  
  "Yes," Fleur responded. "But only because I am ze champion. I 'ad two roommates when I arrived. But when I was selected zey gave me my own room."
  
  "That's a nice perk," Harry responded, gazing around. The room certainly wasn't large. It had a medium-sized bed, a desk, a dresser, and a closet. A small couch completely covered one of the walls. There was a closed door that Harry assumed led to a bathroom.
  
  "It is. There isn't much furniture, though," she said. Harry couldn't help but think she looked rather flustered. She picked up and put away some clothing very quickly before gesturing to the couch. "Please sit." Harry did.
  
  "Regardless. It's nice. There have been times this year I'd have killed for some privacy," Harry admitted. About that time the elf appeared in the room. It carried a small dessert tray and spoke to Fleur in French. She thanked it and it left.
  
  Dessert consisted of a variety of small dishes that would last only a couple of bites.
  
  "I didn't know what kind of dessert you liked," Fleur said. "So I asked for a sample platter."
  
  "They all look good," Harry said. Fleur floated the try over in front of him before joining him on the couch.
  
  "I'm glad you think so," she said before taking a moment to explain what each of the desserts was before having him sample them. They were all delicious in their own way. But his favorite, by far, was the lemon souffl?.
  
  They lost track of time simply eating and talking. The conversation still focused heavily on the tournament, but they exchanged other stories as well. Fleur was rather interested in the Quidditch World Cup. At least she acted like she was. She talked a lot of her trip to Florence over the summer, which made Harry admit he'd really love to travel.
  
  Neither of them expected it when Fleur's room went completely black. Harry jumped to his feet and reached for his wand.
  
  "Shit," Fleur muttered from next to him.
  
  "What?" Harry said, trying to look for anything unusual in the dark. Fleur lit a few candles with her wand as he did.
  
  "Zat is our 'light's out' warning," she explained. "I did not realize it was zat late."
  
  "So I should be going then?" He asked with a yawn. He hadn't realized just how tired he was."
  
  "You can't," Fleur replied simply.
  
  "I'll be fine. I've already explained my penchant for sneaking around at night. And I haven't gotten into nearly enough mischief this year." He tried to sound confident about that. Part of him wished that he'd brought the invisibility cloak. He idly wondered why he simply didn't have that with him at all times. It certainly could be handy in a pinch.
  
  "No. Zey charm ze hallways. An alarm goes off if anyone steps into one. It happened on our first night here. One of ze students tried to sneak to ze kitchens. It was most annoying. Kept everyone up for nearly an hour," Fleur explained.
  
  "I see," Harry said. "Well I guess I can sleep on the couch. Wish I'd have brought some pajamas, though." Fleur stood when he finished speaking. She walked over to the dresser and opened the top drawer. Harry saw her take what appeared to be a t-shirt and a pair of athletic shorts. She muttered some French incantations and then held up a plain white t-shirt about his size, and a basic pair of pajama bottoms that also appeared to be about his size.
  
  "Will these work?" she asked.
  
  "They should," he responded. He couldn't help but think of what Ron's reaction would be when he told him he wore Fleur's pajamas to bed.
  
  "Good. You can change in the bathroom," she said, offering the garments to him. He nodded and walked into the bathroom with the clothing. He changed quickly, she'd judged his size rather well. He then made sure his old clothing was folded neatly and stepped out of the bathroom and back into the dark bedroom. Fleur had changed, she now wore a lightweight pink cotton top. She was also sitting up, under the covers, on the bed.
  
  "The couch is terrible, too, 'Arry," she said. "You can sleep in ze bed. Just do not try anything or I will 'ave to hurt you."
  
  "Are you sure?" Harry asked. He'd have to remember to edit out that part when telling the story. What kind of idiot questions Fleur Delacour about hopping into a bed with her?
  
  "Yes," she said. "The bed is easily big enough for the both of us." She scooted herself as far to one side as she could as if that helped prove her point. Harry couldn't resist. He moved to the other side of it and slid under the covers. The bed smelled wonderfully like her. He inhaled deeply as his head hit the pillow. A sheer feeling of longing filled his body. His heart ached against his chest as it never had before. Fleur simply shifted onto her side as well.
  
  "I should thank you, 'Arry," she said. "I don't 'ave many good first dates. But tonight was fun."
  
  "You're welcome, Fleur," he said. He should have probably left it at that, but it sounded awkward so he continued. "I really enjoyed myself too. It was my first actual date. I'm just not sure if I'll actually be able to fall asleep now."
  
  "We can chat until you get tired," she said.
  
  "Oh I'm tired. I'm just nervous too," he admitted.
  
  "Zair is nothing to be nervous about," she said. "Just stay on your side of ze bed and you will not be harmed. Besides. I can help you sleep."
  
  "How's that?" Harry asked, feeling legitimately curious about that at this point. Fleur just focused her eyes on his. He felt inexplicably drawn to her for a moment before she spoke.
  
  "Bonne nuit mon tr?sor," she sang quietly. "Ferme tes yeux et dors." Her voice was so quietly he could barely hear her. His eyelids started to feel impossibly heavy. He closed his eyes for a moment, fully intending to open them after just a moment of rest. She inched closer to him and continued. "Bonne nuit mon tr?sor. Ferme tes yeux et dors." Harry could do nothing more than obey. He was asleep before she finished the first two words of the lullaby for the third time. Of course, the song took its toll on her as well. She was asleep almost as soon as her head rested back onto the pillow.
  
  Author's Note: I have very little to say about this chapter as well. I liked writing the first half of it more than the second, but enjoyed it overall. Of course, I know what comes next. I'm almost hesitant to admit that as the chapters I like have been rather different than the chapters the reviewers like. But oh well.
  
  Next up is mostly prep for the third task, the only one I'm changing from the book, as I need the quidditch pitch to not have a gigantic hedge growing out of it. The concept will be fairly similar, though.
  
  I'm still experiencing the error when attempting to create new content. I've found what appears to be a way around it, although it may result in my Harry/Luna fic being posted as a crossover between Minesweeper and Gran Turismo. We'll see. Apparently you can edit it after. Well, everything except the characters. Anyway, I need to re-read it before I publish it anyway. But it's received positive reviews from betas. However, I do not think it is a story that will interest everyone.
  
  Done rambling now. Thanks for the reviews, I appreciate all of them. When I started this I didn't think anyone would actually read it, much less review it, so thanks to all of you. As always, I'm willing to answer pretty much any non-spoiler question if it's left in a review or sent via a PM. Just don't review anonymously with a question. I can't respond to those. A PM is also likely the best way to contact me about anything. Thanks for your support, I hope you enjoy the update.
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Cammiles2003 for the beta work.
  
  Chapter 16
  
  Preparations
  
  Something felt off when morning finally came. Harry lay in that incoherent state where he knew he was awake, but really didn't want to be awake. He groaned quietly and wondered just why his eyelids felt so heavy. He also wondered why he couldn't really move. That was a bit concerning. He felt like something far heavier, and really, far warmer, than the usual blankets rested on him.
  
  Smelled better, too. Rather than that distinctly overly-cleaned linen smell there was a certain familiar, flowery scent. It was nice. But it was also different. And different was not a particularly welcome one when he felt dazed and confused as to his actual location. But he was comfortable, and a flowery scent wasn't particularly threatening.
  
  He found his hands started to trace them around the surrounding area. The bed had soft sheets and thick blankets. He appeared to be rather close to one of the edges of the bed. He decided to become a tad bolder. He let his hands explore what was using him as a pillow. He lifted his hands just above his chest, before slowly bringing them down onto a soft mass of silky hair.
  
  He ran his fingers nervously through the hair, twirling a few lose strands briefly as the memories of the night before came rushing back to him. Why had he spent the night here? To avoid some kind of alarm? That seemed like a remarkably weak excuse.
  
  His hands located a neck underneath the mass of soft hair. Fleur's neck, he recalled. He suddenly felt bad for her dragon. Whatever enchantment she'd used certainly had a disorienting effect when one finally woke up. This certainly wasn't the way he'd expected to be shown how to perform the spell when he'd asked.
  
  Harry let his hand trace down over her back slowly. She shifted slightly against his touch. The movement caught him unawares so he stopped, for a moment. But she didn't say anything, so he simply assumed that she was still asleep. His hands traced down through the last bit of hair and rested on the small of her back.
  
  He paused for a moment as she shifted again. He had to admit, he rather enjoyed the shifting. But he was starting to worry that she'd wake up and yell at him. He kept his eyes closed, hoping that made him appear more innocent than he actually was.
  
  Fleur shifted against him once more, burying her face in his neck. He could feel her warm, even, breath on his neck. It was rather nice. Had he not known she was sleeping he would have assumed the gentle brush of her lips on his neck had been intentional. But it felt nice, even if she didn't know she was doing it.
  
  He didn't particularly feel like moving yet, so instead he just kept running his hands, very slowly, up and down her back. He let his mind wander. First he tried to think about Krum and the flying lessons. But that just made him realize how sore he was. So his mind shifted to Fleur. But that just made him think about things that would likely get him into trouble. So instead he thought about Daphne. Unfortunately, that also led to him thinking about things that would get him into trouble. After a while he decided it best to simply not think. So he focused on his hands, and how soft Fleur's silvery-blonde hair was. He couldn't help but marvel at how fragile she seemed to be as she slept.
  
  He'd have to thank Roger, or Hooch, or somebody. At the start of the school year he would have probably just felt scrawny. But forced runs and conditioning had certainly helped. He couldn't help but wonder if he could take Dudley physically now. He doubted it. Dudley was still significantly larger than him. But it would be considerably easier to outrun him now.
  
  However, it seemed to be bad form to be thinking of Dudley while in a bed with Fleur. Of course, he couldn't help but think of just how jealous Dudley would be if he could see him now. Which led into a fantastic mental picture of introducing Fleur to the Dursleys.
  
  His hands may have drifted a tad too far south as he thought about that. But Fleur didn't seem to notice. Well, she shifted slightly against him again, but that was about it. At least that's what he thought until she spoke.
  
  "Didn't I say you were to stay on your side of ze bed, 'Arry?" she asked blearily.
  
  "Yes. And if you notice. I am on my side of the bed. Rather close to falling off of it too," Harry said as he opened his eyes and finally looked down at her. He couldn't see much, just a swath of hair nuzzled into his neck, followed by the blankets that covered the rest of their bodies. Fleur reached an arm out as if checking his claim.
  
  "You're right," she yawned. "What time is it?"
  
  "No idea," Harry responded, gazing around the room for a clock. Fleur rolled off of him, which was very disappointing, and picked up a watch from her bedside table.
  
  "Oh no," she said and very quickly jumped out of the bed and started picking clothing out of her closet.
  
  "What's up?" Harry asked as he sat groggily up in the bed.
  
  "I am supposed to 'ave breakfast with Madame Maxime in fifteen minutes," Fleur said.
  
  "That could be a problem," Harry said, yawning again. "I'm probably going to be late for practice. That spell you used is sure strong."
  
  "Oui. Now close your eyes. I need to change," she said. Harry obeyed, but that didn't prevent her from adding. "And if you peek zen I will hex your eyes out."
  
  "Wouldn't dream of it," Harry said, keeping his eyes firmly closed. It seemed like an easy way to earn props.
  
  "I would 'ope you do dream of it," Fleur teased. "You can open your eyes now." Harry did. She'd changed into a Beauxbatons uniform and was putting her hair into a loose bun.
  
  "Well I do," Harry blushed. "But you don't need to know that."
  
  "Nonsense," Fleur laughed. "I rather like knowing zat. Now change while I brush my teeth." She stepped into her bathroom. Harry heard the water running. He got out of bed slowly, stretching a bit. He quickly realized the only thing he had to change into was the clothing he'd worn out the night before. It didn't take him long to get it back on. Fleur stepped out of the bathroom immediately as he did. He had the sneaking suspicion she was spying on him.
  
  "Good, you've changed," Fleur said. "Now 'ow do I look?"
  
  "I think you look great," Harry said. Fleur just rolled her eyes though.
  
  "Well I appreciate zat," she said. "I am sorry for ze rush, but Madame does not like to be kept waiting."
  
  "Well you shouldn't keep her waiting, then," Harry said. "Oh, I didn't know where you wanted that." He gestured to the clothing that had served as his pajamas the night before.
  
  "Oh, just leave it. I will take care it later," she said. "Now let us go." She reached out and took his hand, pulling him from her room.
  
  The hallway was deserted, as it had been the night before. Harry expected Fleur didn't reside in the same areas as the rest of the general students. That had to be another handy perk for being the champion.
  
  She led him toward the entrance of the carriage. He vaguely remembered the path from the night before. When they did run into some students, they mostly gave him curious glances. He wasn't quite sure what to make of it. Some of the Beauxbatons students appeared to be judging him, others merely gave him a curt nod. All of their eyes were drawn to the fact that Fleur was holding his hand. Quite a few of them stopped and spoke to Fleur briefly. They spoke in French, Harry could only pick out a word or two here and there, but it sounded mostly like she just exchanged pleasantries with her friends. The conversations really reminded him of how students approached him after various tasks and matches.
  
  Many of the students tried to talk to him as well, but still in French. Those conversations ended quickly. Fleur exchanged the required pleasantries for him. Eventually, they stepped back into the entrance area of the carriage.
  
  "I 'ad fun last night 'Arry. I 'ope we can do it again soon," she said as she walked him to the door.
  
  "Me too, Fleur," he said. "I'm sorry I made you late for breakfast."
  
  "Zat would be my own fault, 'Arry," she said before leaning in and giving him a very quick peck on the cheek. Harry inwardly marveled at how innocent it all was. Even Daphne was more forward and abrupt. After that, they went their separate ways. She slipped back into the carriage, heading to breakfast with her headmistress, and Harry traveled outside.
  
  Of course, he soon realized he wasn't sure what time it was. No one flew around the pitch, though, so he figured he at least had time to head back to the Great Hall to grab something to eat, and maybe even to Gryffindor Tower to change into something much less formal.
  
  The first students that saw him, though, pointed to a newspaper and started chatting very quickly to each other in hushed tones. Harry figured it had to be something more than his disheveled appearance.
  
  The reaction in the Great Hall was fairly similar. There was a noticeable hush as he entered, but that didn't last particularly long. Students from all four of the house tables stared at him for a brief moment, before they went back to doing whatever they had been doing.
  
  Harry felt this warranted further investigation, so he quickly found his friends at the Gryffindor table. Ron spoke almost immediately as he sat down.
  
  "Is it true?" he asked.
  
  "Of course it's not," Hermione said bluntly.
  
  "But he wasn't in his room last night!" Ron retorted. So apparently his absence hadn't gone unnoticed.
  
  "He goes to bed later than you almost every night, and wakes up earlier than you every morning," Hermione argued. Both Harry and Ron knew she was right about that, too. "I hardly think you're one to judge whether or not he was there."
  
  "Dean didn't get back till midnight," Ron argued. "And he said that Harry wasn't in bed at that point. At least he didn't see him."
  
  "And was he looking?" Hermione asked, crossing her arms and completely ignoring her food.
  
  "I seriously hope not," Harry said.
  
  "No, he wasn't. Just didn't remember seeing him," Ron added.
  
  "Well I don't remember seeing Lavender this morning," Hermione commented. "That doesn't mean she wasn't sleeping in her bed right next to mine!"
  
  "Yes, but Lavender is dressed normally. Harry's wearing what he changed into for his date last night!" Ron said. His expression indicated that he felt this new piece of information sealed the argument in his favor.
  
  "You can't hardly know that. You didn't hang out with him before he left. For all you know he just felt like looking nice today. Perhaps he's doing something with someone after practice," Hermione argued. Harry was glad she didn't point out that his shirt would be in drastic need of ironing if he really were attempting to look presentable.
  
  "You know," he said after letting his friends bicker for a few more moments. "You could always just ask me."
  
  "I already did that!" Ron said. "I asked if it was true!"
  
  "Yes, but I have no idea what you're talking about," Harry pointed out. "And that makes it rather difficult to answer the question."
  
  "This," Hermione said, grabbing a copy of The Daily Prophet from a nearby Gryffindor girl and handing it to him. Harry looked down at it and shook his head.
  
  Harry Potter's French Folly!
  
  Rita Skeeter
  
  Hello my anxious readers! I, Rita Skeeter, your faithful journalist whom devotes a great deal of her time to make sure you get only the best, truthful information concerning the Triwizard Tournament, have finally figured out why the young Mr. Potter has been so difficult to obtain an interview with.
  
  You see, he's already been snared by someone, or perhaps something is a better way to put it, else.
  
  My faithful followers may remember a column I penned last fall where I expertly exposed how the champion from the Beauxbaton's Academy of Magic, one Fleur Delacour, used her Veela heritage to trick the Goblet of Fire into choosing her. At the time I questioned her qualifications for being in such a prestigious tournament. Now all I can say is it is clear she is overmatched, and it is truly a shame that one of the more skilled Beauxbatons students was not chosen to represent the school.
  
  At the very least the demi-human does not appear to be in position to challenge for the overall individual championship.
  
  This revelation; however, merely creates more questions. One must wonder just what the Beauxbaton's Academy of Magic is thinking. We know they've been one of the more progressive schools since the last Great War, but to allow themselves to be represented by a half-breed? And if this half-breed could charm her way into the tournament what prevented her from say, charming our own Mr. Potter into the tournament?
  
  One anonymous parent told me that, "It's a shame such trash represents the fine institution I choose to send my daughter to." Really it is a shame Headmaster Dumbledore and Headmistress Maxime let this disgrace go this far.
  
  "She really likes Fleur," Harry said as he looked up from the page.
  
  "It gets worse when she starts to talk about you," Ron responded and pointed at the continuation of the article.
  
  "Ooh, I can't wait!" Harry said dryly as he went back to reading the article.
  
  But now onto the actual story! You see, ferocious readers, yesterday evening I joined a coalition of reporter friends for an early dinner in Hogsmeade. And what did I find walking through that very same town?
  
  You guessed it! The Hogwarts Champion and apple of all of our eyes, Harry Potter, walking hand in hand with Miss Delacour. And let me tell you, a court flower she is not!
  
  The two were very obviously having a romantic evening. It may have been sweet. The dreamy, loving look in young Harry's striking green eyes was palpable. Had his companion been a human, it may have been touching.
  
  But human Miss Delacour is not. It was obvious she wanted to avoid the reporters at all cost. She practically dragged young Harry away from us. And all we wanted was a few moments of their time, and a few answers to some serious questions!
  
  We did manage to get one quote out of Mr. Potter, though. "I'm not charmed, Rita," he told me. But the dreamy tone in his voice suggested otherwise. It's clear to anyone just how this Veela managed to get her hooks into Harry. And it's obvious he only said exactly what she wanted him to say.
  
  Unfortunately, the students escaped us noble reporters for a minute. My colleagues didn't feel the matter was worth perusing, but I knew otherwise!
  
  I caught up with them outside of the Shrieking Shack. Young Harry was telling Fleur the most grandiose stories. If he were to believed he not only murdered poor Professor Quirrell, but also Slytherin's monster, a basilisk, in his second year!
  
  He even claimed to have a living godfather. Although he did not divulge the name to the Veela. Still, if one of my loyal readers knew the Potters well, perhaps we could put a stop to such nonsense.
  
  Clearly he is delusional and has spent far too much time in a world where his made up stories are believed. Headmaster Dumbledore obviously needs to inflict harsher punishment on the boy's lies. One can only hope he doesn't become dangerous when he realizes he's making it all up.
  
  Eventually, the two dined at a local Hogsmeade restaurant. Their meal was uneventful. The really juicy bit happens next.
  
  You see the Veela invited young Harry back to the Beauxbatons carriage under the guise of having dessert. I watched from afar as they entered the carriage. I waited patiently for Harry to emerge again, hoping against hope to get a honest answer from the boy's lips.
  
  But he did not emerge. I waited in vain for five hours, until I knew I had to flee back home to make the deadline for the morning paper to bring this news to you!
  
  Clearly we've lost an English icon to a French temptress. Something must be done immediately.
  
  "So is it true?" Ron asked.
  
  "No. She can't charm inanimate objects. She told me that," Harry said. "You'd think I'd have noticed Rita following us, too."
  
  "That's not what I was asking about, you prat," Ron responded.
  
  "Oh. Well we don't know the third task yet, so it's hard to say whether or not Fleur is in position to win. I wouldn't rule her out, though," Harry said, knowing full well he was simply irritating his friend. Ron rolled his eyes. Hermione looked torn between scolding him and laughing.
  
  "Come on man, just tell me if it's true!" Ron begged, sounding angrier with each passing second.
  
  "You're going to have to be more specific than that, Ron," Harry said as he picked up some toast. Ron glared at him.
  
  "You know what I'm talking about!" he argued. Harry did, but he was having fun. He was about to respond when Viktor entered the hall and sat next to Hermione.
  
  "Potter," Krum said. "Is annoying reporter right? Did you spend the entire night with the French witch?" Harry couldn't help but wonder if Krum referred to him as 'scrawny English seeker' when he conversed with his Durmstrang friends.
  
  "I did, Viktor," Harry responded. Viktor laughed loudly and clasped him hard on the back.
  
  "Well done!" the Bulgarian almost yelled. "You are very lucky! Hopefully she did not wear you out too much. Or it will be too easy to kill you this afternoon!" Hermione gasped at that insinuation. Ron turned bright red and immediately looked at his food.
  
  "Oh Harry, you didn't!" Hermione gasped.
  
  "We didn't do anything," Harry couldn't help but blush as well. "I just wound up stuck there after curfew." Hermione crossed her arms and looked at him appraisingly.
  
  "So Skeeter's article is true," she said.
  
  "Well. Kind of. She actually got the date surprisingly accurate. And I really didn't see her at all. She's good," Harry commented.
  
  "She's a rubbish reporter, Harry, don't praise her," Hermione scolded. "You realize how poorly this is going to reflect on the two of you, right?"
  
  "Oh come on, Hermione, no one is going to actually believe this," Harry responded.
  
  "No. Hermione is right. But the negative press does not last. Next few weeks should be interesting," Krum said.
  
  "Well that's pleasant," Harry said. Krum shrugged.
  
  "Do not give an interview. They will simply talk about it with each other. Soon they will become bored and find something new to talk about," Viktor said.
  
  "That works?" Harry asked.
  
  "Yes. They have short attention spans. And you are a minor, there is little they can reasonably do to you. It will probably be worse for the French girl."
  
  "Alright then. Are we going to practice today?" Harry asked, taking another bite from a piece of toast.
  
  "Are you sure you're not too exhausted from your night?" Krum joked.
  
  "Don't think that matters, Viktor. Without practice I'm not going to beat you," Harry deadpanned. Krum laughed once more as a full smile spread across his lips. Harry could tell he appreciated the comment.
  
  "Good, you are learning. I may make a seeker out of you yet," Krum responded.
  
  The next few weeks settled into a very normal routine for Harry. He practiced every day, sometimes with Krum, and sometimes with his team. At first, Davies was annoyed by the Bulgarian's attention in his seeker, but when he saw the drastic improvements, he stopped commenting.
  
  Harry even picked up going to classes. Well, at least most of them. He still didn't' bother with Divination. He wasn't particularly sure why, he just did. Flying was becoming a tad boring, and he found he needed a break from it for a few hours every now and again.
  
  Alicia was back at practice within a week of her injury, but Pomfrey had only cleared her for light drills and she did little more than fly around on her broom and play catch with Ginny or Cho while the rest of the team drilled.
  
  Still, her presence was a boon for George, who was back to his old self nearly immediately after seeing her able to fly around on the broom. Of course it probably helped that she gave him a nice big kiss and said she knew it wasn't his fault. Or maybe it was that she threatened castration if he didn't beat Durmstrang in the finals. They did feel more like a team with Alicia back, though, and that alone was a positive.
  
  Unfortunately, he didn't see much of Fleur as time passed, a fact Daphne never ceased to point out, especially after she showed up to every practice to cheer him on. The Beauxbaton's seeker, Sophie Sinclair, stopped by one of the practices to explain that Madame Maxime was severely disappointed in the negative publicity brought upon by Fleur's actions. And as such, Fleur was on carriage arrest for the next few weeks.
  
  Harry thought that was a tad harsh, and Sophie agreed with him. But Madame Maxime didn't particularly care about students opinions. Daphne, however, found it rather comical. As did most of the members of the team. The twins offered him the use something they called darkness powder if he wished to go and see her. He'd thanked them, but said he could figure out another way.
  
  Still, Fleur's disciplinary sentence made things harder on him. The reporters quickly learned about it, and quickly started to question him about it. Harry didn't really know how to respond. He debated telling the truth, but he didn't want anything to reflect poorly on Fleur, and since he didn't know what her version of the events were, there was little he could say past 'no comment.'
  
  The reporters were far from happy with that answer. But then again, Harry was far from happy with it as well. And it certainly didn't help that he hadn't been able to see her or communicate with her.
  
  But that was how the middle of the spring term passed. Harry found himself immersed in quidditch and class. He learned everything he could, assuming it would help him in some way or another, and waited for the third task to be announced.
  
  He didn't have to wait long. One day as he was practicing with Krum one of the sponsors approached them and said the task would be revealed that evening, and they should come back to the pitch that night to see what it would be.
  
  Harry was rather excited. He wanted to stop practicing and go tell his friends. Krum didn't think that was such a good idea, and instead pushed the two of them harder and longer than he had before. Harry had barely managed to shower and change his clothing before returning to the pitch that evening.
  
  He was the last champion to arrive. Krum stood off in a corner looking at the sponsors, who were joined by Ludo Bagman and a group of reporters. The reporters looked entirely too excited for his tastes as they attempted to question Fleur. Madame Maxime answered all of the questions for Fleur, who merely stood around with her arms crossed looking perturbed.
  
  She looked over at Harry when he arrived and gave him a brief, but warm, smile. Of course, that action didn't go unnoticed by the reporters, and they immediately asked her more questions. As they did, Harry moved over toward Cedric. The two Hogwarts students talked for a moment before he heard Fleur yell.
  
  "Enough! Does 'e look like 'e is charmed? Is it so unbelievable zat we actually like each other? Maybe we would give an interview if every question wasn't degrading to each of us!" Harry looked over to see Fleur flushed with anger, speaking adamantly with her hands and looking ready to cause bodily harm to one of the reporters.
  
  "Apparently it is, Fleur," Harry said dryly over his shoulder, before turning back to Cedric and asking about the dueling competition.
  
  "See!" Fleur said. "'E is obviously not following me around like your stupid puppy analogy! I 'ave 'ad enough of zis." She moved through the group of reporters and joined Harry by Cedric. She took his hand as she stood next to him. Harry heard the flashbulbs go off behind them.
  
  Thankfully, Bagman eventually decided to speak up.
  
  "Great! It looks like everyone has arrived. Unfortunately my colleague Mr. Crouch couldn't make it today. But no matter," Bagman paused for a moment. Harry took that moment to exchange a knowing glance with Krum.
  
  "We have not seen Mr. Crouch in a while. I understood he was the primary planner of this," Viktor said, taking advantage of Bagman's pausing.
  
  "We both planned it," Bagman claimed. He looked rather annoyed at the Bulgarian's question. "But he's sick. He's been sick for a while."
  
  "Odd," Krum said. Some of the reporters murmured behind them. Apparently they also thought it was odd. Harry heard them discuss when was the last time they'd actually seen Mr. Crouch. Bagman sensed he was losing his audience, so he plowed on bravely.
  
  "Anyway. I am here to tell you what the final task of the Triwizard Tournament will be. It is a two part task that will pit you against a series of obstacles, including each other. We are going import four separate challenge environments that you will have to navigate through.
  
  "These environments will be based on differing periods of magical history. There will be an ancient Egyptian pyramid, a gothic fortress, a Greco-Roman temple, and an Islamic mosque. Once inside the contestants will face three challenges inside their individual location. You will draw lots to determine which individual challenges you must face. However, Mr. Potter and Mr. Diggory will enter first, being tied for the lead will enter first, followed by Mr. Krum and Miss Delacour.
  
  "But that's not it. Once you complete the tasks, champions, you'll open a door which will lead into the culmination of the final task.
  
  "We will magically erect a maze above the Hogwarts grounds. Once inside you will be tasked with journeying to the center of the maze. Again, you will face a series of randomly placed obstacles. And you must be on your guard, these obstacles are designed to be fatal.
  
  "The task will end only when one of you makes it to the center of the maze where the Triwizard Cup will be placed in the center of the maze. Once one of the champions touches it, the maze will dissolve and that champion will have won the tournament. Any questions from the champions?" Bagman gazed at them. None of the champions spoke. They looked around at each other for a few moments. Bagman continued after a few moments of their silence.
  
  "Now it is important to note that none of the individual challenges contain anything that will be found on the curriculums of any of the schools. So in the sake of fairness, the champions will each receive a set of books that will provide information that will help with understanding the tasks they may be presented with," Bagman explained. As he did one of the sponsors walked forward and gave each of the champions a package of books. They each looked at the books for a few moments.
  
  "Now, are there any questions?" Bagman asked again. Again, the champions had no question. But the reporters did. They clarified things like who was designing the events, and the date and time of the final task. As well as how much of an advantage Cedric and Harry would have.
  
  Finally, they closed with another photo session. Harry and Fleur stood between Cedric and Viktor. Harry's arm was noticeably around the French girl's waist. After they answered brief, mostly inane questions on their opinions of the final task. Eventually, Cedric and Krum left. Harry and Fleur lingered for a moment until a young female reporter approached them.
  
  "I'm sorry," she started. "My editor will kill me if I don't even attempt to ask. Have you entered into a relationship with Fleur, Harry?" It was the first time someone hadn't accused him of being charmed in the same question. Harry just looked at Fleur.
  
  "I'm not sure. You'd have to ask Fleur. We've been friends for a while, and we had a very fun date. But I don't know if we've decided on anything," he said, choosing his words carefully. The reporter perked up a little bit at not getting the standard refusal of answering a personal question.
  
  "Well, Fleur?" she asked. Fleur just looked at the reporter for a few moments before turning toward Harry and giving him a very deep, lingering kiss. Harry heard the flashbulbs go off as he once again marveled at the softness of Fleur's lips. It didn't last nearly as long as Harry would have liked. She pulled away and just smiled at the reporter.
  
  "I will let you make your own judgment on zat," she said. "But now I must return to ze carriage. Good night, 'Arry," she said. Harry watched her go, standing and smiling. The reporter attempted to ask him something, but he wasn't paying attention. Instead he was thinking of just what he was going to try that night.
  
  It didn't take Harry very long to get back to Gryffindor tower. He quickly traveled to the fourth year boy dorm and deposited the newly gifted books into his trunk. Next he grabbed the invisibility cloak and left the tower. Well, he attempted to, but he was stopped.
  
  "Harry!" Colin Creevey said, snapping a very quick picture with his camera. "What's the last task!" Harry noticed quite a few of his house members were in the common room, and they all seemed interested in the answer.
  
  "Oh. Uhm. It's a series of mazes. We have to find the cup in the middle of the second one. First person to grab it wins," Harry explained.
  
  "That's it?" Angelina Johnson asked.
  
  "Well, they're putting stuff in the maze," Harry said. "And we don't know what that is. But they gave us some books to look through."
  
  "That doesn't sound too hard," Colin said.
  
  "I'm sure it'll be harder than it seems. If it wasn't they wouldn't give us as much time to prepare. Bagman did indicate that failure at any part of it could be fatal."
  
  "Are you scared?" Colin asked. The younger boy looked frightened simply thinking about it.
  
  "Not yet," Harry said. "But ask me that again before the task. Now if you excuse me, Colin." Harry moved past the younger boy. It was still early enough in the evening, being just after the evening meal, that no one questioned him leaving the common room.
  
  Harry took the quickest route to the Entrance Hall, tossing the cloak around his shoulders as he went. Naturally, no one noticed as he left the castle and headed toward the Beauxbaton's carriage. He snuck in when no one was looking.
  
  The next part was a tad more difficult. Not only did he have to avoid the Beauxbaton's students whom lingered in the hallway, but he had to remember just which room he was heading to. It took him the better part of twenty minutes and at least three wrong turns, but he did finally find himself in a familiar, near deserted, hallway. He walked up to a door and knocked. Nothing happened. He waited a few minutes and tried again. Still nothing.
  
  That wasn't how he'd planned it. He'd imagined a confused Fleur answering the door and looking around the hallway. He'd sneak in then, reveal himself, and she'd be thrilled to see him. It would all be good fun.
  
  But she didn't appear to be in her room. He paced down the hallway, wondering where she could be. It occurred to him that it didn't particularly matter where she was because he didn't know where anything in the Beauxbaton's carriage was anyway. When he finally got back to the door he assumed was Fleur's he could think of nothing to do but knock again.
  
  He waited for a few moments, feeling his heart drop in his chest as he did. But finally, the door opened. Fleur looked around, looking confused. She leaned out of the door and looked down the hallway in either direction. She shrugged and stepped back into her room.
  
  "Hello Fleur," Harry said, taking off the cloak as she closed the door. She jumped and pressed herself into the wall, looking white as a ghost. She was already in her pajamas, which consisted of a pair of linen shorts and a tank top.
  
  "Mon Dieu!" she gasped. "'Arry! 'Ow did you get here?"
  
  "This," he said, holding up the invisibility cloak. "I told you I had it."
  
  "I 'ave never seen one," she eyed it carefully, before holding out her hand. "May I?"
  
  "Yea, sure," he gave it to her. She wrapped it around her shoulders and went to look in the mirror, laughing as she saw her floating head.
  
  "Zat is amazing," Fleur said, before sliding the cloak over her head and prancing around the room. Harry gazed around at where he assumed she would be. After a few moments, he realized how pointless that was, and likely how stupid he looked, so he instead looked around her room.
  
  He noticed she'd already started on the books they'd been given. Sufi Mysticism lay open on her bed. The other books were neatly stacked on her bedside table. He gazed into her bathroom, mostly because the door was open, and noticed a lazily hung towel and a pile of clothing. She must have been cleaning up when he'd knocked the first time.
  
  He turned back around looking for Fleur. But there was still no sign of her in the room. He gazed around for another moment before something nailed him very hard in the chest, completely knocking the wind out of him. He found himself knocked onto Fleur's bed, landing rather uncomfortably on her book.
  
  "Ouch," he said, sitting up a little bit.
  
  "Sorry," Fleur giggled from somewhere near the foot of the bed. Harry pulled the book out from underneath his back and placed it carefully next to him as Fleur appeared at the foot of the bed. "Are you okay?"
  
  "Yea, I'm fine," Harry said, stretching a bit on her bed. She folded the cloak neatly and placed it on her bedside table.
  
  "Zat is an awesome cloak. I shudder at 'ow you could abuse it," she said, laying next to him on the bed. They both just stared at the ceiling.
  
  "I haven't really. Well, apart from the times I told you about," he said.
  
  "What, no sneaking into ze female showers after practice?" Fleur teased.
  
  "No, never," Harry said quickly. He hadn't even considered it. Well, seriously considered it.
  
  "Very noble of you," Fleur teased.
  
  "If you insist," Harry responded.
  
  "I do. I am glad you snuck out to see me," she said.
  
  "Me too. So what were you doing before I stopped by?" Harry asked. He felt infinitely lame, but he couldn't think of a better way to start the conversation.
  
  "Showering," Fleur teased.
  
  "Before that?" Harry asked sheepishly.
  
  "Changing," Fleur replied coquettishly.
  
  "Before that?" Harry gulped. Part of him hoped that conversation kept going down that path.
  
  "Oh. Nothing really. I was reading ze books zey gave us. Zey are rather interesting," Fleur said.
  
  "I haven't looked at them yet," Harry admitted.
  
  "I wouldn't expect you 'ad. You 'ave only 'ad them for an hour," she said.
  
  "Hermione would have read one by now," Harry said.
  
  "Well she is not in ze tournament. And she is not spending time with her French girlfriend," Fleur said.
  
  "No, but that might be fun to watch," Harry commented. Fleur swatted him. "So, you're my girlfriend, then?" he added after a moment.
  
  "I thought I made zat obvious earlier," Fleur said.
  
  "Sometimes I'm a bit slow," Harry commented.
  
  "Apparently," Fleur said. She rolled onto her side and propped herself up on her elbow and looked at him.
  
  "Us kissing is going to make quite a few papers, you know," Harry said, turning his head slightly to the side to look into her eyes.
  
  "I know. I already received a lecture from Madame Maxime. But at ze very least it will give zem something better to talk about zan whether or not I 'ave charmed you," Fleur said.
  
  "Hopefully. It may backfire, though," Harry said.
  
  "It might," Fleur agreed. "But after ze tournament zey will 'ave nothing unusual to focus on. Zey will 'opefully leave us alone."
  
  "That would be nice," Harry admitted. "I wonder if there is something we can do before then."
  
  "We could try to give an interview. But zat could also backfire. We would 'ave to be picky on who we picked to do it," she explained. Harry nodded.
  
  "I don't know anything about reporters," Harry admitted.
  
  "Either do I. I could ask my father. 'E 'as more experience in zese matters. 'E is also eager to meet you.
  
  "That's a scary thought," Harry said.
  
  "Nonsense! 'E is very sweet. You will like him," Fleur assured him. "Now, you implied zat you were learning French in your letters. 'Ow did zat work out?"
  
  "It didn't," Harry confessed. "I never really did much more than read a few books and attempt to memorize some vocabulary. My friend tried to drill me a couple of times, but when the tournament started we both fell out of the habit."
  
  "So you speak no French?" Fleur asked. Harry immediately felt bad. He mustered up all of his courage for his next sentence.
  
  "Non. Je parle Fran?ais, mais ne bien pas," Harry said. Fleur smiled a bit more warmly than he expected.
  
  "That is not bad, 'Arry," she said. "You still need work, but you will learn quickly."
  
  "You're going to teach me French?" Harry asked.
  
  "Oui. You must learn if you want to win points with my parents. Zey do not really like ze English. If you do not make zem speak English zey will like you more. Even if your French is terrible, zey will appreciate ze effort," she explained. He couldn't argue with that logic. Winning favor with his girlfriend's parents seemed like a good idea. He tilted his head and looked at Fleur for a moment. Girlfriend. That would take a little bit of getting used to.
  
  "Well, I'll do my best," Harry said, still looking up into Fleur's eyes.
  
  "I know you will. You seem incapable of not doing your best. It is remarkable to watch. Part of me wishes I did not 'ave to compete in ze final task simply so I could watch you beat it," Fleur said.
  
  "I hope that you're right. It'll be a tough challenge. You're probably in a better position than I am."
  
  "Why do you think that?"
  
  "Well, you're older. You've spent way more time studying magic than I have," Harry commented. He would have thought that a rather obvious answer.
  
  "And all zat time and experience didn't get me past a gaggle of grindylows in ze lake," Fleur said. "You may be younger zan ze other champions. But zair is not a single one, nor a single student in any of ze schools, who could make a passable argument zat you do not deserve to be in ze tournament." Harry wasn't sure if he agreed with that. He was sure there were quite a few Hogwarts students who would attempt to make such an argument. But he was leading the standings heading into the final task, and that had to be worth something.
  
  "I'm glad you think so, Fleur," he said.
  
  "Yes. And you, 'Arry, possess a remarkable gift for learning. Most people take much longer to get ze hang of things. Yet Lilly told me you mastered a summoning charm in a few minutes, and zat you can already cast a Patronus. Most people never ever learn zat charm. And even just watching you with Krum I can see improvements in your flying, and I know nothing about flying!"
  
  "I appreciate that," he said. He could feel himself blushing.
  
  "You should. And I will 'elp you as much as I can with ze final task, 'Arry. You wound up in zis tournament for unknown reasons. You 'ad to do little more zan survive. Yet you 'ave fought and persevered ze entire time. Of ze four of us, you are by far ze most deserving to win." She spoke rather firmly. Harry could have sworn that she inched close to him as she spoke.
  
  "That's crap," Harry said. "We all deserve to win."
  
  "We do," Fleur admitted. Harry could tell she still was torn up by her performance in the second task, and that she didn't particularly believe that statement. "But you deserve it more. Despite 'ow modest you are. Zair is one little zing zat you should work on improving."
  
  "The modesty?" Harry deadpanned. "I'm getting a tad sick of hearing about that. It isn't even something that I think about."
  
  "No. Zat is cute," she said, before leaning down and kissing him softly. Harry let his arms slide around her and kissed her back. She wiggled her body close to his and kept kissing him. Harry kept kissing her back. He couldn't help but do anything more than marvel at the soft feeling of her lips on his.
  
  She just kept kissing him. Pausing only briefly for trivial things like air. After a few minutes she slowly traced her lips over his neck, pressing them gently to his skin every few moments. Harry was as close to bliss as he'd ever been before. He could think of nothing to do other than lay there and enjoy himself.
  
  Fleur let her lips slide over his throat as she started to kiss the other side of his neck. After a few more moments she slid back up his jaw. Then she kissed the corner of his mouth. Harry tried to tilt his head into the kiss, but she teased him by shifting to the other side of his mouth.
  
  Eventually, she went back to his lips. They kissed deeply. Harry lost himself in her. He was absorbed in her taste, her scent, her everything. He couldn't help but groan when her lips finally pulled away from his. They lay in silence for a moment.
  
  "That was fun," he said carefully. Fleur laughed a little bit.
  
  "Yes. It was," Fleur teased. "We will 'ave to do it again."
  
  "I'm in favor," Harry joked. He saw Fleur check her watch. He figured she didn't want to wind up in the same situation as their first date. "But I should probably leave before light's out this time. My friends noticed before."
  
  "Yes. Zat is probably a good idea." Fleur sat up on the bed. Harry did the same.
  
  "Are you free for lunch tomorrow?" he asked.
  
  "Yes. But I am still being punished for ze other night. I am not supposed to leave ze carriage," she admitted.
  
  "Let me take care of that," Harry said, picking up his cloak and preparing to leave. "Maybe I'll even let you teach me French."
  
  "I look forward to it," Fleur said.
  
  "Me too. I'll come find you at noon." Harry gave her one last smile before slipping the cloak on and leaving her room.
  
  By the next morning Harry had the entire afternoon planned. He just needed some help executing it. And for that, he needed a house elf. Of course, that would have been considerably easier if he actually knew how to summon an elf. But, then again, he was pretty sure that Hogwarts students didn't have access to the school elves. But that just gave him a unique idea.
  
  "Dobby!" he said aloud as he stood alone in the boys' dormitory. He was running late for practice, but he didn't particularly care at that moment. He figured Dobby probably still owed him after the second year. And weird socks so didn't count as a make-up gift.
  
  "Harry Potter!" a familiar voice squeaked behind him.
  
  "Dobby?" Harry nearly jumped. "When did you get here?"
  
  "You summoned me, sir!" Dobby claimed.
  
  "I did?"
  
  "Yes sir! You say the name of the elf while you need something and we will come!" Dobby explained. "But sir, we are not supposed to help the students."
  
  "Surely you can do me a favor though, Dobby?" Harry asked. Dobby looked completely thrilled at the possibility.
  
  "Of course, Harry Potter, sir! Of course. Just do not be asking too much from Dobby. Dobby likes his job and would hate to lose it." The elf looked sheepishly up at him.
  
  "I wouldn't dream of it, Dobby," Harry said. "Really, all I need is some picnic food items."
  
  "Dobby can arrange that!" The elf squealed. "When do you need it by, sir?"
  
  "Before noon?" Harry asked, hoping that didn't give the diminutive servant too little time.
  
  "Dobby can do that, sir!" The elf exclaimed. "Dobby will get to work on that right away! Does Harry Potter have any requests for what should be in his picnic?"
  
  "Not really. Make it diverse. Also, it's for a date with a French girl. So some items that you think may appeal to her would probably be best," Harry said.
  
  "Dobby knows the perfect things! Harry Potter's date will be perfect!"
  
  "I'm sure it will be. Thanks Dobby," Harry said. The elf nodded enthusiastically before popping out of existence. Harry couldn't help but hope that he didn't do anything too absurd.
  
  Practice went on as usual. It was one of the first really warm days of spring, which cheered everyone up. Unfortunately, it also made everyone a little bit lazy. Roger could tell they would all rather lounge around in the sun and be otherwise lazy. So the captain ended practice earlier than he would have normally. But really, they all could use the day off.
  
  Harry quickly showered and walked back to his dormitory to change. He noticed large basket resting on his bed and made a note to buy something nice for Dobby. He peeked inside and was incredibly impressed with the elf. He'd even included a large blanket on top of everything. He decided to buy Dobby something incredibly nice instead.
  
  He change quickly, gathered up the books he was given to help prepare for the task and threw on his invisibility cloak. He spent just a moment shrinking the basket, hoping that wouldn't affect the contents at all.
  
  It took Harry much less time to infiltrate the Beauxbaton's carriage and find Fleur's room. This time she answered readily when he knocked.
  
  "I assume you are under ze cloak?" she asked. He shifted a bit to reveal his head, then offered her part of the cloak.
  
  "Yea. Here, follow me," he said. She looked at him skeptically, but after just a moments reluctance followed. He led her carefully outside, then removed he cloak when they were suitably away from the carriage. There were plenty of students out about, mostly just enjoying the warmth.
  
  Harry led Fleur over toward a couple of secluded trees near the edge of the grounds.
  
  "This looks good," he said. He sat the basket down and enlarged it, setting it down on the ground.
  
  "A picnic?" Fleur asked. Harry smiled up at her as he sat down on the blanket, leaning back against one of the trees.
  
  "Yea. The weather was nice and I figured that it could be fun. An elf I know prepared the meal. I'm not sure of everything he threw together, but it looks good to me." Harry explained. Fleur sat carefully near the basket and opened it. She looked surprised as she looked in.
  
  "I am impressed. Poivron farci, I 'ave not 'ad those since summer. You know a talented elf. It looks like he packed some fruits, bread and cheese as well. Oh and two pan bagnat. Very nice," Fleur kept looking through the basket, taking things out as she spoke. The first dish she mentioned looked a lot like peppers with something done in middle of them. The last looked like a pretty basic sandwich.
  
  "Good. I told him to try to prepare for a French girl. Wasn't sure what he'd come up with," Harry said. He moved closer to the basket and helped Fleur organize the items she removed.
  
  "It did a good job," Fleur said. Then she gasped rather loudly. "'Arry! It must really like you!"
  
  "Why's that?" he asked. Fleur pulled out what appeared to be a bottle of wine.
  
  "The elf found you a Sancerre?" she asked.
  
  "I, erm, didn't ask him to," Harry said, blushing slightly. "We don't have to drink it."
  
  "Of course we do!" Fleur laughed. "It even packed wine glasses!" she took those out as well, before opening the bottle with a flick of her wand and pouring two glasses. She offered one to Harry.
  
  "I haven't had wine before," Harry admitted as he took the glass. Fleur looked a little startled before lifting her own glass, holding it carefully by the stem. She tilted it up to her nose and took a sip.
  
  "It is good," she said. "Very light. You should enjoy it." Harry nodded and gave it a try, mimicking the way she did it. She was right, it was good. Crisp and fresh were the first two words that came to mind.
  
  "I could get used to that," Harry said, placing it carefully down next to him.
  
  "Yes. 'Opefully you will. Wine is very nice with meals. "Now let's eat!" She started to pass out the main bits of food. Harry was a tad hesitant of the stuffed peppers, but they turned out to be fairly good. They turned out to be rather similar to the tomato dish Fleur had served him in the carriage before. The sandwich was delicious as well. He wasn't particularly sure what was on it, but he assumed tuna. They both ate their share of the food before simply relaxing against the tree, the bottle of wine next to them.
  
  "Well, I enjoyed that," Harry said. Fleur rested her head on his shoulder and took another sip of wine.
  
  "Me too," Fleur admitted. She picked up a chunk of bread they still had and smeared a bit of cheese onto it before offering it to Harry. He took it and she repeated the process for herself.
  
  "Thanks," he said, before eating the bread. When he'd finished chewing he asked. "What would you like to do now?"
  
  "Sit in ze sun and enjoy ze wine," Fleur said quickly before repeating the process with the bread.
  
  "That's fine by me," Harry said, closing his eyes for a moment to fully enjoy the warmth of the sun on his face.
  
  "Unfortunately," Fleur said after a few minutes of silence. "We should at least attempt to be productive. Grab ze Greek book, we will attempt to 'ave our own symposium." Harry nodded and picked up the book. He opened it to the first page and placed it between them.
  
  "Have you read any of this one yet?" He asked.
  
  "No. I 'ave not. But I do 'ave some knowledge of the area. Start reading for us, we shall see 'ow zat goes," she ordered. Harry looked down at the book and simply did as she asked. It was a bit dry to start, focusing mostly on the history of magic in Greece before moving to Italy. It was interesting, Harry especially liked the bit about how the Muggles often thought some of the more powerful wizards were Gods, but it didn't seem all that helpful for their purposes.
  
  Fleur took over when they got to chapter two. It was then that the book started to become helpful. It explained the origins and theories of the magic used by the ancient cultures. Fleur read at a leisurely pace. After a long treatise on a basic dispel method the Greeks used Harry couldn't help but comment.
  
  "I bet they use that for something," he said. "Like the regular spell won't work or something. Just to be confusing."
  
  "You are probably right. They will likely test how closely we've read all of this. We should practice it." Fleur suggested. And so they did. Much to both their surprise, Harry figured out the spell first. He even wound up giving Fleur a couple of pointers that helped her finally get it. After a couple more sips of wine, Harry read the next chapter.
  
  It would have been Hagrid's favorite part of the book, if he were around. It talked of all the dangerous beasts, things like harpies, hydras, and minotaurs. It discussed the best ways to combat them, which usually could be summed up with 'bring a lot of armed friends' or 'run away.'
  
  Fleur took over for the forth chapter, again dealing heavily with magical theory. Except this time they were presented with many magical attack or defense spells. The vast majority seemed more complicated than they had to be. But the pair practiced them anyway.
  
  And that's how they spent the rest of the afternoon. They barely noticed that they finished the wine, or that the sun started to set, as they worked their way through the book. They practiced each spell that it referenced, not quite to perfection, but enough so that they could cast it. Perfection would come later.
  
  They got through nearly the entire book before the temperature started to drop considerably and they decided to call it a day. Fleur had to admit, when they'd started she'd expected Harry to slow her down. But it was far more a meeting of equals. Harry had plenty of experiences to draw from and he learned new spells remarkably quickly.
  
  She knew she learned more from studying with him than she would have on her own. She also knew she'd have to go back through the book she'd read the night before. Harry pointed out every little thing they may have to use in the upcoming task, things she'd largely ignored in the first book.
  
  But, as they exchanged a quick kiss before they parted, each of the champions knew they would be better off studying together before the final task, so they made plans to meet again. After all, they both wanted to win, and they would do their best to be prepared.
  
  Author's Note: Not much to say here. The chapter originally started with Skeeter's article. Which was the third Skeeter article that was supposed to be in the story. The other two simply didn't make the cut. The entire opening scene was added later as the betas felt it needed a tad more. I agreed enough to add the scene.
  
  This chapter is fairly straight forward. Mostly fluffy filler. But I had to get to the finals one way or another. Next up is the culmination of the quidditch tournament and final bits of preparation for the final task.
  
  My other story, tentatively titled 'The Quidditch World Cup' (which is terrible, but I've come up with nothing better, except perhaps 'Beginnings, Middles, and Ends' which seems long) focuses on Harry looking back over his life since the end of the war, and weighing the decisions he made. It will be Harry/Luna, but that likely won't develop fully until the middle of the story. Anyway, check it out if you like. I may work on chapter two of that before chapter seventeen of this. But, then again, part of me simply wants to finish this and move on. So we'll see how that goes. My goal is to finish this by May, but we'll see.
  
  Regardless, thanks for the reviews. I appreciate all of them. As always, the best way to contact me is likely a PM. I'm always willing to answer questions as long as they're not spoilers. Thanks again for the reviews and support!
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Cammiles2003 for the beta work.
  
  Chapter 17
  
  The Finals
  
  Barty Crouch hated posing as Professor Moody. It was painful, both physically and mentally. He hated the stupid eye, it gave him a headache more often than not, and really just made it seem like the world was constantly spinning. But he'd promised the Dark Lord that he would complete his mission, and he was so very close.
  
  Still, when he'd accepted the assignment, he hadn't expected Potter to do so well by himself. The boy was even flourishing in class, even Crouch, with no actual teaching experience, could see that. And he didn't even appear to put forth any effort. It was frustrating for Barty to watch. He remembered studying the same material for hours in his fourth year.
  
  He was thankful, too, that Dumbledore had given him an incredibly long leash. Of course, Dumbledore had planned the curriculum himself, which Crouch was incredibly thankful for. Apparently that had been one of the selling points to get the real Moody to come teach. It had been helpful, almost as helpful as the fact that Dumbledore had only come to watch the lessons a couple of times, and both times had been with the younger students on material that was very difficult to screw up.
  
  Really, he was amazed the charade had worked. But he wasn't going to complain. The plan was almost completed. He just needed to get the Portkey onto the cup and make sure Potter was the first champion to touch it.
  
  He'd thought that would be the most challenging part of his mission, but Potter had proved to be more than capable. Crouch was tempted to see how well the boy would do on his own. He'd keep an eye on him, that's for sure, but he was strangely less concerned about the boy's safety. He'd seen firsthand that Harry Potter could take care of himself.
  
  Crouch had watched Harry improve as he practiced with the French tart as well. He'd have to tell the Dark Lord about the budding relationship. Surely, there had to be a way they could use that against the young wizard. The Dark Lord would know just how to exploit that weakness. Hopefully, Barty could be useful there as well.
  
  "Crouch?" A voice said from his fireplace. Barty spun Moody's lumbering body toward it.
  
  "Yes Wormtail?" he said. That was another thing he hated. Talking in an imposter's body just sounded completely off. At least this dose of Polyjuice should be wearing off very soon. He sat down by the fire, taking out the fake leg and placing it on the table as he did. Wormtail flinched away from Alastor Moody's body before speaking.
  
  "It's amazing how disorienting that is," Wormtail said. "Every time I think you're really Moody and that Dumbledore knows the entire plan."
  
  "Consider us lucky he does not," Crouch said. He could feel his leg growing back, the first sign the potion was wearing off, so he took out the fake eye. He'd made the mistake of leaving it in as he changed back ones. That was not something he wished to do again.
  
  "Yes. I do. Anyway, our master would like his usual report," Wormtail spoke carefully. Crouch knew that the Dark Lord was near him. But that didn't prevent Wormtail from adding on to his statement. "He's here with me, so he can hear everything you say.
  
  "Things are moving along nicely. Our main plan is going off flawlessly. I have no doubt I will be able to make sure that Potter wins the final task, and the tournament. Frankly, I'm not sure he'll need much help. The boy is becoming quite skilled," Crouch said to the fireplace. He could feel his face changing back to normal as he spoke, and he could hear his voice changing. It took Wormtail a moment to respond. Obviously he was acting as nothing more than the Dark Lord's mouthpiece.
  
  "Are you insinuating the boy may pose a threat?" Wormtail asked. Crouch chose to respond as if it were actually Wormtail asking the questions.
  
  "To you, Wormtail? Maybe if you dueled. But he'll be dazed, confused, and alone. If you can't stun him and bind him when he shows up, well you should have probably really blown yourself up incriminating Black," Crouch said dryly. His voice still sounded off. He knew he was fully back in his own body now, but it didn't matter. After you hear one voice all day, thinking about how it sounds wrong, your real voice starts to sound wrong as well. Wormtail's annoyed look made the jibe all the more perfect.
  
  "So the boy will not present a challenge?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "He shouldn't," Crouch said.
  
  "Shouldn't is not won't," Wormtail responded, smirking a little to indicate that he appreciated the Dark Lord's comments. Crouch rolled his eyes.
  
  "Like I said. He'll be exhausted and confused. Just be in the proper position and hit him as soon as he shows up and everything will go flawlessly." Granted, Crouch wouldn't put screwing up such a simple task past Wormtail.
  
  "That is good to know. Is there any change in our special concerns at the school?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "No. I am not certain if it is worth the chance at my cover to approach either of them. Karkaroff and Snape have spent a great deal of time with each other. And Karkaroff is very jittery around me, when he thinks I'm Moody. If the Dark Lord wishes I will gladly approach them more candidly," Crouch explained.
  
  "That won't be necessary. We will focus more on the plan. Is your mark returning as quickly as mine?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "Well, given that I haven't seen your arm, I have no idea. But my mark is coming back very quickly. I can only assume Snape and Karkaroff have noticed theirs as well," Crouch responded.
  
  "That seems likely," Wormtail said. "Hopefully they understand just what the Dark Lord will do to them upon his return. He fears he's lost both of them forever."
  
  "Probably. How is the plan progressing on your end?" Crouch asked.
  
  "We are prepared. It's just a matter of waiting for the task now," Wormtail said. He paused for a bit and looked away from the fire as he received his next set of instructions from the Dark Lord. "The article about Potter and Delacour that Skeeter published. Is there anything there?"
  
  "I think so. It's hard to tell for sure. They've certainly started to spend a great deal of time together. It would be a significant blow to him if something were to happen to her."
  
  "That could be useful. But for now, we should probably avoid it if need be."
  
  "Why, if it is not out of place for me to ask, My Lord?"
  
  "It is out of place for you to ask. But unless she wins the tournament, in which case she will have to die, although you've assured me that won't happen. It is likely better to not anger the French too soon. I cannot see something happening to their champion being a boon to us."
  
  "That sounds wise," Crouch admitted.
  
  "I know. Now, is there anything else about Potter you can tell us?" Wormtail asked.
  
  "Nothing that I haven't already reported on," Crouch replied. He paused for a moment before deciding to reiterate his old reports. "He has a much more diverse group of friends than Wormtail said. Most of them do seem to be new friends, though. He also spends a great deal of time with Viktor Krum, as the media has played up. Of course, he is also often in the company of the elder Greengrass girl."
  
  "We may be able to use that," Wormtail responded for the Dark Lord. "But provided you do not fail, Crouch, Harry Potter will be dead shortly after the third task. Keep performing, Barty, and you will be rewarded."
  
  "Thank you, my lord," Crouch replied as Wormtail's head disappeared from the fireplace. Crouch simply sat and stared at the fire for a few minutes before deciding to check on what should be his last batch of Polyjuice.
  
  Albus Dumbledore led the shaggy black dog to his office. Some of the students paused and looked at the dog. A few of the braver ones even approached and attempted to play with the animal. It fully acted the part. None of the students questioned where the Headmaster had found the dog.
  
  "Albus, why do you have a dog?" Minerva asked. Of course his deputy wasn't a student, and liked to know everything.
  
  "Snuffles here was brought by one of the foreign politicians. He didn't have a single place to put him, so naturally I offered the use of my office." Albus said. Minerva's expression hardened at the use of the code word. She still wasn't convinced of Sirius Black's innocence, but the call was not hers to make.
  
  "I see," Minerva responded. "Well I hope he doesn't destroy your office." The Transfiguration professor walked off after she spoke, not sparing the dog a second glance. Albus quietly said the password to the gargoyle guardian and led the dog up into his office. He sat at the large chair at his desk. Sirius transformed back, quickly throwing a robe on, and sat across from him.
  
  "I still do not think this is the wisest decision we could make," Albus said carefully.
  
  "I don't care. Harry is in no immediate danger. He'll be just as safe with me as he would be at his relatives," Sirius argued.
  
  "That is unlikely," Dumbledore spoke slowly, gently resting his arms on the chair.
  
  "Please, safer with Muggles? That's a joke." Sirius said.
  
  "I would agree," Dumbledore said. "But there's ancient magic protecting him when he is with his relatives. It's one of the only reasons that I did not take him in myself."
  
  "You considered that?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Of course I did. But I didn't know what was going to happen. I figured I would be the primary target of renegade Death Eaters and assumed it was best if I didn't make the boy more of a target," Dumbledore explained. Sirius didn't respond for a moment, before simply shaking his head.
  
  "If only I'd have just taken him from Hagrid," Sirius said.
  
  "If only," Dumbledore responded. "I'd have had to come find you then. I thought you were the Secret-Keeper and the spy."
  
  "Yes. But I hope you'd have given me more of a chance than Crouch," Sirius commented.
  
  "I'd like to think so," Dumbledore said. He reached over and pulled out a stack of files, which he placed onto the desk. "That should be everything you need."
  
  "So you're going to let me do this?" Sirius asked.
  
  "There's little I can do about it. The will states you're the legal guardian. And while we do know Peter is out there somewhere, it doesn't seem that Harry is in any immediate danger. And if we do manage to clear your name, you would easily be able to make that claim with the Goblins," Dumbledore said, pushing the files across the desk toward Sirius. The younger man picked them up from the desk and started to look through them.
  
  "How is that going, by the way?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Slowly. Fudge has no interest in opening the case. He feels it will just reflect poorly on him. Especially since he hasn't caught you yet," Dumbledore admitted.
  
  "Poor fool, it would only reflect badly on Crouch, and he's been sick for months," Sirius responded as he paged through the documents.
  
  "That is the line I have been trying to use. It isn't working out very well. But I will get him soon enough," Dumbledore said. Sirius nodded, focusing more of his attention on the papers in his hands.
  
  "So they really did leave him with the Dursley's. I half thought you just stuffed him there as they were a living relation," Sirius said.
  
  "No. Lily was adamant and James believed her. She loved her sister, and she thought her sister loved her. She would have cared for Petunia's son as if he was her own, and she expected that from her sister." Dumbledore explained.
  
  "I'm not even sure James ever met Petunia or Vernon," Sirius admitted. "But Lily always did only see the good in people."
  
  "That she did. It was one of her finest qualities," Dumbledore stated.
  
  "It really was," Sirius said. "How bad was it?" Dumbledore knew what Sirius was referring to.
  
  "Worse than I imagined. Arabella did not see him much when he was young. She said he looked thin, but she didn't notice much more than that. It is probably my greatest failing that I didn't check up on him," Dumbledore admitted.
  
  "Greater than letting Grindelwald stomp around Europe?" Sirius asked offhandedly. He was too busy reading the documents to notice Dumbledore's cold glare. The room was silent for a few moments before Sirius spoke again.
  
  "Clever bit with the money. You wouldn't believe what they got me for when I was in prison. You know, in Muggle banks your money accumulates interest. In Gringotts, they charge you for storage on idle accounts," Sirius said, flipping to the next page.
  
  "It was the very least I could do," Dumbledore said.
  
  "So you really are okay with this?" Sirius said.
  
  "Yes. Barring some drastic unforeseen circumstance it will be better for Harry," Dumbledore said.
  
  "Thank you, Albus," Sirius said. "I'll take great care of him."
  
  "I'm counting on that. Harry could be crucially important. But we will discuss that over the summer."
  
  "You keep bringing that up. It would be easier to just tell me," Sirius said, putting the documents down on the desk.
  
  "It would. But it may not matter. We shall see. Just do me a favor during the final match and task?" Dumbledore asked, leaning forward and placing his elbows on the desk.
  
  "What's that?" Sirius asked, leaning back and lounging himself over the chair.
  
  "Be inconspicuous. It won't help if anyone notices a strange dog milling around," Dumbledore ordered.
  
  "I know. I'll be perfectly hidden. I'm not going to miss a chance to watch Harry beat the other schools into submission," Sirius said.
  
  "Good. While you're at it. Keep an eye on Alastor, would you?"
  
  "Moody? Why? Isn't he one of your closest friends?" Sirius asked.
  
  "Ah. No. Alastor and I disagree on nearly everything. A classic case of the enemy of my enemy. We get along well enough, but it was always war related."
  
  "And you expect him of something?"
  
  "No. But something feels off. Just keep an eye out, it never hurts," Dumbledore said.
  
  "Will do. But if you excuse me. I'm going to head down to the pitch," Sirius said and stood. Dumbledore did the same.
  
  "I'll walk with you, I'm needed down there as well."
  
  Harry Potter pulled himself out of bed later than he would have liked. But he figured the extra sleep would be beneficial in the grand scheme of things. At least it should be better than running and wearing himself out before the match.
  
  He dressed rather quickly, just throwing on some lightweight clothing, knowing full well that he'd be changing into his uniform shortly anyway.
  
  He stood in the warm sunlight that came through one of the windows of the dorm for a few moments and simply looked out over the grounds. Harry could already tell it was going to be a beautiful day. The team was as ready as they would ever be. Alicia had been cleared to play a few weeks earlier, and they felt more confident than they had all year. The usual pre-match jitters were there, but they were far less than normal. Really, he was just excited. More excited than he'd ever been before a match. And, he knew, far more excited than he would be before the final task, he knew.
  
  After another moment of surveying the grounds he decided he better head down to breakfast. If he were any later the team would probably worry that he wasn't going to show up. There wasn't anyone in the common room, and there were very few students in the halls on the way to the Great Hall.
  
  Every single student appeared to be inside the Great Hall, most of them attempting to crowd around the Ravenclaw table. Harry noticed just about every member of the team sat near the middle of it, surrounded by quite a few of their closest friends. He was quite happy to see that Fleur sat close to Lilly. Madame Maxime had eased on her punishment a few weeks back, but he still rarely saw her in the castle. Harry moved quickly toward the table, many students reached out and offered him some support as he walked past.
  
  Harry sat near the end of the team members at the table, between Lilly and Fleur. He gave them each a quick hello as he reached to grab some food. He noticed Fleur wore her usual Beauxbaton's uniform, but she also had one of Lilly's ties hanging loosely around her neck. Of course, from afar, the Ravenclaw colors matched the Beauxbatons uniform enough that it was hard to tell.
  
  His play for food was interrupted, though, by a random voice from the crowd.
  
  "Kiss her already, Potter!" someone yelled. Fleur blushed and looked around, but Harry just laughed and kissed her to much cheering from the crowd. She playfully pushed him away after a moment to some more cheers from the crowd.
  
  "That'd be a nice breakfast," Harry said.
  
  "Oui. But it would drain your energy, rather than restore it," Fleur teased. Harry had to concede she had a point there.
  
  "That may be true," he admitted, reaching for the toast and some bacon. They'd grown closer. She even had him almost capable of forming coherent French sentences. But he was still rubbish at actually attempting to have a full conversation. Fleur had threatened to stop kissing him if he couldn't improve before he had to speak with her parents. Frankly, that wasn't something he wanted.
  
  He ate quietly as the crowd around the table grew. Fleet showed up a few minutes after him and sat nervously next to Fleur. The keeper gathered up some food as well as he exchanged quick pleasantries with Harry.
  
  Titus arrived last, accompanied by Tracey and Daphne. The trio sat across from Harry at the table. There was another 'kiss her' yelled from the crowd, and Titus obliged before Tracy even really knew what was happening.
  
  Harry couldn't help but notice that Tracey was wearing a Hogwarts practice jersey. She saw Titus's number on the side and could guess where she'd received it. Either way she'd charmed it to be rather form fitting, and Harry figured he'd better not stare at the beater's girlfriend for too long. So instead he looked at Daphne. That didn't help.
  
  Miss Greengrass also managed to find a Hogwarts practice jersey. The seven sewn onto the sleeve gave Harry a pretty good idea of who's it was, too. She'd also shrunk it to fit her form incredibly well. Harry just stared for a moment, secretly hoping that no one noticed. Of course, the quick elbow to the ribs didn't do much to assure him of being unnoticed.
  
  "Good morning, Harry. Fleur," Daphne said, giving Harry a nice full smile. She obviously wasn't the least bit intimidated by her French counterpart. Fleur returned the greeting carefully, but then went back to her conversation with Lily.
  
  "Morning Daphne. Do I want to know where you got that?" he nodded toward the jersey as he spoke.
  
  "Titus stole it from your locker," Daphne said. "He figured you wouldn't be using it much after today. I hope you don't mind."
  
  "I don't," Harry admitted. "You certainly look better in it than I ever could."
  
  "Don't I though?" She stood and spun around a little bit. Harry saw Fleur give her a cold glance out of the corner of his eye and decided, as Daphne sat back down, that it would be best to change the subject.
  
  "I can imagine some of your housemates didn't appreciate it at first glance," Harry said. Daphne just shrugged cutely.
  
  "They were too jealous of Tracy and I to notice just whose jersey I was wearing. Frankly, they're simply all mad they didn't think of it," she said playfully.
  
  "That's probably true. I'm surprised they didn't market those," Harry said, again nodding to the jersey.
  
  "I think they tried, but something to do with the fact that you're all minors and students made it difficult," Daphne explained as she picked up a piece of bacon with her fingers, broke off a piece, and ate it carefully.
  
  "Yes. Zey could 'ave done it without ze names, but ze 'eads of ze schools decided it would be in ze best interest of ze students to not," Fleur explained, drawing an appraising look from Daphne.
  
  "And how would you know that?" the Slytherin girl asked. Her playful tone disappeared in a second. Harry could tell she was actually interested in this topic, if not a bit annoyed that Fleur knew something she didn't.
  
  "My father is a solicitor," Fleur said. "Beauxbatons asked 'im to 'andle ze negotiations at ze start of the tournament. 'E explained it all to me when I asked."
  
  "Your father is a solicitor?" Daphne asked, Harry could see the wheels spinning in her head, but he had no idea what her intentions were.
  
  "I just said zat," Fleur responded rather snottily.
  
  "I want to go into law," Daphne said. Fleur examined her carefully for a few moments before she spoke.
  
  "Good luck. It is a difficult profession," she said haughtily before going back to her conversation with Lilly. Daphne glared at her for a few moments, then gave Harry a look that suggested she would never, ever, be remotely mean to his friends. She pouted for a few seconds, but when Harry didn't seem to care that she was pouting, she perked up very quickly. But the conversations didn't last very long. However, Fleur leaned toward him, as she saw Daphne and Tracey engaged in conversation with Titus.
  
  "You should 'ave asked me if you wanted someone to wear your jersey," she said. Harry looked over at her.
  
  "The thought hadn't even occurred to me. Apparently Titus took it from my locker and gave it to her," Harry said. Fleur shook her head a little bit.
  
  "Wish I would 'ave thought of zat," she said.
  
  "I have another one in the locker room, if you want it," Harry said. Fleur shook her head.
  
  "Zat is okay. She beat me to it," Fleur admitted. Harry just shrugged a little bit, not quite seeing what the big deal was, but figuring it was better if he didn't press is. It didn't particularly matter then, because breakfast ended soon after when Roger noticed that every member of the Hogwarts team had finished eating.
  
  "Alright. Let's go get ready," the captain said, standing up once he finished speaking. The rest of the team stood, along with some of the friends, and moved to leave the Great Hall.
  
  They traveled as a very slow procession toward the locker room. The match wasn't for a few hours, but Harry knew the people who weren't playing wouldn't mind waiting in the stands. From the look of it, too, those waiting would have plenty to do. There were nearly as many souvenir stands around the Hogwarts pitch as there had been at the World Cup. Harry could also smell the concessions starting to be prepared. The organizers certainly had gone all our for the finals.
  
  Harry noticed some of his teammates stared at the pitch in awe as they moved toward the locker room. Conversations started up around him about the amount of pomp for the match.
  
  "Wow," was all Daphne said as she first saw it.
  
  "Yea," Harry responded. "They've gone all out."
  
  "Yes, it looks like they've even expanded the stands a bit. I wonder how many people they expect." Daphne appeared to be right. Harry noticed the grandstands did seem to be much larger than normal. They were also decorated partially in Hogwarts colors, and partially in Durmstrang colors.
  
  "A lot," Harry responded dryly. "I mean, three schools, family members, ministry officials from all over. It's going to be crazy."
  
  "Nervous," Fleur asked, seeming intent on interrupting Daphne.
  
  "Naturally," Harry admitted. "But about playing against Viktor, not about however large the crowd will be."
  
  "Zat is probably smart," Fleur said. "I'm sure you will do your best." Harry could tell Fleur was simply trying to be supportive. But it didn't help that he was worried that his best wouldn't be good enough.
  
  "I'm sure you'll win," Daphne interjected quickly.
  
  "Thanks," Harry responded to both of them. There wasn't much more he could say than that. They kept walking toward the locker room. The procession moved much slower than Harry would have liked. But he knew there was little reason to speed up. There was still plenty of time, and he'd just wind up sitting and twitching in his locker.
  
  It didn't take too much more time for the team to reach their destination. The crowd of friends started to disperse as the team members ducked into the locker room. Harry turned to Fleur and Daphne intending to say something to them, but instead he was pulled into a tight, warm, hug by the Slytherin girl. She placed a soft, friendly kiss on his cheek, although, like before, it was dangerously close to his lips.
  
  "Good luck, Harry," she whispered sultrily into his ear. He felt chills run down his spine as she did. "I'll be cheering for you." She slid her arms off of him and backed up slowly, smirking at him. Harry turned toward Fleur, intending to apologize, but instead he simply found her lips pressed very hard to his, coupled with her tongue sliding into his mouth. She kissed him for what felt like a very long time before she broke off and gave him a very determined stare.
  
  "Go win," she ordered. Harry couldn't help but nod.
  
  "I'll do my best," Harry said before ducking into the locker room. It didn't even occur to him until he was finished changing that he probably shouldn't have left the two alone.
  
  "You know I'm going to win," Daphne said, crossing her arms over her newly acquired Harry Potter jersey and staring at the French girl.
  
  "I did not realize we were in competition," Fleur tried to sound as stuck up as she could.
  
  "Oh please," Daphne said, fighting back a laugh. "You're trying as hard as I am to hook him."
  
  "You are wrong. I am putting forth very little effort. I already, as you say, 'ave 'im 'ooked," Fleur responded.
  
  "For now," Daphne said. "But I'll win. I have a very distinct advantage." The Slytherin girl smirked a tad. Fleur knew she was likely better off just walking away and ignoring her presumed rival, but she had to admit, she was curious.
  
  "And why do you believe zat?" Fleur asked, trying to give the younger girl the most condescending stare she could manage.
  
  "Because I have three years," Daphne said. "Three glorious years where all you'll be able to do is write letters and see him on weekends. Three years where you'll be focused on your life and your career where all I have to do is charm him over a long period of time. With how much trouble he gets himself into, it will be easy."
  
  "Good luck with zat." Fleur smiled politely. "I believe you will find it more difficult zan you expect."
  
  "Oh no. It will be so very easy. He manages to wind up alone and secluded every year for some reason or another. I'll make sure that I'm the only one who he can trust. I'll do everything to make sure he comes to me with all of his problems. That I'm the only one he can actually trust," Daphne explained, her smirk widening as she spoke.
  
  "I doubt he will confide in you before me," Fleur said, crossing her arms and attempting to make the younger girl feel small.
  
  "Oh I'm sure he won't at first. But you'll have to find time to floo, or write, or at best come to Hogsmeade on a weekend. Eventually, he'll have something that he needs to give his attention to much sooner than that," Daphne said. Fleur could already tell where this was going, and she didn't think it was going to be nearly as effective as the girl did.
  
  "Oh, and he'll confide in you before his two closest friends?" Fleur asked.
  
  "Weasley is an idiot and Granger is a pretentious know-it-all that practically wants to mother him. He's more independent than that. He'll want advice on what he should do without simply being told to do something. He'll get sick of Granger soon enough. There are times where I can tell he already is. I'm the next best option."
  
  "So you'll become 'is friend? Zat's very threatening, Daphne. You're going to 'ave to try much harder zan zat," Fleur said.
  
  "Yes. But then there will be one night, when you haven't heard from him in a few weeks, and have been wondering if he ever solved that problem he had. You'll get up out of bed, Fleur, and start to write him a letter asking.
  
  "A nice gesture, to be sure, but while you're doing that, I'll be helping him with that very problem. And on one such night, when you're wonderfully out of the picture, I'll press my soft lips to his, and plop myself onto his lap and just keep kissing him. One thing will lead to another, and Mr. Potter will forget about Miss Delacour.
  
  "The next time you see him, he'll seem distant, and confused. And it will only get worse from there. He'll be mine. And frankly, that's all it will take. It will take time, but it will be so very easy," Daphne finished with a sinister smirk. Fleur just crossed her arms and gazed condescendingly at the girl. Doing her best to seem like she was unaffected by the girls words. But she knew that Daphne had a valid point. And a very valid plan of attack.
  
  "Well, Miss Greengrass," Fleur said, hoping that was the girl's last name. "We shall see. Now if you excuse me. I have a quidditch match to go watch. Enjoy your girlish fantasies." Fleur walked straight past Daphne. The Slytherin didn't respond but rather just watched her go. Daphne knew full well that she'd rattled the girl's confidence.
  
  The Hogwarts quidditch team could hear the loud cheers from the crowd inside their locker room. The noise vibrated the walls. They waited for the start of the match. Doing anything they could think of to occupy themselves. Harry, Roger, and Lilly went over last minute signals and plays that may be called during the course of the match. Fleet sat in his locker, visualizing the quaffle coming at him, thinking of how he would need to move to make the save. Fred and George sat on one of the couches with Alicia, none of them saying anything. They all thought about winning. They all wanted to win this match, and by extension, this tournament, more than any quidditch related thing they'd ever done.
  
  Eventually, they lined up and carried their brooms out to the pitch. The crowd really was staggering. Harry was amazed at the amount of people that filled the stands. They planned to wait for the team announcements before flying over the nearest set of hoops and cycling around the pitch as one cohesive unit. Judging from the fact that the Durmstrang team was already circling lazily around the pitch, they'd likely already been introduced. Harry ran over the Durmstrang roster quickly in his head. Kubica in the hoops, Strauss and Bathory as beaters, Petrov, Nadasdy and Ivanova as the chasers, and naturally, Krum as the seeker.
  
  It took Harry a moment to realize that Bagman was actually announcing something, he could just barely hear him over the roar of the crowd.
  
  "This sounds like it," Roger said as he mounted his broom. Harry focused on the dim, yet amplified, voice of Ludo Bagman. He could barely make out what the announcer said.
  
  "And now, ladies and gentlemen! I give you the Hogwarts quidditch team. We have Fleet, Weasley, Weasley, Spinnet, Davies, Seslion, and Potter!" The starters took off in formation and flew into the stadium to an even louder roar from the crowd.
  
  "You may remember Spinnet missed the last match with a concussion. She's fully recovered and has been cleared to play by both Madam Pomfrey and two independent medical officials." Harry tuned out Bagman for a few moments as he flew around the pitch. The inside looked quite different than the outside. The school colors were gone, instead replaced by numerous advertisements, at the forefront were the broom sponsors, but just about every magical company Harry could think of had bought at least one ad panel.
  
  He flew around a little bit simply because he enjoyed flying. He picked out some people he knew in the stands as he flew around. He saw that Fleur sat between a group of Beauxbatons students and Hermione. Hermione chatted with the French girl. Ron simply stared at her in awe. Daphne sat with Tracey and the rest of the Slytherin fourth years a few rows away. Draco was the only one in the bunch wearing a Durmstrang jersey. He spun his broom back around as he reached the opposing hoops. Out of the corner of his eye he saw a shaggy black dog gazing up at the action from near Hagrid's hut.
  
  He banked back around and looked toward the center of the pitch as Krum and Davies landed near the center of the pitch and shook hands, both captains smiling rather widely as their pictures were snapped during the ceremony. After that a referee quickly explained the ground rules and then floated up toward the middle of the pitch with the quaffle. Harry moved himself over between the Weasley twins, mirroring how he knew Krum would start the match. He looked at the official and waited, tensely, for it to begin. The crowd even quieted down as the action started.
  
  "It looks like they're ready to start. And they are! Nadasdy wins the draw from Seslion. He passes it over to Petrov. Petrov dodges a bludger from Fred Weasley, and passes it across the pitch to Ivanova. She weaves past Spinnet, fakes a shot and quickly feeds Nadasdy who shoots! Saved by Fleet! And with that, Ladies and Gentlemen, the final quidditch match of the Triwizard Tournament is underway!
  
  "Seslion passes it to Davies as Hogwarts begins their first rush. Davies weaves through Petrov and Ivanova. He dodges a bludger from Strauss. Wait no, it clipped him. He dropped the quaffle. Seslion goes for it! No, she collides with Petrov. Spinnet recovers the quaffle for Hogwarts though. She fakes out Kubica and scores! 10-0 home team!" Bagman's voice was quickly muffled by cheers from the crowd. The cheers subsided as the Durmstrang team entered the Hogwarts zone.
  
  "Petrov back to Ivanova. Ivanova across to Nadasdy, then back to Petrov. Over to Nadasdy again. A bit of fancy passing from the Durmstrang. No doubt they're trying to slow the game down after how the Hogwarts chasers dominated them the last time these two teams met. Petrov has the quaffle. Seslion tries for the steal, no, that just caught her out of position. Ivanova is open! Saved again by Fleet! But Petrov gets the rebound and it's a tie game!
  
  "Seslion on the inbound. She botches the pass to Davies. Nadasdy picks it up and shoots! Fleet with the save once more. He appears to be yelling at Seslion now after that bad inbounds. She takes the quaffle from him and hurls it to Spinnet. Spinnet races down past Ivanova. She dodges a bludger from Bathory and hits Davies with a quick pass. Davies shoots! Saved by Kubica. Seslion on the rebound, saved again by Kubica.
  
  "Petrov has it now. He races down toward the Hogwarts zone. Dodges a bludger from George Weasley and passes it to Ivanova. She gets it over to Nadasdy. He takes a shot and scores low side right hoop! 20-10 Durmstrang." Harry cursed a bit under his breath. He had been in position to cut through that play, and maybe create a bit of a distraction, but he hadn't acted on it, figuring the chasers would make it back quicker.
  
  He turned the Lotus quickly and sped off down the other side of the pitch, joining the rush with the chasers as he did, although he still kept his eyes peeled for the snitch. He pulled up dangerously close to one of the Durmstrang chasers, intent on taking that player, Petrov he thought, out of the play. It worked as Spinnet scored easily, evening up the score once again.
  
  Harry took a moment to look for Krum. The Bulgarian seeker was floating high above the middle of the pitch, doing his absolute best to be unnoticed. Harry flew up near a semi-idle Fred Weasley. Harry recognized the strategy he was using. Krum called it 'the vulture.' If the opposing seeker didn't tail him, he'd spend most of his time surveying the entire pitch, relying on his exceptional eyesight to find the golden ball.
  
  "Knock something at Krum every once and a while. Don't just let him sit up there," Harry ordered. Fred nodded and Harry did see the next bludger that came near him was wacked directly at Krum. The Bulgarian barely noticed it in time. But he did manage to avoid it nonetheless.
  
  Harry kept flying around looking for the snitch then. He barely registered the chasers as he sped around the pitch. He banked hard behind the Durmstrang hoops, distracting Kubica for a moment, but the Hogwarts chasers weren't in possession of the quaffle at the time, so it was largely a superfluous move. He banked back through the right hoop, again distracting Kubica a bit, and sped off down the pitch. He saw Fleet block a shot from one of the Durmstrang chasers. Davies took the inbound from the Keeper and passed it over toward Spinnet. Harry dove under the Hogwarts chasers and cut straight up after she passed, shooting through the returning Durmstrang players. He cut back in time to see Davies score, followed by a bludger coming directly for him. Obviously Krum didn't like the fact that he told Fred to start focusing on him.
  
  He moved away from the bludger, leading it back toward one of the Weasley twins. One of them parlayed the iron ball toward a Durmstrang chaser. Harry lifted up and floated near the Hogwarts hoops as he scanned the pitch for the snitch. He knew finding it first would be of crucial importance. Of course, he hadn't expected the Durmstrang chasers to have improved as much.
  
  "And after that goal," Bagman's voice echoed through the pitch, "it is now 50-40 Hogwarts. Kubica gives the inbound to Nadasdy. Bathory places a bludger perfectly between Davies and Seslion. Nadasdy covers the length of the pitch by himself. He dekes around Spinnet but has to dodge a bludger from Fred Weasley before he can get the shot off. He tries a wrap around, but Fleet has him covered.
  
  "Nadasdy clears it over the hoops. Ivanova catches the quaffle and rifles it at the hoop. Fleet flips around. He got it! What a save moving upside down through the hoops to prevent the quaffle from passing though! That may be the save of the tournament, folks! Ivanova was completely alone, Fleet on the other side of the hoops, and he somehow got through in time to catch that quaffle. Very impressive.
  
  "Spinnet has possession now. She's moving up the pitch with Seslion on the opposite wing. Davies swings around and joins them mid rush. Spinnet throws the quaffle across the pitch to Seslion. She quickly passes it to Davies as he crosses into the Durmstrang zone. He fakes to the right before leaving the quaffle for Spinnet. She cuts around and gets the shot off on Kubica.
  
  "Fairly easy save there for the Durmstrang keeper. He passes it out to Ivanova. She relays it Petrov. No! Seslion cuts in front of it, keeping it in the Durmstrang zone. She banks around and finds Spinnet who takes the shot again! And she scores! 60-40 Hogwarts! Believe it or not ladies and gentlemen, but that is the first two goal lead we've had all night!
  
  "Petrov inbounds to Ivanova. She immediately gives it back to Petrov. The Durmstrang team moves down the right wing here. Lots of quick, short passes now. It appears they're trying to draw the Hogwarts chasers out of position as they defend the rush.
  
  "Lots of slow, back and forth passes here. Nadasdy dodges a bluder and feeds it to Ivanova. She dodges another bludger, hanging onto the quaffle for a moment. Spinnet cuts off her angle, but she counters with a pass back to Petrov. He finds Ivanova again and they score! 60-50 now.
  
  "I have to say, the play of the chasers in this match has been remarkably even. Some of the experts thought the Hogwarts chasers would have another field day in this match, but Durmstrang has come up with a very nice counter. They're not going to let the Hogwarts line decide the game.
  
  "Speaking of the Hogwarts line, Seslion inbounds to Davies, who speeds past Petrov and finds Spinnet down the pitch. She dodges a bludger from Strauss and outmaneuvers Ivanova. She fakes the shot and passes it back to Seslion who shoots! Saved by Kubica, but he allowed a rebound and Davies scores! That's back to a twenty point lead for Hogwarts, 70-50.
  
  "Ivanova with the inbound to Petrov this time, he relays it to Nadasdy," but Harry tuned out the commentary then. He saw a golden flicker out of the corner of his eye, well below him. He turned his broom sharply and started to race toward it well before he could determine if it was indeed the snitch. It looked as promising as any snitch he'd ever seen.
  
  Of course he had no idea where Krum was, but he had the line, and he was hurtling quickly toward it. The little golden ball got bigger and bigger, his eyes focused on nothing other than it. He saw Krum coming at it from another direction. Harry was closer. He'd either catch it, or be on a much better line for the chase.
  
  The golden ball, as if it sensed their presence, cut away from the two seekers. Harry managed to maneuver the Lotus quickly around to follow it, cutting in front of Krum as he did. He pushed the broom as quickly as he could, hoping to put as much distance between he and Krum as he could.
  
  He reached out for the snitch. He'd have it in just a moment. But then his broom just stopped. He, didn't though. He kept going forward for a moment before managing to hook his legs tightly around the end of it. A shrill whistle rang through the stadium. Harry took a moment to recover before looking hurriedly for the snitch. But it was gone. Not that it would have mattered. Play stopped on the whistle.
  
  "And with a blatant foul by Krum, who reached out and grabbed the end of Harry's broom, Hogwarts will take a penalty shot. It's hard to say that was a bad time to take a penalty though. The chaser play has been incredibly even, and Krum certainly wouldn't have beat Potter to the snitch. He prolonged the match with that move. He doesn't care that Hogwarts gets an extra ten as Davies scores easily on the penalty shot. That brings the total to 90-70 after the goals during the chase for the snitch," Bagman kept commentating. Harry couldn't help but glare angrily at the Bulgarian seeker, who largely ignored him.
  
  He turned on his broom, flying away from Krum, mostly because he felt he may try to fly through the Durmstrang captain if he were in too close of proximity for an extended period of time. But then, as he circled around the pitch and noticed that Krum resumed his perch high above the action. He had an idea then.
  
  He resumed flying around as if everything was normal, but after a few moments he cut back quickly across the pitch and went into a very hard dive, nearly directly under Krum. He put himself on such a line that if Krum were to look down, he wouldn't be able to see much more than Harry. Viktor would have to follow him into the dive to make sure Harry wasn't chasing after the snitch.
  
  Harry maintained the dive in such a way that Krum wouldn't be able to do much more than follow him. He pushed his broom as quickly as he could toward the ground. He reached out as if he was going for the snitch once again, but then pulled out of the dive sharply. He heard a rather satisfying thud as he pulled up. He looked over his shoulder to see Krum sprawled on the ground, pulling himself slowly back onto his broom.
  
  "I don't believe it! Potter just executed a perfect Wrongski feint and Krum fell for it. The Durmstrang seeker is pulling himself back onto his broom now. I'm willing to bet that he wishes he hadn't spent so much time helping out Harry in the last few months. That had to hurt!" Harry hoped it did. A lot. He swerved back an kept looking for the snitch.
  
  "After that clever display of flying Spinnet scored another goal, making the score 120-80. It looks like the Hogwarts chasers are finally starting to run up the score a bit.
  
  "Petrov inbounds to Ivanova, who passes it quickly to Nadasdy. He moves it through the center of the pitch himself. Strauss creates some room with an exceptionally well placed bludger. Nadasdy passes it to Petrov as they enter the Hogwarts zone. Petrov tosses the quaffle into the air as he dodges a bludger from George Weasley. Ivanova sweeps in and grabs it, she's undefended now, moves right, quickly cuts back left and fires the shot! Just out of the reach of Fleet. That's 120-90 Hogwarts." Bagman's commentating rang out through the stadium. Harry knew by now that the chasers weren't going to gain an advantage either way.
  
  He lifted himself up over the middle of the pitch and focused hard on every inch of the pitch. Harry scanned every area as quickly as he could. The sun was setting on the horizon, making visibility a bit more difficult. He noticed Krum too was intently focused on the snitch. Both seekers knew the match was in their hands. That they were the great hope for their schools.
  
  Harry saw it then. A golden flash past one of the green Lotus advertisements. He banked quickly and sped off toward it. He could sense Krum did the same thing. They had exactly opposing lines as they raced toward the snitch. It cut directly up over the stands, the two seekers followed it effortlessly. Krum pushed ahead of him in a straight line, but Harry caught up quickly every time the snitch cornered.
  
  The two seekers moved neck and neck nearly the entire time. Weaving carefully through other players and bludgers as they chased down the golden ball. Harry cut above Alicia, around Petrov and dove under Roger as he followed the ball. Krum was momentarily held up behind Davies, but Harry knew he was faster in a straight dive.
  
  Harry pushed the broom as much as he could, evening directly behind the snitch. He could feel Krum closing the gap. Krum pushed his broom up along side him as the snitch cut hard to the left. Harry had the inside line and took it very quickly, nearly putting his broom through the quidditch star as he did.
  
  But Krum wasn't phased. He quickly gained he ground back. This time, as they closed, the snitch cut to the right and dove hard, until it was skimming just a few feet above the grass, giving Krum the optimal line to follow. But the Bulgarian chose instead to go wide. He intentionally drifted into Harry, using his larger, bulkier body to push the Hogwarts seeker off track.
  
  Harry rolled over the top of Krum, but lost precious time in doing so. He tried to catch up, but Krum gradually pushed further and further away. He could tell it was over, barring a miracle on the snitch's next move.
  
  Harry anticipated another left turn so he rolled left early, hoping to trap the snitch. He felt a momentary flash of hope as the snitch did indeed bank toward him. He raced forward toward it, he knew he and Krum would get there at the same time. And they did, both reaching for the golden ball as they collided in mid air.
  
  Their brooms went flying and they fell, landing hard on the ground. Harry lay there for a moment, wondering just what had happened. The stadium was silent, even Bagman wasn't commenting. The other players had stopped playing.
  
  Krum rose first. He moved over toward Harry and looked at him, then offered is right hand, which Harry took, allowing the Bulgarian to pull him to his feet. The official landed next to them as Krum shook Harry's hand.
  
  "Best match I have had in my life," Viktor said. Harry's body still ached from the collision and fall, but all he could do was nod and agree.
  
  "Me too," Harry said. The official approached them, intending to check if they were both alright. But Krum just held up his left hand and revealed the golden ball. Harry's heart fell.
  
  "Krum has the snitch after the fall!" Bagman's voice echoed through the arena. "That's 250 to 140 Durmstrang! Durmstrang has won the quidditch final!" Harry didn't feel like his legs were going to support him. He fought off the urge to vomit as Krum clasped him on the shoulder.
  
  "I see you at next World Cup," the Bulgarian said, before he walked away from Harry and picked up his broom to join his teammates celebrating in the sky. Harry found his Lotus nearby on the ground as the Hogwarts team landed near him.
  
  "Shit," Roger said.
  
  "Damn," Fred Weasley replied.
  
  "Yea," Fleet agreed.
  
  "I'm sorry, guys," Harry said, staring at the ground.
  
  "It's not your fault," Roger responded. "Play as a team, win as a team, lose as a team."
  
  "Yep," George Weasley said.
  
  "Let's get back to the locker room. I don't want to watch," Lilly said.
  
  "We have to shake their hands," Roger said, mounting his broom and flying up to congratulate the Durmstrang team. Harry followed, the rest of the team trailed after them.
  
  After congratulating the Durmstrang team, and staying on the pitch for the trophy presentation, the Hogwarts contingent finally made it back to the locker room. They changed out of their uniforms slowly and lingered in the locker room, realizing it may likely be the last time they used it. At the very least it would be the last time they would use it as a team.
  
  "Going to be strange not coming here," Lilly said, gazing around the locker room.
  
  "Yes it is," Roger said. "Hooch said they're going to build a fourth one so each of the house teams has similar facilities next near."
  
  "That'll be nice," Herbert Fleet responded.
  
  "It should be," Roger responded. He'd finished changing and packed up his things quickly. The captain kept much less stuff in the locker room than the rest of the team. He gazed around when he'd finished with that. "Well. It's been a blast, team. We gave them hell, it's a shame we couldn't win. I look forward to flying with all of you some time in the future." Members of the team muttered in agreement as Roger walked out of the locker room.
  
  The rest of the team lingered a bit longer than that. But eventually, they started to leave. Some packed their things, some didn't, figuring they had a few more days before the end of the term. Most of the teammates said something kind to Harry as they left.
  
  Eventually, he was alone in the locker room, he still hadn't changed out of his uniform. He just sat in the locker, his broom propped next to him. He kept going over the final snitch chase in his head, thinking of ways he could have come out on top. After a few more moments of simply sitting there alone he heard the door open.
  
  "'Arry? What are you still doing? I assumed I just didn't see you leave," Fleur said softy from the door. He looked up and smiled weakly at her.
  
  "Just going over the end of the game in my mind, trying to figure out what I should have done," he responded.
  
  "Nothing," Fleur responded. "You flew beautifully." She walked over to the large wooden locker and sat next to him in it.
  
  "I didn't win," Harry said.
  
  "You did not. But zat 'appens in sports. What is ze clich?? You cannot win them all?" Fleur asked.
  
  "That's it. But I still wanted to win," he admitted.
  
  "I know you did. But let's get you out of the uniform and find some dinner," Fleur said, reaching out and pulling the jersey up over his head. He had a thin t-shirt on underneath. Fleur deposited the jersey in the locker behind them and sniffed carefully, before pulling the t-shirt off as well. She gasped.
  
  "What?" Harry asked, feeling slightly self-conscious for a moment. He looked down to see the a large bruise forming on his chest. Presumably from where he collided with Krum.
  
  "How does zat feel?" Fleur asked. She gently traced a finger over it while she asked. Harry winced a little bit at the contact.
  
  "It hurts," he said dumbly. Fleur nodded.
  
  "Well, go take a shower, you need it," Fleur ordered.
  
  "Fine," Harry said, gathering up some clothing to change into when he finished. It didn't occur to him until he was already nearly done that he should have at least teasingly asked her to join him.
  
  When he was finished and changed he stepped back into the locker room. He saw Fleur relaxing on the couch, reading a magazine that someone had left. She got up as he stepped out of the locker room.
  
  "I trust you are famished?" she asked. Harry hadn't eaten since breakfast, and he really was.
  
  "Yea. I am," he said, although he didn't really want to sneak into Hogsmeade and have to deal with the press there, nor did he want to venture back to the Great Hall to be around the other dejected Hogwarts students.
  
  "Why don't we go to ze carriage and have a nice quiet meal?" Fleur asked.
  
  "That sounds perfect," Harry said. Fleur took his hand and led him out of the locker room. Harry glanced back around it briefly as they left. It was funny how the locker room had started to feel like home.
  
  He only vaguely remembered Fleur leading him to the carriage. They were stopped by a couple of random groups of students, who mostly offered Harry consoling words. This time, though, Harry could respond mostly coherently in French.
  
  Fleur simply led him back to her room and sat him on the couch near the small table in the room. She summoned an elf gave it quick orders in French. Harry could pick out some of the food items she listed. He leaned back on the couch, and when Fleur finished ordering she sat next to him. They chatted quietly, about nothing in particular, as they waited for the food. Harry was glad the conversation didn't focus on the quidditch match or the final task.
  
  "What did you order?" Harry asked as the elf popped back in with a covered tray.
  
  "Nothing special," Fleur said. "Just some herb roasted chicken with a summer vegetable assortment," she admitted. Harry thought it smelled like something special. When she lifted the cover off the tray, he thought it looked rather special, too. The French elves certainly took great care of food preparation. The two plates were almost identical and each looked more like art than food.
  
  The pair ate quietly, but rather quickly. They were both very hungry. Fleur ordered a basic dessert when they finished, and they devoured that too, when it arrived. It didn't take long after finishing the meal for Harry to realize just how draining the final match had been. He rested his head on Fleur's shoulder for a moment. He closed his eyes and shifted his face more toward her neck, inhaling her flowery perfume as he did. He couldn't help but trace his lips over her neck very briefly. But after a few minutes she shifted and he lifted his head up.
  
  "You are exhausted," she stated. "Do you want to just go to sleep?"
  
  "Not really," Harry said briefly. He was enjoying her company, despite the fact that they weren't doing much.
  
  "Good," Fleur said, moving closer to him and kissing him very softly. "I do not want to sleep, either." She said. She couldn't help but wonder how much of an affect the young Slytherin's words had on her current actions as she lay Harry down on the couch and crawled on top of him. But she didn't care. She thought of him, and the task that could presumably kill each of them, and she knew what she wanted to do.
  
  She kept kissing him, slowly and carefully. She felt his arms slide around her as he kissed her back. She knew she couldn't make it a perfect day. Krum had already ruined that. She knew she couldn't make the bruise on his chest hurt less. And she knew she couldn't take away the shatteringly empty feeling from coming to the pinnacle and then suffering a heart-breaking loss.
  
  But she also knew she could make him feel much better. She could make him feel loved, valued and cared for. She knew she could make him hers. And, as she kissed him, with her body pressing tightly against his, and that was exactly what she did.
  
  Author's Note: Again, not much to say about this chapter. Interestingly, one of the things I enjoy doing the most is writing the quidditch matches, which are often referenced as 'skipped over' by many readers. They're my favorite part of the story.
  
  Another little caveat on banking. I just can't see the goblins, being constantly referenced as greedy, giving people money while they're storing the money. I get the strangest feeling goblins and interest rates don't compute.
  
  I know many readers don't think the Potter's would have left their sun with the Dursley's, and admittedly, that isn't their first choice. But in DH it is implied Petunia and Lily were in contact around Harry's first birthday, and family is family. Good people make mistakes. Lily comes across as a character who often couldn't see the bad in people. She appeared to be forgiving of Snape for quite a long time, and doesn't seem like the type to assume the worst of people. Legally, too, the orphaned child would likely wind up in the care of the next of kin. In this case, the Dursleys. It sucks for Harry, but assuming that Lilly knew just how terrible the Dursley's would be seems to be a stretch. Siblings are often jealous of each other. Does that make them terrible people? Usually not.
  
  Daphne is fun to write. She's a devious little bint, ain't she?
  
  As for the match, I really really wanted Harry to win. But I just couldn't do it. The scene I wanted after worked better with a loss. And, if Krum really is that good, Harry shouldn't have a chance. But Harry gave him one hell of a match, and was a nicely timed penalty away from winning. Close, but not quite.
  
  I'm probably going to drop the rating to Teen, but I likely won't do that until the story is completed out of general laziness. I'm not sure its earned the M rating, and I doubt anything in the final task puts it up there. We shall see, though.
  
  Well, two chapters left, next up is the final task. There's two races and a whole bunch of baseball to watch this weekend so I'm hoping to have it posted by Monday. Thanks for your continued support and reviews, I appreciate it all. If you're interested, my other story is live, but I'll likely finish letters before moving on to chapter two there. As always, I'm open to discussions of just about anything in private messages. Once again, thanks for your support.
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit on this.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Cammiles2003 for the beta work.
  
  Chapter 18
  
  The Maze
  
  The next morning, or rather afternoon if he'd bothered to look at a clock, came far too quickly for Harry. He opened his eyes, yawning loudly, and stretched a bit. The bed had that wonderfully flowery smell he'd started to love even more the night before. He rolled onto his side to find Miss Delacour staring at him.
  
  "You slept like a rock," she said. Her hair was down and falling around her face. Harry couldn't help but reach out and run a hand through her soft hair. She wiggled closer to him and kissed him once, softly. It was nice, even though it was completely the opposite of how she'd kissed him the night before.
  
  "I'm sorry," he said when her lips left his. "I hope you haven't been awake for long?"
  
  "Not very," she responded before rolling back on top of him. Harry had to admit, that was something that he could really get used to. "I did some reading, before trying to sleep some more. I was going to wake you. But you were sleeping so soundly I did not."
  
  "Yea well I had a long day. I was tired and you didn't help that last night!" Harry argued. Fleur just laughed.
  
  "You 'elped, you know," she teased, resting her head against his chest. He liked the way her hair felt on his skin.
  
  "I guess I did," Harry responded, trying to sound as hesitant as he could.
  
  "No guessing," she said with a faux seriousness. "You certainly did 'elp!"
  
  "Okay. I helped. It was exhausting," Harry teased. He took a moment to wrap his arms around her slender body. Her flowery perfume again filled his senses. It was duller after sleeping the night away, but still present. After a deep breath he couldn't help but admit, "I love the way you smell," of course, it had sounded better in his head.
  
  "Zat is not usually ze first thing you tell a girl you love, 'Arry," she responded, but her tone was still incredibly playful.
  
  "It did sound better in my head," he admitted, before pressing his face into the mass of hair that resided on top of him. He took another moment to simply enjoy being in proximity with her.
  
  "Well zen I will 'ave to remember to buy more of zis perfume," Fleur teased, her lips tracing gently over his neck as she spoke.
  
  "Yes, you will," Harry responded. He was silent for a minute before he asked. "Well, what do we do today?"
  
  "I do not know," Fleur admitted. "It is our last day before ze final task. Tomorrow will be hectic. I was planning on simply relax and enjoy myself."
  
  "That sounds like a good idea. If I have to read another page of Classical Greek spells I'm going to severely injure someone," Harry admitted.
  
  "I agree," Fleur said. "I will be wanting company this afternoon, too."
  
  "I can think of someone who would be ideal for that," Harry responded. He ran his hands gently up and down her back as he spoke.
  
  "Really? Me too," she responded, pressing her body closer to his.
  
  "Well I hope we have the same person in mind," Harry said. He tightened his hold on her for a moment. He didn't particularly want to get out of bed.
  
  "I am sure zat we do," she said. "But now we should get dressed. I am starving and it appears to be a beautiful day. Let us not squander it more zan we already did." She climbed off of him. Harry spent a moment simply admiring her, he just couldn't resist. Before he too climbed out of bed and prepared for the day.
  
  And so Harry and Fleur passed their final day before the third task. They lunched with some of Fleur's friends, before sneaking off to Hogsmeade for the rest of the afternoon. Thankfully, the few reporters they ran into had finished their stories for tomorrow, and merely asked them pleasant questions about the tournament. They answered as vaguely as they could. Thankfully, there was no sign of Rita Skeeter.
  
  They found another small restaurant off the beaten path in Hogsmeade and ducked in. It was filled with many sponsors and other officials obviously hanging around for the final task. But Harry and Fleur were quickly given a secluded table to enjoy themselves at. Being a champion certainly had some perks Harry hadn't thought about. A few reporters snapped their picture in the restaurant, but neither of them cared.
  
  "You know, zat Daphne girl you took to ze ball really likes you," Fleur said carefully over dessert. "She 'as a plan to snare you in ze coming years."
  
  "Oh?" Harry asked. "She told you?"
  
  "She did. She's quite confident, too. She believes zat ze time apart will be a great benefit to her," Fleur admitted. "She may 'ave a point, too."
  
  "Maybe," Harry said. "But I rather like you more than Daphne." Harry said. Fleur smiled warmly at him.
  
  "Still, I cannot help but be jealous," Fleur admitted.
  
  "You shouldn't be," Harry said. Of course, deep down he knew that without Fleur's presence, he could very well be sitting at this very same table with Daphne. He forced that thought from his mind.
  
  "I realize zat. But zat does not change ze fact zat I am. What are we going to do after ze school year?" Fleur asked. She stared down at the remnants of the dessert for a moment.
  
  "I don't know. You invited me to France in one of your letters. I'd really love to come," Harry said.
  
  "I did. Zat would be fun. But after zat?"
  
  "I don't know, Fleur. We'll figure it out. There's summer and holidays and breaks. If we want to make it work, we'll make it work," he said. She looked up at him from across the table.
  
  "You are sure you won't go running into ze other girl's arms as soon as I am gone?" Her tone was playful, but Harry could tell she was expressing something she felt was a legitimate concern.
  
  "I'm positive I won't," Harry said firmly.
  
  "Good. Zat would make me rather unhappy."
  
  "Well we wouldn't want that," Harry said as their waitress showed up with the check. He paid without a second thought.
  
  "No. We would not," Fleur said as they left, taking a brief moment to pose for pictures with one of the reporters, who claimed he wanted to frame it and display it on his desk. They were happy to oblige. Harry even joked if he won, he'd sign it for the reporter.
  
  "Well, what should we do now?" Harry asked.
  
  "I think we should walk back to ze castle and enjoy ze night," Fleur said, taking his arm as they walked. He felt quite a lot like a Victorian gentleman as he walked with her on his arm.
  
  "That sounds like fun. It is a bit of a trek, though," Harry said. He'd never done it outside of one of the secret passages in the castle.
  
  "I will be fine. Unless Monsieur Athlete is worried he will not make it. I do not zink I will be able to carry you ze entire way," Fleur teased.
  
  "You're a talented witch. You'd come up with some way to get me back to safety, I'm sure," Harry responded.
  
  "Oui. But I would make sure it was entirely unpleasant for you," she responded.
  
  "No you wouldn't," Harry responded. "You like me too much. You'd be all kind and caring and careful."
  
  "Don't spoil my fun," Fleur teased.
  
  "Alright, alright," Harry said. "I'll let you imagine brutal ways to magic me back to the castle."
  
  "Much better," Fleur said. They simply walked in silence after that. Harry stared up at the stars and enjoyed the warm night. The walk passed rather quickly. Harry spoke again when the castle was finally insight.
  
  "So, are you ready for tomorrow?" he asked. They hadn't really talked about the task itself in their practice sessions. They'd mostly just read the books and quizzed each other on the information and spells
  
  "I 'ope so. If am more nervous for zis task zan I was ze other two," Fleur said.
  
  "Me too," Harry responded. "It's strange, knowing sort of what it is, but not really having a clue at the same time."
  
  "Yes. I do not like it," Fleur said.
  
  "I don't either. I just hope one of us wins," Harry said.
  
  "Me too," Fleur responded as they crossed through the gates and onto the Hogwarts grounds. "But I am worried. They 'ave emphasized ze danger more for zis task zan ze previous ones."
  
  "Yes, they have. But I'm sure we'll be fine. We're prepared, at the very least," Harry said. Fleur just nodded and after another moment of silence he spoke again. "Should I walk you back to the carriage then?"
  
  "Are you going to spend ze night with me again?" Fleur asked. Harry hadn't thought about it. The second she mentioned it, he knew he would really like to. Especially if the night ended in the same way as the previous one.
  
  "I uhm, I'd like to," Harry said. He knew he was blushing. "But I hadn't thought about it. If you don't want me to, I understand."
  
  "Oh 'Arry," Fleur just laughed. "I do not know if I would be able to fall asleep tonight without you."
  
  "Really?" Harry asked. He found that hard to believe, but it sounded rather nice.
  
  "Really. I am nervous. 'Aving you 'old me through ze night will help," Fleur said.
  
  "That sounds like an excuse to get me into bed with you, Miss Delacour," Harry responded.
  
  "Are you complaining?" Fleur asked. She crossed her arms over her chest and gave him an appraising look.
  
  "Not at all," Harry answered, before faking a yawn. "In fact, I think I'm completely exhausted from our walk. I don't think there is any way I could make it back to Gryffindor tower without fainting. We should probably head to bed straight away."
  
  "Zat is what I thought," Fleur responded. And so they walked back to the Beauxbaton's carriage and ended their day in the place where it had began.
  
  Fleur had some last minute engagements with Madame Maxime and some French reporters the next morning. Harry didn't accompany her. Instead, he found himself cleaning out his locker in the now nearly abandoned locker room. He folded his uniforms in a sloppy manner, and lumped them into a bag with his pads. He wasn't sure if he'd ever need a Hogwarts jersey again, but it seemed better to keep it rather than throw it away.
  
  When he got all his clothing packed up he tossed the few books he still had in his locker into the bag as well. He took a moment to shrink it for ease of carrying. He did a quick last minute check of his locker before pocketing the shrunken bag and picking up his broom.
  
  The Lotus was an interesting item. He'd grown fond of it since the start of the school year. He vaguely remembered considering giving it to Ron or another member of the Gryffindor team at the end of the year. But he certainly didn't want to do that now. Sure, next year, during the house matches, he'd use his Firebolt without hesitation. But he liked the other broom. He'd think of some use for it.
  
  He propped the Lotus onto his shoulder, like an old soldier carrying a musket, before leaving the locker room. He spared a quick glance toward the Beauxbaton's carriage and wondered if Fleur was done with her interviews. He was tempted to check, but she said she'd come find him when she was free.
  
  He gazed up toward Gryffindor tower. He hadn't been there in nearly two days. By far the longest he'd gone without seeing the common room in his Hogwarts career. He idly wondered if anyone would even notice his absence.
  
  Harry walked back up the path to the castle. He debated simply flying up to the North tower, as it would be a shorter walk from there, but decided against it. Already, despite the early morning hour, the grounds were packed with Hogwarts students anxious to see the final task. Just about everyone he saw gave him a quick smile or a nod too. Harry could also see some of the sponsors magically constructing the maze above the lake.
  
  Once inside the castle people were even more cordial. Every Hogwarts student he saw came up to him and wished him luck on the first task. A few made comments about the quidditch loss to Durmstrang, but they didn't blame him. Mostly they congratulated his flying. A few said it was such a shame he'd obviously walk away with the house cup the next year. Harry hoped they were right.
  
  Because of this, though, it took him quite a bit longer than expected to make it back to the Gryffindor common room. A few of his housemates were lounging around. They immediately dropped whatever they were doing to come and talk to him. They asked about how he felt about the match, where he'd been, and if he was ready for the third task. He answered mostly honestly.
  
  Of course, admitting he'd spent the majority of the last two days, and implying the last two nights, with Fleur just led to more questions he didn't quite feel like answering at the time. But he did his best to leave it ambiguous and eventually they let him go up to his Dorm to put his things away.
  
  That didn't take him long. He carefully stashed his Lotus next to the Firebolt, comparing the two brooms in his head as he did. The Lotus looked a bit more worn. He made a mental note to go over it with his service kit later simply to make sure both brooms stayed in very good condition.
  
  After that, he simply enlarged he books and uniforms in the sack he brought and tossed them, like just about everything else, into his trunk. He'd think about that later. He was slamming his trunk closed when Ron walked into the dorm.
  
  "There you are!" he exclaimed. "McGonagall sent me to find you. She said the champions get some time with their families before the final task!" Harry did a quick double-take and simply stared at his friend. Did Ron forget that he was an orphan?
  
  "I don't have any family, Ron," Harry said dumbly.
  
  "Oh you git," Ron said. Harry couldn't help but think that was slightly unfair. In his mind, Ron was being the git. "I'm pretty sure mum is here to cheer you on."
  
  "Ah," Harry said. That made sense. "Cool. Thanks Ron, I'll head down there now."
  
  "Good, you do that or McGonagall will skin me. Took me forever to find you. Where have you been the last few days, anyway?" Ron asked.
  
  "With Fleur," Harry responded as he stepped out of the dorm. He didn't bother to wait to see Ron's response. He couldn't help but feel happy that Mrs. Weasley had stepped up to be the parental figure for the day. Although it would have been nice to be able to spend some time with Sirius, but he hadn't seen the shaggy black dog since before the quidditch match.
  
  Of course, he realized as he stepped out of the common room, if this was time for champions and their parents, it meant that Fleur's parents were here, and he wasn't quite sure he was ready for that. He remembered her comments on how both her parents would likely only want to speak French. He started to drill basic conversation pieces in his head as he descended toward the Great Hall.
  
  When McGonagall saw him enter the Great Hall she quickly grabbed him and directed him to one of the side chambers. The Transfiguration professor seemed a tad more frantic than usual. Harry tossed it up to simply having to deal with the preparation for the final task.
  
  Almost as soon as he entered the side chamber he was engulfed in a hug from Mrs. Weasley. It was one of those bear hugs where he couldn't help but wonder, if only for a moment, if he'd ever draw breath again. When she released him Bill Weasley shook his hand.
  
  "Harry! How are you doing? Keeping everything in order? Ready for the last task?" She asked, sounding suitable concerned.
  
  "Yes. I think so at least. It's hard to tell. Thanks for coming Mrs. Weasley, and you too, Bill," Harry said. He felt a little surprised that they'd show up to watch him, but he wasn't particularly sure why. Still, it was nice to know that they cared.
  
  "Least we could do, Harry," Bill said with a smirk. "And it helps that we get to watch a great show. I have to say, I'm intrigued for the last task. Sounds like it would be fun for me. Not sure if someone you're age should be doing it. But you think you're prepared?"
  
  "Yes," Harry said, feeling slightly offended by the age comment. "They gave us some stuff to look over. I'm sure I'll be fine." He took a moment to gaze around the room. Cedric and his parents left the side chamber, presumably to go for a walk. Krum stood in the corner with his family, apparently general surliness of expression ran in the family. Still, they appeared happy to see eachother.
  
  His eyes found Fleur last. She was engaged in a rapid conversation with her mother and father. Gabrielle was latched onto her mother's hand, but when she saw Harry, she gave him a quick wave. He couldn't help but grin. He noticed Gabrielle pull on her mother's hand and start to gesture toward him as Bill spoke.
  
  "So you think you're ready?" he asked. "You're one of the favorites to win, you know."
  
  "I better be," Harry said, referring more to his readiness than his being a favorite to win. "I certainly don't have much time left to prepare if I'm not."
  
  "I guess, you just don't seem very nervous," Bill said.
  
  "I'm nervous," Harry commented, but Mrs. Weasley interrupted.
  
  "Oh Bill, don't scare him. It's traumatic enough being forced to compete!" Mrs. Weasley said. "Don't make it even worse."
  
  "Right, sorry," Bill said quietly.
  
  "It's fine," Harry responded. The conversation suddenly seemed tenser than it needed to be, and Harry wasn't particularly sure why. After a moment of slightly awkward silence Bill spoke up again.
  
  "So you and the French champion?" he asked, eyeing Fleur over Harry's shoulder.
  
  "Yea. She's great," Harry said.
  
  "She's a bit old for you, don't you think?" Molly asked. "Wouldn't you like someone closer to your age?"
  
  "No. Fleur's great," Harry said, more sternly. "She's been a phenomenal help, and we complement each other."
  
  "If you're sure," Molly responded, hesitantly.
  
  "I am," Harry responded.
  
  "Good, because it looks like you're going to have to introduce us." Bill nodded over Harry's shoulder as he spoke. Harry turned to see the Delacours approaching. He realized he was more nervous for the ensuing meeting than he was the final task. At least he felt prepared for the last one.
  
  "Excuse me," Fleur said with a polite smile. "I am Fleur, zis is my father, Louis, my mother, Apolline, and my sister, Gabrielle." She gestured to each of the people as she spoke. Her father was rather plain, Harry noticed, but her mother was just as stunning as she was. After a moment she continued. "And zis is 'Arry, I'm sure Gabrielle 'as not stop talking about 'im, and," she paused, gazing up at the Weasleys.
  
  "Uh. I'm Bill, Bill Weasley," Bill said after spending a moment recovering from, well, Fleur being Fleur.
  
  "Molly Weasley," Mrs. Weasley responded after a moment.
  
  "A pleasure," Louis Delacour said. "Are you Harry's guardians? Fleur has told us so much about him." For someone who didn't like to speak English, Harry had to admit, Mr. Delacour's was flawless. Well, maybe he wouldn't have to embarrass himself attempting to speak French.
  
  "No," Molly admitted. "Merely close friends."
  
  "Well that is nice," Louis said. Fleur slid over and stood next to Harry, gently taking his hand.
  
  "Yes, it is. He's very close with my youngest son. He's told us all about your beautiful daughter too. He's quite flattering of her," Molly lied. But Harry appreciated it nonetheless. Even more so as Fleur gave him a warm smile when Molly said it.
  
  "'Ow about a walk?" Fleur asked after a moment. "I 'ave been cramped up inside all day and it is gorgeous out. We can chat on ze grounds?"
  
  "I think that's a good idea," Harry said, although most of the adults didn't seem to think so. But the champions didn't care. They simply started to walk out of the side chamber, and then the school, knowing that everyone else would follow them.
  
  They passed the majority of the afternoon with polite, near meaningless, conversation. The adults wound up far too distracted with each other to really focus on the two champions. Mr. Delacour was rather fascinated with Bill being a Curse Breaker, and appeared to have some knowledge of the craft. At least enough to hold a conversation.
  
  Harry couldn't help but eavesdrop into that chat a bit as the two men discussed tombs Bill had plundered, with Bill telling rather interesting stories of a Mycenaean tomb he'd been privately contracted to raid on his way back from Egypt. From the sound of it, it had simply been one disaster after another, but Bill didn't seem to mind. Really, he made a joke out of the entire event.
  
  Mrs. Weasley and Mrs. Delacour discovered a shared passion for cooking, although Harry could tell they didn't particularly agree on some methods and concepts behind some dishes, and having sampled both some French cuisine and Molly Weasley's cooking, he could tell why there would be disagreements. And it wouldn't be Angelo-French relations if there wasn't some type of disagreement.
  
  Fleur and Harry wound up walking in front of the adults. Which would have been nice if it wasn't for the fact that Gabrielle inserted herself between them and spoke, rather quickly and animatedly, to Harry. Naturally, she only spoke in French. And to make matters worse, she started to get incredibly annoyed with him whenever he was too slow to respond. Fleur was completely useless, too, finding the entire situation far too amusing.
  
  It was rather embarrassing when the eight year old French girl started to correct his grammar. Of course, that just made it even funnier for Fleur.
  
  Eventually, Harry was forced to talk with the adults. Thankfully, though, he was allowed to switch back to English as both the Delacours and the Weasleys asked him questions about the quidditch match. He worried that he'd bore the adults, but they seemed rather interested in his commentary on the match.
  
  They asked things like how it felt to fly against Krum, and what he thought of the penalty Krum took, and how he felt about the match in general. It felt strangely like being interrogated by reporters, but at least it was a tad more friendly. Mr. Delacour even commented that Fleur had talked about how good on a broom he was.
  
  That conversation led into what Harry wanted to do professionally. None of the adults were rather impressed that he didn't know what he wanted to do with his life. They perked up a bit when he implied he may be interested in playing quidditch professionally. Mr. Delacour even implied that he should look into a few of the French League teams.
  
  Soon enough it was Lunch time. Molly and Bill excused themselves stating that they wanted to visit with the rest of their family members over lunch. As they left Apolline turned to Harry and spoke, in French.
  
  "Would you care to join us for lunch, Harry?" Mrs. Delacour asked.
  
  "I'd love to," Harry responded, switching into his hesitant French as well. Still, the quick response earned him a slight smile from Fleur's mother, and that had to be worth something.
  
  And that's how he found himself eating with the Delacours inside the Beauxbaton's carriage. It was mostly pleasant and light, at least until Mr. Delacour asked, in French.
  
  "So what are your intentions towards my daughter, Harry?" The question caught him off guard.
  
  "Well, I don't know. I really like Fleur. I enjoy her company. She's been a great help with preparing for the final task. I really like spending time with her," Harry said. It took him longer to speak than he would have liked, but at least he assumed he got all of the French words right.
  
  "Good answer," Mrs. Delacour responded. "At the very least we can tell you are not charmed."
  
  "I told you, mother," Fleur said hastily. Obviously that was a contested issue with the Delacours.
  
  "Sorry for not believing you, dear, but it took me years of looking to finally find someone who I could be myself around," Apolline said, placing her hand softly on her husband's shoulder.
  
  "You still charmed me from time to time," Louis Delacour admitted with a quick smile.
  
  "I hope I still do," his wife responded warmly. "And I hope Fleur charms Harry on occasion as well."
  
  "She does," Harry admitted with a smile directed at Fleur, who blushed at the compliment.
  
  "Good, she should," Apolline said. "You seem like a nice enough boy. Certainly you aren't very much like that Skeeter woman makes you out to be. Sadly, very few other articles have said much about you, past your performance in the tournament."
  
  "That's not surprising. I don't really give interviews. I dislike talking to reporters, always feel like I'm going to give the answer." Harry admitted.
  
  "But Skeeter has had many quotes from you," Louis commented. That was news to him, except then he remembered the sole article he'd read by her, and how she'd quoted him there.
  
  "She's incredibly good at overhearing things, and quoting them completely out of context, or adding her own context." Harry said. "I actually wonder how she does it," Harry admitted."
  
  "You are not the only one," Fleur commented.
  
  "No. There are many people who wonder the same thing. She thrives off people admitting they said things, all the while having no recollection of her being there. One of her articles managed to debunk one of my cases a few years back," Louis Delacour said.
  
  "That sucks," Harry said, not sure what else he could say on that.
  
  "Indeed it did. But she will get what is coming to her soon enough. She's bordering on libel in most of her articles. One day she will take it too far," Louis responded.
  
  "Day can't come too soon, if you ask me." Harry said.
  
  "I agree. Now, Harry. Lunch has been a pleasure, but I find I haven't seen my daughter since she left for school. If you wouldn't mind? I'm sure you'll be able to monopolize her company later," Louis smiled warmly. Despite his words, he still managed to sound incredibly friendly.
  
  "Of course I should prepare for the tournament anyway. It was a pleasure to meet you and your wife." He gave a quick nod to both of them. "And always a pleasure, Gabrielle," he couldn't resist adding the last bit, which made the smaller girl blush and giggle quite a bit. They returned his farewell as he left the room, and eventually, the carriage.
  
  Harry still had a fair bit of time before he final task began. Still, he figured he'd be best off changing into the mandated champion uniform and simply relaxing until the task began. He started to walk slowly back to the castle when he saw Titus and Tracey walking around the lake. He figured that meant Daphne was somewhere nearby. And, a few seconds later, she did sort of just appear next to him.
  
  "Hello Harry," she said. "Haven't seen you around lately." She sounded so innocent and friendly. Harry almost felt guilty for spending time with Fleur rather than her. Almost.
  
  "Daphne," he said. "I was eating lunch with Fleur and her parents."
  
  "How did that go?" she asked.
  
  "It was fine. I managed to hold an entire conversation in French!" He figured his tone gave away just how proud of that he was of that fact.
  
  "Impressive," Daphne said. Harry got the feeling she didn't particularly care about whether or not he could hold a conversation in French.
  
  "Thanks," he said. "Do you speak any other languages?"
  
  "Of course," Daphne said. "My parents were rather insistent I receive all the proper manners and fineries. I speak a little French, a little Spanish, play the piano, paint, draw, and am otherwise the perfect lady."
  
  "Really, the perfect lady?" He wasn't sure if she was joking or not. But he assumed she couldn't be serious.
  
  "Couldn't you tell?" Daphne teased. "Or did you just think I was naturally a good dancer and brilliant conversationalist?"
  
  "Caught me," Harry said.
  
  "You just keep underestimating me, don't you?" Daphne said. She moved a bit closer to him as they walked toward the castle.
  
  "I have no expectations, Daphne, as such it's hard to underestimate," he said, taking a step away from her.
  
  "Good, that'll make things easier," Daphne said.
  
  "What?" Harry responded, although he had a pretty good idea what she was talking about.
  
  "Nothing. Tell me, are you prepared for the final task?" she asked.
  
  "That's like tenth time I've been asked that today," Harry chided.
  
  "That doesn't sound like a reassuring answer," Daphne responded playfully.
  
  "I am as prepared as I'll ever be. I'm actually sort of looking forward to it," Harry admitted. "It should be fun. Scary, but fun."
  
  "Well, I will be rooting for you," Daphne said. "I'm probably going to wear your jersey again, too. Just beat Krum this time so Draco finally shuts up."
  
  "For you, Daphne, I'll do my best," Harry responded dryly. They were into the castle by then. Harry could tell that Daphne was going to follow him back to Gryffindor tower, barring something unpleasant.
  
  "I'm sure you will. But I'd rather you did it for yourself," she teased. Harry could tell she was going to start to get ever more flirty then, but the Weasleys picked that moment to round the corner. Molly was chatting animated with Ron and Ginny. At least until she saw Daphne. At that moment her eyes narrowed and she started to approach Harry and Daphne.
  
  "That looks like my cue to leave," Daphne said. She then gave Harry a full hug, wiggling herself close to him. He rather liked whatever made her smell of vanilla. Not quite as much as Fleur's flowery perfume, but he still liked it. She leaned up and whispered into his ear. "Come find me after the task, too. I have a surprise for you." Her lips brushed dangerously close to his ear, before she let him go and quickly scampered down the hallway, away from the Weasleys.
  
  "Who was that, Harry?" Mrs. Weasley asked. Her face was flushed and she looked rather annoyed.
  
  "Daphne Greengrass," Ginny responded for him.
  
  "The girl he took to the ball?" Molly asked.
  
  "Yes," Harry said. "She's nice. Although she can be a bit flirty."
  
  "What did she want?" Molly demanded. Harry could already tell where this conversation was going. And he really didn't want to stick around for it.
  
  "Just to wish me luck," Harry said. "But I really should go and get ready for the task now."
  
  "Oh, yes, you probably should. Good luck, Harry, we'll be rooting for you," Molly said without much emotion. She was too busy watching the Slytherin walk down the hallway. Harry took the momentary distraction to duck behind the Weasleys and make his way back to the Gryffindor common room.
  
  He passed the few hours merely resting on his bed, staring up at the curtains. He drifted in and out of consciousness on occasion, but mostly stayed alert. The other fourth year boys left him alone, letting him do any last minute preparations in peace. Fortunately, he didn't have any. Eventually, he changed into the champions attire, picked up his wand off his bedside table, and left the dorm.
  
  Quite a few of his housemates were still waiting in the common room. They followed him out of the tower. He rather liked the feeling of having an entourage. It reminded him of the extra efforts Wood put into protecting him last year before the quidditch final. Still, he knew it would annoy him if it were to happen on a more consistent basis.
  
  He ignored the followers as he walked out toward the pitch. He could see the gigantic transparent maze floating above the lake. He could already see the cup shining in the center of the maze. And he wanted it. Badly. They'd certainly fashioned that quickly. He saw four distinct paths leading up toward the maze. Each path led out of another gigantic structure. Harry gasped when he saw them.
  
  Surrounding the lake was a gigantic pyramid, a gothic castle, a mosque, and a Greek temple. There were also large floating screens near the stands. Harry imagined they were to ease viewing when the champions were in the first part of the task. He walked up to the staging area near the giant structures. Once again, he was the last champion to arrive. Fleur immediately migrated to his side.
  
  "Alright champions," Bagman said quietly so only the people in the immediate vicinity could hear. "Are you ready?"
  
  "Yes," they said at nearly the same time. Bagman magically amplified his voice before speaking again.
  
  "Ladies and Gentleman! Welcome to the final task in the Triwizard Tournament! By the end of the night, we will know who has been successful in the search for eternal glory! The cup is in the center of the maze. When the first champion touches it, the maze will dissolve, safely lowering the students back to the ground and the task will be complete! The champions will now draw to determine who will overcome which trial!" Bagman held up his hand to show that he held four sticks. Harry noticed all of the floating screens had turned on and were focused on Bagman's hand.
  
  "Mr. Potter and Mr. Diggory are leading in the standings. They will draw first," Harry and Cedric approached Bagman. Harry gestured for Cedric to draw first, the older Hufflepuff nodded. Cedric picked the stick on the far left and pulled it out. He examined it for a moment, there didn't appear to be anything on it. But after a moment, the stick started to transform. It turned into a model matching the mosque. Cedric nodded his understanding.
  
  "And now for Mr. Potter!" Bagman moved his hand over toward Harry. Harry took a deep breath and reached for the stick in the middle. He held it flat in his hand after drawing it out. It shifted into a model of a pyramid. He nodded and Bagman moved on to Krum, who drew the gothic castle, and Fleur, who wound up with the Greek temple.
  
  "Now, the champions will proceed to their selected starting area! On the signal, Mr. Diggory and Mr. Potter will begin. Mr. Krum and Miss Delacour will enter their tasks after a set amount of time has passed.." The champions did start moving off toward their starting zones. Harry's pyramid was the closest to the staging area. When he arrived he glanced out over the stands. The screens focused on him looking around. It was strange to see himself projected. But he liked how calm and put together he looked. It took the other champions a few seconds to approach their own starting points.
  
  "Alright, Ladies and Gentlemen. The quest for eternal glory ends tonight! Mr. Potter and Mr. Diggory you may begin!" the crowd cheered loudly. Harry took a deep breath and walked up to the opening. He paused for a moment before entering. He vaguely remember reading something about poisons in the tombs. He took one last deep breath of fresh air before casting the bubble head charm onto himself and entering the tomb.
  
  It was very dark. Pitch black to be exact. He cast a quick, weak, Lumos charm as he stepped down a few steps and looked around the chamber. He remembered reading that light was a trigger on some of the ancient Egyptian wards, so he wanted to be particularly careful.
  
  He spent a moment examining the room. He wasn't sure how much time he really had, but he figured he should be careful. There were two unlit torches on each of the side walls. He was hesitant to light them for fear of some type of gas or flammable compound in the air. Although, he did assume they likely wouldn't want to blow up one of the champions. Regardless, he wasn't going to chance it. The room did have a canal through the middle. Which he noticed as he stepped into it and nearly fell over. He examined it carefully, but saw no particular use for it at the moment.
  
  Still he followed it a few feet to the fourth wall the room. There was a small opening at the bottom of the room. He sat down on the cold, dusty floor and tried to peer through the opening.
  
  He couldn't see much in the next room, either. He debated, for a moment, simply trying to crawl through the opening, but without knowing what was in the room, that seemed to be too dangerous. So instead he went back and gazed around the first room again. He could see nothing to do other than light the torches. But he still felt that required ultimate caution. He used the weakest fire spell he could think of on the first torch. When nothing unusual happened he figured it had to be safe enough to light the four torches.
  
  "Incendio," he said quietly, pointing his wand at each of the torches. They lit the room rather nicely. He glanced around. Nothing seemed too out of place after that point. He sat on one of the steps near the door and looked around. His eyes glanced over each of the side walls first. He didn't notice anything unusual there.
  
  His eyes followed the canal through the middle of the room then. He still couldn't see anything through the hole at the bottom of the wall. He simply sat for a moment and debated what to do.
  
  Harry could come up with nothing better than simply getting up and going to peer through the hole again. However, when he stood, he finally noticed his first clue. There was an Egyptian symbol etched on the wall high above the crevice. It took Harry a few minutes of thinking over the connotations in the book he'd received to remember what it stood for. Life.
  
  He paused to think about that. Life. There had been something crucial about that, but he couldn't quite place it. He paced around the chamber, knowing he'd have to think of it. It was annoyingly frustrating because deep down he knew what the symbol was referencing, but it just simply wouldn't come to the front of his thoughts. He walked back to the entrance of the chamber, noticing for the first time that a large stone door now prevented him from leaving. He idly wondered how soon after his entrance it had been before that closed.
  
  Harry sat on the steps again. His eyes traveled up to the symbol on the wall again, before letting his eyes travel down to the elongated dent in the floor. Life. He knew it should be easy, and he knew that he was missing something. But that simply frustrated him more. It didn't matter if it should be easy. He didn't know it.
  
  He took a deep breath to steady himself before looking around the room once more. He was struck by how much like dirt the floor looked, despite being smooth, albeit dusty. Dirt triggered something in his mind, but it didn't fully quick yet.
  
  His eyes shifted to the canal in the center of the room. He noticed the ground there had small etching placed throughout it. The etchings reminded him of waves. Really, the entire thing looked sort of like. Bingo. A river.
  
  He could see the paragraph from the history section of the text in his head. The Nile providing the life of the entire region. The ancient Egyptians praying for a flood so the fields would be fertile. And here he had a dried up river. Easy enough to fix.
  
  "Aguamenti," he said, pointing his wand at the canal. It very slowly started to fill. He simply kept his wand pointed at it. It took a few minutes of completely fill, but once the water started to spill over the sides of the canal, he saw the far wall begin to open.
  
  Harry stood, keeping his wand trained on the canal, and moved toward the wall. When the opening was large enough for him to comfortably step through, he did.
  
  In the next room he noticed the canal disappeared. Yet he still heard rushing water. He saw more unlit torches on the walls and lit them quickly while looking for a sign of the noise. Over in the corner of the room he saw that the water from the canal was obviously rushing under the floor of the room, and pouring into a large well in the corner. It was about half full, with water still rushing into it. He figured it would fill soon enough and gazed around the room once more.
  
  The center was dominated by what appeared to be four very large sarcophagi. There was also a small hole, perhaps a tad larger than a fist, in the far wall with another hieroglyphic above it. He approached and gazed into the hole before deciding to translate the symbol. It only took him a minute to remember it was the one that came after life in the text. The polar opposite of life. Death.
  
  That was slightly concerning. Nothing quite came to mind when he thought of death. Nothing pleasant, at the very least, and nothing that would be particularly helpful. He walked back over toward the well to check on the progress there. It appeared to be full. That had to count for something, he assumed, but now he had to figure out just what.
  
  Thankfully that didn't take very long. In fact, it was only a moment later when he heard a very loud crashing noise. He spun around and saw the tops of the sarcophagi had been pushed off and a mummy was rising out of each of them. Rather quickly too. He'd always pictured mummies as these lumbering, slow, dimwitted things. But the four of these were moving very quickly, and he already tell, were trying to surround him.
  
  He ducked quickly around the first one that approached him. It swiped back and nearly grabbed him, but he slid around it.
  
  "Stupefy," he said, shooting a large red ball of energy at the closest mummy. It was a direct hit. But unfortunately it had no effect. Harry thought that was legitimately disappointing. He moved away from the group of mummies. Circling around the room in a way to keep his distance, figuring he'd be safer the more distance he kept between them.
  
  "Diffindo." He attempted the cutting curse. It had more of an effect than the stunner, but only slowed up the mummy by a bit. Harry assumed that if he could sever a couple of limbs it may be more effective, but he also assumed that would take too much time. Again, he was forced to dodge one of the mummies.
  
  "Reducto!" he shouted as another mummy got close. He swerved away before he could see the effect of the spell. When he finally felt comfortable enough to swerve and look at the mummies again he noticed there were only three moving, and a large heap of dust on the floor. He figured that would be the most effective spell choice for now.
  
  He quickly dropped another one with the Reductor Curse. This time he noticed the large hole it created in the creatures chest. The injured mummy fell to the ground and started to turn to dust.
  
  By then the other two seemed to have figured out his strategy as well. They ran at him very quickly. He got one curse off before he had to duck out of the way. Harry used his speed to create a little bit of distance before spinning around and destroying the remaining two mummies rather quickly.
  
  But nothing happened. He gazed around the second chamber, waiting for some other type of clue, figuring he'd bested that challenge. But apparently he hadn't as there still wasn't any indication of where he needed to go.
  
  Harry walked over toward the small hole in the wall and examined it carefully. He didn't want to simply put his hand in, figuring that would end poorly. He took a moment to look around the room, trying to find anything he could use.
  
  His best option appeared to be the sarcophagus tops. He walked over to one and shrank it quickly, before transfiguring it into a makeshift fist, simply because that was what he thought looked like it would fit best into the hole. He magically levitated it toward him, before placing it into the opening.
  
  There was a very loud, metallic noise, but nothing else happened. He pulled the stone fist back out and noticed many little nicks around it. Some that cut rather deep into the rock. He was glad he hadn't stuck his hand in. He disregarded the rock and examined the hole closely.
  
  Except something felt off. A slight shiver went down his spine and he reacted purely on instinct as he dove to the side. He could feel something rip through the Bubble Head charm. It popped as he rolled away, rising to his feet as quickly as he could. He could still breathe, though, so he figured they hadn't poisoned the chambers. His four mummy friends were back.
  
  Harry dropped one with a quick Reducto. It melted into dirt almost as soon as he hit it with the curse. But that gave him an idea. He dodged away from the second flailing mummy before destroying it as well. He turned to the third one and conjured ropes around it before dodging out of the way. He planned on finishing off the final mummy then, but he noticed the one he'd bound turned to dust when it fell to the ground.
  
  He delayed on taking out the last zombie then, recalling something from the Egyptian book. What was it? Something about how they'd tried to be masters of death. Oh yes. The ancient Egyptians felt they could control the dead. They had a spell that allowed them to control the corpses of people. It was borderline illegal, and served as the basis for the Imperius curse. But since it only worked on dead creatures, it wasn't considered Unforgivable. Fleur had wanted to attempt it. But the lacked the needed dead creature to pull it off.
  
  Still, Harry found it slightly odd they'd build a task around that spell. Of course, it was the last thing he'd expected. So it had the element of surprise. He put a good deal of distance between himself and the mummy before taking a deep breath, leveling his wand, and muttering the incantation.
  
  The effect was immediate. The mummy stood stiffly and stopped moving. Harry paused for a moment. He realized he didn't know how to control it, but he could sense it was waiting for an order. Harry moved his wand toward the hole in the wall. The mummy didn't move. Harry crossed his arms and pondered for a moment. It had been easy. Could it be as simply as a verbal order.
  
  "Come here?" he half-asked half ordered. The mummy looked at him, but simply tilted its head to the side like a confused puppy. Harry assumed it didn't understand him. That would figure. He tried in French, just for kicks. He didn't expect it to work, and it didn't.
  
  He reverted to hand signals next. He pointed at the mummy, then back to himself and waved his arms in a 'come here' fashion. It took the mummy a moment, but it approached him. Harry led it over to the hole in the wall. Thankfully, it followed.
  
  Next he pointed to the mummy's hand, then pointed to the hole. It took a couple of tries, but eventually the mummy lifted its hand and placed it in the hole. It shrieked and fell to the floor as the hole clamped around it's hand. The mummy burst into dust as well, but not before revealing another hidden door into what Harry could only assume was the final room of his challenge.
  
  It was the smallest of the three chambers. It had an open door that Harry could see lead outside and up. Next to the door were two already lit torches. Unfortunately, between those two lit torches sat a sphinx.
  
  "Erm, I don't suppose you'll just move and let me by?" he asked.
  
  "No," she responded. "You must answer my riddle. If you answer wrong, you will have to fight me to pass." Harry stared at her. He had to admit, she was fairly attractive for a non-human creature. Of course, that thought kind of disturbed him.
  
  "Pleasant," Harry responded dryly. "Well. Whenever you're ready." The sphinx looked at him for a moment before she spoke.
  
  "You must tell me what can make us laugh, and make us cry. What can bring back the dead and keep us young. What is born in an instant and lasts for all time. And what's all that's left from my once proud time," she spoke slowly, making sure Harry heard every part. He paused and waited for a moment, letting the words soak in. After a few seconds of awkward silence he asked.
  
  "Uh. Am I allowed to ask you to repeat it?" He hoped that wouldn't lead to an incorrect answer and an impromptu mauling by a sphinx.
  
  "Of course," the sphinx responded before repeating the riddle.
  
  Harry simply stood, shifting his weight back and forth. He focused on the start of the riddle. What makes us laugh and makes us cry? Many things, he thought. Good friends, lovers, people in general. That seemed like a solid enough answer.
  
  But good friends certainly couldn't make us younger bring back the dead. So that seemed a tad off. Nor were people born in an instant. And they didn't last for an eternity. And, as far as he could tell, they weren't left over from ancient Egypt either.
  
  He focused on the end then. What was left over from ancient Egypt? Artifacts, ruins, and history were the first things that came to mind. But again, he couldn't really fit those into the other categories.
  
  Except history, he supposed that could make someone laugh or cry. And to an extent it could bring back the dead. But something felt off with the born in an instant bit. So he decided to not give that as an answer, although it was his best option so far.
  
  He thought about it for a few more moments. Like the first challenge he faced, he felt like he knew it, although he couldn't really place why. He felt like something from his life should give the answer. The Sphinx seemed to be growing impatient.
  
  "Do you have an answer yet?" she asked. Lifting up one of her paws.
  
  "Not a correct one," Harry responded. "Am I under a time limit?"
  
  "No, but it was my understanding that you were in a race," she commented.
  
  "I am. And I think debating a riddle is probably a better idea than fighting a beautiful sphinx," he teased. The sphinx smiled at him.
  
  "Wise move, young champion," she said. "Would you like me to repeat the riddle?"
  
  "If you like," Harry responded. And she did.
  
  He simply kept thinking. He knew he had the answer somewhere. Somewhere in his past maybe? He thought back over his life, starting with living in the cupboard at the Dursley's. That was sad, he didn't want to think about that. So he shifted to thinking about realizing he was a wizard. That was better.
  
  His thoughts shifted to his first year. Becoming friends with Ron, saving Hermione from the troll, receiving the invisibility cloak. Those thoughts all made him happy. He couldn't think of the cloak without thinking of his first adventures sneaking around the castle. That of course led to the mirror. And seeing his parents for the first time that he could remember. Harry's breath caught in his throat. He swallowed hard.
  
  "Memories," he said softly.
  
  "Good job," The sphinx said. "I was hoping I wouldn't have to eat you." She shifted away from the passage.
  
  "Me too," Harry responded. He noticed the sphinx gave him a quick smile as he walked past.
  
  "I hope you win," she said as he stepped into the passage behind her.
  
  As soon as he entered, the door behind him closed. After a moment he felt himself being lifted up the dark tunnel. When it stopped he knew he was in the maze. And, while it had been translucent from the outside, inside the walls were dark.
  
  He took a minute to orient himself, remembering which way the cup was from where he began. He picked the nearest path and walked down it. There didn't seem to be anything unusual. The maze was also either soundproof, or there wasn't any commentary for the final task, as he heard nothing. He took a moment cast a spell to indicate which way was north. That information helped him choose which path to start on.
  
  He came to his first fork. Neither of the paths were quite the direction he wanted to go, so he picked the left one and kept walking. He continued through the maze. Heading in what he could only assume was the right direction. At the very least he kept trying to head toward the center of the maze.
  
  He didn't know how long he'd been in the maze for. It certainly felt like a rather long time. He couldn't gauge whether or not the sun had finally set, as the maze completely boxed them in. He assumed it had though, as it was setting when he entered the pyramid. Still, he was concerned that hadn't encountered anything yet.
  
  Of course, he spoke too soon. He turned the corner to find another split in the path. Unfortunately one of Hagrid's Skrewts was fast asleep directly in the middle of his path. Harry couldn't help but be amazed at how large the things had grown to be. He was rather thankful that he was being exceptionally careful. It was facing away from the path he wanted to take so he figured he better just sneak past it, rather than trying to backtrack.
  
  He carefully stepped around the creepy animal. Of course, he no longer wondered what Hagrid saw in the things, obviously they were simply bred for the tournament. He let out a deep breath as he inched around the animal. But a strange clattering noise behind him indicated that he wasn't quiet enough. He turned to see smoke arising out of the blast end of the creature.
  
  He paused for a moment before turning back and running quickly down the hall. He ducked around the corner just ahead of the blast end, which exploded against the maze wall, knocking him back. He kept hold of his wand, though, and quickly pulled himself back onto his feet. He waited for a moment, but there wasn't any noise. Either the creature killed itself when it fired off it's back end, or it decided to go back to sleep. Harry didn't figure it was worth investigating, so he continued toward the center of the maze.
  
  After only a few feet he heard what sounded like an injured yell from a bit in front of him. He sprinted toward it, cutting around the nearest corner. After another turn he heard another voice.
  
  "What the hell, Krum!" Cedric shouted. "What are you doing?" Harry turned the final corner to see Cedric and Krum locked into a duel. He didn't have time to react. Krum caught Cedric in the leg with a cutting curse. That knocked the other Hogwarts champion off balance and Krum quickly finished him off with a stunner to the chest.
  
  "What the hell, Viktor?" Harry yelled, miming Cedric's words. He leveled his wand on the Durmstrang champion as he spoke. Krum slowly turned to see him, raising his own wand toward Harry. The Bulgarian's eyes were glazed over, his movements seemed to lag, and his expression was blank.
  
  "Reducto!" Krum said, shooting the curse at Harry. But he fired wide and Harry dodged it easy.
  
  "Stupefy!" Harry yelled. The red light shot straight at Krum, who didn't even bother to move. Harry approached slowly and looked at both Krum and Cedric. Krum looked normal now that he was stunned, but something was wrong before that. He just couldn't see Viktor willingly attacking another champion. Maybe he was wrong, ash he knew Viktor always played to win, but he doubted it. He would have revived the other Hogwarts champion, but the leg wound looked far past his capability to fix, so he simply turned and headed down the path that pointed the closest to the center of the maze. He could only assume the spectators saw the confrontation, and a judge would come up to remove the stunned bodies.
  
  He kept walking then. Again, he didn't really encounter anything. It felt strange. Like there should be more to the task. Not that he was complaining. Of course, after what he just witnessed from Krum he couldn't help but be worried for Fleur. He got a terrible mental image of her body laying in some corner of the maze, left unattended for whatever horrors were around. He wished he knew if she was okay.
  
  But he couldn't dwell on that. He simply had to keep going. So that's what he did. He simply soldiered on. Knowing that the task would end if Fleur got to the cup. And knowing that if he got their first, he could end it and find out if she was okay.
  
  He figured another ten minutes passed. He felt like he was walking in circles, but he didn't think he'd hit the center of the maze yet. At least to his best judgment. He paused and used his wand to determine which way was north. He oriented himself and kept moving on. Then, after a few more turns he saw it. The Triwizard Cup glittered in front of it. He almost couldn't believe it. He was a few hundred feet away from winning the Triwizard Tournament.
  
  Harry broke into a sprint straight toward the cup. But when he hit the halfway point he heard a loud, terrible shriek from his right. He skidded to a stop and turned to his side. Fleur came bolting around the corner. She looked completely exhausted. He could tell she was struggling to stay moving. There were also fresh bruises on her face, and her uniform was torn in a couple of spots. She also clutched at a cut on her side.
  
  " Arry!" she yelled upon seeing him. "Take ze stupid cup!" he turned to move toward it but a giant, lumbering figure cut into his peripheral vision. A humanoid bull carrying a large axe ran toward Fleur. A minotaur? The organizers really had gone all out. Fleur struggled to move away from it, stumbling toward Harry. He knew he wouldn't make it to the cup before the Minotaur got to Fleur, so he did the only thing he could think of. He turned and ran right at the beast.
  
  "Reducto, Diffindo, Stupefy, Reducto!" he yelled, shooting the spells just past Fleur and into the beast. The cutter and the second Reducto made contact. But had little effect on slowing down the creature. At the very least, it turned its attention to Harry. He paused for a moment, before running away from the Minotaur, which chased after him. He ducked around a swing of the giant axe and hit it with another Reducto at close range. That seemed to knock the beast back for a minute. But it recovered surprisingly quickly and swung the axe again. Harry ducked under the blade and scampered away.
  
  But the minotaur moved quickly. It shifted the axe so the blade was perpendicular to the ground and swung it around once more. Harry couldn't dodge the larger area this time. He flew hard into the wall. His entire side felt crushed and he could only blearily make out the beast raising the axe above its head, ready to bring it down once more.
  
  "Expulso!" Fleur shouted from a few feet away. The axe exploded in the minotaur's hands, sending bits of shrapnel in all directions. Harry raised his arm to cover his face and felt some of the small shards pierce into his skin.
  
  The minotaur roared in anger and turned itself on Fleur. Harry forced himself to his feet as he watched the beast ram into Fleur, forcing her hard into the wall of the maze. It backed away and let her fall to the ground. She coughed a couple of times as she tried to regain her breath. On the final cough a bit of blood trickled out of her mouth.
  
  "Reducto!" Harry shouted. The curse hit the minotaur square in the back, but the beast ignored it. Instead it reached out and picked up Fleur, holding her against the wall with one hand as it prepared to hit her with the other. Harry needed something stronger. He needed to stop it immediately. His thoughts filtered back to his first defense cast with Professor Moody and he knew what he had to do. It wouldn't hurt Fleur any more than it had. He wouldn't let it. He felt white-hot rage fill him. He would destroy it before he let it harm her again. He couldn't feel the pain from his side or his arm as he leveled his wand at the beast once more.
  
  "Crucio!" he yelled. The minotaur roared again. This time in obvious pain. It dropped Fleur and turned on Harry. But he simply kept his wand focused on it, his teeth clenched his eyes not leaving the creature. It turned to run at him, but it only made it a few feet before it collapsed, twitching in obvious agony. He didn't remove his wand through. He could feel the anger, the power, the magic, all flowing through him, focusing into his wand and then onto the creature. He didn't know how long he kept the beast under the spell, but eventually Fleur made it to his side, and lowered his arm.
  
  "It's done, 'Arry," she said. Harry felt drained the second she spoke. He was far more tired than after the quidditch match. He could feel the sharp pain in his arm from the exploding axe, and his side ached from the other blow.
  
  "A fucking minotaur?" he said, panting for air. Fleur leaned on him. At first he thought she was going to support him, but he quickly realized they were both struggling to stand under their own power.
  
  "Strange, zat was not far off my first thought," she said, raising her hand to suppress a cough. Harry noticed blood in her hand when she lowered it.
  
  "Are you going to be okay?" he asked.
  
  "I will be fine after you take the cup," she said. They made it to the pedestal with the trophy on it. Fleur leaned against it and cast a quick healing spell on herself, and then on Harry. It didn't have much of an effect, but it made him feel better. He hoped it focused on her internal bleeding.
  
  "I don't know if I should take it," Harry admitted. "You saved my life from that beast. And I wouldn't have made it this far without your help with the books."
  
  "Don't be a fool, 'Arry. I would not be here without your help either. And you finished off the minotaur before it could kill both of us. Just take ze stupid cup and end ze tournament."
  
  "It doesn't feel right. We both owe it to each other," he said.
  
  "Stop being noble," she ordered.
  
  "How about we take it together?" he asked. That seemed like a good enough compromise. She looked at him for a moment. He thought she was going to argue, but when she spoke she did not.
  
  "Fine. On three," she said, holding one of her hands close to the cup. Harry raised one of his own hands near the cup as well. "One. Two. Three." Harry grabbed hold of the cup then. Fleur didn't move her hand. He glared at her, but immediately knew something was wrong. The maze wasn't melting away safely, instead it started to collapse around them. And he could feel a pull at his waist.
  
  "Fleur!" he shouted, reaching with his other hand and grabbing her just before they were both pulled away.
  
  They landed with a thunk and a loud crack. Fleur screamed immediately. Harry noticed her leg bent awkwardly beneath them. He dropped the cup and looked around.
  
  "Are you okay?" he asked immediately, kneeling next to her.
  
  "Yes. But I zink ze leg is broken," she said.
  
  "Sorry," he said. "It didn't want to leave you there. It looked wrong," he said. She nodded a little bit as if she understood.
  
  "Zank you. But zis does not look like a victory ceremony," she said as he helped her to her feet. Letting her lean on him for support.
  
  "No. It doesn't," Harry said, looking around. "It looks like a graveyard." They started to walk around, very slowly with their collective injuries.
  
  "You are right," Fleur said, wincing with nearly every move. "Something is wrong."
  
  "We should go back," Harry said. Fleur seemed to agree as she started to force them backwards.
  
  "No. You should stay a while," a cold voice said from in front of him. A worse pain than he had ever felt shot through Harry's scar. He nearly collapsed with Fleur. It couldn't be. Not right now. But after just a moment of silence the cold voice spoke again.
  
  "Wormtail, kill the spare," it said. Nearly as soon as it finished, a jet of green light raced straight toward the champions.
  
  Author's note: Erm. Yea. I'm going to go hide in the corner for a while. On the positive side, the next segment is pretty much done, more or less. Onichun summed up the chapter with a, "you, good sir, are a downright bastard." and I imagine that'll be the general sentiment from most readers.
  
  On a more technical note this quickly became my favorite chapter to write. Up until now that distinction belonged to either the first task, or the first quidditch match. But about three fourths of the way through this one I that changed. It's the first chapter I was literally giddy to send off to the betas. I hope you enjoy reading it as much as I enjoyed writing it.
  
  I'm not sure I even have to say what's up next, but up next is the culmination of the tale. I plan on finishing it within the week.
  
  On a slightly related not the author rdg2000 wrote an Omake to chapter 12 of Letters with the idea of 'Top Broom' it was something he suggested I should attempt to implement, but my plans fell through. A while back he asked if he could write one and publish it under his own name. I agreed, and think it's turned out delightfully well and would encourage everyone to give it a look. It may help to view an episode or two of the BBC show Top Gear first, but there are plenty of youtube clips available. I'd suggest any of the races they do through various locations. My personal favorite being the race through London on a bike, car, boat, and public transit. Also, most seasons are available on Netflix, although I'm probably violating one of the ToS's by mentioning that. Either way, if you're not a petrol-head, the show can still be amusing just by the chemistry between the trio of presenters.
  
  Anyway, thanks for your continual support and reviews. I appreciate every last one. Hope you enjoy the chapter!
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun and Cammiles2003 for the beta work
  
  Chapter 19
  
  The Graveyard
  
  Harry saw the green light flying directly at them. His world slowed to a complete halt as it approached. His entire body hurt. His entire left arm burned from the dirty wound. He could feel the bits of shrapnel inside of it, and he could feel the blood slowly seeping from the many tiny wounds.
  
  His side ached too. He knew something had to be crushed in there. Thankfully, he wasn't the one coughing up blood. Although he wasn't sure he should be thankful for that. Still, the axe-wielding minotaur packed a larger punch than Krum on a broom. At the very least, he didn't want to look into a mirror for the next few days. Of course, he probably shouldn't be thinking about what he looked like at the moment.
  
  His legs also ached. Harry was amazed they were still supporting him and most of Fleur. He still wasn't sure what time it was, but the fatigue from the quidditch match, coupled with little rest and then the actual third task had really taken its toll on his body. Of course, it really didn't help that he'd fought a minotaur worked in there as well.
  
  His uninjured arm was wrapped around Fleur's back. It held her against him, all of her weight was shifted off of her broken leg.
  
  Harry's eyes focused on the green jet of light. It was his fault that Fleur was here. She hadn't taken the trophy. He'd grabbed her before the Portkey had activated because he thought the maze was collapsing. She didn't deserve this fate, and it was his fault she was here with him.
  
  It took him less than a moment to decide what to do. All those thoughts filled through his mind in less time than it took the killing curse to reach the champions. Harry knew exactly what he was going to do, and he reacted almost purely on instinct. He let his right arm slide off of Fleur's body and leaned hard against her, intentionally knocking her off balance. Fleur stepped gingerly onto her leg, but maintained her balance.
  
  Of course that was only in time to see the curse hit Harry square in the chest. She would have sworn he gasped as the light hit him. But, in the end, his expression simply went blank, and he collapsed onto the ground in a heap.
  
  Harry stretched carefully. He opened his eyes carefully and saw three large hoops rising above him. He didn't remember when, or where, he'd lost his clothing. And it was a little disturbing to be laying naked on the quidditch pitch. At least there didn't seem to be anyone in the stands watching him. That would have been difficult to explain. Then again, he couldn't explain it to himself, which was a little problematic.
  
  Annoyingly, he noticed that his glasses were gone. But as he stared up at the hoops he didn't think his vision was overly affected by the loss, so he shifted his thoughts to something else.
  
  Wasn't he supposed to be in pain, too? He vaguely remembered something about pain. His arm, his chest, and his legs. They'd all hurt. He remembered that. He looked at his arms first. Something had been dreadfully wrong with them. No. They were fine. Covered in goose bumps, but otherwise normal. He lifted his head up and looked down over his chest. Nothing looked out of the ordinary there, either. But was he usually that pale? He didn't think so, but he could be wrong. He moved his legs a little bit then. They seemed to be in perfect working order as well. Strange. He remembered being hurt, but he couldn't think of how. Still, he felt otherwise fine. Albeit a little cold.
  
  Harry pushed that thought to the back of his mind before he sat up and looked around. Nothing seemed too out of the ordinary, excluding the fact that there wasn't a single living person around. He stood and started to walk from the hoops toward the center of the pitch. He looked around and noticed there didn't seem to be anything other than the quidditch pitch. There was no castle, although the pitch looked identical to the Hogwarts one, no lake, no ship, carriage, no hut for Hagrid and no forest. That was odd.
  
  Harry saw something at the center of the pitch. It appeared to be little more than a small, quivering, huddled mass. But, given that it was the only other object in the general vicinity. He figured it had to be worth investigating.
  
  The creature seemed to writhe more when he approached it. Harry glanced down at it, but he couldn't really think of how to describe it. It looked sort of like a baby, but not one that was fully developed, and sort of like it had been vomited up by some sort of animal. Part of him wanted to help him. Part of him thought it would probably be better off if he simply put it out of its misery.
  
  Of course he didn't have his wand. And there weren't many places he could stash it at the moment. He walked back to where he'd woken up, but there was no sign of his wand. He spent a few moments looking around the surrounding area, but there still wasn't any sign of the magical tool. He gave up then, with a shrug to no one in particular.
  
  Harry couldn't think of anything else to do other than walk back toward the weird creature in the center of the pitch. He noticed a spare robe next to it, and figured he should throw it on, at least it should be warmer. The robe was a tad big for him, but he wasn't really in a position where he could complain about it.
  
  He spared the strange creature one last quick glance before looking toward the opposite hoops on the stadium. That was the only area he'd yet to explore, so he figured he should. Almost as soon as he crossed over the line that connoted the offensive zone, two figures walked between the hoops and started to approach him. He couldn't make out who they were, but something seemed vaguely familiar.
  
  After a few more steps he knew why. He broke into a run immediately. He couldn't believe what he was seeing. Deep down, he knew what it meant, but it wasn't something he wanted to focus on. So instead he just ran toward them. He slowed as he approached, out of fear that he may knock his target over.
  
  Still, after just a few more steps, he gave his mother the first hug he could remember. He held very tightly onto her, as if she may vanish at any given moment.
  
  "Harry," she laughed. "Not so tight! It's okay. I'm not going anywhere." She hugged him back. They were silent for a moment. Together as a family for the first time since that fateful night. After a moment he backed away from his mother and gave his father a hug as well, before he finally spoke.
  
  "I'm dead, aren't I?" he asked. "I got hit by the Killing Curse in the graveyard." The memories came rushing back as he admitted it. "That explains why all the wounds are gone, and why I feel pretty much normal."
  
  "You did," James agreed. "But we'll get to that in a moment. But first. You're one hell of a flyer."
  
  "Oh James! Quidditch? Why is it always quidditch. The first time you've been able to speak to your son where he can actually respond and you bring up quidditch?" Lily reprimanded her husband.
  
  "What!" James replied indignantly. "I'm so proud of him and I've wanted to tell him that for years. I can only imagine how good you'd be if we'd been flying since you were five."
  
  "I'd have beaten Krum," Harry said rather matter-of-factly.
  
  "You'll do that anyway the next time you play," His father responded. "That feint you got him with was brilliant."
  
  "Thanks." Harry couldn't help but smile at that. "You were watching?"
  
  "Of course," his mother said. "We watch over everything you do. We are very proud of you. And for far more than just being a good quidditch player. I was particularly impressed when you fought the basilisk. Although, I will admit, I thought for sure you were going to join us that night."
  
  "Me too," Harry admitted.
  
  "When it poisoned you I was a complete wreck. But then Fawkes showed up. And suddenly you had a sword. And then James turned to me and said," she paused, looking over at her husband.
  
  "Slytherin's pet be damned. Our boy is going to kill that thing," James added without missing a beat.
  
  "And you did!" His mother exclaimed. "And then the next year you really started to blossom!"
  
  "We were even more proud when you started to work with Remus. Although Lily started balling when you admitted what you heard when the Dementors came," James said.
  
  "I'm sorry," Harry said, turning to his mother. She frowned.
  
  "It was nothing you could control. But to have such trauma last so long. You do know how much we wish we could have truly watched you grow." Her voice was soft. Harry could only nod his understanding.
  
  "And we were so happy when you were going to exonerate Sirius. Had he not rushed off to chase down Wormtail," James paused. "Well, one day he'll get a piece of my mind. Hopefully that day is far in the future.
  
  "Let's hope," Harry agreed. "I may have to give him a piece of my own mind about that. It certainly would have been better than the Dursleys." His mother flinched at his words.
  
  "We cannot express how sorry we are about that," she said. "They were literally our last choice. Thrown on at the end because the Goblins wanted another option, and we knew Moony wanted no part of raising a kid. I convinced James. We had no idea just how horrible it would be. Certainly, we would have never treated Dudley that way. I-" Harry sensed this rant could go on for a while so he stopped his mother.
  
  "It's okay. It's over. And it isn't like we can go back and change it," Harry said. James and Lily exchanged a very quick glance.
  
  "It is not okay. But we don't need to discuss it if you don't want to," Lily said carefully.
  
  "I don't," Harry responded quickly. "There's very few things I'd like to discuss less to be honest."
  
  "We can understand that. You probably have quite a few questions," his father stated.
  
  "Yes. I do. But I don't even know where to start," Harry admitted. "Are we ghosts?"
  
  "No," James said.
  
  "We're not really anything," Lily said. "It's very hard to explain. We're a representation of what we were. But we only exist here."
  
  "And where exactly is here?" Harry asked.
  
  "We don't know. You'd have to tell us that," His father said, gazing around. Yet Harry could tell as James looked around that he wasn't really seeing anything. At least anything past Harry.
  
  "It looks like the quidditch pitch at Hogwarts. Yet there's no sign of the castle or anything." Harry turned and walked around the pitch a little. His parents followed him. "So I'm not really sure exactly what it is."
  
  "The quidditch pitch at Hogwarts sounds fine," Lily said.
  
  "You have spent quite a bit of time on that pitch in the last year." James said. "Which really has been a treat to watch. You should go professional. I could tell you were thinking about it at the World Cup. You're good enough. It's always nice to go after your dreams,"
  
  "I'm not sure I really have a choice in that matter right now," Harry said, turning toward the center of the pitch. He didn't notice James's smirk as he spoke. "What is this thing?" he asked when he was standing above it.
  
  "That's also hard to explain," James said. "But Lily will do a better job than I could."
  
  "It's a taint. A blight on the soul. An unfinished shard of someone else that infested you. A bit of dark magic that's better off destroyed," his mother explained.
  
  "So we can't do anything for it?" Harry said.
  
  "Nice of you," James responded dryly.
  
  "No. There isn't," Lily said. "And you do not want to. When Voldemort attempted to kill you, he accidentally placed a bit of his soul in you."
  
  "Part of Voldemort is in me?" Harry asked. That though made him want to throw up. Had anyone actually known that? There had to be something that could have been done.
  
  "Was," James said. "As you can see, it's writhing in pain on the ground at the moment."
  
  "James," his mother scolded.
  
  "Did anyone know?" Harry asked.
  
  "Dumbledore assumed. He never explained what happened when we died. You see, Voldemort hadn't intended to kill me. I'm not sure what his plan for me was, but he only wanted you dead. When I died for you it invoked an old form of sacrificial magic. Because of it, Voldemort couldn't touch you. It's what killed professor Quirrell in your first year."
  
  "Yes, Dumbledore told me that it was magic from your love," Harry said. Lily nodded.
  
  "He did. It was the last blessing I could give. Even if I wasn't quite sure I was giving it."
  
  "Well I'm sorry I squandered it," Harry said.
  
  "You really think that?" James asked with a slight laugh. "How many lives do you think you saved by preventing Voldemort from getting the stone? From killing the basilisk? You've delayed Voldemort's return. And you think you've squandered it?"
  
  "Well, maybe. But I'm dead," Harry said dumbly.
  
  "Death does not necessarily equate to a squandered life, Harry," Lily said as if she wanted to impart some great lesson. Harry paused for a moment and simply thought. That made sense. It wasn't the duration of the life that was important, but rather how it was lived.
  
  "I guess I was only supposed to get one year, but instead I got fourteen," he said. "And I think I did some good during those years."
  
  "Quite a lot of good," his mother said.
  
  "There's only one problem," James added.
  
  "What?"
  
  "You have a lot more time than fourteen years," James said.
  
  "But I died," Harry said. "I got hit by the Killing Curse. No one survives that. But, well. Me." His voice trailed off as he thought about that. Was he really special enough to survive twice?
  
  "Two for two, well done!" James exclaimed. Lily glared at him again.
  
  "Yes. You're not dead, Harry. I couldn't bear it if you were," his mother said. "But it is purely luck that you are not."
  
  "But how?" Harry asked.
  
  "That," James said, gesturing to the creature.
  
  "When the second curse hit you, it destroyed that rather than you," his mom explained, although Harry had already assumed that from his father's comments.
  
  "So I can go back?" Harry asked, his chest swelling with hope. Even though he now knew Wormtail and Voldemort were back there. He'd at least get one final shot.
  
  "Yes, you can," James said. "You can go back and end it, my son. You can finish what you started, by chance, all those years ago. You can be hailed a hero for your own accomplishments. Harry Potter, Triwizard Champion and the one who finally defeated Lord Voldemort. You have to admit, it sounds excellent." Harry agreed. It did sound good.
  
  "You think I can do it?" Harry asked his parents. "I'm pretty beat up back there."
  
  "You are, but you are also one of the most resilient people I have ever seen, my son. The chances are very good for you if you return. At least if Fleur hasn't handled it already. But she's in worse shape than you," Lily responded.
  
  "Speaking of her," James said quickly. "While I do have to say good job on gaining the affections of a girl nearly as beautiful as my own wife, but did she have to be French?"
  
  "James!" Lily scolded again.
  
  "What! I'm just saying. You know how the French are," James argued.
  
  "And you know perfectly well that she's a charming girl," Lily countered.
  
  "But she's French," James stated as if that completely settled the matter. His mother rolled her eyes and chose instead to ignore her husband.
  
  "She's wonderful, Harry," she assured him. "And we're both happy for you. Although she may be a tad old for you."
  
  "I don't think so," Harry countered.
  
  "You wouldn't. But you should get back to her. She may be in danger," his mother answered.
  
  "I," Harry paused. "I don't know if I want to leave you two." He looked at his mother as he spoke, but his gaze shifted to James after just a few moments.
  
  "Oh Harry," Lily said. "You must. We're in your head. Just know that we are with you, always. Live a long, happy life and come tell us about it years and years from now."
  
  "I will," Harry said. He turned to leave then, knowing that if he spent much more time with his parents he truly wouldn't want to ever leave. But he'd only taken a few steps before James called out.
  
  "Harry, wait!" his father yelled. He turned and looked back at the old man.
  
  "Yea, dad?" he said weakly, his voice catching in his throat.
  
  "Just one more thing. You used an unforgivable in the maze. Promise me you won't ever do that again. Those spells have consequences you do not yet realize. There's a reason they're illegal. They can transform your soul into, well, that." He gave a quick nod to the nearly still creature on the ground. Harry wanted to argue. He wanted to say it was only to save Fleur's life. And that he didn't know another spell that could have worked. But his father's face was set, and he could do no more than agree.
  
  "I promise," he responded weakly.
  
  "Good. Now give them hell," James ordered. Harry nodded and gave his parents one last, full smile before turning and walking away from the pitch.
  
  Back on the cold earth in the middle of the graveyard where a wizard, a snake, and a deformed creature tried to finish off a weakened witch the momentarily forgotten corpse twitched. The best laid plans always did seem to go awry. None of the combatants noticed the slight movement. And none of them noticed as Harry Potter opened his eyes.
  
  Fleur watched him fall. She'd been able to do nothing more than reach out and try to grab at him. But it hadn't been enough. The green light vanished into his body and he fell forward to the ground. Fleur moved quickly over to him, but she could tell there was nothing left there.
  
  She looked up quickly. A robust man fell backward, almost in sync with Harry. He appeared to drop something as he fell. It looked a bit like a small child wrapped in a blanket.
  
  "Wormtail!" it shouted, sounding frightened and concerned.. But the other man just twitched a little bit and started to struggled back to his feet. The discarded creature quickly appraised the situation before yelling. "Nagini come to me!" Fleur saw a gigantic snake slither around one of the grave stones and circle around the creature.
  
  She could think of nothing better to do than draw her wand and kneel near Harry's body. She looked over her shoulder and saw the Triwizard cup laying behind them, well out of her reach. Maybe, she thought, just maybe, she could get both of them back to it before the assailants noticed.
  
  "Wormtail, get up!" the cold voice of the creature ordered. The other man, Wormtail, slowly struggled to his feet. He was winded and looked dazed, but he was back up.
  
  "Yes master," he responded blearily. He'd found his wand as well, but it looked like he was struggling to stay on his feet.
  
  "Wormtail, subdue the girl! We can probably still use the boy's blood if you hurry!" the creature yelled. Fleur really didn't like the sound of that. But she could barely move. Her injured leg quivered underneath her. As Wormtail leveled his wand on her, she could do nothing more than hope it was over quickly.
  
  "Stupefy," he said. The jet of red light seemed to be coming right at her, but it missed. She wasn't sure how, but it shot wide. Wormtail tried to conjure ropes around her, but they wouldn't approach her either.
  
  "You fool!" the creature shouted. "Get her already. It's just a defenseless girl." But no matter what the robust man tried, he failed. Fleur watched in awe as the spell flew past her. She couldn't explain it, but knew she needed to capitalize on it immediately. She raised her wand and took very careful aim at the one called Wormtail. He seemed to be the largest threat. She'd worry about the child and the snake later.
  
  "Avada Kadavra!" Wormtail shouted as he saw Fleur raise her wand. The green light zoomed past her shoulder and destroyed one of the grave markers. By now, Fleur didn't even flinch away from the curse. She took her time aiming. She knew she didn't have much energy left and she would have to make all of her spells count.
  
  "Stupefy!" she said, merely because she figured the sunning spell was her best bet at incapacitating a target at that point. The red light looked so feeble as it left her wand that Fleur couldn't help but think there wasn't any chance it would actually stun someone. But Wormtail was so shocked, or perhaps frustrated that all of his efforts has resulted in nothing, that he didn't even make an attempt to dodge. When the spell hit him, he collapsed to the side, eliciting a loud scream from the child.
  
  "Stupid girl!" it shouted. "You have no idea what you are interfering with. I would have let you go, but now it is too late for that." It hissed then. The snake that had circled protectively around it perked up and hissed back. The child-creature nodded and the snake moved away from its master and slithered slowly toward her.
  
  "Stupefy!" she said again. The red light looked even weaker than it had before. The snake easily avoided it. Fleur tried again, and again, but the snake dodged it every time. It was only a few feet away from her when she attempted one final stunning spell. It was so weak she could barely see the color in spell as it impacted uselessly into the ground behind the creature.
  
  She dropped her wand onto the ground in front of her and stared at the creature. It lifted up, clearly savoring every moment before finishing her off. Its jaws opened very wide as it prepared for the strike that Fleur knew would end her life.
  
  "Reducto!" she heard from behind her. She felt the magic shoot past her head and she watched as the curse impacted into the snake's open jaws. One moment, the creature had a distinct head and face, the next it was simply a mess of destroyed flesh. She just stared at the headless beast as the child-like creature let out another shriek. Fleur turned back and saw what she knew was impossible.
  
  "'Arry?" She gasped. "You are alive. That is not possible." She just stared at him. He stood behind her, his left arm crossed over his body, the hand resting on his injured side. He had his wand leveled on the child-like creature wrapped in the blanket.
  
  "Good," the creature said. "Harry Potter is not dead. My plan can still be completed. I will just have to do it myself." It reached into its robes, presumably to reach for its wand.
  
  "Expelliarmus!" Harry said. The creature's wand flew up into the distance. Harry pointed his wand at it. "Accio." He winced as he moved his left arm to catch the wand.
  
  "You petulant child!" the creature shouted. Fleur sensed it wanted to say more, but Harry interrupted.
  
  "Shut up," he said sternly. "You killed my parents. You've tried to kill me, and then you expect me to listen to you? My parents bested you three times before that coward betrayed them. I've bested you three times. And still you tried again." Fleur knew who he had to be talking about. But she struggled to believe it. Lord Voldemort? He was supposed to be dead!
  
  "Luck from your mother hardly counts as besting me twice, boy," the Voldemort creature said.
  
  "I beat you as a baby, I beat you as you infested Quirrell, I destroyed your diary, and now I have you unarmed in your own damn trap," Harry said. "So I suppose four times is more fitting."
  
  "You destroyed my diary?" Voldemort asked, his tone a mix of surprise and fury.
  
  "I did, with a fang from your ancestor's pet," Harry taunted.
  
  "Impossible, boy. I would have known if that happened! And I'm certain you didn't fight Slytherin's basilisk," Voldemort responded. Harry just shrugged.
  
  "I don't find a need to prove it to you. It doesn't matter anyway. It all ends tonight," Harry said, leveling his wand on Voldemort. The Dark Lord tried to escape as Harry took aim. But Fleur noticed movement out of the corner of her eye.
  
  "Ze other man!" she yelled, hoping Harry would understand. He quickly turned and cast the spell.
  
  "Stupefy!" he yelled. The red flash of energy was brilliant. Fleur had no idea how he had so much energy left. The spell hit Wormtail, who collapsed back against the ground. Harry moved over quickly and cast a full body bind on the other man. When Harry was sure that Wormtail was completely immobile he turned back to Voldemort.
  
  "So you're going to try to kill me then, boy?" The Dark Lord taunted. "Get on with it then."
  
  "I'm not going to kill you," Harry said. "I'm going to take you back to Hogwarts. Put you in front of the ministry, and put you away forever." Voldemort simply laughed.
  
  "You think that will work? I still have followers everywhere. I'll be back out and at full strength in a week."
  
  "Really?" Harry tried to sound naive. But then it was simply his turn to laugh. He'd spent enough time around sponsors and reporters to know exactly what he was going to do. "More supporters than Harry Potter, the Boy Who Lived, the Hogwarts quidditch prodigy, and the Triwizard Champion, and the boy who captured the Dark Lord? Lucius Malfoy isn't dumb enough to try to bail you out. I'll have all of Europe behind me." Fleur couldn't be sure, as she could barely make out the cloaked child, but she thought it looked afraid, for the first time since they'd arrived at the graveyard.
  
  "That won't work," Voldemort said a little too quickly.
  
  "If you insist," Harry said. "I have to disagree with you, though. I think it'll be quite effective. But I'm very sick of talking to you. You're a piece of shit. You've destroyed far too many lives for nothing. I truly hope this spell kills you. But I doubt I'll be that lucky. Stupefy!" another jet of red light shot from his wand and hit Voldemort. The Dark Lord fell still. Harry walked over and cast a body-bind on Voldemort, before he lifted up the small body. He walked back toward Wormtail then, and cast a sticking charm on the man's chest. He attached Voldemort to him, before levitating the two and moving back toward Fleur. He kneeled in front of her.
  
  "Are you okay?" he asked. She just nodded and kissed him. Deeply. Harry lost himself for a moment, before he realized her lips tasted faintly of blood and remembered that they really were beat up, so he pulled away.
  
  "I'm fine," said, seeming to remember that she hadn't answered his question. "But 'ow are you alive?"
  
  "I don't really know, Fleur," he said. "I thought I was dead. I saw my parents. There was something about Voldemort's soul. That he infused part of into me when he tried to kill me. And that was destroyed, rather than mine. And that I could come back. So I came back."
  
  "Zat is three times you saved me tonight, you know," she said.
  
  "Well, in fairness, I directly caused two of the incidents," he responded. She just shook her head.
  
  "We should get back to ze school," she said after a moment.
  
  "Probably. Can you even stand?" He asked, shifting so he sat next to her.
  
  "Maybe. I do not know," she responded, looking down at her broken leg.
  
  "Well, how do we get back. Will the Portkey still work?" He asked, glancing over his shoulder at the cup.
  
  "It should. Only ze timed ones usually deactivate without a disenchantment."
  
  "And it will support the four of us?" Harry asked, gesturing to the stunned and bound Voldemort and Wormtail."
  
  "Again, it should, but we will 'ave to be close," she responded.
  
  "Well that's easy enough," Harry said. He carefully pulled Fleur into his lap. She giggled a little bit, before wincing as there was no place comfortable to put her leg. After he summoned Wormtail and Voldemort closer. He wrapped Wormtail's arm around his left arm. Fleur grabbed a bit of his robe, hoping that would help with the journey.
  
  "Ready?" Harry asked after a moment.
  
  "Yes," she responded.
  
  "Well let's hope this works," he said, pointing his wand at the cup. "Accio," It raced toward him. He and Fleur grabbed onto it at the same time and felt the familiar pull as they returned to the castle.
  
  They arrived to chaos. People were everywhere and seemed to be doing little more than running around frantically. It took Harry a moment to realize that, with how everything looked around him, he should have been in the lake. But instead he sat on a giant pile of rubble.
  
  "Professor McGonagall?" he asked as the professor hurried by. She paused and turned back to look at him. After a quick double-take she finally spoke.
  
  "Harry! Stay right there, I'll go get Albus!" she yelled before rushing off. People in the general vicinity started to look over at them, and started to congregate on the area. Harry felt painfully exposed so he simply held tightly onto Fleur and Wormtail and hoped that the headmaster arrived soon. Thankfully he did. But Harry was rather surprised by who accompanied him.
  
  "Harry!" Sirius Black yelled. He moved quickly through the gathering crowd. Despite walking around apparently unhindered, Harry noticed several wizards followed Black closely, with their wands trained on him. He gasped when he saw the body next to Harry. "Wormtail!"
  
  "Who?" Cornelius Fudge asked from Dumbledore's side.
  
  "A code name for Peter Pettigrew. I told you he was not dead. And apparently he has something on his chest. Hopefully that will sway your decision to have Mr. Black kissed tonight. A fair trial is all we ever asked for," the headmaster responded. "But for the time being. I think we should ask the champions what happened."
  
  "Yes, yes, you're right of course. Where are those sponsors, they'll want to be here. And what's that thing on his chest?" Fudge asked, before looking around for anyone to help his cause.
  
  "Lord Voldemort," Harry said simply. Fudge jumped and nearly slipped on a stray piece of rubble.
  
  "Don't just go saying that name!" he yelled. Harry shrugged.
  
  "He's stunned and bound. I doubt he minds," Harry responded. Fudge and Sirius both looked stunned, but Dumbledore kept his cool.
  
  "Perhaps this conversation will be better in private," he said. The minister agreed with a simple nod.
  
  That's how Harry and Fleur found themselves being interrogated in a private hospital chamber off of the Hospital Wing. Pomfrey attempted to look them over, but Fudge was insistent with his questions. The nurse seemed to adapt the attitude that if the students weren't dead yet, a few more minutes probably couldn't hurt. Harry didn't particularly agree with that, but then again, he didn't really want to be answering questions.
  
  "You really think that creature is He-who-must-not-be-named?" Fudge asked, glancing over at the bed where the still unconscious Pettigrew rested with a bound Voldemort still stuck this his chest.
  
  "Yes," Harry responded dryly. "You could wake him up and ask if you like. I took that wand from him, too." He gestured to the table where he'd placed it, next to his wand. Fudge looked at it, but Dumbledore picked it up.
  
  "It does greatly resemble the wand of Tom Riddle," the headmaster replied.
  
  "You believe everything the boy says," Fudge spat. "I suppose you taught him to use Unforgivables, too?"
  
  "No. But as I've already told you, while their use in general is frowned upon, the law only applies to humans. No doubt, too, the government should be more concerned with the Imperius curse used on Viktor Krum. I hope the poor boy doesn't lose his sponsorship because of it."
  
  "A curse that was cast by one of your professors," Fudge retorted.
  
  "A Death Eater disguised as one of my professors," Dumbledore amended. "Clearly that could lend some credence to Harry's story."
  
  "Perhaps. But we won't know until we interrogate them," Fudge claimed.
  
  "The heads of the other schools should be present as well," Sirius said from the corner.
  
  "Minerva is gathering them as we speak," Dumbledore said.
  
  "We're in England, I hardly think their opinion matters," Fudge countered. Harry didn't feel like listening to the political bantering so he looked over at Sirius.
  
  "What happened here?" he asked. Sirius walked over to the bed where he was sitting next to Fleur. They were both told to not really do much, for fear of aggravating their injuries. Fleur leaned on him. Pomfrey had fixed her leg, but she still looked very weak.
  
  "Well, they got Cedric and Viktor out of the maze almost as soon as you left. Just about everyone was focused on the fact that Krum had tried to kill Diggory. They couldn't fathom why he would do that.
  
  "But after a while you found the cup and the images quickly turned back to the tournament ending. Dumbledore had looked over Krum by then, he told me to go and watch Moody carefully incase anything out of the ordinary happened. Then the minotaur showed up. And just wow Harry, wow. A minotaur? I can't say I approve of your method of defeating it. But that was spectacular." Sirius gushed for a moment.
  
  "Fleur helped," Harry responded. She just shook her head. "But anyway, what happened after I took the cup?"
  
  "The maze and the starter tasks collapsed. The outsides sort of exploded and then the internal part just collapsed toward the lake. It ended up just being one giant pile of rubble. Even as the sponsors approached it things kept blasting off. Took a good twenty minutes for it to calm down. Everyone feared you were caught in the middle," Sirius explained. "Most people started to try to dig you out, hoping you survived somehow. A few people claimed something sucked you out of the maze just before it collapsed. But no one could be sure."
  
  "So you just shifted out and helped with that?" Harry asked.
  
  "No. I saw Moody sneak away from the maze and move toward the castle, so I followed him. Something just seemed off. Like he was waiting for something. He kept rubbing his wrist and pacing impatiently. So I figured better safe than sorry. I shifted out and stunned him and bound him. After a few minutes he started to change. He turned into Barty Crouch and,"
  
  "Barty Crouch?" Harry asked. "The ministry official?"
  
  "Oh. No. His son. Convicted Death Eater. It killed his reputation. Probably cost him Fudge's job," Sirius explained.
  
  "Oh. He was masquerading as Moody?"
  
  "Yes. I brought him to Dumbledore. Fudge saw me. All hell broke loose. Dumbledore convinced him to withhold judgment, for now. My capturing a known, and presumed dead, Death Eater seems to have earned me a trial, but we'll see."
  
  "I bet it was more complicated than that," Harry said, nodding over to where Dumbledore and Fudge were still arguing.
  
  "It was. But I don't feel the need to bore you with the argument in detail. Suffice to say, I barely escaped the Dementors again," Sirius smiled. "Is your story really true? I mean you certainly have the evidence. But it sounds..."
  
  "Every word," It was Fleur who responded. She looked tentatively at Sirius and then offered her hand. "It is a pleasure to meet you. I am Fleur," she said, although Sirius already knew that.
  
  "Sirius Black," he responded, shaking her hand. "Have to say. Harry sure snared himself a looker." Fleur blushed.
  
  "Sirius," Albus said, looking away from the argument, at almost the same moment Karkaroff and Maxime both entered the room. Madame Maxime immediately moved to Fleur's side. They started talking in French. Harry caught the gist of the conversation. Madame Maxime wanted to take her back to the carriage, but she didn't want to go.
  
  The French Headmistress could sense that she wouldn't win that argument and proceeded to argue with Dumbledore, Fudge and Karkaroff. The argument continued for some time before Pomfrey snapped.
  
  "Enough! Argue somewhere else. None of you have even asked one of them anything for a half hour. I need to treat these two. Find somewhere else to argue!" The nurse yelled. Karkaroff turned to argue with her, but the cold stare Pomfrey gave him prevented that.
  
  "Perhaps Poppy is right. Let us head to my office," Albus said. After a few more moments the adults left the secluded hospital chamber. They took the still immobile bodies of Wormtail and Voldemort with them.
  
  Pomfrey transfigured another bed out of one of the pieces of furniture in the room. She gestured for Fleur to move over toward it. The French girl did, assuming following orders right now was the safest action.
  
  "Fleur, I'll need you to take off your uniform. Harry referenced you coughed up blood. I need to check for internal injuries. You should probably step outside, Harry, while I examine her," Pomfrey said. She obviously wanted to check Fleur because Harry appeared to be in better shape. Fleur just shrugged and pulled off her uniform top.
  
  "It is nothing 'e 'as not seen," she said bluntly. Harry could have sworn the nurse blushed. Still, he did his best to not stare at Fleur in her undergarments. The examination took no more than twenty minutes. Pomfrey healed most of Fleur's wounds, and seemed satisfied that there was no more internal bleeding.
  
  "You're next, Potter," she said. Harry groaned and took off his own uniform top. The nurse picked up his injured arm first.
  
  "This all has to come out," she said. "And it's going to hurt, no matter what I do. So get ready." Harry just took a deep breath then nodded. The nurse summoned all of the shrapnel out of his arm. She was right, it hurt almost as badly as when it had gone in. It also took three tries to get it all out. When it was done she healed the small wounds and numbed his arm.
  
  "You probably shouldn't do any heavy lifting for a day or so. Now let me see where the Minotaur got you with the axe." The nurse moved around his side and looked at him for a few more minutes. "Couple of broken ribs. You're either very lucky, or very durable, Mr. Potter," she said as she healed his ribs. "The bruise will fade in time. Not much I can do about that. Everything feels alright?"
  
  "So far," Harry said. "I'll let you know in the morning."
  
  "You certainly will. I'll let you two have the private ward for the night. Hopefully you don't wake up surrounded by reporters. Just don't get up to anything. You both need your rest," the nurse said before turning to leave. She magically doused the candles that lit the room as she did. Harry didn't really have the strength to do much more than lay down on the bed and stare at the ceiling. Somehow, he managed to get under the covers.
  
  He was only alone in the darkness for a moment, though. Fleur pulled the covers of his bed back and crawled in next to him.
  
  "You did not tell me your godfather was Sirius Black," she said.
  
  "Would you have believed it?" he responded.
  
  "No. Probably not. 'E is not a mass murderer zen?" she asked. Her voice was soft, and very weak. Harry could sense she was struggling to stay awake. Of course, he was too.
  
  "No. Peter Pettigrew, Wormtail, betrayed my parents. When Sirius went to confront him about it, Pettigrew caused the explosion Sirius is blamed for. He never got a trial," Harry explained.
  
  "Zat is awful. I hope 'e gets 'is trial. If you feel he is innocent, I will tell my father to represent 'im," Fleur yawned. "Tell me about him?" And so Harry did. He told her of his third year. About the time-turner, and thinking he would finally have a home to go to, and how that was crushed. Fleur fell asleep during his tale. He could tell she tried hard not to, but general exhaustion won. Eventually, Harry drifted off to sleep as well, his arm loosely wrapped around the French girl.
  
  They were awoken shortly after dawn by the nurse barging into the room.
  
  "Oh for heaven's sake!" Pomfrey yelled. "Get into your own bed!" Fleur looked up blearily but obeyed. Unfortunately, she took the blankets with her.
  
  "Hey," Harry said weakly, with as much displeasure as he could muster. But the nurse was on him in an instant, checking over every injury from the night before. Harry just groaned and let her. He zoned out during the check, nearly falling asleep again.
  
  "Hmm. Well, you're as good as you're going to get for now, Mr. Potter. You're free to go. The headmaster is expecting you to report to his office for breakfast," the nurse said.
  
  "Okay," he said, before dropping back onto the bed and closing his eyes.
  
  "No, Mr. Potter. You have a busy day today. Now go," the nurse ordered. Harry pulled himself up and slowly walked out of the hospital. He was momentarily thankful that the nurse woke him so early, as there were no other students in the hall. He made his way back to his dorm, showered quickly and changed before making his way to the headmaster's office. But he was stopped almost immediately by a smiling Slytherin.
  
  "So stopping the Dark Lord as a baby wasn't good enough? You figured you'd just have to do it again?" Daphne asked in a playful tone. Harry couldn't help but smile. He noticed she was carrying a glass jar.
  
  "Well, he didn't give me many options," Harry laughed. Daphne shook her head a bit.
  
  "I bet he didn't," Daphne responded dryly. "And here I hoped my present would be the highlight of your day."
  
  "Your present?" Harry asked. He'd completely forgotten she'd referenced one before the final task.
  
  "My present," she affirmed, holding up the glass jar. Harry peered into it.
  
  "You got me a beetle?" he asked, raising an eyebrow.
  
  "Isn't she cute?" Daphne gushed. Harry just looked at her for a moment.
  
  "If this is some sort of magical society thing, Daphne, you do realize I was raised by Muggles. And Muggles usually squash beetles when they see them."
  
  "You'll probably want to do that. But I think you should hold off. I mean look at her!" Daphne ordered. She held the jar up to his face. There was something vaguely familiar about the bug. It looked incredibly like...
  
  "Oh wow. It looks almost exactly like Rita Skeeter!" he said.
  
  "That's because it is Rita Skeeter," Daphne responded.
  
  "You turned her into a bug? That can't be safe, Daphne," Harry didn't know whether to scold her, or to laugh at the reporters misfortune.
  
  "She did it to herself," Daphne admitted. "She's an unregistered animagus. That's how she's been getting those scoops all year. Some students in my house were talking to her about you, and I said I could add some terrible things, but would only talk in private. An unbreakable charm later and she's not going anywhere."
  
  "You're terrible," Harry laughed.
  
  "I hope that's a compliment."
  
  "Oh it is. What am I supposed to do with her?" He took the jar form her and stared in at the beetle.
  
  "That's up to you. It's why she's a gift. I imagine just having her miss out on the greatest news story of our time will be punishment enough, though," Daphne smirked.
  
  "You're probably right. Thanks Daphne. I think I'll let her go before the term ends. But it should be enough damage to her to not be able to write a story in the next few days."
  
  "Oh yes," Daphne said. "That's probably a good idea. Although I wouldn't hold it against you if you accidentally stepped on her."
  
  "I'll save that for a last resort. I must be going, though. I'm supposed to meet with Dumbledore, and now I have to go stash Rita somewhere."
  
  "I can take care of that," Daphne said, taking the jar back from him. "Gives you plausible deniability. And I promise I won't squash her."
  
  "Thanks," he said, before pausing. "Really, for everything. You've been great all year."
  
  "I know," Daphne responded bluntly, before sighing. "It's a shame you like the French girl so much. But I won't get in the way. Well, any more than I already have. Just write me a letter or something over the summer. Maybe we can get lunch some time. Friends do that, you know." She smiled at him. Somehow it seemed like the most innocent offer she'd made him all year.
  
  "Alright. I will," he responded. He didn't have the heart to tell her that the chances of him meeting her for anything while at the Dursley's were slim to none.
  
  "Good. Now go to your silly meeting. Oh, and congratulations on winning the tournament!"
  
  "Thanks, Daphne," he said once more before walking away. He didn't make it too far down the hallway before he ran into Professor Dumbledore.
  
  "Hello Harry," he said.
  
  "Hi," Harry responded. "I was just heading to your office. I hope I'm not late."
  
  "Not at all. I was just coming to prepare you," Dumbledore admitted.
  
  "For what?"
  
  "Today will be a very long day. There will be a ceremony tonight where you will receive your winnings, but there is little I can do to prevent the media frenzy that will occur. I am hoping that by allowing them to question you early, they will focus on other topics for the rest of the day. Unfortunately, that does mean they will likely interrogate Mr. Krum all afternoon, but he is probably accustomed to it," Dumbledore said.
  
  "Did you figure out what happened to him?" Harry asked.
  
  "We did. We found recent evidence of the Imperius curse on Barty Crouch's wand. We figured it was safe to assume that Krum was the target."
  
  "Probably. But he and Cedric are okay?"
  
  "They are," Dumbledore said. Harry couldn't help but think the professor sounded relieved.
  
  "And you've been able to prove that they are Voldemort and Pettigrew?"
  
  "Yes. Peter has been more than willing to talk. The other two refuse to say anything. But Fudge has granted the order to use truth serum on them. And they will be questioned in front of a ministry tribunal. Peter's version of the events matches the version you gave last night. Were you really hit by another killing curse?"
  
  "Yes. I saw my parents. They told me I could go back. So I did," Harry replied simply. He couldn't think of how to frame it better than that.
  
  "Interesting. You will have to tell me about it for some time. But I would suggest not letting the reporters be privy to that bit of information," the headmaster advised.
  
  "I'll leave that out then. What should I expect the questions to be about?" Harry asked.
  
  "Everything. But I imagine they will center on Tom Riddle and Peter Pettigrew. They'll likely want your opinion on Sirius, and to know how you feel about winning the tournament. They'll likely ask about your spell choice in the maze as well. You've matured into quite the young interviewee, but if you need anything during the course simply let me know. As a minor you are not required to talk to them."
  
  "I should be able to handle it," Harry said confidently. He couldn't help but laugh a little bit to himself. The thought of reporters used to be daunting. Now, it seemed fairly normal. "So Sirius is going to be free?"
  
  "Not yet," Dumbledore said. "But Fudge has agreed to hold the trial. Peter essentially admitted to the murders, and will be forced to testify under truth serum though. So it looks very good for him."
  
  "Why's Wormtail cooperating?" Harry asked. It seemed rather contrary to everything he knew, or at least everything he assumed, about Peter Pettigrew.
  
  "He claims he was coerced. But I assume it is simply to receive a less harsh sentence. Crouch and Riddle will likely have their souls destroyed or execution. Peter is hoping for imprisonment." Harry nodded. It made sense. He was biased, though, so he felt it was probably best if he didn't comment.
  
  "Well let's get this over with," he said after a brief pause. Dumbledore just nodded and gave the gargoyle the password. Harry led the way up the stairs to give what would hopefully be the last interview of his fourth year at Hogwarts.
  
  Epilogue
  
  It was amazing how much things could change in a month. Hell, it hadn't even been a month. Harry had always dreaded the summer holiday, but the last few weeks had been nothing short of incredible.
  
  He stretched in his brand new, incredibly comfortable, bed, making sure to not quite disturb the French girl that lay incredibly close to him. Grimmauld Place was a tad creepy, and needed quite a bit of fixer work, but Sirius was working on that at his own place. Harry had simply picked a room, and bought a few possessions, some magical, and some Muggle.
  
  Sirius's trial had lasted less than a week, and it probably hadn't needed to be that long. Peter Pettigrew and Harry both testified. Pettigrew stuck to the script, and did have his sentence reduced to life in prison when that trial eventually finished. The first thing Sirius had done after being free, was making sure his house was still standing, before having Harry move in. It was wonderful.
  
  And it was only made more wonderful by the fact that his godfather was an incredibly lenient guardian. The older man didn't seem to mind that Fleur spent a great deal of time at Grimmauld place. Sure, they did quite a lot as a trio. In fact, just the night before they'd had dinner at some fancy new Muggle restaurant. It was their celebration of his acquittal, a few weeks late, but they'd been busy. It had been fun, too, except for the part where the waiter assumed Sirius and Fleur were the couple.
  
  The other trials had just wrapped up, too. Crouch and Voldemort were both given maximum punishment. Harry and Sirius had watched the Dementors administer the kiss. It had been one of the most disgusting things Harry had ever witnessed. But he watched it silently, feeling no satisfaction as he did. Crouch simply became a shell, Voldemort fought as much as the deformed body would allow, before he too could fight no more. They were both shipped off to Azkaban then, where they would remain for the rest of their days.
  
  Harry gazed around his new room for a few moments. He knew he'd have to wake Fleur soon, or they'd be late, but he didn't feel like getting out of bed yet, so he figured he shouldn't subject Fleur to that.
  
  The Triwizard Cup sat on one of his shelves. It had been disenchanted and was one of the few remaining tokens of the tournament in his room. The others were a tad vain. He'd had some of the articles about the defeat of Voldemort framed and resting on his dresser. He wasn't quite sure what to do with them, but both Fleur and Sirius had insisted he should keep them somewhere.
  
  They'd all been incredibly flattering. Rita had tried, a few days after the main articles had already been published, to write a piece on how he was going to become the next Dark Lord because of his unpunished use of an Unforgivable Curse. But with the news of the trials starting, it had gone largely unnoticed. No other reporter had even bothered to ask him about it.
  
  He'd seen Krum briefly before he'd left. He and Hermione were going to try to keep their relationship going through letters. Harry didn't think it would last, but encouraged them none the less. He'd felt bad for the constant questions that Krum had to face in the final few days of school. But it had finally ended when the Bulgarian's coach had commented to a one of the papers that he didn't care if Krum was susceptible to the Imperius curse, as it was illegal in quidditch matches anyway.
  
  But all the legal stuff was behind them. Sure, Fleur was still looking for a job, although the amount of effort put into the search was minimal at the moment. Today was really going to be the first real free day they'd share since the end of the tournament. Even if the scheduled plans didn't particularly appeal to either of them.
  
  "Wake up, sleepy-head," he teased. Fleur opened one eye and stared at him.
  
  "I am awake," she said. Obviously she'd been simply laying around like he had.
  
  "Good. We need to get up or we're going to be late," Harry yawned, but made no attempt to get up.
  
  "I cannot believe you are making me go to zis," Fleur said.
  
  "Hey, you said you would," Harry countered. "And the sponsor got the tickets it would be rude not to."
  
  "Did you ask for ze tickets?"
  
  "No. I think it came up in conversation with him once, though," Harry said, pulling Fleur close to him.
  
  "And yet you cannot get out of it?" Fleur asked. "I bet zey would understand. Zey better be paying you a lot."
  
  "Nothing," Harry laughed. "But they did promise to design a broom just for me if I went professional."
  
  "Well zat may be a good compensation."
  
  "It may. And it's a nice day out, perhaps we'll even have fun," Harry said. Fleur rolled her eyes.
  
  "Watching Muggles go in circles? Zat will be about as fun as dealing with your godfather's elf," Fleur teased.
  
  "You never know. There might be some Frenchman you can root for," Harry said, staring into Fleur's eyes, his arms still loosely around her.
  
  "Well zat may make it better. We shall 'ave to see," Fleur responded, wiggling herself very close to him.
  
  "And if you enjoy yourself I'll take you to the National Gallery tomorrow," Harry said.
  
  "We already planned on doing zat anyway, 'Arry," she said. "You wouldn't change ze plans on me, now would you?" she shifted against him just a little bit.
  
  "Of course not. Just making sure you remain properly motivated today," Harry responded. He leaned over and kissed her very softly. She responded by simply deepening the kiss and rolling on top of him. Eventually, Harry rolled them over and slid off of her.
  
  "That's not going to get you out of it, you know. It's just going to be a few hours," He said.
  
  "It was worth a try," she teased, before sliding out of bed. "I will shower first zen," she added. Harry just nodded and watched her disappear into the bathroom. He simply lay for a few moments and reflected on how things could change so quickly. A year ago at this time he'd been wondering what to compose in his second letter to her.
  
  But now they were far closer than writing would allow. And they'd accomplished far more. Harry truly realized, as his eyes slid over the Triwizard Cup one more time that he was finally free. He could finally live the life he was supposed to live. It was an incredible feeling.
  
  He pulled himself out of bed and prepared to face the day, knowing that no matter what it threw at him, it wouldn't be worse than the culmination of the tournament. He hoped that wherever his parents watched from they were happy for him.
  
  He didn't know what the future would bring. And really, he didn't care to find out. For now he was simply going to enjoy himself. Maybe there would be a day when Harry Potter was needed again. But it wasn't today. He could think of nothing better to do than join Fleur as she prepared for the day, so that's exactly what he did.
  
  Author's note: Well it's done. I toyed with a few ideas for the chapter, but eventually went with what had originally been planned, still liking it the most of all the options. In the first draft, the story ended after the scene with Harry and Dumbledore, but the betas suggested the addition of an epilogue. Of course, I think they were looking for something more in the future than a month, but tough.
  
  I attempted to stay close to canon as possible while attempting to implement realism into the work. I hope I succeeded. I will say I was surprised by the amount of life-debt/soul-bond/force marriage comments that came up during the story. They must be popular in the genre, but I must admit, I can't see why. My betas both commented they can be done well, but something about taking away the free-will of one of the characters just completely irks me. Just not my cup of tea, If I'm permitted a cliche.
  
  Up next I'm going to work on QWC. It shouldn't take too long to finish, as its only planned to be six chapters, and word count wise about one third the length of Letters. That will probably be the last fanfic I write, and almost certainly be the last one in the Harry Potter universe.
  
  As always, the best way to contact me is through a PM on the site. Again, thank you for your continued support and reviews. I appreciate every last one of them. It has been a fun ride.
  
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no money.
  
  Acknowledgments: Onichun on the beta work. DDE, Oni, DDE.
  
  Author's Note: It's probably best to think of this as a deleted scene on a DVD. It's something extra I did, stemming from the original epilogue, but was left out for a variety of reasons. I have no intention of writing a sequel to Letters. And no intention of continuing this storyline. This is merely an omake that I've kicked around in my head for about a month and decided to work on sporadically. Originally, I was going to post it as a separate story, but decided it's probably best served as the 20th chapter here.
  
  I will say this is how I imagine the lives of the characters would have panned out through their final year at school. There's nothing major involved here, and I imagine a fair amount of people will not like this addition. It's merely something extra I've worked on and saw no reason to not post. If you thoroughly enjoyed "Letters" in its entirety, and were happy with the ending, you may not want to read this.
  
  Regardless, thanks for reading and your continual support, I do appreciate it.
  
  Letters Alternate Epilogue
  
  Graduation
  
  Harry Potter loved everything about the warm early summer days. He loved how the days got longer and longer. He loved running on the warm mornings. He loved being able to fly around in a t-shirt rather than a long warm uniform top. He loved that quidditch talk started up once more. He didn't particularly like the fact that speculation on him came with that, or that it inevitably meant having to make appearances with Lewis Harris and others at some type of gala. He also didn't love that the same sponsors who profited so much off of him during the Triwizard Tournament kept trying to get him to be the front man for their new ventures.
  
  He did; however, love that it was often a night away from the castle with his date, and that his head of house didn't seem to mind if he didn't return to the castle until the next morning. In fact, McGonagall seemed to prefer that. At least to being awoken by his return via the floo.
  
  He also loved how the warmer days signaled the end of the semester. And he loved how he felt absolutely no pressure to actually do well on his exams. His grades were still excellent, largely, he felt, because of the studying for the Triwizard tournament. But everyone knew his career path wouldn't be grade dependent. Although, there were still articles claiming he'd be joining the ministry as Fudge's heir apparent as soon as he graduated. He couldn't help be amazed at what people would write, and what people would try to attach his name to.
  
  He also loved resting on his broom and staring at the sunset. It was probably a bit dangerous, but he didn't particularly care. It was what he liked to do. It was almost as fun as sitting on the beach and watching his girlfriend tan. Of course, that was mostly because he liked seeing her in as little clothing as possible.
  
  He was a bit sad that he wasn't being overly helpful with the spring tryout, which was a Gryffindor Quidditch practice he'd instituted in his fifth year. Mostly it was an open house of prospective Gryffindor team members. He still picked the team based on the fall tryouts, but he liked to see which players improved over the summer, and who seemed motivated to come out and play hard. He'd also kept more players in reserve than any of the other house teams did. Some other captains complained that his roving system of chasers made it impossible to plan and shouldn't be legal, but Hooch had thought it a brilliant strategy. Harry expected Hogwarts would see it implemented by others in years to come, but up until now no other house put in the time that Gryffindor did.
  
  But he'd already given up the C. After his final Hogwarts sanctioned match, a phenomenal 410-30 victory over Slytherin and Malfoy to secure his third school cup as Captain he'd handed the duties over to Ginny Weasley. She'd have a strong team in her final year, and had promised Harry to make sure the cup stayed in Gryffindor hands. Still, she'd asked him to help out with the final spring tryout, and he felt obligated to do so.
  
  Of course, his helping consisted of mostly laying across his Lotus and watching players speed around him. Ginny was doing a good job overseeing everything. She was barking out orders and observing quite well. He was rather proud of her. She'd grow into a wicked chaser in the big leagues, he knew, and was already looking forward to playing against her. He'd hoped whoever drafted him would also draft her, but he doubted they'd have that high of a pick two years in a row.
  
  At least he hoped no team with him on it would be that terrible. Still, he didn't know how much he'd help Chudley. But there were a couple of European hotshot chasers that projected to go before him. He found mock drafts to be a guilty pleasure. Most writers had him going second or third overall to either the Falcons or the Catapults.
  
  He noticed one of the prospective chasers slide through two beaters and opposing chasers. The prospective chaser looked rather young so he flipped his broom around a tad and sat up on it to watch the end of the play. The Lotus responded wonderfully, but still he still missed the Firebolt. He had it, but didn't fly it much anymore. Only for pure thrills.
  
  Over the winter holiday he'd sat down with Sirius and Lewis Harris and agreed to a deal to fly Lotus brooms for the first five years of his professional career. He'd taken the time in school to get used to them again. They weren't going to announce that deal until after he was drafted. Harry knew that the sponsor was hoping to convince whichever team drafted him to all go to the broom.
  
  There were some perks to it, though. Lotus sent him a new broom what seemed like every few weeks trying to come up with the perfect broom for a team. They even sent him competitor brooms to compare, although he wasn't supposed to mention that to others. Every couple of weeks then he submitted some feedback and they made the changes. After some development he found himself on a broom suited almost perfect to him. It was rather wonderful.
  
  Of course, the drawback was Harris constantly trying to get him to be the big name in the new 'Broom GP' racing series he was attempting to launch. Harry had no interest in it, but didn't have the heart to tell the overly charismatic sponsor that. And he knew he'd grow sick of saying, "I'm Harry Potter, and for all my broom needs, I go to Lotus!" soon enough so he didn't feel like he needed to be in something they intended on completely sponsoring.
  
  After he watched the young prospective chaser score he lay back on his broom and surveyed the rest of the action. Eventually he grew bored and floated over toward Ginny during a slow period. She was watching a group of beaters practicing flying drills.
  
  "I'm going to go, I think," he said as he hovered next to her.
  
  "What? Why?" she asked, looking almost alarmed.
  
  "You're doing a great job, and you don't need me here," he smiled in response. "And besides, I think I see someone approaching I should probably talk to." He nodded toward the path leading to the pitch. Ginny nodded a bit.
  
  "I'm really doing okay?" she asked, sounding more timid than he'd heard her in a while. But at the very least he knew she'd take the captain position seriously.
  
  "Yes, you're doing fantastic. I wouldn't be doing any better myself," he said. "Just remember to keep at them motivated and working. I'm sure you'll be fine next year. If you need anything give me a shout."
  
  "Alright, thanks Harry," Ginny responded. Harry just nodded and spun the broom around before heading back down to the ground. He hopped off and held the Lotus against his shoulder as he wandered over toward the blonde approaching down the path.
  
  "Looking good," Daphne Greengrass said, teasingly, as he approached. He just laughed.
  
  "Oh really?" Harry asked. "You don't look too bad yourself." That was another thing he loved about the start of summer. Girls started to wear shorter skirts with their uniforms. Harry couldn't help but take a moment to leer at her legs.
  
  "Well the athletic shirt certainly beats those stupid bulky uniforms. At least I can see that you have some muscles now." she wacked him on the bicep as she spoke, he just laughed. "Remember when you were scrawny and annoying?"
  
  "Scrawny yes, but I don't particularly ever remember being annoying," Harry quipped.
  
  "Well you have a bad memory then," Daphne assured him as they started to walk back toward the castle. She walked rather close to him before asking. "But really, Harry, do you have any exercise clothing that isn't green and gold?"
  
  "Some black and gold," Harry commented. "But mostly yea. I get it all for free from Lotus anyway. I'm sure it'll all change to team apparel after the draft."
  
  "I suppose. At least it looks comfortable. I may have to steal one of those shirts," she reached over and traced her finger over the fabric as if she was examining it.
  
  "Help yourself, I have plenty," Harry commented. After a few more minutes he spoke up again. "So what brings you down to the pitch this evening. Did you miss me that much?"
  
  "Nope," she said dryly. "I just wanted to tell you the news."
  
  "Oh?" Harry raised an eyebrow. "And what news would that be?"
  
  "You got a letter," she said knowingly. Harry rolled his eyes.
  
  "Well that's one way to receive news, I suppose. But you're opening my mail now? Isn't that some type of crime?" He faked anger.
  
  "Yes. But you're not going to report me and I was intrigued because I recognized the handwriting. It's a dreadfully boring letter, though, you'll be glad you didn't read it," she explained.
  
  "I'm going to have to respond, though. Or is it just some fan letter?" He asked. She shook her head.
  
  "Not really, but kind of. I'm not sure if you really need to respond."
  
  "Why not? Do you have it on you?"
  
  "No, I gave it to Granger. She said something about giving it to you later, and was rather annoyed I was opening your mail as well!" Daphne laughed. Harry couldn't help but smile.
  
  "Hermione, Daphne, Hermione, you don't still call me Potter," he teased. Daphne just shook her head.
  
  "Granger. She and Weasley were heading up to your common room and she took it from me."
  
  "And when was this?"
  
  "When they were having an early dinner. Her excuse was something with her Head Girl duties later. She certainly puts more effort into that than Draco does. And well, you know how Weasley eats."
  
  "So," Harry countered. "You were eating with them but still refuse to call them by their first names?"
  
  "I was not eating with them," Daphne said as snottily as she could, which made Harry laugh even more. Ron, in particular, had never really gotten over the house bias. Harry found it rather amusing. "I merely noticed you were absent and inquired about your whereabouts when the owl flew in."
  
  "And you just picked it up and opened it right there? That's fairly impressive, Daph," Harry commented. He certainly didn't think that he'd be ballsy enough to do that with her mail in the same situation.
  
  "Well no. They bickered about what it could be. Weasley wanted to check it, but Granger thought it would be best to wait for you. I got annoyed and decided just to read it," she spoke so matter-of-factly he couldn't help but smile more.
  
  "Are you going to tell me what it said then?" He asked, laughing a bit.
  
  "Oh it was just a bit of drivel from Titus Button," Daphne said with a shrug of her shoulders. Harry pauses for a moment and just looked at her, raising his eyebrows again.
  
  "Titus Button? I don't think I've heard from him since he graduated. What did he want?" Harry asked. He had to admit, the beater wasn't high on his list of people he'd expected to hear from.
  
  "Oh he just inquired, rather poorly, he's an awful writer, as to how you were doing. And wanted to give you a bit of news that won't become big news for a couple of weeks yet," she explained. Harry shook his head.
  
  "You just love teasing me, don't you?" he responded dryly.
  
  "You should know by now that teasing always makes it better," she smirked in reply, wetting her lips just a bit. Harry just groaned, figuring he walked directly into that comment.
  
  "Yea, you're right," he replied as nonchalantly as he could. He had to laugh quietly to himself too, as he thought about it.
  
  "What are you laughing at?" she inquired, laughing just a little bit herself. Apparently laughter really was contagious.
  
  "Just thinking of what my expression would have been had you said that to me when we first met," Harry admitted, which just caused Daphne to pause for a moment, then laugh even harder.
  
  "I'm not sure I'd have been able to work up the courage to say something that blunt," she responded.
  
  "I don't know," Harry teased, "You were always a provocative little minx."
  
  "I hope that's a complement." Daphne faked being affronted. Harry just nodded.
  
  "Of course it is. Now tell me what Button had to say," he ordered.
  
  "Titus, you're friends with him, you know," she teased.
  
  "You say Granger, I say Button," he replied, secretly relishing the glare she gave him.
  
  "Well anyway, your dear friend Titus," She said rather sternly, Harry just scoffed. "Wrote to tell you something he shouldn't have. And he'll be in deep shit if you tell anyone else."
  
  "Too bad for him someone else intercepted the letter," Harry responded playfully.
  
  "Indeed. But my lips are sealed. Although I do think it is good news, personally."
  
  "Just tell me already, Daph," he sighed.
  
  "The Chudley Cannons have traded for Maxime Broussard," she said. Harry paused and looked at her.
  
  "Yea, and? The Cannons weren't expected to draft me anyway. Their GM went on that tirade about getting an experienced seeker, and not going with a rookie. Broussard fits what they were going for," Harry explained. He was a bit surprised the Bats would trade their seeker, who had just finished third in the league MVP voting that season. "Did they get that hotshot chaser the Cannons have?" Harry didn't think it was a particularly even trade for the Bats, but he wasn't a general manager.
  
  "No, they didn't," Daphne said quietly. She was practically bouncing up and down on the balls of her feet. But Daphne always preferred to give him a hard time and drag things out as long as she could. He actually rather liked that quality about her.
  
  "Well what did they trade then?" he was starting to feel like this was pretty much just pulling teeth.
  
  "Well the Bats sent Broussard and their first round pick to Chudley for the Cannons' first round pick," Daphne said slowly. Harry could feel his eyes widen.
  
  "Oh," he said quietly.
  
  "Now you're getting it," she teased. "The Ballycastle Bats plan on using the first overall selection in this year's Amateur Quidditch Draft to take Hogwarts Seeker, Harry Potter."
  
  "Wow," he said quietly. Playing for Ballycastle, record wise, seemed like a much better option than the Falcons or the Catapults. While the Bats hadn't won a title in forever, they were at least perennial contenders.
  
  "Yes, he also said that you're not to tell anyone, because the trade can't be processed until draft day. And that he was instrumental in negotiating the deal and said you better play like you did against Durmstrang in the finals for the bats or he's going to have to seriously injure you. He also suggested you remember that he is incredibly good at aiming bludgers," she spoke clinically.
  
  "Oh I remember. It'll be good to play with him again. But I think the real question, Daphne, is whether or not black and red is better than green and gold," he laughed teasingly bringing up the Bat's colors.
  
  "You're sexy in anything, babe," Daphne responded dryly.
  
  "Well that's nice of you," Harry responded. "But you did make one crucial mistake that will now reflect poorly upon both me and Titus."
  
  "Oh? And what's that?" she tried to still sound cool, but Harry could tell she was a bit concerned about his words.
  
  "You told Ron. He's incapable of not telling everyone he knows now. It'll be all the news in Gryffindor tower when I get back," Harry said. Daphne rolled her eyes.
  
  "I'm not that dumb, Harry. I didn't actually tell he or Granger what it said. I just read it," she responded. "And I'm pretty sure Granger is probably too uppity to read it for fear of betraying your trust or something corny."
  
  "Hey now, at least she cares," he responded, mimicking the dry tone she used oh so often.
  
  "Oh pfft. Who cares more, her, or the beautiful girl that was so excited about the news she pilfered that she had to run out find you and make sure she was the first one to tell you?" Daphne asked.
  
  "That's a tough one," Harry said, tilting his head to the side as he walked to feign actually thinking about it. Daphne just scoffed next to him.
  
  "You know I'm awesome," she said. Harry just nodded and continued the walk up to the castle. Daphne didn't say anything else, instead deciding to simply walk with him up the path. Harry gazed at her briefly. When she noticed he was looking at her she smiled rather brightly, her hazel eyes wide. Harry rather liked that about Daphne. She was always smiling with him, and always just looked happy around him. He found it to be rather contagious.
  
  He turned back ahead and looked at the castle. He'd miss it. He knew nothing about Ballycastle but figured he'd have some time to learn before it really mattered. He was creating a completely false mental picture of the city when Daphne spoke again.
  
  "Oh look, a Frenchie," she said teasingly. Harry dropped his gaze from the north tower, where it had lingered for no apparent reason, and saw a familiar, stunningly beautiful, blonde standing outside the castle gates, looking around almost longingly.
  
  "Fleur," Harry said softly. He knew he was smiling, just slightly, as he felt the all too familiar tightening in his chest at seeing her. He slid his hands into his pockets. His right hand pressed tightly against the small felt box containing the ring he'd picked up over the Easter holiday.
  
  "Yea, that one," Daphne said. "Wonder if the rumors that she's going to become a professor are true? Why else would she be here?" The way she asked the question made Harry feel like she expected he knew the answer.
  
  "Because she knows a few people in the graduating class. But no idea on the teaching job," he responded honestly. "She loves charms more than anything else, I'm not sure Flitwick is going anywhere."
  
  "Yea, he's probably not. Anyway, I'll leave you two alone," she scampered away before Harry could comment further. He watched her go for a moment before walking up to the entryway of the castle.
  
  "Hello Fleur," he said as he approached. The French girl turned and looked at him. She smiled rather fully, her blue eyes shining brightly.
  
  "Ah 'Arry!" she hugged him and gave him a peck on each cheek.
  
  "How are you?" he asked awkwardly. It had been a couple of months since he'd seen her. He hated starting these conversations. It was always just odd.
  
  "I am doing very well," she responded with a bright smile. "Walk with me? I miss our walks around ze lake."
  
  "Alright," Harry responded, despite the fact that he had just walked in from that way. She took his arm, allowing him to still cradle the broom and walk at the same time.
  
  "Are you looking forward to ze graduation?" she asked, her voice sounding more polite than anything.
  
  "Not really," Harry admitted as Fleur rested her head on his shoulder. It was strange being taller than her, but he wasn't fourteen anymore.
  
  "Why not?" she asked.
  
  "Well I'm looking forward to not being in school anymore, but the ceremony itself isn't that important to me," he admitted.
  
  "I guess I understand zat. You are more worried about ze quidditch draft zan ze graduation," she said jovially. Harry laughed.
  
  "Yea, a bit. That's not for another month, though," he said.
  
  "Whatever will you do with yourself?" she joked.
  
  "Practice, practice, practice," Harry responded. Sirius had a place out in the country where he could fly all day. He'd planned on heading out there after spending just a few days in London. But his summer plans tended to change fairly quickly.
  
  "Zat does not sound fun," Fleur said gravely.
  
  "I'll enjoy it," Harry laughed, because he would. Torching Sirius on brooms was always fun. He'd probably invite a bunch of old teammates out to play around too. Of course, if he were to do that, he'd have to host everyone and it often turned into more of a party than a practice session. Not that there was anything particularly wrong with that.
  
  "I am sure zat you will," she responded quietly. "You always did enjoy flying."
  
  "Yes, yes I do," he responded, sighing rather contentedly. Fleur slid her arm off of his and took a few steps away from him. She sat on one of the many benches that looked over at the lake. She tapped the spot next to her twice before Harry walked over and sat next to her.
  
  "So you 'ave been well?" she asked after a few minutes of simply staring over the lake.
  
  "Very, and yourself?" Harry asked. The ring in his pocket suddenly felt heavier. He stared at Fleur for just a few moments before she finally responded.
  
  "I 'ave been well. Working at ze bank 'as been fun. But ze 'ours are very long," she admitted. It had been a complaint of hers for the last couple of years.
  
  "Well your English is improving," Harry responded with a smile. He knew that was one of the reasons she'd taken the job. Well, that and because she was getting bored of simply living in London. She still rented a small apartment not far from the alley, too, where she still lived. Harry had spent his fair share of nights there when they'd wanted to get away from Sirius. It had been fun.
  
  "Thank you. But I know you are just saying zat," she said, but smiled all the same.
  
  "No, I'm not. It's much better," Harry said, trying to sound convincing. Fleur just laughed at him.
  
  "Well, at ze very least, I bet it is better zan your French. 'Ave you even practiced at all?" she asked. Harry blushed a bit.
  
  "Not really, no," he admitted with a frown.
  
  "Can you even still speak ze language?" she teased.
  
  "Of course I can!" He defended himself, knowing full well that if she came at him in rapid-fire French he'd be completely and utterly screwed. Regardless, the competitor in him tried very hard to remember every single word of French that he knew.
  
  "I will not test you on zat now," she responded. He let out a relieved sigh.
  
  "Phew," Harry admitted with a wry smile.
  
  "Not as confident as you seemed?" she asked, turning her head to gaze up at him.
  
  "Of course I'm confident," he said.
  
  "Then why are we not speaking in French?" She asked pointedly.
  
  "I thought we were working on your English?" He responded quickly.
  
  "Yes, we were, but you 'ave claimed zat it is much better. As such, we should be working on your French," she replied. Harry just frowned.
  
  "Okay fine, you win. Shall we continue this in French?" he asked, hoping he remembered enough of the language to not embarrass himself.
  
  "No, zat is alright. Perhaps tomorrow," she replied. After a few moments of silence she continued. "I missed ze benches and ze lake." She leaned against him, smiling a bit. He recognized the flowery perfume. It brought back some wonderful memories.
  
  "Me too," Harry admitted. Sure, he ran around the lake nearly every morning, but he hadn't sat on one of the benches and just stared at it for a very long time. He sort of missed it.
  
  "You do not enjoy zem constantly being 'ere?" she asked, shaking her head. "Zat is a shame."
  
  "Yea, I guess it is," Harry admitted. "Usually if I'm looking at the lake it's from above."
  
  "You do fly a lot," she said. Harry just nodded. He fingered the box in his pocket and marveled at how strange conversations could be after not seeing someone for months.
  
  "So," he said after a few moments of slightly awkward silence. "Are you just here for the graduation or?"
  
  "I am," she said softly. "You should know I would not miss it. I know plenty of people matriculating."
  
  "Yea," Harry said. She was close with all the Weasley's after all. He knew that much.
  
  "What was ze or?" she asked after a few minutes of silence. It took Harry a moment to remember he'd trailed off at the end of his last question.
  
  "Oh, apparently there's a rumor that you're applying for the Transfiguration position as just about everyone thinks this'll be Dumbledore's last year and that McGonagall will take the Headmaster position," Harry explained. Fleur laughed quietly as he spoke.
  
  "And you believe these rumors?" she asked with a slight smirk.
  
  "Not really. You were always better at Charms than Transfiguration. I think some of the younger students probably are just hoping they get to look at you for an hour a day," Harry teased. Fleur smiled at him.
  
  "Would zat 'elp ze grades?" she asked playfully.
  
  "I doubt it," Harry said. "Likely to hurt more than help. Not that I'm not supremely confident in your ability to teach a magical subject. But I think they're likely to be distracted."
  
  "You are likely correct," she said with an appraising smile. "But I would not teach. It is very 'ard to teach as a Veela. Often ze students just try to show 'ow much better zey are. And try to impress you without listening to what you say."
  
  "I never thought about that," Harry said, tilting his head to the side to ponder what she said. It made sense, really. He was just lucky that he wasn't overly affected by her aura, he guessed.
  
  "No one does," she lamented. He sighed a bit and just enjoyed the slowly cooling night air. They sat quietly for a few more minutes before Harry spoke up once more.
  
  "So you're enjoying the gig at the bank then?" he asked.
  
  "Yes. It is fun," she said with a smile. "I get to travel and do plenty of customer service. I enjoy it."
  
  "Are you going to get that transfer to the Paris Gringotts?" Harry asked. It was something she'd debated doing earlier.
  
  "No, I do not want zat anymore. I am 'Appy living in England now," she said. Harry nodded a bit.
  
  "Well that's good to hear," Harry commented, not particularly sure if it was or it wasn't, but there wasn't a whole lot else he could think of to say. They were silent for a few more minutes. Harry's eyes drifted off toward the quidditch pitch. He could still see the future Gryffindor team members practicing in the waning light. Even from the distance he could make out certain players and watch their movements. It felt strange to not be up there with them, coaching them on.
  
  "Missing it?" Fleur asked after looking at him for a couple of minutes.
  
  "Always," Harry laughed. "As soon as I'm off the broom I start missing it."
  
  "I wish I loved something zat much," she laughed. Harry just shrugged a bit, but smiled.
  
  "I just hope I keep loving it while I get paid to play it," Harry laughed. It was something that concerned him. Quidditch had always been fun, and he'd always been very good at it. Sure, especially since the tournament, he'd put forth plenty of effort to be very good at it, but he was entering a whole new world. He'd watched more of the professional game in the last couple of years. It was faster, and considerably rougher, than the schoolyard game. Part of him relished the challenge, part of him worried he wasn't going to be good enough.
  
  "I am sure zat you will enjoy it," she said, smiling just a bit. "You were always ze 'appiest after a quidditch match."
  
  "Not when I lost," Harry laughed.
  
  "Oh I do not know. I 'ave some good memories of after a match zat you lost," she responded teasingly. Harry couldn't help but blush. He had some rather fond memories of that night as well.
  
  "Okay, well, you may have a point there," he admitted, faking a begrudging tone. She just laughed as he did. Again, they lapsed into silence after. Harry couldn't help but relish the memories of that night for a few moments. It brought a smirk to his face. They were silent for a couple more minutes before Fleur took a deep breath and started to speak, almost too quickly.
  
  "'Arry, I feel zat I should, I do not know, say something. I am-" she started, but Harry interrupted her.
  
  "It's okay, Fleur. I get it," he said quietly. She just looked at him and frowned.
  
  "But," she stared again, he just shook his head.
  
  "No. It's fine. Really. Now what do you say we go up to the castle and get some food?" He asked. She looked at him for a moment.
  
  "English food?" she asked timidly.
  
  "Naturally. Or Scottish if you prefer."
  
  "Definitely not," she responded. Harry just laughed.
  
  "Oh come now, it's not all that bad," he teased. She just shook her head as they both stood. She crossed her arms as they started to walk back to the castle.
  
  "You used to claim it was growing on you," he commented. She rolled her eyes.
  
  "I was being polite," she responded. Harry just shook his head and walked back to the castle with her.
  
  They enjoyed the meal together. It was just basic school fare, but still pretty good. Harry had conned Dobby into serving them in one of the visitor's sitting rooms. After they finished she returned to her guest quarters and he wandered back up to the common room.
  
  He gave the Fat Lady the password and stepped through the frame. The common room was its typical boisterous end-of-term self. He wasn't particularly interested in joining in the festivities, but he sat on a nearby couch between his friends and watched the revelry.
  
  "A latter came for you today," Hermione said almost immediately. Harry nodded.
  
  "I know," he said. She crossed her arms over her chest.
  
  "I take it you know what it said?" She asked.
  
  "Yep, Daph told me," Harry responded.
  
  "Care to enlighten us?"
  
  "What, you didn't read it right after she did?" Harry asked, trying to sound surprised that Hermione hadn't.
  
  "Of course I didn't!" she gasped in frustration. "It was your mail, not mine!"
  
  "I see. Well it's privileged information," Harry said. He did his best to make sure his voice didn't betray that he was kidding. "I can't just go telling people, and I should probably burn the letter." Hermione's eyes widened.
  
  "But we're your best friends!" she argued. Harry smiled a bit.
  
  "It was just some draft information, Hermione. Nothing major. Not really even worth sending it to me, to be entirely honest," Harry said. He'd tell her and Ron the full details later, but not when it looked like Ron had probably found some Firewhiskey and the entire common room was partying. It just seemed to him it would be difficult to keep the secret in that environment.
  
  "Oh I see. They send you a lot of that," Hermione said. Harry just nodded. It wouldn't have been the first letter he'd gotten discussing his possible draft position. Most were from agents that wanted to try to lure him into being their client. He didn't mind, but it was starting to get a little bit irritating.
  
  "Yes, they do. Some interesting new rumors and pending trades and the like, but we'll know in a month," he said.
  
  "Oh? Anything new?" Ron asked from the other side of the couch.
  
  "Nothing major really. Ballycastle may be interested, same with the Falcons.
  
  "Ballycastle?" Ron frowned. "Not Chudley?"
  
  "Not Chudley," Harry said sternly.
  
  "But their seeker sucks," Ron lamented.
  
  "Their whole team sucks," Harry commented idly.
  
  "You could make them so much better!" Ron argued. Harry shook his head.
  
  "Maybe if I could play like four positions at once," Harry responded. Ron sulked at Harry's last comment. He never could quite understand why it wasn't Harry's life goal to play for the Chudley Cannons. Of course, Harry could never understand why Ron didn't put forth more effort into being the keeper and trying to become a Cannon himself.
  
  Ginny wandered over at the end of their conversation. Harry pulled her aside and chatted for a few minutes about the upcoming Quidditch season. She asked a couple of questions on players and he answered them. He knew she'd be fine, but it still felt strange giving up his captaincy and being finished with school quidditch. After a few minutes of that Ginny left to join some of her friends. Harry leaned back on the couch and just smiled around the common room. He simply watched the action and thought about how he'd miss simply hanging around in the common room with his housemates.
  
  "So are you going to show it to me?" Hermione asked. Harry turned to look at her before reaching into his pocket and taking out the small box. He handed it to Hermione without another glance.
  
  "Oh wow," she gasped as she opened the box. Harry just smirked a bit.
  
  "You like it?" he asked. She nodded emphatically.
  
  "Oh yes," she closed the box and handed it back to him rather quickly, looking just a little flustered as she did. "But I still don't approve."
  
  "I know," Harry said. They'd had the conversation before.
  
  "You're too young," she said.
  
  "You've used that argument before. It's not going to happen immediately," Harry sighed after speaking. She came back with her typical argument.
  
  "Then why do it now?" She asked. Harry had yet to give her a really fantastic answer, but that didn't bother him.
  
  "Because I want to," he said.
  
  "That's not a particularly good reason," Hermione countered knowingly. He just shook his head.
  
  "I know," he said. He could have explained it to her. He could have tried to articulate just what it all meant to him, but it wasn't worth it. He knew what he wanted to do, and that's all that particularly mattered to him. Time wasn't relevant. He'd wait, but he just wanted to say it. He just wanted to see her smile, and to look down and see it on her finger.
  
  "Well as long as you know," Hermione said. She was trying to sound caring, but it came off more as annoyed. Harry just smirked a bit as he put the box back into his pocket. He stretched out on the couch a bit, looking around for a couple more minutes before he excused himself. He wasn't particularly tired, but felt like getting some sleep anyway. It had just been one of those weeks where he never quite seemed to get enough of it.
  
  He changed quickly. Part of him debated grabbing the cloak and the map and having one last midnight adventure. But he decided against it. Instead, he simply crawled into his bed with the realization that it would be the last time he'd sleep in Gryffindor Tower. He curled up into his blankets and reflected a bit on his past years.
  
  He couldn't help but be struck by how much his life changed during the fourth year and beyond. He hadn't been miserable in years. He couldn't have ever imagined a simple pen pal assignment would be what created his happiness, but, in a roundabout way, it was. He smiled and stared up his curtains for a few moments, thinking back over the fourth year.
  
  He remembered seeing Fleur for the first time, despite not knowing what she looked like, as the Beauxbaton's students stepped off the carriage and up into the castle. He remembered the thrill of out-flying a dragon, flying for the sponsors, and training with his old teammates and Viktor Krum.
  
  He still couldn't believe he was dumb enough to actually assume that the hostages in the second task were in danger. But at least his actions led to his first kiss with Fleur. And that led to wonderful study sessions and Hogsmeade dates with the French girl. Which all culminated in the final task of the tournament and the eventual defeat of Lord Voldemort.
  
  There were other memories that stood out even more, too. Like the chase with Krum for the snitch in the final quidditch match, watching Malfoy get clobbered at dueling, learning to adjust to the press, and the Yule Ball all were rather high on his list.
  
  The more he thought about it, too, the more the ball was becoming one of his favorite memories. He remembered every dance, every moment, and every little detail of that day. But even he had to admit, his favorite part had been the mulligan.
  
  Eventually, though, he closed his eyes and let himself drift off to sleep, thinking of just what his final day at Hogwarts would bring.
  
  He woke earlier than he expected and was rather surprised at how rested he felt. The rest of the seventh-year boys were still asleep, so he quietly lifted himself out of bed and slipped into the boy's bathroom. He showered quickly and dressed in the formal school robes they were required to wear for the graduation. He wandered back around his bed and made sure he had all of his supplies packed away. When he was confident all of that was in order he proceeded down to the common room. None of his housemates were around so he simply wandered out of the portrait and move down toward the Great Hall
  
  He knew that he wasn't due down there for a couple more hours, but he hoped to grab some breakfast and wait for the ceremony. He wasn't surprised to find the hall mostly empty. He sat near the end of the Gryffindor table and ate some toast slowly as he peered around. McGonagall and Snape were the only professors present. There were also a few older Hufflepuffs and a solitary 'Claw hanging around.
  
  He debated going for a quick fly around the castle and forest, but decided against it since he was in formal robes. So instead he found a disregarded paper and started to read it while he waited. It wasn't long before some other students joined him and he decided to chat rather than read. It was fairly pleasant. It certainly didn't hurt that the vast majority of the conversation was about quidditch, which made everything all the more fun for Harry.
  
  Eventually, all the older students wound up in the Great Hall while the younger ones filtered out, unless they felt like watching the graduation. Most would rather spend the day outside lounging about with their friends before getting on the train.
  
  The graduation ceremony itself was pretty basic. McGonagall and Flitwick gathered all of the students up. They were lined up outside of the hall alphabetically. Harry found himself standing with the Patil twins. Their incessant chatter was a bit irritating, but he smiled and nodded when they appeared to be addressing him.
  
  One by one, they were called through the Great Hall where they received their diploma. Professor Dumbledore shook their hands and said a few kind words about each student. Harry watched the Patil twins cross as he waited. When he finally heard his name he stepped into the hall, to a fair bit of clapping, and listened to the Headmaster.
  
  "And what more can I say about Harry Potter?" Dumbledore asked of the crowd. "He really distinguished himself by not only winning the Triwizard Tournament, but capturing Lord Voldemort in the process. After that, he distinguished himself academically in his final three years, consistently being one of the highest scoring students in the school. Oh, and not to mention, from his third year to his seventh, winning the house cup for Gryffindor. I am sure I am not the only one who wishes Harry will wind up on my favorite quidditch team." There was a fair amount of laughter from the crowd. Harry gave them a quick smirk and a brief salute before shaking Dumbledore's hand and taking the diploma. He slipped it into his robes as he stepped off the stage.
  
  Four years ago, he knew, he wouldn't have been able to be so calm, or self-assured from being cheered by the entire hall. He'd have blushed and shied away. While he still didn't really enjoy being the center of attention, he'd certainly learned how to deal with it. A smile here, a wave there, topped off with a few kind words was all it ever really took to get the crowd to move on.
  
  He hopped off the stage with ease and gazed around briefly. Sirius sat by Fleur and the Weasleys so he wandered over toward them. He looked around and spotted Hermione sitting nearby as well. Even for the graduation Muggles still couldn't see the castle. Harry couldn't help but notice some of the Muggle-born students looked a bit put out about the whole affair.
  
  But he stopped worrying about that as Sirius clasped him on the back, laughing loudly as Dumbledore praised another student.
  
  "Congratulations, kiddo!" he said rather loudly. Harry just laughed with him.
  
  "Thanks," he responded as he was hugged by Molly, Arthur, and then Hermione, before he simply sat at the table and watched as other students wandered across the stage. He knew there weren't many left before Ron.
  
  After a few moments of waiting he grew a bit bored and gazed around the hall once more. His eyes found Daphne. She sat with her parents and her sister a few tables away. She was chatting rather happily with her father while her mother and Astoria were giggling about something or another while looking toward the Malfoys. Harry just shook his head a bit before turning back to the stage in time to see Ron walk across it. His family cheered loudly as Dumbledore said some more kind words of friendship, determination and loyalty.
  
  One of the twins made an underhanded remark that caused the entire table to laugh, but by the time Ron had approached he couldn't remember the remark enough to repeat it properly. He congratulated Ron just before he was engulfed by his family. Harry laughed and sat near Sirius. A brief lunch followed in the hall before most of the adults took the floo back to their home or jobs. Some of the students joined them, but many preferred to take the train back, as none of them knew when they'd be able to see each other again and it was a reprieve from the uncertainty of the future.
  
  Harry, Ron and Hermione walked back to Gryffindor tower after the adults had left, intent on gathering their stuff. Once inside, though, Harry simply summoned Dobby and conned the elf, with the prospect of socks, to taking his trunk to the train and making sure everything was taken care of for him. The elf agreed readily and Harry, after changing into lighter clothing, decided to spend one last afternoon by the lake.
  
  The wonderful warmth of the early summer day greeted him as he stepped outside. The walk down to the lake was so familiar he could have done it with his eyes closed. He wasn't the only student taking in the last day at school. Quite a few couples sat around the lake, and a few friends wandered around outside. He smiled a bit and sauntered slowly toward the water.
  
  His eyes found a familiar blonde sitting near the water and he walked over to her. His hands slid into his pockets, his left sliding over an all too familiar box in his pocket. When he was next to her he simply plopped down and put an arm around her shoulders. She made no indication of even noticing his presence. Eventually, she spoke.
  
  "What are you thinking about?" she asked, staring out over the water as he was.
  
  "Real estate options in Ballycastle," Harry responded. "And the weather in Northern Ireland."
  
  "It can't be much different than the weather here," she responded. He nodded in agreement.
  
  "Probably not," he agreed.
  
  "Apartment or house?" she asked after a few more moments of silence.
  
  "Guess it depends on my signing bonus," he smirked.
  
  "You'll get enough for a house," she laughed. "Hell, you have enough for a house already."
  
  "I guess," he responded. "Really it depends on how much time I decide I need to spend there, and how nice of a place I can find. I still want to get my own place in London for the rest of the year."
  
  "London's fun. But why not Oxford?" she teased. He shook his head and then asked the question that had been bothering him for the last few months.
  
  "Law school?" he asked. She just nodded.
  
  "Yep. We're not all quidditch stars," Daphne responded.
  
  "But law school? You said you don't want to be a solicitor, and that you're not interested in politics."
  
  "I'm interested in politics," she responded. "I just don't want to be a politician."
  
  "Same thing," Harry shrugged, knowing full well that it certainly wasn't the same thing. "But you don't want to go to court, you're not going to become the next minister of magic. Why law school?" They'd talked of her plans plenty, but he'd never really questioned her on it. She just sighed.
  
  "I've always liked law," she said. "And I want to go and get a degree in it. It's useful in both worlds. And my parents want me to do either it or med school. And I really have no interest in being a healer."
  
  "Well what are you going to do then?" he asked, attempting to keep his voice light.
  
  "You're worse than my parents," she responded darkly.
  
  "Well, you know, just interested," he tried to sound innocent. She just rolled her eyes.
  
  "Promise you won't laugh?"
  
  "Daphne, have I ever laughed?"
  
  "Yes," she said flatly. Which just proved her point by making him laugh. It took him a moment to form his next sentence.
  
  "Okay, Daphne, I promise I will not laugh," he said slowly.
  
  "I kind of want to be an agent," she said. He blinked a bit.
  
  "Like a sports agent?" He asked.
  
  "Well, I hadn't thought that far ahead. But yes, that would work," she admitted. Harry nodded a tad.
  
  "Well, you'd have one client ready-made," he laughed. She just shook her head and swatted at him.
  
  "So, you're less against law school when you could gain something from it?" she teased.
  
  "I'm not against it at all, Daphne," he responded. "I just.."
  
  "You just what?" she tilted her head and smiled at him. She had the look mastered, her eyes wide and inquisitive, her face beaming. He couldn't resist that face.
  
  "I just don't want to lose you," he said. Daphne just started laughing. After she managed to compose herself she swatted him once more.
  
  "You're silly," she responded. He could feel the blood rising to his cheeks as he looked away.
  
  "Well you know," he said quietly. She just shook her head. Off in the distance his gaze was drawn to Bill Weasley as he walked down the path along the lake, his arm around a slender blonde witch Harry knew far too well. The witch was pointing adamantly about something and appeared to be telling a story. He looked back toward the other blonde next to him and smiled weakly. She just shook her head.
  
  "You're not about to lose me, Harry," she said. He nodded a bit. Deep down, he knew it was true. He'd have to really screw things up to lose Daphne. She had, just like she'd said, always been there for him, every step of the way. She'd been wonderful. Especially when Ron and Hermione started dating, and Harry found himself as the third wheel. It had been an altogether odd experience. But Daphne had been there. Fortunately, Hermione only put up with Ron as a boyfriend for a couple of weeks.
  
  "You mean that?" he asked, sounding far more timid than he would have liked.
  
  "Have I ever not meant that?" she asked, turning his previous question back on him, but managing to sound far more convincing than he had.
  
  "I guess not. I suppose you won't have any issue proving that, then?" he challenged. He turned to face her, resting on one knee as he shifted. He slid a hand into his pocket as Daphne fell back on her arms so she was facing him a bit more.
  
  "Oh?" she asked, tilting one wonderfully thin eyebrow. "And just how would I prove myself to Mr. Potter." She managed to sound incredibly snotty yet curious at the same time.
  
  "Be mine," he said simply as he flipped open the box. Daphne's eyes went wide as she stared at the gold ring. It was very basic, just gold with a large diamond on it and it felt wonderful to not have it in his pocket anymore. If she agreed, he'd let her pick out a more elaborate setting, if she wanted one.
  
  "Holy fuck," she said, staring at the box and the ring. It wasn't quite the response he'd been hoping for. He noticed she was pretty much hyperventilating.
  
  "Uh, Daphne?" he asked, feeling a bit like a fool kneeling next to her. She just blinked and looked into his eyes for a moment, then shook her head. Harry felt his heart fall.
  
  "We're too young," she said quietly. He nodded in agreement.
  
  "Yes, we are," Harry affirmed. "I want to wait, at least until you're done with law school. But I want you to be mine, Daphne. And I don't see a point in waiting for the tentative agreement."
  
  "I see," she said slowly, as if she was taking a few moments to formulate her thoughts. "And that's how you ask someone such an important question?"
  
  "Well, erm," he blushed and shook his head. Part of him couldn't help but laugh. Nothing he'd ever done had been quite good enough for Daphne on the first try, from asking out, to kissing, to now proposing.
  
  "That's what I thought," she said quietly. He took a deep breath.
  
  "Daphne. I want you to be with me for every waking moment of our future. Will you, when we're done with school, or sooner, if we decide on that, agree to marry me?" He got it all out in one breath. It was fairly impressive, if he was allowed to say so himself. He could feel that he was still blushing, and he felt far warmer than usual.
  
  "I'll think about it," Daphne responded with a full smile. Harry opened his mouth to protest, then just shook his head. She just smiled more at him and then used her right hand to point at the ring in the box before pointing to the ring finger on her left hand as she stood so he was kneeling in front of her. Harry got the message. He gently plucked the ring out of the box and slid it onto her finger.
  
  "That looks nice," he said, dumbly, as he stared at her hand. She just nodded a bit.
  
  "It really does," she responded, shifting her hand so the diamond gleamed in the sunlight. She had an adorably silly little smile on her face as she admired her own hand.
  
  "So you agree?" he asked, sliding his hands into hers and standing up. She just smiled at him.
  
  "We'll see," she said, sliding her arm into his as they started to walk back to the castle. After a moment she just giggled. "My parents are going to kill you."
  
  "I already spoke with your father," Harry laughed with her. Daphne paused and stared at him.
  
  "And he didn't kill you?" she asked, seeming just a tad stunned.
  
  "Nope," Harry laughed. "Told me we were both too young. But that if we waited, and if you agreed I'd have his permission."
  
  "That sounds annoyingly like my parents," Daphne sighed. She leaned her head over and rested it onto his arm as they continued walking to the castle.
  
  "He seemed very nice," Harry said. He hadn't spoken to Daphne's father for very long. But he had been impressed by the man. He'd been very open with Harry, and had no issue interrogating him about his interest in his daughter.
  
  "Just wait until he finds out about that apartment in Oxford," Daphne teased.
  
  "Well, we'll just have to make sure he doesn't find out about that," Harry responded. "And we'll have to make sure it doesn't hinder your studies."
  
  "Yes. I'll just have to make sure I study while you're at practice, or when you have a match. That way I can have you all to myself after," she spoke softly as she gazed up at him.
  
  "I'm so glad you live in London," he responded with a slight groan. "I'm not going to let you out of my sight this summer. At least not until the draft."
  
  "Goody. That will make finding that apartment easier," she teased.
  
  "That wasn't quite what I had in mind," he admitted.
  
  "I know. But we'll do whatever it was you had in mind, too," she said. By the time they reached the castle the carriages were already starting to lineup to take the students to the train. Daphne started off toward the Slytherin common room to retrieve her trunk, but Harry called for Dobby and had the elf take care of it instead.
  
  It only took the two of them a couple of moments to find Ron and Hermione sitting across from each other in one of the carriages. Harry hopped in and then pulled Daphne up into the carriage as well. She gestured for Ron to move. It took him longer than it should have to slide over next to Hermione. Daphne gave him a trying smile; she never particularly got along with Ron, who never really lost the house bias. Daphne sat down next to Harry and took his arm. Hermione noticed the ring immediately with a very slight gasp and simply gave Harry a quick look. Ron was too busy staring out over the grounds.
  
  The four of them chatted about nothing in particular before arriving at the train. They found a compartment. Daphne immediately cuddled up next to Harry, rested her head on his shoulder, and was out like a light within five minutes of leaving the station. Harry laughed quietly as he moved some hair out of her face, she just couldn't ever stay awake on trains.
  
  Hermione simply stared at him, with her arms crossed over her chest, as he and Ron talked about quidditch. Just about everyone he knew stopped by the compartment and chatted about one thing or another. Even Malfoy stopped by. But he didn't do much more than sneer. He'd been significantly less annoying post-tournament. And even more so when Harry started hanging out with Daphne nearly constantly. Harry had wondered why he'd become less of an overt git, at least until he saw him sitting outside with Astoria Greengrass. Harry certainly hoped that relationship didn't last.
  
  "So, when?" Hermione asked when it was just the four of them in the compartment again.
  
  "When what?" Ron asked.
  
  "Not for a few years, Hermione. She wants to finish school first," Harry said.
  
  "Wait what?" Ron asked. Harry knew he wasn't referring to the additional schooling, as Hermione was doing something similar. Still, both he and Ron agreed that more schooling just sounded dreadful.
  
  "Look at her hand," Hermione said stiffly. Ron's gaze shifted to Daphne's hand, but he just shrugged. Harry lifted Daphne's hand and held it toward his friends. Ron got it after a moment.
  
  "Holy shit," Ron said. "You didn't tell me! Mom's going to love having two weddings to plan!" Harry winced at the reminder of one of the events he'd have to attend over the summer. He wondered if he'd be able to use Quidditch to get out of it, but knew, even if he could, he'd probably try to make it anyway.
  
  "It won't be for years. And I'll probably let Daphne and her parents plan it however she likes," Harry said. Ron frowned a bit, as if he wasn't sure why Harry wouldn't jump at having Molly Weasley plan things for him. But that was typical. He lifted Daphne's hand to his lips and gave it a kiss before letting it down.
  
  "Not worried she won't find some boy at school when you're away?" Ron teased. Harry's thoughts shifted immediately to Bill, but he managed to not show his emotions.
  
  "No," he lied, squeezing Daphne's other hand gently. She stirred against him but didn't wake.
  
  "But you know what happened with-" Ron started.
  
  "I know," Harry interrupted his friend, just as the train started to pull into the station. He noticed Hermione jab at Ron's ribs and laughed quietly to himself. He eased Daphne off of him and helped get Ron and Hermione's trunks down from the racks above the seats.
  
  "No luggage?" Hermione asked with a raised eyebrow.
  
  "Dobby," Harry smiled. The elf had grown on him since helping with those picnics. He wasn't about to adopt the elf or anything, but it certainly had its uses.
  
  "You shouldn't abuse him like that," Hermione scowled. Harry just shrugged.
  
  "He enjoys it," He said as Hermione scowled again, but Harry just offered her trunk to her. She sighed and walked off of the train with Ron as Harry roused Daphne. She yawned cutely at him and mostly let him lead her off the train.
  
  "I'm going to miss you over the summer," she sighed. Harry laughed a tad.
  
  "We both live in London, Daphne. How often are we apart in summer anyway?"
  
  "I guess you have a point," she responded. The last summer, especially, they'd met up a couple of times a week. "Well, I'll miss you tonight then, when my parents are asking annoying questions about the year and listening to Astoria prattle on."
  
  "No you won't," he teased. She hadn't even noticed that they were expertly weaving through the parents waiting on the platform and through the pillar back into Muggle King's Cross.
  
  "Yes I will," she said sounding rather affronted. Then she looked around before turning her gaze back to him. "Where are we going?"
  
  "Dinner," Harry said matter-of-factly. Daphne blinked a bit.
  
  "I should probably ask my parents," she said slowly.
  
  "Already did, when I asked your father for permission," he said. "They're under the impression that I'll be asking you at dinner."
  
  "That would be romantic," she said, smiling up at him.
  
  "I'm so not asking a third time," he teased.
  
  "You may have to, you know," she countered with a smile.
  
  "We'll wait until the time comes for that," he said, shaking his head. "But after dinner I figured we'd head to a movie, or wander around town or something. You know, just stay out until a point where it would be rude to apparated home as you'd wake everyone."
  
  "Oh? And then what?" she asked sweetly.
  
  "Well, Sirius won't notice. I figure I could, at the very least, offer you a guest room," he said, knowing full well she wouldn't spend any time in the guest room.
  
  "Gracious of you," she responded. "I don't think I have any pajamas on me though."
  
  "I'm sure we'll make do, if need be," Harry said. Daphne just giggled.
  
  "I'm sure we will," she said.
  
  "And tomorrow," he continued. "I figured I could take you to breakfast, and then take you home. But, you have been talking about how much you want to stop by Oxford and look around. So perhaps we could scoot over there and wander." He knew Daphne would catch the meaning in his words.
  
  "You're far too good to me," she smiled. He shook his head.
  
  "Other way around, Daph. You waited, you've always been there. Wormed your way in like a perfect little Slytherin, and now I don't want you to ever leave," he admitted.
  
  "Good, because I'm not going to," she said.
  
  "I know," Harry responded as they stepped out into London. He had no real direction, but it didn't matter. They'd find a place, and they'd be happy with it. If it did end up being the Ballycastle Bats that drafted him he'd have to make a note to thank Titus for introducing him to the blonde with him.
  
  But now, he wasn't worried about that. He just wanted to be with her, to live his life with her. And, with those first steps out from the train station, he was doing just that.
  
  Authors Note #2. Thanks for reading. I appreciate all the kind thoughts and reviews I've received while writing this story. I'm amazed it's only been posted for a year. As always, the best way to contact me is via PM on the website. I try to respond to all of them.
  
  
  
  Disclaimer: I own nothing and am making no profit. I also had no beta past myself on this.
  
  A/N. Every so often when I'm failing at coming up with original ideas I revisit something I've already done. This evolved that way and is the closest thing to a Letters Cannon epilogue that will exist.
  
  Please note too, the previous chapter, as stated in many author's notes, was an 'alterante' epilogue, more AU than anything. This one sticks more with the actual story that encompasses the 19 chapters before it, and as such, is labeled chapter 20.
  
  Chapter 20
  
  Life
  
  It was still dark when Harry Potter blearily opened one of his eyes. Neither of their alarms were going off, but that didn't matter, he could tell simply by the darkness that it wasn't time to be awake. Still, she was wiggling against him, trying to slip out of bed unnoticed. He wasn't coherent enough to really do more than close his eyes and attempt to prevent her from moving, enjoying her flowery scent as he pulled her to him. But, moments later, she slipped away easily enough and he fell back asleep without really giving it a second thought.
  
  When he did finally wake, whacking his alarm clock off the table, it was sunny. He rolled over, meaning to grab her, but instead just gathered up a bunch of blankets and his favorite flowery scent. He sighed and frowned a little bit. Harry absolutely hated waking up alone, but sometimes that was just what happened.
  
  He crawled out of bed and wandered over to the window, meaning to enjoy the view of the water from his Ballycastle home. But he was greeted by busy streets and a bustling city. He couldn't help but laugh just a bit to himself as he wondered just how he could forget that he'd been at his London home almost exclusively for the last few weeks. It was strange to be in London during the Quidditch season, but they had a break for the World Cup, and he was going to enjoy every bit of it he could. At least until he had to go to Sweden to represent his country.
  
  Harry moved to the bathroom to shower and prepare for the day. It wasn't until he finished that he noticed the neatly folded paper on his bedside table. He walked over to it, with a smile, and lifted it up before beginning to read the pretty script that lined the page.
  
  Love,
  
  Sorry, I could not sleep. I was only up a few minutes before I was supposed to be anyway. I hope I didn't wake you as you need all your rest for today's match!
  
  I will try my best to make it. But you know how the director is with our rehearsal schedule. Perhaps I will just have to charm my way out early. But do not be nervous. You will win. It is your turn to be the best.
  
  Anyway, good luck, not like you need it.
  
  Yours.
  
  He smiled more at the short note. He loved letters. The written would always have a special place in his heart. Harry walked into his study. He had very little use for it, but it stored one of his most important treasures.
  
  He sat at the desk and opened the top drawer to his right. Inside was just a simple folder, but inside that folder was every letter they'd exchanged. He'd kept them all. Years and years of correspondence. He paged through them quickly, smiling at a few sentences on each of them, before sliding the newest little note onto the top of the pile and placing the folder back in the drawer.
  
  Harry knew it was silly, but he loved the letters themselves almost as much as he loved her. They made him nearly as happy, and were a wonderful reminder of everything that the two of them had become.
  
  He wandered back into the bedroom and pulled on some black jeans and a team shirt. He sat on the edge of the bed to pull on his shoes before looking in the mirror. If someone would have asked, the black and red shoes were a bit excessive, but they were comfortable and the team loved when the players wore team gear. He took a deep breath. She was right, of course, he did need his rest for the match he had today. And he'd gotten enough of it. He stood and took a deep breath, focusing on the stadium he was about to apparate to.
  
  Ahead of him lay a match that really had no bearing on anything. It was just a simple exhibition to appease fans and create a buildup for the World Cup. But, Harry had been waiting years for this match. Almost a decade to have another shot. He smirked into the mirror just before he apparated away. He wasn't going to blow this one.
  
  The music was too loud. The music was always too loud. It had bothered him tremendously his rookie year, but he'd gotten over it. Mostly. Although he still made his disdain known to his teammates on occasion. It didn't matter that they'd catch him tapping his foot along with the beat. And even on occasion humming along. Although he'd never admit to either. He wished his team would focus more. But, their methods had been proven. Perhaps the loud music helped his teammates review scouting reports before matches. It only made him think he was at a dance club with his fianc?. And he preferred not to think about his fianc?, especially dancing with his fianc?, before a match. It made focusing harder.
  
  He pushed those thoughts from his head and thought about the task was ahead of them. He thought it was strange how much press this match had received, seeing as it didn't count for anything. But that certainly wouldn't prevent a sell-out, or massive reporter interest. It was one of those rare exhibition games that could garner such attention. He glanced around briefly to see his teammates going through their pre-match rituals. They were all as focused as if they were playing for the league cup in twenty minutes.
  
  Still, Harry Potter knew, as he reflected on such rituals, that he didn't really hate the music as much as he pretended. He knew that he just hated everything he associated with the time between their warm-ups and the match. It was slightly less annoying when they were the road team. As they'd have the pitch last for their individual warm-ups, and as such spent less time waiting around in the locker room after warm-ups. But for this match, they were considered the home team, despite playing at a charmed stadium just outside of London. Of course, their actual home stadium was closer to London than their opponents. Harry had one of his fondest quidditch memories from the stadium. But that would be something better reminisced upon later.
  
  To pass the time he simply sat at his locker and examined his broom. He did it before every match. As well as during every stoppage in play long enough to warrant it. Every time out. And after most matches. Very rarely was anything wrong with it. But he wouldn't take the chance of it casting him speed or maneuverability during any match. The twigs on his current edition were a bit more worn than he'd have liked. But it wasn't anything serious. He'd have requested a new broom from Lotus, but they'd promised an update for the upcoming World Cup.
  
  Of course, the L10 Bat was the closest thing to perfect that he'd ever flown. But Harris had promised him something even better, and so far he'd not disappointed. Harry did have to admit to that he was surprised the car maker had thrown itself into brooms so much. But from what he gathered from his agent and others, simply having Harry Potter had created a huge demand for brooms, especially amongst youth quidditch players and the company had responded accordingly. It had taken a while to get all the Ballycastle Bats on board, but they hadn't been disappointed since the switch from Nimbus.
  
  He was knocked out of his daze, or inspection of his broom, when a familiar voice spoke to his right.
  
  "We have to be on the pitch in ten minutes and you've managed to take off your practice uniform and stare at your broom. For someone who hates this as much as you do, you certainly aren't every in a hurry to get back onto the pitch," the team captain said loudly. At least loud enough for his voice to carry over the music. Harry just laughed and stood up in his locker.
  
  "Quiet you. I change when I'm ready," Harry responded as he turned toward his uniform. He pulled his quidditch pants on over the black and red athletic shorts he wore, affixing his black leg pads as he did as well. He sat for a moment and pulled on the black and red boots. The two-tone made them a bit gaudy for his tastes, but having everything else on the uniform black probably would have been a bit much. He pulled his chest pads on over his head, shaking a bit to make sure everything was in place.
  
  "Well someone has to make sure you don't fly out onto the pitch half naked. Although that may be a good marketing tool. Witch Weekly would love it. Perhaps I should pitch it to them?" his captain asked, a teasing smirk on his face. Harry glared at him for a moment, but the captain had turned back to his locker by then, and all Harry saw was the red 18 emblazoned on his back, underneath his surname.
  
  "If you do, make sure you mention how you'd just love to be the first one to pose," Harry responded as he pulled his jersey up over his head. He rolled his shoulders a bit after he had it on and turned his back to the rest of the locker room as he pulled on the black and red gloves almost at the exact same moment that the coach of the Bats walked into the room and told them to get to the pitch.
  
  Harry, as the seeker, was used to being the last member of the team out, so it was a little surprising when the captain fell into place behind him. He swung his beater's bat in a casual circle with one hand, holding his broom in the other.
  
  "What's up with this?" Harry asked, taking a step back so he was walking next to the beater.
  
  "They're doing the introductions differently tonight," the beater responded.
  
  "So I'm not last?" Harry laughed a bit. As the seeker he was typically the last player introduced. But the beaters were usually the second and third, right after the keeper.
  
  "No. You're still last. They just want me second from the last. Some stupid media thing, you know how that crap goes," the beater said.
  
  "Yes, I do," Harry responded as the two of them stood just inside of the tunnel that led out to the pitch. Harry looked up to see that their opponents had already been introduced. Their red robes were clearly visible flying around their hoops. Harry had the briefest thought that there would certainly be a lot of black and red in the air this evening. But the spectators would simply have to deal with that. He ran his opponents roster in his head. He'd played against them all in his professional career. Well, all of them except for their seeker. He'd never played professionally against their seeker.
  
  But he knew them all well enough. Kubica in the hoops. It was his first time on their team. He'd improved quite a bit since the Hogwarts tournament. The beater pair of Volchanov and Volkov hadn't changed in the last two World Cups. Both were very solid players, and highly sought after commodities in the European leagues.
  
  Levski and the Ivanova sisters made up the chaser line. He'd played with the younger one, Chloe, during the Hogwarts tournament. The elder sister, Clara, and Alexi Levski were both staples on the national team as well.
  
  And then there was the seeker. The face of the Bulgarian national team. Really the face of International Quidditch. Harry hadn't played against him since he'd turned professional. In fact, he hadn't played in an organized match against him since the Hogwarts tournament. Sure, they'd flown around together on occasion. And even trained together during one off season. But that was mostly because Harry didn't want to spend the time in England, so they'd both decided the south of France was a better option.
  
  Harry couldn't help but smirk up at his friend. Viktor Krum was just floating above the center of the pitch, staring down at the tunnel from which his opponents would shortly emerge.
  
  "So going to beat him this time?" Titus asked. Harry just laughed a little bit.
  
  "Don't know," he admitted. "I'd like to, but I'm not going to worry too much about that until Sweden."
  
  "Bullshit," Titus said. "You want to beat him more than you want to sleep with your fianc?."
  
  "Yes, but preferably when it counts," Harry countered quickly, shaking his head.
  
  "Speaking of Sweden," Titus changed the topic quickly. "You're not going to order me around and such with your new found authority, are you?"
  
  "No," Harry responded his head. He tapped the 'C' on the beater's chest with the end of his broom. "That should have been yours anyway."
  
  "Yea, but I told them to give it to you. I didn't want the pressure," Titus smirked. "And this way, if we blow it miserably, you'll get all the blame." It wasn't true. Gwenog Jones had captained the English team forever, but this year, after two fabulously bad showings, they'd decided to go younger. They'd wanted Harry for the marketing. He'd insisted on Titus. The sponsors argued about it for a while, but eventually Titus just told Harry to deal with it, but that if he tried to take his 'C' at the Bats he'd kill him.
  
  "Thanks," Harry responded dryly.
  
  "Anytime," Titus smiled. "But looks like we're about to get introduced." He nodded toward the front of the tunnel. Sure enough, Harry heard Reginald Dickerson, the voice of English Quidditch, start the introductions.
  
  Emily King, was first. The keeper flew up from the tunnel and weaved in and out through the hoops to a deafening roar. Harry just watched her fly.
  
  The second beater, Finbar Quigley, was introduced next. He was an aging Irish beater. He'd been on the World Cup winning team before Harry's fourth year, but he hadn't made the Irish roster for the upcoming World Cup.
  
  Their chasers flew out as a group, Dickerson introducing them in rapid succession. Jeremy Stretton and Marcus Green were centered by the youthful Eva Larson. They weren't the highest scoring line in the league, but they certainly got the job done. Larson had been their leading scorer. She'd been highly though of out of school. Harry vaguely remembered her as a young Ravenclaw that was always at the open practices during his fourth year. But she never did for Tutshill after she was drafted. The Bats had taken a flyer on her the season before and hadn't regretted it. Finally, as the crowd quieted a little bit Harry listened to Dickerson start announcing the next player. He put a bit more effort into it than the previous players.
  
  "And next we have another beater. In his eight years with the team he's brought home four British and Irish league titles. He has won five Brutus Scrimgeour trophies for the top beater in the league. And he's even been voted the league Most Valuable Player once. After tonight, you'll see him beating for the English National Team. Ladies and Gentlemen, Captain of the Ballycastle Bats, number eighteen, Titus Button!" The announcer screamed. The roar from the largely British crowd was deafening.
  
  "My crowd noise will win," Button laughed, smirking over his shoulder as he flipped onto his broom. Harry just shook his head and watched the team captain fly off toward the rest of his teammates, twirling his bat in one hand as he did.
  
  "And finally," Dickerson continued after the noise settled just a bit. Harry took a deep breath and looked up from the tunnel around the stadium. "We have the seeker. The man who will try to stop Viktor Krum's dominance in International Quidditch. In his time as the seeker for the Ballycastle Bats he has won four league cups. He has won four Barberus Bragge awards for the top seeker in the British and Irish leagues. And he has won three Most Valuable Player awards. Tonight, I introduce him as the seeker for the Ballycastle Bats, in a few weeks time I will have the pleasure of introducing him as the seeker and team captain of the English National Team. I give you, number seventeen, Harry Potter!"
  
  He took a few quick steps out of the tunnel before flipping his broom underneath him and shooting off, straight up, past his teammates and into the night sky. He kept climbing, almost until he couldn't hear the crowd, before flipping his broom around and shooting himself as quickly as he could back toward the stadium. He circled around behind the hoops and floated up toward the rest of his team, catching Button mid-speech. He wouldn't comment to the beater, but his crowd noise had been much louder.
  
  "Alright, it's an exhibition, I know, but they're supposedly the best team in the world, so let's show them what we've got," Titus said, loudly, yelling over the fans. It wasn't his best effort, but Harry thought he summed it up rather nicely. There was nothing more at stake than their pride. And really, losing to a national team, filled with superstars, wasn't that big of a deal.
  
  Harry just nodded at the team captain before floating up above the chaser lines, pitting himself parallel with Krum. He waited patiently. He hovered perfectly still on his broom as he tuned out all of his surroundings, waiting for the match to start. Harry wasn't sure exactly how he wanted to play it. He knew he should be conservative, and not show his hand too early, but he wanted to beat Viktor.
  
  As soon as he saw the quaffle fly into the air he made his first move. Many seekers liked to fall back or away from the action immediately, to survey the entire pitch. Krum was one of them. Harry liked to be more active. He shot directly at his opposite, nearly knocking the Bulgarian off his broom. He couldn't be sure, but he thought Viktor may have been laughing as he flew by.
  
  Eva Larson won the draw, and he figured Krum would be occupied for a moment so he flew up along the youngest Bat and blocked one of the Durmstrang chasers as she passed the quaffle to Marcus Green. Green relayed it quickly to Stretton, who darted around one of the Ivanovas and faked a shot on Kubica before leaving the quaffle for Larson who scored on the far side left hoop. The crowd went mad as the scoreboard changed to show the Bats leading.
  
  Harry smirked and flew off toward the sidelines, flying quickly up the wall of the stands. He noticed a quick set of hand signals from Titus and just nodded. He darted across the pitch as Clara Ivanova tried to inbound the quaffle. He cut in front of Chole Ivanova and spun his broom sharply, nailing the quaffle with the end and knocking it upwards into the open air. Levski darted for it, but a well placed Bludger from one of the Bats beaters made him think better of it. Green plucked the red ball out of the air and quickly passed it to Stretton who buried it in the left side ring, just past a lunging Kubica.
  
  He trailed away from the chasers then, keeping an eye on Krum as he did. Harry wasn't going to let Viktor get an easy snitch catch. Although he didn't expect their chaser line would be able to keep pace with the Bulgarians without some help. Krum was simply hovering over the center of the pitch. His eyes were watching the chasers emerge from the defensive zone and hurry down toward the oppositions' hoops. Harry saw him shift and dive quickly to join the rush, so he banked his broom hard and shot off in the same direction.
  
  He cut in front of Krum shortly before the Bulgarian could join his teammates. Krum veered away, attempting to get around Harry and join the Bulgarian chasers. But Harry kept even with him, blocking his path. But when he heard the groan from the crowd that could only indicate the Bulgarians had scored he simply pressed past Krum, shooting upwards into the air before cutting down into a lazy feint. Krum followed him, but knew better than to assume Harry had seen the snitch. For now, both seekers knew they'd simply be matching each other.
  
  And the match continued. Chaser play dominating the start of the match, interrupted only by Harry or Krum occasionally feinting or pretending to chase after the snitch. Harry broke away from Viktor momentarily to survey the pitch. He watched Krum immediately fly to join the chasers on the rush. Harry watched Ivanova pass the Quaffle to Levski. Emily saved the first shot, but allowed a rebound to Ivanova who scored on the center hoop. Harry listened for Dickerson's ringing announcement over the crowd.
  
  "And that goal from Clara Ivanova, her third of the match, make it eighty to forty Bulgaria," Dickerson said. "Ballycastle has looked fairly hapless since their first two quick goals. Larson on the inbound now. She goes to Green. He swerves around Chole Ivanova and a bludger. He attempts a pass to Stretton, but he botches the catch. The Quaffle is loose! Potter gets there first, he knocks it high. Look at that ball fly! No one is near it! If it hits the ground and be Bulgaria possession! No! Potter again catches up to it and knocks it high into the air again. Larson has it! She's alone in the Bulgarian zone! The shot! Saved by Kubica!
  
  "He tosses it to Ivanova. She pauses and tries a quick pass to her sister! Larson almost incercepts, but now her momentum takes her out of the play. Green and Stretton are both covering Levski! Ivanova is going to get a full pitch breakaway! She dodges a bludger from Quigley as she moves into the Ballycastle zone. Potter may have a shot at breaking up the play. But no! He shoots in front of her? Oh that's why, because Button places a perfect bludger. Quaffle up for grabs, Button takes a whack at it with his bat. It sails down the pitch where Levski picks it up. He relays it to Ivanova. Back to Levski, now to Ivanova. They're just moving slowly with the quaffle toward the Ballycastle zone. The Ballycastle chasers fall back to meet them. Potter joins the defensive formation. Ivanova crosses into the zone, she tosses it to her sister, who quickly gives it to Levski, back to Ivanova and Krum sees the snitch!"
  
  Harry's heart stopped. He saw Viktor flying quickly toward the opposite end of the pitch and broke out of the defensive formation to chase down the Bulgarian. Viktor weaved expertly, flew through one of the Bulgarian hoops and climbed up over the crowd. Harry looked ahead of him, but saw no flash of gold as he pressed himself closer to his opposite. Krum corkscrewed back and went into a steep dive just as Harry caught up. He had no choice but to follow him, the Bulgarian's red robes filling his vision as the ground zoomed closer and closer. Krum pulled out of the dive inches from the ground. Harry almost didn't have time to react. He cursed himself for falling for the feint maneuver as he heard Bulgaria scored again.
  
  The shrill whistle that followed could only mean one thing, though. He saw Krum slow down considerably and float slowly toward the Bulgarian hoops, where he's spend the time simply surveying the pitch. Harry turned and sped down to the Ballycastle hoops, where he'd join the team meeting.
  
  "They're good," Button said dryly, eliciting a quiet laugh from most of his teammates.
  
  "Indeed," Emily King responded, shaking her head.
  
  "They're killing us," Eva Larson added, also shaking her head. She took the time to redo her pony tail, making sure no hair was in her face. The entire team knew she only meant the chasers.
  
  "Defense, defense, defense?" Harry joked quietly.
  
  "It's not working," Quigley said. The eldest Bat was usually very quiet during stoppages, so everyone just stared at him for a moment. They did know, though, that he had been a prominent member of the only team to ever beat Krum in international play.
  
  "Well he's right," Titus said after a second. "It's not."
  
  "So we're going to what?" Green asked.
  
  "What we can," Quigley said. Titus looked at him for a moment and then nodded.
  
  "Okay, Chasers keep the quaffle in their zone as much as you can. Don't worry about shots just slow the game down. We'll give you as much support as we can," he nodded toward Quigley as he spoke. "If they get possession, back on defense, no chances. They're at ninety now, we're going to hold them to one-fifty! Alright?" The team agreed quickly, and rather loudly, Harry just nodded along with them. Until Button looked back at him.
  
  "And damn it Harry, but the first chance you get, end this thing," he ordered. Again Harry just nodded as the team broke apart to resume play. He watched Larson inbound the quaffle as he simply floated high above the pitch, looking down at everything happening before him.
  
  Play resumed after another moment. Harry watched Eva inbound to Marcus. The Bulgarian chasers swarmed him, but he managed to get a pass off to Stretton nearby. A well placed bludger startled the chaser, though, and he dropped the quaffle. Larson swept in to pick it up and proceeded down the pitch. Harry grinned as the play developed. He knew Button and Quigley would have their hands full the rest of the match if he focused on the snitch. And he knew that meant it would be him against Krum and the Bulgarian beaters.
  
  He spun his broom between the two Bulgarian beaters, distracting them for the briefest of moments before diving toward the field below. He skimmed the grass for a few moments before climbing up in a spiral behind the Bulgarian hoops. He took the quaffle flying past him as a good sign. Harry spun toward the scoreboard and saw the Ballycastle score change to fifty.
  
  He waited a few moments for the Bulgarian rush to start before pushing himself in the opposite direction, hoping that he drew Krum and possibly one of the beaters away from the play. He didn't have time to look to see if his ploy had worked. Instead he listened to Dickerson's booming voice as he searched for the snitch.
  
  "Ivanova back to Levski. Over to Ivanova again. Button tries to break it up but Ivanova dumps to her sister who takes the shot, but she's forced to dive out of the way from a bludger from Quigley. Regardless, an easy save for King. She gets the quaffle out to Larson behind the Ballycastle hoops. Larson relays it to Stretton. He fakes to Green and decides to move it himself into the Bulgarian zone.
  
  "The Bats stall again. Stretton gives back to Larson. She pulls a nifty move to avoid Chloe Ivanova and tosses the quaffle to Green. He dodges a bludger and moves it back to Larson. She quickly relays it back to Green. Larson. Stretton. Green. Stretton. Larson. Stretton. Larson. Finally the Bulgarian chasers go for the quaffle. Larson takes the shot. Saved by Kubica.
  
  "Kubica launches it down the pitch. Caught at midfield by Levski. He passes it to Clara Ivanova. They're in the Ballycastle zone with just Button and Stretton on defense. Quigley relays a bludger from about midfield toward Button. He hits it at Levski. Stretton gets a piece of the shot from Ivanova and King catches the rest of it."
  
  Harry watched as Green turned the quaffle over. King failed to save that shot. He knew what the Bulgarian strategy must have been. They weren't going to wait around for Krum to catch the snitch. They saw the Bats as an opponent they could annihilate. And they were getting closer to making the seekers irrelevant.
  
  It was actually a strategy Ballycastle used quite often. Both Harry and Titus would act as auxiliary chasers while Quigley and King would focus on defense. Often the opposition was down by seventy to one hundred points before they decided on how to counter. Most times, the opposing seeker would focus on the snitch and Harry would counter to that. He hated to be overly arrogant. But he could usually both help the Ballycastle chasers and still find the snitch faster than most seekers. There were some questions of legality in the hybrid positions that both Harry and Titus played, but that hadn't kept other teams from trying to find similar players.
  
  Harry rolled over a bludger from one of the Bulgarian beaters. He never really saw the iron ball, but rather just sensed it and moved out of the way. It only took a few direct hits in professional play to develop a second sense for the location of the iron menaces. Titus still got him in practice every now and then, but it had been a very long time since he'd taken a bludger without knowing it was coming.
  
  He idled for a moment above the center of the pitch with the goal of drawing the Bulgarian beaters away from the Ballycastle chasers. They took the bait to some extent. But really just decided to capture both bludgers and send them right at him. Harry swerved away and dove toward the grass as the Bludgers gave chase. They swerved around him for a moment as he rose to escape them. But the Bulgarian beaters gave chase as well and hit both the iron balls at him once more.
  
  Harry rolled over one, knowing it would cut back toward him, but that he'd buy himself some time to evade the other. He dove again and brought one of the iron balls right past Quigley, who managed to whack it at a Bulgarian chaser.
  
  Unfortunately, the second bludger caught up to Harry again. He skimmed the grass and prepared to corkscrew rise and evade. But, right as he attempted to maneuver a flash of red shot in front of him. He tried to swerve around it, but braced himself for the impact he knew was coming. And then there was a thud, a lot of pain, and everything went black.
  
  "Harry, are you okay?" he heard a voice ask. He just groaned, opening his eyes to see Titus Button standing over him.
  
  "I don't know," he asked. "Did we lose?"
  
  "Not yet. I called a time out as soon as you got hit." He offered his hand. Harry took it and let Button pull him to his feet to a cheer from the crowd. "Surprised you fell off, honestly."
  
  "Me too," Harry said. "But momentum going one way, bludger hitting the other. At least it was a short fall." He leaned over and picked up his broom. He inspected it as the official approached. Harry assumed it was to tell them they had to resume play in a moment.
  
  "You good to go?" Button asked. Something about his tone surprised Harry. Titus didn't usually sound that serious. Of course, he was probably more worried about the upcoming World Cup than the exhibition they were playing now.
  
  "Oh yea, hurts like hell, but you know," Harry said. "Just angry now. I hope one of our coaches recorded that play. We could do that in league play easily."
  
  "Damn straight we could," Button responded with a smirk. He flipped back onto his own broom as Harry did the same before they rejoined their teammates in the air. Harry looked for Krum for a moment, but the Bulgarian wouldn't meet his eyes. So instead he just floated around a bit, darting left and right ever few moments, mostly to make sure his Lotus was still flying. It was fine.
  
  He watched as Ivanova inbounded the quaffle to her sister. His fall must have looked more serious than it was if they'd allowed for a stoppage while Bulgaria had possession. Of course, the quaffle may have simply been in the air at the same time as the time out.
  
  Harry ducked a bludger as he circled the pitch. Apparently the Bulgarian's decided that focusing the iron balls on him would be the best assistance for Krum. Harry let this once chase him, knowing that if it was behind him, no one was likely to hit it at him for a moment. Eventually he led it past Titus. The Beater decided that the bludger was better suited chasing after Levski than his seeker. Harry agreed.
  
  He rose up above Larson and dove diagonally down toward Chloe Ivanova. He paused for a moment, near the bottom of the pitch and gazed up. The crowd was impressive, but the angle hindered his view of flashing golden objects so he climbed more, dicing through the Bulgarian chasers and attempting to be as distracting as he could while he completed the maneuver.
  
  Harry leveled out just above the stands and flew toward Krum. The Bulgarian seeker wasn't paying attention to him, but he wasn't chasing anything either. Krum's eyes watched the quaffle as the Bulgarians moved into the Ballycastle zone. Harry liked his angle. He positioned himself to cut just in front of Krum and pushed his Lotus as fast as it would go, angling so he'd be able to pull into a feint just after he passed his opposing seeker.
  
  Sure enough, he caught up just a few moments later and started the dive for the feint, but his plan changed almost immediately as a speck of gold shot past his face.
  
  "Potter cuts in front of Krum and dives!" Dickerson announced. "He's pushing hard but no! He pulls up sharply, flipping up. There it is! He sees the snitch. Krum is right with him, they're both climbing, facing each other, moving toward the snitch! It cuts back! They're both on line, Potter is flying upside down after a fantastic turn!
  
  "But Krum gains an edge with a beautiful cut in front of Potter. Potter tries to counter but Krum blocks him. The snitch swerves right. Potter gets the inside line and cuts back in front of Krum. No! Potter dodges a bludger but loses ground to Krum in the process. Button relays another bludger at Krum, he dodges and Potter catches up!"
  
  Harry tuned Dickerson out as the golden ball drew closer. He rolled around another bludger, but didn't lose any speed this time. The snitch cut to the left and Krum tried to force his way inside. Harry cursed under his breath as the Bulgarian zoomed past him. But the snitch cut back almost immediately and he found himself again in front. He rolled from yet another bludger, the speed of it shaking his broom as it shot past. The extra vibration made his ribs hurt. He'd forgotten about the injury since he'd been in the air. He couldn't help but wonder how serious the injury was.
  
  He almost missed the snitch diving, but pressed his broom downward just in time. He dove hard, pressing himself as close to his broom as he could, chasing the snitch down. Krum joined him in the dive. They pressed evenly, jostling for position as the golden ball grew progressively bigger in their eyes. The seekers pushed toward it, darting around each other, each hoping to find the best position to grab it.
  
  But this snitch wasn't going to give up that easily. Just as Harry cut in front of Krum and thought he had a clean line on the ball it cut away again. And again. And again. Sometimes after a while in a chase the snitch would simply give up. Both seekers knew this one had a little more fight than that.
  
  But they kept their pursuit, weaving around bludgers, darting past chasers, and pressing around each other as the snitch flew for its own freedom. The seekers closed. But, just when they each thought they had the snitch it darted away.
  
  Harry caught up once more. He could see Krum out of the corner of his eye as they banked through the stadium. Each seeker closed in yet again as the snitch shot toward the center of the pitch. It slowed and they both thought it was making its final stand. Harry pushed himself against his broom, reaching out just a little bit, closing in and making sure he was ready to make the catch.
  
  But as they passed over the center of the pitch the golden ball made yet another move. It shot backward immediately angling itself upwards above the seeker's heads, changing direction without the slightest of issue at full speed.
  
  "And the snitch shoots back the other way! This one is being very feisty tonight!" Dickerson shouted. "Krum shoots past Potter and starts a perfect reverse turn. Potter lunges his whole body backwards toward the golden ball! He's diving toward it, corkscrewed around his broom in a way I can barely describe! No! Now he's falling, he's losing control ladies and gentleman. His desperation attempt at the snitch is backfiring!
  
  "He's spinning around, I can only imagine what such a quick stop and turn must have felt like on his body! I'm amazed he's still conscious! This could be ugly in a few moments. Krum dives around him, no doubt still looking for the Snitch. Potter is still falling! No! He's hooked his legs back around his broom! He's leveling out slowly and appears to be okay!"
  
  Harry took a deep breath and gazed around the stadium. His ribs hurt, his chest hurt, and his head hurt. He blinked a few times as the official approached. He thought back just a few moments. He'd lunged, and reached, and then he'd been falling. He'd caught himself and that's where he was now. He looked down toward his right hand, blinked once, and then held it up into the air, relishing at the shrill whistle that pierced the crowd noise.
  
  "There's the whistle! Potter managed to catch the snitch with that backwards lunge! The Ballycastle Bats win! The Ballycastle Bats defeat the Bulgarian National Team 240-130! What a match! What a prelude to Sweden! The World Cup could be one for the ages!" Dickerson finished his announcing, but Harry wasn't paying attention to it. Instead he braced for impact.
  
  Titus Button hit him first. Titus always hit him first. Every big win, every championship, it was always Titus, hugging and clasping, yelling in victory. Larson and King flew up next. Eva kissed him on the cheek and wished him luck in Sweden, Emily hugged him and did the same. Stretton, Quigley and Green joined the team moments later.
  
  After a few moments of celebration they lined up to shake hands with the Bulgarians. Harry flew at the end of the line, complimenting each of the Bulgarian players as they went by. Krum met him last, his expression one that Harry knew well enough. It was never fun to lose, even in exhibition.
  
  "You know," Harry said, hoping to ease the tension as he shook hands with Viktor Krum, "Titus and I were going to get some drinks after the game. You're more than welcome to join us." The transition from competitors to friends was never particularly easy. And they hadn't played against each other since the final match at Hogwarts during the Triwizard Tournament.
  
  "I don't know," Krum responded slowly. "Loudmouthed English beater is a bit trying."
  
  "He grows on you," Harry responded, shaking his head a bit at Viktor's way of summing up people in three words. "Bring bushy-haired English bookworm. We're probably going to just go to that pub around the corner from my London house."
  
  "We'll see," Krum just shook his head. "I'll ask Hermione if she wants to." Harry knew the other seeker wouldn't join them. But figured it was better to ask than to not.
  
  "Alright," Harry nodded, smiling a bit. "See you there then." He turned his broom and flew away, doing his best to ignore the pain in his side. It was growing worse with each minute. He suspected because he'd been more focused and better able to tune it out during the match. He wanted to simply go back to the locker room, change, and leave. But he had to give interviews first. He landed near the tunnel, near where the media gathered and braced himself for the questions. He suspected they didn't particularly appreciate his short, team-oriented answers, but those were all he was going to give at this point.
  
  When he finally got back to the locker room after answering what felt like a hundred questions, the music was still too loud. He was immediately hugged by his teammates as he pressed through to his locker. The press wouldn't be allowed into the locker room until later. And most of the players probably wouldn't stick around too long. Harry was thankful that there wasn't a champagne shower. But while the Bats enjoyed the win, it was still just an exhibition game.
  
  Harry moved to his locker and started to peel of his pads and uniform, disregarding them into the compartment without much of a care. He knew team elves would gather them up, clean what needed to be cleaned, and send them back to Ballycastle. Well, most of it anyway, some of his things would be moving on to Sweden.
  
  When he turned to ask Titus if he was going to trust the elves with his broom for the World Cup, despite the promise of new brooms he always liked to have a spare. But he instead saw a pretty blonde sitting in his friend's locker. She stood and hugged him, pressing her lips to his cheek as she did.
  
  "I'm going to make so much money off of you," Daphne Greengrass whispered into his ear. He just laughed a little bit and looked down at her.
  
  "Good to see you too, Daph," he said quietly. She nodded a bit, with a quick smile, but after just a moment her face became instantly serious.
  
  "How bad is it?" she asked.
  
  "What?" He blinked, not expecting that question.
  
  "That," she said, reaching out and pressing her hand into his ribs, rather hard.
  
  "Ouch! Fuck Daphne!" he gasped. She nodded and just pointed to the trainer's room.
  
  "Go," she ordered. "Chop chop, not going to have some stupid exhibition injury cost you a contract because you're too stupid to get it treated."
  
  "I'm getting there!" He argued. She just pointed again. He sighed and turned to walk over to the team trainer. Titus slipped past him and Harry turned to see the beater slide his arms around their agent and greet her with a very deep kiss. Harry just smiled and slipped into the small medical room.
  
  He sat on the medical table in the middle and looked into the mirror. There wasn't any blood on his undershirt so he figured it wouldn't be overly serious. He peeled off the shirt about the same time the trainer stepped into the room. Harry gazed in the mirror and shrugged, his side was rather black and blue, but nothing else appeared out of the ordinary.
  
  "Ouch," The trainer said as he took out his wand and started a series of diagnostic spells.
  
  "Doesn't hurt that badly," Harry admitted. The trainer just chuckled a bit.
  
  "Yes, I suppose eventually you grow accustomed to being nailed in the ribs by an iron ball," he responded sarcastically.
  
  "Well you know, workplace hazard," Harry laughed.
  
  "Oh yea, I'm sure. We'll you're fine. No damage internally, but I'm sure you probably gathered that already. I can't do much for the bruising but apply some balm," he explained as he moved toward the drawers and began to shuffle through them.
  
  "Alright," Harry responded. Leaning a bit on the table and positioning his arms so his side was clearly accessible. He closed his eyes and sighed a bit.
  
  "I will take care of zat," a soft voice said from the door. Harry smiled at hearing it. The trainer just nodded and left the canister of balm on the table as he left the room.
  
  "I didn't think you'd make it," Harry said quietly as she approached the table and unscrewed the lid on the jar and smeared some onto her hand.
  
  "Me either," Fleur Delacour said softly. "It is very cold."
  
  "What?" he asked, then gasped as she pressed the balm to his side.
  
  "Zat," she responded as he relaxed against her touch.
  
  "Yes, yes it is," he responded, feeling his body tense slightly at her touch. But he relaxed after a moment.
  
  "How was practice?" he asked, sighing contently. He opened his eyes for the first time and looked at her.
  
  "It was good," she said, focusing on applying the balm to his injured side. Fleur had her hair pulled back in a very loose pony tail. Harry reached up behind her and slid his fingers through it gently. She wore a short grey dress with a black belt. She had her leg warmers on still too. He half suspected that was simply because he'd commented that he rather liked how those looked on her.
  
  Fleur hadn't lasted particularly long at Gringotts. Neither of them would ever admit it, but there certainly hadn't ever been a concern for money, and it made entry-level banking work somewhat tedious for her.
  
  Harry hadn't been much of a help, either, as he was stuck at Hogwarts during that time. But in one of his many letters he'd suggested, mostly offhandedly after becoming rather annoyed at her complaints of having nothing to do but pine away most nights, that she take up some hobby to occupy herself on those evenings.
  
  She'd decided to dance again. She often talked of how she'd done plenty of ballet before attending Beauxbatons and she picked it up rather quickly. Soon she was dancing almost as often as he practiced quidditch. Harry rather loved watching her dance. The ethereal beauty of her body in motion to music was quite possibly the best thing he'd ever seen. When she was practicing alone she wouldn't reign in her Veela heritage and it made the show that much better. One of his favorite memories was simply leaning against the wall of the room they'd turned into her studio in their London home and watching her flutter around, her eyes closed, her hair billowing behind her with every motion.
  
  Not too long after he'd been drafted by Ballycastle she'd had her own audition. She'd used magic to falsify some documents claiming she'd spent most of her life training with a French dance company and she'd been accepted into an English company. Small roles gradually became larger ones, and after just a few years she was one of the premier dancers they had. Harry was infinitely proud of her. As she was of him.
  
  "I can't wait for your next performance," he commented as she continued to rub the balm onto his skin. It was already starting to feel better, but he suspected that had more to do with who was applying it than anything else.
  
  "Two weeks," she smiled, then shook her head a bit and frowned. "You will be in Sweden."
  
  "I'll come back for at least one performance," He smiled. She nodded, knowing it was true. After a moment she finished applying the balm and placed the top back on the jar before walking to the small sink and washing off her hands. She took special care to make sure none of it was left on the ring on her left hand.
  
  "I know," she said softly. "And 'opefully I will be able to see you beat ze Bulgarians once again to win ze world cup."
  
  "If we get that far," Harry laughed. She just gave him an appraising look.
  
  "You will win," she said, sternly.
  
  "If you insist," he responded with a smile before opening his arms to her. She walked into them and hugged him tightly, careful to lean to the side where the bruise wasn't.
  
  "You will win. You hate losing too much," She responded, philosophically. "And so far you are one and two against Krum. You must even zat up!"
  
  "Good point," he said, raising a hand up to move a strand of hair from her face. She just nodded a bit before he kissed her, very softly, on the lips. She slipped her lips from his after a moment.
  
  "You flew beautifully tonight," she said quietly, changing the topic with a smirk.
  
  "Thanks," he said, going to kiss her again, but merely catching the corner of her mouth.
  
  "You are welcome," she responded, sliding her hands up into his hair for a moment.
  
  "Enough talking though," he smiled and leaned toward her again, she shook her head, giggling a bit and slipped away.
  
  "No talking?" she teased, tilting her head to the side and looking at him with wide, faux confused eyes. "Then what?"
  
  "This," he said, grabbing her by the waist and pulling her up onto the medical table with little difficulty. She gasped and he was on her in a moment. He kissed her, over and over, pressing to her. Her arms wrapped around his body and she kissed him back. But, after a few moments, she just giggled and slipped her lips from him.
  
  "We are supposed to be going out wiz Titus and Daphne," she said, shifting under him in a half-hearted attempt to free herself. She accentuated her French accent a bit, he suspected because she knew he liked it.
  
  "They can wait," he argued. She just shook her head.
  
  "Perhaps, but it is rude to make ze stadium staff wait too. Zey want to get 'ome, you know.. We will 'ave plenty of fun later," she gave him one brief kiss on the lips before apparating out from underneath him with a loud pop. He landed rather hard on the table, but just laughed and hopped off of it.
  
  "Alright, alright," he shook his head. "Let me finish changing. Titus probably dragged Daph to the bar already anyway."
  
  "Non, zey were going to wait for us," Fleur smiled and led him out of the trainer's room and back into the locker room where both Titus and Daphne were still fielding questions from reporters about the match.
  
  Harry changed back into his street clothing quickly, neglecting to answer any more questions. Fleur sat next to him, in Eva Larson's locker, and politely talked in French to a French reporter, so at least someone would get a quote for a story that evening. Once he'd finished changing he looked over toward Titus and said, over a couple reporters' heads.
  
  "Well shall we?" The reporters groaned as Harry stood. Titus just nodded and stood in his own locker as Daphne slid up next to him.
  
  "We shall," he said. Harry took Fleur's hand into his and the four of them walked out of the locker room. They chatted idly about which pub to go to for the evening, debating between magical and Muggle after the events of the day. Eventually they settled on an old standby just as they stepped out from the stadium.
  
  Harry slid both his arms around Fleur as they did. He smiled at her and felt like the luckiest man in the world when she smiled back. He couldn't tell anyone just how many times he'd marveled at the fact that she was in his arms solely because of an innocent pen pal assignment all those years ago. Soon, she would be his spouse, his wife, his family, and he looked forward to spending every day of however long he would live with her.
  
  He leaned over and kissed her once, softly, on the forehead before apparating them both to their next destination. Where they arrived didn't matter, although the pub would be the preferred destination as Harry was already looking forward to the club sandwich. Mostly, they were simply happy to be around each other. He held her close as they pressed through magic and to their destination and reminisced about the power of words and the affects they could have on people.
  
  When they popped back into existence, though, he just smiled at her and took her hand once more, thinking about how lucky he was to have been assigned the best pen pal ever.
  
  A/N #2. Well thanks for reading and thanks for all the reviews. I appreciate all of them. If anyone wishes to contact me a PM is likely the best route to do so.
  
  The World Cup that follows this likely turns out much the same way the 2002 World Cup in my other story does.
  
  I'm also vaguely interested in this new 'image manager' thing I have. Apparently I can create covers for books now. But I'm a terrible artist so if someone who wasn't terrible wanted to dabble with it for one of my stories I'd be honored. I'd even provide a mild form of compensation if that were the case. Feel free to contact me. (I didn't see anything in the ToS that indicated that would be illegal, but it probably violates it in some way...I do mean mild compensation, too..)
  
  Also, please check out my newest story, The Masque of Chicago, it's a standard vampire romance type deal that I imagine would have more hits if I'd have said it was Twilight. Regardless, I feel it's my best work that's posted on this website (despite the corny topic) so if you're a fan of my writing and romance, you'll prolly like it. Don't be afraid by what it's categorized under. I merely took a few words and concepts from the game, and nothing that is remotely crucial to understanding the story.
  
  Thanks again!

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