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Author Notes:

To get the obvious question out of the way.  Yes, I have finished the next chapter of "Hogwarts' Dawn" and I have sent it to beta.

This fic is complete in 9 chapters.  Parts are still going through beta, but it is my intention to post one chapter a week (as my schedule allows).

I have to thank Kokopelli and Luan Mao for some amazing betaing in this. Above the grammar and spelling corrections, a lot of the technical jargon about Blacksmithing comes from Kokopelli, who is an enthusiasitc smith himself.  Luan Mao challenges what I write in such a way that it improves every chapter massively. 

As everyone gasped in horror or outrage, Romilda was watching Harry’s eyes. That, in itself, was nothing new; she’d been crushing on him for months, what with his wild untameable hair and those gorgeous eyes with the reputation for not always doing the right thing.

There was also the fact that he was one of the few males in the school who understood the importance of regular bathing.

As such, she was able to see it all in his eyes: the shock that was quickly followed by resignation as his name was pulled out of the Goblet of Fire.

She watched him trudge away, her heart feeling like it was breaking for him. As soon as he was gone, the whispering started.

“Attention seeker,” the particularly rank-smelling Weasley was stating loudly enough to be heard a third of the Gryffindor table away. Others were agreeing with him, and she could already see Malfoy – the only boy at Hogwarts who managed to bathe less than Weasley – starting a loud rant about it.

She was about to start a defence of Harry, when glanced across at the Slytherin table. Her pretty blonde friend, Astoria Greengrass, shook her head hard, and then nodded in the direction of the doors to the Great Hall.

Romilda waited a few seconds and then walked out. She was shortly joined by Astoria. “He didn’t do it,” the Slytherin girl said quietly, as they headed away.

“Yeah, I was just about to tell everyone that.”

“Which is exactly why I stopped you. If no one else sees that, it means that no one was standing up for him, right?”

Romilda nodded.

“So if everyone is against him, we can use that to make friends with him!”

“Tori, you’re so smart you make my teeth hurt,” Romilda said slowly. “Maybe we can help him with the tournament!”

“Why, thank you,” Astoria giggled. “And you’re right.”

“What about the Slytherins being upset with you for helping him?”

Astoria shrugged. “Daphne may be as thick as two short planks, but I don’t think anyone will bother her; everyone is convinced that she is some sort of Ice Queen, and all the boys are scared of her. They don’t know that she acts like that because she doesn’t have the brain power to walk and smile at the same time.”

“She is pretty, though.”

“I’m pretty, too, plus I got Mother’s brains.”

“Her modesty, too, no doubt,” Romilda teased.

“Watch it, Gypsy,” Astoria replied in a similar tone. “Or I shall have you run off my land!”

“And I shall use my ancient Gypsy powers to curse you into marrying a smelly blonde ponce, and have exceptionally painful childbirths which will addle your brain to name every child something ridiculous!”

“Ewww, not Malfoy!”

“Yes, and every night you shall have to sleep with his pure-blooded lack of bathing!”

“I give, I give,” Astoria laughed, holding her hands up. “Anyway, back on topic. We need to get him alone and offer our friendship and support!”

“I’ll trail him when he comes back to our common room, and from there, I’ll use our mirrors to tell you where he’s going.”

“Okay, I’m going to head back to the dorms and see if leaving some deodorant spells on Malfoy’s bed will help him take the hint.”

“Later, Tori,” Romilda said, giving her best friend a quick hug, before hurrying up to Gryffindor tower. She said the password and took the couch nearest the exit. As she sat, she scowled, and grabbed a book to read.

The common room filled rapidly and everyone was still talking about Harry and what a prat he was. She rolled her eyes.

“Of course you roll your eyes,” Vicky Frobisher said with a snide tone. “Harry’s got such wonderful eyes,” she mocked.

“Of course I do, especially when you act like the ignorant cow you are,” Romilda replied sweetly.

“Everyone hates him, Vane, and we can hate you too,” Vicky whispered.

“And then I’d have to let everyone know about the love letters you sent my brother,” Romilda replied, whilst checking her nails were perfect. “Offering…”

“Bitch,” Vicky snarled, before turning and storming off, leaving her alone.

“Romilda nine, Vicky zero,” she chuckled to herself. An eerie silence swept through the room as a distraught-looking Harry entered. He looked around, had a brief, but quiet, confrontation with the smelliest Weasley, before hurrying up to his room. A minute later, he left, and the noise picked up again.

Romilda got to her feet, and frowned as Granger moved out as well. She followed the older witch, realising that Harry’s friend was following him. That could ruin their plans, so she looked around, hiding behind a corner. She peered around the corner before firing of a small levitation. For the first time, she wished she knew more spells – a stunning spell would have been better. Luck was on her side, as the spell hit just as Hermione’s foot brushed the carpet, causing her to trip.

Hermione tumbled to the ground, her bag flew open, and an ink pot rolled out and started to leak onto some parchment.

“My essay!” Hermione squeaked, as she tried to rescue it. “Bugger. Stupid rug,” the bushy-haired girl muttered. “I’ll fix this, and then go find Harry,” she continued to herself, before heading off in a different direction.

“Tori,” Romilda called after fetching her communication mirror from her bag.

“Romilda?”

“Library, quick.”

“I’ll be right there!”

Romilda paced nervously as she waited for her friend. She’d peeked in already, to see him in a corner, hunched over, and desperately paging through an ancient-looking tome.

“Hey, Romi,” Astoria panted. Her face was a little red from exertion. “Malfoy’s already trying to find ways to help embarrass Harry.”

“Want a few seconds to recover?” Romilda asked. “And like what?”

“Yeah, thanks, and no idea yet.”

As her friend’s breathing evened out and her cheeks returned to their normal porcelain white, Romilda suddenly found herself nervous. “You go first,” she said with an embarrassed giggle.

“What! No, you – you’re the Gryffindor!” Astoria said back with her own little giggle.

“But you’re the smart one!”

“And you’re the muscle,” Astoria retorted.

“Fine,” Romilda muttered, and squared her shoulders.

“Hold it, Vane,” Astoria said, grabbing her. “Remember what I always say to you?”

“A bull in a china shop is an analogy, not a guide line,” Romilda recited with some irritation.

“Exactly,” Astoria replied primly. “So here’s what we are not going to do: insult the bossy one, or the smelly one, unless he gives us an invitation to do so.”

Romilda took a deep breath and calmed down. “Thanks,” she muttered. She took her friend’s hand, and dragged her into the library. “Hi, Harry,” she said cheerfully, as she came to a stop next to him.

He looked up at them, his eyebrows raised above his glasses.

“I’m Romilda Vane, in case you never caught my name. And this is Astoria Greengrass, dunno if you’ve ever seen her around.”

“Harry Potter,” he replied automatically.

“May we sit?”

“Why?”

“Because we’re, like, the only two people in the school who believe you,” Romilda said confidently.

Harry blinked. “Really?”

“Yup.”

“What my enthusiastic friend is trying to say,” Astoria interrupted dryly, “is that, from what we’ve seen and heard of your school history, you try and stay out of the limelight, but often get thrust in it, to your obvious discomfort!”

“Yes, thank you, Tori,” Romilda muttered, feeling slightly embarrassed. “Hey,” she said, as the idea hit her, “it’s probably a trap! Someone’s out to get you.”

“That’s disturbingly true, and quite insightful,” Astoria mumbled. “How did you think of it?”

“Oi, bitch,” Romilda pouted at her best friend.

Any further squabbling was stopped as Harry chuckled. “Yeah, sit down.”

Romilda walked around the table, letting Tori take the seat to his left as she sat on his right. “So, yeah, I’m Romi, this is Tori.”

“You don’t like your names?”

“Too many syllables to be said in a hurry,” Astoria explained. “So what are you reading?”

“I’m trying to see if there is any way out of the tournament.”

“Because you don’t want to be in it?” Romilda asked curiously.

“Exactly.”

“Oi, brain girl, anything?”

Astoria rolled her eyes, and reached out, closing the book Harry was reading before assuming a professorial stance. “The Goblet of Fire is a Class One restricted item, held under the control of the Department of Mysteries. The creator was executed, after it was found that he had powered the charms with a blood sacrifice of five virgins, and that instead of charms there were in fact geases to ensure that those selected were forced to participate. The Wizengamot ordered that the Goblet be destroyed, but Silas Crotchworthy, the Minister at the time, overruled them and used it for the first Triwizard Tournament.”

Romilda clapped enthusiastically, as her friend finished her recital. “The Greengrass book of history?”

“Yup, I looked it up when my mum told me about the tournament this summer.”

Harry’s head dropped to the table with a bang. “So,” he muttered, “no way out?”

“Nope.”

“And Tori’s family has their own history book?”

Tori gave a slight cheer at her nickname being used. “Yes,” she said in her a normal voice.

Harry sat back up. “Bugger!”

Romilda giggled.

“Traditionally,” Astoria added, “the first two tasks are recovering something from an animal or a location. At Hogwarts, it has always been an animal for the first, and either the forest or the lake for the second.”

“Bugger,” Harry sighed once more. “So it will be something like acromantulas?”

Romilda shivered.

“What are they?” Astoria asked.

“Giant spiders,” Romilda replied. “There was a nest near where we stayed a few years ago. They tried to grab a cousin, and my whole clan went medieval on them!”

Astoria shivered. “I hate creatures,” she muttered. “And I’m not going to join the Care of Magical Creatures class, either.”

“Oh?” Harry asked sharply, before he modified his tone. “Why?”

“Because I am a twelve-year-old human girl without a drop of Giant blood in me; Professor Hagrid might not be scared of his animals, but I am.”

“Hagrid wouldn’t let them harm you,” Harry said gently. “The only incident I know of was with Malfoy, and that was completely his own fault.”

“Yes, with the hippogriff,” Astoria replied. “But I was scarred by a creature in a detention earlier this year,” she said, holding out her arm and showing off a small scar. “Pomphrey can’t get rid of that.”

“Oh,” Harry said. “I’m sorry.”

“What for?” Romilda asked curiously.

“I thought that she was only saying it because she was a Slytherin,” he admitted in shame.

Astoria harrumphed. “I am not like them ,” she said sternly. “I’ll let it slide this time, but don’t do it again.”

“Yeah, Tori has more cunning in her little finger than the entire fourth year.” Romilda didn’t like the amused expression on Harry’s face. She’d been informed that Astoria’s stern-face was extremely cute by her father, the last time Astoria had tried it.

“Which isn’t difficult,” Astoria added with a small grin, “because I’ve seen more cunning bird poop than that lot.”

Harry chuckled once more. “You want to know a secret?” he asked.

“Yes,” Romilda replied, hearing Astoria say it at exactly the same time.

“The Sorting Hat wanted to put me in Slytherin, but I’d already met Malfoy, so I begged it not to!”

“A Slytherin, in Gryffindor,” Astoria muttered. “That’s genius. I should have done that!”

“The only reason she didn’t is because she looks before she leaps,” Romilda said. “Unlike me, who prefers action!”

“Yeah, she can be as sneaky as anyone, sneakier sometimes, but doesn’t always think things through.”

Romilda pouted playfully at her friend again.

“Harry!”

All three of them looked up, as Hermione sat down opposite Harry. “Vane, right?”

“Romilda, and this is Astoria,” Harry introduced them. “Romi, Tori, this is Hermione.”

Romilda shared a glance with Astoria, before they both turned. “Hi!”

“What are you two doing here?”

“We don’t believe Harry entered himself,” Romilda announced, “and as the rest of the school seems to have contracted a simultaneous case of hopefully terminal stupidity, we thought we’d come and help Harry.”

“Indeed,” Astoria agreed.

“Oh, that’s good.” Hermione looked at Harry, and sighed. “Ron’s still, well…”

“Being a git?” Romilda suggested.

“Romi,” Astoria moaned. “For the next two minutes you are banned from speaking anything until you have thought about it for ten seconds first.”

Romilda stuck her tongue out.

“Sadly, she’s accurate,” Hermione said with a wry smile.

“Great,” Harry sighed.

“While I’m being castigated anyway,” Romilda continued, following her instincts, “how do you both put up with him?”

“What?” Hermione demanded, standing.

“Hermione,” Harry snapped. “I’ve already made an idiot of myself once; you don’t need to do so as well.”

Hermione blinked.

“What do you mean, Romi?” Harry asked in a gentler tone.

“Well, he smells, almost as badly as Malfoy,” Romilda said. “How often does he shower?”

Harry looked away.

“Harry?” Hermione asked slowly, as she sank back down. “That look makes me suspicious. How often does Ronald bathe?”

Harry muttered something Romilda couldn’t hear.

“Once every fortnight?” Astoria repeated with a shudder.

“Ears of a puma, that one,” Romilda said proudly.

“Harry James Potter,” Hermione said crossly. “And why do I not smell him?”

“Localised charm,” Harry mumbled with a shrug. “Fred and George taught it to me. I reapply it every few days to me and you.”

“And you were going to continue to apply it?”

“I have to sleep near him and you’re my best friend.”

“Pure blood males believe that bathing, a Muggle fashion, is beneath them, so they use a lot of scent. That’s how Malfoy controls his stench.”

Hermione placed her elbows on the table, and placed her head in her hands. “Give me the charm, Harry. I’ll find a way to modify it so that I can tell how badly he smells.”

“But...”

“I really, truly, appreciate what you have done for me, but he needs to learn that personal hygiene is important.”

“Okay.”

“Can we be taught it as well?” Romilda asked hopefully.

Hermione looked at her for a moment. “Hermione Granger,” she said, offering her hand.

“Romilda Vane,” Romilda replied, shaking it. Hermione gave the same greeting to Astoria. “You know, we need to find a way of disabling Malfoy’s perfume, just on principle.”

“I can do that,” Astoria said.

“Are you sure?” Harry asked.

“Yeah,” Hermione agreed. “We wouldn’t want Malfoy coming at you.”

“He’s afraid of my sister,” Astoria shrugged.

“Oh, right, Daphne,” Hermione said. “She doesn’t talk much. Harry, she’s the pretty one that sits next to Nott in potions.”

Harry nodded. “The one who walks around like she’s got something unpleasant stuck up her posterior.” Harry winced. “Sorry, I didn’t mean to insult your sister.”

“Heh,” Astoria giggled. “She only does that because she can’t do two things at the same time. She took a magazine to the restroom once and almost ended in hospital, as she was so engrossed in reading she forgot why she was there!”

Romilda burst into giggles, and to her surprise, so did Hermione.

“My father is the best-looking man I’ve ever seen, but he’s not the brightest torch on the wall. Mum married him in a fit of lust, but he does love her back, and he tries. Daph’s nice, but Father showed her how to act, and that’s how she stays. None of the idiots in Slytherin, and you know, the world realise that it’s Mum that has the real power; she’s the one that organises little accidents for outsiders when nasty things happen to our family. Everyone believes it’s Daph that causes them.”

“Interesting,” Hermione said with a small smile. “I take it Daphne’s getting help with her essays?”

Astoria nodded. “I do love her, so I help as much as I can.”

“That explains the disparity,” Hermione said happily. “It’s always bugged me that her class performance and her essays don’t match – but with every fourth, fifth, sixth and seventh year swearing that they hadn’t helped her, the professors just thought that she did better in an out-of-class atmosphere.

“But enough gossip, where are we on the research?”

“There’s no way out of it,” Harry said glumly. “The Goblet itself is an evil device that I’d be shocked is in use, if I hadn’t lived in this world for three years, and the first task is probably retrieving something that’s guarded by a beast.”

“What sort of beast?”

Harry shrugged. “Acromantula, Cerberus, knowing the Wizarding world, probably a Nundu or something equally as ridiculous.”

Hermione sighed deeply. “Great. So, ideas about how to get past some unknown creature? You could summon it?”

“Nope,” Astoria replied. “Two tournaments ago, that was tried, and it worked. They’ve put anti-summoning charms on the items since then.”

“Oh,” Hermione said abruptly. “So there are some wizards with common sense.”

“A few,” Romilda agreed.

“Maybe speed is the answer,” Hermione mused. “If you’re moving fast enough, you might be able to snatch it.”

“A broom?” Harry suggested. “I could summon a broom!”

“Yawn,” Romilda said loudly. “Boring. Next.”

“Well, excuse me for wanting to live,” Harry snapped.

“Live? Animals want to live , Harry. Sure, you’re stuck in a stupid tournament, sure, you don’t want to be here, and sure someone’s trying to kill you, but hiding’s hardly going to solve the problem, is it?”

“Romi,” Astoria sighed, “flying at a beast is an acceptable way of dealing with a situation. It minimises risk.”

“Yeah, but it’s so boring it sucks! It has no class, no style. Look, not only is he Harry, he’s the Harry Potter. Speaking of which, why don’t you use the name?”

“Huh?” Harry asked, looking confused.

“You know, give a few interviews, sell a couple of endorsements – the Harry Potter Lightning Bolt broom, you’d make a fortune!” Romilda said enthusiastically.

“I don’t want to be famous.”

“Too late,” Romilda sing-songed instantly. “You already are! Look, like it or not, you had something to do with Thingy dying. Tori thinks it was your mum or dad that did something, but regardless, you were involved. So you were and are famous.”

“Wait,” Harry said, looking at Astoria. “You think what?”

“Logically, it makes no sense that you are so magical that you survived a curse with a hundred percent success rate as a baby, so something else must have helped.”

Harry looked at Hermione, and smiled. Romilda wasn’t quite sure what the smile meant.

“We agree,” Hermione said lightly.

“That’s Astoria,” Romilda said, proud of her friend. “Who is following in your footsteps with her grades,” she said to Hermione.

“Only I’m not planning on taking as many classes as you did in the third year.”

Harry and Hermione shared another amused look. “Good for you,” Hermione said.

“Well, now that I’m embarrassed, meet Romilda, the person Snape hates the second most in the school – Harry being number one, obviously,” Astoria said.

“What? Why?” Harry demanded.

“Because Romi’s a genius at Potions. Better than any of his seventh years!”

Romilda felt herself blushing. “Gran’s really, really into Potions,” she explained, “and I’ve been helping her since I was five.”

“A Gryffindor, good at potions? It’s Snape’s worst nightmare, and he can’t even mark her grades down, because her aunt’s on the Potioneers Union Practical Potioneers Examining Team,” Astoria added.

Harry’s eyes shot to Hermione’s. “See, P.U.P.P.E.T. is better than S.P.E.W.”

Hermione stuck her tongue out.

“So, how is your social experiment going?” Astoria asked.

“What experiment?” Harry asked back, looking confused.

“Well, Hermione’s far too intelligent to start a campaign without checking the facts beforehand, so she must be running it as a social experiment to see who is influenced by peer pressure, and as a way of examining the general activities of House-elves.”

Romilda noticed both Hermione blushing and Harry noticing the same blush. Astoria, sitting on his other side was looking only at Harry.

“Interesting,” Harry said slowly, turning his amazing eyes on to Astoria, “I’m hideously lacking in knowledge when it comes to House-elves, and to be honest, despite having one as a friend, I’ve never looked into them.” He shrugged lightly. “I’d rather fly than actually do research,” he grinned at Tori, “so could you please give me a rundown on the House-elves?”

Astoria smiled brightly, and Romilda realised her friend had no idea Harry had asked for Hermione’s benefit. Right then she saw that he could have been a Slytherin. Hermione, on the other hand, had a grateful expression on her face now.

All Romilda’s plans about getting rid of Hermione were suddenly rendered moot. Harry and Hermione were friends, very close friends, with a protectiveness of each other that surprised her. But, the good thing was that she had seen the look on Harry’s face before, when Romilda had been protected by her brother.

Harry was protecting Hermione the same way a sibling would. Which meant that Hermione was not a romantic interest and therefore not threat, therefore she could be turned into a valuable ally.

Romilda started to pay attention again, as Astoria finished explaining about the symbiotic relationship between wizards and House-elves, and how some House-elves could draw their magic from magical buildings, if the building was magical enough, but they needed the permission of the owner. And in return for the magic, they would work as hard as they could for the providers.

“Dobby,” Harry called, as Astoria finished.

“That’s Malfoy’s House-elf,” Astoria said, as a strangely dressed House-elf appeared.

“Dobby is free House-elf,” Dobby replied.

“And a good friend of mine.”

The House-elf practically burst into tears.

“Are you okay drawing magic from Hogwarts, or would you like to draw from me as well?” He offered. “You don’t have to bind or anything, but I don’t want you suffering!”

Romilda felt her mouth open, as she stared in shock. A quick glance showed that the other two females in sight in the empty library were looking as shocked as she was.

Dobby appeared to have had his entire body frozen. It took him close to a minute to make a response, though it seemed much longer as he stood there motionless.

“Harry Potter sir is willing to share magic with House-elf, without bonds?”

“Of course Dobby, we’re friends,” Harry said simply, as if that made his utterly strange offer acceptable.

“Can Dobby be doing a spell on Harry Potter sir?”

Harry shrugged.

Dobby waved his hand, and nothing seemed to happen, except Dobby’s eyes widened. “Harry Potter sir is great and powerful wizard,” he said, but then the House-elf stopped.

“But what?” Romilda asked directly. “No one here is going to get mad at you for speaking the truth.”

Dobby took his ears in his hands and started to tug.

“Stop that,” Harry said irritably. “And speak. I’ve already been embarrassed today by idiots saying stuff that isn’t true, so I’d actually appreciate some truth about now.”

“Harry Potter sir is great and powerful wizard, but,” Dobby cringed, “he is smothering hims magics!”

Harry tilted his head. “I’m what now?”

“Stopping yours magics, Harry Potter sir, you is holding it really tights and squeezing its and it’s not growing!”

Dobby disappeared with a pop.

“Harry,” Hermione said suddenly, her tone sharp. Everyone looked at her, startled. “Are you a wizard?”

“Yes?” Harry asked.

“That sounded like a question. Are you a wizard?”

“Yes.”

“Do you want to survive this tournament?”

“Yes, you know that.”

“Do I?” she asked.

Harry looked hurt.

Romilda felt like she was at a tennis match, as she turned to look at each of them in turn. Rather than keep looking at each, Romilda looked directly at Harry once more, trying to understand what he was feeling.

There was a touch of anger, resignation, and hurt, but under that was… was… She closed her eyes and tried again; this sort of thing was in her blood, but she always found it so hard. Her gran could tell someone’s shoe size with a look, and then serve them their most innermost thoughts as a dessert. Romilda, on the other hand could barely guess someone’s sex right – although she would never confess getting that large Slytherin’s gender so very wrong.

How was she supposed to know Bulstrode wasn’t part troll?

“Average,” Romilda said suddenly.

She felt three pairs of eyes look at her. “Harry wants to be average,” she said. “He wants to fit in, and not stand out, to be average.”

“Why?” Astoria blurted in shock, looking at Harry.

Harry was looking around wildly, looking for escape.

“Don’t you dare try and run, Harry James Potter,” Hermione said firmly. “We are going to get to the bottom of this. And if I have to track you down for it, it will be much worse for you!”

“I could try logic?” Astoria suggested. “A personality is the particular combination of emotional, attitudinal, and behavioural response patterns of an individual, right?”

“That sounds like it came from the Encyclopaedia Britannica,” Hermione agreed.

Astoria nodded. “So, it would make sense that something in Harry’s life has made him feverishly desire being average.”

“Not average,” Hermione said suddenly. “Normal. That’s it, isn’t it? All your life, you’ve been told how good normal is, and how bad abnormal is?”

Harry didn’t say anything; he just looked down, and looked defeated.

“Harry,” Romilda said, drawing on all her empathy. It would be easier if she could take his hand, but she couldn’t work up the courage. “No one here is judging you, we just want to help you, we want to be friends, to have fun, to study, to play games, and to make sure that we can do that next year, and the year after, and the year after.”

Harry looked at her, and she could see the torment in his eyes.

“Hermione’s right, isn’t she, you’ve been indoctrinated haven’t you?”

He nodded stiffly, once.

Romilda wanted to hug him, but knew that this really wasn’t the time. She didn’t know how he’d react, and she really didn’t want to screw things up.

“You know what another word for abnormal is?” he asked, almost whispering. “Freak.”

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione whispered.

“Oi, gyppo whore, get the fuck over here; me and the boys need some entertainment,” Astoria said in a low flat voice. “If you’re good, we’ll give you a few shiny knuts for your time.”

Romilda looked at her friend, frowning. She really didn’t want to remember that day.

“You’re the second daughter, Greengrass, a worthless waste of flesh, but I’ll tell you what, come over here on your knees, and if you do a good job, I’ll take you as a mistress for a year or two, give you some real experience.” Astoria shrugged. “I was ten when that happened to me. Romi was eleven.”

“Who was it?” Harry demanded.

Astoria tilted her head to the side. “Why?”

“It’s disgusting,” Harry said, his eyes flashing.

“More disgusting than being called a freak by people who are supposed to love and support you?” Astoria asked.

Harry froze.

“So yeah, you were called a freak. I’ve had older men try to persuade me to blow them since I was ten, I don’t even know the first time that Romi was targeted for bigotry. But here’s the difference.” Astoria leaned in and stared at Harry. “Mum obliviated the git who propositioned me, and he’s now completely incontinent, and as for sex … well, his tackle dropped off three days afterwards.

“The men who tried to grab Romi were cursed. They’ve had nothing but bad luck since then. I bet most of them are in the gutter, barely alive, but with their lives destroyed. How’s your family , Harry?” She sneered the word, loading it with the contempt it deserved.

Harry shrugged slowly. “There’s nothing I can do, I have to go back there.”

“Why?”

“Professor Dumbledore said there are blood wards.”

“And?”

“Isn’t that enough?”

“Well, no, not really. If blood wards are that important to you, put up new ones; it will cost you about half a pint, but that’s it.”

Harry looked confused. “But… It needs my mum’s sister to work?”

“Aunt, right? The closer the family tie, the less blood you’d need. A few drops, maybe.”

“Hermione?” Harry asked, looking at the bushy-haired witch. Romilda turned to look as well, utterly fascinated.

Hermione blushed slowly. “I don’t know how those wards work,” she admitted in a small voice. “I’ve seen a few references, but nothing in depth.”

Astoria pulled out a piece of parchment and her quill. She scribbled on the parchment for a few seconds, and then passed it to Hermione. “Two books on warding, you can owl-order them.”

“Thank you,” Hermione said. “You’re paying for them.”

Harry half-smiled and nodded. He looked at Hermione for another long moment. “I’ll take one for the team,” he sighed. “Is it dark magic?”

“That depends on your definition of dark,” Romilda responded. The last thing she wanted was her friend being seen as invaluable, without her. “It’s normally seen in bad taste, and generally frowned upon, most people wouldn’t even mention it, because half a pint is a lot of blood, but it’s not illegal. Blood’s used all over the place in legal documents. Basically, you have to use a Blood Quill to write the runes in the key stone. It’s not difficult, it’s just unpleasant.”

“Does it hurt?” Harry asked curiously.

“Not unless you were using a blood quill that’s been cursed. The curse was a lovely option that was popular a hundred years ago to discipline unruly children,” Romilda said with a shrug. “It went the same way as corporal punishment in schools. It’s assault, basically; all the Aurors are pretty strict about it.

“But we’re drifting. In short, if blood wards are what you need, then half a pint and a blood replenishing potion and you’re set to go. I’m sure there are load of people who’d be happy to have you stay with them. Hell, I stay at Tori’s for most of the summer when my family’s traveling, because her place is so well warded.”

Astoria nodded. “I’ll bet that our family tree has someone in it that is related to the Potters. I can talk to Mum if you’d like?”

“I’ll ask Professor Dumbledore,” Harry said with a nod.

“Why?” Romilda asked.

“Because he said I have to say there.”

“So?”

Harry looked at Hermione. Hermione opened her mouth, and then closed it and shrugged. “Maybe he’s your guardian?”

“He’s never said so,” Harry replied slowly.

“Then he’s not, he’s probably just advising you because you’re the last of your line,” Astoria said. “So, yeah, anyway, we’ve gone off on a tangent again. Mum will find someone you can stay with, so with that out of the way, why hold yourself back.”

“Someone to stay with,” Harry muttered. “Sirius…”

Romilda jerked, and opened her mouth.

“Think, and then speak,” Astoria snapped before Romi could speak.

Romilda paused, and counted to ten. She took a deep breath. “I was only going to say that we could put a doozy of a curse on him, for betrayal!”

“Yes,” Astoria muttered, “which is why I stopped you. Use your gypsy power, girl!”

Romilda did as she was told, focusing on Harry, and all she was getting was a sense of family. And if he wasn’t scared, and thought of Sirius as family, well, then, something else had happened. “Black’s innocent?” she asked in disbelief.

“That’s what I figured,” Tori said in agreement. “It always seemed a little suspect, and the way Harry said his name combined with the rumours about last year, and well, it was suddenly obvious.” They both turned to look at Harry, who was looking at them in disbelief.

“Peter Pettigrew was my parent’s secret keeper. He framed Sirius, and turned into his Animagus form, a rat, and escaped. He then hid at the Weasleys for years.”

“Ooo, oo, ooo!” Romilda said, bouncing in her seat. “So you should be able to get some of the rat hair?”

“Potentially,” Hermione said slowly, “especially if Ron’s habits extend to other places. Why?”

“Because he’s betrayed Harry, as completely and utterly as it is possible to do so, we can use that that betrayal to give him such a cursing!”

“Really?” Harry asked. “Like what?”

“Well, personally, I’d like to use the one where every time he goes to the toilet, it feels like someone is ripping his balls off with a nail-spiked glove. And then, we can add the one where he feels the overwhelming urge to streak in public – so that he gets arrested regularly, and no one has any respect for him, or use for him, and he dies alone!”

Harry blinked. “That second one,” he said, “it forces him to streak in public?”

Romilda nodded.

Harry slowly started to smirk. “Oh, yes,” he said, rubbing his hands together. “Yes, indeed.” He paused. “Can we time, roughly, when he’d do so, after the curse?”

Romilda opened her mouth, paused, and then nodded slowly. She looked at Harry directly. “That depends. Your average wizard or witch can cast the curse, and if they have been betrayed, it would work – eventually.

“A really powerful wizard, on the other hand, one who was comfortable with himself, one who wasn’t squishing his magic, well, he could set the curse to go off to the minute.”

“Seriously?” Harry asked, excitedly. “To the minute?”

Romilda nodded. She pulled her wand out, and held it in her left hand. “On the breath of my forebears, on the dreams of my children yet to be, on the punishment of pain too much to bear, I swear that I have not led you false.”

There was a soft light, and nothing else. Romilda had often used this oath when she was a lot younger (and innocent) to get out of trouble. She hadn’t realised until later that her not offering to do this on other occasions normally meant she was guilty.

“That’s great, Hermione,” Harry said excitedly, looking at his friend. “I can curse Pettigrew to reveal himself in public, that will show that he’s alive, and get Sirius a trial, where he can finally prove his innocence, and then I can use the blood to move the wards, and live with him!” Harry’s eyes started to flash, “and then I can have friends around, and visit them, and everything,” he continued with enthusiasm.

“If you’re actually a powerful wizard,” Hermione interrupted dryly. “And not some middle of the road, normal, non-freak.”

Harry paused. “I just want to be normal,” he said softly. “You know? Not show off, not scare away friends.”

“I won’t be jealous, Harry,” Hermione stated. “I’m better than you in academics.”

“I’ll always be better than you at potions,” Romilda added confidently.

“I know far more about how our world works,” Astoria finished. She gave Harry a cheeky grin, “and my Charms essay that Daph entered last week got a better mark than yours,” she finished impishly.

“Dobby is good cleaning House-elf,” the House-elf piped up, reappearing with a snap. Romilda had actually forgotten he’s been there; they’d never had House-elves growing up, and she had adopted everyone else’s attitude toward them when she had arrived at Hogwarts.

“Ron,” Harry said weakly.

“Friends stick by you,” Hermione said with a shrug.

Harry took a deep breath, and then exhaled slowly. He closed his eyes.

“Oooooo,” Dobby whispered. “Harry Potter sir is great and powerful.”

The pen on the table started to rattle. “Harry?” Hermione asked.

Harry opened his eyes. They were glowing the most amazing green colour, “I’ve let it out, and now I can’t stop it,” he said worriedly.

The chair Romilda was sitting on started to vibrate as well.

Hermione rushed around the table, and hugged Harry. Romilda looked at Astoria, they met each other’s eyes, before they shifted so that they could join in the hug.

As soon as Romilda touched Harry, she felt magic surge into her, in the single most amazing magical feeling she’d ever experienced. She felt herself absorbing some of it, and could see that Astoria was doing the same thing, her blue eyes were glowing as well.

Suddenly, it started to diminish.

“Let him go,” Astoria mouthed, “we don’t want him to freak out!”

She took the advice, and regained her seat. Hermione did the same thing a few seconds later. The House-elf looked amazed at what he’d just seen.

“That feels good,” Harry admitted. “Thanks. For everything.”

Romilda beamed at him, as did Astoria.

“So, Harry, I expect you’re going to do better in practical demonstrations now that you’re not trying to do the spells with most of your power locked away?” Hermione said, in a very firm tone.

“I guess,” Harry muttered.

“No, not ‘I guess’. Think of Sirius. You’ll need to practice to get used to your power, so you can use the curse!”

“I will,” Harry said firmly.

Astoria looked at her watch. “Okay, this has been fun, but curfew is in a few minutes. We should do it again tomorrow, so we can work out how Harry’s going to survive.”

“Oi,” Romilda interrupted, “Harry’s going to rock this tournament, none of this barely surviving. He’s got two smart girls to help with the spells, and me to help with the important style! He’ll send the Veela home in tears, send the Quidditch brute back to his broom, and make the pretty boy feel as inadequate as his ability in bed!”

Romilda felt everyone look at her.

“How do you know about his ability in bed?” Astoria asked.

“Oh, he nailed one of my cousins last summer. Well, if you can call thirty seconds of vigorous thrusting followed by ten minutes of crying ‘sex’!”

Astoria and Hermione giggled, while Harry had a weird expression on his face. “Which one was cry…” he started. “You know what? Forget it. I don’t want to know.”

“So anyway, my point is, with my style, Hermione’s smarts, Astoria’s ability to extract every advantage from the rule book, and Harry’s power, we’ll help Harry be a legend, and he can use that, so that when we curse Pettigrew, he can publicly demand a trial for Sirius to find out what the flip happened all those years ago!”

“Harry,” Hermione said gently. “I think Romilda is right. If the Harry Potter turns up at the tournament, does well – amazingly well – then demands to know how his godfather spent years in prison for Pettigrew’s murder, if Pettigrew is apparently still alive – think of it, the political pressure will be massive, it’ll be unstoppable.”

Harry looked down. He took another deep breath. When he raised them, there was a new determination in his eyes. “For Sirius, and for myself. Let’s do this!”

“All right!” Romilda yelled, jumping to her feet. “This is going to kick arse!” She paused, to see the other three giggling at her. She pouted at them. “Fine, you Englishmen have the enthusiasm of dead squids! I’ll just celebrate for all of us.” She raised her hands above her head and did a little Gypsy dance on the spot, one with a lot of little jumps and sharp changes of vertical direction. She was well aware that it made certain parts bounce around as well.

Astoria rolled her eyes, but smiled as well. She stood. “Right, I need to head back. We going to meet here tomorrow?”

“It will be a bit public,” Hermione frowned.

“Oh, Dobby is knowing a place!” Dobby said. “Is room of many things. Will be perfect for Harry Potter sir.”

“Have you got your magic, yet, Dobby?” Harry asked.

Dobby shook his head shyly. “Sir is being sure?”

“Yup.”

Dobby made a wave with his right hand and then his eyes bulged, and he actually grew an inch – fortunately his tea-towel clothing was still long enough to cover him. “Dobby is whole!” The House-elf jumped up and down in joy, before hugging Harry hard.

“Dobby, can I ask you to do me a really nasty favour?”

Dobby nodded eagerly.

“Can you check Ron’s stuff for rat hair?”

Dobby sniggered, and snapped his fingers. A robe appeared. Dobby peered in the pocket and then handed Harry a few hairs.

“Not nasty, that’s just cleanings. Dobby will show Harry Potter sir the special room in morning. Dobby needs go tell other House-elves about how lucky Dobby is!” The House-elf popped away.

“Are you okay getting back on your own, Astoria?” Harry asked.

“Yup, no problem,” Astoria said.

Romilda walked around the table and hugged her friend. “See you tomorrow.”

“Yup, bye Harry, Hermione.”

“Bye, Astoria,” they said in unison, and Astoria walked out.

“Come on,” Hermione said, picking up her bag. “Let’s get back to the tower.”

Romilda picked up her bag, and was thrilled that she and Tori had been accepted as friends. They walked in companionable silence, and all too soon they entered the Common Room.

There was a hush, again, as they entered, and everyone stared at them with distrust. After everything that she had learnt about Harry today, about his family, Romilda felt her temper erupt.

“Merlin, you people suck,” Romilda said loudly. “I guess what people say is true, Gryffindor is the house of leftover losers. Not loyal enough for Hufflepuff, certainly not smart enough for Ravenclaw, not even cunning enough for Slytherin, so you losers got here by default, because you certainly aren’t brave enough to be Gryffindors.” She spat on the floor in front of them to show her contempt. “Tosspots, the lot of you. And worse, hypocritical tosspots. How many of you tried to enter and failed? Are you jealous? You are pathetic.”

Romilda fluffed her hair. “Night, Hermione, Harry,” she said, and walked in to her dorm room.

---

“It’s actually good to know where I stand with you lot,” Harry said in to the stunned silence. Hermione looked at him sharply; she hadn’t expected him to say anything.

He shrugged. “McGonagall said your house is supposed to be family.” He snorted. “You are. Arrogant and bigoted bullies, just like the Dursleys; we may be in the same house, but you are acquaintances, nothing more, nothing less.” He turned, and for the first time that Hermione could remember, he hugged her. “Night, Hermione.”

“Night, Harry,” she replied, as he walked off, his gait far more upright than it had been just a few hours ago. She was aware that everyone was looking at her, and she looked back, seeing what Harry and Romilda had seen. She saw scrapping children. In the corner of her eye, Ron looked like he was fuming, and she found that she didn’t care. Before, she had been torn, not wanting to lose either of her two friends; now she wasn’t. Tonight she’d made friends with a couple of girls who were smart, funny, and didn’t care that she was brainy. And more, one was a friendly pureblood, the other a full gypsy, both with access to magic she’d never even seen before.

She shook her head in displeasure and walked to her dorm. She quickly cleansed herself and got into bed. It was only when she was behind silenced curtains that she allowed herself to laugh at the expression of a whole house full of Gryffindors looking scared of a second year that was proud of being a gypsy.

---

“Harry Potter sir?”

Harry awoke with a groan, to see Dobby hovering over him. He bit back his instinctive urge to swear at the elf. The face was not one he wanted to wake up to. “Dobby?”

Dobby nodded urgently. “Dobby was wondering. Dobby is telling other House-elves that you is letting me be sharing magics without bond. Other House-elves are wondering if great and powerful Harry Potter sir would be freeing thems as well?”

“Do I have enough magic?” Harry asked tiredly.

Dobby nodded hard. “Enough magic for lots and lots and lots of House-elves, with plenty spare for Harry Potter sir to be great and powerful wizard.”

“Then yeah, tell ’em to knock themselves out,” Harry yawned, as he turned over and went back to sleep. He didn’t even notice as House-elves joined him, quietly standing behind Dobby.

---

In the Hogwarts kitchen, there was something of a party going on. Far more House-elves than had ever been seen at Hogwarts were dancing with each other, while others were drinking Butterbeer. The noise level was huge, before one House-elf floated up to the ceiling, stopping just short.

“Cully is calling for attention,” the House-elf shouted.

The other House-elves quietened down. “So, House-elves are being free,” he said. “And House-elves are being powered, but House-elves need to hide it, right?”

“Right,” the other House-elves shouted back.

“How is we doings that?” Cully asked. “And would Great and Powerful and Really Great Harry Potter mind?”

Dobby floated up. “Great Harry Potter would not mind. Hims being embarrassed by praise for helpings. Hims always been great to Dobby, even when Dobby was bad House-elf.”

There was a series of sighs of pleasure from the House-elves.

“Hows we hiding it?” Cully asked again.

“Old House-elf McFooie knows!” a House-elf shouted.

“Speak, old House-elf!”

“Wizards are thinking House-elves are being stupids,” he stated, to some irritated grumblings from the gathered House-elves. “We plays on that.”

“Ooooo,” came the noise from the crowd.

“How?” Cully asked.

“We says that we don’t need wizards anymore,” McFooie said.

“But we does, we is needing Great and Powerful Harry Potter sir.”

“Ahhh,” McFooie called. “But he is being wizard , not wizards !”

“Ooooo,” the crowd chorused again.

“McFooie is wise old House-elf,” Cully said. “So is agreed, we is telling wizards we doesn’t need wizards?”

Everyone nodded.

“But,” Cully continued. “We has to look for ways for us to gets free of even Harry Potter sirs, not for us, but for our children’s children’s children, when Great and Powerful Harry Potter sir is gettings olds.”

There was a lot of nodding. “But as we is being frees, we can now be lookings for it, without breaking our words.”

There was a huge cheer from the gathered House-elves.

“That is being for later. Now is being for party!”

“What abouts breakfast?”

Cully smiled evilly. “Cully has plan!”

---

“Romi?”

Romilda rolled out of her burrow in the covers, and grabbed the mirror she always kept in bed with her. “Tori?”

“I’ve found out what Malfoy is planning,” she said, already rolling her eyes. “He’s thought up some badges that switch between saying ‘Support Cedric Diggory’ and then ‘Potter Stinks.’ He’s paying a seventh year to make them.”

Romilda blinked. “Potter stinks?”

Astoria nodded.

“What is he, six?”

“Well, he doesn’t bathe; he has no manners, no sophistication, no deportment, no taste, and no ability in class. And he doesn’t know how to talk to girls.”

“So yes,” Romilda said and giggled. “He’s six.”

“Tori, I told off the Gryffindor house last night. I lost my temper.”

“Could you try losing your temper at all the other houses?”

Romilda shook her head. “You know I look weird when I fake it.”

“True,” Astoria mused. “Anyway, can you let Harry and Hermione know?”

“Will do, see you after breakfast.”

Astoria nodded and vanished from the mirror, and Romilda reluctantly rolled out of bed and started to get ready for the day. She arrived in the common room, to find that it was empty. She hadn’t even seen her roommates earlier.

She was joined a few moments later by Hermione. “Quiet, isn’t it?” Hermione said.

“Yeah, not seen anyone this morning.”

“They’re either mad or ashamed,” Hermione said with a shrug.

“It doesn’t matter,” Romilda said with a matching shrug. “Losers.”

Hermione giggled, and then looked up as Harry entered. He’d showered, and had his robes draped over his arm. “Morning,” he said. He paused, and looked at Hermione. “Erm.”

“Erm?” Hermione asked.

“I kinda allowed some House-elves to use my power last night, like Dobby.”

“Some?”

Harry shrugged. “I think it might have been all of the Hogwarts House-elves. Dobby said they wanted to be powered and not bonded.”

Hermione dived forward and hugged Harry hard. “Now you don’t have to wear a S.P.E.W. badge,” she joked.

“Hurray,” Harry replied dryly, weakly waving his hands.

“I won’t tell Astoria,” Romilda volunteered.

“Thank you,” Hermione said primly. “I’ve learnt a lesson I won’t forget. I got so caught up in the idea of emancipating slaves, that I didn’t bother to actually find out what it would do to them.” She paused, “or think of such an obvious way around it.” She had a proud look on her face that made Harry blush slightly.

“Okay, Tori found out that Malfoy’s paid someone to create badges that say ‘Support Cedric Diggory’ and then ‘Potter stinks.’”

Harry blinked. “What is he, six?”

Romilda laughed. “That’s exactly what I said! And we agreed that he is.”

“Okay, let’s go to breakfast,” Harry said. “And see who is wearing these badges.”

They walked downstairs, finding that everyone must be at breakfast already. They entered, and Malfoy immediately shouted, “Oi, Potter, seen these?” He showed off the badge proudly.

Harry paused in the doorway. Romilda frowned, wondering why the professors weren’t doing anything.

“Potter stinks?” Harry asked. “What are you, Malfoy, six?” He turned his back and walked to the foot of the Gryffindor table. Romilda looked around, and was surprised at just how many students were wearing them. Even some of the French and German students were sporting the insulting badges. She knew Astoria would have memorised each and every student who was wearing them.

Romilda wasn’t surprised that every single Hufflepuff was wearing them. She joined Harry at the table with Hermione, and started to eat the breakfast that appeared on the table.

“What’s this?” someone shouted from the Ravenclaw table. Uproar quickly followed. Harry and Hermione looked confused, and then up the table. It seemed that all the other students were having a thin gruel for breakfast.

Romilda snagged another sausage and ate it quickly, just in case it might disappear.

“Potter!” Snape yelled, “What have you done!”

Romilda turned and stared at him.

“I have done nothing, nothing at all,” Harry replied evenly.

“Detention, and fifty points from Gryffindor for interfering with the food!”

Nothing happened. Harry looked surprised.

“One hundred points from Gryffindor!” Snape yelled. Nothing happened again.

From the Slytherin table, Astoria stood and walked over to them. Everyone was watching her. She paused as she passed Snape. “You, sir, are despicable. I cannot live as a charge of a bigoted bully like you,” she said calmly, and joined them at the table. “What I find really curious, is that your head of house hasn’t even tried to defend you,” she said to Harry.

“You’re right,” Harry said, ignoring the fuming Snape. “And after last night, this is the final straw. I’ve not done a thing about the food… say, is there a way to leave a House?”

Astoria nodded. “It’s done like this. I, Astoria Greengrass, hereby renounce any association with Slytherin House, on the grounds that it’s run by an arrogant offensive bully with spotty hygiene and scant teaching skills.”

The Slytherin colours vanished from her robes.

Harry nodded. “I, Harry James Potter, hereby renounce my claim to Gryffindor House, on the grounds that the Head of House condones bullying and that the students are cowards.” The Gryffindor colours vanished from his robes.

Romilda smiled. “I, Romilda Rowena Vane, hereby renounce any to Gryffindor House, on the grounds that Gryffindor no longer stands for the values that I believe in.”

“I, Hermione Jean Granger, hereby renounce any to Gryffindor House, because it is not a place that I can legitimately call home.”

Romilda looked up at the Professors’ table, to see McGonagall with a hand over her heart, and a distraught look on her face.

Astoria calmly helped herself to some of the lovely food near the three former Gryffindors. She paused, and looked at Snape, who was glaring at them. “If you don’t mind, Professor?” she asked politely. “We are trying to eat.”

Professor Snape hovered, before he snarled and retreated. Dumbledore was frowning at them, and down at his plate.

“Cully,” he called.

A House-elf appeared in front of him. The House-elf stood up straight. “Professor Dumbledore?”

“There appears to be a problem with the food,” Dumbledore said genially.

Cully looked around. “Cully is not seeing problems,” the House-elf replied.

“There appears to be gruel for breakfast, rather than the wonderful spread you usually provide.”

Cully nodded in agreement. “Yes, gruel,” he agreed. “What is being the problems?”

Dumbledore paused. “Why are we being served gruel?”

Cully smiled happily. “Because you is bullies, and some of you is stinky,” he explained eagerly. “And bullies get gruel.” The House-elf nodded firmly. “Also, House-elves are fed up of dealing with students who don’t bathe. Students who don’t bathe can be doing their own laundries!”

Dumbledore blinked. “I’m sorry, Cully, but I am going to have to order you to make a proper breakfast.”

“Cully thinks that Dumbledore can take his orders and be shoving thems into a small, smelly place where things have been shoved before.”

Romilda almost choked on the egg she’d just taken a bite of.

“Cully, you are demoted. Sharder?”

Another House-elf appeared. “You’s calling Sharder?”

“Sharder, I’m afraid that Cully is no longer head House-elf.”

“Sharder is thinking that Dumbledore is being barmy,” Sharder said. “Barmy peoples not giving Sharder orders.” The House-elf nodded, and popped out.

“Elves are having own power now, House-elves no longer needing wizards,” Cully said, “House-elves are liking work, so House-elves will continue works, but House-elves are no longer following bad orders.” Dumbledore paled dramatically, as did some of the other humans.

Dumbledore gulped. “Cully, how many House-elves are having their own power?”

Cully smiled. “Alls five five of House-elf fingers times House-elf fingers of them.”

There was a series of gasps. Hermione looked at Harry, who blinked in surprise. “What do you know,” he whispered, “it is my fault that they have poor food after all.”

"Shush," Hermione whispered, her face twitching as she tried to keep a straight face.

“House-elves is no longer needing wizards to live. If House-elves not be treated right, House-elves vanish, and wizards can be making their own cleans and foods.” Cully vanished, leaving a stunned looking Dumbledore.

“Dobby,” Harry called. The excitable House-elf appeared instantly. “Do you know somewhere where four house-less students can stay?”

Dobby nodded enthusiastically. “Has male and female sections, and small common room,” he added. “Harry Potter sir is wanting his stuff moving?”

“Please, Dobby, and could you take care of Tori, Romi and Hermione’s stuff as well?”

“Dobby can be doings that!”

“Thank you, my friend.”

The House-elf shivered in pleasure and popped away. Harry reached out for another piece of toast, and spread some butter and jam oven it. The crunch seemed extra loud, as he took a bite. The taste seemed enhanced by the fact most everyone else was eating gruel. When he had finished, he looked at the others. “Shall we head out?”

“Mr Potter,” Dumbledore called. “My office, please?”

“Why?” Astoria asked. “Because if it’s more bullying, I’m going to have to let Mum know.”

“Bullying is another form of betrayal,” Romilda added eagerly, as it occurred to her. “I can do a gypsy curse for betrayal – it’s really, really nasty!”

“No, Miss Greengrass, Miss Vane, it’s just that I was going to ask Mr Potter about the House-elves. And about the House issue.”

“Oh, you mean our friends?” Hermione asked sweetly. “Friends help each other out, Professor. They don’t make snap judgements without the facts. As for the House issue, why, the Ravenclaws are bullies and made a decision without bothering to find out facts, the Hufflepuffs showed that they are only just and loyal to themselves, and don’t particularly care about honesty, probity, and character, and as for the Slytherins, they have to hide behind Professor Snape to even get close to winning the House Cup, which is hardly cunning and ambitious. So thank you, but I am quite happy to be houseless at Hogwarts.”

“Me too,” Romilda said happily, hearing Astoria agree with her.

“And as for supervision,” Harry said slowly, “it’s not going to be any different. At Gryffindor, we’d average a teacher poking her head into the common room once a month.” He smiled. “As for the House-elves, as Hermione said, Dobby’s always been my friend. If there’s nothing else, then I really need to start studying for the tournament. Tori, is the Goblet of Fire common knowledge?”

“Of course not, do you think the other schools would have agreed to come if they’d known that it was a Class One restricted item powered by a six-fold human blood sacrifice.”

“What!” the French Headmistress bellowed, closely followed by the Bulgarian one saying something similar. “Dumblydoor, is thees true?”

As Dumbledore turned, Harry walked out, quickly followed by Astoria and Hermione. Romilda joined them.

“Astoria!” They all turned, to see Daphne, Astoria’s older sister, jogging after them. “Why are you doing this?”

“Mum’s third golden rule of life.”

“If the world is going right, go left,” Daphne recited, nodding her head with certainty.

Astoria nodded and pointed to the badge on Daphne’s chest. Daphne looked at it and frowned. She took it off. She looked apologetic.

“Yeah, I know, Daph,” Astoria said softly, “you don’t like to rock the boat. It’s okay, honest.”

Daphne smiled brightly, “Okay then.”

“Stay out of trouble.”

“That should be my advice to you,” Daphne said with a slight frown. “But you’ve always been the smart one. Thank you.” She nodded at the others, and walked off, her posture correct.

“Rooms are being ready, Harry Potter sir,” Dobby said, as he appeared with a pop.

---

“What is going on, Dumbledore?” Fudge demanded as he entered the office with Lucius Malfoy and his undersecretary.

Albus paused, and stared at Fudge. After the day he’d had, he was not going to be talked to like that by anyone. “I beg your pardon?”

Fudge looked blank.

“My title, Minster, is Chief Warlock of the Wizengamot, or Supreme Mugwump of the International Confederation of Wizards, or even Headmaster of Hogwarts.”

“What are you blathering on about, Dumbledore?”

Albus smiled grimly. “Minister, you will address me with the respect I am due, or you will be ejected from Hogwarts.”

“Ah hem-hem, it sounds like you are threatening the Minister?”

“Dolores, shut up,” Albus snapped. “Now, Minister, you were saying?”

Fudge swallowed. “My apologies, Chief Warlock.”

“Quite alright, it has been a tiring day,” Albus said, once more falling in to the role he knew infuriated his peers most. “Now, what can I do for you?”

Fudge floundered for a second, and Lucius stepped in. “We are concerned about the fate of the Elves, and the current state of the I.C.W.,” he said in a tone that made Dumbledore want to blast the man through the window.

“Well,” Dumbledore said with a smile, “you’ll be delighted to know that I have already complied with the I.C.W.’s request, by passing Oath-validated memories of the discussions in which the three of you demanded that the Triwizard Tournament take place this year, over my strong objections. I’m sure they will be delighted with the part where you, Lucius, and you, Delores, demanded that we use the Class One restricted item, the one powered by a blood sacrifice, on innocent school children.

“I’m afraid that the I.C.W. believes that to be rather illegal. I, myself, am going to have to stand down from the I.C.W. for my involvement in the setting up of the tournament, for not making it clear to Beauxbatons and Durmstrang about the nature of the artefact, and for not bringing this to the I.C.W. You two are facing a full investigation for your demands that we use it.”

Lucius and Delores paled dramatically.

“Additionally, Minister, I’m afraid that there will be no hiding place for you, either.” Albus smiled grimly.

“As for the House-elves, they have managed to find a magical source that does not require a slavery contract.”

“This is disastrous,” Fudge moaned.

“Yes, it is,” Albus agreed. “If I can’t negotiate with the House-elves, Hogwarts may have to close. Fortunately, they appear to be continuing to work at the moment, but obviously, without a contract, that leaves us in a tenuous position.

“As such, and as is written in the Hogwarts Charter, I am declaring a full investigation into the school, and myself. I have requested from the I.C.W. a team to audit Hogwarts fully. This investigation will start with the Governors, and will work their way down through the senior leadership team, and the rest of my colleagues, and end with our groundskeeper and our caretaker.

“The I.C.W. is already assembling an independent team. As for the Wizengamot, I have already sent them a letter explaining just why we are facing the worst international diplomatic crisis in many years. It may surprise you to lean that the I.C.W. looks very poorly on a country that uses a cursed object to enslave a witch from France and a famous wizard from Bulgaria.”

Albus almost smiled at the expressions on the three in front of him, and would have, if he didn’t feel such overwhelming guilt himself.

After Harry, Hermione, and his two new friends had walked out this morning, he’d actually stepped back and looked at himself.

He had not liked what he had seen.

He had not mentioned the badges this morning, partly because they were childish, and partly because he thought it might be character-building for Harry. He hadn’t even thought that his lack of action had meant that he was condoning bullying. But he had, and he couldn’t deny it. He knew that Minerva was utterly devastated, more so, because like him, she had no excuse.

And now he had three ex-Gryffindors and one ex-Slytherin, as well as fuming visitors from foreign schools, and chagrined students who’d been given limp ham sandwiches and cold chips for lunch. Not to mention a schoolful of children who had just discovered they could ditch their houses.

At least their guests were getting something slightly better, and the odd student here and there was getting some decent food. One Slytherin had tried to take good food from a third year Ravenclaw, only for a House-elf to appear, tell him that bullying was bad, and transfigure his robes into a coal sack without sleeves or trouser legs.

Albus had made a note to call the Slytherin into his office later.

“Well,” he said, “I’m sure you’ll want to prepare for the I.C.W. investigation Lucius, I will accept your resignation letter in the morning.”

“What?” Lucius asked, his head snapping up.

“Hogwarts by-laws,” Dumbledore pointed out. “Signed by you, I believe, that states that no one under I.C.W. investigation can be employed by Hogwarts.”

Lucius’ eyes flashed, before he nodded. “After I clear my name…”

“Are you accusing me of supplying false evidence to an I.C.W. investigation?” Albus thundered, jumping to his feet. He allowed his magic to flare; he was a lot of things, but a liar he was not.

Lucius shook his head urgently. “No, not at all.”

“Then there will be no clearing of your name,” Albus said quietly, in an even tone. “All the officials involved have sworn vows of honesty. This investigation will be public, and completely transparent.”

Lucius looked at him in abject horror. Even without using Legilimency, Albus knew what he was thinking: No, no, that’s not the way it’s done.

“Now, you may all leave.” The three practically ran from his office, and Albus sat down. He sighed; he hadn’t done that in years. As he had gotten older, he had found himself enjoying playing political games, so much so that he was extremely concerned that he had forgotten why he was playing in the first place.

He had not used his magical power in years, almost encouraging his enemies to work against him, so that he could defeat them in other ways.

It hadn’t taken much to persuade the I.C.W. to enforce honesty charms on all the investigators, and he’d been the bonder as well.

His guilt in not taking down the powerful enemies years before was absolute.

---

“Jinky,” Filius called hopefully. The House-elf that assisted him the most appeared. “Can I ask you a question?” he asked, aware that he was already asking one, but knowing that the House-elf would interpret his words correctly.

“Yous can,” Jinky replied with a nods. “Jinky not answering some questions, though.”

“I noticed that Luna, the blonde third year, received some decent food at lunch. Why?”

“Loveygirl is being nice,” Jinky said with a nod. “She is being bullying victim as well, from other claws.”

Filius closed his eyes for a second. That had actually physically hurt to hear. “Thank you, Jinky.”

Jinky nodded. “Sir is always being nice,” she said, before popping away, she returned a second later with a large roast beef sandwich, leaving it on his table.

“Sir has been failing at his job,” Filius said sadly. He looked at the sandwich regretfully, before he turned and walked to the Ravenclaw common room, leaving the sandwich on the table.

He entered, and saw the Ravenclaws gathered around desks and on couches, as normal.

“House Meeting,” he called. It took five minutes for all his kids to be sat in rows in front of him. He raised his wand. With a few flicks and jabs, he called out the truth charm. While some of his seniors could possibly beat it, none of the younger ones would be able to.

He stood in front of them, on a pedestal, and stared for a long moment. “I have been remiss in my duties. Hands up, everyone who has been involved in bullying another Ravenclaw.”

The number of hands that slowly went up broke his heart. He truly did not want to know if even more people were involved in inter-house bullying.

---

Pomona Sprout stared at the portrait of Helga Hufflepuff. For the first time, she felt like the portrait was judging her, and finding her wanting.

She’d been so excited when Cedric had been chosen to compete, and so upset when Potter had cheated his way in. She, like the rest of her ’Puffs, had felt like Harry had stolen some of their thunder. Not once did she look at things from Harry’s perspective.

Despite everything, she had listened to Severus’ vicious words, and allowed herself to believe the worst of Potter. And this morning, she had been pleased with the show of support for Cedric, and had ignored the other message. She had almost worn one herself.

She counted herself fortunate she hadn’t.

But not once had she thought about what it was called when an entire school turns on an innocent person, and worse, when professors allow it.

“Come in,” she called, after a knock on her door. Cedric entered and sat opposite her. “Professor Sprout,” he said in a low voice. “What if Potter didn’t put his name in?”

“It occurs to me,” Pomona replied, “that either Mr Potter is clever enough to bypass Professor Dumbledore’s protections, with no one knowing, or he is innocent.” She felt her stomach clench. “Carty?”

The House-elf appeared. “Carty, did Harry Potter put his name in the cup?”

Carty shook her head hard. “Harry the Greatest never went near the cup; hims didn’t want anything to do with it.”

“Thank you.”

Carty nodded and vanished.

“Shit,” Cedric muttered.

Pomona couldn’t find it in her heart to chastise him. If she’d asked that question twenty-four hours ago, none of this would have happened. He stood. “I’ll tell the others.”

Pomona went back to staring at the portrait of her Founder.

---

Severus Snape looked around his office, and then down at his possessions. Twenty-four hours ago, he’d been delighted that he could vent some of his hatred of James Potter at his son. Even this morning, he’d been happy to take advantage of the situation with the food.

Only, somehow, the points system hadn’t worked, and Potter hadn’t been guilty. He’d thought that because James Potter would have done it, his son would have as well.

And that, possibly, was his problem. He always saw James when he looked at Harry.

He wasn’t hanging around in Hogwarts. He knew that Albus would not be able to protect him from the I.C.W. investigation, and with Lucius under a separate investigation, he was left short of allies.

He was going to have to go out on his own, and pay his debt by reporting to Albus from outside. He’d drop Albus an owl as soon as he had somewhere safe to stay. At least there was no magical issues with breaking his contract. He’d never be able to teach again, but that was a blessing more than a curse.

He looked at his belongings once more, and had the urge to pout. Every time he tried to pack something that wasn’t his, such as ingredients purchased with his department budget, they were removed from his case.

He sighed, and picked up the bag, and headed out. He still might have gotten away with it, if it wasn’t for those meddling kids.

---

Barty Crouch Junior, in the guise of his kidnapped victim, stared out the window, wondering just how everything had gone so wrong.

He’d placed Potter in the competition, and now because of some stupid House-elves, everything was falling down. House-elves, of all creatures!

He shook his head, and opened the chest that was holding his victim. He met the hate-filled eyes of the real Alastair Moody, before he raised his wand. Moody tensed. “Avada Kedavra,” he said. Moody jumped, but the curse still hit him.

Crouch turned, picked up his bag, and hurried out the door. He wasn’t hanging around for the I.C.W. to investigate him. They were bloody bureaucrats, and there was no way he’d be allowed to sip from his flask during the interminable interviews they would set.

---

Albus groaned as the wards reported a killing curse. Could this day get any worse? He popped immediately to the room that the wards reported, to find no one there. He looked around, and spotted the open trunk. He peered in and gasped. Quickly, he jumped in and floated down. Moody was tied up, but was still breathing.

Dumbledore released him, and Alastor jumped to his feet, and stumbled as his fake leg cracked. The retired Auror braced himself against a wall, before pushing off, and punching Albus as hard as he could.

Albus stumbled back, before landing on his bottom. “How, in the sweet name of magic, could you not recognise that Barty Crouch Junior was impersonating me with Polyjuice, did I teach you nothing about Constant Vigilance, you senile ignoramus!”

Albus sighed. ‘Yes’, he thought, ‘my day could get worse.’

---

Minerva McGonagall was in a complete quandary. She didn’t know if she should hand in her resignation, or try and fix things.

Her problem was that she was wearing too many hats. She was the Transfiguration Professor, the Deputy Headmistress, and the Head of Gryffindor house.

And of the three, she had failed the most at the latter, and almost as much at being Deputy Headmistress. She still didn’t know why she hadn’t stopped the badges this morning. She’d known that they were a bad thing, but hadn’t dealt with it.

And then she’d had to watch as three of her Gryffindors had completely and utterly rejected the rest of the students, and worse, had been careful in their vows so that the blame was placed firmly on her Gryffindors and on her.

All of it could have been avoided if she had just asked Harry if he’d put his name in. But they hadn’t, and she hadn’t, and afterwards she hadn’t stood up for him.

And she could not answer the simple question of why .

Why had she not interfered with the badges? Why had she not checked on Harry last night? Why had she not discussed the issue with her Gryffindors?

She sighed once more. She needed to remove at least one hat. And it was either going to be the Deputy Headmistress hat or the Head of Gryffindor hat.

And she didn’t know which one to pick.

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Author Notes:

Romilda Vane and Astoria Greengrass both just seemed to appear in canon for specific purposes.  As they both fascinated me, I wanted to write about them.

That said, there is no romance involving Harry in this.  A couple of side characters do get together, but Harry doesn't.

I'm pretty sure than anything else I could say would include spoilers, so I'll leave it at this.

Until next week.

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