With thanks to Kokopelli and Luan Mao for their hard work.
“I am not a dog,” Harry replied evenly.
“You’re working like one!”
“What does that even mean, Hermione? Most dogs I know prefer to spend their time napping or licking their own balls.”
“Harry!” Hermione protested. “First, don’t be crude, second, its etymology is based on sawyers working on a split-level system to saw through large trees. The one on top was the top-dog, while the one on the bottom was the under-dog. So it meant manual labourers, who did work incredibly hard.”
“So, sit.” Hermione looked around. “You three as well.”
Harry sighed and sat down. He was itching to get down to the forge and start work for the day.
“Right,” Hermione said, now looking happier. “Harry, I know you’re nearly finished with your new armour, but we really need to discuss the next task, and what we are going to do with it. While you were busy, I took the egg to the bath and held it underwater. Basically, someone is going to be kidnapped and placed under the lake. You will have an hour to fetch them.”
“Okay,” Harry agreed.
“So, what is your initial plan?”
“I walk there, pick up the person, and walk back.”
Hermione paused. “How are you going to breathe underwater?”
“Normally, I’d say the potion of Waterbreathing,” Romilda said, “but with the armour, it would be far better to enchant the helm with the same thing.”
Hermione nodded. “Tori?”
“I’m with the gypsy. We can also enchant his boots so that he doesn’t need to swim, and add some haste, so he can move quickly without sinking into the bottom.” She paused. “But we really need to make sure we get the runes right on his helm.”
“We will,” Romilda promised. “That would be the worst way to die.” She shuddered deeply.
“Huh?” Harry asked. “Why that one, Romi?”
“I’m terrified of drowning,” Romilda explained after visibly gathering her courage. “It gives me such nightmares. It’s a truly awful way to die. In fact, you should add these runes to anything you do, just in case. You don’t want to die while in armour!”
Astoria moved over and took Romilda’s hand, squeezing it.
Harry raised his hands. “Okay, okay,” he promised with a smile. “It’s a good idea anyway.”
Romilda grinned. “Of course, that’s better than what Tori is scared of.”
“Romi,” Tori complained playfully. Romilda poked her tongue out at her. “Fine. Zombies.”
“They never stop. They just keep coming!”
“You mean Inferi?”
“I mean zombies !” Astoria said firmly. “I’ve seen the programmes!”
“They were movies,” Romilda mumbled.
Astoria hushed her. “You can take them out with gun shots to the head, chainsaws or decapitation with silver, but that’s it. Even fire isn’t guaranteed. Which is why I always put some silver runes in the arrays I give Harry,” she finished smugly.
“I agree,” Hermione mumbled, clearly not paying attention to Astoria. “That does sound horrific.”
“Okay, I promise I’ll always add silver runes to my swords, as well as the breathing stuff on my helms,” Harry said, “I can use some backup armour for this task.”
“Wait, why backup armour?” Hermione asked.
“Because once you enchant something, it’s permanent, and those aren’t enchantments I want on my main armour. There’s a limit to how many different things you can apply to one piece,” Harry explained.
“Yeah,” Astoria continued. “The more you add the less effective they become. It is the Law of Diminishing Returns.”
“Oh, that’s logical. So, can we do this in a week?”
“Of course,” Harry said casually. “I’ve got several pieces lying around that, with Daph’s help, I can make into something neat.”
“No problem,” Daphne added cheerfully.
“In which case,” Hermione said, “we are having a day off.”
Harry reared back. His wand came out. “Who are you and what have you done with Hermione Granger?” he demanded.
“Ha ha, very funny,” Hermione muttered. “We’ve all been working non-stop since Christmas, and I’m feeling a little burnt out. And I suspect some of you are as well?”
“Slightly,” Romilda agreed. “It’s hard to stop when you’re on a roll.”
“Yeah,” Astoria agreed. “I’ve learnt so much extra about potions, enchanting, and knife fighting.”
“I know, I know,” Hermione agreed. She slumped down in a chair herself and joined the circle. “I’m the same way. I adore learning new things, Daph has me able to hit a human at ten paces with a knife, and I came within an inch of talking Professor Binns into moving on.”
Harry chuckled. “Daph?”
“I’m getting the best grades I’ve ever had,” she said with a proud smile.
“So, we’ve all been practising our skills, learning new stuff, and working hard,” Harry summarised. “So what do you want to do for today?”
“Relax together,” Hermione said instantly. “We need to have some fun.”
“Hmm,” Harry murmured.
“Is that your, ‘I’m about to have a crazy idea’ hmm?” Hermione asked.
“Am I going to regret this?”
“Bring it, Potter.”
Harry chuckled. “Right, a plan for the day. First, breakfast. Second, we’ll do a cursing.”
“Yay!” Romilda interrupted happily.
“Then, we’ll pop into London and wander around the Tate.”
“Yay,” Astoria and Hermione interrupted together.
“We’ll have a late lunch somewhere, go and see a movie.”
“Yay,” Daphne said with a grin.
“And then?” Hermione asked warily.
Harry just smiled. “If you’re going to wear skirts, wear shorts under.”
To her surprise, Daphne felt energetic. The day had been fun; she’d enjoyed the cursing of Dudley, walking with Harry and Romilda around the museum, and eating lunch. Astoria and Hermione had been together as well, having a far higher level of conversation than they were. Afterwards, Harry had directed them to a cinema, but had taken one look at what was on and changed his mind.
And so they ended up in a huge theatre watching The Phantom of the Opera .
And she had utterly, utterly, utterly adored it. As soon as she could, she was going to grab her parents and take them to see it.
Daphne gave herself a mental shake. So far, they’d done something that each of them enjoyed, and now it was time – or so she hoped – for them to do something Harry liked.
He was a boy, so it would probably be physical, but that was okay. She’d put on trousers after his ominous warning. She looked up from her spot on the magically-warmed ground as Harry dashed over. They’d returned to Hogwarts and sat where he’d told them.
He dumped a bag on the floor in front of them. It rattled somewhat alarmingly. Harry dropped to his knees and opened it, pulling out two pieces of metal. He crawled over to Daphne and pushed the metal against the sole of her boots. She felt a slight pressure against her feet through her boots, and then what felt like a cushioning charm around her ankles and shins. She shook her leg slightly but the metal didn’t move,
“Keep your legs straight,” he told her, as he stretched them out. He moved quickly around to the other girls, before he attached the identical plates to his own shoes, put his hands on to the ground, and pushed up.
And Daphne felt her jaw open, and she couldn’t seem to send the correct signals to close it again. She looked around quickly, and was relieved that Hermione, Astoria and Romilda were looking just as dumbfounded.
“Harry,” Hermione whispered, “you appear to be hovering around a foot off the ground.”
“Yes,” Harry agreed. He squatted, pressed down, jumped and was catapulted into the sky, where he flipped, and landed on his feet with a jaunty bounce.
Romilda scrambled up and laughed giddily. “Come on,” she called. She started to bounce and then kicked her legs out, and then back in as she landed on her feet.
Daphne warily stood up, only to find that keeping her balance was quite easy. With a shrug, she tried a cartwheel, her feet flying into the air, to find that her feet actually kept her from falling on to the ground, and she ended up back on her feet.
With an excited cheer, she bounced.
“Harry, how in the name of Merlin have you done this!” Hermione demanded.
“You want answers?” Harry asked.
“Yes,” Astoria and Hermione stated together.
“Then you’re just going to have to catch me.”
He turned and started to run toward the school building, with huge leaping bounds, away from them and toward Hogwarts.
“Right, girls,” Hermione said, “can I count on your support?”
“Yes,” Daphne agreed, and grinned.
“Sure,” Romilda said. “Let’s get him!”
"He’s ours,” Astoria asserted.
Daphne found herself moving faster than she ever had, and she couldn’t help laughing. Harry soon stopped running away, and taunted them, before he jumped high over their heads, and ran past them, laughing.
Romilda seemed to have picked up the physical acts fastest as she was starting to match Harry’s jumps and flips.
“Daph, go right,” Astoria called, and she followed instructions, as they all started to bounce so that Harry wouldn’t be able to go over them.
They had him trapped in a against a castle wall, forming a bouncing semicircle too high for him to jump over.
“Uh huh,” Harry said with a grin. He turned, and ran up the wall, before pausing to stick his tongue out at them. “Meep meep!” he yelled.
Daphne ran after him. If he could do it, then so could she! It was like gravity changed when her feet hit the wall, allowing her to walk sideways. She squealed with laughter and took off after him.
At the top, Harry tensed his legs and back flipped off the wall, falling down fast. He bounced, almost as high as he had left off, and covered an immense distance. Daphne didn’t hesitate, and followed him.
This was more fun than she’d ever had!
The chase went on for an hour, all over the grounds of Hogwarts, from the gate to the Black Lake to the Forbidden Forest and the Quidditch pitch. They had to occasionally dodge students as they landed, but they were easy to bypass. Even when they weren’t standing and staring, the bouncing chasers were so much faster that it was easy to treat the walkers like stationary objects
It was Romilda who managed to tag him first, with a triple back flip to a wall, she bounced off like a rocket, and caught Harry mid bounce.
Astoria pounced on them, closely followed by Hermione. Daphne herself was less than a second behind them, which made her last, but which put her on the top of the dogpile.
“Okay, you got me,” Harry laughed as he pushed them off. He slowly raised one leg and took off the piece of metal. He slowly sunk about half a foot of the ground, and tilted, so that he had one foot on the snow. He then removed the other piece and stood down. Daphne found herself helped down next, before he removed the plates from Hermione, Romilda and Astoria.
Astoria and Hermione were both panting, but had huge grins on their faces. Romilda was actually glowing with happiness, and Daphne understood how she felt.
“Harry,” Hermione eventually broke the silence, “What… you… HOW!”
Harry chuckled and started to walk toward their school. “I’ll explain over dinner. Hungry?”
“Yes!” Romilda and Astoria agreed in unison. Daphne felt like she could eat a centaur, lightly roasted. She stumbled slightly. She missed the charms already. Walking seemed positively dull now.
Hermione pulled out her wand and cast some spells to get rid of the results of their exercise. It wasn’t perfect, but it would do until they could hit the showers and get properly clean. At least this way they wouldn’t be putting anyone off their food.
They entered the Great Hall, Daphne last, and as such, she was able to see the looks of envy and amusement on the other student’s faces. The Durmstrang boys seemed to be trying to get each other to go and talk to them, the Beauxbatons students had some that looked envious while the rest looked disapproving. The Headmaster and were looking amused, as they stared down at them.
She turned to their table at the foot of the Gryffindor table, suddenly noticing the fact they had the worst seats in the hall. She sat next to Romilda, opposite Astoria and Hermione, who had a space for Harry between them.
“I’ll be back in twenty minutes,” Harry said, “don’t eat.” He was popped away.
“That boy,” Hermione grumbled. “I’m hungry.”
“Harry wouldn’t just drop us,” Astoria pointed out. “He’s probably doing something fun for us.”
Hermione grumbled but didn’t complain. Romilda asked her a question about charms, which started a discussion that lasted until Harry returned with four large cardboard boxes.
Daphne blinked. She had just seen the Headmaster in his seat a few seconds ago!
Daphne blinked again, Nadya had been there as well!
“Professor, Nadya,” Harry said calmly, “would you like to join us for dinner? I got extra.”
“Why thank you, Harry,” Dumbledore said as he created a two person couch at the end of the table.
Harry flipped open four boxes and put it in the middle of the table. A delicious aroma wafted straight into his nostrils, that caused her mouth to start salivating.
“Harry, you do know that I love you, right?” Hermione said as she took a large piece of what looked like bread covered in tomato sauce, cheese, and vegtables. In the most unladylike way Daphne had seen Hermione act, she tilted her head back slightly and slid the thin edge of her wedge into her mouth and took a huge bite.
There was a look of bliss and relaxation on her face, as well as a small drop of tomato sauce.
Daphne exchanged a look with Astoria, and she reached out together and took a slice. She followed Hermione’s example, and took a bite. Her taste buds erupted as a variety of textures and tastes assaulted them.
By the time she’d finished her first bite, Astoria, Romilda, Dumbledore and Nadya were digging in as well.
“I’ve not had this for close to fifteen years,” Professor Dumbledore mentioned. “I was in America, I believe, and they had an entire hut dedicated to it. Those huts were everywhere!”
Nadya chuckled. “You can get better ones in Naples,” she said, “but this is pretty damn good. Where did you go, Harry?”
“Vernon used to drive twenty miles into Guildford to pick these up. And I figured that if that lard-arse would go so far out of his way to get them, they must be pretty good.”
Hermione giggled. “Yeah, better than our local pizzeria.” She sighed. “Pity there’s no beer.”
“Hermione!” Astoria chided, sounding playfully shocked.
“Oh, right, sorry,” Hermione mumbled. “It’s just that pizza and beer go together like Simon and Garfunkel.”
Hermione waved her hand. “They go together well.”
“Isn’t it illegal to drink alcohol?” Daphne asked curiously. “We can’t get it at the Three Broomsticks.”
“No, it’s illegal to buy it,” Romilda said, “not to drink it.” She pouted, “Not that mum lets me drink.”
“And she’s right not to,” Nadya said in amusement. “It’s never the child that has to clear up the vomit after the first time a member of our family drinks to much.”
“I’m hardly a raging alcoholic,” Hermione said with a roll of her eyes. “A cold bottle of lager is the best accompaniment to pizza, if you don’t want to rot your teeth.”
“Which is why I didn’t pick up a bottle of Coke,” Harry agreed.
Hermione smiled at him. “So, come on then, Potter. Spill the beans.”
Harry relaxed back. In fact, he leaned too far back, but somehow didn’t fall over. Daphne concentrated hard, and she was able to make out that his magic was supporting him via a faint green glow.
“I was playing with ideas for my boots,” he said, between bites, and after swallowing. “I went a bit overboard with the power on a cushioning enchantment. I thought that if I put a lot of power in, they’d be really comfortable. I just forgot how much magic I have access to nowadays.
“When I tried them on, it was like walking on a giant inflatable, and useless. So I replaced the soles on my boots, and kept the charmed soles as a side project. I’d used too much magic to just dump them, but didn’t know what else to do with them.
“A few weeks later, I added the stabilising charm and the localised gravity charm that allows for running on walls, and that made it more fun. So I just played around with them whenever I had some spare time, adding more charms and some runes, until the result is what you had.
“Once I had the prototype done, it was easy to make copies. I was going to bring them out to play at Easter but then we had this enforced rest day.”
“Harry,” Professor Dumbledore said, “would you mind if I have a go later?”
“Of course not, Professor.”
“Splendid,” Dumbledore said with a large smile. “Nadya?”
“Yeah, go on, Gran,” Romilda said eagerly. “The charms made everything really soft.”
"Also, you can’t fall on anything but your feet,” Harry added.
Nadya sighed. “I’ll give them a try.”
“The only objection I have to you leaving the house system is that I can’t award you points,” Dumbledore said.
Harry smiled. “I’m just happy having things I’ve made in use. Daph and I are going to create a blacksmithing business when we leave school. The idea is that we try and make enough of a success of it that we can hire Romi and Tori when they leave school and then Hermione when she finishes university.”
“What a wonderful idea,” Albus said. “Are you going to accept commissions?”
“Yes. We might also see about having an enchanting business on the site. Dunno, yet.”
“Well, the Hogwarts Gates are a little worse for wear. Do you fancy replacing them?”
“Ooooh,” Daphne said. She wiped her hands on napkin, and pulled out a piece of paper and a pencil.
“Excuse Daph,” Harry said, as she concentrated, “she’s got an idea.”
Daphne tuned him out and concentrated. She started with a wrought iron version of the Hogwarts crest as the centrepiece. She then added each of the four houses badges, two to each gate, before frowning and turning the paper over and starting again.
This time, she drew four outlines, one of each of the house badges, before adding the Hogwarts letters over the top, and the motto under. From there, she drew in the struts, added an arch over the middle, and fleur-de-lys finials. From memory, she added the stone pillars each side with the winged boars.
Finished, she looked up to find that the pizza was gone, apart from three slices in front of her that were under a golden charm.
She passed the sketch to Harry, who gave her one the little smiles that she’d come to treasure from him. It was pride in her ability, and pride in her. He passed the sketch to Professor Dumbledore.
“Consider yourself commissioned,” he said with a small smile. Daphne felt a burst of happiness shoot through her.
“Right, Tori, you can come up with what protections we can add,” Harry said to the two girls.
“Okay,” Astoria said with a confident smile. She reached across and borrowed Daphne’s pencil, before she started to scribble on a notebook she pulled out of her bag.
“Professor,” Romilda said, tilting her head slightly. “Normally, a custom piece such as this is expensive, but we’re aware of Hogwarts’ status as one of the premier castles in the world, so we’d be willing to do a deal.”
“Oh?” Dumbledore asked.
“Naturally, we will photograph all our installations, to show prospective customers, and a few words from your august self for our advertising brochures. If you’re happy with the work we’ve done, and the acceptance that we have our company logo discreetly on one of the pillars, and we could do it for the cost of the material.”
“At cost?” Albus asked.
“Well,” Romilda said with a small laugh, “we would be utilising Hogwarts’ forge until we all leave school, and Hogwarts is our beloved school.”
“I think that we have a deal, Miss Vane.” They shook hands, as Nadya laughed softly. “Nadya?” Dumbledore asked.
“I’d guess that a decent gate, like the one designed, is worth around two to three thousand galleons. You just agreed to lease the Hogwarts forge out to Harry and Daphne for an extra two years – until Romilda and Astoria graduate, rent free!”
Albus opened his mouth, and then closed it again, before he looked at Romilda.
Romilda smiled cutely at him.
“The advertising was a distraction?”
“Mostly,” Romilda agreed. “It will help, but I wanted the free location.”
Dumbledore chuckled. “The reputation of your clan is safe for another generation.”
Daphne clapped excitedly and gave Romilda a hug.
Astoria turned the notebook and put it in front of Harry. Harry and Hermione peered at it, and then Harry nodded. Astoria put the notebook in front of Professor Dumbledore, who raised his eyebrows.
“Actually, we might get our money’s worth,” he said with another smile. “Excellent, Miss Greengrass.” He looked thoughtful for a moment. “We’re going to start planning the Lily Potter Memorial Library and the other projects at the start of next term. I’d like to invite all of you to join in with the design committee.”
“We’d be delighted, sir,” Hermione said softly, as Harry looked like he couldn’t quite say anything.
“Yes,” Daphne agreed. “Honoured.”
Nadya took a look at Harry. “So,” she said lightly, “ready to watch two old people make fools of themselves?”
“Can I get a couple of House-elves, please?” Harry asked. As four popped in eagerly, he smiled at them. “Thanks,” he said. “I want to put you guys in charge of my charmed boots. The students can rent them for thirty minutes a time, for five sickles. They are not allowed to rent when they should be in class. All money should then be split between you guys and a charity.
“Hermione’s written an information sheet if anyone has concerns, and they’ll need to sign the disclaimer that Astoria got her mum to write for us. Understood?”
“Cans we be accepting pre-bookings?” one asked.
Harry nodded. “Of course, you run it how you see fit.”
The House-elves glowed happily, and turned. In front of them was a large queue of people waiting for a go.
“Mopsy is thinking that we needs to invent sports,” one of the House-elves murmured. “And gets more bouncy boots.”
“Ohh, Trixies is liking thats.”
“Good luck guys, and if you need anything, just ask for me.”
The House-elves all nodded with visible happiness, and started to work.
Harry chuckled, and asked Dobby for a lift to his smithy.
“Ladies?” Albus Dumbledore called, it was the day before the Second Task, and he needed some assistance. The four girls turned as one. “Could you accompany me to my office? I have a problem that I need your help with.”
“Of course, Headmaster,” Hermione said instantly, and followed him up to his office. His gargoyle jumped immediately to one side for him.
He took the arm chair in the corner, and invited the girls to sit on the sofa and other chairs. Astoria and Romilda took the sofa, leaving Hermione and Daphne to take the other chairs.
“Tea?” he offered.
Romilda half raised her hand. “Miss Vane?”
“Erm, could I try one of your famous lemon drops?”
Albus felt sheer delight shoot through him. Never, in all his years, had anyone actually asked to try one. Normally he’d offer, and they’d say no. “Of course, my dear,” he said happily, and waved his wand, summoning the dish.
Romilda reached out and snagged one, chucking it in her mouth. Her lips pursed at the sourness, and her eyes lit up. “These are great!”
The other three girls shrugged and reached for one as well. Albus took one himself and settled back. If there was one thing he knew from long exposure, it was that lemon drops and tea did not go well together.
“As you no doubt are aware,” he said, around the sweet, “tomorrow is the second task. And that something of value is being taken from Harry and hidden at the bottom of the lake.”
The four girls all nodded their agreement, proving that he was right in his guess that they would have decoded the clue.
“For Mr Krum, Mr Diggory, we will be using their girlfriends. For Ms Delacour, we will be using her younger sister. Each of them will be charmed to be complete asleep, and there will be two merpeople per person ready with Gillyweed in case anything goes wrong. The rest of the merpeople will be acting aggressively, to ensure that the competitions have some challenges, and we’ve transfigured some rocks to look and act like Grindylows.
“My problem is that there are four of you, and we can only use one hostage so I’d like for one of you to agree to agree to volunteer to help in this next task.”
Astoria and Romilda looked at each other. “It should be one of you two,” Astoria said. “Neither of us wants to be above the other… yet.”
“Yeah,” Romilda agreed.
“It should be Hermione,” Daphne suggested, “if it’s the person he’d miss most?”
“That’s not necessarily true,” Hermione countered. “I’ve never spent hours in his room talking, like you two do at night.”
“Anything I should be concerned about?” Dumbledore asked softly.
Daphne shook her head. “Harry’s the first boy I know who doesn’t want to do me, so I take all my problems to him,” she said happily. “He listens and gives me advice and reassures me.”
Albus suppressed a grin at the expression on Hermione’s face, as she heard Daphne’s overly-honest declaration.
“Daph?” Astoria asked softly, “You do know that I love you too, and will always help.”
“I know, Tori,” Daphne said, “it’s just that Harry can explain things to me so that I understand them, and he always tells me that it doesn’t matter what I do, or how I live my life, he’ll always be there for me. Hermione’s his best friend in the world; I’m more like his little sister.”
“Flip a coin,” Romilda suggested. “We all know Harry will fight the world for all of us.”
“That’s a good idea,” Hermione agreed. She pulled a galleon out of her purse. “Call.” She flipped it. “Dragons,” Daphne called quickly. Hermione caught it with her right hand, and slammed her hand down on the back of her left. She then revealed the coin. It was showing a dragon.
“Now that’s sorted,” Astoria said, “why don’t we go through all the protections for Daph one more time?”
Albus chuckled merrily. It was nice to know that they didn’t take things at face value, and actually questioned what was before them. Too often, he felt, that the Wizarding world was too eager to follow without question or thought, and seeing four students bucking that trend gave him a wonderful feeling for the future.
“Oh, but before you do,” Hermione interrupted. “If Daph is being held underwater, with the other hostages, and the competitors are heading underwater, what, exactly, is the crowd going to see?”
Albus almost coughed on his lemon drop. He swallowed quickly, “Why don’t we discuss that next?” he suggested. “Wooster?”
A well-dressed House-elf appeared. “Could you nip down and tell Harry that I’ve borrowed his friends for the afternoon, and then tell the relevant teachers that I’ve pulled these four out of class to help me fix a rather obvious problem I’d missed?”
Harry finished attaching the last leather strap to the shoulder piece, and nodded happily. It wasn’t his best armour, but it would do for swimming. As a sword was going to be slightly unwieldy, he’d borrowed the concept of a harpoon gun, with runes to power it. He’d made it crossbow shaped, so that it would match the rest of his armour.
The concept of the parts matching had been something that Daphne had been very firm about, which was probably why he’d given up and just let her choose what things should look like. She was incredibly good at it.
And that thought, about someone being incredibly good at something, made him think about Ron and chess. He did somewhat miss his best male friend – playing chess, talking about incredibly stupid things, talking about boobs and other important things.
But then he looked around the forge, and at his armour and the blades he had made, and the feeling went. He’d gained so much more, and not once did he have to use air freshening charms. Except once when Romilda had had an accident with some perfume.
Chuckling to himself, he looked up as Dobby appeared. “Is time, Harry.”
“Are you betting on me this time?”
Dobby shook his head. “Dobby has enough money, and Dobby feels guilty about taking money from peoples who are silly enough to bet against Harry.” He paused. “Other elves don’t feel guilty.”
Harry sniggered and took the elf’s proffered hand, and was popped away. He arrived in a line with the three main champions, and noticed worried looks on their faces.
The other three champions were wearing dressing gowns in their school colours. As he was in jeans with an emerald green t-shirt that had warming runes on the inside, he felt a little over-dressed.
In the stands, he could see the same banner from the first task, but with Romilda and Derek holding the ends, and Astoria, Cressida and Hermione in the middle waving and cheering.
It didn’t take Hermione’s reasoning skills for him to spot the odd one out, and understand whom he had to save.
Out over the lake, a giant screen hovered, supported by three floating pillars, each with the crest of one of the three schools on it.
Harry smiled, recognising Daphne’s design handiwork. Dumbledore waved his wand, and he saw himself, with the other champions, appear. The screen split into four, with each corner showing one of the champions. Harry looked at Dumbledore and nodded, impressed.
Dumbledore nodded back, made a self-deprecating eye-roll and then pointed at his friends.
“You ready, Harry?”
Harry looked at Cedric and smiled. “Sure,” he agreed.
“Going to devastate us again?”
“Yup,” Harry agreed. “This one should be easier than the last one. No dragons.”
“Not that that stopped you,” Krum murmured.
“True,” Harry agreed.
“How much would it cost to get some of my own bounce-boots?” Cedric asked. “They’re more fun than Quidditch!”
“Ya,” Krum agreed, moving closer. “Krum haf sister, is birfday soon. Bounce-boots would make Krum best bruvver in world, ever. Krum likes that.”
“I’ve not thought about prices,” Harry admitted. “I’ll have to get Romi and Tori to look into that. But, in the short term, I’ll make you both a pair in the spirit of the tournament.” He cast a quick measuring charm at their feet, and memorised the result.
Viktor reached out and patted him in the shoulder. “Krum was wrong, Krum learn lesson about prejudging things. Krum hears Potter can fly as well as bounce. Potter fly with Krum?”
Harry smiled. “I’d be delighted, and call me Harry.”
“Harry,” Krum agreed. “You too, Diggovy?”
“Cedric,” Cedric said quickly. “I’d love to, but candour forces me to admit that I’m not as good as Harry.”
Krum shrugged. “Delacour?”
“How can you three chatter like this?!” Fleur demanded.
“Takes my mind off the things I can’t change, and relaxes me so that I do a better job,” Cedric replied instantly.
Fleur blinked. “Oh,” she said in a meek voice. “Sorry.” She took a deep breath. “Yes, I’d love to come flying, after we get through this.”
“Der, see,” Krum announced. “Flying, bring everyone together. Then maybe we have bounce, da?”
“The House-elves have been coming up with a game,” Harry said, “How about we do that, you three against me and two of my friends. I’ve not even seen the rules, so I have as little an idea as how to play as you will, so it should be a laugh.”
“Krum likes competition.”
“Sounds fun,” Cedric agreed. Fleur looked doubtful.
“I’ll throw in custom bounce-boots for you, along with Krum’s and Cedric’s.”
“Deal,” Fleur agreed.
“Welcome to the Second Task,” Dumbledore’s voice rang out. “The contestants have an hour to rescue their hostages from the bottom of the lake. With thanks to Miss Granger, Miss Vane, and both Miss Greengrasses, you will be able to follow each of the contestant’s progress on the screens.” He started to clap, as did the rest of the crowd. For a few seconds, the picture on the screen showed Harry’s blushing friends.
“Now,” Dumbledore continued, “We will start at the bang.”
From the distance, a firework shot into the air, before it exploded with a crashing wave of sound and light. Harry took a step forward, and then stopped, to see the others hadn’t moved.
“I’m waiting to see the armour,” Cedric said with a grin. “We missed it last time.”
Harry shrugged and turned, “Armour on!” he yelled, flaring his magic. He took a step forward, and two shards of metal surrounded his foot, before collapsing into his boot. He took another step, and the process was repeated. As he continued to move, metal trees grew from the ground, allowing him to step into his shin guards, and then turn into his cuisse. As he continued to spin in a slow circle as he moved forward, he raised his arms, allowing his chest piece to settle into place, before his cuirass landed on his shoulders, his helm was wrapped into place, and finally weapons were placed into his hands.
It had taken less than three seconds for all the parts to be in place.
“You guys feeling like little kids?” he heard Cedric ask.
“Da,” Krum agreed. “Krum need lessons in style.”
“I am French and I am a part-Veela, I’m not supposed to be outshone,” Fleur muttered.
Harry paused at the edge of the lake, and then started to march in. He felt the charms kick in as the water came up to his waist.
Harry couldn’t help holding his breath as the water went over his head, and it was with a tentative breath that he used his enchantment. While they had tested in the bath, this was real. Cold sweet air entered his lungs, and he grinned. He started to run, the haste charms on his boots allowing him to move smoothly through the water at a steady pace.
As he went, he grumbled at the fact that he’d been forced into entering first, and as such had missed the opportunity to look at Fleur in her swimsuit.
He headed deeper into the lake, allowing himself a good look around. The charms on his helmet kept the water away, allowing him a perfect view of the lake bed. It wasn’t as interesting as he’d hoped, not compared to the pictures of the Great Barrier Reef he’d seen on TV. He made a mental note to see if they could arrange a holiday there in the future. He could do the work, and Daph could design cool helmets, so that they could all explore.
It was about five minutes of jogging later that he encountered his first problem – a shoal of Grindylows were swimming toward him. He raised his crossbow, and fired a bolt into the head of the lead one. It sank down into the depths, and the others circled around it in confusion, before swimming off.
Harry shrugged and spotted some buildings in the distance. He put on a bit more speed and ran toward it. The water parted before him, one of Hermione’s charms did something to the water pressure that she and Astoria both understood, and he didn’t. He was soon entering the merpeople village, and allowed himself a good look around, the huts looked medieval, and he wondered why they needed roofs.
It wasn’t as if they had inclement weather down here.
In the centre of the village, near a statue, four girls were floating, held down by thick vines. They all appeared to be unconscious, with their eyes closed and their limbs drifting with idle eddies.
He headed toward Daphne, but paused as two mermen swam in front of him. Harry raised his harpoon crossbow and fired it into the wall of the nearest hut. The bolt shot away, burying itself half-deep into the wood.
The mermen raised their hands and backed away slowly.
Harry moved toward Daphne once more and pulled out one of his knives. He cut the vine, and Daphne floated down into his arms. He caught her and turned to leave, before he groaned to himself. He had to make sure that everyone got out of there safely.
He was pretty sure that no one was in danger, but it was better to be safe than sorry later. He took a seat on a large rock, and wished he had something to pass the time. He crossed his legs at the ankle, and relaxed back, and started to think about the next armour he could make.
He had his display armour now, and it would be good for most things. But maybe he could design something specifically to help kill Death Eaters.
Maybe that one should be completely black, and built to withstand curses.
The thought of killing a human deliberately actually made him feel a little squeamish, but he wasn’t going to let these scum continue their murderous ways.
Frankly, he wanted the lot of them dead so he could concentrate on smithing – and other things that were a lot more fun.
Cedric was the first to arrive, and looked at him quizzically. Harry shrugged, and offered his knife to Cedric. The boy took it and looked at the mermen. The mermen gave resigned shrugs and pointed at Harry. Cedric grinned and cut Cho free, then looked at Harry again. Harry shooed him away, after taking his knife back.
Cedric nodded his thanks, and swam away with Cho. Viktor arrived next, and quickly bit through the vine for his girl – a svelte brunette with some of the largest boobs he’d ever seen.
He settled back down, and waited until there were only five minutes left. There was no sign at all of Fleur, so he carried Daphne over and cut Fleur’s little sister down as well. It took a little arranging to carry both, and in the end he put the child on top of Daphne, and carried Daphne in a bridal style.
He took off at a dead run, just to make sure he hit the land before the hour was up – just in case.
He broke through the water and looked down, to see that the young girl’s eyes open, and then Daphne’s.
He was so utterly proud as Daphne’s first reaction was to cradle the girl and give her a hug.
He reached land, to find Fleur – who looked completely relieved – waiting for them. As he reached her, she reached out and pulled the girl into a hug. “Thank you, so very much, ’Arry,” she said softly. “I don’t know ‘ow I would ‘ave kept my sanity, if I ‘adn’t seen you waiting on the screen.”
Harry took another step, so that he was completely on dry land. “Armour off, melt,” he called. As he had Daphne still in his arms, he couldn’t take the armour off the same way he’d put it on, so he allowed it to just melt down into liquid, and transport itself back to his armour dummy in the forge.
“You’re welcome,” he said to Fleur, before turning his attention to the girl he loved like a sister. “You okay, Daph?”
She put an arm around his neck and used it to raise herself up and kiss him on the cheek. “I wasn’t worried,” she said seriously, “because I knew you’d rescue me.”
“Always,” he promised, before he concentrated hard and cast a warming spell without his wand. Hot air swept around Daphne, drying her clothes and blow-drying her hair.
Daphne squealed in laughter. “Tickles,” she explained, after she was dry. “Thanks, Harry.”
“Want to get down?”
She shook her head. “I’m happy that everyone knows that my big brother is awesome. As long as I’m not too heavy for you.”
Harry felt himself blush a little as they headed toward the judging table. “You are not even close to being too heavy.”
Krum and the girl stood next to him.
“Harry, is Esmeralda. Esmeralda, is Harry,” Krum grunted.
“Do excuse my caveman of an intended,” Esmeralda said. “He has a warped sense of humour and thinks that talking in the third person is fun.”
“Krum no likes English.”
“True,” the woman agreed. “I should thank you, as I’m only here because of you.”
“Yeah, the only other girl my hero liked was that bushy-haired one. He figured he’d be able to have a quiet night with her and not be entangled. When she wasn’t around anymore, he sent for me. Which he should have done from the start.”
“Da, da” Krum muttered.
Cedric and Cho, and Fleur and the unidentified girl joined them.
“This is Gabrielle,” Fleur introduced her. She then talked to the girl in French, and Harry made out all their names.
Gabrielle moved in front of him and curtseyed, before saying what he presumed was a thank you. He looked at Fleur and then back down at the little girl. “You’re welcome.”
Gabrielle trotted back to Fleur and attached herself to her sister’s side.
“And now the scores,” Dumbledore’s voice rang out with perfect timing. “The judges have conferred. For a perfectly executed bubblehead charm, and a valiant attempt, we award Fleur Delacour twenty points.”
There was a cheer that was deep enough in tone to suggest that most of the cheering was from the male population, and was perhaps as much for Fleur in a swimsuit as for her efforts.
“I deserve nozzing,” Fleur murmured.
“Hey,” Harry snapped, “Putting everything you have into something and failing, does not make you a failure. It means you work harder next time, and you learn, you do not let it get to you.”
Fleur blinked. “Oui,” she murmured.
“Next, for his partial transfiguration, and arriving back with five minutes to spare, we award Viktor Krum thirty-five points.
“To Cedric Diggory, who correctly used a bubblehead charm and returned with fifteen minutes to spare, we award thirty seven points.
“And to Harry Potter, who was the first to reach the hostages, but stayed to ensure all of them were rescued and arrived back with two hostages bang on time, we award the full forty points.”
The cheers of the crowd were the loudest yet, and Harry smiled happily.
“Dad mailed me this morning and told me that he’s got some pig cheeks,” Daphne announced, “and he put them on to cook this morning. He’s got a mountain of potatoes ready, and the sauce has a bottle of red and a bottle of port in it.”
“Then let’s go find him and the others,” Harry agreed, and turned away and headed toward the crowd. He picked out Derek’s tall frame easily, and carried Daphne over. Cressida, Hermione, Astoria and Romilda were with them.
Out of the corner of his eye, he saw someone appear. He didn’t have time to do anything but turn and duck to protect Daphne as the green flash shot towards him.
The last he knew was the spell hitting him, then everything went blank.
In what seemed like slow motion, Romilda saw someone rise up and fire a curse at Harry. It was so sudden and unexpected that everyone seemed to freeze.
And then Harry crumpled to the ground, and Daphne yelled his name.
Romilda sprinted toward the man, automatically grabbing the knife Harry had made for her, pulling it from under her skirt.
Curses shot at her, and from behind her, but she ignored them; some missed her, others hit a shield that appeared in front of her. The man started to shield from the other curses, a panicked look on his face, as he clutched at something. Romilda leapt, a loud war cry coming from her lips as she landed against him, sending him flying. She pounced forward, slicing the blade against his wand hand, severing the tendons and leaving the wand useless, before she spun the blade in her fingers and stabbed it deep into the man’s shoulder. She wanted this fucker alive.
He screamed. Romilda released the knife and punched him in the face, crushing his nose, before clasping both hands together, swinging them to her left, before bringing them down with all her momentum against his cheek.
She was pretty sure that she felt his cheekbone break against her magically reinforced fist.
Astoria appeared in front of her, and cast Stupefy at the fallen person who’d dared to curse Harry. Romilda growled and pulled her knife out roughly, taking care to twist it, just like her mother had taught her, as she pulled.
Astoria took her hand, and they left the man in the care of the Aurors who had surrounded the two of them. Together, they ran over to Harry.
As they got there, they could see Daphne in tears, Hermione crying as well, Cressida pale as Derek looked both angry and helpless.
“No!” Astoria cried.
The events of the last thirty seconds suddenly hit Romilda, and blackness engulfed her.
Anger, white-hot anger coursed through Albus Dumbledore. Memories of his sister had haunted him all his life, and now, seeing another cut down, seeing another so full of promise and life killed made him so incredibly angry,
In the first seconds after Harry had collapsed, and Romilda had attacked, he’d turned the school wards on to full, ensuring that no one could get in, and more importantly, out. He’d then assisted in cursing Barty Crouch Junior, to allow Romilda, and Astoria behind her, time to get near him.
He took a shuddering breath. “Accio Barty Crouch Junior, Accio Veritaserum,” he snarled. One way or another, he was going to find out just what had happened.
“Rennervate,” he spat at the man, who was now floating in front of him, held up by Albus’s anger-fuelled magic. A vial appeared and floated over him, and as Crouch screamed, Albus dumped a few drops straight down his throat.
With a twist of his hand, he cut off the pain signals from Crouch’s body to his brain. “Name?” he growled.
“Bartemius Crouch, Junior,” Barty replied, his voice affected by his clearly broken nose.
“Why have you killed Harry Potter?”
Barty’s face twisted into a vicious grin. “My Lord knew that it was his soul that you were using to embarrass him,” he spat, “so he ordered me, his most faithful servant, to destroy the Horcrux inside Potter, and if it killed him, all the better.”
“Who is your master?”
“How did you get here, and what did you do?”
“I snuck in with the other spectators, then disillusioned myself, and waited for the right moment.”
Dumbledore released the pain blockers, and let Crouch drop to the floor. A little part of him hoped that it hurt, and the scream afterwards suggested it had.
He turned. Romilda and Astoria were pressed against Cressida, crying their hearts out. Daphne and Hermione were sobbing together, while Derek gently lifted Harry up, and with a disturbing steadiness, started to carry him toward the school.
Amelia Bones moved over to him, as Aurors stunned Crouch. “You broke a lot of laws just then, Albus.”
“Right now, Amelia, I don’t particularly care,” he replied distantly. “And I’d do exactly the same thing again.”
Amelia sighed, “There is not a court in the world that would convict you,” she said. “I’m not even sure that I would.”
Albus shrugged. “I think I am going to hunt down Voldemort, and tear his limbs off, one at a time,” he murmured. “And see if that kills the bastard, no matter what the prophecy says.”
“What?” Amelia asked.
Before he could repeat, there was a commotion from the entrance to Hogwarts. He turned; hope beyond hope shooting through him.
He stepped, appearing next to the group as he finished. And then he started to laugh, as, improbably, Harry was standing, in the middle of a frantic group hug.
He met Harry’s eyes, and was reassured at the complete lack of accusation in the brilliant green.
He couldn’t do anything other than beam at the boy, as Harry’s eyes rolled into the back of his head and he passed out. Albus paused for a moment, but it quickly became clear that it was just exhaustion this time.
Harry looked around, and then looked down. A small, bloody creature wrapped in rags was on the ground. They were standing on a ghostly version of Platform 9 and ¾s at Kings Cross station. With a shrug, Harry booted the creature from the platform and on to the rails, and hoped that a train would come through soon.
There was a soft giggle behind him and he turned, and instantly saw eyes that were identical to the ones he saw every time he looked in the mirror.
“Mum?” he gasped.
The woman smiled, a breathtakingly beautiful smile, full of love and heartache. “My baby boy,” she whispered, as tears started to flow down her face. She took a couple of steps forward and embraced him. He found his arms around her, as he hugged with a desperation.
“Mum,” he whispered again.
“I’m here,” she whispered back. He felt his own tears on his face, as he clung to her and sobbed for all the times that he had wanted her growing up, but couldn’t have her.
He had no idea how long they stood like that, and simply didn’t care. “Mum.”
She pulled back slowly, and brushed his hair out of his face. “My baby,” she whispered. “I, no, we, we are so very proud of you.”
“Dad?” he asked hopefully.
Lily shook her head. “Only one of us could come, and your father did the most unselfish thing I have ever seen. He let me come.”
Harry took a deep breath, working past a huge lump in his throat. “When you see him, please, say thank you for me. And that I love him.”
More tears fell down her face.
“As I love you, mum.”
“Oh, my baby,” Lily sobbed, hugging him tightly again. “My wonderful, amazing baby.” She sniffled. “I’m supposed to be here giving you the choice,” she mumbled.
“Choice?” he asked.
“Yeah, this is the crossroads, you’re mostly dead, but the curse was absorbed by the Horcrux, so you can go back, if you want, or you can move on with us.”
“Mum,” he said, “I love you, honestly, but I have to go back, I have too many friends, too many plans, too much to do to quit now, I have to defeat Voldemort, I have to make sure that the Potter name doesn’t end with me.”
Lily reached up with a soft hand and stroked his face, before lifting his chin a little so that she could look into his eyes. “We’ve been with you, Harry, watching in impotent frustration at what happened to you growing up, and then marvelling at the person you turned into, and then watching in awe this year, as you took your destiny into your own hands and forged a life stronger than any blade.
“But of everything you have done, everything you will do, nothing, ever, will make me prouder than what you just said. When I see you again, I want to know that I have grandbabies and that you have lived a long and wonderful life, doing something you love – and that, my beautiful baby, is the secret of life.” Lily smiled with so much love and affection that Harry felt it in his heart.
Harry tilted his head. “When you say you’ve been watching…”
Lily giggled, “When you have needed us to,” she reassured him. She kept hold of his hand, and moved them to a bench so that they could sit.
“Wheew!” Harry exclaimed in relief. “Mum.”
“I just like saying it,” he explained.
Lily hugged him again. “Tell Remus and Sirius that we expect them to live as well, will you?”
“And Harry, your generosity in donating to the school and to a hospital had your father and I bursting with pride. You might not know it, but you’ve set a new standard; no more will people accept fake contributions to charity, as Malfoy has been doing.”
“And of course, the dragon.” Lily’s eyes seemed to radiate pride and joy. “You were incredible, taking it on head to head, prepared in the armour that you made with your friends. Your father is still talking about it, and he no longer even cares about you carrying on the Marauder tradition.”
Harry smiled. “Good, because I don’t think I have any pranks in me. Every time I think of one, I remember what it was like to be isolated or bullied, and I don’t want to do it.”
“That’s very mature,” Lily said softly.
Harry smiled. All he wanted to do was luxuriate in the company of his mum.
“I like Derek and Cressida,” she said, before she looked around. “And,” she continued in a whisper, “I had such a crush on Derek when I was in my third year.”
Harry giggled. “He is ridiculously good looking.”
Wormtail scurried back and forth as quickly as he could. A door appeared in front of him and he scampered in. As the door shut behind him, he changed back in to his human form and hurried into the room. Buried near the back of the room, under a sheet, was the pedestal he was looking for. On it was the Diadem of Ravenclaw.
He took it and hurried out. He turned back into his rat form, and held the Diadem with his teeth, resting it on his back as well, and ran down a small hole.
Hogwarts was old, and more than slightly decayed in places, and he knew all the bolt holes and where to hide from the cats. More than the others, he’d been able to explore the castle in his rat form, and he knew it like the back of his paw.
It took him over an hour to run the distance to the edge of the wards, attach the Diadem to a Portkey, and then send it on its way.
He took a deep breath, and scampered back into Hogwarts. It was time for the third and final part of his Lord’s truly audacious plan.
Lily sighed as she looked at her son. “I’m sorry,” she whispered, “but my time is up.”
“Mum,” Harry said softly. “Mum.” He took a deep breath. “Right now, this has been simply the best thing that has ever happened to me. I promise that when we meet again, I will have new memories and a new best memory.”
“That is all I ask for,” Lily replied gently. “Remember, I want to hear about grandbabies.”
Harry grinned. “Not for a while, I’m not ready.”
“No, you’re not, but when you are…”
“When I am.”
She reached forward and gently kissed his forehead. “You’ll feel freer without him in your head,” she said, “and you’ll no longer get headaches when he is around.”
“Awesome!” He paused. “Any hints?”
Lily laughed. “No, we are dead, not omniscient. We follow you, not the world.”
Harry pouted. “You couldn’t just tell me the quick way to end him?”
“With a sword?” she guessed.
“Deal,” Harry agreed. He stood, and pulled her up, so that he could hug her again. Even in their spiritual forms, Lily marvelled at how strong her son was. She contemplated telling him about how she’d seen Romilda and Astoria with their crushes on him, but decided not to. It was up to her son to live his life however he wanted, and not for her to interfere.
Even if she really, really, really wanted to.
“Remember, Mum, that I’ll always love you, and always remember you and dad.”
“It’s supposed to be me saying that to you,” she whispered softly.
“Meh,” he replied.
She giggled. And then smiled as she realised he’d been trying his best to make her smile, and not be sad. He’d not even complained when she’d called him her baby. “Thank you,” she whispered. “For making this easy.”
He shook his head.
She moved forward once more and hugged her son as tightly as she could. She leaned back, and saw her own eyes smile at her with pain and joy in them. “Goodb…” she started, but stopped as his eyes seemed to spark.
“Never goodbye, because you will never be forgotten,” he said intently. “This is just farewell so that I can meet you with the stories you and dad need and deserve.”
“Farewell,” she whispered.
“Farewell,” he echoed and started to fade. A second later, he was gone, leaving her alone on the platform. She jumped down onto the tracts and landed near the fragment of Voldemort’s soul. She took two swift paces forward and kicked it as hard as she could. The creature flew into the air and bounced, before coming down once more and passing through a large hole that had flames licking out of it.
She raised her arms in triumph, before nodding sharply to herself. She had complete faith that her son would be able to send the rest of him downstairs as well.
She turned and climbed stairs that weren’t there. At the top, James was waiting, bouncing around eagerly. “Well?”
“He loves you,” she said softly. “He loves us, and he won’t join us until he’s lived a long and happy life.”
“James,” she said seriously, “Our son is awesome.”
“We did good,” James agreed. “My looks, your intelligence, and both of our determination to do the right thing? It’s brilliant!”
Wormtail laid his wand on the floor next to him, and then put a paw over it. He took a deep breath, and then changed into a human. “Stupefy,” he called, the second he was enough of a human to do so. His spell caught the House-elf instantly.
“Stupefy,” he said again, catching the boy in the bed of the Hospital wing. He scurried over, and looked at the son of two of his childhood friends. He’d watched Crouch succeed in the first part earlier, and everyone knew that having survived death again, there was no way that the nurse would allow him to sleep outside of her infirmary.
His ex-friends had never understood why he’d made the decisions he had, why he had to survive above everything else.
They only got one chance at life, and he wasn’t going to end up dead at an early age. Like James and Lily.
He pulled out a knife and a bottle. “Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe,” he chanted, as he cut into Harry’s arm. Blood leaked out, and he captured it in the vial. He paused, and looked at Harry. He wanted to cut the boy’s throat, but his Lord had demanded that if the boy survived the killing curse then Pettigrew was to leave the boy alive, so that his Lord could kill him personally.
Peter shook his head, before carefully placing the bottle down. It was too important to risk the blood by transforming with it. He turned into his rat form, and picked the vial up and scampered out a crack in the wall. He made it out just as the door to the Infirmary banged open behind him.
Albus had his feet up on the corner of his desk, a lemon drop in his mouth. All he needed was his phoenix on his lap to complete the picture. Sadly, however, Fawkes was on his way to the Flamels’ to keep them updated.
Of all the things he’d done, lying about Nicholas and Perenelle dying had been the best. They were currently assuming new identities, and planning a new book on transfiguration. Albus had read the first few chapters, and was eagerly awaiting the rest.
If nothing else, they were fantastic authors, and their command of pre-Normandic English was outstanding.
With no phoenix to hand, he instead had an amusing I.C.W report in front of him. Harry’s cursing of Lucius had paid off, with the I.C.W managing to persuade a judge to give them permission to dose Lucius with a truth serum – his song had been the tipping point the judge had required, and so they had asked him several questions that his money had allowed him to avoid thirteen years ago.
The biggest one had been getting Lucius to admit that he had never been under the Imperious curse.
And all of a sudden, Lucius previous crimes were back on the table and with the confessions they’d extracted, the Malfoy family was going to have a female regent for at least three years, until Draco Malfoy was an adult. Lucius had also admitted to making generous contributions to the Ministerial re-election campaign and the bribing of many bureaucrats, but to Albus’s great surprise, had never actually bribed Fudge directly.
He was a trusted advisor, but Fudge had treated him the same way as Albus – as a wise person to bounce ideas off.
Albus had truly believed Fudge corrupt, and had never entertained the thought that Fudge had simply taken the advice he’d felt more comfortable with.
Of course, the fact that he’d taken Lucius’s advice so often meant that Fudge had really poor judgement, in his opinion, at least, but Albus guessed that was better than him being corrupt.
Not that incompetence was a significant improvement over corruption.
Albus chucked the report on to his desk, and eyed the new pile with a hint of joy. He had the distinct impression that whenever he looked away, it increased in size.
A lot of people were very interested in the Boy-Who-Just-Wouldn’t-Die and wanted to interview him, talk to him, invite him to various things, make business arrangements, make arrangements of a more personal nature, poke him, prod him, and have him as some sort of performing monkey at their soiree. And that wasn’t to mention the requests he’d been receiving since the first task for all of Harry’s secrets, including his liquid metal.
Having learned his lesson, Albus had approached Harry earlier about them, and Harry had asked if he wouldn’t mind dealing with them.
The fact that he’d gotten the response he’d wanted delighted him. It was a sign that Harry still trusted him, despite his mistakes, and they were mistakes he would not make again. And so the paperwork sat on his desk, just waiting for Albus to be in the right frame of mind – tired, irritable, and generally annoyed with the entire world, but not quite homicidal – to enjoy telling a lot of people to bugger off – in the most politically correct manner, of course.
With his lemon drop finished, he took a quick sip of water to clear his palate, before he started on his other weakness in life. The large mug of hot chocolate covered in swirls of cream, with chocolate sprinkles and a ’99 Flake.
He’d once been told that you were supposed to mix it together, so that the chocolate tasted nicer. Nonsense. The chocolate stick was to be used as a spoon to eat the sprinkle-covered cream, then you ate the spoon, and at the end, you had a slightly less sweet chocolate to finish off with.
Albus picked up the chocolate flake, swiped a large amount of cream, and then groaned as the wards reported two stunning spells in use in the Infirmary. He frowned. It was unusual, but Poppy was not above using Stunners to get patients to sleep. It some cases, it was better than potions to get them unconscious, and once there, she could keep them in that state far easier.
However, she always let him know afterwards so he wouldn’t worry. Only, he was worrying. It was Harry in the wing, and the thought that he was having nightmares was not a palatable one.
He slowly placed his mug down, as the sense of worry grew. “Bugger,” he whispered, as he popped down to the entrance hall, he took a breath, and popped to the door to the infirmary, which was the single longest pop he’d managed.
He barged in, and gasped. Dobby was unconscious on the floor; Harry was flat on his back on his bed, with a bleeding wound on his arm. Almost absently, Albus waved his hand at the elf, reviving him.
Dobby gasped. “What?”
“I do not know, young Mr Dobby,” Albus said, as he looked at Harry.
“Albus?” Poppy asked, as she came out of her room looking sleepy.
“The wards registered two stunning spells. I found Mr Dobby on the floor.”
“Harry,” Poppy gasped. She moved over to Harry and started to cast some diagnostic spells at him. “He’s fine, lost a little blood, but nothing else.” She healed the cut on his arm and cleaned it up expertly.
“I’m going to wake him,” Albus said.
“Could it not wait until the morning?”
“I don’t think so,” Albus sighed. “Dobby, would you mind fetching my hot chocolate from my desk, and getting three more for yourself, Poppy and Harry?”
Dobby nodded and vanished.
“Headmaster?” Harry asked with a yawn, as he sat up.
Dobby appeared, holding four identical mugs. He handed them out, a look of worry on his face.
“Albus,” Poppy scolded, “What have I told you about this? You have to take care of your health!”
Albus poked his tongue out for a second, and then settled down. “The wards told me that two stunning charms were used in here,” he said softly to Harry. “When I arrived, Dobby was unconscious, and you were bleeding from your arm.”
“Dobby,” Harry said.
“Yes?” Dobby asked fearfully.
“Do you remember what happened earlier today?”
“So, before you say anything, just remember that I was hit in an ambush, and I kind of died. And I don’t blame anyone but the bastard who hit me, so the same should apply to you. You were not here as a bodyguard, but as my friend, and you were perfectly right to be sleeping!”
Dobby blinked, opened his mouth, and then shut it again. Finally, he nodded slowly. “Harry Potter is great and wise.”
“And I have good personal hygiene,” he agreed with a teasing grin, before he took hold of the flake, and ate some of the cream.
Albus grinned as he saw someone else do it the proper way. He could see Poppy already stirring her cream in, the barbarian. Dobby was eating the same as Harry; whether this was because of innate style and culture or because he was copying The Great and Wise (and Properly Bathed) Harry, was difficult for Albus to say.
“What do you think, professor?” Harry asked after the only sounds had been four people enjoying chocolate.
Albus sighed. “Barty told us earlier that he knew about the soul fragment, and I cannot overlook the likelihood that this was related.”
“So you think Voldemort has my blood?”
“Yes, or will very soon.”
“Professor, now would be a really wonderful time for you to tell me that you don’t know any rituals where Voldemort could regain his form with my blood!”
Unfortunately, Albus knew four.
“Bugger,” Harry sighed a few seconds later, obviously having seen the look on his face. “I’ve got to admit, I’m feeling slightly guilty.”
“Why?” Poppy asked.
“Because we could have killed Voldemort, but I decided it was more important that we ruin his reputation beforehand.”
“Ahh,” Albus mused. “Who was the most effective of Voldemort’s Death Eaters in the first war?” As Harry didn’t answer, Albus looked to his nurse. “Poppy?”
“Probably Malfoy,” she half asked, half stated.
“Indeed. And today, I received a report from the I.C.W that Lucius has forcibly confessed to a rather large number of crimes. His potential four year sentence is now going to probably be closer to fifty years. At a stroke, you’ve taken out the most influential of his supporters, and given the Ministry justification to confiscate the majority of the Malfoy fortune as the fruits of illegal activities. We now have Crouch, self-described as Voldemort’s most loyal follower, in custody, being interrogated with more potions than you’d find in an apothecary. Your stated goal was to ruin his reputation, and destroy his legacy.
“And you’ve done that! Yes, Voldemort might have returned, and yes, there may be some violence, but as crass as it sounds, sometimes bad things happen because of the decisions we make, and as much as we want to protect the individuals, we have to look at the larger scale as well.
“The term the greater good is much maligned. It does not mean that you have a blanket pass to do anything as long as you keep the end goal in mind. It’s much more personal than that. It’s not the greater good for an unspecified group, it’s a greater good for as many people as possible. It’s the greater good for all the individuals that you know and love. It’s the greater good for the people who can’t fight, for the people who are defenceless, for the people without the ability and power to stand up for themselves!
“It’s a narrow line, and a difficult one to walk, because you will make mistakes, good people will suffer, but if at the end, you have achieved your goals and you have kept your morals, then you have won.”
Harry nodded slowly. “So I can still feel guilty about it, even though it was probably for the best?”
“Yes,” Albus agreed with a sigh. “Guilt is sometimes a sign that you are still on the right path. And my greater good has rarely comforted me at night, and perhaps I am glad of that. It helps remind me that we are all human.”
There was a silent pause. Poppy and Dobby were sitting, watching them.
“Can I have Daphne for a couple of days, out of school?”
“For what purpose?” Albus asked curiously. “It’s not that I don’t trust you, but I am Miss Greengrass’s headmaster and am responsible for her education and general well-being.”
“I’ve been planning some battle armour, and I think I need to work non-stop to get it finished. I’m guessing that Voldemort is going to want to announce his return shortly with a bang. I’d like to be able to be there to stop it. When it’s ready, I’ll be ready to Portkey or pop anywhere at a few minutes’ notice.”
“I have to say that I don’t like the idea,” Albus said sadly.
“I don’t, either. But, if there is one person here who the skill to create and use the armour, it’s me.” Harry paused. “I think my new armour might stop the killing curse.”
“That’s impossible,” Poppy blurted.
Albus calmly put the now-empty cup of chocolate down. He didn’t remember finishing it. He thought, hard, before he reached up and removed his spectacles with one hand and palmed his face with the other. “Poppy, dear, do you remember how I have dealt with killing curses?”
“You would raise walls, or banish things into it,” she replied.
“Now, what would happen if you reinforced some armour to be practically indestructible, and added some runes to absorb the force?” Harry asked.
“The spell would hit, and do nothing, because it would take the curse instead of you,” Poppy gasped. “Harry, that’s incredible!”
“It is,” Albus agreed. “And I would bet our ancestors are laughing at us for forgetting the lessons they had taught us. Did you know that records of the killing curse show that its effectiveness was much lower hundreds of years ago, than it is today?”
“Harry, this changes everything,” Poppy said softly.
Albus smiled. “Well, Mr Potter, how about a deal. I give you your friends for the week. In return, you allow us to test your armour before you wear it, and, for a hefty fee, you agree to supply five sets of standard armour to the ministry?”
“What do you mean by standard?”
“Plain, nothing as beautiful as yours, of course.”
Harry chuckled. “Okay,” he agreed. “Professor?”
“I’m not going to go out of my way to keep the Death Eaters alive, if they are attacking me or innocent people.”
Albus sighed heavily. “That is a price I had hoped you wouldn’t have to pay. Sometimes, though, you have little choice. When you are defending yourself or others is the only real time you are justified. ”
“People are scared of them, and it helps them. They need to be scared of me as well.”
“I know,” Albus said. “I know.” He was saddened that the boy was going to have to go through it, but Albus accepted Harry’s point. And he couldn’t help feel that maybe they wouldn’t be in this situation if he had been a little more proactive in his dealings with Voldemort. “Poppy, can Harry have a dreamless sleep potion? A good night’s rest would be ideal, as he’s going to be very busy.”
Poppy walked to her supply cupboard, and returned with a vial.
“Night,” Harry said, as he downed it.
“Oh, dear, Albus,” Poppy said as Harry fell asleep.
“I know,” he agreed.
“I’m going to talk to some friends. See if we can get a mind healer to spend some time here. The more we can help Harry now, the less likely it will be that he has some serious problems in the future.”
“A capital idea,” Albus agreed. “Very much so.”
“He has changed this year, and now, when I look at him, I no longer see the small child with the Quidditch injury. I see the man who can kill a dragon, and who has earned the right to live up to his word,” the nurse said, as she looked down at the sleeping boy.
“I will do everything I can to help and protect him,” Albus said.
“And Dobby will be makings sure that Harry Potter sir is safe at Hoggyworts!” Dobby said fiercely. “All House-elves wills be helpings.”
“Excellent, mister Dobby,” Albus agreed.
“And you,” Poppy said in that healer’s tone which could not be denied, “Will go straight to bed, and I’m banning you from hot chocolate for a week!”
“Yes,” Poppy said sternly. “You have been warned about your sugar intake, and if you can’t cut it down, I’ll do it for you! Now out! Bed!”
Thoroughly cowed, Albus quickly returned to his room, and headed to bed. Before he did, he sent a quick message to Amelia.
The "Tate" is actually Tate Britain these days, I wanted to send them to Tate Modern but it wasn't open at the time.
I know it's unusual, but competent organisation of the Tri-Wizard tournament was fun to write.
Some of you might remember Enslavement, a little piece I released a few months ago. The second half of that was inspired by Albus v Crouch here. It made me realise that Dumbledore was a brilliant wizard. Of course, why he didn't is still up for debate. I did enjoy the whole scene though.
I also enjoyed the Harry/Lily scene. I was trying to avoid the standard cliches, but as people keep telling me, I'm not very good at that.
Competent wormtail is fun as well.
So Harry learns an important lesson about acting like a comic-book character. he now realises he is in a war, and won't make the same mistake again.