When Harry Missed the Trick Step by Srikanth1808



Summary: Ever wondered what would have happened if Harry's foot hadn't sunk into the trick step, when he went to investigate Barty Crouch's sudden appearance in Snape's office in his fourth year? Read on to find out! Compliant till a part of the chapter "The Egg and the Eye" of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.

Chapter 10 up - please read and review!
Rating: PG starstarstarstarstar
Categories: Pre-OotP
Characters: None
Genres: None
Warnings: None
Challenges: None
Series: None
Published: 2016.11.07
Updated: 2017.04.25


Index

Chapter 1: A Midnight Duel
Chapter 2: The Confessions of Bartemius Crouch
Chapter 3: Nightmares
Chapter 4: Weekend Surprises
Chapter 5: The Patronus Revisited
Chapter 6: Greengrass and Gillyweed
Chapter 7: The Second Task
Chapter 8: Unwelcome Realizations
Chapter 9: Sirius, Sunset and Sevens
Chapter 10: The Trial of Sirius Orion Black - Part I


Chapter 1: A Midnight Duel

When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 1: A Midnight Duel


Location: Outside the fourth door to the left of the statue of Boris the Bewildered, on the fifth floor of the castle of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry

Date: January the twenty-eighth, nineteen ninety-five

Time: Around one o’clock in the morning


Harry had taken his first step back towards Gryffindor Tower, when something else on the map caught his eye…something distinctly odd.

Peeves was not the only thing that was moving. A single dot was flitting around a room in the bottom left-hand corner — Snape’s office. But the dot wasn’t labelled ‘Severus Snape’…it was Bartemius Crouch.

Harry stared at the dot. Mr Crouch was supposed to be too ill to go to work or to come to the Yule Ball — so what was he doing, sneaking into Hogwarts at one o’clock in the morning? Harry watched closely as the dot moved round and round the room, pausing here and there…

Harry hesitated, thinking…and then his curiosity got the better of him. He turned, and set off in the opposite direction, towards the nearest staircase. He was going to see what Crouch was up to.

Harry walked down the stairs as quietly as possible, though the faces in some of the portraits still turned curiously at the squeak of a floorboard, the rustle of his pyjamas. He crept along the corridor below, pushed aside a tapestry about halfway along and proceeded down a narrower staircase, a shortcut which would take him down two floors. He kept glancing down at the map, wondering…it just didn’t seem in character, somehow, for correct, law-abiding Mr Crouch to be sneaking around somebody else’s office this late at night…


Harry looked up from the map when he was almost halfway down the staircase — and he was lucky he did too; he managed to narrowly avoid stepping into the trick step Neville always forgot to jump. He stood on the step below the trick one, quite relieved that he’d had the presence of mind to look up just in time, and wondering what would have happened if his foot had sunk through the step and had been caught in it.

Harry hurried down the remaining steps and glanced at the map again — Peeves had now moved to one of the abandoned classrooms on the sixth floor…Flich and Mrs Norris were still in their office…and the dot of Bartemius Crouch still continued to dart around Snape’s office. His heart racing now, Harry quickly but quietly opened the tapestry to a landing on the second floor corridor, double-checked that the coast was clear, and hurtled off as fast as he could towards an intersecting corridor that led to the marble staircase.

As he rushed past snoozing portraits and suits of armour, Harry’s mind began racing — almost as quickly as his heart was, due to the adrenaline coursing through his veins. The same fundamental question kept popping into his head as he softly padded down the marble staircase — why on earth was Mr Crouch at Hogwarts, when he was presumably too unwell to even get to work?

The enormous Entrance Hall was, as the map showed, empty. Moonlight streamed in through the large vaunted windows next to the huge oak double doors of the castle. Harry scanned the map quickly, making sure that Mr Crouch was still there, and that no one else had decided to take a night-time stroll in the dungeons. And, for the second time that night, Harry stopped in his tracks, staring intently at the dot that had just begin to move in the dungeons below…the dot labelled ‘Severus Snape’.

Harry stared at the map; Snape’s dot seemed to be moving slowly — Harry surmised he had awoken to grab a glass of water. His eyes followed Snape as the dot reached the middle of what could only be his living quarters (somewhere close to the Slytherin common room), and then suddenly stopped, as though Snape too had noticed something unusual. Then, without warning, the dot moved off, away from the living quarters, and out into the lower corridor of the dungeons.

Harry’s eyes moved back to the dot in Snape’s office; Crouch was still there, but he was circling the office more frantically, as though he was desperately searching for something. What could he be looking for, thought Harry, now padding down the steps to the dungeons. He knew Snape’s office had the rarer and more expensive ingredients for certain potions — Hermione had stolen some Boomslang Skin from it in their second year to brew the Polyjuice Potion — not to mention the variety of slimy and ugly things suspended in glass jars lined on the shelves around the room. Harry had been inside Snape’s office twice in the last two years (a record, he expected, bettered only by Fred and George), and both times he’d been in serious trouble.

This time, however, he was desperate to make sure that no trouble occurred.

He had reached the corridor where the entrance to Snape’s office was; it was a few doors before the entrance to the Potions classroom. Harry paused at the beginning of the corridor and checked the map once more: Crouch was still there, his dot moving more frantically than ever…but Snape was now on the staircase at the other end of the corridor, moving quickly. He must have been alerted about the break-in to his office, mused Harry, creeping softly along the dark corridor lined with stone torches. Unlike at normal times, when all the torches would be lit, only one in three were burning brightly tonight. Harry was both thankful and annoyed with it — while the darkness was something he could hide in, even while wearing his Cloak, the flickering torches cast long shadows along the corridor; despite the map telling him that no one (save Snape and Crouch) was nearby, Harry felt distinctly unnerved by it all. He had to stop himself from jumping every time he spotted an unusually shaped shadow — it wouldn’t do for him to drop the golden egg somewhere in the dungeons in the dead of the night.

Snape had reached the same corridor, and was now moving slowly along the wall towards his office. Harry imagined Snape creeping up on someone, like some oversized bat silently approaching its prey, and had to stifle a sudden laugh that threatened to escape his mouth. He forced his free hand into his mouth to stop himself from bursting into laughter; the egg, still slightly damp from the bath, almost slipped from under his arm, and he had to twist his arm awkwardly to hold it in position.

His few moments of wild imagination had cost him, however; Snape was now standing right next to the door of his office. The door was ajar, but no light streamed through from the office into the corridor; Mr Crouch seemed to be using either his wand-light, or the bright moonlight through the solitary window.

Harry peered through the darkness at Snape — he looked extremely serious and tense, even by his own standards. His mouth was set in a firm, thin line, and his black eyes — or at least what Harry could make out through the gloom — looked furious. Harry couldn’t blame him — Snape guarded his office with the utmost secrecy and caution; the ingredients and other things stored there were probably worth a sizeable fortune. Snape was clutching his wand in his right hand as he slowly approached the door to look inside properly and catch the guilty culprit.

As quickly and as quietly as he could, Harry moved closer to the door himself, drawing almost level with Snape. Careful not to bump into Snape or anything that could give away his presence, he peered inside the office.

He had been right: Crouch was using the light from his wand to peruse the items and jars resting on the shelves. Harry noticed that there were even more jars on the shelves this time, holding horrible, slimy things…but it seemed as though half the jars had been removed from their places on the shelves and were now on Snape’s desk, the floor, another side table which held books. The doors of a cupboard at the far end of the office was open…books, quills, parchments and ingredients had been pulled out of it and scattered across the floor. Even Snape’s books — which had been neatly stacked and piled onto another side desk at the side of the room the last time Harry had been inside — were not spared…they lay upon the floor in heaps, among the broken glass jars and spilt ingredients.

Harry wondered how nobody else had woken up — surely all these jars and books crashing and tumbling to the floor would have caused an almighty racket…but then, Harry saw Crouch throw another glass jar over his shoulder onto the floor, where it shattered into a million pieces, the contents of it spewing everywhere in the area near Snape’s desk — all without a single sound. His question had been answered almost immediately — Crouch must have put some sort of muffling or silencing spell on the floor.

Harry saw something move out of the corner of his eye; Snape was heading towards the threshold of the office, his black eyes filled with rage. He looked absolutely furious, and Harry saw his hand twitch…clearly Snape was going to curse first, and ask questions later…

But just then, Crouch turned around and moved towards the desk, right into the path of the moonlight filtering in through the lone window, illuminating his face…

Harry almost gasped in shock; both he and Snape stopped dead at the threshold. Snape looked too stunned to speak; Harry presumed he was surprised at the realization that it was an adult, and not a student, who was pilfering and ransacking his office. Harry, however, was too flabbergasted at the profile he’d just seen. One thing was for sure — this was definitely not Mr Crouch, the head of the Department of the International Magical Co-operation.

The man was pale-skinned, with a mop of sandy, straw-coloured hair on his head. His freckled face gleamed in the moonlight — he looked agitated and worried — clearly he hadn’t been able to find what he’d been looking for. His eyes were darting around Snape’s desk, as though the item he wanted would jump out at him immediately. Harry could see a small bead of sweat trickling down the side of the man’s face.

Harry looked up at Snape again, and was startled to see what looked like — was it recognition? Or apoplectic anger? — flit across the sallow skin. Did Snape know this person? Or was he just too enraged at the destruction of his office?

Harry didn’t have time to ponder these questions for too long; Snape had decided to take things into his own hands. The Potions Master raised his right hand, a curse ready to burst forth from his lips — when his elbow caught Harry right under his chin.

What happened next was such a blur to Harry that he wasn’t quite sure as to what did take place.

Harry stumbled backwards under the Cloak, frantically trying to hold onto something to prevent him from falling. The golden egg slipped out from under his arm — Harry made a grab for it but missed — it hit the floor with a bang, and rolled ten feet away from him in the corridor where it came to a stop, but mercifully, thankfully, not bursting open and wailing — but the momentum from his lurch to catch the egg carried him too far: he fell to the floor with a loud THUMP — the Invisibility Cloak had slipped out from over his head; he lay there, invisible from the neck down, dazed from the impact of the back of his head hitting the cold, stone floor, the Marauder’s Map, bless it, still clutched tightly in his left arm…

The noise had alerted the intruder to the presence of someone at the door. The man looked up, panic-stricken, only to see the most bizarre scene he’d probably ever witnessed: Severus Snape, standing slightly off-balance, rubbing his right-hand elbow furiously, looking around to see who, or what, he’d caught, his wand hanging limply from his right hand…a large golden egg appearing out of nowhere and rolling away in the middle of the dark corridor…and the head of Harry Potter, lying on the floor outside the office, his eyes slightly unfocused behind his round glasses…

And even as he processed this unusual sight, Snape’s cold, black eyes fell on the golden egg, and slid over to Harry’s head — the only thing visible to Snape and the man, at least — the face of which still had a bleary look on it. Harry could see Snape’s visage twist into a horrible expression, seething with fury at the sight of him, Harry — coupled with the fact that his office was thoroughly ransacked, and Harry was surprised that Snape hadn’t exploded and started cursing everything and everyone in sight yet.

He didn’t have long to wait to witness Snape vent his fury, however: the sandy-haired man had withdrawn his wand and had fired a curse at Snape. Harry, groggy as he was, couldn’t catch the words yelled out by the man, but he saw a jet of purple light whizz past Snape’s head and hit the other wall of the corridor — Snape had ducked just in time to avoid the curse. The Potions Master drew his wand from his robes as well, pointed it at the man, and gave it a flick — all in one fluid motion — Harry had barely enough time to appreciate Snape’s speed and dexterity, when a narrow jet of white light shot towards the office — Harry couldn’t see what it had hit, but knew it hadn’t been successful — a loud BANG echoed throughout the corridor — it seemed as though the spell had smashed into the shelf behind Snape’s desk…there was another noise from inside — it seemed that the man had ducked behind the desk to avoid the curse and was now scrambling away from the ruins of the shelf, its contents raining down below…

Harry pushed himself up to a sitting position. The scene swam before his eyes, and he forced himself to focus…he had to help Snape — most hated teacher or not, that pale-skinned man was not supposed to be in Hogwarts, and —

‘Bloody hell!’ yelled Harry as a jet of vivid green light struck the opposite wall, narrowly missing his face, Snape avoiding it himself by the tiniest of margins…Harry scrambled to his feet, the Invisibility Cloak falling to the floor in a silvery pool of fabric. He drew his wand and strode to the door of the office, folding the Marauder’s Map and placing it back in his robes…he hadn’t had the time to check if anyone else was approaching the dungeons — Filch, and probably some of the school’s population, would have heard the racket now coming from what remained of Snape’s office.

For the office now resembled a battleground — it was completely destroyed: ingredients, jars, furniture, books, everything lay in ruins and tatters on the floor…Snape was standing near the door, peering through the dust at his adversary — his left arm seemed to be bleeding — Harry could see a long thin gash on his forearm, with a matching rip to his black nightgown. Harry couldn’t make out where the sandy-haired man was standing, however; the dust from the wreckage of the desks and shelves hung thick in the air — it was quite difficult to see even a feet in front of him. And then, without warning —

‘Avada Kedavra!’

‘No, Potter!’

Harry’s head hit the ground yet again — Snape had thrown himself to the side to knock Harry to the floor just in time — the sickly green light from the Killing Curse shot over their heads — the door exploded on the curse’s impact — splinters and chips of wood showered over the two of them. Snape cried out in pain — the splinters must have hit him on his legs (which were closest to the destroyed door).

A third jet of green light missed its mark once again — it splashed harmlessly against the solid opposite wall of the corridor. Snape’s face was still screwed up with obvious pain, but he quickly lifted himself off Harry and stood, rather unsteadily, near the entrance. Harry, his skull aching with pain at the second solid impact in as many minutes, pushed himself off the floor, coming to stand next to his Potions Master. Snape cast a sideways glance at Harry, and suddenly, Harry heard his voice, loudly and clearly in his mind, as though Snape had actually spoken to him aloud.

Disarming Charm. Right after my spell — just below my target.

Harry looked up at Snape, who was still staring at him out of the corner of his eyes, while concentrating on the man at the other end of the office. Harry had no idea what Snape’s plan was, but at that moment, he had a sudden urge to utterly and completely trust the man.

Harry, still looking at Snape, nodded ever so slightly. He waited for a moment, not sure if Snape had seen it clearly…but Snape understood.

‘Stupefy!’ roared Snape, his wand pointing at the place from where the Killing Curse had last appeared. A jet of scarlet light shot out of Snape’s wand, speeding through the dust towards the man, and vividly illuminating the scene. The man let out a yell, and ducked to avoid the light, but —

‘Expelliarmus!’ bellowed Harry, and a second, darker jet of red light blasted from Harry’s wand — it shot towards the spot right below where Snape had aimed his spell — just as Snape had instructed him to do, on the hunch that the man would duck to avoid his Stunner — the Disarming Charm hit the man squarely on his chest; he was blasted backwards onto the wall behind him — his head smashed against the ruins of the shelves, and he slid to the floor in a heap.

They were both breathing heavily — Snape more than him, Harry noticed; Snape suddenly stumbled, no doubt due to the splinters lodged in his legs from the exploded door, coupled with the exhaustion settling in after the fierce duel with the intruder — Harry caught him just in time to prevent him from colliding sharply with the debris littering the floor. He helped Snape lean against the wall next to the door, his legs stretched out in front of him; Harry could see blood trickling down the soles of Snape’s feet, and knew it was much worse than what was visible just then.

Snape grabbed the hem of Harry’s pyjamas as the latter stood up, surveying the damage done to the room; Harry looked back at the Potions Master with a curious look. Snape was still breathing rather heavily, and his black eyes were slightly unfocused — he tugged on Harry’s pyjamas again, signalling Harry to bend down to near his face; he seemed to want to tell Harry something, and it was taking him a supreme amount of effort to do so.

‘Ropes…bind…Incarcerous,’ breathed Snape in Harry’s ear when he’d stooped to listen. ‘Then go…Dumbledore…no one else…Cockroach Cluster…now!’ Snape wheezed out the last word with considerable effort — his grip on Harry’s pyjamas suddenly loosened, his hand slid off it and thumped onto the floor…

Harry stared at Snape, too shocked and stunned to move — Snape couldn’t be…there’s no way…he couldn’t possibly have…

And through the dim moonlight that was scattering through the dust, Harry could make out the slow rise and fall of Snape’s chest…the sign that he’d been hoping to see…Snape was still alive.

Harry slowly moved away from Snape, careful not to step on his legs (a considerable amount of blood was pooling beneath them) or any of the glass, wood or ingredients that lay on the floor. He looked around — he needed something to stem the blood flow…some cloth, something, anything…

His eyes fell on the intruder lying on the other side of the room behind the desk, still unconscious. Harry crossed the room as quickly as he could — although it felt like he was playing a game of hopscotch with the difficulty set to the highest possible level, there was just so much debris — bent down near the man, and ripped off a piece of his shirt, hoping and praying that he hadn’t woken him up…

With the piece of cloth in hand, Harry returned to Snape, and with great difficulty, managed to tie it around his right leg, where the blood flow seemed to be the most. Harry noticed that the splinters were gone — Snape must have removed them from his legs just after they’d knocked the man out.

After he finished tying the makeshift bandage, Harry stood up and moved towards the man once again. A trickle of blood was flowing from under his straw-coloured hair, dripping onto his pale, freckled face. Harry thought the man looked slightly familiar, but he couldn’t place him — he’d never seen the man before in his life, and he definitely didn’t look like any of the students from Beauxbatons or Durmstrang…

Snape’s last words before slumping to unconsciousness echoed in his head — ‘Ropes…bind…Incarcerous…’

It took a few moments, but Harry finally understood — Snape was telling him what to do with the man…he was supposed to tie him up with ropes, and ‘Incarcerous’ was the spell to do it…

Harry raised his wand, and, his hand shaking slightly, said, ‘Incarcerous.’

Thin, snake-like cords burst from the end of his wand, twisting themselves around the man’s torso, thighs and ankles; his arms were pulled and drawn against his sides, his legs snapped together too — the ropes forced a change in the man’s position — he swayed slightly, off-balance, and slumped onto the floor towards his left, still out cold.

Harry let out a breath he hadn’t realized he’d been holding on to — he had been half afraid of the man suddenly waking up and attacking him. Still apprehensive, he bent down to bring his face level with that of the man’s, just to make sure he was still unconscious — but he needn’t have worried; the man’s eyes had a vacant, dazed expression, and he didn’t react when Harry waved his hand in front of his face.

Harry stood up, brushing the dust collected around his pyjamas. Now that the adrenaline of the extremely brief duel he’d had with the man was wearing off, he became very aware of his exhaustion, and the throbbing pain in his head. He wanted nothing more than to get back to bed — grabbing some pain-killing potion along the way — but he couldn’t leave Snape and this man like this; the man could awake at any moment — Harry wasn’t too sure how hard he’d hit the shelves when his Disarming Spell had smashed into him, and he didn’t want to take any chances.

He gingerly walked over to Snape’s prone figure on the ground; the bandage around his leg was now shining scarlet with blood — some of it had seeped onto the stone floor, forming a pool. Snape was still breathing though, which in Harry’s opinion was a good thing — for all his faults and the fact that he was Snape, Harry didn’t want Snape to die…not right then, anyway.

He moved out of the office into the semi-dark corridor; the light from the interspaced torches illuminated the golden egg and the Invisibility Cloak — both lying at the same place where he’d last seen them. He picked up the Cloak and the egg, and was just about to set off for Dumbledore’s office when he realized that the egg would be too much of a hassle to carry around; he’d already spent a considerable amount of time in ensuring that Snape was okay and that the man was bound tight — he didn’t want to delay things any further just because he was carrying the heavy egg.

Harry scanned the corridor quickly — Snape’s office was an option, but it was too risky — what if there was another duel? His eyes travelled down the length of the passage, finally resting on the last door of the corridor — the Potions classroom.

Feeling that that was as good as any other place for the time being, Harry hurried over to the classroom and creaked the door open. It was deserted; it was a lot colder down here at night, and Harry shivered in his thin pyjamas. He headed to where he usually sat — right at the back of the classroom — left the egg on the bench, and quickly exited the classroom. He’d pick it up when he returned down here with Professor Dumbledore.

And then Harry ran — well, at least as fast as he could run under the Cloak. He didn’t bother with using the Marauder’s Map, didn’t care if he met Filch or Mrs Norris or not — he had to get to Dumbledore as soon as possible — he’d spent too much time already, Snape had lost a lot of blood, the man could be stirring at any moment —

‘C-cockroach Cluster!’ panted Harry breathlessly, skidding to a halt in front of the large, ugly, stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore’s office and ripping the Invisibility Cloak off himself. The gargoyle jumped aside, revealing the circular stone staircase that slowly circled upwards to the oaken double doors; Harry rushed inside without even bothering to knock, calling out loudly, ‘Professor Dumbledore! Professor!’

Dumbledore’s office was interesting enough for a visit — even if you had just been sent to the Headmaster for some serious offence — but Harry had no time to look around the vast number of portraits — all their occupants were evidently sleeping; the many spindly tables upon which rested a number of intricate and delicate instruments; the perch behind the door where Fawkes, Dumbledore’s phoenix stood; the patched, frayed, and ragged looking Sorting Hat; next to that, in a glass case, the gleaming sword of Godric Gryffindor; and the enormous, claw-footed desk, with Dumbledore’s high-backed chair placed behind it. A patch of unusual, silvery light was dancing and shimmering on the glass case that held the sword; Harry ignored that as well.

A sudden noise from above made him snap his head up: Professor Dumbledore had appeared in the loft above, wearing a plum-coloured night-gown and a concerned expression on his old, lined face.

‘Harry?’ said Dumbledore curiously. ‘What are you —’

‘Professor!’ gasped Harry, ‘it’s Snape — there’s a man in his office — we knocked him out, but Snape’s injured —’ Harry gestured wildly with his hands for Dumbledore to come with him.

To his great relief, Dumbledore did not question him any further — the garbled sentences that he had spewed out seemed to have explained the situation well enough to Dumbledore. He nodded swiftly, and hurriedly followed Harry down the circular staircase, past the gargoyle, and out into the corridor towards the marble staircase. Harry, still panting from the dash he’d made from the dungeons up to Dumbledore’s office on the third floor, jogged along beside Dumbledore, who was taking very long strides.

Mercifully for Harry, Dumbledore refrained from questioning him throughout their short trip across the castle — the Headmaster’s Tower was located at the opposite end of the school from the corridor that contained Snape’s office and the Potions classroom. As they descended the narrow stone steps from the Entrance Hall to the dungeon corridor, Harry had a sudden idea, and stopped abruptly.

‘Just a minute, Professor,’ he said to Dumbledore, who’d stopped too and was peering at Harry up the dimly lit staircase; Harry, his breathing very shallow due to the sprints, dug into his pyjamas and pulled out the Marauder’s Map. He hadn’t wiped it clean when he’d folded it up before entering Snape’s office — the dots of the various occupants of the castle were still visible, most of whom were congregated in their respective common rooms or quarters. Harry’s eyes though, flicked to the room in the bottom left-hand corner of the map — Snape’s office…and what he saw made his insides churn with dread.

The dot of Severus Snape was still there, unmoving and motionless: he was still unconscious. The dot of the room’s other occupant, however — Bartemius Crouch, supposedly — was moving, albeit very, very slowly. It seemed as though he was still dazed from the fall; the dot kept stumbling from side to side as it approached Snape…Harry felt a sudden thrill of foreboding, as though he knew something horrible was about to happen.

‘No, Professor!’ yelled Harry to Dumbledore, stowing the map away in his pyjamas again — he followed Dumbledore, who’d pelted down the stairs as soon as Harry had shouted, now positively charging down the corridor to the office, the door of which was still ajar…

‘CRUCIO!’

A terrible scream of pain issued from inside Snape’s office; Harry stopped dead just outside the door, too stunned to say or do anything, right next to Dumbledore, as he looked inside.

Snape was screaming — screaming so loudly that Harry was certain the entire castle would hear it — he was thrashing about wildly, his head swinging from side to side on the floor — Harry could see him try to curl up instinctively, but couldn’t — the man was standing on Snape’s bandaged leg — blood was flowing out of the soaked cloth in rivulets —

And as Harry looked up into the face of the man, he thought if there could be a pictorial representation of maniacal insanity, this would be it — the man’s mouth was stretched into a wild, terrible, twisted grin; his eyes were wide open, as though he wanted to remember this moment of torturing Snape forever — and suddenly, he began to laugh, a cold, ruthless, maniacal laugh; Harry could literally feel the evilness dripping off him —

All this was processed by Harry in less than five seconds; Dumbledore had raised his wand and bellowed ‘Stupefy!’ — and for the second time that night, the sandy-haired man was blasted backwards; he collided with the cupboard in the other corner of the room, accompanied by a sickening crunch, and slumped to the floor, motionless.

And for the first time in his life, Harry was able to appreciate just why Dumbledore was the only one Voldemort ever feared — Dumbledore’s face held no trace of his usual benign smile, no twinkle in his blue eyes. The look upon the Headmaster’s face as he stared at the unconscious form of the man was more terrible than Harry could ever have imagined, let alone seen — there was cold, absolute fury etched in every single line of the ancient face, and power — sheer power — radiated off Dumbledore, as though he was giving off burning heat.

Dumbledore stepped into the office and strode over to the man near the cupboard; Harry however, went straight to Snape. The Potions Master was groaning in pain — he was still twitching at the after-effects of the Cruciatus Curse. Harry shuddered as he recalled Mad-Eye Moody’s first lesson where he’d taught them about the Unforgivables — Moody had performed it on a spider, and Harry knew it would have been screaming with pain if it had had a voice…to see it cast on a human being — a Hogwarts professor, no less — by someone who was no doubt insane…

Dumbledore had dragged the man over the debris to lay him next to the broken door. He was still looking down at him with an expression of deep disgust and hatred — Dumbledore clearly knew who this man was. Snape groaned again, and attempted to sit up, but he was shaking all over so much that he barely managed to raise himself slightly, before collapsing onto the floor once again.

‘Lie still, Severus,’ said Dumbledore quietly, as he bent over Snape, looking over him slowly. ‘Was it as intense as —’

‘No,’ Snape gasped out; Harry could see the extreme effort it took for him to speak that one word. Dumbledore peered down at Snape’s legs, both of which were now lying in sizeable scarlet pools.

‘He-he was hit by splinters from the door, sir,’ said Harry by way of an explanation. ‘They got caught in his legs — he got them out, but it caused even more bleeding —’

Dumbledore nodded; then, he waved his wand once more — a large, silvery thing shot out of it and streaked out the door; Harry noticed the light in the corridor fade as it moved away from the office, towards the Entrance Hall. Then, Dumbledore turned to Snape, pointed his wand at his legs, and said softly but firmly, ‘Episkey.’

Snape cried out in obvious pain, although not as loudly as he did under the Cruciatus; Dumbledore performed the spell a few more times on his legs — Harry presumed it was a standard Healing spell, for the wounds seemed to be closing up, the blood flow slowing down…

Footsteps echoed along the corridor; seconds later, Madam Pomfrey appeared at the doorway, looking pale but alert. Her mouth fell open in shock as she surveyed the damaged office, and when her eyes fell on the figure of Snape, she gave a horrified exclamation.

‘Goodness, Professor Snape!’ she cried, hurrying over to his side. ‘What on earth happened to — Merlin’s beard!’ Her hand flew to her heart — she’d just seen the substantial pool of blood around Snape’s legs. ‘He needs to get to the hospital wing immediately, Headmaster, he’s lost a lot of blood.’

Dumbledore nodded, and waved his wand yet again, conjuring a floating stretcher out of thin air; with another wave, Snape floated up and landed gently on it — he seemed to have slipped back into unconsciousness, for his eyes were closed and breathing a bit more even. Without another word, Madam Pomfrey, her wand held out in front of her, moved the stretcher out the door and towards the Hospital Wing.

‘What about him, Professor?’ asked Harry in a shaky voice — Snape was probably the most stoic person Harry had ever known, and to have seen him in such pain tonight had shaken up Harry quite a bit. He nodded towards the motionless figure of the pale-skinned, freckle-faced man.

‘He will come with us,’ said Dumbledore; Harry could detect a faint trace of anger in his tone. Dumbledore straightened up, waving his wand as he did so — this time, heavy chains erupted from the end of his wand, binding the man up so tightly that Harry knew he couldn’t move even he tried. A quick swish and flick later, the man was floating upright in front of Dumbledore, whose wand was pointed out in front of him.

‘Wand out, Harry,’ said Dumbledore, and Harry also drew his wand from the pocket of his pyjamas. ‘And if you could…’

‘Yes, Professor?’

‘Do check that wonderful map of yours to see if any student, teacher or ghost is on our way from here to my office. I do not wish for anyone to see us at the moment, it would result in a great deal of questions, to which I am not sure of the answers myself.’

Harry unfolded the Marauder’s Map once more and stared at it, mentally mapping out the route to Dumbledore’s office. There was no one en route; Peeves was moving, as usual — he seemed to be floating slowly inside a fifth floor classroom. Madam Pomfrey and Snape, Harry noticed, had reached the hospital wing — she was bustling around, evidently gathering pain-relieving and blood-replenishing potions, amongst others.

Harry kept checking the map at every landing and corner for the sign of anybody — thankfully, no one interrupted them during their short trip to Dumbledore’s office. Dumbledore was still holding his wand in front of him, guiding the bound man up the staircases and along the corridors; he gave the password to the stone gargoyle, who leapt aside to reveal the circular staircase to the office.

They headed up the stairs to the office. Harry pushed the door open first, allowing Dumbledore to float the man inside and to the wall near his enormous desk, upon which he was made to lean against. He was still out cold.

Dumbledore moved past Harry and seated himself behind his desk. Harry sat, too. He desperately wanted to ask Dumbledore something, but he didn’t know if Dumbledore would answer him — he had, after all, stated that he wasn’t aware of the answers to certain questions himself. But as Harry recalled the look of revulsion — the first time he’d seen such an expression on the usually kindly, wizened face — that Dumbledore had sported when he’d dragged the man over to them, he was sure Dumbledore did know the answer to his question…

Dumbledore seemed to have sensed his curiosity — or it must have shown on Harry’s face — for he said, ‘What is it, Harry?’

The question burst forth from Harry’s lips before he could help it. ‘Who is this man?’

Dumbledore’s expression hardened slightly, but he answered nevertheless — an answer that rocked Harry completely.

‘This man is Bartemius Crouch Junior, son of Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation at the Ministry of Magic,’ said Dumbledore. ‘This is the man who has been impersonating Alastor Moody since the start of this school year.’ He paused for a moment.

‘And, if I’m not mistaken, he was the one who put your name in the Goblet of Fire.’

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Chapter 2: The Confessions of Bartemius Crouch

Author's Notes: This might not be too much of a deviation from canon, but... oh well :)


When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 2: The Confessions of Bartemius Crouch


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

The question burst forth from Harry’s lips before he could help it. ‘Who is this man?’

Dumbledore’s expression hardened slightly, but he answered nevertheless — an answer that rocked Harry completely.

‘This man is Bartemius Crouch Junior, son of Bartemius Crouch, Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation at the Ministry of Magic,’ said Dumbledore. ‘This is the man who has been impersonating Alastor Moody since the start of this school year.’ He paused for a moment.

‘And, if I’m not mistaken, he was the one who put your name in the Goblet of Fire.’


Harry gaped at Dumbledore. This man — Mr Crouch’s son — had been impersonating Mad-Eye Moody, and had put his — Harry’s — name in the Goblet of Fire last October? For a wild moment, he thought Dumbledore was having him on — but the look on Dumbledore’s face as he’d said those words dispelled that notion almost immediately.

Harry’s gaze shifted to the man, still out cold, leaning against the wall near Dumbledore’s enormous desk. His head lolled to one side as his chest rose and fell deeply as he breathed. If it weren’t for the chains that still bound him tightly, Harry was sure he would’ve thought that this man had just fallen asleep in Dumbledore’s office; he would have definitely been hard pressed to figure out that this man had performed the Cruciatus Curse on Snape not more than forty minutes ago.

But Mr Crouch’s son? Harry was definitely finding that extremely difficult to believe. For one, Mr Crouch loved rules — Harry wouldn’t soon forget the way he’d dressed for the Quidditch World Cup the previous summer — and for his own son to be doing such…odd, law-breaking things: impersonating a decorated ex-Auror, flouting the rules to enter Harry’s name in the Triwizard Tournament…

And for another — judging by what he remembered of Mr Crouch’s reaction when he’d found out that Winky had disobeyed him — the man was quick to distance himself from anything that tarnished his reputation, his image of a law-abiding, respectable Ministry official. If Mr Crouch did have a son like this, it would have been a matter of deep shame for him — he probably would have disowned him immediately.

But it still didn’t make any sense at all. Why would Barty Crouch Junior want to enter Harry’s name in the Tournament? What would he have gained from Harry participating in it — probably even winning it in the end?

And from somewhere deep in the recesses of his mind, the answer came to him — the answer to this question that instantly answered almost every other question that was whizzing about in his brain: Mad-Eye Moody’s words in the chamber off the Great Hall, the chamber where the champions had all congregated after their names had come out of the Goblet of Fire, echoed clearly in his head:

‘Maybe someone’s hoping Potter is going to die for it.’

The fake Professor Moody — this man — had said those words…and instantly, as thought he’d figured out the first definitive piece in a large jigsaw puzzle, Harry knew he hadn’t been joking: Bartemius Crouch Junior had entered Harry into the tournament because he wanted him dead…

Or did he? Harry didn’t know this man at all — he’d never met him before in his life, and was fairly certain that this man didn’t know him either. So why would a random stranger want him dead? Why go to such great lengths to ensure that Harry died during the Triwizard Tournament, when he could have killed him at any point in time earlier or after that?

Harry knew the answer was staring at him in the face, knew that these were simple questions that, had Hermione and Ron been with him just then, he could have figured them out…but his brain had given up. The night’s excitement had slowly worn off him, and his head was pounding with pain once more; he tried to think, to understand…but it was no good. The more he thought about those questions, the more his head hurt, and the answers he’d already managed to find out were now slipping away through the haze of pain. He leaned forward in his chair, gripping his hair tightly and rubbing the back of his head where it had collided, twice, with the cold stone dungeon floor, his eyes shut tightly with pain.
Moments later, Harry felt a hand on his shoulder; looking up, he saw Dumbledore standing next to him, his other hand holding a small vial of purple-coloured potion.

‘Drink this,’ he said, holding out the vial to Harry, who took it with a quizzical look. ‘Pain-relieving potion,’ added Dumbledore as Harry looked at the vial curiously. ‘You seem to be in quite a bit of it, Harry.’

Harry nodded slowly — his head hurt if he moved it too much. ‘My head hit the ground in the dungeons, twice,’ he said as he unscrewed the top of the vial, and gratefully swallowed the potion in one gulp. Instantly, his head felt clearer, more stable…the pain was gone.

Dumbledore returned to his seat and continued to gaze at Harry through his half-moon spectacles. It was exactly the sort of piercing look that he’d given Harry before — it made Harry feel as though Dumbledore was seeing right through him. Harry looked back into those brilliant blue eyes, knowing that if anyone would know the answer to the question buzzing in his mind, it was the old man before him.

‘He wants me dead,’ said Harry slowly. It wasn’t a question, but Dumbledore nodded nevertheless. ‘But why?’

Dumbledore sighed, and it suddenly struck Harry how old and weary Dumbledore looked. He’d always thought of Dumbledore as someone who was getting on in the years — his white hair and beard bore testimony to that — but he’d never thought of Dumbledore as an old man — a man who’d seen and fought in two almost destructive battles with dark wizards and their forces.

‘I have my suspicions, Harry, but these are merely suspicions — simple surmises that I may not be able to confirm immediately,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I can, however —’ Dumbledore stood up, moved to a black cabinet behind Harry — the doors of which were slightly open — lifted a stone basin from inside it, carried it over to his desk and placed it upon the polished wooden top, ‘— show you what I know.’

Harry leant forward curiously to look at the stone basin. It was shallow, and had odd carvings around the edge; runes and symbols that he did not recognise. The basin’s contents, however, were something he’d never seen before in his life — he could not tell if the substance was either liquid or gas. Silvery white and shining brightly, it was floating (or was it flowing?) ceaselessly around in the basin; one moment, it would become ruffled and clustered, like water beneath wind, but the next moment it would smoothen out, all its creases ironed out.

Harry looked up at Dumbledore, who was still standing — the light from the contents of the basin shone upon the aged, wise face of the Headmaster, and once again, Harry was struck by how quite old he looked.

‘This is a Pensieve, Harry,’ said Dumbledore, who had drawn his wand when Harry had been staring at the basin. ‘It is a device that is used to store thoughts and memories, and allows one to review them later.’

‘This stuff’s your thoughts?’ said Harry, as he stared at the contents of the Pensieve — Dumbledore had touched his wand to it, and instead of the substance rippling away from the point where the wand had made contact, it had turned completely transparent. Harry could see the image of a hilltop, a man looking very agitated and windswept, turning on the spot and looking around…

But the image disappeared almost immediately as the man’s face came into clearer focus for Harry. The surface of the contents in the Pensieve rippled once more before becoming transparent, and now Harry found himself looking down into an enormous room, a room into which he seemed to be looking through a circular window in the ceiling. It was dimly lit — just as the corridor in the dungeons had been earlier that night — but he was sure this room, which was surely underground, was nowhere sequestered in Hogwarts. Torches holstered in brackets lined the walls of what he could see of the room; below them, benches rose in levels from the floor, upon which sat a number of witches and wizards — all of them, Harry noticed, seemed to have a fancy and elegant insignia of the words ‘CML’ inscribed upon the chest pocket of their robes.

Harry didn’t know what ‘CML’ stood for; indeed, he didn’t recognise any of the people in the room, much less the room itself; bewildered, he looked up at Dumbledore again, who had pocketed his wand and was motioning Harry to stand beside him.

‘We must hurry,’ he said; Harry could detect an odd note of urgency in Dumbledore’s voice as he stood up and moved next to Dumbledore, the Pensieve now before the two of them. ‘It should not take long…after me, I think.’

And without warning, Dumbledore bent forwards, touched the tip of his long, crooked nose to the strange substance — his own thoughts — and with the blink of an eye, he had disappeared into the bowl.

Harry let out a yell that disturbed the peaceful silence of Dumbledore’s office. He could see some of the occupants of the portraits hanging on the walls glowering at him — one of them, a clever looking wizard with black hair, dark eyes, a pointed beard and thin eyebrows, was actually shaking his fist at him, looking thoroughly irked at the disturbance of his sleep. Harry paid them no mind — he was too busy staring into the bowl, stunned at the sudden disappearance of Dumbledore inside it.

He peered inside, trying to make out the faces of the many people in the cavernous room, but he could have as well tried to identify a needle in a haystack for all the good it would have done — there were just so many people. He couldn’t make out the tell-tale silver beard and hair, the plum-coloured night gown which Dumbledore had been wearing when he’d disappeared into the basin.

The room was square, though, and the basin circular; Harry could not clearly make out what was taking place in the corners of the room. He leant forward, closer to the surface of the substance, trying to see…

The tip of his nose touched the surface of Dumbledore’s thoughts.

Dumbledore’s office gave an almighty lurch — Harry felt himself being pitched headfirst into the basin; he let out a yell at the prospect of hitting the stone bottom of the extremely shallow basin — he screwed his eyes shut, waiting for the impact of bone on stone —

But it never came. A rushing sound filled his ears, the sound of water being sucked into the drain after the plug is pulled — he could sense, through his eyelids, black — something — swirling around him — it was icy cold —

It was over as soon as it had begun. Harry slowly opened his eyes; he was sitting on a bench at the end of the room inside the basin, a bench raised high above the others. He looked around him, still breathing fast at the sudden rush of adrenaline from the unexpected lurch and fall. Almost two hundred witches and wizards were seated inside the room, and all of them seemed to be ignorant of the fact that a fourteen-year-old boy had just dropped into their midst from the solid stone ceiling.

All of them, except one.

‘My apologies, Harry. I realised you did not know how to work a Pensieve only after I had entered the memory.’

Harry almost fell out of his seat on the bench in surprise. Steadying himself, he turned around and came face to face with Dumbledore, who had an apologetic expression on his face.

‘That’s alright, Professor,’ he said. Dumbledore smiled kindly at him.

Harry looked around, and almost jumped again. A second Albus Dumbledore was sitting right next to him, wearing robes of the exact shade of plum as the present-day Dumbledore’s night gown — in stark contrast with the rest of the crowd, who were all dressed in shades of grey and black.

This Dumbledore looked almost the same as the present-day Dumbledore, but he was paying Harry absolutely no attention. He wasn’t surprised though: Harry had had an experience with someone’s memory before — that time, he’d fallen through a page in an enchanted diary…and that time, it had been a situation where nobody else in the memory could see or hear him.

‘Nice robes, sir,’ said Harry before he could stop himself. The Dumbledore behind him merely chuckled, but he broke off almost immediately as another sound broke the total silence in the room.

A frail, wispy-looking witch was seated a few places away in the middle of their bench, right next to a man who Harry recognised as Bartemius Crouch Senior. Crouch looked only a little younger than he did in the present-day: his hair was starting to grey, and his face had begun to line, he looked quite gaunt. He looked almost…angry. Betrayed. There was a vein twitching in his temple.

‘Bring them in,’ he said, his voice cold and echoing.

Harry looked around. There was a door in the far corner of the room, which had opened on Crouch’s command. Ten people entered the room — rather, four people, flanked by six tall, hooded creatures — Dementors.

Even though he knew that they couldn’t harm him here, in a memory, Harry’s insides went cold at the sight of the Dementors; they were among the foulest creatures to ever exist, forcing their victims to relieve their worst nightmares and glorying in their despair. Harry had had problems with them ever since the beginning of his third year, and had only recently mastered the Patronus Charm — one of the few methods of repelling the horrifying effects of Dementors and driving them away. He shuddered involuntarily, and felt Dumbledore squeeze his shoulder reassuringly.

The six Dementors led their captives to four chairs that were situated in the centre of the large room. Harry noticed them only now, and almost immediately felt repulsed by them. Chains encircled the arms and legs of the chairs, as though their occupants were usually tied to them.

The four people sat down on the chairs; immediately, the chains on the chairs glowed suddenly gold and snaked their way up the arms and legs of the prisoners, binding them there; and Harry, getting a proper glimpse of them for the first time, inhaled sharply.

There was a thickset man who stared blankly up at Crouch, a thinner and more nervous-looking man whose eyes darted rapidly around the room, and a woman, with thick, shining dark hair and heavily hooded eyes, who was sitting in the chair as though it were a throne. Harry didn’t recognise any of these three people; it was the profile of the fourth prisoner that had triggered his reaction.

A young boy, not older than nineteen, with a mop of straw-coloured hair, a pale, freckled face, looking nothing short of petrified, shivering so hard the chains clinked against the arms of the chair…

And as the frail witch began to rock forwards and backwards in her seat, her face buried in her white handkerchief, as Crouch stood up, his face full of rage and hatred, as the boy opened his mouth and said ‘Father…Father please…’, Harry began to connect the dots.

‘Bellatrix Lestrange, Rodolphus Lestrange, Rabastan Lestrange…’ said Crouch clearly, his voice echoing above the pleas of the boy and the whimpering of the woman next to him, ‘…and Bartemius Crouch Junior,’ he finished coldly, staring down at the prisoners.

The crowd in the room, which had already began to mutter at the sight of the young Crouch junior, were now openly staring at Mr Crouch; some others were whispering to their neighbours, not bothering to keep their voice down. But they didn’t need to: Mr Crouch was speaking again, and his voice was the loudest of all, its echo drowning out every other noise in the room.

‘The four of you have been brought in front of the Council of Magical Law —’ Harry instantly realised what the word ‘CML’ stood for ‘— so that we may now pass judgment on you, for a crime so heinous, so despicable,’ Crouch spat out the last word, the vein in his temple now pulsing horribly as his rage increased, ‘that had it not been a part of the procedure of this court, it would not be mentioned once again!’

More mutterings were heard from the crowd, even as Barty Crouch Junior continued his pleas — presumably for mercy — from his father.

‘We have heard the evidence against you,’ said Mr Crouch, his voice, ringing with fury, increasing in volume over the renewed mutterings in the room. ‘The four of you stand accused of kidnapping the Auror, Frank Longbottom, and subjecting him to the Cruciatus Curse, in the belief that he would have knowledge of the whereabouts of your former master, He Who Must Not Be Named —’

Harry inhaled sharply. Longbottom…was Crouch talking about Neville’s parents? Now that he thought about it, Harry realised, with a horrible jolt, that he had never heard his round-faced, forgetful classmate mention his parents at all in the last four years; Neville had always spoken about his grandmother, a formidable looking witch who had raised him…but his parents?

‘Father, please!’ shouted the young Crouch, straining desperately against the heavy chains binding him to the chair. ‘Father, I didn’t do it, I swear I didn’t, please!’

‘You are also accused — when he did not reveal anything — of inhumanely torturing Frank Longbottom’s wife, Alice Longbottom, with the Cruciatus Curse! You planned to use the information to look for your master and restore him to power, thereby allowing you to resume the lives of violence, murder and terror you presumably led while he was strong!’

‘Mother!’ screamed the young man, his skin now deathly white, making his freckles stand out so clearly. ‘Mother, please, tell him I didn’t do it Mother, tell him! I don’t want to go back to the Dementors, Mother, please, please!

The frail witch — apparently Mr Crouch’s wife — began to sob into her handkerchief, her wails muffled by the thin piece of cloth. It made no difference whatsoever, however — Mr Crouch was speaking again, completely ignoring his sobbing and wailing wife, and his pleading, screaming son.

‘The time has come,’ he bellowed, ‘for the jury to make their decision known to all. I now ask them, by the power vested in me by the Ministry of Magic, in my capacity as the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, to raise their hands, if they believe, as I and the rest of this Council do, that these crimes merit a life sentence in Azkaban!’

Harry looked around. Crouch had turned to face a row of witches and wizards along the right-hand side of the square underground room. All of them raised their hands in unison, their faces full of savage triumph, mingled with disgust at the sight of the criminals. The rest of the crowd began to clap — a slow, steady clap in celebration of the unanimous verdict. The Dumbledore next to him, however, did not clap, nor did he have a vindictive expression upon his face. On the contrary, he looked rather sombre.

Crouch Junior’s mouth had fallen open with shock at the verdict: he looked wildly between his father and the jury with wide eyes, too stunned to continue begging. The frail witch appeared to give a great shuddering gasp, before slumping forward in her seat. She had fainted.

‘Take them away!’ Crouch ordered the Dementors, which glided from their positions near the door to the prisoners. The bindings fell away with a clink of metal on wood and stone; almost immediately, the hooded guards of Azkaban grabbed the arms of the prisoners and pulled them to their feet. While the three other prisoners stood up quite obediently, Crouch Junior suddenly managed to find his voice.

‘Nooo!’ he screamed up at his father, straining against the firm grip of the Dementor on his upper arm as it dragged him towards the door. ‘No, Father please, please! I didn’t do it, don’t throw me back to the Dementors, please!’

But Harry noticed that the boy’s protests were becoming feebler, his complexion whiter and paler than ever. The Dementors’ cold draining power was starting to affect him, even as he continued to struggle.

‘The Dark Lord will rise again, Crouch!’ called a voice. Harry, who had been focussing on Crouch Junior, looked around. It was the woman, the one with the heavy-lidded eyes, who had spoken. She had stood up from the chair as soon as the chains had left her, and was moving across the room to the door of her own accord, her Dementor escort gliding behind her. ‘Throw us into Azkaban, we will wait! We are his faithful supporters, we alone tried to find him! He will reward us beyond measure for our loyalty and sacrifice, Crouch! We will wait, for he will rise again!’ And with that, she, along with her two other companions, swept out of the room.

Crouch Junior, however, was still desperately trying to break free from the Dementor, but his efforts were futile. Harry could visibly see his strength ebbing away from him, as though it was being sucked up by a vacuum cleaner.

‘I’m your son!’ he screamed up at Crouch, just as he reached the door at the far corner. ‘I’m your son! Please, PLEASE!’

‘You are no son of mine!’ roared Crouch, suddenly apoplectic, his eyes bulging, spit flying out of his mouth. ‘Take this filth away, take him with the others, and may they rot there for eternity!’

‘It is time, Harry,’ said a quiet voice from behind him.

Harry started. He’d quite forgotten that he wasn’t alone in viewing this horrible spectacle; Dumbledore had accompanied him in re-visiting his thoughts about Crouch Junior. He looked around; the night-gown clad Dumbledore was getting to his feet, indicating to Harry to stand next to him, which Harry did.

Dumbledore put his hand under Harry’s elbow — Harry heard him mutter something indistinctly — and next thing he knew, he was rising into the air, the dungeon slowly dissolving around him; for a moment, everything was dark and black — he couldn’t see — and then, he felt himself somersaulting through the air; all of a sudden, he had landed feet first in the candle-lit office of the Headmaster. The stone basin was shimmering in front of him on the desk, and illuminated Dumbledore’s face, standing right next to him.

The night sky outside the window of the office had become, if possible, even darker. Not much had changed in the office since he and Dumbledore had entered the Pensieve; Fawkes was sleeping peacefully, his magnificent head tucked under his large wing. The same could not be said of the occupants of the portraits lining the walls of the office, however: most of them were now awake, looking interestedly at the pair of them; Harry had the feeling that they had been feigning sleep all this time.

Most importantly, however, the Stunned and bound figure of the man — Bartemius Crouch Junior — was exactly where they had left him — leaning against the wall near the desk, his head lolling to one side as he slept, the heavy chains still binding his feet, arms and torso…

The sight of the chains reminded him of the memory he’d just seen — of this very man being bound by chains not unlike these, when he had been younger, a mere teenager; pleading with his father that he hadn’t done it, hadn’t participated in the brutal torture of the Longbottoms in the quest to find his supposedly exiled master, but had still been sentenced to a lifetime of imprisonment in Azkaban by his own father…

And yet, almost thirteen years later, he was here, before Harry and Dumbledore. So he had escaped Azkaban, thought Harry, and wanted him — Harry — dead… Was it on Voldemort’s orders? Had he re-joined Voldemort’s service — was this all a part of Voldemort’s plan to have him killed?

Dumbledore had moved towards the prone figure of Crouch Junior; Harry watched as Dumbledore bent down and knelt before the man, so that their faces were level. Dumbledore opened one of Crouch Junior’s eyes, checking to see if he was still out cold. Harry saw that the man’s eyes were unfocused and blank.

Dumbledore stood up. ‘Harry, if you do not mind…’

‘Yes, Professor?’

‘Please check if Severus has left the hospital wing.’

Harry unfolded the Marauder’s Map once more, his eyes immediately seeking out the area on the first floor that was the hospital wing of Hogwarts. The dot labelled ‘Severus Snape’ was still there, unmoving, while the dot of Madam Pomfrey was moving around in her office.

‘He’s still there, Professor,’ said Harry, looking up at Dumbledore, who sighed again.

‘It would have been convenient…but no matter,’ he said quietly. He strode over to the fireplace on the other side of the room; it had almost petered out, but the last few embers were crackling softly. With a wave of his wand, Dumbledore re-ignited the flames, causing the entire room to be flooded with light, and warmth. He then picked up a small box from on top of the mantelpiece above the fireplace, grabbed a handful of its contents, and threw them into the fire, which turned green, and rose in height, the tip of the flames tickling the top of the fireplace. Harry recognised the contents of the box at once — Dumbledore had thrown in some Floo powder — it turned fires into means of transportation for witches and wizards.

Dumbledore looked back at Harry. ‘I will not be long, Harry. Stay where you are,’ he said swiftly. Stepping into the flames, which licked around his sides but did not burn him, Dumbledore said, very clearly, ‘Bones Mansion!’, and with a whoosh, he was gone.

Harry sank into the chair behind the desk, once again aware of his exhaustion, and the fact that he felt utterly drained by the night’s events. He wanted nothing more than to go back to his nice, warm bed in Gryffindor Tower, but he needed to stay. The questions that had swirled in his mind prior to the Pensieve adventure were now back, buzzing about with renewed energy of their own. He wanted them to be answered, yet he didn’t want to think, didn’t want to force his tired brain to form conjectures and possibilities, when it was already teeming with information — Crouch Junior was a Death Eater, who, along with four others, had been found to have tortured the Longbottoms — surely Neville’s parents — into insanity, and now wanted him dead…

His head felt very heavy…his eyes were drooping…the comforting arms of sleep and blissful oblivion were so close…he wanted — no, needed — it…

A sudden whooshing sound jerked Harry out of his stupor; slightly disoriented, he looked around wildly for the source of the noise.

It was Dumbledore; he had returned to his office by Floo — but he was not alone. There was another soft whoosh from the fireplace behind Dumbledore, and a woman stepped out from it.

Harry’s first and immediate impression was that this was someone he did not want to cross — she looked extremely foreboding. She was a rather tall woman, with a square jaw, closely cropped hair (Harry could see a few grey ones poking out from underneath her hat) and a monocle on her left eye. She was wearing black robes and an expression of mild irritation — clearly she did not like having her sleep interrupted, even if it was by the Headmaster of Hogwarts.

Her eyes fell upon Harry, still sitting in the chair and staring at her and Dumbledore, and she frowned. ‘Forgive my rudeness, Dumbledore, but what the hell is a student doing in your office at this hour?’

Dumbledore merely smiled, ushering the woman forward as he swept up to the wall where Crouch Junior was. ‘This student is Harry Potter. Harry, this is Madam Amelia Bones, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.’

Harry became fully awake at Dumbledore’s words — the head of the DMLE, here? He’d heard of the DMLE before: Ron had told him about it when they’d discussed the subject of Aurors prior to their first Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson early that year. The DMLE was like the police force and army of the magical world, all rolled into one. It was considered as one of the toughest departments to get into in the Ministry — in terms of endurance and physicality.

The head certainly fit the bill, thought Harry, as Madam Bones acknowledged Harry’s presence with a nod at him. She was not slim and lean, but well-built — no doubt due to the years of intensive training as an Auror. Harry, still shocked at her sudden appearance, could do no more than manage a weak smile.

Dumbledore continued to speak. ‘He was the one who discovered the intruder in our castle. I thought you may want to interrogate him yourself — hence the Veritaserum request.’

‘Merlin’s beard…’ breathed Madam Bones, stopping dead as she spotted the unconscious figure of Barty Crouch Junior. ‘How on earth…’

But Dumbledore was already kneeling before Crouch once more, uncorking a small phial that contained some clear, colourless liquid — what it was, Harry didn’t have a clue. He watched as Dumbledore forced Crouch’s mouth open and poured three drops inside it. He stoppered the phial and slipped it into his nightgown; then, he pointed his wand at the man’s chest, and softly said, ‘Enervate.’

For a split second, Harry thought the man would attack Dumbledore; the man’s eyes flickered, and he slowly came to. His face was completely slack, his gaze unfocused as he looked blearily at Dumbledore’s face in front of him.

‘Can you hear me?’ asked Dumbledore quietly.

The man’s eyelids flickered once more.

‘Yes,’ he muttered.

‘Do you know who you are? Do you know who I am?’

Crouch’s response came in a flat, expressionless voice, so unlike the fearful, horrified screams Harry had heard in the Pensieve. ‘I am Bartemius Crouch Junior. You are Albus Dumbledore.’

‘Good,’ said Dumbledore, still in that quiet tone. Harry was amazed at how calm and collected Dumbledore appeared to be — even while interrogating a known Death Eater, who it seemed had escaped from Azkaban, impersonated one of Dumbledore’s very good friends, and had entered Harry in the Triwizard Tournament to have him killed.

‘We would like to know,’ continued Dumbledore, ‘how you managed to escape from Azkaban.’

Harry stared, wide-eyed, at the man, as his confession — the confession of Bartemius Crouch Junior — unfolded in Albus Dumbledore’s office at half past two in the morning of January the twenty-eighth, nineteen ninety-five. He listened, with mounting incredulity, amazement, and anger, as Crouch told them of his escape from Azkaban, engineered by his mother and father through the use of Polyjuice Potion…of his subsequent imprisonment at the hands of his father, in his own home, left to the tending care of Winky, the family house-elf…of how he’d stolen Harry’s wand at the Quidditch World Cup last summer, and cast the Dark Mark into the sky, to punish the other rioting Death Eaters for their lack of loyalty to Voldemort…how Voldemort had captured Bertha Jorkins, tortured her until the Memory Charms put on her by Mr Crouch broke, revealing to Voldemort the fact that he was outside Azkaban…how Voldemort had used this information to free him, Crouch Junior, from the Imperiused imprisonment…and how Voldemort had ultimately designed the plan to have Harry enter the Triwizard Tournament under a different school, to station Crouch Junior at Hogwarts by impersonating Mad-Eye Moody in order to accomplish, and to make sure that Harry Potter won the Triwizard Tournament in the end.

‘And how would that help Lord Voldemort?’ asked Dumbledore, still in that calm, quiet voice.

Crouch’s eyelids flicked once more.

‘I would volunteer to place the Triwizard Cup in the centre of the maze. Turn it into a Portkey, so that when Harry Potter touches it, he would be transported to my master. He would use Potter to return to his body, to return to power, and to honour me for completing his task, but…’

Crouch gave a shuddering gasp, and tears began to well up in his eyes and drip down his face.

‘I have failed my master,’ he whispered. ‘I allowed myself to be captured by Albus Dumbledore, and I have failed him. He will not honour me…I will not be considered as his most devoted, most loyal servant…’

His expression was one of despair and devastation; he turned his face away from the disgusted looks of Dumbledore and Madam Bones, as he began to sob quietly in earnest.

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Chapter 3: Nightmares

Author's Notes: Look who's here! :) Hope you enjoy this chapter!


When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 3: Nightmares


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

‘I would volunteer to place the Triwizard Cup in the centre of the maze. Turn it into a Portkey, so that when Harry Potter touches it, he would be transported to my master. He would use Potter to return to his body, to return to power, and to honour me for completing his task, but…’

Crouch gave a shuddering gasp, and tears began to well up in his eyes and drip down his face.

‘I have failed my master,’ he whispered. ‘I allowed myself to be captured by Albus Dumbledore, and I have failed him. He will not honour me…I will not be considered as his most devoted, most loyal servant…’

His expression was one of despair and devastation; he turned his face away from the disgusted looks of Dumbledore and Madam Bones, as he began to sob quietly in earnest.


Dumbledore stood up, still wearing an expression of disgust and dislike as he stared down at the sobbing figure of Barty Crouch Junior. He flicked his wand, and the intermittent mutters and wails of Crouch Junior were silenced immediately.

Harry continued to stare at the crying man. His mind had gone numb with shock. He knew Crouch Junior was a Death Eater, knew he had entered Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire, but to actually hear it from him…

And he was acting on Voldemort’s orders! Lord Voldemort, whom he hadn’t seen since his first year at Hogwarts, was returning to full strength. And he needed Harry — he wanted to use Harry to return to his body…

A wave of cold swept over Harry, as though a Dementor had just entered the room. The prospect of Voldemort returning to full strength, with his old body, was bad enough…but for Harry to be a part of it…for Harry to be responsible for it…

‘Do not worry, Harry,’ said Dumbledore quietly, and Harry looked up at him, surprised to feel his brow and forehead wet with sweat. Dumbledore was giving him a calm, reassuring look.

‘This information will prove to be priceless for us,’ said Dumbledore. ‘We now know what Lord Voldemort’s plans are —’ Harry noticed that Madam Bones did not flinch at the name ‘— and we will do everything in power to make sure they do not come to fruition.’

‘Indeed,’ said Madam Bones quietly. ‘This is a real coup for us, Dumbledore — it is fortunate that he has been caught now, instead of after his plans become successful.’ She glanced down at the still silently sobbing figure; her expression turned into one of revulsion, and Harry could visibly see her battle the impulse to curse him on the spot. ‘The question is — what do we do with him?’

Dumbledore looked away from Harry to address Madam Bones. ‘Before we deal with him, Amelia, there are a few more pressing matters that need to be addressed immediately. The real Alastor Moody is still imprisoned in his own trunk — it would be imperative to get him out of there at once. We would also need to rescue Barty Crouch from Lord Voldemort’s clutches.’

Madam Bones nodded, a sudden, pained expression crossing her face. The mention of Mr Crouch had evidently affected her — Harry surmised that, despite his strict demeanour and disciplined habits, he was quite well-respected and liked within the Ministry. He only hoped that Voldemort hadn’t disposed of Mr Crouch, like he’d done with Bertha Jorkins.

‘I will take care of Barty Crouch, Dumbledore,’ she said, steeling herself. ‘I will organise a team of Aurors for this mission later in the morning.’

‘Be careful, Amelia,’ said Dumbledore. ‘Lord Voldemort, whether at full strength or half, is not an easy adversary to deal with. Also, it might be best if this is kept as a covert operation — we do not want Rita Skeeter — or certain other people within the Ministry — to find out about this.’

Madam Bones smiled at him grimly and nodded. Then she crossed the room to the fireplace and threw some Floo powder from the small box on the mantelpiece into the crackling flames, which turned green at once.

‘I will give you an update on this as it progresses, Dumbledore,’ she said. ‘Also…’ She turned to face Dumbledore, and her eyes seemed oddly bright, the firelight reflected in them.

‘Take care of Alastor, please.’

Dumbledore gave her a small bow and a nod, his face sombre once more. Madam Bones turned back to the fireplace and stepped into the flames; a moment later, with a cry of ‘Bones Mansion!’ she was gone.

Dumbledore stared at the fireplace for a few moments, his old visage seemingly troubled. It was a while before he turned away from the fire, but his stare merely shifted to the inky black sky outside the window. At his feet, Crouch Junior continued to sob silently.

Harry followed his gaze to look out the window, from his seat behind the desk. The moon shone brightly, and the stars twinkled incessantly. Harry felt his exhaustion return to him in full force — more than he’d ever felt before that night. The confession of Crouch Junior was still swirling around in his brain; he desperately wanted to get back to sleep in his four poster bed up in Gryffindor Tower. He’d had enough adventures and revelations for the night.

‘Err — Professor?’ he asked tiredly.

Dumbledore turned to look at him, and his expression immediately morphed into one of concern.

‘My apologies, Harry,’ he said. ‘I should have realised…you may return to Gryffindor Tower. Do take your Cloak and map with you,’ he added, as Harry stood up from his seat. Harry nodded at him, and picked up the Marauder’s Map — which he’d left lying on Dumbledore’s desk — and moved to the door of the office. He was just removing his Cloak from under his pyjamas when Dumbledore spoke again.

‘And Harry — please remain in Gryffindor Tower for the night. Anything you might want to do — any owls you may want to send — they can wait until later today — do you understand? Also, I would ask you not to openly speak of what happened tonight with anyone for the moment — apart from Mr Weasley and Miss Granger, of course.’

Harry nodded, too tired to respond or argue. He had thought about sending an owl to Sirius detailing the night’s events, but he figured his exhausted brain and body wouldn’t have permitted him to write a letter and walk all the way to the Owlery to send it. No — it was best to wait till morning, just like Dumbledore said. Telling Ron and Hermione could wait too — they were probably asleep anyway.

‘Good night, Harry,’ said Dumbledore softly as Harry shuffled outside onto the circular stone steps and shut the door behind him. Harry merely grunted in acknowledgement.

He did not know how he managed to make it all the way to the seventh floor of the castle — he was so tired and drained, he was half afraid of collapsing at any moment on the way upstairs. His feet seemed to be carrying him of their own accord; his brain certainly wasn’t commanding it to climb the stairs and shuffle down the corridors.

Ten minutes after leaving Dumbledore’s office, he found himself standing in front of the portrait of the Fat Lady, who guarded the entrance to the Gryffindor common room. She was snoozing in her frame, and it took Harry several shouts of the password — some of which echoed around the empty corridor — to wake her up and allow him inside. She eventually did swing open, a sleepy, grumpy expression clouding her plump face, and Harry slowly scrambled inside.

The common room was warmer than the corridors outside — the fire was still crackling merrily in the grate, the flames illuminating the squashy armchairs in front of it in a soft red glow. Harry moved two paces from the portrait hole towards the steps leading to his dormitory, when he stopped. He was too drained, too exhausted…why couldn’t he just sleep in the common room, right here? He turned towards the fireplace that dominated one wall of the room — the long sofa that was right in front of the fire looked so inviting…so comfortable…

He dragged his spent feet towards the sofa. The large portrait of the Gryffindor lion that adorned the mantel of the fireplace looked rather foreboding in the light of the fire, but Harry barely paid it any mind… Sleep was beckoning to him, calling him lovingly to her arms, to rest and relax…

‘Harry?’ said a quiet voice.

Harry started. Ginny Weasley, Ron’s younger sister, was sitting in one of the smaller armchairs before the fire, her legs pulled up to her chest, her arms holding them tightly. Her red hair looked even fierier in the firelight, her brown eyes glinting in its glow as she gazed at Harry. She looked tired and drained, as though she hadn’t slept at all.

‘Ginny?’ said Harry. ‘What—what are you doing down here at this t-t-time?’ he asked, suddenly giving a huge yawn.

‘Couldn’t sleep,’ she said, confirming Harry’s suspicions. ‘I could ask you the same, though,’ she pointed out. She was still staring at him, which made him slightly uncomfortable in his sleepy, befuddled state.

‘I just got back,’ he said, sinking into the soft sofa with a deep sigh. What he wouldn’t give to collapse right now…

‘I can see that,’ said Ginny, a smirk flitting across her face. Harry glared at her, but the effect was useless; his eyelids were shutting of their own accord.

‘Sh-shut up,’ he mumbled drowsily. He was almost there, almost in the land of slumber…

Ginny gave a soft giggle — a sound which Harry found, to his surprise, quite endearing. Now where did that come from, all of a sudden? Endearing, really? That can’t be right, surely…

But at that precise moment, Harry’s brain decided to shut down, and he fell into a deep sleep. If only it were a peaceful slumber…

He was flying across the school grounds on his Firebolt; the wind whipping his hair, the cold air stinging his skin as he skimmed over the surface of the Black Lake and pulled up sharply. He was shouting and whooping with glee, and looked down, expecting to see an ecstatic expression in his rapidly distancing reflection — all of a sudden, he wasn’t on his broom anymore — he was whirling through the air with speed, falling rapidly from the sky, heading straight towards the Lake, and —

He was now swimming in the Lake, looking around through his — eyes? But how could he see? He raised his hands to his face, and saw that they were webbed; they looked green and ghostly under the water — but he had no time; he was supposed to be looking for something, something very dear to him, something that he would sorely miss…

He swam frantically, this way and that, without any sense of direction, without any idea of where he needed to go, only that he had to go there — for what? He didn’t know that either — the water was become darker, murkier — it was difficult to see; blurred shapes were moving in the distance — he had to get there, fast!

And still he swam, still he pushed himself to keep going…don’t give up, Harry, don’t give up…the blurred outlines were taking shape — they looked like men with hooded cloaks, moving towards a tall figure, who looked pale even from a distance — he sped up, for he had to get there, yet he dreaded what he would see…

And then he heard a scream — the scream of a girl, who sounded like she was being dragged forcefully…he had to help her, get her to safety…faster, swim faster…and then —

‘Get away from me, Tom!’

Harry’s insides went cold — colder than it ever could go even in the depths of the Black Lake; that was Ginny’s voice, and she was screaming at ‘Tom’ to let her go — Tom Riddle.

‘No, no — go away! Go away, Tom — don’t hurt me — please!’

Harry’s eyes snapped open. It took him a moment to get his bearings — he was not swimming in the depths of the Black Lake, but was sleeping in the sofa in the Gryffindor common room. It was still dark outside: he surmised he’d barely slept for an hour or two. The fire was still burning — albeit less intensely — but the cause of him suddenly wakening was not the increased chill in the common room.

‘Please, please…don’t make me, Tom, don’t make me…I don’t want to — please…’

Harry looked up, his heart pounding in his ribcage, adrenaline suddenly soaring once more in his blood. Ginny had fallen asleep on the small armchair, curled up in a foetal-like position — but she was moaning frantically, desperately…her back arched, and her arms swiped the air around her, as though she was trying to push someone invisible away from her…

‘Please, Tom — I don’t — no — please…’

Harry scrambled out of the sofa and rushed to Ginny’s side, careful to avoid her still flailing arms. ‘Ginny!’ he said hoarsely, shaking her shoulder. ‘Ginny, c’mon, wake up —’

‘What am I doing — what have I done Tom? I don’t remember what I did — Tom? Tom!’

‘Ginny!’

Ginny opened her eyes; she was shaking uncontrollably, and looked positively terrified. Her eyes darted wildly from here to there; then, her gaze fell on Harry, half-sitting on the arm-rest of her chair, one hand on her shoulder to wake her, and steady her trembling, wearing a concerned expression on his face; she buried her face in his chest and promptly burst into tears.

Harry felt extremely uncomfortable, and completely out of place. He never did well with crying people, much less crying girls — and this was Ginny Weasley — the girl whose giggle he’d found endearing — bawling her eyes out as she sobbed into his chest, her tears soaking his shirt.

He supposed he had to comfort her after her nightmare — but his arms were still by his side, and he did not know where he was supposed to put them without upsetting Ginny further. He settled for raising his right hand and slowly patting her back.

‘Ginny, don’t cry — it’s alright, everything’s alright —’ he muttered, trying to sound soothing and comforting.

It took Ginny a good five minutes to stop crying and calm down; however, she did not move from her position, her head still resting sideways on Harry’s chest as she softly hiccupped now and then. Harry, too, did not cease his patting of Ginny’s back — he did not know why he found that action as soothing for him as it would have been for her — and oddly enough, inexplicably, he found himself just as unwilling to move from his position.

A few minutes of silence passed. Neither Harry nor Ginny had moved from their position of an awkward hug. Harry, whose chin was now gently resting on the top of Ginny’s head, glanced down at her. Ginny’s eyes — at least the one he could see anyway — was red and blotchy; there were tear-streaks down her cheek, and her skin looked quite pale, the freckles standing out in sharp contrast.

‘Ginny?’

‘Hmm?’

Her hummed response vibrated in his chest, and for some unknown reason, it made him feel content.

‘What was your nightmare about?’

Harry felt her stiffen immediately under his right arm, which he’d half wrapped around her. He glanced down again, and noticed that her eyes were filling with tears once more. He hastily backtracked.

‘Oh, no, don’t bother — I didn’t mean to — I’m sorry,’ he stammered out, but Ginny shook her head, as though asking him to shut up — which he did. The action had made him lift his chin from her soft hair; Harry caught a wisp of some flowery scent from her hair as she did so.

He silently berated himself — he’d known it was about Tom Riddle, so why did he have to go and ask her to reveal details about it? Stupid prat, he scolded himself angrily; Ginny had suffered greatly at the hands of Tom Riddle in her first year at Hogwarts itself. She doesn’t need to be reminded of that…

‘It was him,’ she said in a soft voice; Harry strained his ears to listen to her over the suddenly noisy crackling of flames nearby. ‘He was controlling me, just like — just like he did before.’ She sniffed loudly, clearly trying to stop herself from crying once again.

Harry knew what she was talking about — Tom Riddle had possessed her, had forced her to open the Chamber of Secrets two years ago. Harry couldn’t even imagine the horrors Ginny would have gone through during that time, and the thought that she was going through the same, or even remotely similar, experiences, even now, was terrifying. Automatically, Harry began to stroke her hair — at least the portion that cascaded down her back.

‘What was he making you do?’ he murmured quietly.

It took Ginny a while to respond to this; when she did, it was in a slightly shaking voice.

‘He wanted me to — to kill you,’ whispered Ginny, her whole frame trembling. ‘You were…bound to something — some headstone I reckon, and I was to k-kill you.’ She stuttered out the last few words; Harry dimly noticed his shirt becoming wetter — she was evidently crying again.

‘Losing his touch, isn’t he?’ asked Harry lightly, and Ginny gave a half-laugh, half-sob that was muffled against his shirt. ‘He’s tried to do me in since I was a year old — I’m pretty sure he won’t succeed again.’

Ginny laughed again, this time clearer. She put her arms around Harry, locking them behind his back and enclosing him in a warm, still awkward hug. For his part, Harry wrapped his left arm around her and squeezed her shoulder reassuringly.

They sat in silence for a few more minutes, neither of them willing to move from the comfortable position they were in. Then, Harry voiced out his next question.

‘How long have you been having these nightmares, Ginny?’

This time, however, Ginny did not stiffen, nor did she cry. But she did take a good while to respond.

‘I used to have them every night during the summer after my first year,’ she began. ‘Nightmares about the entire thing — killing the roosters, writing those messages on the wall, opening the Chamber… Professor Dumbledore said it was the after-effect of such an experience — post traumatic, disorder, whatever. He said they would stop after a while, that I had to just bear with them.’

Harry didn’t know why she was telling him this — he thought his question warranted a simple answer. But it seemed as though Ginny hadn’t spoken about this to anyone at all. Harry felt a wave of guilt wash over him — despite saving her from the Chamber, he hadn’t bothered to check on how she was doing after the entire experience. He owed it to her to at least listen to her now.

‘I did bear with them — so did Mum and Dad, and my brothers, apparently. They were worse, much worse than what you saw today, Harry…I couldn’t sleep for some nights; when I shut my eyes, I could see his pale face, his cold grey eyes staring malevolently back at me…’ She gave a small shudder.

‘It’s been better over the last two years, though; I began to accept that it was his fault that everything had happened, and not mine; that being hoodwinked by him was not something I had to be ashamed of. In fact…’ she paused for a moment, ‘I haven’t really had a nightmare since the start of this school year. Tonight was the first time…and it was quite different from the previous ones…very different.

‘He’s never asked me to kill anyone on my own; and you’ve never appeared before either.’

Despite the seriousness of the conversation, Harry just couldn’t resist it. ‘Never dreamt about me, have you?’ he asked with a smirk.

‘Prat,’ retorted Ginny immediately, but she, too, was grinning; Harry could feel the heat creeping up her face, but decided not to tease her further about it. ‘I mean, you’ve never appeared in these nightmares. And tonight’s was so real…’

Harry slowly removed his arms from around her, coaxing her to do the same so that he could slide off the arm-rest of the chair and stand up. Ginny followed suit.

What was left of the firelight glinted off her warm, brown eyes as Ginny stood up, facing Harry. She was a good inch or two shorter than he was, and her thin frame was shivering slightly in the cold — the fire was dying out. And as she stood there before him, Harry began to see her, for the first time in three years, in a different light — a young girl, strong and courageous, brave and kind, determined to fight her battles on her own — fight them, and succeed. She was not just Ron’s baby sister anymore — she was Ginny Weasley, a person of her own.

And a rather cute person too, Harry thought, and immediately hit himself mentally with a broomstick; but it was true: Ginny, though quite young, was attractive and pretty for her age. Harry wondered how he’d never noticed it before.

‘They’re just dreams, Ginny,’ he said quietly. ‘Just — bad dreams. Don’t worry about them, they’re not worth it. And they’re certainly not real.’

He’d asked her to stand up so that he could lead her to her dormitories; instead, on sheer impulse, he reached out and placed his hands on her shoulders, giving them an encouraging squeeze before letting go and dropping them to his sides.

Ginny smiled at him, a warm smile that resulted in Harry’s stomach doing an odd sort of backflip.

‘Thanks, Harry.’

She yawned widely all of a sudden, as though sleep had suddenly decided to hit her. Harry chuckled.

‘Looks like you need to get to bed, Miss Weasley,’ he said, grinning at her.

‘Prat,’ she said once again, but she was still smiling as she turned and moved to the staircase leading to the girl’s dormitories. ‘Right then…good night, Harry.’

‘Good night, Ginny,’ he replied, already lying down on the sofa in front of the fire. He was asleep almost immediately, and did not notice Ginny looking back at him from the foot of the stairs, a contented and happy smile on her face.

Harry had no more dreams, nightmares, or any other disturbances that night. He slept peacefully, his body regaining its strength after his energy had been sapped by the night’s adventures. In fact, he was sleeping so soundly, he didn’t get up even when students began streaming into the common room in the morning, some of them already dressed and ready for the day’s lessons.

It was only when Ron came down from the fourth-year dormitories to the common room, found Harry on the sofa and shook him awake, that he woke up.

‘Whassamatter?’ he slurred sleepily. He’d forgotten to remove his glasses before he’d crashed — one side of it was digging into his face painfully, and he winced.

‘What are you doing down here?’ asked Ron in a worried voice. And then, more quietly, he said, ‘When did you get back last night? Did you figure out the egg?’

‘W-what?’ yawned Harry. His mind seemed incapable of processing any of the questions Ron had posed to him at the moment. He desperately needed a good long shower to wake himself up — and he said so to Ron as he got up from the sofa and trudged up the staircase to the dormitories.

‘I’ll wait down here then,’ called Ron after his retreating back; Harry flashed him the thumbs-up in response.

The long, hot shower worked wonders for him — combined with the good night’s sleep, he felt extremely refreshed and revitalised. He dressed quickly and rushed down the stairs, to find Ron and Hermione waiting for him near the fire.

‘About time,’ said Ron impatiently. ‘C’mon, I’m starving.’

They set off to the Great Hall for breakfast. It was a Friday, and the weekend mood had already set in for some of the students, who were chattering and laughing loudly with each other. Unfortunately, this meant that Harry could not recount what had happened last night to Ron and Hermione, as they were surrounded by so many students in the corridors.

It was only when they reached the Great Hall that Harry felt a semblance of relief — they had passed most of the student population in the corridors, and the Hall was mostly empty, save for the staff and a few stragglers on the House tables. They crossed the Hall, past the Slytherin, Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables and seated themselves at the Gryffindor table at the far side of the Hall.

Harry looked up at the staff table as they began loading their plates. Tiny Professor Flitwick was perched upon a pile of cushions, conversing in his high-pitched voice with Professor Sprout, her hair as flyaway as ever. Next to her was the tall, thin Astronomy mistress, Professor Sinistra, who was finishing the last morsels on her plate. Further along the table, Hagrid was drinking deeply from his goblet, while Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore were in what seemed to be a serious conversation, their heads bent low towards each other as they whispered away.

Harry noticed that neither Snape nor Moody was present at the table. Harry knew Moody — the real Moody — probably wouldn’t have recovered in time to join the staff, but Snape? Had he been so badly injured from the glass and the Cruciatus last night that he couldn’t recover in time? For probably the first time in his life, Harry felt a small tinge of worry for his Potions Master — would he be alright?

He was distracted from his thoughts by the arrival of Ginny, who plonked herself in the seat opposite Harry and next to Ron, and — to her brother’s annoyance — grabbed a piece of toast from his plate.

‘Thanks Ron, I’m famished,’ she said, polishing off the toast in two quick bites. She moved to take another one, but Ron pushed her hand away.

‘Oi, get you own food!’ he said, accidentally spraying Harry with bits of egg. ‘Oops, sorry, Harry —’ He swallowed and glared at his sister.

‘Hi, Ginny,’ said Hermione quickly, looking to stave off a potential sibling argument so early in the day.

‘Hello, Hermione!’ she said brightly. ‘Hey, Harry.’

Harry could definitely see her blushing this time as she greeted him with a smile — the colour was staining her cheeks quite clearly; he felt himself turning slightly red as he returned her greeting.

‘Hey, Ginny,’ he said. ‘Sleep okay?’ She nodded, still blushing furiously.

Ginny had always been taken with Harry since they’d first met, so her embarrassed reaction was usually considered as quite normal. Hermione, however, was staring at Harry with a curious look; Harry had never blushed when conversing with Ginny below.

Ron, thankfully, hadn’t noticed anything; he was trying to push Ginny’s hand away as she made a grab for another piece of toast.

Hermione opened her mouth to say something to Harry, but was cut off by the appearance of Professor McGonagall next to the group. Ron and Ginny stopped grappling for the toast piece — which fell to the floor — and looked up at the Head of Gryffindor house.

‘Potter,’ she said in her usual brisk tone, ‘the Headmaster would like to have a word with you once you are done with breakfast.’

‘Oh — okay,’ said Harry. He assumed Dumbledore wanted to speak about last night. He looked up at the staff table, but Dumbledore’s magnificent chair at the centre of the table was empty. ‘Where should I —’

‘His office, Potter,’ said Professor McGonagall. ‘He says you know the password to get inside.’

‘Oh — yes, I do, Professor,’ said Harry. ‘Thank you.’

Professor McGonagall gave him a curt nod, said, ‘Good day to you three,’ to the others, and swept off.

‘Why does Dumbledore want to talk to you?’ asked Ron immediately.

Harry hesitated. Now would be the best time for him to explain what had happened — but Dumbledore had given him permission to speak about it with only Ron and Hermione. He couldn’t say anything while Ginny was around — although it felt like as though he was keeping secrets from her.

‘Dunno,’ he said, shrugging, and it was sort of true — he didn’t really know why Dumbledore wanted to have a word with him.

‘You’d better get going then, or you’ll be late for Charms,’ said Hermione, looking at her watch.

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, a little distractedly. He stood up from his seat, drained the rest of his orange juice in a single gulp, and hurried out of the Great Hall.

Harry took the stairs on the marble staircase two at a time, weaving in between the students walking on it. The corridors were not as full as before; most students seemed to have either gone straight to their first classes of the day, or were up in their common rooms and dormitories, gathering their things.

A minute later, he was in front of the stone gargoyle guarding the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. He gave it the password, and the statue leapt to the side, allowing Harry to climb the moving, circular steps to the office.

‘Come in,’ said Dumbledore’s voice as Harry knocked the brass door-knocker in the shape of a griffon. He pushed the polished oak door open and stepped inside. The office looked as magnificent and interesting as ever, though much brighter in the sunlight than it had been at night. The occupants of the portraits adorning the walls were all awake, and looked around with interest as Harry walked over to sit behind Dumbledore’s desk.

‘Ah, good morning, Harry,’ said Dumbledore cheerfully. ‘Sleep well?’

‘Err-yes, Professor,’ said Harry, slightly perplexed. Surely Dumbledore hadn’t called him up to his office to ask how he’d slept…

‘Good,’ said Dumbledore. ‘I apologise for asking you to visit my office so early this morning, but I did not think it wise to tell you what I had to in front of everyone else.’

‘That’s alright, Professor.’

Dumbledore smiled at him. ‘Very well. You will be pleased to know that, as per the imposter’s information, we were able to reach the real Alastor Moody and initiate his recovery.’

Harry felt a small wave of relief tide over him. ‘That’s great! How is he, sir?’

Dumbledore’s smile faltered slightly. ‘Not too good, I’m afraid. He’s very weak — Stunned, controlled by the Imperius curse for almost five months…no, I do not think he will be able to return to a normal life for at least another six weeks. And even after that, it may not be best for him to assume the role of a teacher at Hogwarts.’

Harry’s feeling of relief washed away almost immediately. ‘So — who’s going to teach us Defence Against the Dark Arts, then? Sir,’ he added quickly.

Dumbledore gazed at him for a moment through his half-moon spectacles, perched upon his long, crooked nose. His brilliant blue eyes were twinkling.

‘I have reached out to an old colleague of mine,’ he said, ‘but it is proving to be difficult in persuading him to return to Hogwarts. I am confident he will accept, however, and I shall announce his appointment on Monday.’

Harry frowned slightly — Dumbledore sounded like an overexcited child struggling to keep a big secret. Surely the appointment of a new Defence Against the Dark Arts professor had to be a worrisome affair; none of Harry’s previous teachers had lasted for over a year — and the current one had been in the job for barely four months. To have to appoint a new teacher for the remainder of the school year — with no guarantee of him staying for the next — was not something Harry would have looked forward to, or would have been cheerful about.

Suddenly, another memory from last night arose in Harry’s mind. ‘Sir, what happened to Crouch Junior? And Mr Crouch — did they manage to rescue him?’

‘Madam Bones arrived this morning to take young Crouch Junior away to the Ministry; I believe he is currently being held at a Ministry holding cell, while Amelia prepares for a second, less public, criminal trial against him,’ said Dumbledore. ‘As for Mr Crouch, his house is currently being scouted by Aurors — or so Amelia tells me. I do not know when they will actually move to rescue him.’

Harry was a bit surprised at this — he’d expected Madam Bones to have rescued Mr Crouch from Lord Voldemort by now. Then again, as Dumbledore had told her, Voldemort was still a formidable adversary — whether with or without a body. Charging in to rescue someone Voldemort was around would be a foolish, reckless thing to do.

He nodded in acknowledgement of the Headmaster’s words, and, thinking that the conversation was over, turned to leave; but Dumbledore stopped him.

‘I trust you did not tell anyone about last night, Harry,’ he said calmly. ‘Apart from Mr Weasley and Miss Granger, as I told you.’

Harry looked back and shook his head. ‘No, sir. I’m going to tell them now, though, if that’s alright.’

Dumbledore nodded.

‘And, Professor…would it be alright if I told Ginny Weasley as well?’

Harry did not know why he asked Dumbledore this question. His only thought was that telling Ron and Hermione, and not telling Ginny, wouldn’t be right — it wouldn’t be fair to her. He knew he barely knew Ginny — the real Ginny Weasley — and yet, keeping this from her seemed like he was betraying her trust.

Dumbledore merely looked at him for a few moments. Harry found the silence slightly uncomfortable, and was starting to regret asking such a question. What had possessed him to open his fat mouth? But then —

‘Very well, Harry,’ said Dumbledore at last. ‘You may tell Miss Weasley as well. But I must ask you to ask them not to repeat this to anybody else. We would not want the news to get out that Barty Crouch Junior has been captured, for if it reaches Voldemort’s ears, the information we gleaned from the imposter would be all for naught.’

Harry nodded again.

‘Very well, then,’ said Dumbledore once again. ‘Off you go.’

Harry turned to leave; he was already late by five minutes for Charms — but thinking about Charms and Professor Flitwick brought another question to his mind — about another Professor.

‘Sir…what about Professor Snape?’

Dumbledore gave him a searching look.

‘He is…shaken, by the events of last night, but he will make a complete recovery.’

Harry had not expected anything else — either from Snape in terms of a reaction, or from Dumbledore in terms of a response. But he had just one last question to ask…

‘Sir, during the trial…Mr Crouch mentioned Frank and Alice Longbottom…was he talking about Neville’s parents?’

Dumbledore gave him a sharp look.

‘Has Neville never told you about his parents, Harry? About why he has been raised by his grandmother?’

Harry shook his head, dreading the answer, but wanting to know it anyway…

‘Yes, he was talking about Neville’s parents,’ said Dumbledore heavily. ‘Frank and Alice were Aurors at the Ministry — just like the real Alastor Moody — and they were extremely popular. As you heard, the Lestranges and Crouch Junior had been charged with the use of the Cruciatus curse on the Longbottoms.’ Dumbledore sighed. ‘The attack on them caused a wave of fury through the wizarding society like no one had ever seen before. It pressured the Ministry to act swiftly and mercilessly — you heard the applause the Council of Magical Law received for awarding that punishment.’

Harry nodded silently — he could definitely recall the expressions of savage, vindictive triumph on most of the faces in that courtroom, as the culprits were led away.

‘Are…are they dead then?’ asked Harry quietly.

‘No,’ said Dumbledore, his voice full of a bitterness Harry had never heard before. ‘They are insane. The pain and the torture broke their minds; they are alive…but they do not live. They do not recognise anyone — not even Neville or Augusta, I believe.’

Harry was thunderstruck. Not once had he bothered to find out from Neville…not once in four long years had he even cared…

‘Harry, I must ask you not to speak of Neville’s parents to anyone. It would not be fair to Mr Longbottom — I think he has the right to tell others, when he is ready.’

Harry nodded mutely, still too stunned to speak. He couldn’t imagine how it must be for poor Neville — having parents who were alive, but could not recognise him at all…

And as he bade Dumbledore a good day, and left the office, his eagerness at waiting for the day to finish quickly, so that he could tell Ron, Hermione, and — more importantly, oddly enough — Ginny, what had happened last night, faded quickly; he often got sympathy from strangers for being an orphan — but as he walked slowly to the Charms classroom, his footsteps echoing off the stone floor and corridor, he felt Neville deserved it more than he did.

Back to index


Chapter 4: Weekend Surprises

When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 4: Weekend surprises


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

‘No,’ said Dumbledore, his voice full of a bitterness Harry had never heard before. ‘They are insane. The pain and the torture broke their minds; they are alive…but they do not live. They do not recognise anyone — not even Neville or Augusta, I believe.’

Harry was thunderstruck. Not once had he bothered to find out from Neville…not once in four long years had he even cared…

‘Harry, I must ask you not to speak of Neville’s parents to anyone. It would not be fair to Mr Longbottom — I think he has the right to tell others, when he is ready.’

Harry nodded mutely, still too stunned to speak. He couldn’t imagine how it must be for poor Neville — having parents who were alive, but could not recognise him at all…

And as he bade Dumbledore a good day, and left the office, his eagerness at waiting for the day to finish quickly, so that he could tell Ron, Hermione, and — more importantly, oddly enough — Ginny, what had happened last night, faded quickly; he often got sympathy from strangers for being an orphan — but as he walked slowly to the Charms classroom, his footsteps echoing off the stone floor and corridor, he felt Neville deserved it more than he did.


All thoughts of Neville Longbottom and his parents’ fate were driven straight out of Harry’s mind as soon as he entered the Charms classroom fifteen minutes late — and was almost hit by a flying Professor Flitwick. Ducking just in time to avoid the tiny Charms professor, who was zooming across the classroom, he stood just inside the threshold of the classroom for a moment, bemused at the sight, until he recalled Professor Flitwick mentioning that they would be practising the Banishing Charm today — the opposite of the Summoning Charm. Harry noticed Neville sweating profusely as he waved his wand in an attempt to Banish the soft cushion in front of him, but instead managed to make a few books fly off the Professor’s desk and hit Dean Thomas on the side of his face, resulting in him knocking into Seamus Finnigan, who swore loudly.

Harry hurried over to Ron and Hermione, wending his way between the benches and occasionally ducking to dodge the cushions — and other heavier objects as well — flying from every bench in the classroom. He sidled into the seat next to Ron, just as Hermione Banished her cushion; it soared into the air and landed perfectly into a box on the other side of the room.

‘What did Dumbledore want?’ asked Ron, as he casually waved his wand — his cushion flew across the room and knocked Parvati Patil’s hat off.

‘Can’t tell you here,’ said Harry quietly; he drew his wand, pointed it at his first cushion, and said, ‘Depulso.’; it followed the trajectory of Ron’s cushion and hit Parvati on the head.

‘Sorry!’ he called hastily as Parvati turned around and glared at him. ‘Anyway,’ he turned to Ron and Hermione, ‘loads of stuff happened last night. I’ll tell you after lessons in the evening.’

‘Did you figure out the egg, then?’ asked Ron curiously, his Banished cushion hitting the thankfully closed window of the classroom.

‘The egg?’ said Hermione sharply, as her second cushion landed on top of the first; she ignored it and turned to Harry. ‘You said you’d already worked out that egg clue, Harry!’ she said indignantly.

‘Keep your voice down!’ hissed Harry crossly, as Dean and Seamus looked around in surprise from their bench two rows in front. ‘I just needed to — understand the minor details, all right? I’ll need your help with it later, anyway.’

Hermione huffed and returned to her cushion, but did not respond to Harry’s last comment. ‘What did the egg say, anyway?’

Harry told them. Ron looked alarmed, Hermione thoughtful.

‘They’re going to take something from you — something you would dearly miss?’ said Hermione, her brow furrowed slightly. Harry nodded.

‘And — and if you don’t get it within the hour, it’s…gone?’ said Ron in a slightly shaky voice. He waved his wand as his eyes flicked between Harry to his left and Hermione to his right, and his cushion did an odd sort of belly-flop on the desk.

‘I s’pose,’ said Harry grimly. ‘Although, I’m not sure they would keep it permanently. It is a Triwizard Task after all, Dumbledore would probably return it later if I can’t get it.’

Hermione hummed in agreement, but Ron didn’t look entirely convinced with this line of thought.

‘But — what about the person that put your name in the Goblet? What if he gets to whatever it is those merpeople have taken before you do? Or worse, gets to you?’

Harry started slightly. The memory of Barty Crouch Junior’s confession flashed in his mind — where he’d openly admitted to putting Harry’s name in the Goblet of Fire. But he couldn’t tell them now — it was too public a place to tell them.

‘Oh, Ron, don’t worry,’ said Hermione reassuringly. ‘Harry’s right, they can’t keep the personal items of the champions, that’s stealing. In any case,’ she said as she waved her wand again, ‘Harry’s got something else to worry about apart from losing his things.’

‘Like what?’ said Ron.

‘Like figuring out how to breathe underwater for an hour,’ replied Hermione.

Harry’s insides felt as though they were sinking again — it was his main problem at the moment. How on earth was he supposed to breathe, underwater, for an hour?

‘Relax, Harry,’ said Hermione, spotting the worried look on his face. ‘We’ll help you find a way, won’t we? Won’t we, Ron?’ she added fiercely at Ron, who’d been intensely concentrating on Banishing his cushion correctly.

‘What — oh yeah, yeah we will, Harry, don’t worry,’ said Ron quickly; he lost his concentration for a moment, and the Banished cushion ended up knocking over poor Professor Flitwick, who’d just managed to regain his footing near his desk in the front of the classroom.

Despite the daunting task ahead, Harry managed to smile at the two of them. He knew exactly what he needed to do, he had a month to figure out how to do it, and he had both his best friends helping him solve the puzzle. The second task already seemed like it would be a lot simpler than the first. And so, it was a slightly more cheerful Harry that left the Charms classroom for break, than the one that had entered the class.

His uplifted mood continued all the way through Transfiguration and History of Magic, where surprisingly, Harry managed to stay awake and take notes on the goblin wars that Professor Binns was droning about. He did it for Ron’s benefit, though — being a school champion, he was exempt from the year-end examinations, and Ron had fallen asleep within two minutes of the start of the class.

‘Thanks a million, Harry,’ said Ron sleepily, as they made their way to the Great Hall for lunch. Students were pouring out of the various classrooms in the corridors of the castle; Harry could hear the rumble of their footsteps as the entire student body headed to satiate their hungry stomachs, chattering excitedly about the fact that they were halfway through the last day of the week.

Hermione scowled at Ron, but was unable to comment on his lack of effort in staying awake during History of Magic when a voice came from behind the three of them.

‘D’you mind if I borrow those notes, Harry? I think I got the year of Urg the Unclean’s rebellion mixed up.’

Harry looked around. Neville was walking behind them, his bag over his shoulder, and round face lined with sweat as he tried to keep up with the rest of the class without being forcefully jostled by the crowd. Harry, Ron and Hermione automatically slowed down and fell in step with their shy classmate.

‘Sure, Neville,’ said Harry kindly. ‘Do you want to take it now? You could hand it back over the weekend.’

‘That’s great, Harry, thanks.’ Neville slid his bag off his shoulder, but it slipped from his hands and unceremoniously landed on the floor. A seam had split in his bag, much to Harry’s surprise; he’d never seen Neville carrying around these many books before.

‘What’s all this, Neville?’ asked Ron, as he bent to help Neville gather the books strewn across the corridor. ‘Why do you — you’re reading extra Potions books?’ Ron looked up in surprise, a copy of Potions for Dummies held in his hand.

Neville went scarlet, but to their increasing astonishment, did not look to avoid the question. ‘Yeah, I am. Professor Moody had heard about my problems in Potions, and he got it for me, right after he gave me this one.’ He indicated the rather thick book in his hand. It had a rather elaborate picture of some underwater plants on the cover that were swaying with the water current. Flowing gold letters were printed across the top of the cover, spelling out the title — ‘Magical Mediterranean Water-Plants and Their Properties’.

Harry felt as though a switch had been flicked inside his head. Water-plants…water…the second task!

‘Neville,’ he said quickly, ‘would it be alright if I borrowed this for a few days?’

Neville stared at Harry. So did Ron and Hermione, and with good reason. Never before had Harry expressed any inclination to read something outside of the curriculum, much less in Herbology.

‘Err, sure, I guess,’ said Neville, slightly confusedly as he held out the book. Harry took it and put it inside his own bag.

‘Why this book, though?’ asked Neville as they finished gathering the rest of his books. ‘No offence, but you’ve never really shown that much interest in Herbology, Harry…’

‘It’s for the second task, Nev,’ said Harry, his voice betraying the slightest hint of excitement. He could hardly believe his luck — he knew that book would have a solution to his problem of breathing underwater for an hour, and he’d found it in less than twelve hours after deciphering the clue in the egg — without even having to head to the library.

Hermione’s eyes widened, and she let out a soft, ‘Oh!’ Harry turned to her and grinned, knowing fully well that she had managed to connect the dots. A second later, Ron’s face had split into a wide grin as well.

‘Excellent!’ he said. ‘You’re bound to find something in there, Harry!’

Neville looked from Harry, to Ron and finally to Hermione, his round face reflecting an expression of utter bewilderment at their excited and knowing faces.

‘Wha —?’

‘Don’t worry about it, Neville,’ said Harry comfortingly. ‘Just know that giving me this book has definitely increased my chances for surviving the task next month.’

‘I — err — you’re welcome?’ Neville stammered out, still very perplexed at the interest and attention that his book was receiving.

The three of them laughed, and even Neville chuckled a bit as they resumed their walk to the Great Hall.

‘You never did answer my question, Nev,’ said Ron, as they climbed down a flight of stairs that would take them two floors down to the second floor. ‘Why are you reading extra Potions books?’

‘Oh, that,’ said Neville. ‘Well, like I said, Professor Moody gave them to me. Thought they might help me perform better in Potions, even with Snape hovering around.’ He gave a slight involuntary shudder.

‘And do they?’ asked Harry interestedly. They’d reached the second floor, and were now near the marble staircase that descended into the cavernous Entrance Hall. Sunlight was streaming through the vaunted windows, glinting off the marble and making the staircase sparkle. Harry was, quite suddenly, reminded of the moonlight illuminating the Entrance Hall and the rest of the events of last night, and gave a small shudder of his own. He had to tell Ron, Hermione and Ginny about what had happened, and soon.

He was so focused on how exactly he had to tell the other three over the weekend that he almost missed listening to Neville’s response.

‘…they do, definitely,’ said Neville quite enthusiastically. ‘Dead useful, those books are. Potions for Dummies, especially — it gives you the logic behind why certain ingredients react the way they do, why the order for putting in the ingredients is crucial, whether there are any substitutes for the standard ingredients. Honestly, I’ve learned more from that book alone than what Snape’s been teaching for four and a half years.’

They didn’t get a chance to discuss it further, as just then, they entered the Great Hall, which was full of the sounds of laughter and talk, and the chink of cutlery, as the school ate lunch. The four of them set off for the Gryffindor table across the hall, and sat next to Ginny, who greeted them with a wave and a smile.

Once again, Harry’s stomach performed a somersault at the sight of her smile — why did it have to keep doing that? His face turned slightly red as he returned Ginny’s greeting with a smile of his own.

‘Hang on…’ Ron’s voice broke through Harry’s thoughts; the former was staring up at the long staff table curiously. ‘Where’s Snape? And Moody?’

The rest of them turned to look at the staff table at Ron’s question. The absence of both Moody and Snape was quite noticeable — and it seemed like Ron wasn’t the only one who had observed this. Some of the students at the other House tables were pointing this out to their friends and neighbours.

Harry glanced at the Hufflepuff table, where Cedric was talking to one of his fellow seventh-year friends. Just beyond him, he spotted Cho at the Ravenclaw table, presumably chatting animatedly with her friends about the absence of their Defence Against the Dark Arts and Potions professors. Her long black hair caught the light of the sun filtering through the windows and the enchanted ceiling, making it shine and glow almost ethereally — something that Harry had found extremely enchanting and attractive not two months ago.

And yet, for some strange reason, he felt no such attraction towards Cho, nor did he harbour any jealousy towards Cedric for taking Cho to the Yule Ball. In fact — and it was quite a surprising realization — Harry knew he’d gotten over his crush on Cho.

‘Maybe they duelled each other, and they got injured!’ exclaimed Dean from a few seats down, to a chorus of agreeing cheers.

Harry smirked as he wrenched his gaze from Cho’s face to Dean’s excited expression. He imagined Dean’s shocked look if he found out how close his words were to the truth.

‘Shame,’ said Seamus, who was next to Dean. ‘It would have been better if Moody’d offed Snape — would have done everyone a favour.’

‘Hear, hear!’ came the response from the surrounding students, mingled with laughter and exclamations of delight. It was no secret that most of the school disliked Snape, who had become particularly vindictive in his classes this year.

‘Oh, don’t say that…’ moaned Hermione sadly, but her pleas were drowned in the renewed chattering that had sprung up among the crowd, who were now discussing how Moody could have finished Snape off.

She wasn’t alone, however; ever since the altercation last night, Harry’s respect, and worry, for Snape had only increased. Dumbledore’s words to Harry about Snape making a full recovery had only soothed the tension temporarily. Like McGonagall, Snape was one of the toughest professors in school, so to have something shake him up was a bit worrying.

Speaking of Dumbledore…

The chink of steel on glass coming from the staff table caught the attention of all the students. As one, all conversations died out as Professor Dumbledore rose to his feet from his magnificent chair at the centre of the table. All heads swivelled to him, as his blue eyes twinkled from behind his half-moon spectacles.

‘It is my duty to inform you,’ said Dumbledore, gazing out over the faces of the students, ‘that, due to certain extenuating circumstances, Professor Snape will be unavailable to teach Potions for those classes which he has today.’

Given that it was already mid-day, and it was a Friday, the absence of Snape did not amount to much; yet, there were a few cheers that went up at this news, primarily from the fourth year Gryffindors, who had been due to have a double period of Potions after lunch.

‘The relevant periods have been given as free periods for the affected classes,’ said Dumbledore, and another, slightly louder cheer echoed around the Great Hall. ‘Students of those classes are requested to utilize their time effectively.’

Harry had to laugh at this: giving students a free double period from Potions and asking them to utilize it effectively was asking for trouble. Harry had a feeling Dumbledore knew this as well, as the corners of the Headmaster’s mouth twitched.

‘It is also,’ said Dumbledore loudly, drowning out the happy babble of students looking forward to a gloriously free afternoon, ‘my painful duty to inform you all that, due to certain unavoidable situations, Professor Moody has been forced to resign from his post as Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher.’

There was a hushed silence at this; it felt as though someone had suddenly muted the volume of the noise inside the Great Hall. In fact, as Harry looked around the Hall, a lot of the students were stunned with shock at the news. It was not a big surprise — Professor Moody’s classes were extremely popular, even though they were sometimes borderline dangerous and explicit. In Harry’s opinion, Moody was probably the best teacher they’d ever had for the subject, after Professor Remus Lupin who’d taught them last year.

Harry, of course, knew what the ‘extenuating circumstances’ and ‘unavoidable situations’ were, which had forced the absence and resignation of Snape and Moody respectively, but no one else was supposed to know that he knew. He quickly schooled his expression into one of disappointment and concern for the teachers…but not before Hermione noticed the sudden shift in his visage.

Damn, he thought to himself as his bushy-haired best friend looked at him with a hint of suspicion. He contemplated brushing the whole thing off, but he was going to tell them the entire story anyway — what was the point? He gave her a shrug, and mouthed ‘Later!’ and re-focused his attention on Dumbledore.

‘Fortunately,’ continued the Headmaster, and everyone looked at him once more, ‘I have been able to secure a replacement for the rest of the school year. A more than adequate replacement, I must mention. His appointment shall be announced on Sunday evening at dinner.’

Dumbledore sat down and returned to his meal, which was the cue for the Hall to explode into talk once more.

‘‘Certain unavoidable situations’,’ scoffed Dean, grabbing one of the last chicken legs from the platter in front of him. ‘Who does Dumbledore think he’s kidding?’

Ron, however, looked a little worried himself.

‘Dad always said Moody was one of the best the Ministry had ever had, and it was really hard to take him out of any assignment that he was doing before it was completed.’ He turned to Harry. ‘You don’t suppose he — I mean, someone —’

‘Killed him?’ supplied Harry, and Ron nodded, still slightly pale. ‘No, I don’t think he’s dead.’

‘You seem quite confident about that,’ said Ginny, with a searching look. Harry shrugged non-committedly.

‘Someone would have heard about it by now, and it would have spread. You know how efficient the Hogwarts rumour mill is.’

Ginny gave him a look of understanding, and a wry smile, before helping herself to some pastries — the desserts had replaced the main course selections.

Hermione, however, did not appear to be convinced in the slightest. Her eyes narrowed, and she raised her left eyebrow questioningly. Harry ignored her, and decided to change the topic.

‘So, a more than adequate teacher, eh? Who do you think the replacement is going to be?’

‘Alright, Harry, out with it. You know something about Moody and Snape, don’t you?’

It was almost the end of their free double period of Potions. As it was the last period of the day, and the fact that it was a Friday, Harry, Ron and Hermione had decided to abandon the comfort of the common room for a stroll around the Black Lake. Harry had given the reason that he wanted to ‘scope out the territory’ for the second task — which was true, in a way. He’d spent the last half hour walking around the perimeter of the lake, trying to imagine how far and how deep the champions would have to go to retrieve ‘what they’d sorely miss’.

Privately, though, Harry knew the entire exercise was pointless: short of jumping head-first into the lake and doing his own exploration, he knew he wouldn’t be able to glean anything from a simple walk. Ron and Hermione had joined him out of sheer boredom — they’d grown tired of the increasingly ridiculous theories of Dean, Seamus, Parvati, Lavender, Fay and Christine regarding Snape’s absence, and the replacement Defence Against the Dark Arts professor.

They were now seated in the share of their favourite beech tree on the grounds of Hogwarts — it was nice and cool due to its proximity to the lake, but not so far that they couldn’t sprint back up to the castle if necessary.

Ron was lying on his back on the chilly grass, eyes closed and humming a random tune. Hermione had been staring off into space for a while, but had suddenly remembered Harry’s odd reactions to the news announced by Dumbledore at lunch.

Hence, the question.

Harry grimaced slightly, his face turned away from Hermione’s glare, gazing out over the lake. He did want to tell them, yes, but he didn’t want to not tell Ginny, and she was still in class — Transfiguration, if he rightly remembered what she’d told them before hurrying out of the common room. How was he to stall for time?

Ron opened his eyes and glanced at the back of Harry’s head. ‘Oi, mate, you okay?’

Harry tore his gaze from the lake — the giant squid had just poked one of its tentacles out of the water — and looked at Ron and Hermione.

‘I’m fine,’ he said. ‘It’s just…’ How was he to tell them — especially Ron — that he wanted to include Ginny — a girl he barely knew at the moment — in it as well?

‘Harry! Ron, Hermione!’

Harry let out an almost imperceptible sigh of relief: Ginny was striding down the slopes of the lawn, her fiery red hair billowing behind her in the slight breeze. She was grinning broadly at the three of them, and waved to get their attention. Harry waved her over to them.

‘Hey Ginny,’ he said as she plonked herself on the grass next to Ron. ‘How was Transfiguration?’

‘Meh, could have been better.’ She blew a few tendrils of her hair that had fallen in front of her eyes as she sat down. ‘Colin’s tortoise was still letting off steam at the end of the class, I think McGonagall deducted marks for that.’

‘Teapot into a tortoise, eh?’ asked Ron. ‘That came in our exams last year. Mine still had a spout for a tail, absolute disaster.’ He grimaced slightly at the memory of it. ‘Anyway,’ he shook his head and turned back to Harry, ‘you were going to tell us something?’

‘Err — yeah,’ said Harry, slightly thrown-off by the fact that Ron hadn’t dropped the subject because of Ginny’s presence. But who was he to look a gift-horse in its mouth? If Ron had no objection, then he wouldn’t have any, either.

‘Hang on,’ he said suddenly, remembering what Dumbledore had told him. ‘Dumbledore’s told me to tell you that we can’t tell anyone else about this. No one can know.’

They also nodded eagerly — Harry could feel the anticipation rising off of them.

He took a steadying breath — more to calm himself than anything else — and began his tale. Of how he used the Prefect’s bathroom to figure out the clue in the egg; how he’d noticed Barty Crouch’s dot moving around in Snape’s office; how his simple curiosity at finding out what Crouch was up to probably resulted in a deadly duel inside the Potions Master’s office; and finally, how he, Dumbledore, and Madam Bones had extracted a confession from Barty Crouch Junior…the confession that he, Harry, was supposed to be used in resurrecting Lord Voldemort.

The reactions were, to say the least, predictable. Ron and Hermione were looking just like how they had when he’d told them about Sirius’ supposed vendetta to kill Harry at the beginning of their third year: Ron, who’d sat up when Harry had begun, was staring at Harry with wide eyes, while Hermione had her hands over her mouth. So did Ginny, noticed Harry, although she seemed to be taking it slightly better than the other two.

‘So, uh…’ began Ron shakily, ‘It wasn’t Karkaroff then.’ It wasn’t a question.

‘No,’ said Harry simply. He felt rather light, as though a great weight had been taken off of him. Having shared what he’d learnt last night seemed to have done him a lot of good — he longer felt like he was carrying a terrible burden. He had a feeling that this wouldn’t be the last time he’d need to do this either.

‘But how would —’ Hermione faltered a bit, her voice slightly higher than usual. ‘How would you have — I mean — what would he have needed —’

‘From me? No idea,’ said Harry, and it was true. Barty Crouch Junior hadn’t elaborated on why Voldemort needed him for his supposed resurrection. Then again, Harry mused, handing him over to Voldemort on a silver platter was bad enough, never mind what the latter wanted from him.

‘Who’s Wormtail?’

Everyone looked at Ginny, who’d voiced the question aloud. She had lowered her hands from her mouth, and her brown eyes were staring at Harry with a slight amount of confusion.

‘I’d forgotten you don’t know who Wormtail is,’ said Harry. He looked at Ron and Hermione, silently questioning if they wanted to go ahead and explain it to her themselves, but neither looked back at him. On the contrary, it seemed they had just noticed that Ginny had been there with them all along while Harry had explained his adventures from the previous night.

‘Go away Ginny, this isn’t any of your business,’ said Ron firmly. Most of the colour had returned to his face, and his big-brother demeanour was now coming out.

‘Harry chose to tell me all of this,’ retorted Ginny, her eyes snapping to her brother with an irritated glare. ‘And I’m not your baby sister anymore, Ron,’ she added hotly, as Ron made to open his mouth; clearly he had intended to say the same thing, because he shut it almost immediately. ‘I’ve already faced Riddle once, you know what he’s done to me!’

‘That doesn’t mean —’

‘I’ve got as much right as either of you or Hermione to help Harry in facing that monster!’

‘But —’

‘Ron,’ interjected Harry, hoping to avoid a sibling argument. ‘I want Ginny to be involved in this. I want to tell her.’

Ron looked at Harry incredulously. ‘You’re not serious? Harry, she’s only thirteen years old —’

‘Which is a year older than you two when you went down to the Chamber,’ said Hermione calmly. She’d been quiet throughout the entire exchange, which surprised Harry a bit. Hermione was never one to shirk back from expressing her opinion on a matter.

‘Voldemort doesn’t care about that, Ron, and you know it,’ said Harry, ignoring the shudder that passed through the other three on hearing his name. ‘He tried to kill Ginny when she was eleven, and me when I was one. If you oppose him, he’ll take you out.’

‘How does it matter what that tosser thinks —’

‘It matters,’ said Harry patiently, ‘because we now know that he’s definitely trying to come back. It was a stroke of luck that Snape and I found his spy at Hogwarts, otherwise, who know what would have happened? Although,’ he added with a frown, ‘even after catching Crouch Junior, I still can’t shake the feeling that this is going to end well.’

Ron fell silent with his arguments — Harry surmised he was looking for a good way to counter their reasoning so as to not involve Ginny in the entire conversation.

‘I trust her, Ron,’ said Harry, missing the brightening of Ginny’s face upon hearing those words, ‘and I’m sure you do as well. I think she should be a part of this.’ He turned to Hermione. ‘What do you think, Hermione?’

Hermione looked slightly taken aback at being put on the spot like this; her gaze shifted from Harry’s determined expression, to Ron’s incredulous, and Ginny’s stubborn and indignant ones, before returning to Ron.

‘It’s not our secret to tell, Ron,’ said Hermione gently. ‘We can’t tell Harry who he can and who he can’t divulge his secrets to, you know that. And Ginny is as capable as we are.’

Ron’s shoulders sagged as though air had been let out of him.

‘She’s right, Ron,’ said Ginny. ‘I really appreciate you looking out for me and trying to protect me,’ at this, she gave a really genuine smile towards Ron — the sight of which made Harry’s stomach do a backflip once again, ‘but I’ve already faced that — him. He almost won last time, and I don’t intend for that to happen again.’

Hermione smiled proudly at Ginny’s impromptu mini-speech, and even Ron had to force a smile at her passion.

‘Well,’ he said, ‘I always hoped that we could have kept you safe and sound, unharmed by all of this. Seems like that arse Riddle had other ideas…’ He shrugged. ‘I’m not saying I like it, but — yeah, okay.’

Ginny gave a very girly squeal and leapt upon her brother to smother him in a tight hug. Hermione and Harry sniggered at her antics, mainly because it was making Ron extremely uncomfortable.

‘Ouch - gerroff Ginny!’ He managed to sit up and push her away. Ginny stuck out her tongue at him.

‘Oh, very mature,’ scoffed Ron good-naturedly.

‘Alright, alright, calm down you two,’ said Harry, still chuckling. ‘You wanted to know who Wormtail is,’ he addressed Ginny, whose expression immediately morphed into something serious and attentive.

‘Yeah, I — what’s wrong?’ she asked, as the faces of the trio had darkened considerably.

‘Traitorous rat,’ spat Ron fiercely, and Ginny recoiled a little bit — she had never heard Ron being this harsh before.

Harry sighed again. ‘I suppose we should start from the beginning…’

The rest of the day and Saturday passed in a blur of walks, meals and homework. Despite being exempt from the end-of-year exams, Harry had not been excused from finishing and handing in his homework, which the professors were increasing at an alarming rate. So, instead of enjoying the last few days of January outside in the grounds, or by the warm fire in the Gryffindor common room, he was forced to spend it in the Hogwarts library, looking up references and useful passages from dusty tomes and enormous volumes to include in his Transfiguration, Charms, Herbology and Potions essays. Given the resignation of Moody, he hadn’t planned on completing the essay for Defence Against the Dark Arts, until Hermione pointed out that it was still homework, and was surely going to count for his final grade, as he wasn’t sitting the final examinations.

After the tell-all conversation under the beech tree the day before, Ginny had unofficially been accepted as the fourth member of their group. She was now joining them at their meals, walks and even their homework sessions, although her objective for the last activity was more for picking Hermione’s brain for her own assignments. Harry — and probably Ron more than him — was pleasantly surprised to see that Ginny was quite smart in her own right; she managed to finish off her homework probably as quickly as Hermione did, and only asked the latter for additional points or tips that she’d missed out. The older girl was only too happy to help.

What was more surprising for Harry was how much of a difference Ginny made to their group when she was around. She was lively and vivacious, with a sharp tongue and even sharper wit to match — indeed, it appeared as though there was never a dull moment when she was around, whether it was because of her jokes and wisecracks that had perfect comic timing, or the unusually intellectual and serious academic discussions she got into with Hermione (punctuated by giggles and shrieks of laughter at odd moments), or getting into good-natured sibling arguments with Ron.

It would have been odd to gauge all of this in less than two days, but Harry had found himself watching Ginny more and more since Friday afternoon. He couldn’t explain it — he supposed it was because she was always part of any conversation that they had — but he’d noticed other things too: the way she would push a lock of her hair behind her ear, her habit of chewing on her quill as she thought of what to write, or worrying her bottom lip as she thought of an intelligent reply to Hermione’s point, or the way she placed her hands on her hips as she argued with Ron…

Or the small dimple that appeared on her cheek whenever she smiled, or the small glances she would send his way with her warm brown eyes…

Stop it, he mentally chided himself for what seemed like the umpteenth time in barely thirty-six hours. Pull yourself together, you prat!

But the more he forced himself to stop thinking about her in a way that made him very thankful that Ron couldn’t read his thoughts, his mind — and dare he say his heart? — almost always betrayed him, and he would end up picturing her smile, listening to her gentle, infectious laughter in his head…

And that was how Hermione found him in the library on Sunday afternoon, as he was finishing off his Potions essay — the last one that was due for that week. Something about Bubotuber pus being used as an ingredient in a Potion had triggered a memory of Ginny and Hermione discussing the same thing only the previous evening. This of course had led to his imagination about Ginny zooming into overdrive, his Potions essay all but forgotten in front of him.

‘Harry?’

He jerked, almost spilling his bottle of ink over his roll of parchment. He looked up at Hermione, who was standing in front of his desk with a concerned expression.

‘Oh — hey, Hermione,’ he said distractedly. ‘What’s up?’

Hermione peered at him closely. ‘Are you alright?’

‘I’m fine,’ he replied, a little too hastily. ‘Just got lost in thoughts.’

Hermione’s concern shifted into a knowing look and a smirk — as though she knew exactly what he had been thinking about. Damn her perceptiveness, thought Harry, deliberately trying to avoid her eye. Thankfully, she didn’t press the subject.

‘Are you done with your Potions essay, then?’ she queried, sliding into the chair opposite him.

‘Not really, no,’ he admitted. ‘Probably need another half hour, I suppose, why?’

Hermione shrugged. ‘Oh, no reason,’ she said. ‘I just thought, maybe you could start looking at the book you borrowed from Neville. For the second task, I mean.’

‘Hermione, I’ve got four weeks to go,’ said Harry with a slight hint of exasperation. ‘I don’t need to figure it out immediately.’

She rolled her eyes. She’d been badgering him to go through that book ever since he’d taken it from Neville the day before, and every time she’d raised the issue, he’d shot it down, using the excuse that he had loads of time before he needed to figure it out. Something which was, in her opinion, the worst thing that he could do.

‘Yes, but what if there was something else you need to do, which requires more time?’ she countered. ‘It never hurts to be prepared well in advance, Harry.’

Harry sighed. It was usually at this point in time that Ron would ask Hermione to drop it, or something else would come up that would distract both of them immediately. Now, however, with neither Ron nor Ginny around, and in the quietness of the library, Harry’s luck had finally seem to run out.

Truthfully, though, he had no idea why he was procrastinating on just reading the book. He supposed he was afraid that he would be let down again — that the book would only say what plants dwelled in the murky depths of water bodies in the Mediterranean, and would have nothing on what would help him breathe. He sincerely hoped that he wouldn’t have to resort to last minute practice or ideas, like he’d done so for the first ask against the Horntail — or even the Yule Ball for that matter — but if this book couldn’t help him…

‘You’re overthinking it again, Harry,’ said Hermione, interrupting his train of thought.

He sighed again. ‘Alright, I’ll look into it once I’m done with Snape’s essay, how does that sound?’

Hermione’s expression brightened up considerably at that statement, and at Harry’s request, stayed back to help him finish the essay in just over half an hour. Then they headed out of the library to return to the Gryffindor common room, where, after taking their favourite seats in front of the fire, Harry opened his bag and extracted the heavy book on water-plants and placed it on the small sturdy desk in front of them. They put their heads together and began to browse through the pages.

For almost an hour, they continued in this fashion — the added time primarily due to Hermione’s eagerness in going through all the passages about each and every plant that was described in the book. After a while, Harry raised his head and looked around the common room, stretching his neck and shoulders as he did so.

The common room was quite full for a Sunday evening: students were milling about here and there, either trying to finish their homework, or chatting in low tones, or playing a few games of wizard’s chess or Gobstones. Harry noticed the other girls of his year — Parvati, Lavender, Fay and Christine — huddled in a corner, browsing through some clothing catalogues. He vaguely remembered overhearing Christine mention something about the Valentine’s Day weekend approaching, and presumed that the girls were shopping for that. Not something he was quite interested in.

He also spotted Fred and George, huddled in another corner of the room, their heads bent together over a piece of parchment, whispering quite seriously to each other. Harry had never seen the Weasley twins looking this sombre — not since the Quidditch World Cup the previous summer. He supposed they were preparing new order forms for their Weasley Wizarding Wheezes products, but the absence of their best friend Lee Jordan debunked that idea almost immediately. What were they up to?

‘What are you guys up to?’

Ron and Ginny were standing right next to Harry and Hermione, having just entered the common room through the portrait hole. They both looked very windswept, yet they had identical exhilarated expressions on their faces.

‘We were just going through the book I got from Neville,’ said Harry. ‘Where have you guys been?’

‘Quidditch,’ said Ron simply, but his eyes shone with excitement. ‘We were bored out of our minds after lunch, so we thought we’d have a friendly game of Quidditch.’

‘Just the two of you?’ asked Harry sceptically. ‘Hang on,’ he added, looking quickly at Ginny. ‘You can fly?’

Ginny looked a bit affronted by the question, but she was grinning. ‘I’ve been nicking my brothers’ brooms from the broom-shed at the Burrow since I was six.’

‘Oh, well that explains it,’ said Ron. ‘I just thought she had some unbelievable natural talent.’

‘Prat,’ she said, and swatted her brother on the arm. ‘Anyway,’ she turned back to Harry (Hermione was still absorbed in the book), ‘once word got out, a lot of people decided to turn up and play. We even got to play with a few Beauxbatons and Durmstrang students!’

‘Really?’ Harry really missed playing Quidditch this year — the inter-house tournament had been cancelled in order to accommodate the Tri-Wizard Tournament — so he hadn’t had the chance to fly around as much as he would have liked, save for the first task. ‘Did Krum play, too?’

Ron’s countenance darkened a bit at the mention of Viktor Krum, the Durmstrang champion, the star Seeker for Bulgaria’s international Quidditch team, Hermione’s date to the Yule Ball, and, in Ron’s opinion, ‘the enemy’. Now that he mentioned it, Harry wondered how Ron had been open to play with students from the other schools, especially after his outburst at Christmas about ‘fraternizing with the enemy’.

‘Well, no, he didn’t join us,’ said Ginny, and she looked quite disappointed at the fact. ‘I did see him diving into the lake though.’

‘Yeah, he’s probably preparing for the second task,’ said Harry, a bit annoyed that Krum had already achieved a head-start, but also glad that he hadn’t been around to dampen Ron’s mood.

There was a loud sound that made everyone in the immediate vicinity jump in fright: Hermione had slammed the thick book shut out of frustration.

‘I can’t concentrate,’ she moaned tiredly, and rather unusually, in Harry’s opinion. Never before had Hermione ever given up on reading a book due to lack of concentration, especially when there were no apparent factors that could distract her.

‘I’m going to lie down for a while,’ she told the others. ‘I’ll see you at dinner.’ And without a backward glance, she stood up, crossed the room and headed up the stairs to the girls’ dormitories.

‘What’s with her?’ said Ron confusedly as he watched her go.

‘Oh, dear,’ sighed Ginny; apparently she’d been able to figure out what Hermione’s problem was. ‘It’s — don’t worry, it’s a girl thing, I’ll take care of her.’ And she sprinted up the stairs as well almost at once.

Ron looked at Harry with a bemused expression on his face. Harry shrugged, having some idea as to what Ginny had meant, but not wanting to discuss it with his red-headed friend. He looked around the common room, hoping for something to change the topic.

‘Fancy a game of wizard’s chess?’

Hermione descended from her dormitories along with Ginny around two hours later, in much better spirits. By that time, Ron had beaten Harry in three straight games of chess, although his deck of cards had exploded rather forcefully in his face while playing a game of Exploding Snap with Harry, Dean and Seamus. Fred and George, Harry noticed, had disappeared from their corner sometime during their game. They’d been acting oddly all year — what on earth were they up to?

He did not have time to dwell upon it — it was almost dinner time, and the anticipation regarding the announcement of the replacement Defence Against the Dark Arts professor had reached its peak, if it had not already. It seemed to be the only topic of conversation for the students who made their way through the corridors down to the Great Hall for dinner. Harry, Ron, Hermione, Ginny, Dean and Seamus were joined by the rest of the fourth-year Gryffindors at the Gryffindor house table in the Great Hall.

For the first half hour, the chinks of cutlery and the general babble were the only noises that filled the enormous room as students and staff made their way through a delicious dinner cooked by the house-elves. The volume died down almost instantly, however, when Dumbledore got to his feet at the staff table. His silver beard and hair shone in the light from the candles and the stars from the enchanted ceiling above. Harry absently noticed that there was no moon visible in the sky tonight.

‘Now that we are well-fed and watered tonight, I shall, as promised, announce the successor to the position of Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts.’ He smiled as he gazed upon the eager faces of the students.

Dumbledore waved his hand towards the doors of the Great Hall, which swung open to reveal a rather tall figure silhouetted against the dark sky. As the figure crossed the threshold, the light from the candles and the stars illuminated his light, brown hair flecked with grey strands, and his tired, grey face, prematurely lined, was thrown into sharp relief. Gasps of shock, followed by cheers of delight, and then thunderous applause echoed around the Great Hall as people realized who it was.

Professor Remus John Lupin had returned to Hogwarts once more.

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Chapter 5: The Patronus Revisited

Author's Notes: Post a re-read of Chapter 1, I noticed that the year should be nineteen ninety-five, not nineteen ninety-four. While I have changed this in the earlier chapters, I still considered the day / date reference as per the calendar for nineteen ninety-four, rather than that for ninety-five. This means there is a mistake in the dates referred to earlier – the story should have begun on Friday, January the twenty-seventh, instead of January the twenty-eighth. I’m considering the revised dates from this chapter onwards – I’m a bit lazy to rectify the earlier ones, but I will get down to it.

Now, on with the story…


When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 5: The Patronus Revisited


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

The volume died down almost instantly, however, when Dumbledore got to his feet at the staff table. His silver beard and hair shone in the light from the candles and the stars from the enchanted ceiling above. Harry absently noticed that there was no moon visible in the sky tonight.

‘Now that we are well-fed and watered tonight, I shall, as promised, announce the successor to the position of Professor of Defence Against the Dark Arts.’ He smiled as he gazed upon the eager faces of the students.

Dumbledore waved his hand towards the doors of the Great Hall, which swung open to reveal a rather tall figure silhouetted against the dark sky. As the figure crossed the threshold, the light from the candles and the stars illuminated his light, brown hair flecked with grey strands, and his tired, grey face, prematurely lined, was thrown into sharp relief. Gasps of shock, followed by cheers of delight, and then thunderous applause echoed around the Great Hall as people realized who it was.

Professor Remus John Lupin had returned to Hogwarts once more.


The days leading up to the fourth-year Gryffindors’ first Defence Against the Dark Arts class with Professor Lupin were nothing short of torture — mainly due to the fact that the most of the student population were gushing about how amazing his lessons were. It seemed to be the topic of conversation almost everywhere they went — in the corridors while walking to classes, during lunch in the Great Hall, and in the common rooms, where older students chattered excitedly about Lupin’s prowess, while the first years looked on in fascination.

It was also of no surprise that his appointment generated quite a stir — both within Hogwarts and outside it. Harry walked into the Entrance Hall on Tuesday morning to find Draco Malfoy and Pansy Parkinson holding court to a sizeable crowd of students, most of whom appeared to be Slytherins. As he passed them, he caught a few words of what ‘his ferret-ness’ (Ginny had come up with the nickname) was preaching to his audience.

‘…could attack any one of us! They’re dangerous creatures, surely your parents must have told you about the viciousness of werewolves,’ said Malfoy, to general nods of approval.

‘He’ll either kill you, or make you into a werewolf just like him!’ screeched Pansy, a girl with a pug-like face who was backing up every single word that Malfoy said.

Harry couldn’t help it. ‘He especially likes ferrets, didn’t you know, Malfoy?’ he shouted, causing everyone in the Entrance Hall to look at him. ‘Says they’re easy to catch, because they always make the same mistakes.’

Malfoy’s eyes narrowed with undisguised fury and hatred, as the audience began to chuckle. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny had taken every opportunity they could get to remind Malfoy about his brief episode as a white ferret (transfigured by Professor Moody); Ron, in particular, was making sure that the blonde Slytherin never forgot about it, and seemed to getting a lot of pleasure in doing so.

Still chuckling, Harry headed inside the Great Hall for breakfast. The enchanted ceiling reflected a bright blue sky, with the sun threatening to peek out from behind a stray floating cloud and warm the area — but Harry knew it would be just as chilly as the previous day, if not worse. Appearances were rather deceptive after all…

Harry shook his head sharply, startling a passing group of small second year Ravenclaw students. He didn’t need a reminder of Barty Crouch Junior this early in the morning.

Speaking of Barty Crouch Junior…

Just as it had happened the previous day, several heads turned as Professor Snape walked into the Great Hall and proceeded down the aisle to his seat at the staff table. His return to the school on Monday morning had wrought several reactions from the general student populace — groans from almost three-quarters of the students, and a loud, storming applause from the Slytherins when he was spotted at his usual seat during breakfast on Monday morning. Only Harry, Hermione, Ginny — and to a slightly lesser extent, Ron — were quite relieved that he had returned without any lasting damage.

Of course, that was a matter of opinion, as they found out quite soon enough.

Groans and criticism usually formed the agenda for any discussion around the topic of Severus Snape, but these were replaced by curiosity, and in some cases, even concern, for the greasy-haired Potions Master. It began after the first Potions class on Monday morning, when Colin Creevey exited the dungeon classroom looking thoroughly shocked — an expression Harry thought he would have been wearing had he been Petrified through any means other than his camera in the boy’s first year at Hogwarts.

‘Snape just awarded Colin ten points!’ said Colin and Ginny’s classmate, Ian Rosenthal, looking quite surprised himself, after they had returned to the common room for the first mini-break.

Silence — absolute silence — pervaded over the common room at that proclamation. Then —

‘He WHAT?’ exclaimed Fred.

‘You’ve got to be joking!’ shouted George.

‘Snape giving points to Gryffindors? What’s up with him?’ yelled Lee Jordan.

Harry turned to look questioningly at Ginny, who was wearing a bewildered look — as though she couldn’t be sure if whatever had happened was real or not.

‘He — he did give us points,’ she said, her brown eyes large with amazement. ‘Colin’s potion was brilliant, mind you, and he did deserve the points, but even so…it’s Snape. Snape, of all people!’

‘About time, if you ask me,’ chipped in Ron, who was stealing in a quick game of wizards’ chess with Dean before their History of Magic lesson. ‘Checkmate!’

Dean swore loudly, causing a few first-year girls to look around in alarm. The bell rang just then, signalling the start of the next period. There was a great scramble as the occupants of the common room made their way to their respective classes. Through the crowd, Harry noticed Fred pocketing a rather long piece of parchment as he exited the portrait hole.

For his part, Harry had not forgotten how secretive the twins had been behaving, and had given it a good deal of thought — even if it was only to distract himself from thinking about Crouch Junior and the Tournament. If he remembered rightly, they had been like this ever since their return to the Burrow from the Quidditch World Cup — but he couldn’t think of anything that could have happened during the World Cup that could have wrought such a change in their behaviour. Secrecy of this manner from the Weasley twins didn’t bode well.

‘I do hope he’s okay,’ said Hermione quietly next to him, causing him to start slightly. ‘We’d best be off, Harry. Come on, Ron.’

‘Harry? Harry!’

Harry looked up into the concerned face of Ginny, realising just then that he had been reminiscing about the previous day’s events, and he was now sitting in the Great Hall for breakfast, with absolutely no idea as to how his plate had been filled up. Slightly disoriented, he looked at his plate of food, and back at Ginny again, who shrugged.

‘I filled it up for you, since you seemed lost in your own world there.’

‘Oh,’ said Harry. ‘Thanks.’ He gave a grateful smile to Ginny, who reciprocated it before returning to her own meal.

That day, and the next passed relatively without incident — unless you counted a notably subdued Potions class conducted by Snape on Wednesday. He didn’t hurl his usual insults at the Gryffindors — Neville in particular — nor did he pass loud remarks on the exceptional quality of the Slytherins’ potions. In fact, he was quite silent for the majority of the period, only addressing the class to tell them the name of the potion they were brewing that day, and then to call them out to submit their samples at the end of the period. Harry, who was quite used to working in what he termed as “the silent treatment” — chiefly due to what he’d experienced in Privet Drive from the Dursleys — performed rather well: his Girding Potion was almost the required shade of gold, although the odour was unbearably foul. His classmates, however, were quite put-off by this ‘indifferent’ version of Snape; poor Neville, despite his increased knowledge of the subject, was constantly afraid of Snape suddenly appearing at his side, resulting in his shaking hands ultimately knocking over his bowl of dragonfly thoraxes.

Harry did, however, get his golden egg back. He had completely forgotten about leaving it in the Potions classroom, on what he had begun to refer to as “the night”, what with the confessions of Crouch Junior, and the subsequent worry he had had for Snape’s and Moody’s recovery. Snape had called him to the side at the end of the class; when Harry had done so after everyone else had left, Snape had produced the egg, thrust it into Harry’s hands, turned and walked off without another word. Harry supposed he should be grateful that Snape had returned it to him, and had not created a scene or deducted points from Gryffindor for leaving it behind, but this new version of Snape was definitely unnerving.

Finally, however, Thursday arrived, and with it, the anticipation for their first lesson with Lupin for that year increased tenfold. The excitement was palpable, and clearly evident even at breakfast; there was a great deal of chatter and laughter during the meal, which continued to their lessons. Of course, for most of Gryffindor, that meant an hour and a half of sitting in the sweltering Divination classroom while the batty old Professor Trelawney droned on and on about the interesting angle created by Jupiter and Saturn in the sky, and what that meant for black-haired people who wore glasses.

‘Well, at least I’m well informed,’ quipped Harry in a whisper to Ron, and Neville, who was sharing a table with them; the other two had to stuff their knuckles in their mouths to stop themselves from laughing out too loudly.

Charms was next — Professor Flitwick correctly capitalized on the cheeriness of the students by asking them to revise Cheering Charms for a while, before moving on to Banishing Charms. Not surprisingly, not a single person went wrong with either of the spells — even Neville’s aim had drastically improved in terms of the target object, although he was still unable to find the box in the corner of the room.

At long last, after a fidgety and hurried lunch, the Gryffindor fourth years lined up in the corridor outside the Defence Against the Dark Arts classroom, a good ten minutes before the bell signalling the start of the period was due to ring.

‘I wonder if it’ll be a practical lesson,’ mused Seamus out loud. ‘Just like what he did last year, you know?’

‘We’ve only learned the Unforgivable Curses though,’ said Fay with a slight shiver. ‘I don’t suppose he’s going to have us practice them though.’

‘Don’t be stupid, of course not!’ exclaimed Christine. ‘I’m not doing that, even if he does ask us to do so.’

Hermione opened her mouth, presumably to point out that it would be illegal for them to perform those curses, but just then, the classroom door opened, and Lupin stepped out into the corridor.

‘Inside, please,’ he said, gesturing them to file in to the classroom with a smile. He winked at Harry as he passed, causing Harry to grin widely at his favourite professor.

Lupin shut the door once everyone was inside, and strode up to the front of the classroom. It was a mark of just how eager the students were, that they had all occupied the first few rows of the seats in the classroom — none of the seats at the back were being used. Lupin seemed to notice this, for he smiled even wider, providing a nice contrast to his lined, worn face.

‘Good afternoon to you all,’ he began, his hoarse voice slightly echoing in the vast room. ‘I scarcely need to introduce myself to you once again, but for those who aren’t aware, or who have forgotten me, I am Professor Remus Lupin, your Defence Against the Dark Arts for this year.’

‘Are you not staying for next year, then?’ exclaimed Dean loudly, and with a slight tinge of disappointment laced into it.

Lupin smiled once again — but Harry noticed it was a bit forced, and a little less natural than his previous smile.

‘Circumstances permitting, I may stay on to teach next year,’ said Lupin. ‘But until then, we have a lot of work to do.’ He straightened up from where he had been leaning against his desk, and gazed around the classroom. ‘Dumbledore tells me that you’ve covered the Unforgivable Curses in your earlier classes, is that right?’

There was a general murmur of assent from the students; a few of them did not want to be reminded about their very first lesson with Moody, while a few others were quite embarrassed about their antics during the class when Moody had insisted on putting the Imperius Curse on all of them, to test their tenacity to throw it off.

‘I see,’ said Lupin, pursing his lips. ‘Well, I think you will be pleased to know that we will not be covering those Curses ever, for the rest of the year.’ The students’ faces brightened up considerably. ‘However, they will still form a part of what you will be tested on during your end-of-year examinations,’ warned Lupin, ‘so do not forget them entirely.’

Harry, who was exempted from the year-end examinations due to his status as a Triwizard Champion, was not too bothered by this piece of news, but paid attention nonetheless.

‘Personally, I think Moody had the right idea in demonstrating those Curses in front of you,’ continued Lupin. ‘He’s always been a big advocate of “know thy enemy” — best if you know what you’re facing, instead of being utterly clueless when you’re an inch from dying.’

‘Do you two know each other, then?’ asked Christine.

‘We’ve met, in the past,’ said Lupin evasively; Harry recognized the response as what Lupin had told Harry himself, when he had asked his professor if the latter had ever met the makers of the Marauders’ Map. Christine looked impressed with his answer, but Hermione, predictably, had narrowed her eyes slightly, as though she knew he was trying to avoid answering the question outright. Apart from a slight frown, however, Ron’s expression gave nothing away.

‘Dumbledore, however,’ resumed Lupin, as he paced down the aisle between the two columns of seats, ‘feels that it would be better for me to teach you some advanced spell work. And by advanced,’ he added, as the class became visibly more excited, ‘I mean quite advanced. Possibly beyond even NEWT level spells.’

The entire class sat up a little straighter in their seats, intrigued. Never had any of their professors spoken about increasing the difficulty level of their lessons — not even Snape. Lupin’s proclamation that they would be trying to learn some particularly difficult spells was both foreboding, and thrilling, at the same time.

‘Sir, what will we be learning?’ asked Parvati, her eyes slightly wide.

Lupin had evidently noticed their eager reaction, and seemed rather pleased with it, as he turned from his position near the end of the aisle, opposite his desk, to smile at Parvati.

‘Today, you will be trying to learn the Patronus Charm.’

There was a stunned silence that greeted this statement. The Patronus Charm! Surely not! Everyone knew that the Patronus Charm was probably the only tool in a witch’s or wizard’s arsenal that could repel a Dementor, the guards of the wizarding prison, Azkaban. It was terribly difficult to master, so much so that even fully-grown witches and wizards struggled with the charm.

For his part, Harry had sat up straight in his chair — but it was from curiosity, rather than shock. Lupin had taught him the Patronus Charm last year, solely because he had needed help with the Dementors, and the effect they had on him. But that was on an exception basis — extra lessons which Lupin had taken for him after regular classes. Why was Dumbledore suddenly eager for all of his classmates to learn the Charm? Especially now, at this time?

He looked over at Hermione and Ron, who were both wearing expressions of surprise and intrigue at Lupin’s announcement. Unlike Harry, neither of them had learnt the Charm the previous year — although Hermione did try casting it on the night they almost apprehended Wormtail. Harry could almost see the gears shifting in Hermione’s brain, no doubt trying to figure out the reasons for introducing an exceedingly difficult charm to a bunch of fourth-year students.

‘Does anyone know what a Patronus Charm is?’

Lupin’s hoarse voice broke through the thoughts in Harry’s mind; mentally shaking himself, he refocused on the class and the professor’s words.

‘Yes, Miss Maxwell?’

‘It’s a sort of guardian, I think — that’s what my uncle told me,’ said Christine, stuttering slightly as the attention of the entire class focused on her. ‘The caster summons a guardian that helps in driving back Dementors.’

Lupin smiled warmly at her. ‘Succinctly put, take five points for Gryffindor,’ and Christine, visibly relieved, grinned back. ‘The Patronus Charm is a defensive spell, which when performed correctly, summons a silver guardian to protect you against Dementors. Now, I’m not sure if anyone knows how this works, so I’ll give you all a brief explanation.’

The rays of the afternoon sun caught the lines on Lupin’s weary face, throwing them into sharp relief. Just like how he had felt when seeing Dumbledore’s aged face, Harry thought Lupin looked a lot older than he really was — a side-effect, he supposed, of the monthly transformations into a werewolf. He felt a sudden wave of sympathy for the man standing before him, one of his father’s true and loyal friends.

‘Dementors are one of the foulest creatures ever to walk upon this earth. They infest the darkest and filthiest places, glorying in decay and despair. Most of you would have felt the numbing effects of a Dementor while at school last year.’

The class nodded grimly, some of them with morose and disturbed expressions on their faces at being reminded of the wraith-like creatures. Harry could distinctly remember the screams of his mother, the shouts of his father…on the fateful night when Voldemort had killed them.

Don’t think about that, he told himself forcefully, just don’t think about that.

‘That is because a Dementor drains its immediate vicinity of peace, hope, and happiness,’ continued Lupin, drawing Harry’s attention back to him. ‘A Dementor’s diet is, in essence, the happiness of humans. Get too near a Dementor, and every happy memory, every good feeling and thought, will be sucked out of you. They leave you with your worst memories and experiences, forcing you to replay them inside your mind over and over again…’

Lupin paused as the class took in every word of his explanation. Harry saw him shake his head slightly.

‘It is here where the Patronus Charm comes into play,’ said Lupin at last, turning to his desk and picking up a rather old, worn-out book. ‘I have here —’ he indicated the book in his hands ‘— the description of the Charm given by Miranda Goshawk. You may wish to write this down, as this book is the only copy in existence, and is in the Restricted Section of the library.’

The sound of chairs scraping the floor and bags being opened filled the room, as the students quickly looked to pull out their quills, parchment, and ink to write down the description of the Patronus Charm.

"This ancient and mysterious charm conjures a magical guardian, a projection of all your most positive feelings. The Patronus Charm is difficult, and many witches and wizards are unable to produce a full, corporeal Patronus, a guardian which generally takes the shape of the animal with whom they share the deepest affinity. You may suspect, but you will never truly know what form your Patronus will take until you succeed in conjuring it.”’ Lupin finished dictating it, shut the book, and waited till the sound of quills scratching against parchment died out.

‘This seems to be pretty self-explanatory, if I may say so. Yes, Mr Thomas?’ said Lupin, pointing out Dean who had raised his hand.

‘How exactly is it conjured, Professor? The description isn’t quite clear regarding that.’

‘Right you are, Dean, well spotted. Well then, it’s probably best if I show you, and then explain.’

Lupin rolled up the sleeves of his robes, picked up his wand from his desk, and waved it in an almost complete circle in front of him.

‘Expecto Patronum!’ he shouted, keeping his wand pointed towards the back of the class. Harry, along with the rest of the class, watched enraptured as the silver wolf burst from the end of Lupin’s wand, landing lightly on all fours in front of Lavender and Parvati, who shrieked in surprise. The wolf padded along the aisle, reaching the door of the classroom before dissipating into thin air.

The class burst into applause — even Harry, who knew that Lupin could cast the Charm, having learnt it from him only a year ago, was awed at the sight of a proper Patronus. Harry realised that he had never seen Lupin’s Patronus until now; he wondered why the Professor had not shown it to him earlier…

And then it hit him — Lupin’s Patronus was a wolf; he would have been afraid of people recognising his condition, his lycanthropy. Considering how Lupin had wanted to keep that a secret for the entirety of last year, it was not hard to deduce his reasoning.

‘The Patronus Charm is, as Miranda Goshawk explained, a projection of your positive memories and thoughts. You need to focus on your happiest memory: the happier the memory, the better the charm will work. The memory need not be the same for everyone — each of you should choose whichever thought gives you the most happiness. I’d like all of you to stand up please, I’m going to create some space in the classroom.’

The class did so, and with a wave of his wand, Lupin pushed all the chairs and desks to the back of the classroom, leaving them with a huge empty space between the door and his desk. He then indicated that they should spread out, leaving at least three feet of distance between each of them.

Once they had all settled down, Lupin continued. ‘Please, take out your wands. Now, close your eyes, and focus on the happiest memory that you can remember. Oh, hold on,’ he said suddenly. ‘Harry, if you could please join me in the front.’

Harry exchanged a look of surprise with Ron and Hermione, who were standing next to him after they had spread out — although Hermione seemed to know why he had been called in front. Feeling slightly apprehensive, Harry made his way to stand next to Lupin, his expression not at all mirroring that of his professor.

‘Right, as I said, try and recall the happiest memory you can remember. Done? Now focus on that memory, and while doing so, wave your wand in a circle, and say ‘Expecto Patronum’. Got it? Go on, go ahead, try it.’

There was a chorus of ‘Expecto Patronum’s echoing throughout the class as the students repeated the incantation, their faces screwed up in thought. Harry, however, turned to Professor Lupin.

‘Why did you call me up here, Professor?’

Lupin did not immediately respond, even as he continued to look around the remaining nine students in the classroom for any signs of mist or vapour.

‘I know you can produce a proper Patronus, Harry,’ he said at last in a soft voice, but he still was not looking at Harry. ‘I didn’t want the other students to gawk over it — you receive enough of attention as it is, or so Padfoot tells me.’

Harry, who had shifted his gaze to watch Ron and Hermione, turned his head so fast he almost cricked his neck. ‘What?’ he said; his voice, slightly louder than usual, caused Fay’s concentration to break, and her to glare at him in annoyance. ‘Sorry,’ he hissed hastily, now whispering in excitement. ‘You’ve spoken to Padfoot? When? Where?’

‘Calm down, Harry,’ admonished Lupin, now frowning slightly at Christine. ‘Yes, I have spoken to him — last Tuesday, if I remember correctly. Yes, he’s fine,’ he added, just as Harry opened his mouth once again, ‘and no, I can’t tell you where he is.’

Harry’s face fell slightly, but he reasoned that it was for the best: such information had to be kept a complete secret for Sirius’ safety. This did not quell the twinge of disappointment in him, however: he really wanted to see his godfather, soon.

‘You’ll be able to see him soon, Harry, don’t worry,’ said Lupin, almost as though he could read Harry’s thoughts. ‘Ah, I think Miss Maxwell has got it.’

Indeed, it looked as though Christine had managed to produce…something. It was not a full Patronus by any means, but it was still something: a few wisps of silvery vapour were shooting out of the end of her wand, in intermittent bursts. Harry glanced at her face, and was quite amazed to see the wide grin on her visage — as though she could feel what she was doing.

And then, out of the corner of his eye, he saw another stream of silvery vapour filling the room; contrary to his expectation — and indeed the expectation of his other classmates — it was not Hermione who had achieved it. Rather surprisingly, it was Seamus Finnegan who was grinning madly, just like what Christine was doing. His wand, however, was emitting the vapour in a steady stream, quite unlike the girl’s wand.

The sight of their identical, beaming faces triggered something in Harry’s mind, and he turned at once to Lupin.

‘Can I try it now?’

Lupin gave him a sceptical look, but acquiesced nonetheless. He took a few paces back from where Harry stood, so as to give him enough room to produce his Patronus.

Harry had had what he would later describe as an epiphany — a sudden brainwave regarding the Patronus Charm and the way it worked. His private lessons with Lupin during his third year had established the theory that he needed a happy memory — a really strong, happy one — to produce the Patronus. His initial training had been all about focusing his mind towards that memory. But now, as he stood in the same Defence classroom, almost a year later, he realised that focusing on the memory was not the only thing that mattered. His reasoning for this was, in essence, two-fold.

Firstly, as far as he remembered, he had not thought of any happy memory when conjuring his first solid Patronus in June the year before, when saving Sirius, Hermione and himself from the Dementors. His only recollection was the thought that he was eagerly waiting for his father to show up and conjure the Patronus, only to realise that he had seen himself before fainting beside Sirius. Clearly not a happy memory, by any means.

Secondly — and this was what triggered the brainwave — was the description of the Charm that he had just written down in class: ‘…a projection of all your most positive feelings…’ Feelings: that was the word used by Miranda Goshawk — feelings, not memories. Not once had she said anything about a memory to be used by the caster — the Patronus, instead, would be a manifestation of the caster’s feelings. Indeed, this made sense, since the Dementors would not feed on memories, but the feelings of happiness and hope; while the Patronus was a projection of those very feelings, it could not feel despair, so the Dementors have no effect on it.

Then why would Professor Lupin instruct everyone to think of a happy memory? Why not the feelings? Why not just ask them to be happy, and then conjure the Charm?

And almost instantly, the answer came to him — so simple, and yet so brilliant…Memories were easier to dredge up from one’s mind and remembered — even happy ones for that matter — far easier than trying to remember the feelings themselves. It would be insanely difficult for someone to automatically become happy, despite how cheerful their demeanour usually was. Plus, the recollection of such memories would easily help them in remembering how they felt at that time — the power of association was far less complex for the mind to comprehend and harness.

Technically, one would need to be able to remember how they felt in a particular memory, and focus on that feeling, that sensation of joy and glee, of real happiness. That would help them in producing a Patronus, much more efficiently than if they focused only on the memory.

Feeling quite proud of himself for having figured this out on his own, Harry drew his wand from the pocket of his robes, his eyes shut tightly as he tried to recollect a happy memory, and with that, the emotions he had felt at that time…

And slowly, imperceptibly, the image of a petite, fiery, red-headed girl arose in his mind’s eye; her warm, brown eyes filled with spark and laughter; her easy smile, with the small dimple on her cheek; the unforgettable moments he had spent with her along with his two best friends; the way she would always make him roar with laughter, or smile with irrepressible delight…

Harry smiled inwardly, and he could feel his mouth stretching to grin as well; without preamble, without letting go of what he was feeling, he shouted, ‘Expecto Patronum!’

He knew he could conjure the Patronus, knew that the silvery Prongs would erupt from the tip of his wand, ready to charge down those Dementors and foes that could harm his caster…

What he did not expect — and certainly could not have expected — was the sound that accompanied the arrival of his stag guardian: the sound of hooves.

Harry’s eyes snapped open, and so did nine other pairs of eyes. Shock, awe, surprise, incredulity…each one of these emotions were now reflected on the faces of his nine classmates and Professor Lupin, as they stared at him. He looked at each of them, moving from one person to another, to finally arrive at Ron’s expression of shock, Hermione’s look of incredulity, and Professor Lupin’s visage of, surprisingly, curiosity.

His gaze finally fell on his beloved Patronus — the stag, Prongs, was slowly cantering along the space between the students, its hooves clip-clopping against the solid stone floor. Harry gaped at it, marvelling at the fact that he had somehow summoned a semi-solid Patronus — for while its hooves were impacting against the floor, the rest of its torso seemed to pass through the students like vapour, as it should be doing — and simultaneously being overwhelmed at the sheer ludicrousness of the situation. What on earth had he just done?

Prongs finished his trot and returned to Harry, who instinctively reached out his hand to pat the stag’s nose; almost immediately, it vanished, leaving behind a stunned silence that stretched on...

And on…

And on.

‘Class dismissed,’ said Lupin, at last.

‘You never do things halfway, do you, Harry?’ said Ron in an awed voice, as they returned to the common room ten minutes later.

The boy in question could only shrug; he dropped his bag next to his favourite armchair near the fire and sank into it unceremoniously. He felt inexplicably tired and drained; his eyes closed of their own accord as the warmth from the fire enveloped him.

‘I never knew you could produce a Patronus, Harry,’ said Fay, sounding equally impressed. ‘How long have you been able to do this?’

‘Was this your first try, Harry?’ asked Parvati eagerly.

‘Who taught you how to do it? Was it Lupin?’

‘Enough!’ came a sharp voice, and at that moment, Harry was filled with an immense amount of gratitude towards Hermione. ‘Leave him alone, he’s not going to tell you anything right now.’

‘Oh get off it, Hermione, don’t tell me you aren’t curious —’

‘She also possesses something called tact — something which none of you seem to have. You heard Hermione, leave him alone.’

For the second time in fifteen minutes, Harry’s eyes snapped open — this time at the sound of the second person’s voice. Ginny Weasley had squeezed herself into the small circle that had formed around Harry, and was now glaring at Seamus, who had the grace to look abashed, and even a little afraid. Harry couldn’t blame him — Ginny’s skill with her wand was quite well-known, even for her age.

‘Bugger off, all of you,’ came Ron’s voice from somewhere to his left. Slowly, with a slight amount of grumbling, the rest of the class went off to their dormitories, leaving Harry, Ron, Hermione and Ginny.

‘What happened to him?’ asked Ginny worriedly, sitting on the armrest of his chair.

‘Well…’ Hermione bit her lip, clearly unsure as to what to tell the younger girl. ‘He — err —’

‘He managed to conjure a semi-solid Patronus,’ said Ron.

‘Yes,’ said Hermione. ‘That.’

Harry saw Ginny look from Ron, to Hermione, to Ron again, and to himself, evidently lost for words in her shock. ‘He — you — what?’

‘Yes,’ said Hermione. ‘Our reaction, exactly.’

‘We knew he could do a fully formed Patronus,’ said Ron slowly, ‘but a semi-solid one is unheard of. I remember Bill telling me so — if a fully formed one is difficult, a semi-solid and solid one is ten times as hard.’

Ginny gaped at him. ‘But — he — how?’

‘Now, that’s a question we’d like to know the answer to,’ said Hermione, suddenly reverting to her ‘study and revision mode’. ‘How did you do it, Harry?’

Three pairs of eyes stared at him, as Harry stared into the crackling flames in the grate. He felt exhausted — more than usual for someone post their Defence Against the Dark Arts lesson. He supposed it had something to do with the energy he had expended in conjuring the semi-solid Prongs.

Should he tell them? Should he divulge his reasoning, which would be the most plausible explanation for his conjuration? The theory would be easy to explain — it made sense, was logical enough for the two girls, and it had worked. But his actual thoughts…no, he would not tell them about that — it was private, precious, and incredibly mortifying all at the same time. He would not explain that he had thought of Ginny Weasley, and the way she had made him feel. He could not understand it himself — what on earth was this supposed to be? — so how could he explain it to his friends?

Harry had the desperate desire to meet Sirius and speak to him about this — Sirius would understand, and would be able to help him understand and sort it out.

‘Harry?’

He looked up at Ginny — a concerned expression on her face — and smiled almost automatically. They were his friends, the three of them — he had to tell them, at least.

He stood up suddenly, grabbing Ginny’s arm to prevent her from falling as he almost unseated her from her perch on the armrest. ‘Come on, let’s go and discuss this with Professor Lupin.’

The rest of the week, and the weekend, passed without much incident. Their discussion with Professor Lupin was, for Harry’s friends and the professor, enlightening in more ways than one. Lupin and Hermione, in particular, seemed quite intrigued by the possibility of focusing on the happy feelings — by associating them with the memories — thereby conjuring a more powerful Patronus. Ron and Hermione, who had yet to conjure any vapour in Thursday’s class, naturally struggled with this new method. Lupin, too, seemed to have some difficulty in adapting to this alternative, but he did not give up hope.

‘It’ll take a bit of practice, that’s all,’ he had told them reassuringly.

Lupin had also asked for Harry’s permission to research into this, which Harry readily granted — although he did not see the need for him to do so. Naturally, this got Hermione extremely excited, and she could barely contain her glee when Lupin asked her to help with the research. The professor and the student had been so engrossed in their subsequent discussions that Ron and Ginny had to physically drag Hermione away so that she could join them for dinner.

With Hermione now immersed in the research on the solid Patronus Charm, Ron — along with Harry himself — had taken over the responsibility of looking through Neville’s book for a way to survive the second task. Harry had thought of asking Ginny for help as well, but she, along with Ian and Demelza Robins, a fellow third-year, had been put into detention by Snape for two weeks for pasting dead Flobberworms on the ceiling of the Potions classroom.

‘It’s a shame,’ said Ginny when she told the three of them about her punishment, ‘but at least this means he’s getting back to normal.’

And so they searched — during their mini-breaks between classes, at the end of the day, and after finishing their homework over the weekend. The book was not enormous, but large enough for Ron and Harry to spend a considerable amount of time in poring over its glossy pages. Harry supposed that Hermione would have taken half the time in this research, but she was too busy with helping Lupin in his research. He thought of calling her out on the fact that she had promised to help him with this, but thought the better of it — after all, how often did one get a chance to do some ground-breaking research with their favourite Professor?

In any case, it was Hermione herself who brought it up the following Thursday in the common room. Harry and Ron were, as usual, seated at the table in front of the fire, hunched over ‘Magical Mediterranean Water-Plants and Their Properties’. Ginny was out with some of her friends in a walk around the lake — or so she had told the boys when they had entered the common room.

‘Harry?’ said Hermione in a small voice when she reached them.

‘Hmm?’ came Harry’s distracted response; Ron, who seemed to be completely involved in the paragraph he was reading, merely waved absent-mindedly in greeting.

‘I — I’m sorry, Harry,’ stuttered out Hermione, causing both boys to look up in alarm at their bushy-haired friend.

‘Sorry? What for?’ asked Harry, bewildered.

‘For not being able to help you with you research,’ she replied, and to their immense surprise, she looked on the verge of tears. ‘I know I promised to help you, but I couldn’t do it earlier, and now —’

‘Is that what this is all about?’ said Harry, exchanging an incredulous look with Ron, relieved to have cottoned on so early. ‘I thought you had told us off to Snape or something.’

‘I — no —what? Of course I wouldn’t!’ said Hermione, indignant at the unfounded accusation.

‘Hermione, it’s all right,’ said Harry, half laughing at her sudden outraged expression as he patted her comfortingly on the shoulder. ‘We’re almost through half the book, see?’ He pointed at the volume on the desk, where they had indeed covered around half its contents. ‘We’ll find an answer, don’t worry. I mean, yeah, it’s just us two blokes, and you know Ron’s research skills —’

‘Thanks a lot, mate,’ came the instant response, causing Hermione to giggle.

‘— but I think we’re almost there. We’re not blaming you — like we’d keep you from joining a revolutionary research project. To be honest, I would have loved to participate on it myself.’

At this, Ron looked up from where he had gone back to his paragraph, staring at Harry in shock. ‘Really?’

Harry nodded. ‘Yeah, wouldn’t you? It sounds fascinating — I mean, we’d actually have a chance of discovering a method to destroy Dementors.’

‘Speak for yourself,’ shrugged Ron. ‘I’m fine with this, thanks.’

Harry gave him a friendly punch to the arm. ‘And I appreciate it. See?’ he said, turning to Hermione. ‘Nothing to worry about.’

‘Well…’ began Hermione hesitantly. ‘If you’re sure… I mean, I could always help you later in the evening, once I’m done with my research for Professor Lupin —’

But Ron cut her off almost immediately. ‘Hermione, remember what happened last year?’

The reminder of her Time-Turner influenced year, and the immense workload she had taken up, was enough to convince her to stick with Lupin’s research. Of course, she did state that if she had a day off from Lupin’s work, she would help them without a doubt, something they were both very pleased about.

Half an hour later, the three of them — Hermione had finished her work early, and was now helping them move along at a faster rate — were still clueless; the book had not provided any answers yet. Throughout their search, Harry had to keep reminding himself that he had two weeks to go to the second task, and that he would definitely find a solution to breathing underwater by then. Right now, however, he felt utterly hopeless.

‘This is hopeless!’ he exclaimed loudly, after another ten futile minutes. ‘There is absolutely nothing in this that is going to help me breathe underwater for an hour — nothing!’

‘Maybe we should try a charm,’ suggested Hermione, but even that seem half-hearted.

‘I wouldn’t be able to master it in two weeks, Hermione,’ shot back Harry irritably.

‘Err,’ came a small voice, ‘there actually is something that could help you, Harry.’

Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked up to the slightly nervous visage of Neville, once again puffing slightly with the weight of his schoolbag on his shoulder. His round face was damp with sweat, and was quite red, presumably from exertion.

‘What happened to you, Nev?’ asked Ron curiously as Neville sat down in the closest chair.

‘Got onto a wrong staircase,’ shrugged Neville sheepishly. ‘Ended up on a different floor and wing of the castle, with no idea about how to get back.’

‘Right,’ said Harry, a bit too impatiently, earning him a reproachful look from Hermione. ‘You were saying?’

‘Oh, right, yeah,’ said Neville. ‘Well, you could always use Gillyweed.’

Silence. And then —

‘Of course!’ said Hermione excitedly, snatching the book quickly from Harry’s grasp and flipping through the pages.

Seeing Harry’s and Ron’s confused expression, Neville elaborated. ‘It’s a plant that, when eaten, gives you gills, allowing you to breathe underwater. It also gives you webbed feet and hands.’

It took Harry a few moments to process what Neville had said. ‘It gives me gills?’

By this time, Hermione had found the appropriate page in the book — almost towards the end — and had shoved it back onto the desk in front of them. ‘Read!’ she said, and Harry and Ron read.

‘Gillyweed is a magical plant native to the Mediterranean Sea. When it is eaten by a witch or wizard, one grows gills and webbing between the fingers and toes, allowing them to process oxygen from water and navigate underwater more easily. There is some debate among Herbologists as to the duration of the effects of Gillyweed in fresh water versus salt water, but the effects of Gillyweed in fresh water seem to last about an hour.’

Harry looked up at Neville, excitement coursing through him. ‘Is this easily available? Here, in school?’

‘Professor Sprout has some in her private stores. So does Professor Snape. But you can easily get it in Hogsmeade — Dogweed and Deathcap definitely has it.’

Poor Neville had no idea why Hermione had kissed his cheek, or why Harry and Ron had hugged him fiercely, after that statement. It was only once the second task of the Triwizard Tournament ended, that Neville understood just how much he had helped Harry Potter.

Back to index


Chapter 6: Greengrass and Gillyweed

When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 6: Greengrass and Gillyweed


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

It took Harry a few moments to process what Neville had said. ‘It gives me gills?’

By this time, Hermione had found the appropriate page in the book — almost towards the end — and had shoved it back onto the desk in front of them. ‘Read!’ she said, and Harry and Ron read.


‘Gillyweed is a magical plant native to the Mediterranean Sea. When it is eaten by a witch or wizard, one grows gills and webbing between the fingers and toes, allowing them to process oxygen from water and navigate underwater more easily. There is some debate among Herbologists as to the duration of the effects of Gillyweed in fresh water versus salt water, but the effects of Gillyweed in fresh water seem to last about an hour.’

Harry looked up at Neville, excitement coursing through him. ‘Is this easily available? Here, in school?’

‘Professor Sprout has some in her private stores. So does Professor Snape. But you can easily get it in Hogsmeade — Dogweed and Deathcap definitely has it.’

Poor Neville had no idea why Hermione had kissed his cheek, or why Harry and Ron had hugged him fiercely, after that statement. It was only once the second task of the Triwizard Tournament ended, that Neville understood just how much he had helped Harry Potter.


Harry, Ron and Hermione’s euphoria at finally figuring out a solution for the second task of the Tournament, however, barely lasted the rest of the night. The three of them had just joined Ginny and Neville at the Gryffindor table for breakfast the next morning, when the unmistakeable whooshing sound of the post owls swooping into the Great Hall caught their attention. Harry instinctively looked up, hoping to see a sign of Hedwig, but then remembered that he hadn’t sent her to deliver anything to his only correspondent. A sudden wave of guilt washed over him — he had not, despite his promise, told Sirius about the events of “the night”. Of course, he suspected that Lupin would have told his godfather about what had happened, but then realized it was unlikely that the former even knew about the presence of the imposter — Dumbledore had probably not informed the werewolf about the unusual circumstances surrounding the vacancy. He supposed that Lupin would have, after a bit of cajoling on Dumbledore’s part, accepted the offer to return to Hogwarts straightaway.

This train of thought made Harry realize that he had barely heard from the headmaster over the last two weeks; not since Dumbledore had revealed the Longbottoms’ fate to Harry had they spoken to each other. Harry glanced over at Neville, who was buttering his slices of toast as he listened to Hermione tell Ginny about the Gillyweed. True to his word to Dumbledore, Harry had not divulged the truth about Neville’s parents to anyone. And not for the first time, he felt a rush of sympathy for his house-mate — to have parents who were alive, but unable to recognize you, was far worse than being an orphan… At least he had a sense of closure, of absolute finality that they would never be back… He could never imagine how Neville must feel to see his parents alive, but without any spark of comprehension in their eyes…

He was distracted from these morbid thoughts by the sound of Hermione swearing. Her companions stared at her in shock — Ron’s fork was halfway into his mouth — as the witch in question glared at something in front of her. A moment later, Harry realized that she was scowling at the front page of the Daily Prophet. Her hands were actually shaking with fury, almost threatening to tear the offending pieces of parchment into two. Ron, thankfully, noticed this almost at once, and grabbed the paper from her hand.

‘Bloody hell,’ breathed Ron, and Harry was quite surprised to see even Ron getting angry — the tips of his ears were turning quite red. Harry looked across the table at Ginny, who appeared to be just as confused as he was.

‘What’s going on?’ asked Ginny, standing up and reaching across the table to pry the Prophet from her brother’s hands. A bit of manoeuvring of the dishes later, she placed the Prophet on the table, and, together with Harry and Neville, bent over to read.

A WOLF AMONG THE SHEEP

MINISTRY SUBMITS ANTI-WEREWOLF LEGISLATION

WIZENGAMOT TO DECIDE ON FEBRUARY 16


Is there never an end to Albus Dumbledore’s eccentricities? One could be forgiven for thinking that he would have learnt his lesson after the expose written by yours truly, Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent, on the controversial appointment of part-giant Rubeus Hagrid as Care of Magical Creatures teacher at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. Au contraire, it seems as though the Headmaster has acquired a penchant for repeating his mistakes.

While the appointment of Alastor “Mad-Eye” Moody raised some eyebrows, and that of Hagrid ruffled some feathers, there is no doubt that the latest addition to the staffing contingent at Hogwarts will cause an outcry. A cry of “Wolf!” perhaps.

Indeed, for Albus Dumbledore has decided to re-appoint the werewolf Remus Lupin as the Defence Against the Dark Arts professor for the remainder of the school year, after the jinx-happy ex-Auror Moody was forced to resign due to “certain unavoidable situations” cropping up during his teaching stint. Many of my dear readers would remember the Daily Prophet’s article at the end of the last school year, when the truth of Lupin’s lycanthropy was made public. We, at the Prophet, had received a startling number of letters (and Howlers) from worried individuals and parents, demanding that Lupin be sacked, as they did not want a werewolf teaching their children. It seems, however, that Dumbledore has chosen to ignore these concerns.

Our readers would remember only too well the terror that werewolves posed to our peaceful society when He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was in power. Chief among those savage and vicious creatures was the notorious Fenrir Greyback, an ally who served You-Know-Who in exchange for access to potential victims and new “recruits”. Indeed, it was often believed that Greyback would purposefully position himself near his victims just before a full moon, thereby increasing the chances of a successful attack.

What many of our dear readers do not know — or may not remember — and what the Daily Prophet was able to unearth, is that, incidentally, Remus Lupin was one of Greyback’s own victims. Rumour has it that he had been bitten as retaliation against the comments made by Lyall Lupin, his father, who had said that werewolves “deserved nothing less than death.”

Surely this is a cause for concern — a savage werewolf, one of Greyback’s own victims, teaching innocent children without any restrictions or security measures being put in place. While this reporter has convincing evidence that Lupin has been taking the Wolfsbane Potion, it is not always fool-proof, with more than a few incidents of the werewolves in question going rogue and attacking people. There appears to be no guarantee that Lupin would not do the same. In fact, it can be exclusively revealed that Lupin had been loose on the grounds of Hogwarts near the end of his first teaching stint last June, proving to be a sure-fire catalyst in his dismissal from Hogwarts. It is evidently clear that Lupin has imbibed some of Greyback’s fearsome characteristics and personality traits, in order to make sure that he gets his way.

Unsurprisingly, the Ministry has taken its first step in controlling, and possibly eradicating, this terror from our society. Well-placed Ministry sources have confirmed that the Ministry has submitted an anti-werewolf legislation before the Wizengamot, the passing vote for which would take place next week.

‘The Ministry happens to agree with the views of Lyall Lupin,’ says Dolores Umbridge, Senior Undersecretary to the Minister of Magic, and main drafter of this legislation, ‘in as much as werewolves pose a dangerous threat to our otherwise peaceful society. The consequences of having them roam freely amongst us are too horrifying to imagine.’

When quizzed about the details of the legislation, Madam Umbridge was, surprisingly, tight-lipped. ‘You’ll just have to wait and see when it is presented in the Wizengamot next week. But I can assure you, it will go a long way in keeping us safe from these dangerous creatures.’

For dangerous is indeed the word — this reporter has it on good authority that Lupin has started training his students in casting the Patronus Charm, one of the most difficult charms to master for any witch or wizard, and something certainly beyond the level of O.W.L. or even N.E.W.T students at Hogwarts. It smacks of instability and incapability in teaching young and innocent students those spells that could be cast easily, and are likely to appear in the year-end examinations.

Certainly another potent cause for concern is the closeness that is shared between Remus Lupin and Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived and Hogwarts’ Triwizard Champion. The two are often seen conversing with each other even when there are no classes — indeed, Lupin is considered as Harry’s favourite and the “best” Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, a fact that was confirmed by Harry himself.

Perhaps Harry Potter is unaware of the perils that he may suffer due to his association with a werewolf, but it surely falls on his fellow, more informed classmates to inform him of such dangers. One thing is for sure, however: unlike Albus Dumbledore, our Ministry of Magic certainly seems to be proceeding in the right direction in protecting the future of our society.

For an article from our archives regarding Fenrir Greyback, go to p. 4. For our expert column on werewolves, go to p. 12.


Harry looked up at the rest of his friends, his heart thudding in his chest with rage.

‘If I ever meet that Skeeter woman again,’ he began in a menacing tone, his hands clenching into tight fists around the bit of paper he was holding.

‘Anti-werewolf legislation?’ said Hermione in horror. ‘What are they going to do — round them and lock them up in cages?’

Ginny, however, was re-reading the article. ‘Who in Merlin’s name is this Umbridge woman?’

It was Neville who answered. ‘She’s a very prominent member of the Ministry, second only to the Minister. I’ve seen her once or twice, when accompanying Gran to some of those Ministry functions. Gran says she’s the most despicable, short-sighted woman she’d ever had the misfortune to meet.’ He grimaced as he looked back at the article. ‘Umbridge is quite a power-hungry person too, apparently. She’ll do anything to get herself more authority.’

‘Sounds like a slimy Slytherin,’ muttered Ron darkly, his half-eaten toast and scrambled eggs all but forgotten.

All around the Hall, conversations turned from the mundane topics of the day’s lessons, to discussions regarding the anti-werewolf legislation and Rita Skeeter’s article. More than once, Harry noticed a few heads swivel in his direction, evidently after reading his name in the paper.

‘The cocky git,’ said Ron in a low undertone.

Harry looked up from trying to focus on his breakfast, to where Ron was glaring at with clear dislike. Draco Malfoy, grinning broadly, was holding court to a large number of Slytherins, all of whom were roaring with derisive laughter and glee as he read the article out loud.

‘I have a strong desire right now to do what Hermione did last year,’ said Ron through gritted teeth.

Ginny looked at him curiously. ‘What did she do?’

‘Slapped Malfoy right across the face,’ replied Ron, to Ginny’s amazement. ‘I think I’d want to do something more permanent though — shame we don’t know how to do any human transfiguration yet.’

It was a mark of the utter dislike they had for Malfoy that not even Hermione reprimanded Ron for his less-than-noble intentions.

Harry, however, had missed the last exchange on Ron’s wish to cause Malfoy some bodily harm — he had just spotted something at the Slytherin table that was distinctly odd.

‘Hermione,’ he said quietly, causing his bushy-haired best friend to look up from her almost clean plate. ‘Who are those people? The ones sitting slightly away from the Slytherin crowd?’

Hermione, and the rest of his friends, looked to where Harry was indicating. Sure enough, there were four students — two boys and two girls — at the Slytherin table who had, just as Harry had described, occupied places further down the row from where Malfoy was regaling the rest of Slytherin house. One of the boys was dark-skinned and tall; Harry could make out his keen eyes even from his place at the other side of the Hall. He was sure that the dark boy was Blaise Zabini, a fellow fourth-year. The other boy was slightly shorter than Zabini, but did look at least a year or two older than the latter, and was somewhat familiar to Harry, who couldn’t make out who it was. The girls had their backs to the Gryffindors, with only their respective honey-blonde and dark brown hair giving away any indication about their identities.

‘The dark one — that’s Blaise Zabini,’ said Ron, confirming Harry’s guess. ‘And the other guy is Terence Higgs — he used to be the Seeker for their Quidditch team.’

Harry suddenly remembered — he had played against Terence Higgs in his first ever Quidditch match at Hogwarts, when he’d almost swallowed the Snitch. ‘I thought he’d left school.’

‘Nah, he got kicked off when Malfoy bought his way into the team with his Nimbus 2001s,’ said Ron. ‘I actually feel sorry for him, poor bloke — he’s loads better than Malfoy, and he plays fair. Or so Fred and George told me.’

‘Told you what, dear brother?’

The twins in question had turned up for breakfast. Ron repeated his statement, to which Fred nodded.

‘Yeah, he was one of the few decent players in the Slytherin team,’ he said between mouthfuls of toast, even as he loaded his plate with food.

‘Never tried any dirty tactics during a game,’ agreed George, swiping a small bacon strip from Ron’s plate, much to the latter’s displeasure.

‘He’s in your year, isn’t he?’ asked Ginny.

‘Yep,’ replied Fred. ‘Nice chap off the pitch, too. We’ve spoken a few times during classes, never insulted any of us even once.’

The rest of them looked quite impressed at that revelation; all of their prior encounters with Slytherin students had never been civil, and were, most of the time, close to being quite confrontational. Harry could still clearly remember his mini duel with Malfoy outside the Potions’ classroom early last term, when Malfoy’s curse had rebounded onto Hermione.

‘And the other two?’ he asked Hermione, indicating the two girls. The twins also joined in on what could only be termed as a ‘group stare’ across the Hall.

Surprisingly, it was Neville who responded once again. ‘Daphne Greengrass — that’s the blonde one — and Tracey Davis.’

Harry, Ron and the twins stared at their shy classmate, who swallowed slightly nervously.

‘Greengrass…’ said Fred.

‘And Davis…’ continued George.

‘You know them?’

Neville gulped again at the stares he was receiving from the five of them. Harry, for his part, was more interested in how he hadn’t noticed them before, rather than how Neville knew them.

‘I don’t really know them, to be honest,’ he said slowly. ‘Gran keeps taking me to these Ministry functions and other fancy parties over the summer holidays — just to keep up appearances, you know.’

Ron, Ginny, and the twins nodded, clearly understanding what Neville was implying. Harry and Hermione, however, were clueless.

‘Anyway, I’ve seen the two of them at some of those parties. Even Blaise, too, now that I think about it. They’ve always spent time with each other, rather than with anyone else.’

‘Well, that explains the distance between them and Malfoy,’ said Harry, pointing out the gap between the four subjects of their conversation, and the blonde Slytherin.

‘Yes, well,’ continued Neville, a bit braver now that it didn’t seem like the twins would take the mickey out of him, ‘they are from prominent pure-blood families, but they’ve never shown any outward support to You-Know-Who, or to any of the supposed “Dark” families.’

‘They’re Slytherins, Nev,’ said Ron dismissively. ‘Slimy, slippery gits, the lot of them. I’m sure it’s just an elaborate ruse, them not supporting You-Know-Who.’

‘Well…’ said Hermione quite slowly, drawing everyone’s attention to her. ‘I’ve never actually seen them behave like, you know, Malfoy.’

‘Exactly!’ chipped in Neville.

‘I mean,’ she continued, ‘they’ve always been nice to me during Arithmancy and Ancient Runes. And I know for a fact that Tracey takes Muggle Studies. I can’t believe I didn’t recognize them earlier, though…’ she trailed off, looking quite thoughtful, and a bit peeved at herself.

‘Like I said, elaborate ruse,’ said Ron adamantly; clearly, he was refusing to budge from his viewpoint on the four students. ‘Those Slytherins are always up to something — and it’s never good. They probably maintain that visage to establish appearances, and then take advantage when it’s best for them. Evil, they are.’

‘To be fair, they do belong to the House of cunning,’ said Ginny. ‘I remember someone saying that Slytherins would use any means necessary to achieve their ambitions. And it’s not like ambitious always equates to a desire for power.’

Hermione and Neville nodded approvingly, but Ron still didn’t seem convinced.

Once again, Harry only partly heard the conversation. He was still wondering how he hadn’t identified Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis, especially after having almost four years of Potions lessons with them. Then again, Potions was one of those classes — Transfiguration being the other — in which one was virtually unable to focus on anything else other than the task at hand during the lesson. Snape, like McGonagall, needed absolutely no effort in keeping the class silent, but was a lot stricter than the Head of Gryffindor House in ensuring the maintenance of absolute concentration. Harry took solace in the fact that as a subject, Potions was inherently complicated; focusing on anything else in class could result in a disastrous potion, and an unwanted detention with the greasy-haired Head of Slytherin House.

By dinner, every single Hogwarts student had read Rita Skeeter’s article in the morning edition of the Daily Prophet, and were openly wondering about the proposed anti-werewolf legislation, and what it could mean for Lupin. Harry even noticed a number of younger students explaining the article to their classmates. Presumably, the ones receiving the explanations were Muggle-borns — they had no idea about the ramifications of the legislation, and indeed, how the Ministry of Magic would work to pass it.

‘They’ve got to give the legislation to the Wizengamot — they’re the people who finally decide if a piece of legislation becomes law or not,’ Ian Rosenthal was saying to a group of first-year Gryffindors. ‘It needs a majority vote from the members, and then the Ministry will issue guidelines and instructions for implementing the law.’

‘So it’s like how the Parliament functions, isn’t it?’ asked Natalie McDonald.

Ian looked momentarily confused, but was saved from embarrassing himself by Colin Creevey, who was passing by. ‘Yes, quite similar to the British Parliament. Although, I don’t think the — what do you call it? The Wizengamot, is it? So yeah, I’m not sure if they have the differentiation between the House of Commons and the House of Lords.’

This statement promptly sparked an enlightening discussion on the differences between the Muggle and magical governments, which ended with the Muggle-borns quite spectacularly dismissing the system adopted by the Ministry of Magic as “extremely archaic and out of date”.

‘There’s no accountability if you’ve got the same body acting as the legislature and the judiciary!’ declared Colin emphatically, much to the amusement of the onlookers in the Gryffindor common room.

Dinner itself was a fairly subdued affair — three-quarters of the school were worried that if the legislation were to become law, Lupin would be out of Hogwarts quicker than one could say “Defence Against the Dark Arts”. Naturally, the Slytherins comprised of the remaining quarter of the school who were quite in favour of Umbridge’s proposed law — or at least most of the Slytherins. Once again, Harry noticed Blaise, Terence, Daphne and Tracey sitting apart from the rest of their house-mates. He wondered if their views on blood-purity were the same as those espoused by Malfoy, and voiced this to his friends.

‘I don’t think they do,’ said Neville. ‘Well, maybe Blaise might have — I’ve heard he’s a bit arrogant and proud about his ancestry and heritage. I’m not sure of the others, though. I’ve never met Terence, and, well, it’s a bit hard to approach Daphne and Tracey, to be honest.’

‘Really?’ said Harry interestedly. Daphne and Tracey were now facing the Gryffindor table as they ate; he couldn’t imagine why it would be difficult to speak to them, however.

‘She’s sort of closed herself off from everyone, except her closest and trusted friends,’ said Neville. ‘She barely socializes with anybody.’

‘But why?’

Neville, and surprisingly Ron, looked at Harry as though he’d grown a second head. ‘Have you seen her at all?’ said Ron, dumbfounded. ‘I mean, despite being a Slytherin, she’s quite attractive. One of the best-looking witches in the whole school, actually.’

‘Who is?’ said Dean, who’d sidled over from a few places down where Seamus was chatting away with Christine.

‘Daphne Greengrass,’ replied Ron. Dean let out a low whistle of appreciation, causing Hermione to scowl at him.

‘Sorry, Hermione,’ said the West Ham fan, as he tried placating her with his arms raised in surrender, ‘but even you have to admit, she does look hot.’

‘Better than Fleur, I’d imagine,’ said Ron, nodding in agreement with Dean’s words.

‘Oh, now hold on. Better than a part-Veela? You must be joking!’

‘I dunno, she could definitely give Fleur a run for her money.’

Harry tuned the conversation out as it moved on to whether anyone could compete against Fleur’s beauty and looks. He noticed Hermione throw Ron a look of disgust — something which the red-head completely missed — before continuing with her meal.

He turned back to Neville. ‘So, why has she closed herself off?’

‘Does it matter?’ snapped Ginny in an irritated voice, and Harry, glancing at her, was quite surprised to see her looking quite annoyed. Why would she be so peeved about this?

‘Blimey, Harry, every boy would want to date her and show her off as his stunning girlfriend,’ said Neville, still in disbelief over Harry’s ignorance. ‘And girls would want to be friends with her so that they could show off too — it’s like being friends with a princess, just for the fame and name that comes with it.’

‘Oh…’ said Harry, as comprehension dawned on him. And with a sudden jolt of realization, it hit him that he was in pretty much the same situation as well — people wanting to be friends with him just for his fame and the prestige that came with being associated with him. There were very few people who took the effort to get to know him as Harry, instead of being content with him, the Boy-Who-Lived.

‘That’s horrible,’ he said rather quietly. ‘It’s like how most people want to be friends with me, just because of my fame, and not who I really am.’

He glanced at Ginny once again, and found her staring at him with a mixture of awe and impressed feelings. ‘What?’ he asked, feeling slightly uncomfortable under her gaze.

The youngest Weasley shook her forcefully, as though trying to get her bearings. ‘Nothing, it’s just…I didn’t expect to hear you say that, Harry.’

Harry shrugged. ‘It’s true, though. I can count the number of close friends I have on both hands — friends who have taken the time and effort to know me, and like me for who I am.’ He looked back at Daphne, who had finished her dinner and was now leaving the Hall with Tracey and Blaise. ‘Imagine having to cut yourself off from everyone just because everyone else was a bunch of good-for-nothing gits with ulterior motives for friendship. It’s downright depressing.’

‘Yeah, well, it’s not like you could do anything about it, can you?’ said Ginny with a pat on his arm. ‘She’s in Slytherin, you’re in Gryffindor…she’d probably hex you six ways to next week if you even try to approach her.’

‘She’s right, mate,’ said Neville sagely, reaching for a slice of apple tart. ‘It’s probably best that we don’t try to interfere where we’re not needed.’

Harry nodded, recognizing the truth in his housemate’s words. He still hadn’t abandoned the thought though…the thought that maybe, someday, he could reach out and help Daphne Greengrass.

The upshot of their conversation regarding Daphne and her extremely miniscule list of friends was that Harry had completely forgotten to seek out Lupin and find out if he was okay, after what had been written in that article. Rather unfortunately, the Professor wasn’t at dinner, nor was he at breakfast the next morning. His absence from the public eye concerned Harry, and he had half a mind to march right up to Lupin’s office, just as Hermione had done after Skeeter’s earlier article about Hagrid’s heritage had come out.

‘I’m not sure that’s a good idea, Harry,’ said Hermione when Harry had voiced this thought to her as they dug into their breakfast. ‘The prejudice against giants is a lot worse than that against werewolves — at least from what I can see. Plus, most of the school knows about his condition anyway, so he doesn’t really have anything to hide.’

Harry still didn’t seem convinced, but her next statement effectively quashed any further action on his part to visit Lupin.

‘It’s a full moon tonight, Harry.’

Resigning himself to the fact that he would probably see Lupin only after the weekend, Harry polished off the rest of his food, then joined his fellow Gryffindors as they made their way to the Entrance Hall. It was a Hogsmeade weekend — the last one before the second task — and as had been decided two days ago, Harry was to visit Dogweed and Deathcap in the village to purchase his key survival ingredient — Gillyweed. Ron and Neville had chosen to accompany him, with Hermione and Ginny deciding to get some shopping of their own done. They had, however, agreed to meet at the Three Broomsticks at half past one for lunch.

The sky was a dull grey as the three boys — bundled up in sweaters and scarves to stave off the slight chill in the air — trudged down the sloping lawns of Hogwarts, the slightly frosty grass crunching under their feet. They’d elected to walk to the village, instead of taking the horseless carriages that were now trundling past them in a single file. In the distance, Harry could spot the huge Beauxbatons carriage parked near the edge of the Forbidden Forest — a few of the French school students were just exiting it — wearing significantly more layers of clothing than Harry was used to himself — presumably to spend the day in the village along with their Hogwarts counterparts. His gaze shifted to the imposing sight of the Durmstrang ship, anchored on the banks of the Black Lake. There seemed to be some sort of activity going on on the decks of the ship — a number of people in dark cloaks and robes could be seen hurrying about.

He wondered how the other champions were doing on their solutions to the second task. He knew Cedric had had a head-start, of course, having been the one who had told him to “have a bath and mull things over”. In retrospect, it was a good thing that he, Harry, had heeded his advice in the end — he had initially been stubborn about listening to Cedric when the latter had beaten him to asking Cho out to the Yule Ball. So much had changed in the span of one month…

Viktor Krum had also figured out what he needed to do, considering his frequent swimming trips into the lake. The three of them spotted him once again, standing at the edge of the deck, and with unusual grace, he dived straight into the chilly waters.

‘He’s mad,’ said Ron, but he sounded more concerned than what Harry had expected from him. Perhaps he had had a change of heart, possibly because they had found out that Karkaroff had nothing to do with Harry entering the Tournament, and that they knew what to expect in the second task.

The only champion Harry had not seen actively doing anything to solve the egg was Fleur. There was a chance that she did not know how to solve it; Harry debated on whether he should tell her, to keep things even, but he realised that she would have asked Madame Maxime for assistance, and was bound to figure it out, along with a viable solution. In any case, she was a champion from a rival school — his direct competitor in the Tournament; he shouldn’t be thinking of relinquishing any advantage he may have at any stage.

As they reached the main High Street of Hogsmeade, Harry allowed himself to actually contemplate his potential victory in the Tournament. Up till the end of the first task, his main aim had been to survive the ordeal that the Tournament was most likely to present him with. But now, with the threat posed by Barty Crouch Junior and Voldemort seemingly snuffed out, and his almost guaranteed-to-work solution for the second task, he could envisage a winning scenario — beating three fully qualified and highly experienced witches and wizards. He was tied in first place with Krum after all — what was to stop him from beating the Bulgarian in the second task, and going on to clinch the third task, whatever it would be?

And not for the first time that year, Harry’s mind conjured up images of him standing on the grounds of Hogwarts, arms raised in triumph as he celebrated his victory…the entire school was cheering and applauding for him…and Ginny was running towards him, throwing her arms around his neck as she leaned in to capture his lips…

‘Here we are,’ announced Neville, which broke into Harry’s fantasy quite abruptly. Harry wasn’t sure if he wanted to pummel Neville for dissolving the fantastic image in his head, or secretly thank him for not taking it further. What on earth was he thinking about — why would he be imagining kissing Ginny Weasley?

Sirius, I need your help, he thought desperately as the three of them entered Dogweed and Deathcap.

Harry had never had the occasion to visit this shop before, primarily because he hadn’t been allowed to visit Hogsmeade in his third year (only third-years and above were allowed to visit, with a signed permission slip from their parents or guardians), and in the last two visits he had made with Ron and Hermione, they’d always spent time at Zonko’s or the Three Broomsticks. There was also the fact that he had ensured he was well stocked up in his Potions ingredients while visiting the Apothecary prior to the start of the school year — he did not need another reason to tick Snape off due to the lack of Potions materials.

The store was, rather unsurprisingly, quite similar to the Apothecary in Diagon Alley. In fact, as Harry and Ron looked around the store while Neville spoke to the man at the counter — an old chap with an extremely wrinkled face and a shock of white hair on his head — it was almost an exact copy of the latter. Barrels of slimy stuff stood on the floor; jars of herbs, roots, leaves and what-not lined the shelves along the walls; bundles of feathers, strings of fangs, and what looked horribly like innards of some poor dead creature hung from the ceiling. Harry thought that he could even see various jars of blood all the way at the back of the shop; he was glad they were shut — the prevalent smell of rotten cabbages and bad eggs was overwhelming enough.

‘Nine Sickles,’ came the grunt from the man behind the counter; Harry extracted the silver coins from his money bag in exchange for the small pouch containing his purchase. Their thanks elicited another grunt of acknowledgement from the man, before they exited the shop. Once they were outside, Harry opened the bag to have a look at the Gillyweed.

His first thought was that it was a bundle of rat-tails. On a closer look, he noticed its grey-green colour, and the slimy texture. He supposed the slimy nature was due to its underwater origins, but its appearance did nothing to quell his apprehension at having to ingest it.

‘So I have to eat this?’ he asked Neville, as they moved along the High Street towards Zonko’s.

‘Well, yes, you do,’ replied Neville. ‘I asked him to give us a little extra, so that you could practice with it before the task.’

‘That’s very thoughtful of you, Nev, thanks,’ said Harry, and Ron echoed the sentiment.

With the Gillyweed in hand, Harry felt reasonably confident about his success in the second task. The extra quantity that Neville had acquired for practice would certainly do a world of good — especially in terms of scoping out the lake, and what lay in its depths.

Lunch was an enjoyable affair, in stark contrast to the previous night’s dinner. The five of them — Hermione and Ginny had joined them laden with two shopping bags each — spent the afternoon talking, joking and laughing with each other. It was exactly the kind of carefree time that Harry had wished for during his first Hogsmeade trip last term — happily chatting away about everything except the Tournament, teasing Ron with Madam Rosmerta when he personally went to get more bottles of Butterbeer, and feeling extremely content with the fact that he had spent time more time with Ginny.

For he had finally realized that he did enjoy spending time with the fiery redhead — and not just whiling away the hours while doing absolutely nothing, but chatting away about her classes, her stories about her classmates’ antics, her own mischief and pranks that she had played on her unsuspecting siblings while at the Burrow… He enjoyed being the reason for the smile on her freckled face, for the adorably cute dimple to appear on her cheek whenever she grinned at him, for her infectious laughter as he regaled them with embarrassing stories of Ron and Hermione in their almost four years at Hogwarts…

And yet, despite all this, he had no idea what he was feeling, and why. He had definitely liked Cho — her smile had made his stomach do more somersaults than it should have, and she was extraordinarily pretty. He also knew he was over all of that — he barely felt anything like that for the Ravenclaw Seeker right now.

But did he feel the same way for Ginny? Was this what it felt like — to actually like someone? The emotions he’d had for Cho were based only on her appearance; he’d barely known her at all. Ginny was a different matter altogether — he had spent a whole summer with her last year, had gotten to know her as Ginny Weasley this year, instead of just as Ron’s younger sister, and she made him happy…much happier than he’d ever felt before.

She’s Ron’s younger sister, came a small voice from a part of his mind. Ron’s younger sister, you can’t have feelings like this for your best mate’s sister!

And why not, he asked that voice rather forcefully, although it seemed to be laced with doubt and apprehension. Ron can’t tell me who I should and shouldn’t have feelings for.

Yes, but it’s Ron. Can you imagine how he would feel if you told him you fancied his little sister?

I don’t — what? I don’t fancy her! These are just…I dunno, feelings. They’re going to go away, it’s just a temporary phase.

But even he knew that he was fighting a lost cause with himself, and that inner voice of his.

Sirius, where are you when I need you?

‘What on earth are they doing?’

Hermione’s whispered question interrupted Harry’s inner struggle; whirling around, he looked at what his best friend was talking about. Two tables down and a further one to the right from theirs, was Ludo Bagman. The presence of Bagman in Hogsmeade was quite odd — Harry could think of no conceivable reason for him to be here on a weekend where there was no judging to be done for the Tournament.

What was more intriguing was the company he’d chosen — although on a closer look, it seemed as though the company had been forced upon him. Fred and George Weasley had pulled up a couple of chairs and had seated themselves as close to Bagman as they possibly could. The twins had uncharacteristically stern looks upon their faces, and one of them — either Fred or George, Harry couldn’t tell which — was talking quite quickly and seriously to the Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports at the Ministry.

As they watched, Bagman meant to stand up, but the other twin grabbed his arm and tugged him back down. He then produced a piece of parchment from the pocket of his cloak and pushed it towards the older man. Bagman looked down at the parchment, staring at it while he read, and then looked up, shaking his head.

‘I can’t, boys, I’m sorry. Not right now,’ said Bagman, and even from a distance, they could hear his apparent refusal to the twins. Fred and George looked disappointed, but then said something to Bagman, to which he eagerly nodded his head; and with a last look at him, they left the pub, a bottle of Butterbeer in each of their hands.

‘What was that about?’ said Ron in a low voice. Neville and Ginny looked equally confused as well.

The five of them paid for their lunch and began slowly meandering back to the castle, each of them lost in their thoughts. For his part, Harry was furiously trying to connect the dots between the interaction he’d just seen between the Weasley twins and Bagman, and any other incidents that had involved those three people in question. And as he thought, the only thing that came to mind was the bet the twins had placed with Bagman before the final of the Qudditch World Cup — where Krum would catch the Snitch but Ireland would win. Was it something to do with that bet? He distinctly remembered Bagman extracting the gold and silver coins to give to Fred and George as soon as the trophy presentation was over at the Top Box — had he not given them enough? Or had he handed over some fake coins — probably as a practical joke just like the fake wand that Fred and George had shown him?

Whatever it was, it was clear that the twins weren’t happy with it; but he had no reason to interfere in their business — not when he had more pressing matters on hand.

It was time to put the Gillyweed to the test.

Back to index


Chapter 7: The Second Task

When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 7: The Second Task


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

‘What was that about?’ said Ron in a low voice. Neville and Ginny looked equally confused as well.

The five of them paid for their lunch and began slowly meandering back to the castle, each of them lost in their thoughts. For his part, Harry was furiously trying to connect the dots between the interaction he’d just seen between the Weasley twins and Bagman, and any other incidents that had involved those three people in question. And as he thought, the only thing that came to mind was the bet the twins had placed with Bagman before the final of the Qudditch World Cup — where Krum would catch the Snitch but Ireland would win. Was it something to do with that bet? He distinctly remembered Bagman extracting the gold and silver coins to give to Fred and George as soon as the trophy presentation was over at the Top Box — had he not given them enough? Or had he handed over some fake coins — probably as a practical joke just like the fake wand that Fred and George had shown him?

Whatever it was, it was clear that the twins weren’t happy with it; but he had no reason to interfere in their business — not when he had more pressing matters on hand.

It was time to put the Gillyweed to the test.


‘Ready, Harry?’

‘As ready as I would ever be, Neville.’

A week had passed since the quintet’s Hogsmeade trip, and Harry’s purchase of Gillyweed from Dogweed and Deathcap for the second task. An uneventful week, for the most part, but one that was to be finally rounded off with Harry’s first trial of the magical plant in the waters of the Black Lake.

And so it was that the five of them stood on the banks of the lake on the morning of the following Saturday. They had decided to do it just before breakfast, since, as Hermione had said, you should never swim right after a meal. Harry privately disagreed — and so did Ron, a bit more publicly — but he went along with it anyway; having an argument on empty stomachs was an equally bad idea. There was also the fact that they did not want his excursion to be public knowledge; a full week of classes meant that most of the students would choose to have a lie-in on a Saturday morning, and none of them — save for a few early-risers — would want to be woken up in the early hours of the day.

Unfortunately, this was also true for Ron and Ginny, who were sporting disgruntled and sleepy expressions on their faces. Harry had learnt over his summer stay with the Weasleys that none of the children — except for Percy — liked waking up early.

‘Will you hurry up?’ snapped Ron, glaring at Neville as though he was the sole reason for him to be missing breakfast. ‘I’m hungry, and it’s cold.’

Harry had to cede that point to Ron — it was quite chilly; a thin mist hung over the Hogwarts grounds, and the water even looked cold. They had been compelled to wear their coats to stave off the chill — except for Harry, who was trying very hard not to shiver as he stood in a t-shirt and shorts.

‘Right then,’ said Neville, ‘just put the Gillyweed into your mouth. Done? You’ve got to chew on it, Harry… Wait for the sensation of breathlessness to overcome you…now jump!’

Harry didn’t need telling twice — his inability to breathe through his nose and mouth had already set off a panicked reaction in his brain, so he followed Neville’s directions by throwing himself completely into the waters of the Black Lake.

His first reaction was to hold his breath underwater — but then Ginny’s yell came from above the surface. ‘You’ve got to breathe, Harry! Swallow some water!’

The first gulp of the icy water felt like a godsend — the first breath of life after having been denied it for so long. His head, which had been spinning from the lack of oxygen just moments earlier, felt remarkably clear as his gills worked to send the much needed element to his brain. He stretched out his hands to perform a simple breast-stroke — something he’d seen his former classmates do during his primary school days in Surrey — and noticed, with a gurgled gasp, that they were webbed. Something that should not have shocked him, he realized a moment later, as this was exactly what was supposed to happen as per Neville’s book.

He paddled his legs furiously — which he noted had now become elongated and looked like flippers — and propelled himself a good distance in front. The water, which only seconds ago had felt freezing and icy cold, was now pleasantly cool. He was no longer shivering, and nor was he, with another jolt of surprise, blinking either; he could see quite clearly through his glasses. Of course, the lake water was so murky, he could barely see anything more than ten feet ahead of him, but he supposed it was as good an advantage as anything else.

On and on he swam through the lake, diving as deep as he dared, but making sure he was close enough to the surface in case the Gillyweed transformation was reversed; the man at Dogweed and Deathcap hadn’t mentioned how much of the slimy plant would be required for an hour’s worth of swimming, and he didn’t want to use up too much only for his practice sessions.

The silence of the lake’s depths pressed around him as he propelled through a foggy landscape; here and there were clumps and tangles of weeds, rotten logs, and dull stones lying on the muddy bottom that eerily shimmered in the weak sunlight penetrating through the inky blackness. His limited range of vision meant that new scenes and sights popped up in front of him as he moved along — he had, at one moment, spotted the large anchor of the Durmstrang ship, buried into the ground.

Hermione and Ginny had pulled out several books from the library on Merpeople and where they were most likely to be found in a water body. Ginny had also insisted on reading up on their nature and culture — something which she explained was important if he, Harry was going to interact with them to get back whatever they had taken.

‘Trust me, Harry, it’ll be easier to negotiate with them if you know what they like and how they deal with humans,’ she had said, when both Harry and Ron had questioned the need for this research.

With the second task barely a week away, Harry chose not to argue, and returned to his difficult essay on the theory behind inter-species transfiguration.

From their research, they had found that the Merpeople tended to live in colonies — each of which was under the stewardship of an Alcalde. The Alcaldes of all the colonies reported to the Merchieftain, who was the supreme head of the Merpeople residing in that particular area. The Merpeople in the Black Lake, however, only had a Merchieftainess, due to their relatively small population.

While their social structure was relatively admirable, it was their nature that had Harry slightly worried. The Merpeople in real life were nothing like the one he’d seen in the prefects’ bathroom earlier. Hogwarts: A History had almost an entire section dedicated to the inhabitants of the Black Lake, complete with photographs; Harry had to admit that, at first sight, they looked rather ferocious and frightening.

They appeared to have greyish skin, with long and wild hair spread around their heads as they navigated the depths of the lake. Most of them were clutching spears in their hands, while also sporting necklaces of pebbles, held together by thick ropes. The sight of the spears had Harry wondering, for a split second, whether he would need to fight the Merpeople to retrieve what they’d taken. He wouldn’t put it past the Tournament organisers to do so — after all, they had thought that getting past a fully-grown, nesting, female dragon was reasonable enough to constitute the first task.

When he voiced this worry to the others, however, it was met with sceptic looks.

‘Merpeople aren’t vicious, Harry. Not like, well, giants,’ said Ron, with an almost apologetic look. Harry supposed he didn’t want to stir up the debate on the bigotry towards giants and their brutal nature, especially with Hermione around. ‘I remember Charlie telling me — they only attack if you attack them. More of a retaliation, really, than an outright assault from their side.’

This managed to cheer Harry up somewhat; his spirits were further bolstered by the fact that Dumbledore had an excellent relationship with the Merchieftainess of the Black Lake, and would surely not risk endangering either the Merpeople or his students.

It was with all of this in mind that Harry ventured even further out from the banks of the lake, hoping to spot some sort of landmark that would indicate the location of the Merpeople’s dwellings. Once or twice he thought he saw something large moving in front of him as he sped on — one of those large things looked suspiciously like a tentacle of the giant squid — but he was out of luck for quite a while.

And then he saw it. Rising out of the muddy water like an eerie apparition, the large rock stood tall and imposing against the surrounding landscape of overgrown weeds. It looked ancient: parts of it were covered by moss and algae, giving it a rather neat camouflage. If it weren’t for the painting on the rock’s surface — a group of merpeople waving their spears in an aggressive manner and chasing what appeared to be the giant squid — he would have passed it off as another random piece of stone in the water.

Feeling that this was as good a landmark as any, Harry pulled out his wand — albeit with some difficulty due to his webbed fingers — ready to cast a neat little spell that Ron had discovered after the latter’s brainwave a few days earlier. It had started when Hermione, ever the logical person, had voiced out the need to identify a particular object in the lake as a marker, which Harry could use to make sure that he never get lost in his search.

‘I’m sure there’s a spell for this somewhere,’ she had muttered, and had immediately ventured off to pull out some more enormous and dusty volumes from the shelves of the library.

Harry looked over at Ron and Neville, who both shrugged and returned to their respective essays.

Surprisingly — although in hindsight for Harry, it really shouldn’t have been too much of a shock — it was ultimately Ron who had located the spell.

‘Aha!’ he had exclaimed triumphantly, a mere half an hour after he had joined in on the search.

Hermione looked up from her rather large book, a frazzled expression on her face and a frown creasing her brow. ‘What?’

‘I think I’ve found it,’ said Ron, passing his tome to her and pointing out the relevant passage. ‘Here, wouldn’t this be it?’

A few minutes of debate later, Hermione had confirmed that that was indeed the spell they were looking for: the Invenio spell, when cast upon an object or a person, allows a person to locate the item once again. It was, essentially, a two-part spell — the first step was to mark that item, while the second would be to point the caster’s wand in the direction of the item. The passage also mentioned that there would be an impossibly thin line extending from the wand, thus helping the caster to locate the marked object in the future.

‘How long does it last?’ asked Harry.

‘It doesn’t say,’ said Ginny, who had gone around to read the passage from behind Hermione’s shoulder. ‘But I suppose the magic will linger for quite some time — maybe a week? Even two, perhaps.’

‘Shame it isn’t permanent,’ said Neville sadly. ‘I would have used it on Trevor — it would make life a lot easier.’

This elicited a few chuckles from the others, as they packed their things and returned to the common room.

Now, with a look of concentration on his face, and the anticipatory feeling of finally accomplishing something for succeeding in the second task filling his chest, Harry pointed his wand at the rock and said, ‘Invenio!’

Or at least, he tried to — only to see a stream of bubbles come out of his mouth as he opened his mouth and cast the spell. A few attempts later — all with the same results — he was forced to come to the conclusion that he could not say anything at all while underwater.

Bugger, he thought as he stared at the rock. He had been relying on this spell to work, so much so that he had not thought to trace his underwater route from his starting point. How was he to come back to the same spot now? He had no idea how he had reached here in the first place. And with another unpleasant jolt, he realized that even if he did track back and map out his course to the rock, there was no guarantee that the second task would start in the same place as where he had begun earlier that morning; he would not put it past Bagman to have the champions jump into the lake from another spot altogether. He was also sure that, despite the extra quantity of Gillyweed that Neville had thoughtfully asked for, he would not have enough for a second practice dive, and the second task.

Of course, there was always the chance that the second swim would allow him to perform the Invenio Spell properly on the rock; even if he was left with less than an hour’s worth of Gillyweed for the task itself, he would not need to waste time in searching for the rock - the spell would do the trick. A risky move, but if he got it right…

Frustration rose inside him as he looked between his wand and the painted rock; the Merpeople on its surface seemed to be mocking him and his failure to plan for this complication. How could he have missed out on this crucial detail? Bugger him, how could Hermione, of all people, not have thought about this?

Seconds, probably even minutes, passed as he glared at the rock, motionless in the murky waters. Schools of fish swam past him, the water rippling towards him from the constant movement of their tails; in the distance, shadows and dark shapes shifted in and out of sight…

He had stayed underwater for far too long already; he had no intention of being stuck when his gills would disappear. Having never had any proper swimming lessons while growing up, he did not want to be caught in the middle of the lake, without any means or methods of returning to shore.

It has to work, he told himself, as he squared his shoulders to cast it one more time. And if it didn’t, well, he would simply have to turn up on the day of the second task and hope that he could find the rock within the time limit.

But past an hour — the prospect’s black

Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.

Not going to happen
, he thought, as the last lines of the Merpeople’s eerie, haunting song came back to him. He had to make it work, he just had to!

He raised his wand.

‘Invenio!’

He had yelled the spell this time, and a torrent of small bubbles escaped his mouth. And this time, his wand emitted — something; but instead of the white light that was supposed to emerge from his wand and hit the target, the water itself became white — so white, that Harry blinked quite instinctively as spots from the brightness covered his vision — and a jet of the white water sped towards the rock.

He blinked once more, waiting for the dots to disappear. The jet of water had long since dissipated, leaving his surroundings calm and unfettered once more. And as his vision returned to normal, he looked at the rock, hoping to see the faint white mark that would signify the success of the spell.

And miraculously, there it was — faint and dull, as though it was likely to be wiped off with one good ripple of water — but it was there. He had done it; he had cast the spell.

Elated with his success, he did a mini somersault in the water — something he seemed to be extremely comfortable in doing with his flippers in place, and definitely not what would not have dared to do on land. Righting himself once more, he slowly approached the rock, making sure that the mark was still there, and was not just a trick of the light… But it was there, clear as day, there was no doubt about it.

Two minutes later, as the first few groups of students began to exit the castle for a short walk on the grounds, a head broke through the previously undisturbed surface of the water. One would have been forgiven for thinking that it was a grotesque, life-like puppet — it had glasses, eyes, nose, ears, a mouth, and gills…but the gills soon receded as the face bobbed up and down, and the mouth stretched into a wide grin that was returned by four people perched upon the banks of the lake — for one of whom the sight of the head brought with it an immeasurable sense of relief.

It is a wonderful sensation — the feeling of being completely under control, of being so sure that you have everything sorted out, and that there is nothing that could disturb the tranquillity and the sense of contentment that comes along with it. Some would say that such a giddy, heady feeling was bad for you — too much is too bad after all — but how many could confess to have felt that way at all? Still others would preach that the notion of absolute, total control was not one to be taken lightly, and it could get into your mind, play tricks upon you…but would it not be worth it? The security, the comfort that such knowledge brought to you was unimaginably wonderful. Unquestionably perfect. Unequivocally amazing.

It was exactly how Harry felt in the final few days leading up to the second task. He had ensured his survival — and possibly his success — in more ways than one: the Gillyweed, the Invenio Spell, and a useful Four-Point Spell that Hermione had managed to scour out from one of her many trusty tomes; it would make his wand point due north, allowing him to ensure that he didn’t stray too far from the rock with the painting of Merpeople. Not that I need it anyway, he thought privately to himself, after the success of the Invenio Spell in the lake’s gloomy depths.

Harry had not told any of his friends about the way he had managed to get his spell to work without enunciating the words properly — partly because he knew Hermione would go into full-blown research mode as to how he had pulled it off, and partly because, well, he had absolutely no idea how he had done it at all. He supposed it was the frustration at not being able to cast the spell normally that had built up inside him, coupled with the desire to get it to work. It was probably for the best anyway, that he didn’t mention it to the others — he wanted to revel in the knowledge that his plan for the second task was fool-proof, and was sure to work.

In any case, Harry was saving the Four-Point Spell as his ultimate last resort at navigating the Black Lake; there had been no indication of where the task would begin, and folly would be the ideal term to describe his reliance on a spell which pointed him in only one direction, when he had no inkling of which direction the rock was. His excursion into the lake had resulted in that single miss — something he expressed his concern over to Hermione and Ron over breakfast a couple of days later.

‘Don’t worry about it,’ Hermione had tried to reassure him. ‘If the Invenio Spell worked, it’s as good as done — you wouldn’t even need the Four-Point Spell. Plus, how were you supposed to figure out which direction you were facing while you were underwater, anyway?’

Apart from his preparedness for the second task, there was also the good news about the defeat of the anti-werewolf legislation at the Wizengamot. Harry had woken early on Friday morning — the day after the vote — with his insides feeling distinctly queasy; it had taken him a few moments to realize that he was worried about Lupin’s fate. And the fate of every other werewolf who, like Lupin, were decent, good people, suffering with a problem. A furry problem.

His anxiety was, to an extent, justified; the legislation seemed to have been heavily debated and discussed by the members of the Wizengamot, if the eight hours straight that they had spent in the legislative chamber — according to the Daily Prophet — was any indication. By some strange miracle, the Prophet had assigned another reporter to cover the proceedings: just a year out of Hogwarts, Joshua Smallwood did not disappoint on his first big break. The article was unbiased, true — to the extent that it could be verified — and made no judgements or insinuations about anyone or anything of note. Umbridge’s pet legislation was tossed and thrown about within the fabled chamber, and ultimately ended up being ripped six ways to next week — but the final vote count was close. Some said it was the closest ballot result that had ever taken place in the Wizengamot in a really long time.

But it was definitely worth it — worth every single argument and point debated upon in the chamber — to know that things would be alright in the end.

The deafening, thunderous, heart-soaring cheers that rent the Great Hall when Lupin entered for breakfast were ample proof of that.

And all of that — the sheer joy, the unbridled glee, the sense of security, all of it — came crashing down on the morning of the second task.

In hindsight, he really should have known that it was going to happen. How could he not have seen it? How could he have been this blind, this oblivious, this thick, to have not noticed it in the first place? Had he become complacent — too wrapped up in his fantastic plan for survival and success to identify anything that could be considered as being amiss? Had he been too giddy with the sheer, absolute control that he had over his fate — the fact that nothing would stop him from achieving his goal? Had the events of the last two weeks side-tracked him that much?

But soon, a new emotion bubbled up inside him — the shock he had suffered when he first realized it was quickly and swiftly replaced by worry. Anxiety, apprehension, uneasiness…all of them assaulted his mind and heart with the force of a rampaging Hippogriff. And with these sentiments, came the questions — the first vestiges of doubt that creeped into his conscious thoughts, waiting ever so patiently to slip into his unconsciousness: would it be alright? Would everything turn out okay? He could not mess this up — no, could not even dare to think that he would mess this up.

He had to do it right; had to make sure that he had a cool head when it came to it, and that he would succeed in the end.

But it still did not stop Harry Potter from worrying about the fact that Ginny Weasley was at the bottom of the lake, at the mercy of the Merpeople.

For what seemed like the umpteenth time that morning, Harry stared at his meagre serving of a single slice of toast; it stared back at him innocently, yet probably secretly hoping that it would not be eaten, and would live for just a few more minutes.

It got its wish — Harry pushed his plate away, his insides feeling as though they had been turned into jelly. Nausea threatened to overtake him, almost forcing him to heave out the non-existent breakfast and the already digested dinner from inside him.

She’ll be alright, he tried to reassure himself. She’ll be okay, they won’t harm her.

‘They had bloody well not,’ spat the second youngest child of the red-headed clan from his seat beside Harry, who realised that he had said his last thought out loud.

Ron had never, in all the years that Harry had known him, looked this murderous: there was a small fire in his blue eyes that he, Harry, had never seen before; his hands were clenched into such tight fists, it was a wonder that his nails were not drawing blood from his palms; and the most astonishing thing of all — Ron had not touched his breakfast at all.

She’ll be alright, she has to be alright…

Harry should have known that the magical two weeks he had had — what with Lupin keeping his job, the anti-werewolf legislation of Umbridge (he hated that name and woman on principle now) being defeated at the Ministry, his fool-proof plan for succeeding in the second task, and spending time enough with Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny — would not have lasted. Fate was just cruel to him that way. No amount of luck or miracles would have helped in salvaging something from the hand he had been dealt with, time and again — Fate always held all the good cards, he should have known.

We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,

An hour long you’ll have to look,

And to recover what we took,

But past an hour — the prospect’s black,

Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back


He had not thought much of the summons that Ginny and Hermione had received late last evening from Professor McGonagall — through Fred and George. He supposed it was something to do with some essay of theirs: she might have been grading them together — coincidentally by accident — and had called them to discuss.

But now, that reasoning seemed so flawed and childish, so irrational and unusual…

She’ll be alright, she’ll be alright…

Of course it was to get them to be the thing that they would sorely miss…Hermione was probably Krum’s — Harry wasn’t thick enough to have not noticed how the Bulgarian cared for his best friend. Judging by the absence of Cho Chang at the Ravenclaw table, he knew she would be Cedric’s to “rescue”, for lack of a better word; and Fleur’s… well, it didn’t matter. Not right then anyway.

The Great Hall was alive with the chatter of the students of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang — all of them predictably excited with the upcoming second task. It was due to happen in less than an hour; Bagman had already joined the staff table for breakfast, and was currently chortling away to something that Professor Sinistra had said. Snape was his usual surly self, his glittering, coal-dark eyes glaring around the hall — but Harry knew its intensity had greatly reduced since the “night”. Professors Sprout and Vector — the latter of whom taught Arithmancy — were chatting away. The other two Heads of Houses, however, were distinctly, and unpleasantly, silent: Professor McGonagall was picking at her food slowly, and even the normally chirpy Professor Flitwick was half-heartedly participating in the conversation with Hagrid.

They’re worried too. It’s three of their students down there, of course they’re worried.

The noise died down almost immediately as Professor Dumbledore, looking as magnificent as ever in his magenta robes, stood up from his huge chair. ‘The second task of the Tournament will begin in forty-five minutes. I request the four champions to please join Mr Bagman in going down to the Black Lake. The rest of the school, and our esteemed guests, will join you shortly.’

The applause that filled the cavernous hall was thunderous, and on any other day, Harry would have felt inspired, but not today. He had never felt this anxious — ever: not even when Aunt Marge had come to visit when he was six years old, or two summers ago; not when Dudley and his gang were partaking in their favourite pastime — Harry Hunting; and not even in the Quidditch Final last year, where he had to catch the Snitch only when Gryffindor were fifty points ahead against Slytherin.

No, this was restlessness and agitation at a whole new level, far outstripping even the sinking feeling he had experienced when he had pulled the Hungarian Horntail out of that purple silk sack, and when he had to actually face the magnificent beast.

Harry pushed himself off the bench and made his way to the double doors of the Great Hall. Calls of ‘Good luck Harry!’, ‘You can win this, Harry!’, interspersed with ‘Go Cedric!’, and presumably similar encouraging cheers in Bulgarian and French filled his ears as the other three champions joined him and Bagman, who was bouncing on the balls of his feet, and looking too happy for his own good.

‘All ready? Right, let’s go!’

The walk to the banks of the Black Lake was daunting; each step was an effort in itself as conflicting emotions warred inside of him: fear of the Merpeople, concern for Ginny’s well-being, doubt at his plan to survive — which only twelve hours ago had seemed so certain and unbreakable — and a faint rush of anger at Bagman’s annoying whistling.

The lake looked more ominous than Harry had ever seen before — and this was including the time when a hundred Dementors had glided over its surface to almost Kiss him and Sirius. Smooth as glass, but black as death, with not a ripple in sight. A light, yet chilly breeze blew across the grounds, causing Harry to shiver even through his cloak.

A quick glance at Cedric, Fleur and Krum told him one thing: they were as anxious as he was, and probably as ticked off with the off-key tune that Bagman was attempting to whistle. Fleur, in particular, looked more distressed than the others; then again, it was difficult to tell with Krum with his trademark scowl.

It was probably a minor saving grace that the organisers had chosen to start the task from the bank that was nearest to the front doors of the castle; he knew now, to a greater extent, where exactly he needed to swim to get to the rock. Large stands had been erected around the edge of the water, the plastic seats clearly reflected in the lake below. Closer to the starting point was a gold-draped table — the judges’ seats.

What definitely surprised Harry was the sight of two large — screens; he could think of no better word to describe them. They stood facing the stands, their white opaque backs facing the school. He supposed they had been set up for the viewing benefit of the audience; it wouldn’t have been fun for them to remain in the stands without any news for a whole hour…

An hour long you’ll have to look,

And to recover what we took,

She’ll be alright, she has to be alright…


The stands were slowly filling up now; the excited babble of the students of the three schools echoed strangely across the water as they took their seats. Harry could hear the calls of the professors as they rounded up the stragglers and forced them to sit down quickly.

Harry turned to look at the table, perched a few feet away from the four of them. Dumbledore’s magenta robes shimmered softly in the weak February sun, his pointed hat barely reaching up to the chin of Madame Maxime, dressed in stately robes of olive green. Karkaroff was wearing his silver furs once again, an empty chair that was presumably for Bagman, being one of the judges, and —

Harry did a double-take.

Mr Crouch?

There was no mistaking it: that was definitely Mr Crouch, albeit looking a little worse for the wear. His usually immaculately pressed and tailored robes were a bit crumpled, his moustache was slightly overgrown — as opposed to the finely trimmed look he had sported at the World Cup — and he had a hint of a stubble on his chin. He looked utterly drained out and exhausted, and was currently trying to shield his eyes half-heartedly from the increasing intensity of the sun’s glare.

The dishevelled look sported by the Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation at the Ministry of Magic was, beyond doubt, odd and unusual — Mr Crouch was known for abiding to the rules extremely strictly, and for him to present himself this way in public was out of character…

Or was it Mr Crouch? Could it be someone else using Polyjuice Potion this time, now masquerading as Crouch Senior? Just like how his son had been impersonating Mad-Eye Moody? Harry looked at the man a little more closely, when a slight movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.

Professor Dumbledore had adjusted his seat a bit, and when Harry turned to him, the Headmaster gave him a quick shake of the head, and a slight frown. Harry instantly understood the message.

This is the real Bartemius Crouch Senior. Don’t give anything away. Focus.

Properly chastised, Harry tore his eyes away from the judges’ table and faced the lake once more, just as the reality of the situation came crashing down upon him.

Ginny was down there. So were Hermione and Cho.

But past an hour — the prospect’s black,

Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back


Bagman was now moving between the champions, placing them at intervals of ten feet from each other. Harry glanced at his competitors once again — their anxious expressions had been replaced by looks of determination. And instantly, he knew that this was going to be a tough one. They were all going in at the same time; the psychological advantage — or disadvantage, depending on how he looked at it — that Harry had held when he went last in the first task had vanished now. None of that mattered at this moment: it would all boil down to pure magical skill — and hopefully some logic.

‘All right, Harry?’ came the whisper of Bagman as he steered him to stand the closest to the stands. ‘Got a plan?’

‘Err — yeah,’ said Harry, momentarily distracted.

Bagman squeezed his shoulder quickly, stepped back and looked over at the crowd, who were cheering and clapping loudly. Pointing his wand at his throat, he muttered, ‘Sonorus’, just as he had done at the World Cup, and spoke out loud, his voice booming across the lake to the eager audience.

‘Students and teachers of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang! Welcome to the second task!’

Loud cheers.

‘Late last night, something had been taken from each of our four champions. They now lie at the bottom of the Black Lake. The second task is simply this — the champions must enter the lake and recover what was taken from them. For this, they have a time limit of one hour!’

Even more cheering from the stands.

‘The screens that you see in front of you —’ Bagman indicated the two large screens ‘— will provide a live viewing of the progress of our champions during the second task. Mr Diggory and Miss Delacour will be shown on the right screen, with Mr Potter and Mr Krum on the other. This would also allow us to ensure adequate assistance to any champion who may be in mortal danger in the lake.

‘The champions will start on my whistle, on the count of three. One…two…three!’

Bagman’s whistle echoed shrilly through the cold air; the stands erupted with even more cheers, applause, and in some cases, catcalls and jeers. Harry took off his robes until he was wearing only the swimming gear that someone had laid out for him on his bed earlier this morning, noticing the other champions doing so while he removed his shoes and socks. He extracted the Gillyweed from the pocket of his robes, stuffed it into his mouth, and waded into the lake, waiting for the familiar sensation of breathlessness to overcome him.

Three splashes sounded towards him from his right; he figured the others had already gone under, but he didn’t care…he knew what he was waiting for; he knew what he must do.

The sensation of an invisible pillow being pressed over his mouth and nose overcame him once more, and automatically, he flung himself forward into the water…

And at that moment, when he took his first gulp of the icy lake water, sending oxygen to his brain and clarity to his mind, he steeled his resolve. He was not going to lose this. He was going to get Ginny.

‘Locum revelio!’

The long, impossibly thin line of light emerged from his wand, stretching out into the gloomy distance and illuminating his path to the rock. He whispered a silent thanks to Ron — probably grinning with pride at the success of the spell he had discovered — and propelled himself forward.

Forests of rippling, black weed, wide plains of mud littered with glittering stones, schools of fish suddenly appearing in front of or alongside him…the strangely familiar sights welcomed him back to the inky depths of the lake as he soared ahead. He made sure that he gave a wide berth to the tangled weeds below, Lupin’s words from Defence classes last year echoing in his head:

‘They generally live in the weeds growing in water bodies. Strong but brittle fingers — easy to repel of course — but best to avoid encountering them altogether, especially since they move around in packs.’

It seemed like no time that he reached the rock with the painting of the Merpeople on it. He glanced at his watch to confirm the time left, but it had stopped working. Something told him that he hadn’t taken more than 15 minutes to reach his landmark, which would leave with a good three-quarters of the allotted hour to grab Ginny and return to the surface.

She has to be alright…

He moved past the rock, a bit more slowly now that he was in virtually unknown territory. And suddenly, almost as though someone had switched a set of floodlights on, he came upon the Merpeople colony of the Black Lake of Hogwarts.

Algae covered stone dwellings dotted the landscape in front of him; as he sped on, the houses increased in number and concentration…and soon, he was in the heart of what could only be described as the Mer-village. Gardens of weed surrounded the homes of the Merpeople, rotting logs discerned one house from another, and domesticated Grindylows bared their sharp teeth at him from their tethered spots near the front of the caves and dwellings. All around him, Merpeople emerged from their houses, gaping and leering at him, either with astonishment, or with sardonic smiles on their greying faces…

More and more of them joined Harry as he paddled forward, their own silver fish tails powerfully beating against the water. Their long, sharp spears gave them an ominous appearance; Harry had to keep reminding himself of the fact that they never attacked unless attacked upon.

And then, he stopped so abruptly that he accidentally swallowed an extra amount of water, gaping at the sight before him.

It was the mer-version of a village square — a crowd of Merpeople were floating alongside rows of houses that lined the square, which was dominated by a huge statue of a Merperson that looked as though it had been hewn out of a single rock. Another twenty or so Merpeople were arranging themselves in a group in the middle of the square — just below the statue — as though they were about to sing. Harry’s eyes drifted over to the large tail of the crude statue, where four people were bound tightly, motionless and clearly in a deep enchanted sleep.

Hermione, Ginny, Cho, and a little girl who looked no older than eight years old, with flowing, silvery hair draped behind her; Harry was sure that was Fleur’s sister. Their heads lolled against their shoulders, and fine streams of bubbles issued from their mouths.

Harry paddled towards the hostages, half-expecting the Merpeople to attack him with their spears, but they did nothing of the sort. His accompanying entourage from the outskirts of the Merpeople colony tapered off to join the crowd of Merpeople near the houses, leaving him alone as he neared the girls.

They were bound together with what looked like ropes of thick, strong and slimy weed — clearly he would be unable to untie them by hand; and while they may not have attacked him, he doubt the Merpeople would help him by giving him their spears to cut through the ropes. He glanced around the bed of the lake, near the foot of statue; rocks and stones were strewn about, some blunt as a hammer, and others as sharp as a razor.

He had just begun to swim downwards to pick out a particularly jagged looking rock, when Ron’s exasperated yell from his first year at Hogwarts echoed in his head:

‘ARE YOU MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?!’

I should hit myself with one of those rocks, thought Harry as he swivelled mid-dive. Smirking at the knowledge that Ron was surely having at a laugh at his, Harry’s, momentary lapse of awareness, from his vantage point in the stands, he raised his wand, his focus and concentration now on severing the ropes holding Ginny with the others.

‘Diffindo!’

They broke free, and Ginny, unencumbered by the binds, floated, unconscious, a few inches above the bed of the lake, drifting slightly in the general ebb of the water. Harry rushed towards her, his webbed hands gently caressing her pale cheek. It did not look like she had been harmed — a relief for Harry, and after confirming that she was indeed okay, he took her arm and looked around.

It seemed as though his excursion last week had done the trick: there were no signs of the other champions within his range of vision. He stared, unblinkingly, into the inky blackness, looking for some sort of indication that would announce their presence, but there was nothing…

Ought he to leave? Harry looked back at Ginny, gently bobbing up and down as the lateral current caught her figure. Cho, Hermione and the young girl were still asleep, their heads bumping into each other’s shoulders…

And then, a sudden movement in the distance caught his eye…another figure was swimming towards them at great speed…as he approached the first house lining the square, Harry noticed the canary yellow of his swimming gear: Cedric Diggory.

Harry’s heart leapt a bit — partly with relief that Cedric had finally arrived, which meant that the others could not be too far behind, and partly with a streak of competitiveness that he hadn’t felt since the start of the Tournament.

He could not let Cedric win. Not when he had the upper hand.

With a swift and furious kick, Harry paddled away from the square; Cedric, who was approaching the square from the other end, had not noticed yet, but he would, soon…Harry kicked out harder, swimming towards the rock that served as his landmark — the Invenio spell had provided him with the most direct and easiest route from the banks of the lake where they had begun…he could swim along that course to reach the shore first…

On and on he swam, holding Ginny around the waist so that he could use at least one of his webbed hands to propel himself forwards, but it was slow going…Ginny’s dead weight combined with gravity threatened to pull him down to the depths of the lake…

Past the rock, past the huge rotten log, past the forest of weeds that definitely contained a group of Grindylows, and still Harry swam, gripping Ginny so tightly that he was sure if she was conscious, she would be gasping for air now…

He could see daylight above him…he knew he was close to the surface now…fifteen feet, ten feet…five, four, three, two, one…

And then he broke through the surface of the water; his gills receded back into his neck as his hands lost their ghostly webbing; Ginny’s head had emerged as well; she opened her eyes, and brown stared into brilliant green, before she coughed up a great deal of water, blinking in the bright light of the sun.

‘Ginny!’ Harry said a little hoarsely, still holding her close to him around the waist. ‘Are you alright?’

She nodded, and he began pulling her through the water to the bank, a mere five feet away, where the judges were seated…The crowd were making a great deal of noise as their feet hit the muddy shores, and slowly, they climbed out of the water, both of them shivering in the icy air that bit into their wet skin.

Dumbledore and Bagman had risen from their seats at the table, beaming at Harry with pride; Karkaroff looked surly at Harry’s re-appearance; Mr Crouch was watching the proceedings with a dispassionate air, still looking exhausted; but Madame Maxime was standing with Madam Pomfrey, comforting a girl with silvery blonde hair and a terrified expression on her face — Fleur Delacour.

The realization of what had happened hit Harry — Fleur was here, but her sister was still down there, and no one would be able to get her.

Not if I can help it.

He turned to Ginny, who seemed to have noticed his expression morph from relief, to surprise and shock, to finally grim determination. He opened his mouth to explain, but she shook her head, sending droplets of water all around them, but she was smiling.

‘Go,’ she said softly. ‘Go get her, Harry.’

Harry beamed at her, and without a backward glance at Dumbledore, Bagman, and Madam Pomfrey — who were moving towards him — he let Ginny go, rushed to his robes which lay forgotten and untouched where he had left them, pulled out the spare bit of Gillyweed, stuffed it into his mouth, and waded out into the waters once more.

He paid no attention to the gasps and cries of shock from the stands, or the calls of ‘Harry!’ from Dumbledore and Bagman — his sudden re-entry into the freezing lake had completely overshadowed Cedric’s appearance with Cho…Both of them blinked in the glare, and then stared in shock as Harry waded past them.

He didn’t bother to wait for the gills to form this time — as soon as he reached the point where the water was knee-deep, he flung himself forward; and sure enough, his gills began to function just as he opened his eyes underwater and took a gulp of oxygenated water.

He soared forward, doing away with the second part of the Invenio Spell, the route to the rock almost committed to memory…and as he reached it in record time, he heard the last vestiges of what was surely another Merpeople song, echoing through the depths…

‘…time’s half gone, so tarry not

Lest what you seek stays here to rot’


The Merpeople of the Black Lake had had enough drama and entertainment for one morning — they had been saddled with four young girls who were in some deep enchanted sleep, a boy who had gills had first arrived and taken one of the girls; then came the older boy with the odd-looking bubble across his face, and then the half-man, half-shark abomination that had almost scared them out of their wits. Three people came, three hostages gone. Only one remained — the young girl with the silvery hair, looking ghostly and ethereal as she slept, bound to the tail of their revered ancestor. The fourth person had less than half an hour to rescue her…

Not one of them expected a speeding — something — to rocket past them to their square, mere seconds after the abomination had left their midst. They stared at each other confusedly, then rushed towards the statue as quickly as their tails could push them forward.

Harry paid them no mind — the only thought in his head was to get to the little girl and save her. If he failed, if he couldn’t do it…he didn’t want to think about the consequences, especially not after that song he just heard.

The great, crude statue of the Merperson loomed like a shadow as he shot towards the village square and made a beeline for its tail, where the little girl still was, thank goodness… He drew his wand as he swam, pointed it at the ropes that held Fleur’s sister in place, and cried ‘Diffindo!’

The girl floated away from her bindings, drifting along with the water…but before Harry could grab hold of her, he found himself being pulled away by a dozen slimy hands on his shoulders, and to his horror, a giant of a Merman came in front of him, his spear pointing straight at Harry’s throat.

‘She is not yours to take!’ said the Merman in a harsh, croaky voice. ‘You have already rescued yours, leave her!’

‘But I don’t want her to die!’ he shouted, but all that came out of his mouth were bubbles.

They were shaking their heads at him, hands still dragging him away…he didn’t have time for this; the hour was almost up, and his Gillyweed couldn’t be enough for a long trip.

He pointed his wand at the Merman in front of him, and yelled, ‘Get out of the way!’

Harry knew, instantly, that they had understood, even if it was just bubbles. The giant Merman’s eyes widened in shock and fear; he was staring at Harry’s wand apprehensively — clearly they were afraid of magic.

‘MOVE!’

It seemed to do the trick: the hands dropped from his shoulders, and the giant Merman turned tail and swam away just as quickly. Harry darted forward, grabbed the little girl by the waist — just as he had done with Ginny — and sped off.

The exhaustion of the second trip back to the bottom was now creeping up on him — the journey back to the surface this time was much slower than before…he turned his eyes skyward, unblinkingly staring through the murkiness, hoping against hope that he would reach the surface soon…

Merpeople were rising with him now, swirling around him with ease — as though they were looking to create a mini whirlpool, with him at the vortex… Would they pull him back down if he didn’t reach land within the time limit? Would they suddenly fancy a different delicacy for their lunch — human, perhaps?

Dark, irrational thoughts flitted across his mind as he kicked out, each thrust sapping him of more and more energy…his legs were seizing up with the effort, arms screamed in pain from the combined effort to swim forward and hold onto the little girl…

Was that daylight? Or was it a trick of the light on the glittering stone below? He could not tell…his head was spinning, his limbs were heavy, he could feel the pain on the sides of his neck once again…and now the water was going to his lungs…

You’re almost there, Harry, come on…come on…COME ON!

And at last, at long last, his head broke through the surface of the water once more; wonderful, cold, clear air stung his wet face; he gulped it down as though he had never breathed before…he dragged the little girl above with him, who spluttered a bit as she opened her eyes, a lost and scared expression on her face. And all around him, the Merpeople emerged out of the water, but they were smiling widely.

But the exhaustion had taken its toll on Harry; his head slumped against the girl’s shoulder, making her squeak with surprise…everything around him seemed to be spinning…darkness was encroaching on his vision; he could not see properly, even with his glasses…

‘It’s okay,’ croaked Harry to the girl, ‘you’re safe now.’

And his world went black.

Back to index


Chapter 8: Unwelcome Realizations

When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 8: Unwelcome Realizations


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

And at last, at long last, his head broke through the surface of the water once more; wonderful, cold, clear air stung his wet face; he gulped it down as though he had never breathed before…he dragged the little girl above with him, who spluttered a bit as she opened her eyes, a lost and scared expression on her face. And all around him, the Merpeople emerged out of the water, but they were smiling widely.

But the exhaustion had taken its toll on Harry; his head slumped against the girl’s shoulder, making her squeak with surprise…everything around him seemed to be spinning…darkness was encroaching on his vision; he could not see properly, even with his glasses…

‘It’s okay,’ croaked Harry to the girl, ‘you’re safe now.’

And his world went black.


Darkness.

It was around him, surrounding him, encompassing every single nook and cranny of what he could feel, see, experience. Even with his eyes open (were they even open?) he could see nothing. An endless chasm of black — nothingness.

Silence.

Absolutely, totally quiet, without a sound echoing anywhere: it pressed against him from all sides, so much that he wanted something, anything, to make even the slightest of sounds…

Where was this place? He had no idea. What was he doing here? Absolutely no clue. How did he get here? Not even the foggiest notion or answer cropped up in his addled mind — for his mind was definitely twisted for him to be in this kind of a place — a place where he could not see, feel, touch, smell, hear, or taste anything. Certainly not a vacation spot — even hell, which those stories painted in a horrific way, would have been a better place.

He wanted it to end — but he didn’t know how to end it. How does one get out of something when one has no inkling as to how they got into it in the first place? There were no signs of “exit” from this place — it rather felt like how he had gotten lost while going to every single class of his in his first ever week at school.

School… Hogwarts castle…the grounds…the lake!

And as his memories came crashing down upon him, so did the functionality of his five senses — one by one, they returned to him.

He could not see anything yet — clearly, his eyes was closed, and he did not possess the strength to open them. But he could feel some light against his eyelids — light straining to get into his irises.

He was able to smell…grass. Yes, that’s what it was, grass. And what was that other odour — mud? Yes, that’s right, mud!

He felt grass under him — a bed of soft grass mixed with the hard ground upon which he lay, definitely unmoving, for he could not move his limbs, try as he might. The cold air stung through his wet clothes and skin, chilling him, while a breeze blew across and over him.

He could taste — what on earth was that? A potion? For what — why would he be drinking a potion?

He could hear — well, he was able to hear a lot of things, amidst the background din of cheering and clapping, interspersed with screams of joy and glee, but a few specific sounds stood out against the others: screeching sounds, which were jarring, and yet rhythmic in their intonation, as though someone was speaking that way; a cluster of footsteps close by, with the strict voice of a woman ordering those restless steps to stay where they were; and whispers of conversations taking place to the other side, but much closer…

‘Why isn’t he waking up? Madam Pomfrey said that potion would wake him up immediately.’

Ah, so that explained the potion taste in his mouth. Was he asleep though? What had happened to him for them to speak of him waking up? He tried to recollect, but it was hazy — his head refused to cooperate.

I know that voice though.

‘She just gave it to him, Ginny,’ came another voice — a young boy’s, by the sound of it. ‘He’ll wake up.’

I know that voice too.

Why were they still talking about his awakening from — whatever his state was? He racked his brains to remember, but once again, they did not work.

‘Zat was very brave of him,’ came another female’s voice, one which he did not recognise immediately, but the accent was distinct and pronounced. It was also shaky, and sounded oddly relieved. ‘I did not know zat ze hostages would not be harmed — none of us knew, non?’

Hostages…I’ve heard that somewhere…

‘No, ve did not,’ grunted a fourth voice. ‘It vos supposedly to make sure that ve finished the task in time.’

The task…first task…second task…

‘Apparently the hostages didn’t know about it either,’ came the fifth participant to the conversation. ‘Bagman had promised to tell the girls about it before they were put to sleep, but he never did. Says he forgot about it. Dumbledore was really angry — looked like he wanted to curse him.’

The girls…asleep…Bagman…

‘All right, Harry? Got a plan?’

‘Go get her, Harry.’

‘She is not yours to take!’

‘But I don’t want her to die!’

‘It’s okay. You’re safe now.’


And after what seemed like an eternity, he connected the dots.

With a supreme effort, Harry opened his eyes — only to shut them once more against the blinding glare of the sun overhead. This time, he made sure to open them really slowly, partially to get adjusted to the light, and partially because he was just so exhausted.

His limbs felt like lead, as though they were weighed down onto the grass; he could not lift them, but could he — yes, he could move his fingers, and then his hands, followed by his toes and feet.

His vision was a tumultuous blur — someone had removed his glasses, and everything around him was an indistinct mass of shapes and figures. Against the glare of the sun, he was hard-pressed to discern anything, or anyone, of note.

‘Ron?’ he tried to say, but even that was difficult, and his voice was too soft and scratchy to be heard amidst the general din.

Trying very hard not to panic and feel embarrassed at this new level of helplessness he had achieved, he tried once again. ‘Ginny?’

The conversation he’d heard snippets of a while earlier ceased quite abruptly; he could make out the participants turning their heads to look at him.

‘Harry?’

It was the first voice he had heard in that conversation — the voice of Ginny. It sounded a lot closer than before; presumably she had moved closer to him.

‘Hey,’ he replied, his voice a tad less hoarse now.

‘Are you alright?’

He paused. ‘I’m fine.’

‘Like hell he is,’ came the second voice — Ron. ‘How’re you feeling, mate?’

Harry managed a small smile at Ron’s words. ‘Exhausted.’

‘Well of course you are,’ came Hermione’s voice from his other side. She hadn’t been a part of the earlier conversation — he wondered why that was. ‘Two trips into the lake without sufficient practice — what were you thinking, Harry?’

A slight ripple of anger coursed through him at her words — it was all very well for her and the other hostages, asleep without a care in the world. They hadn’t been there when he’d been surrounded by the Merpeople carrying those razor-sharp spears. They hadn’t been conscious when he had to swim back up to the surface with them.

Hindsight was a convenient perspective to adopt when doling out criticism.

‘Give it a rest, Hermione,’ said Ginny sharply. ‘You would have gone mental too, if you had been in Harry’s position at that time.’

‘Yes, but —’

‘Drop it,’ said Ron, and for the second time that year, Hermione heeded Ron’s words and fell silent.

Harry shut his eyes once more, revelling in the softness of the grass, wishing he could stay there forever. The glare from the sun above him still shone through his closed eyelids, but it was soothing now, rather than scorching. The heat from its rays was a release from the oppressive iciness of the water and wind that threatened to engulf him.

A new set of footsteps signalled the arrival of yet another person; Harry half-considered opening his eyes to squint at the newcomer, but he dismissed the notion almost at once: he was as good as blind without his glasses.

Something I need to correct quite soon.

‘Mr Potter,’ came the brisk voice of Madam Pomfrey. ‘Can you hear me?’

Harry didn’t say anything, but Ginny piped up anyway. ‘Yes, he just awoke a few minutes ago.’

‘Oh, that’s good then,’ said the matron. There was the sound of tinkling glass, and then she said, ‘I need you to drink this, Mr Potter. It’ll help you get your energy back.’

Oh, that sounds like a good idea.

He cracked an eye open; Madam Pomfrey was kneeling next to him, a small vial of potion in her right hand as she moved her left to somewhere behind Harry. Next thing he knew, with a surprising amount of strength, she had lifted his head to an acceptable level for him to swallow something without choking on it.

‘Drink up, Mr Potter,’ she repeated, and Harry acquiesced; opening his mouth, he allowed the surprisingly sweet-tasting potion to dribble down his throat. Almost instantly, the heaviness in his limbs faded; his head — which had been mildly throbbing till then — cleared up, and the compulsion to shut his eyes again vanished. A moment later, something was put on his face — his glasses — and Ginny’s face swam into view.

‘Hey,’ he said, grinning at her.

She grinned back, but before she could say anything else, another face came into his range of vision: Fleur Delacour.

‘You saved ’er,’ she told him in a breathless voice. ‘Even though she was not yours to save.’

Harry could feel the heat rising in his face — he hadn’t imagined it as some sort of heroic act. He had just done what he thought was right at the time, despite Hermione’s views on the matter; and he told Fleur so — leaving the Hermione part out — as he shrugged nonchalantly.

‘Not everyone would ’ave thought of doing zat, ’Arry,’ she said, before she did completely unexpected — she bent down and kissed him on the forehead. Harry felt his face burn even more at the contact, and ducked his head in embarrassment; he missed the scowl on Ginny’s face as he did so.

Bagman’s whistle sounded over the hullabaloo of the crowd of students. As Fleur gracefully straightened up and faced away from Harry, he pushed himself to a sitting position on the floor — from his vantage point, he noticed that he was still on this side of the lake, near the judges’ desk, with the audience and the screens on the opposite bank. He craned his neck, and saw Bagman standing a little in front of the judges — Dumbledore, Karkaroff, and Madame Maxime were right behind him, while Mr Crouch was seated on a chair a little further behind.

‘Students and teachers of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang! The second task of the Triwizard Tournament has finally concluded. The judges, after a conversation with Merchieftainess Murcus, and based on what we observed from the large screens during the task, have to come a decision. As per Tournament rules, the marks out of fifty have been awarded to each champion, as follows…

‘Ms Fleur Delacour demonstrated the excellent use of the Bubble-Head Charm, but was attacked by Grindylows as she approached her destination, and failed to retrieve her hostage. We therefore award her twenty-five points. Her total after two tasks now stands at sixty-two points.’

A round of polite applause rang from the stands. Fleur shook her head, her silvery blonde hair shining magnificently in the sunlight. ‘I deserve zero,’ she said throatily.

‘Mr Viktor Krum used an incomplete form of Human Transfiguration, which was nevertheless effective, and was the third to return with his hostage, five minutes before the time limit of one hour. We award him forty-two points, bringing his total after two tasks to eighty-two points.’

Loud cheers erupted from the stands; the Durmstrang students, in particular, were belting out a chant that sounded more like a war-cry. Karkaroff clapped particularly hard as well, looking quite smug and superior.

‘Mr Cedric Diggory —’ and at this Bagman had to fall silent, for the celebratory cheers from the audience — especially from the Hufflepuffs — drowned out his magically amplified voice. Cedric magnanimously acknowledged the crowd with a raised hand, a broad grin on his face.

‘Yes, well,’ continued Bagman with a grin of his own. ‘Mr Diggory also used a Bubble-Head Charm to great effect, and was the second to return with his hostage, twenty-five minutes before the hour mark.’ Cheers sounded from the Hufflepuffs once more. ‘We therefore award him forty-six points, bringing his tally to a grant total of eight-four points.’

Almost the entire student body of Hogwarts applauded hard at the announcement — one of their own was in the lead to win the Triwizard Tournament.

‘Mr Harry Potter,’ said Bagman, and the crowd quietened down almost immediately — as if someone had pressed the mute button on their volume, ‘used Gillyweed to great effect, and was the first champion to return with his hostage, within thirty minutes of the one hour mark.’

The cheers Harry received from the crowd were as loud, if not louder, than what Cedric had gotten. He noticed even the other champions giving him a sporting round of applause — Fleur, in particular, was quite exuberant about it.

Bagman waited for the crowd to fall silent once more, before proceeding.

‘However, Mr Potter returned to the lake to rescue the hostage of Ms Delacour, borne out of a determination to ensure that none of the hostages were harmed.

‘While we would have awarded full marks to Mr Potter for this display of moral fiber,’ and here, Bagman gave a rather nasty look at Karkaroff, who glared back defiantly, ‘a member of our panel felt that Mr Potter had risked our relations with the Merpeople of the Black Lake due to the threats he delivered while rescuing Ms Delacour’s hostage.’

A chorus of boos and jeers erupted from the stands — nearly everyone knew, and if not, they could figure out, that the member in question was Karkaroff. The Weasley twins, in particular, were quite vocal in expressing their annoyance. From his position on the grass, Harry could make out even some of the Durmstrang students shaking their fists at their Headmaster.

‘Given the circumstances,’ called Bagman over the din, ‘Mr Potter’s score is forty-three points, giving him a total of eighty-three points.’

The derogatory calls from the audience quickly made way for loud and boisterous cheers and applause at the announcement of Harry’s total score. His stomach leapt as he considered it himself — he was in second place, behind Cedric by only a point! The two Hogwarts champions were in the top two places heading into the third task!

Grinning broadly at his success, he was immediately swept into a celebratory hug by Ginny; they broke apart a few seconds later — although a part of Harry had hoped for it to go on for much longer — before the twins arrived, hoisted him onto their shoulders, and proceeded to carry him back to the Gryffindor common room for a party, ignoring Madam Pomfrey’s calls for him to rest a bit more.

It took Harry the entire weekend after the conclusion of the second task to get back to normalcy. His two rapid-fire excursions into the lake had sapped him of all his energy — despite having built up a fairly decent amount of stamina from his Quidditch training, so he spent most of his time up in Gryffindor tower, recuperating his strength either in his bed in the dormitory, or on the armchair near the common room fire.

The party on Friday afternoon had lasted throughout the afternoon and evening, and well into the early hours of Saturday morning. It only ended when Professor McGonagall showed up in the common room, wearing her tartan dressing gown and an irritated expression on her face, and ordered everyone back to bed. Fred and George had been all for resuming it as soon as Professor McGonagall was out of earshot, but Stuart Whitby — the Prefect in Fred and George’s year — and Alicia Spinnet, the Gryffindor Quidditch team Chaser, had put their foots down.

Nothing of note had happened during the party, mused Harry on Sunday as he sank into the comfortable armchair near the roaring fire, unless you counted Fred and George doing a roaring trade of their Ton-Tongue Toffees and Canary Creams amongst the students, or the teasing that Hermione had received from most people on being that thing that Krum would miss most — which caused Ron to scowl heavily at every mention of it.

Or the awkward moment he had had with Ginny, Ron and Hermione about his hostage.

It had begun innocently enough: Angelina Johnson, Katie Bell, Parvati and Lavender had traipsed over to the corner of the room where the four of them were seated, and had started ribbing Hermione over her selection as Krum’s hostage. It was funny for a while, watching Hermione and Ron both go red — for very different reasons of course — when out of the blue, Parvati turned the spotlight onto Harry.

‘What about your hostage, Harry?’ she said with a smirk. ‘I wonder why they chose Ginny as the thing you would miss the most.’

‘Yeah,’ chimed in Lavender. ‘Care to share, Harry? Ginny?’

Harry had turned red, so much that he was sure he resembled a ripe tomato. Ginny was no less, the colour of her skin almost matching the fiery shade of her hair. Ron was gawking at Harry in disbelief, clearly wondering what on earth their two classmates were insinuating, while Hermione was now grinning away to glory, very evidently enjoying the sensation of teasing her best friend.

What a hypocrite, Hermione.

Harry glared at his bushy-haired best friend as she desperately tried not to laugh, amidst the constant pressing and teasing by Lavender and Parvati — Angelina and Katie had wandered off to speak with Fred, George and Stuart. It was only a minute later — though it felt like eons — that the two of them gave it up and returned to the food table.

‘Oh, shut up, Hermione,’ said Harry, just before the girl lost control and roared with laughter at his predicament. In hindsight, he should have expected it from Hermione — her intuition had almost caught him out a number of times when he had been staring at, or thinking about Ginny.

For there was nothing else to it: after almost two and half weeks of constant internal debates and arguments with himself — a sure sign that he was going mad — he had come to accept the fact that he had feelings for the youngest Weasley. It had hit him right when the two of them had broken through the surface of the lake — right when their eyes had met as they bobbed in the water. In that instant, he knew.

It was unlike the feelings he had had for Cho — that was a young teenager’s crush and his hormones wreaking havoc with his mind. No, this was the real thing; just knew that it was, despite the fact that he had never known what it would feel like. The Dursleys had never shown him any familial affection, and he had only experienced the emotional bond of friendship with Ron, Hermione and the rest of the Weasleys.

Until now, he thought as he chanced a glance at Ginny. She had removed her hands from her face — to hide her furious blush when Lavender and Parvati had been there — but she still looked thoroughly embarrassed.

Cute too, came the annoying second voice in his head — the one he knew had almost all but won the battle in convincing him of his more-than-friendly feelings towards Ginny.

Cut it out.

Harry’s eyes slid over to Ron, who still had a slightly gob-smacked expression on his freckled face. More than anything, Harry was worried about the reaction of the second-youngest Weasley: Ginny’s supposed infatuation and crush on Harry was well-known, but Harry’s reciprocation of those feelings was a new development — not something Harry supposed Ron would take kindly to. It was either that Ron would allow his jealousy and possessiveness over Ginny and Harry, as his sister and best friend respectively, to take over and cause him to explode in a rage, or he would decide to be extremely mature about it, and give them his blessing.

Although, why would you need his blessing anyway?

Will you quit it?

Harry wasn’t sure which of the two he preferred in the first place.

Hermione’s full-blown laughter subsided at last, and, still chuckling, managed to pull herself up to sit back on the chair next to Ron. Her face was split in a wide grin though, and throughout the silence that had fallen upon the four of them, she kept shooting annoyingly knowing looks and smirks in Harry’s direction.

She’s going to be the death of me.

But as his eyes moved back to Ginny’s considerably less mortified visage, another, possibly more disturbing question occurred to him.

What am I going to tell Ginny?

The question had plagued him right up till Sunday evening, when he had sunk into the armchair next to the fire. He dropped his head into his hands, his elbows resting on his knees, listening to the sound of the fire crackling merrily in the grate of the Gryffindor common room. The heat from the flames washed over him, as though they were enclosing him in a warm duvet, coaxing him to sleep once more.

But he couldn’t sleep. Not after that question had reared its ugly head again.

What was he going to tell her? How was he going to explain to a girl, his close friend — albeit one he had only began to get to know a few weeks ago — that he fancied her? That he actually liked her, and not in the manner in which friends would like each other? He knew she had fancied him at one point — and even in this state of confusion the infamous ‘elbow in the butter dish’ incident elicited a low chuckle — but that had been two years ago. She had grown up since then: she no longer blushed profusely whenever she was in Harry’s presence — on the contrary, she would try her best to make sure that he blushed at her remarks and comments; she was perfectly fine with talking to him normally, unlike the stutters and squeaks that she’d managed in her first and second years…

In short, all those clear signs that told him she fancied him were now long gone. In her eyes, he was, apparently, just another friend. Just like Hermione, Colin, Ian, Demelza…

Don’t get ahead of yourself — of course she likes you!

Damned if I know. On what basis, anyway?

Well, she hadn’t denied the suggestions made by Parvati and Lavender. That’s saying something.

She didn’t accept them either.

With her brother and you around? Not bloody likely! Don’t you remember how much she had blushed at their insinuations?


That was true — she had blushed at their words of something possibly going on between the two of them. And somehow, that cheered him up slightly, although it did very little to answer his initial question.

What am I going to tell her?

Damned if I know.


Harry returned to classes and studies on the next day, Monday, with a firm resolve on the issue of Ginny. While he had finally admitted to himself that he liked her, he had no inkling of whether she reciprocated the feelings. And so, even though his stomach sank at the thought of it, he decided that he wouldn’t do anything to jeopardise his friendship with Ginny, or Ron, unless there was a clear ‘go ahead’ signal from either of them.

Considering that he was dealing with two Weasleys, it was unlikely that that signal would come around any time soon.

And thus the week began, with Harry forcing himself to see Ginny as just another close friend of his, instead of a potential —

Stop that.

True to his word, as soon as he had felt well enough to do so, Harry had written a letter to Sirius, detailing almost everything that had happened since his last correspondence with his godfather — everything from the events of the “night” till the end of the second task. Tempted though he was to ask Sirius for advice regarding his feelings for Ginny, he didn’t dare to do so, not when Ron was helping him along in describing the second task in great detail. In hindsight, he supposed that he could asked Sirius to refer to the Daily Prophet article that covered the second task — once again, Joshua Smallwood had done an excellent job in providing an unbiased view of the proceedings — but he could not resist showing off a little about the judge’s almost unanimous decision to award him full marks.

February faded imperceptibly into March, bringing with it drier weather and cruel winds that threatened to rip the skin off their hands and faces whenever they stepped out onto the grounds. There were considerable delays in the post because the owls kept being blown off course. Surprisingly, however, Hedwig had arrived with Sirius’ response to Harry’s long letter, only two days later on Wednesday morning, albeit with half her feathers sticking up the wrong way and wearing a slightly dishevelled and disgruntled look. She allowed Harry to stroke her for a bit, before helping herself to a strip of bacon from his plate and flying off to the Owlery, clearly seeking a good long period of sleep and rest.

Sirius had not minced any words in his response.

Harry,

Finally! I was beginning to worry that you had forgotten about me — I’d gotten more updates from Moony about things at Hogwarts than from you, which is saying something — Moony almost never writes.

While I am glad that this whole “Who put your name in the Goblet of Fire and why?” question has finally been put to rest, I will admit that I am disappointed in your lack of judgement in terms of your safety. It was lucky that you and Snape were there together — you should have gone straight to Dumbledore once you had seen who it was on the Map.

I want you to completely concentrate on the Tournament, now that this threat has been removed. You’ve gotten through two tasks, but they say the third one is always the hardest. Start learning a few jinxes and hexes, apart from what Moony’s teaching you. You could always ask him for some reference point to start with — that way, you’re technically not breaking the rules.

I won’t deny it Harry, I’m breathing a lot easier right now, and I honestly think that you can win it. Just don’t do anything rash or stupid that could put you in danger.

Sirius

P.S. I might be seeing you lot sooner than you think. Moony knows, but don’t bother asking him — he’s a tough nut to crack.

P.P.S. I thought I’d told you not to use Hedwig all the time. Make sure you use another owl next time.


‘After all the stuff he did while he was in school, and he tells me not to do anything rash or stupid,’ said Harry in mild indignation as he folded the letter up and placed it in his robes, but he was grinning.

‘He’s worried about you, Harry,’ said Hermione gently. ‘But I think he’s right — you should have gone straight to Dumbledore that night instead of going off to the dungeons yourself. What if Crouch Junior had seen you before Snape arrived?’

‘I could have done a lot of things differently, Hermione. But it’s over, that’s what matters.’ Harry finished the last of his eggs, downed it with a swig of tea, and then stood up from his seat. ‘Besides, I happen to agree with him too — at least on the second part of his letter.’

‘Which part was that?’ asked Ron, who had also finished his breakfast and had gotten to his feet with Harry.

‘About me winning the Tournament,’ said Harry simply.

It was true — he had contemplated it during their Hogsmeade trip to buy Gillyweed for the second task. But after his success in the second task, he was now actively considering it, instead of letting it flit around his head like a distant possibility. What was to stop him from winning it? He was second behind Cedric in terms of total points, with Krum one point behind him — he just need to make sure he performed better than the Hufflepuff, and Krum too, in the third task.

‘I told you so right after the first task,’ said Ron smugly. ‘You’ve been considered as a favourite ever since then.’

‘Yes, but don’t let it get into your head, Harry,’ said Hermione. ‘Snuffles is right, you really should start your preparations for the third task — whatever it’s going to be. Learning a few hexes and jinxes wouldn’t be a bad idea.’

‘Hermione, anything that needs you to visit the library would never be a bad idea,’ jested Ron, and the three of them shared a chuckle as they made their way to Care of Magical Creatures.

Hagrid had only recently returned to the public eye following Rita Skeeter’s article on his part-giant nature and his heritage; even then, he had apparently insisted that he be given an extra week off from teaching duties, to which Dumbledore had benevolently agreed.

His week off had ended on the day of the second task, and so that day’s lesson was the first Care of Magical Creatures lesson the fourth-year Gryffindors and Slytherins with Hagrid, after almost two months out.

Most of the class had been afraid that he would bring in the Skrewts once again, but Hagrid had clearly learnt his lesson. Or maybe he was trying to prove that he was just as good as Professor Grubbly-Plank when it came to teaching. Either way, it was to everyone’s pleasant surprise when they saw two unicorn foals grazing in the paddock near his hut.

Unlike full-grown unicorns, which had pure white coats, the foals were pure gold. Parvati and Lavender went into transports of delight at the sight of them, and even Pansy Parkinson had to work hard to conceal how much she liked them.

Out of the corner of his eye, Harry noticed Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis standing slightly away from the rest of the Slytherins, but they were equally entranced by the beauty of the foals.

‘Easier ter spot than the adults,’ Hagrid told the class. ‘They turn silver when they’re abou’ two years old, an’ they grow horns at aroun’ four. Don’ go pure white till they’re full grown, ’round about seven. They’re a bit more trustin’ when they’re babies, see? Don’ mind boys so much. C’mon, move in a bit, yeh can pat ’em if yeh want…give ’em a few o’ these sugar lumps…’

As Hagrid had said, unlike adult unicorns — which preferred the feminine touch only — the foals were a lot more trusting towards boys. One of the foals had taken a particularly odd liking to Harry — it had neighed in audible delight when he had run his hands through its sinfully soft gold coat, and looked a little disheartened when Harry had to give way for the next person in line.

All in all, it had been a very enjoyable lesson, even by Hagrid’s standards; indeed, save for Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle, the remaining Slytherins looked quite pleased with the class that day.

‘That was a really good class,’ said Hermione, as they headed back to the castle for a wash-up before Charms.

‘Yeah it was,’ muttered Harry distractedly; he had been watching Daphne and Tracey follow their fellow Slytherins across the grounds to the castle. Hermione followed his line of sight, and gave a small sigh.

‘Harry,’ she began slowly, only continuing once she had his full attention. ‘I know you want to help her, but… I’ve seen her in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, and she seems to be happy the way she is.’ Harry didn’t respond, so she ploughed on. ‘I’m not saying it’s a bad idea — it’s very sweet of you to think of helping people that way — but don’t go trying to help them when they don’t need any.’

‘That’s a bit rich coming from you, Hermione,’ said Ron as they climbed the main staircase to the huge oak double doors of the castle. ‘Especially with your Spew campaign.’

‘It’s S.P.E.W.! And what’s that supposed to mean anyway, Ronald?’

‘‘Don’t help them when they don’t need any help?’ Isn’t that what you’re doing with the house-elves? Trying to get them to accept freedom and wages and what-not —’

‘That’s different!’ retorted Hermione hotly. ‘The house-elves have appalling working conditions and no wages — don’t you see? It’s slave labour! They need to be freed — look how happy Dobby is!’

‘I’m not sure that’s the best idea, Hermione,’ came Neville’s voice from behind them. He had fallen back a bit as he met up with a few fourth-year Hufflepuffs who had exited the greenhouses. Personally, Harry felt Neville’s timing was perfect — for a moment, it looked as though Ron and Hermione were going to get into another infamous argument of theirs.

Hermione had no chance to continue her discussion with Neville; they had been due in Charms in less than two minutes. Harry spent the entirety of the lesson focusing on the Repairing Charm that Professor Flitwick was teaching them, just so as to avoid getting involved in a potential argument between Ron and Hermione on S.P.E.W. The upshot of this was that he ended up being the first one to master the charm completely, earning him astonished — but not patronizing — praise from Professor Flitwick, and ten points for Gryffindor.

He felt relatively pleased with himself as they exited the classroom and headed to the Great Hall for lunch. Mercifully, Hermione chose not to start her counter-argument until they had taken their seats at the Gryffindor table, and loaded their plates with food.

‘Why isn’t it the best idea?’

Hermione’s loud exclamation caused more than a few heads to turn their way, but she resolutely ignored them in favour of staring expectantly at Neville, who was across her. For his part, Neville seemed to be ignoring the stares as well, but then Harry noticed he was mindful of waiting for those people to turn back to their food and conversations, before answering Hermione.

Well done, Nev.

‘Do you know how a house-elf’s magic works, Hermione?’ asked Neville, and Harry was surprised to hear how restrained and calm his friend’s voice was. It certainly was a refreshing change from the free-for-all shouting matches that usually typified an argument between his two best friends.

‘I do know that they have a brand of magic that’s different from that of witches and wizards,’ said Hermione. ‘But I fail to see how that’s relevant, Neville.’ Her waspish tone at the end of her statement sent out a clear message to everyone who was listening: she would not be swayed by any argument, least of all from someone like Neville.

Low blow, Hermione. Really low blow.

To his credit, Neville did not seem to be affected by her jab — although Harry had a sneaky suspicion that the round-faced boy had not understood it in the first place.

‘You’re right, their brand of magic is different. And it’s extremely relevant, Hermione.’

So he had noticed. Nicely done.

As he helped himself to some more casserole, Neville continued. ‘Witches and wizards — like you and me, and the rest of us — can use magic to do many things. House-elves can also use magic to do a lot of tasks in a similar fashion.’ He paused to take a sip of his juice. ‘What’s different between the two is the way they access this magic.’

It was as though the entire debate was now being telecast on live television — half the occupants of the Gryffindor table were observing the discussion between Neville and Hermione with great interest. Many of them remembered only too well how Hermione had gone up to them to try and coax them into becoming members of S.P.E.W. It was a different matter that most of them had refused outright, but they had had no convincing reasons to give for them to say ‘no.’ Somehow, this had only served to reaffirm Hermione’s belief that the house-elves were being mistreated as slaves, and that the entire concept should be abolished.

Or something to that effect. Most people really had no idea what she was campaigning for, except that it was for the betterment of house-elves.
Either way, who were they to refuse a bit of entertainment during an otherwise mundane Wednesday lunch?

For his part, Harry was staring at Neville in abject and undisguised shock. Where had this boy been in hiding for the last four years? This Neville Longbottom was nothing like the round-faced, forgetful, shy boy he’d first encountered on the Hogwarts, searching for his lost toad; not the boy who had received a Remembrall from his grandmother - but not remember what he’d forgotten — only to lose it later that day after breaking his wrist during their first flying lesson; not the boy who was so scared of Professor Snape that the latter was his Boggart, and always messed up on Potions…

No, this was not the same Neville. This Neville Longbottom was more confident — albeit with the occasional shyness peeking through now and then; surer about himself; kind and considerate; loyal and trustworthy; and above all, a true friend who would do anything for what he thought was right.

The words from their first year at Hogwarts echoed in Harry’s mind:

‘I won’t let you do it. I’ll — I’ll fight you!’

He’s really grown up. He’s become his own person now.

‘The way they access their magic?’ repeated Hermione. ‘I’m afraid I don’t understand.’

‘Alright, maybe access isn’t the right word,’ admitted Neville. ‘It’s more of how their magic functions, really, but seeing as you don’t know that…’ He rubbed his hand — the one free of food — along his chin, seemingly considering the best way to explain what he needed to.

‘You, of course, know about magical cores, and the way magic works,’ began Neville, and received a nod from Hermione in response. ‘You would also know about the ‘life-force’, wouldn’t you?’

This, however, elicited a shake of Hermione’s bushy head, her curls gently flying about. Ginny, Ron, and the rest of the onlookers looked stunned at this admission. Hermione Granger not knowing something intellectual — Quidditch, according to her and despite Ron’s vocal protests, was not an intellectual topic — was a foreboding sign. Harry noticed Hermione going a bit pink at the extra-focused attention she was receiving.

Deciding to help her out a bit, Harry raised his hand, rather like he would have done in class. ‘Err — I don’t know what it means, either.’

‘Neither do I,’ chipped in Dean.

Eyes swung between Harry, Dean, and Hermione as though they were watching a gripping game of tennis at Wimbledon — only that there were three individual players, no rackets, and no tennis balls.

‘What?’ said Harry defensively, as Ginny looked at him, wide-eyed. ‘It’s not like we’ve been taught any of this in class, have we?’

Neville shook his head, cutting ahead of Ginny as she opened her mouth to retort; she shut it with an audible snap. ‘Never mind, I’ll explain. Although, I’m not too sure if I can do it that well…’ He trailed off, looking uncertain.

‘Don’t worry, Neville,’ said Katie Bell. ‘We’ll help you if you need it.’

Neville looked a bit relieved at that, but his round face still betrayed a hint of anxiety as he continued. ‘Right, then. So…life force. Every sentient, living being is imbued with what is known as a ‘life force’ — an innate power that sustains all of us —’

‘Like a God, you mean?’ interrupted Hermione, and immediately looked abashed at the interjection. ‘Sorry,’ she meekly added.

‘Not a God, no,’ said Neville, waving her apology off. ‘To be honest, no one’s really sure what it is — except that it exists. Some say it’s our soul, others say it’s a force that makes our minds think and our hearts pump, but no one quite know what it is. There’s still a fair amount of research left to be done.’

‘Or so they say,’ said Lee Jordan, who was sitting next to Katie. ‘It’s the Department of Mysteries, when have they ever given a conclusive answer for anything?’

‘Quite right,’ agreed Fred.

‘Well said, my friend,’ concurred George.

‘The point is,’ said Neville a little loudly, hoping to forestall another of the Weasley twins’ banter with their best friend Lee, ‘is that all of us have a life force. In humans, our life force is separate from our magical cores. You can survive and live your life without a functioning magical core — that’s why we have Muggles and Squibs.’

Harry found himself hanging onto every word of Neville’s explanation. It was as though he was in a classroom, and Neville was lecturing this theory to all of them as they sat with rapt attention at their desks. In fact, Neville’s argument was so interesting, that the entire section of the Gryffindor had fallen silent, resulting in a sudden lull in the sound levels in the Great Hall. Even their dishes were untouched — the chinks of cutlery on the plates were conspicuously. Over from the Ravenclaw table, Harry noticed a few Beauxbatons students looking over at Neville in interest.

Professor Neville Longbottom. Has quite a nice ring to it.

Hastily, he pulled himself back to focus on Neville.

‘All human beings have magical cores,’ continued Neville. ‘Whether such magical cores are functional or not depends on a combination of good fortune and, err, something the Muggles call ‘jean-ticks’.’

‘Genetics,’ corrected Hermione at once. ‘I’m sorry, Neville, I still don’t see how this is relevant.’

‘Wait, what’s that?’

The question prompted a slight change in the topic of conversation, as Hermione, along with a few other Muggle-born students — notably including Colin Creevey — explained to the others who were listening what exactly genetics was about. Harry had a hazy idea about what it was, but he had completely tuned out the discussion as he pondered something else entirely.

Was this why his Aunt Petunia had hated his mother? Was this the reason that Lily Potter had never seen her sister give her the time of the day, once she had gone off to Hogwarts? The fact that it was down to sheer luck and genetics would definitely have caused some grief and jealousy in his mother’s house when she had been growing up. It would have been — and naturally so, thought Harry — almost agonizing for Petunia to see her younger sister get her Hogwarts letter, and disappear for ten months at a stretch to learn all about the mysterious ways of magic. She would have been jealous of her sister’s ability — an ability that she herself did not possess — and would have tried to counter it by terming it as ‘unnatural’ and ‘freakish’ — just to make herself feel superior and better than her sister.

‘I was the only one who saw her for what she was – a freak!’

Harry shook his head lightly. The reasoning he had just thought out seemed plausible enough; and yet, if it was true, Petunia had harboured jealous feelings for her sister solely because of sheer luck. And she was now unleashing that jealousy upon her only nephew, in the form of abuse, mistreatment, and negligence.

This explains a lot.

And for the second time in less than two minutes, Harry forced himself to resume paying attention to Neville, who had taken up his explanation post the impromptu science lesson conducted by the Muggle-born Gryffindors.

‘Yes, well, like I said, humans have their magical cores separate from their life force — we can survive without having a functional magical core.’ He paused, just long enough to pique Hermione’s interest. ‘This, unfortunately, isn’t the case with house-elves.’

‘How is that unfortunate?’ asked a puzzled Ian.

‘Well…house-elves have co-existent magical cores and life-forces. If the life-force is snuffed out, the magical core dies out — which is natural. If the magical core dwindles, so does the life-force.’ Neville paused again. ‘The sustenance of a house-elf’s magical core is linked to the bond that it shares with its human master.’

Silence greeted these words, as the realization of their implications slowly crept up on everyone listening. Hermione, being the smartest person in the vicinity, understood it first, and immediately put her hand up to her mouth in horror.

It was a few moments later when she finally lowered her hand — her eyes were wide with shock, and her voice quivered as she spoke to Neville, who himself had a grim expression on his round face. ‘So — that means — they die?’

‘If they’re free, yes,’ said Neville simply. ‘The human-house-elf bond is what keeps the magical core of the house-elf strong enough for it to replenish itself. Take that away, and you get a house-elf who will slowly, but surely, pass on.’

If Neville’s words hadn’t been clear earlier, they was certainly sparkling now. Every single person who had not known about this — and that pretty much meant everyone apart from Neville — was now sporting varying degrees of shock, horror, and dismay on their faces. Most of the pure-bloods and wizard-raised half-bloods knew that house-elves hated being freed, and preferred being bonded to a wizarding family till the day they passed on, but no one knew why that was the case. Hermione’s reasoning, that the house-elves had been brainwashed into thinking so, seemed quite far-fetched at the moment — especially considering the intelligence and consciousness that house-elves possessed.

‘And that’s why it’s not a good idea, Hermione,’ said Neville quietly. ‘You shouldn’t be campaigning for the elves to be freed — it’ll go against their very nature, and would have disastrous consequences.’

‘I didn’t know,’ said Hermione softly, and Harry was surprised to see tears glistening in her eyes. ‘I swear I didn’t know…’

‘But now you do,’ said Harry, his hand reaching up to grip her shoulder. ‘And we’re not saying S.P.E.W. is bad — Merlin knows Dobby needed a better family and working conditions two years ago. You could probably start working towards that.’

Out of the corner of his eye, he noticed Neville had mouthed ‘Dobby?’ to Ginny, who looked just as confused as the former. Ron, thankfully, mouthed back ‘Later!’ to the pair of them.

‘You’re right,’ sniffed Hermione, wiping her eyes furiously of the tears that threatened to flow down her face. ‘That’s what I’ll do — they should still be treated better. Maybe their magic and work improves if they are treated like equals.’

She turned to Neville, a genuine smile on her face. ‘Thank you, Neville, for telling me this.’ Surprisingly, she turned to Ron as well. ‘And thank you, for constantly questioning and prodding me about S.P.E.W. and why it was a bad idea.’

And to the general astonishment of everyone in the vicinity — particularly his sister and twin brothers — Ron grinned broadly, winked, and said, ‘I learnt from the best, Hermione.’

What in the name of Merlin…

Before Harry could do anything more than sound that thought inside his head, a clap sounded from a few seats down from where the five of them were seated: Natalie McDonald had stood up — although, she was so short that it hardly made much of a difference — and was slowly clapping her hands, looking directly at Neville. It took a few seconds for Harry to register what the young first-year was doing: she was applauding Neville.

And one by one, everyone who had heard Neville’s rounded and extremely well-put explanation — from both the Gryffindor and Ravenclaw tables — stood up as one and clapped, hard, for the round-faced boy, who was looking exceedingly embarrassed and uncomfortable with all the attention.

Professor Longbottom indeed, thought Harry as he joined in with everyone, including Hermione. He’s definitely his own person now.

The sound of shoes slapping against stone echoed off the walls of the deserted corridor that lead to the office of the Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. With each step, the owner of the shoes in question, a young boy with messy jet-black hair, and bright green eyes framed by round-rimmed spectacles, considered a million possible answers to the single question that had been plaguing him for the last five minutes.

Why in Merlin’s name had Professor Dumbledore asked him to visit his office — at once?

Harry racked his brains, desperately trying to recall what he could possibly have been involved in, that would have necessitated a visit to Dumbledore’s office at this hour?

Was it the effective disbanding of S.P.E.W.?

Harry shot down that idea almost at once. Hermione’s immediate decision to temporarily cease all activities of the elfish welfare society — at least until she had thought out a new manifesto, with Neville and Natalie’s help, after the former had swept the proverbial rug from underneath her feet on her notions regarding house-elves — was not something that Dumbledore would have overly concerned himself with. A brief image flashed before his eyes — of the Headmaster raising a glass to Neville amidst the applause that rained down on his classmate in the Great Hall — but it was swiftly dismissed; S.P.E.W. was a done and dusted matter.

Could it be his nightly practice sessions for the third task?

Harry, with the help of Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny, had heeded Sirius’ advice and had begun learning jinxes, hexes and a wide assortment of spells that could come useful for the third task. Well, partly because of Sirius’ suggestion, and partly because his arsenal of spells was woefully poor — something he had realised while ‘threatening’ the Merpeople during the second task. The practices were on a daily basis after classes — every evening, the five of them would proceed to an empty classroom and train till curfew. Hermione and Ginny brought the large tomes and books from which they looked up spells, while Ron, Neville and Harry took turns in casting it on each other, and subsequently including Hermione and Ginny when they joined in the fray.

But it had been only three days since they’d started; it was highly unlikely that Dumbledore would have found out about his practice sessions. Even so, it wasn’t against the rules to practice spells in classrooms after lessons, as long as one didn’t damage any property or injure anyone else.

So no, this definitely wasn’t it.

Harry had been so lost in his thoughts that he almost ran straight into the stone gargoyle that guarded the entrance to Dumbledore’s office. Blinking, he stepped back onto the corridor, looking up into the ugly face of the statue as a new problem presented itself: getting into Dumbledore’s office.

‘Sherbet lemon?’ he tried tentatively.

The gargoyle did not move.

‘Okay,’ said Harry, staring at it, ‘Pear Drop. Err — Licorice Wand. Fizzing Whizbee. Drooble’s Best Blowing Gum. Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans … oh no, he doesn’t like them, does he? … oh just open, can’t you?’ he half-shouted, his anxiety over the reason for visiting Dumbledore’s office at this hour giving way to anger at not being able to do so. ‘I really need to see him, it’s urgent!’

The gargoyle remained immovable.

Harry kicked it, achieving nothing but an excruciating pain in his big toe.

‘Chocolate Frog!’ he yelled angrily, standing on one leg. ‘Sugar Quill! Cockroach Cluster!’

The gargoyle sprang to life and jumped aside. Harry blinked.

‘Cockroach Cluster?’ he said, amazed. ‘I was only joking…’

He hurried through the gap in the walls and stepped onto the foot of a spiral stone staircase, which moved slowly upward as the doors closed behind him, taking him up to a polished oak door with a brass door knocker in the shape of a griffin.

He raised his hand, grasped the brass knocker, and knocked.

‘Come in.’

Harry pushed at the door, which swung open noiselessly, and stepped over the threshold.

Normally, Harry would have taken the time out to admire at the beauty and charm that Dumbledore’s office had — he had, in his second year, been quite thankful that he had had the opportunity to visit this office at least once before he thought he was to be expelled — but today would mark the second time in less than two months that he had entered this office and not done so.

The first time was because he had been worried about Snape and the intruder in the dungeons.

Today, it was because of the occupants in the room.

Professor Dumbledore was seated behind his desk, his long silver beard and hair glimmering in the light of the candles that floated around the room. In front of him, on this side of the desk, stood Professor Lupin, an unreadable expression on his face. Next to him was Madam Amelia Bones, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic; Harry recognized her from her last visit on “the night”. She was wearing her monocle, and had a grim expression on her face.

So did the person next to her, for that matter. And it was the sight of this person that caused Harry’s jaw to drop in horror.

Standing next to Madam Bones, wearing an all-too-serious expression on his gaunt face — the face that had not yet recovered from the horrors of Azkaban — was Sirius Black.

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Chapter 9: Sirius, Sunset and Sevens

Author's Notes: If there was one thing that was lacking in the canon Goblet of Fire, it was Quidditch. Proper, solid, Quidditch. Don’t think I’m the only one who thinks so, either.

On that note…here you go. Longest chapter yet – spent four full days writing this, so you guys owe me some good, solid, reviews!


When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 9: Sirius, Sunset and Sevens


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

Normally, Harry would have taken the time out to admire at the beauty and charm that Dumbledore’s office had…but today would mark the second time in less than two months that he had entered this office and not done so.

The first time was because he had been worried about Snape and the intruder in the dungeons.

Today, it was because of the occupants in the room.

Professor Dumbledore was seated behind his desk, his long silver beard and hair glimmering in the light of the candles that floated around the room. In front of him, on this side of the desk, stood Professor Lupin, an unreadable expression on his face. Next to him was Madam Amelia Bones, the Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic; Harry recognized her from her last visit on “the night”. She was wearing her monocle, and had a grim expression on her face.

So did the person next to her, for that matter. And it was the sight of this person that caused Harry’s jaw to drop in horror.

Standing next to Madam Bones, wearing an all-too-serious expression on his gaunt face — the face that had not yet recovered from the horrors of Azkaban — was Sirius Black.


‘Sirius?’

It took Harry a few moments to comprehend that the scratchy, yet soft voice that had broken the silence in Dumbledore’s office, was his own. He stared at his godfather, shock and horror combined with fear and anxiety coursing through his veins…

Only to then realize that his godfather was grinning at him. A full-blown, wide grin adorned his face, something he had not seen since that night when he’d learnt the truth about Sirius and Pettigrew.

‘Harry!’ exclaimed Sirius, and he bounded forward to envelop him in a hug. Sirius withdrew first, and looked his godson over. ‘Merlin, it’s been ages since I last saw you properly — are you alright?’

‘I — yeah, I’m fine…’

Harry was beyond the normal level of confusion now. It was just after dinner, and Dumbledore had asked him to visit his office at once; he had sprinted all the way from the Gryffindor common room to the corridor ending in the entrance to the Headmaster’s office, all the while simulating a million possibilities to the reason for his urgent presence. They had ranged from things as simple as serving detention with the Headmaster instead of Professor Snape — despite the fact that he didn’t have any detention to serve with the Potions master — to as sinister as a potential assault on the castle by Lord Voldemort and his new army of Death Eaters…

When he’d seen Madam Bones standing in the office, his stomach had twisted nervously — a personal visit by the head of the DMLE, to which he was also invited, did not bode well. When he saw Sirius standing right next to her, with such a grim expression, the twists had become knots, and his heart had risen to his throat.

Naturally, he had assumed the worst — Sirius had been captured, and was being carted off to Azkaban once more; it was a minor saving grace that he would get to say goodbye to his godson for the last time…

And, also naturally, he had not expected such a jubilant and joyous reaction from his godfather. Nor, by the looks of it, from the rest of the occupants in the office. Dumbledore was smiling genially; so was Madam Bones, while Lupin was grinning widely at Sirius’ reaction, and presumably, at Harry’s bewilderment.

‘Harry?’ said Sirius, suddenly concerned. ‘Are you okay?’

Being asked the same question for the second time in the space of a minute managed to snap Harry out of whatever state he was in. He refocused on Sirius’ face, and returned his grin — or at least, tried to smile while not making it look like a confused grimace.

‘Yeah, erm…’ Harry faltered a bit. ‘I mean, what are you —’

‘Doing here?’ finished Sirius, and a small gentle smile graced his features. ‘I’m fine, Harry. I’m not getting arrested.’ He paused. ‘Not yet, anyway.’

‘Padfoot…’ said Lupin slowly, in a clearly admonishing tone.

‘Well, it’s true,’ shrugged Sirius. ‘There is a chance I could be arrested, but —’

‘What?’ said Harry, and a bit of the worry he’d felt at the time of entering into the office began to seep inside him once more. ‘You could be arrested?’

‘Well, not exactly. More like taken into custody, you know?’

Harry wasn’t sure he quite understood what Sirius was trying to say. Lupin was shooting Sirius exasperated looks, but he didn’t seem to be offering an explanation either.

Dumbledore must have sensed his quandary, for he chuckled softly and said, ‘I think it would be best if we start from the beginning.’ He signalled to Madam Bones with a wave of his hand, as though requesting her to step forward. ‘Madam Bones, if you will?’

Madam Bones did indeed step forward, her short heels clicking against the stone flooring of Dumbledore’s office. Her expression was not as serious as it had been when Harry had entered, but then again, he had never seen her smile to see any difference.

‘Mr Potter, I thought it best to inform you in person before the Daily Prophet does so tomorrow.’ She took a breath, and a faint smile appeared on her face. The effect was instantaneous — she looked a lot less intimidating, and a lot more caring, despite the presence of that foreboding monocle. ‘We have captured Peter Pettigrew, also known as Wormtail.’

Harry stared at her in disbelief.

‘W-what?’ he stammered out.

I must be dreaming. This is a dream.

The smile grew a bit more on Madam Bones’ visage. ‘It took us a couple of days, but we managed to catch him in one of the old Death Eater hide-outs near Nottingham. He’s been placed in a secure Ministry holding cell, with appropriate restrictions on magic and Animagus transformations in force as well.’

Harry barely heard anything of what Madam Bones said after the phrase ‘managed to catch him’. The implications of this were slowly starting to sink in.

Peter Pettigrew was finally caught. Voldemort’s supporter, who had betrayed his friends, the Potters, for a bit of glory, was captured. He was going to get justice served upon him. At last.

Harry’s gaze shifted back to Sirius, who was still sporting a broad grin…and finally, it hit him.

With Pettigrew captured, Sirius would be exonerated. The Ministry would have finally got the right man, and would officially cease all their efforts in hunting Sirius down. And Sirius…he would be…

Sirius would be free.

‘Sirius…’ he said, and he was surprised to hear himself choking up. ‘Sirius, you’d be…you’ll be…’

‘Yes, Harry,’ said Sirius softly, who also seemed like he was the verge of tears. ‘I’ll be free.’

And at long last, the dam broke — the fortified wall behind which Harry had buried his hope for Sirius’ freedom…his anguish at having already lost so much time with his godfather…his anger towards Pettigrew at betraying his parents and framing his best friend for the crime…his resentment at having had to say goodbye to Sirius again last year from the top of the West Tower of Hogwarts…and the momentary joy he had felt when Sirius had asked him to move in with him…

The wall had been meticulously constructed and secured within the deep recesses of his heart, for he had, until now, refused to let those emotions take over him, even though they had tried many — oh, so many — times…

All of that — that maelstrom of emotions…the torrent of feelings — came crashing down upon Harry with a rightful, long overdue vengeance…

His cheeks were already overrun with tear tracks by the time he grabbed his godfather; and this time, he pulled the older man into a fierce hug — a hug that spoke of familial love, a promise of a better future, and a childish wish that all of this should not have been a dream…

Vaguely, through his half-closed, half-tear-stained eyelids, he could make out Dumbledore and Madam Bones smiling widely now, while Lupin was grinning at the two of them once more, one hand surreptitiously wiping at his lined face — though the grin made him look as though he were ten years younger…

He did not know for how long he stayed that way, caught in a fierce embrace with a man whom he had started to consider as the closest thing he had ever had to a father…finally experiencing the level of comfort and security that he had not had since he had been a baby…and at last, he thought with a wry smile, giving him the chance to look forward to summer holidays away from the Dursleys…

After what seemed like an eternity, and a soft clearing of a throat from Dumbledore, Harry and Sirius stepped apart, still grinning at each other through their tears. Dumbledore smiled at the two of them, as Sirius playfully ruffled Harry’s hair.

‘Yes, if all goes well, Sirius will be a free man. However, before that, he, along with Peter Pettigrew, must undergo a trial before the Wizengamot.’

At the mention of the word ‘trial’, Harry’s spirits plummeted a bit, but he pulled them back up forcefully. Sirius was going to win, there was no doubt about it. The evidence in his favour — and against Pettigrew — was overwhelming.

‘Okay,’ said Harry, turning to face Dumbledore. ‘When is it going to be held?’

‘Three weeks from now,’ said Madam Bones at once. ‘If all goes well, we could have it on the 22nd of March.’

This certainly caused his stomach to do a massive roll-over. Three weeks from now? That gave them barely enough time to prepare for the trial, and he told them so, while adding in the end, ‘I’m clueless on these trial things, but do you need to get a lawyer?’

Sirius frowned a bit at that: evidently it had not been something that he had considered before. He turned to his best friend, who shrugged, seemingly just as in the dark.

It was Dumbledore who answered. ‘You may choose to appoint a wizarding lawyer, Sirius, or you may present your own case before the Wizengamot.’ He noticed Sirius opening his mouth to say something, and added almost at once, ‘Unfortunately, I cannot represent you, as I must preside over the case as the Chief Warlock.’

Sirius closed his mouth with an audible snap, his frown deepening as he looked to think on this.

‘I know of a lawyer,’ began Lupin slowly, his hand running across his chin as he stared at Sirius thoughtfully. ‘Runs a highly successful wizarding law firm, an almost impeccable record in defending his clients…’

Sirius’ face cleared up instantly, but the expression was now of trepidation and a little bit of annoyance, rather than hope. ‘If you’re thinking of the man that I think you’re thinking of…’

Lupin shrugged. ‘He’s good, Padfoot, you have to admit that. And, he’s probably the only lawyer who could represent you in this kind of a case on such short notice —’

‘Yes, but…’ Sirius sighed and ran his hand through his long shoulder-length hair. ‘Does it have to be him? You know she’s going to say no.’

‘It’s a professional relationship, Sirius, that’s all,’ stressed Lupin. ‘She can’t say no to a client that he wants to take up —’

‘She said no for you,’ pointed out Sirius, his eyebrow raised.

‘Well, yes,’ admitted Lupin, ‘but my circumstances were markedly different. For Merlin’s sake, Sirius, you’re not a werewolf, and you’re not guilty of anything here!’

Harry saw Sirius glare at Lupin, who stared right back at him in defiance, refusing to back down. Harry vaguely wondered when the full moon was — he had never seen Lupin this agitated.

Sirius finally relented, letting out an audible huff and turning away from Lupin. ‘Fine, but you’re coming with me when I meet him.’

‘Fair enough,’ was the instant response. ‘It’s not like you could stroll around in public on your own anyway.’

Sirius shrugged, but did not respond to that last statement.

Dumbledore, looking oddly pleased with the banter that had taken place between the two Marauders, clapped his hands together. ‘Well then, that seems to be sorted.’ He turned to Madam Bones. ‘Amelia, would you be taking Sirius to the Ministry now?’

Wait, what?

‘You need to go now?’ asked Harry, his tone full of worry.

Sirius shook his head. ‘I don’t think so — not unless Amelia wants me to come in right away.’ He looked at the head of the DMLE, who shook her head. ‘If it’s alright, Amelia, Dumbledore, I’d like to return to my current hide-out. I’ll be able to travel with Lupin on Monday to the lawyer’s office. He’s bound to have follow-up questions and discussions — I’d need to be present for those. I can turn myself in personally to Amelia on Monday, 20th of March.’

Neither Dumbledore nor Madam Bones had any objections to Sirius’ plan, which eased Harry’s worries a bit. He didn’t feel that taking Sirius in almost immediately would have been a good idea, especially considering the fact that the trial was just shy of two weeks away, and that there were two other known Death Eaters already in the Ministry holding cells.

Speaking of Death Eaters…

‘Erm, Professor Dumbledore?’ The Headmaster, who had been gazing at a seemingly inconspicuous spot on his desk, looked up at him inquiringly. ‘What’s happened to Crouch Junior? Has his trial been conducted yet?’

Sirius snapped his head around from a potential conversation with Lupin to look at Dumbledore; Lupin, however, looked a bit clueless, alternating his gaze between the Headmaster, Harry and Madam Bones.

‘He is yet to receive his trial, Harry,’ replied Dumbledore. ‘Conducting a trial for him right now would attract a lot of publicity — even if we do try to keep it quiet — and it could attract Voldemort’s attention. As of yet, we believe he is unaware of young Crouch Junior’s incarceration. An advantage that we intend to maintain.’

‘I agree,’ said Madam Bones. ‘Revealing to the public that we have a former Death Eater who escaped from Azkaban is bound to cause a lot of panic as well, and given the current climate…’

She trailed off, but Harry didn’t need her to complete the sentence. The security fiasco at the Quidditch World Cup, the appearance of the Dark Mark, Harry’s unprecedented entry into the Triwizard Tournament, and the defeat of the anti-werewolf legislation…He didn’t need to study politics to realize that conducting a trial of a notorious Death Eater right now would be the equivalent of cursing yourself in the foot.

In other words, a very bad idea.

‘We’ve also ensured that both Pettigrew and Crouch Junior are held in cells that are far apart from each other — ensuring no visual contact or ability to speak with each other.’

‘That’s good,’ agreed Harry with a nod.

The small gathering broke up rather quickly after that. With a nod to the other occupants of the room, Madam Bones Flooed back to the Bones Mansion. Lupin gave Dumbledore a swift nod, followed by a friendly squeeze of Harry’s shoulder, before sweeping out of the office. Before Sirius could leave, however, Harry had one more question.

‘Sirius, this lawyer you were talking about…who is he?’

His godfather gave a small grimace, which reflected more exasperation now than the earlier annoyance.

‘Cyrus Greengrass.’

Harry returned to the Gryffindor common room on Saturday night just a few minutes after Sirius had left through the Floo to the Hog’s Head, which Dumbledore said was a wizarding bar on the outskirts of the village of Hogsmeade. He had had apprehensions of his godfather going through the Floo, but he surmised it was easier and safer for him as opposed to strolling along the corridors of Hogwarts at night in his black dog Animagus form. Too many Hogwarts students put their faith — or was it fear — in the legend of the Grim, and Dumbledore had not wished to add fuel to the fire.

‘Besides, I am quite friendly with the local barman,’ reassured Dumbledore. ‘He will not ask any questions, you have my word.’

The common room was almost empty when Harry arrived — ‘almost’ being the key word. He was not surprised to find Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny sitting in the armchairs by the fair and waiting for him.

‘Oh, thank goodness,’ Ginny sighed, before getting up and throwing her arms around his middle. Out of sheer instinct, Harry returned the embrace warmly, inhaling the sweet, flowery scent he had come to identify Ginny by.

To his consternation, they broke apart too quickly; he dropped his arms to his sides and stepped back, feeling a little awkward about what he’d just experienced with Ginny, and embarrassed at the fact that it had happened in front of his three other best friends, one of whom was Ginny’s older brother. Face burning slightly, and desperately wishing that the firelight was illuminating anything else but his visage, he turned to look at them.

‘Well?’ asked Ron eagerly. ‘What did Dumbledore want?’

Despite his discomfort, he managed to grin broadly at the four of them.

‘They’ve caught the rat. Sirius is getting a trial in two weeks.’

The four of them let out whoops of joy at the statement — Neville had been brought in onto the truth about Sirius and Pettigrew sometime earlier — and engulfed Harry in an impromptu five way hug. After they broke apart, however, Harry’s next statement brought them crashing back down.

‘He’s going to hire Cyrus Greengrass as his lawyer.’

‘What?!’

It had taken a good amount of time to explain the shocked reaction that had been displayed by the Weasley siblings and Neville. Hermione, being the Muggle-born, had been as clueless as Harry.

‘Cyrus Greengrass is, well…’ began Neville, after settling back into the armchairs in front of the fire.

‘He’s evil,’ declared Ron emphatically. ‘Ow!’ came the shout a moment later, when Ginny had smacked him on the head. ‘What was that for?’

‘He’s not evil, Ron,’ said Ginny. ‘He’s just…different. Eccentric, maybe. He’s certainly had less than unsavoury clients to his name.’

‘Death Eaters?’ said Hermione almost at once, cottoning on.

Ginny nodded. ‘Defended a whole lot of them from being chucked into Azkaban after You-Know-Who disappeared all those years ago. Managed to convince the Wizengamot with the excuse that they were under the Imperius.’

‘Everyone knows that’s a load of rubbish,’ said Neville rather strongly. ‘You can’t take the Dark Mark while under the influence of the Imperius. It’s not possible.’

‘Take the Dark Mark?’

‘All of You-Know-Who’s followers were branded with the Dark Mark — at least, that’s what Gran told me. I don’t know where he placed it, though.’

‘Oh,’ said Harry. Then it hit him. ‘Wait, you can’t take it under the Imperius?’ Harry asked, astounded by this piece of news. ‘Then how did they —’

‘Gold,’ said Ron simply; Ginny and Neville nodded in agreement.

Harry just blinked and stared at them. He knew corruption existed within the Ministry, but he hadn’t expected this level of venality from the Ministry officials — willing to grant pardons to known Death Eaters, ones who had committed countless and horrendous crimes, in exchange for bags of gold. He found it nauseating — literally and figuratively.

‘You okay, Harry?’ asked Ginny concernedly, looking at his blanched face.

Harry shook his head, trying to pull himself together. ‘Yeah, I’m just…that’s horrible, though.’ He waved a hand in Ron’s direction, indicating the mention of outright bribery within the Ministry. ‘They’re letting known Death Eaters walk free.’

‘The members of the Wizengamot are easily swayed by such offers from the accused criminals,’ said Neville. ‘It’s the wizarding world’s worst kept secret. It’s a miracle that the Wizengamot hasn’t done something about it yet.’

‘But why haven’t they?’ asked Hermione.

‘Because of procedure,’ said Ron. ‘You remember Ian’s explanation on how legislation is passed by WIzengamot, right?’ At Hermione’s nod, he continued. ‘Well, before the draft legislation is presented to the Wizengamot, copies are sent to all the members for them to look through. It’s supposed to give them the opportunity to point out any mistakes in the draft, and suggest improvements or changes.’

Hermione’s expression suddenly became quite grim. ‘Let me guess — they use this time to collude on the draft.’

‘Collude?’

Hermione gave Ron an exasperated look. ‘Conspire with each other.’

‘Oh,’ said Ron in understanding. ‘Yeah, they do that. And threaten the bloke who decided to draft the legislation, and his family while they’re at it.’

‘That’s outrageous!’ exclaimed Hermione.

Ron and Neville shrugged helplessly. ‘Most of the Wizengamot are full of those old wizards and witches who still cling on to the supposedly traditional beliefs of blood purity and the like,’ said Ginny. ‘Mind you,’ she added, ‘by traditional, I mean bigoted.’ She paused for a moment. ‘Imagine someone like Malfoy, except a lot older and a lot more ingrained into his beliefs.’

Silence fell over the five of them as they considered Ginny’s statement. It was barbaric to say the least, thought Harry. Blood purity forming a cornerstone of a government was as bad as how racism and apartheid had controlled the governments of the Muggle world.

‘Anyway,’ said Neville, shaking him out of his morbid thoughts, ‘the fact is, even though Cyrus Greengrass has had questionable clientele in the past, there is no doubt of his excellence and brilliance as a lawyer. If there’s anyone who could win Sirius’ case on such short notice, it’s him.’

‘That’s what Lupin said,’ muttered Harry distractedly. The mention of Greengrass had suddenly reminded him — that Slytherin girl was Daphne Greengrass. Was she his daughter? And who was this woman that Lupin and Sirius had referred to — the one who had denied Cyrus Greengrass from taking up the werewolf’s case?

‘Did he?’ asked Neville interestedly, when Harry raised this point. ‘I’m not aware of any trial involving Lupin, although it could be something related to a situation he must have encountered while in werewolf form. Greengrass wouldn’t have taken that, probably citing public image and the impossibility of winning the case as a reason.’

‘Yeah,’ said Harry, as he recalled the conversation from Dumbledore’s office. ‘Lupin indirectly said it was because he was a werewolf, and that he was unlikely to win. It wasn’t Cyrus Greengrass’ decision, though.’

‘Huh?’

‘Lupin and Sirius kept referring to some woman — someone who had said no for Lupin’s case, and would say no for Sirius’. At least, that’s what Sirius thought would happen.’

‘Oh,’ said Neville, scratching his head. ‘Well, I have no idea about that. It could be his wife, I suppose.’

‘Isabella Greengrass?’ asked Ron to the general astonishment of everyone else except Ginny.

‘You know her?’ asked Neville in amazement.

‘Yeah, she’s Dad’s cousin thrice removed on his mother’s side, or something like that. I dunno…I don’t really remember the family tree — Dad showed it to us a long time ago, before we started Hogwarts.’

Harry stared at him in shock. ‘You’re related to Daphne Greengrass?’

‘Yeah,’ said Ron, and there was a hint of abject moroseness in his voice. ‘Not something that I ever wanted, mind you. And I suppose the feeling is mutual. We’re the biggest bunch of blood traitors there ever was.’

Harry had to concede that point to Ron — the Weasleys, despite being a pure-blooded family, were termed as blood traitors due to their scorn and disregard for the traditional pure-blood ideals. The fact that they were quite poor didn’t help their cause much either.

‘You’re probably related to them too, Harry,’ pointed out Ginny as she stretched, evidently tired from the day’s activities. Harry found himself involuntarily following the movement of her arms as they reached up mid-stretch, and then moved back down to rest on the armchair she was sitting on. His eyes’ excursion had not gone unnoticed, however — Ginny was gazing at him, one eyebrow raised inquisitively. He felt his face burn again, and averted his eyes from her immediately, all the while trying to fight the heat that was now surely spreading across his cheeks in a very prominent manner.

In doing so, however, he missed the almost giddy and ecstatic look on Ginny’s face.

‘I — I am?’ Harry stammered out.

Merlin, this is embarrassing. I’ve got to stop staring at her like that — she’ll think I’m a creep.

I think she already does.

Oh, shut up.


‘The Potters are an old and wealthy pure-blood family,’ explained Neville. ‘All the pure-blood families are related in one way or another. I think we’re both related as well.’ He pointed to the two of them. ‘Third cousins or something like that, I dunno,’ he finished with a shrug.

‘Oh,’ said Harry simply, feeling completely out of his depth. ‘How come I don’t know any of this?’

‘Well,’ began Ron, ‘such things are usually explained to the children to the parents. Dad explained the Weasley history to us, while Mum did the Prewett side.’

‘The point of the explanation was to make sure that, for families like us, we didn’t end up marrying our closest relatives, and for families like the Malfoys, they married only pure-bloods from prominent families, no matter if they were related or not.’

Harry saw Hermione scrunch up her face at that; clearly she disapproved of the outdated traditions and beliefs that dominated the majority of the families of the wizarding world. Harry, truthfully, couldn’t say he disagreed with her.

‘We could explain it to you, but it would take a long time, there’s so much to cover,’ said Neville. ‘We could do it over the summer though. I know Gran loves opening those ancient books and going through our family history.’

‘We could do it together, Nev,’ said Ron enthusiastically. ‘Dad’s just like your Gran — when he’s not obsessing over Muggle stuff of course.’

They grinned at Harry, who smiled back in gratitude, oddly touched by their willingness to help.

Harry had thought he wouldn’t have been able to focus on his classes during the days leading up to Sirius’ trial, being fraught with worry over the outcome of the proceedings and his godfather’s safety, so it was to his surprise that he found himself performing quite well in his lessons. He later attributed it to his inherent desire to get through the classes as soon as possible, so that one more day could be chalked off in the countdown to the big day.

Of course, a part of him was dreading the way the days just seemed to speed by in a blur. His brain kept imagining a whole host of possibilities for the outcome of the hearing — none of which ended particularly well for Sirius: sent back to Azkaban, given the Dementor’s Kiss, let off but placed under permanent house-arrest…

‘Calm down, Harry,’ soothed Ginny when he voiced his fears to them, while they were working in the library on their essay for Potions (“Explain, with detailed descriptions, the ingredients used for the Wit-Sharpening Potion, potential substitutes for these ingredients, and valid reasons for using such substitutes”), and Ginny was browsing through additional material for her upcoming Ancient Runes test. Neville’s book, Potions for Dummies, was proving to be particularly useful in figuring out the substitute ingredients and their properties for the potion.

‘I am calm,’ retorted Harry, intently looking up a possible replacement for ginger roots. ‘I’m just scared out of my mind. There’s a difference.’

‘Yes, well, don’t be scared,’ said Neville reassuringly. ‘If there’s one thing that’s certain about Cyrus Greengrass, it’s that he doesn’t take up cases which he doesn’t think he has a proper chance of winning. Sirius has already won half the legal battle by appointing Greengrass as his lawyer.’

Sirius had sent a letter to Harry two days ago on Thursday, confirming that he had successfully negotiated representation terms with Cyrus Greengrass for his upcoming trial. He had also mentioned that Greengrass wanted to speak to all the witnesses a day before the trial, in order to reconfirm the facts and smooth out any inconsistencies.

‘Just one day before?’ Hermione had queried upon reading the letter. ‘Would that be enough?’

‘One day is a lot, Hermione,’ admitted Ron. ‘I’ve heard Percy talking about him — says he’s taken less time with the witnesses for his other cases.’

‘What’s Percy got to do with him?’ asked Ginny.

‘Dunno,’ shrugged Ron. ‘I suppose the Department of International Magical Co-operation needs lawyers like him before the International Confederation of Wizards.’

Now, in the library, Harry shook his head. ‘That’s my point. Greengrass. What could stop him from double-crossing Sirius and letting Pettigrew go scot-free?’

‘Well, now, that’s not possible,’ said Ron firmly, shutting his own reference book with a soft snap.

‘Not possible as in he won’t do it, or as in he can’t do it?’

‘As in he can’t do it. Literally. Wizarding lawyers have to take an oath when they begin to represent someone that they would never betray their client as part of the case, intentionally or not. Nor can the lawyer secretly help the opposite party. Otherwise, that lawyer loses his magic, and the case is automatically forfeited in favour of the wronged party — in this case, the person who hired the lawyer in the first place.’

Harry raised his eyebrows in shock, while Hermione covered her mouth with her hands. To his surprise, Ginny also seemed amazed by this.

‘It’s true,’ confirmed Neville. ‘I’ve seen copies of some contracts with lawyers — this oath is mandated by the Code for Wizarding Lawyers, administered by the legal department of the Ministry.’

The three of them had no answer to that, and returned to their work.

The following week was just as rushed as the previous one, if not worse. The butterflies in Harry’s stomach increased by the day; despite the reassurances given by Ron, Neville and ultimately Lupin, that Sirius was going to be represented by one of the best lawyers in wizarding Britain, and that he was doing absolutely fine, he could not help the feeling of worry that continued to gnaw at him slowly. Just as he had done the previous week, he threw himself into his lessons, nightly training, and occasionally helping out Lupin and Hermione with their research on the implications of the semi-solid Patronus Charm.

He had been forbidden by the two of them and Professor Flitwick — who had, given his Charms expertise, recently joined the team — to discuss the results and the hypotheses with anyone else, at least until the tests were complete and the magic behind it was analysed and understood completely.

It was after one of these gruelling training sessions on the following Thursday evening that Harry ultimately caved in to his mind’s demands, and emphatically declared that he needed a break.

‘You and me both, mate,’ groaned Ron as he slumped into the chair beside him, flicked open a bottle of Butterbeer — one of many that Fred and George had brought back from their last Hogsmeade trip — and took a long sip.

‘Well, as much as I know you’ll take the mickey out of me for it, I happen to agree with you two,’ admitted Hermione, wiping her brow with a towel as she too slid onto another chair, and rested her head on the table in front of her.

Ron and Harry stared at their bushy-haired best friend for several moments, before they turned to each other, grinned and then began guffawing out loud. Hermione simply sighed at their antics.

It took them a good two minutes to return to normal, with Ron still chuckling and shaking his head every now and then.

‘Merlin, that felt good,’ said Harry with a grin. ‘I haven’t laughed that hard since…I dunno.’

‘A really long time, then,’ concluded Ginny with a wry smile. ‘You’re right, though; you’ve been working too hard this week. We need something to loosen up, something that could help us relax and have fun.’

‘I’m too tired to think,’ moaned Ron, silently handing Harry and Neville their own Butterbeer bottles.

‘Let’s go for a walk first,’ suggested Ginny. ‘C’mon, maybe some fresh air would do us some good.’

And so, after a bit of cajoling of Ron, the five of them made their way down to the Entrance Hall and out on to the grounds of Hogwarts. It was a slightly breezy evening — the winds that had been blowing mercilessly for the last week had reduced greatly, leaving a gentle waft of air that occasionally upped the ante in a race across the atmosphere. Spring had unofficially begun in this northern region of Scotland; the trees and plants on the grounds and in the Forbidden Forest had finally received their brand new adornment of leaves, giving them a young, new, and refreshed look. Harry had also noticed the onset of slightly warmer weather during the day; this had welcomed a number of migratory birds to Hogwarts as they returned from their annual trip to warmer areas of the world.

All in all, the inviting weather on a Thursday evening had given other students the same idea of going for a walk along the grounds, as opposed to staying indoors. The five of them ambled along slowly — in silence, for a change — behind a group of Ravenclaw girls. Harry noticed one of them, who had dirty blonde hair that reached to her waist, had placed her wand behind her ear.

He was about to point that out to Ginny, who was closest to him, when Ron’s sigh came from the left of their line. ‘Let’s just sit here, shall we?’ He indicated the shade of their favourite beech tree, the one under which Harry had explained everything about Sirius and Pettigrew to Ginny, and before anyone could even respond, he flopped onto the grass with another sigh of contentment.

Harry and Neville chuckled, while Hermione let out a sigh of her own, but it was of exasperation, and Ginny just smirked at her older brother. But to everyone’s surprise, Hermione followed suit.

‘I don’t mind, really,’ she said as she smoothed out the creases on her skirt, ‘it’s just so peaceful over here.’

And that it was: the Black Lake was nearby, its waters gently cresting on to the banks due to the breeze blowing across its surface. A couple of students could be seen seated on the distant banks of the lake, occasionally throwing something into it; a few moments after each throw, a tentacle would disturb the smooth waters, scoop up the item and disappear into the inky depths.

In the distance, Hagrid’s cabin was visible, the trails of smoke twirling out from the chimney and blending into the air signifying that their part-giant friend was at home, no doubt making himself some tea before heading into the castle for dinner. Interestingly, Fang, Hagrid’s large pet boarhound, was outside the cabin on his own; he appeared to be hunting for it, judging by the scrabbling it was doing in the large vegetable patch that Hagrid had freshly dug up.

‘Oh, wow,’ whispered Ginny in an awed voice. Harry looked over at her, wondering what had caused her revered reaction. In response, she pointed out towards the other side of the lake in silence. Harry turned to look, and —

‘Wow,’ he agreed.

From their vantage point under the beech tree, they could see the length-wise boundaries of the Forbidden Forest, after which were the farthest banks of the lake. Its waters crested up until the banks to the west, before receding back in a graceful arc to the south. Those banks to the west ended in a sheer cliff, while the southern shores met with another forest — one not as foreboding as the Forbidden Forest — which ran along the outskirts of Hogsmeade, ending near the Shrieking Shack.

The reason for Ginny’s reaction was that they had probably grabbed one of the best seats to view the setting sun that evening. The golden light from the magnificent flaming orb hanging in the sky slowly shifted to the deep orange usually associated with a flaming sunset. A few scattered clouds adorned the crown of the sun as it sunk lower and lower to its eventual meeting with the horizon in the distance; they glowed scarlet and orange and gold against the ever darkening sky. A flock of birds flew past it, only visible as black shapes against the fiery sphere.

‘I wish I could capture this moment,’ whispered Hermione reverentially. She had also had her attention drawn to the breath-taking scene in front of them, and was now, to everybody’s except Ron’s general astonishment, observing the sunset with her head leaning on Ron’s shoulders, while the red-head in question, his ears as scarlet as the glowing clouds before them, had wrapped an arm around her in a sideways embrace.

This is new.

‘It’s amazing,’ agreed Neville.

Instinctively, and with a spurt of bravery and courage that he had not known he possessed, Harry copied Ron’s actions, putting an arm around Ginny’s shoulder and bringing her closer. He felt her stiffen for a moment, before relaxing into it and allowing herself to be drawn into him. With an almost inaudible sigh of content, she rested her head in the crook between his arm and torso, and wrapped her arm around Harry’s waist to snuggle in comfortably.

This is nice.

He looked down at her, and at that moment, he knew he would do anything for the girl he was currently holding in his arms — including even dying for her. The level of affection he felt for the fiery red-head went beyond anything he had ever experienced in his life; this was not mere attraction, nor a friendship that transcended all normal boundaries, nor liking someone as more than friends…

What it was, he did not know. But it was definitely not as simple for it to be put into words.

And without thinking, without considering the potential consequences of his actions, without even stopping to revisit his decision — if he had even made the decision coherently in the first place — Harry boldly did something that he’d never thought he would ever have done.

He bent his head and kissed Ginny Weasley on the top of her head.

This time, she definitely froze, and it was clearly out of shock — or so he hoped it was, instead of it being out of anger. He could not see her face, framed between her fiery locks of hair and turned the other way to face the almost-disappeared setting sun, so he could not tell what she was feeling. Or thinking.

Not that he could have figured that out just by looking at her.

Merlin, I hope she doesn’t kill me.

Killing would be better than her walking away from you right now.

Oh, bugger.


A hundred different scenarios played out in his mind, none of which appeared to end well for him — and all of them seemed to begin with Ginny Weasley pulling away from him and either hexing him, slapping him, or screaming at him — sometimes all at once, and in no particularly exclusive order.

His eyes then fell on Ron, and those possibilities immediately began to multiply as his mind brought his best friend into the picture, berating him for his lack of sensitivity and tact, cursing him for even touching his baby sister, or beating him up for even coming near her and warning him not to think about her ever again…

Oh dear God, this is a disaster, this is insane, this is crazy, this…feels amazing.

For Ginny Weasley had just turned her head to the side facing him, and had slowly, gently, and oh so softly, kissed him on the cheek.

He had not been at the receiving end of a lot of kisses in his life. Truthfully, he had had only two other experiences of being kissed — from the Chasers of the Gryffindor Quidditch team after he had caught the Snitch in their match against Ravenclaw last year; and from Fleur after the second task. The ones from Angelina, Alicia, and Katie had been in the spur of the moment, an instant where they shared the joy and happiness of a crucial victory. Fleur’s kiss had caused him to blush horrifically, yes, but it had been one of gratitude, thankfulness, and acceptance.

But this…this was on a completely new level altogether.

His skin did not burn at the contact from her lips; it had, however, caused a pleasurable sensation to spread across his entire being from the point of contact on his cheek. He felt himself going warm, but it was with happiness and contentment, rather than embarrassment. And the kiss itself…it was a peck on the cheek, yes, but it spoke of joy, comfort, completeness, and a whole myriad of emotions that he could not describe in words…but they were amazing.

Ginny returned to her previous position, resting her head against Harry’s chest. He was sure she could feel and hear his heartbeat, which was now thrumming wildly in uncontrolled jubilation.

I don’t know what’s going to happen, but Merlin, I’m glad I did that.

And as he felt Ginny smiling against his chest, he knew she was as well.

Ginny’s suggestion that they spend some time outside — even though they hadn’t strictly gone ahead with her recommendation of a walk — had nevertheless done them all a world of good. Soon after the magnificent sunset, they had pulled themselves up from their relaxed positions and trudged slowly back to the castle, the lights from its many windows glowing in the darkness. Ron and Hermione led the way, and whether or not they knew of it, or they simply did not care, they were holding hands as they walked. If Neville noticed it as he followed them, he did not mention it, choosing instead to simply smile contentedly.

Harry and Ginny brought up the rear, their arms around the others’ waists. He did not know if he was doing the right thing, or if it was too fast. In fact, he wasn’t even sure what they were right now — friends, something more… They had extracted themselves from the embrace when Neville had gently suggested that they get back in time for dinner, and after helping Ginny to her feet, he had, once again automatically, slipped his arm around her waist. Brazen, he knew, but it was worth taking the leap…and sure enough, she reciprocated, with her arm snaking around his torso as well. He did miss the delighted grin on her face, but the action was enough.

They had to separate once again as they reached the Entrance Hall; as though telepathically, both of them withdrew their arms, although they continued to walk side by side, and did not break their stride.

The enticing smells and scents of dinner wafted in from the open doors of the Great Hall; their stomachs rumbled, causing them to laugh as they realized how hungry they were. The five of them entered the Great Hall with almost hypnotic and peaceful expressions on their faces, which continued to remain as they ate a satisfying dinner at the Gryffindor table.

As they made their way out to the Entrance Hall and began to ascend the marble staircase towards Gryffindor Tower, a deep voice rang out. ‘Harry Potter.’

Harry turned and looked down, as did the other four. It was Viktor Krum, wearing his heavy matted furs, and his usual surly expression.

‘Viktor?’ said Hermione, going down a couple of steps. ‘What happened?’

Krum ignored her. ‘Could I haff a vord?’ he asked, looking directly at Harry.

Harry raised his eyebrows at this. He had never had a proper conversation with Viktor Krum before — indeed, they had never even had what could be considered as a conversation at all: mere acknowledgements of the presence of the other could not possibly be construed as a conversation.

He stared at the Durmstrang champion, who was looking unblinkingly at him. Breaking eye contact, he looked around at his friends, all of whom were sporting expressions of surprise — and in Ron’s case, suspicion.

Don’t suppose there’s any harm in saying yes.

‘Yeah, alright,’ said Harry, still surprised. It promptly increased when Krum gave a short nod, turned around, and slouched out of the Entrance Hall to the grounds.

What in the name of Merlin…

He made to follow Krum, but a warm hand on his forearm caused him to turn around. Ginny’s warm, brown eyes met his gaze, and in an instant, it seemed as though he’d had a full conversation with her.

I’ll be fine, Ginny. Don’t worry.

Harry grinned wanly at her, which she returned before letting her hand drop from his forearm. Feeling a little off over the loss of contact, he made his way down the staircase and followed Krum out into the starry, slightly chilly night.

Krum was standing only a few feet away from the great oak front doors; shrouded in the light filtering out from the windows of the Entrance Hall and the other nearby rooms, he looked oddly impressive, just as he had been on the night they had been chosen as champions of their schools. He was staring out into the distance — presumably looking at the Durmstrang ship — but turned to face Harry as he arrived.

‘I am sorry for the — vot do you call it — abruptness,’ said Krum.

‘No, that’s alright,’ said Harry quickly. The cold had intensified as night fell, and he felt a little chilly without his cloak on. He wanted to get whatever Krum wanted over with, and return to the warmth of the castle.

Krum was silent for a few moments, then he said, ‘I vant to know vot there is between you and Hermy-own-ninny.’

Harry was not sure what he should have been expecting from the eighteen-year-old Durmstrang champion and international Quidditch star, but this was definitely not it. He was so thrown off-guard that he ended up staring, dumbstruck, at Krum’s glowering visage, before he finally found his voice.

‘Nothing,’ he said. ‘Absolutely nothing between us. She’s just my friend.’

Krum continued to glower at him, and Harry was suddenly struck anew as to how tall he was. He was also quite amazed at the situation — Krum was considering him as an equal — a rival to —

This is insane.

‘Hermy-own-ninny talks about you very often,’ said Krum suspiciously.

‘Yeah, because we’re friends.’ He paused, and on the spur of the moment, continued, ‘I’m actually with someone else — or at least, I think I am.’

Krum’s glowering look vanished, to be replaced by a mixture of surprise and relief. ‘Someone else?’

‘Yeah, but I’m not sure if we are…it’s a bit odd,’ he finished a bit lamely.

Krum grunted, but did not say anything more for a few seconds. Then he said, ‘And that Veesley boy? Vot about him?’

Harry hesitated. Ought he to tell Krum about what had happened that evening? It was, after all, none of his business — although if Krum was doing what Harry thought he was doing, it would probably be best to give the Bulgarian a bit of a forewarning.

‘To be honest, I’m not sure,’ admitted Harry. ‘But they do like each other, and something may have happened.’

‘Hmm,’ said Krum. He finally shifted his gaze from Harry to back at the Durmstrang ship. ‘Hermy-own-ninny talks about him a lot too,’ he said slowly. ‘More about him than you.’

Harry was honestly stunned by that statement. ‘So why did you ask about me in the first place?’

Krum shrugged. ‘Instinct,’ he said simply.

Harry had no clue how to respond to that, so he settled for shoving his hands into the pockets of his jeans, and trying not to shiver in the cold.

‘You fly very vell,’ said Krum suddenly after a few moments. ‘I vos votching at the first task.’

‘Oh, erm, thank you,’ said Harry, a bit disconcerted by the fact that he had received a compliment on his flying ability from the Bulgarian international Seeker himself. ‘I saw you at the Quidditch World Cup last July. That Wronski Feint, you really made it look so easy.’

Krum turned back to him, a slight grin on his face. ‘It is easy. It vould be easy for you.’

‘I doubt it. I tried it once after the World Cup, but I couldn’t get close enough to the ground,’ admitted Harry sheepishly. ‘Had to pull up at least five feet above the pitch. Plus, I haven’t had enough practice — I would have tried it here in school, but there’s no Quidditch this year because of this Tournament.’

Krum considered him for a bit. ‘It is easy,’ he repeated. ‘You must trust your broom, and yourself. Then you can do it.’ He paused. ‘Ve could play a match here.’

Now this really did throw Harry off — quite literally. He spun around to face Krum so fast he almost slipped and fell, only managing to catch his balance by grabbing onto a nearby bush. Rubbing his hands against his jeans to get rid of the rough sensation of the branches of the bush, he stared at Krum, completely at a loss for words.

‘Sorry, what?’ he stammered out, after finally finding his voice once again.

‘Ve could play a match here. Your Quidditch pitch is good. I have friends who vant to play. Do you?’

Harry wasn’t sure if Krum was asking about his desire to play, or if he had friends who wanted to play a game of Quidditch. He remembered Fred and George’s outraged faces at Dumbledore’s announcement that the inter-house Quidditch tournament was cancelled because of the Triwizard Tournament — surely they, along with the three Gryffindor chasers, would love to play. But against Krum and his friends?

This is unbelievable.

‘Yeah, I do. I mean…’ He let out a breath. ‘I’m sorry, it’s not every day when a national player asks a normal school player for a match.’

Krum was grinning at him now, and it was a startling transformation from his usual surly image. ‘You are a good flier. Better than Lynch, maybe. I vould like to play against you.’

Harry felt his face burn from embarrassment at the praise. Better than Aidan Lynch, the Irish National Seeker? Krum had to be joking.

‘You’re joking, right? Better than Lynch?’

‘There is only one vay to find out.’

‘You’re JOKING!’

Harry felt a sudden sense of deja-vu as Fred’s exclamation echoed around the Gryffindor common room; it was exactly what Fred had yelled out in the Great Hall when Dumbledore had introduced the Triwizard Tournament at the start of the year. All conversation around the common room ceased at once, with every occupant turning to look at the corner where Harry had gathered his four friends and the Gryffindor Quidditch team for a discussion.

‘I’m not,’ said Harry with a broad grin. ‘He actually told me this.’

Harry had wrapped up his conversation with Krum with a promise that he would ask his friends and let him know if they wanted to play, otherwise they would just have a Seeker play-off. He had then rushed inside the castle, partly because he needed the warmth, and partly because he was giddy with anticipation over the entire thing. It seemed as though Krum really wanted to pit his wits against Harry. He was still pinching himself over it — it seemed too outlandish to be true.

‘Believe me,’ he continued, ‘I’m having a hard time digesting it myself.’

‘He really wants to play with us? As in, really?’ asked Angelina, her eyes wide with astonishment.

‘Who does?’ called Ian from across the room.

‘Viktor Krum!’ Ron shouted back.

The effect was instantaneous — gasps of shock and surprise, mixed with awed exclamations, filled the common room at Ron’s words. Almost immediately, the topic of conversation changed to Krum’s request, and almost all of these conversations were directed at the group in the corner.

‘When does he want to play?’ asked Alicia, ignoring the questions pouring in from the others.

‘I think on Sunday morning,’ said Harry. ‘Yeah, I know it’s on really short notice,’ added Harry, as the Quidditch team looked at him in amazement, ‘but we’re probably the only team that’s had the same players for four years now. We wouldn’t need that much practice anyway, it’s a friendly match.’

‘Speak for yourself,’ muttered George, his eyes shining with anticipation. ‘A match against Krum and his buddies? This isn’t a friendly.’

‘He’s right,’ nodded his twin. ‘If we’re playing, we’re going for the win.’

Katie, ever the voice of reason in the team, spoke up. ‘That’s all very well and good, but we still need a Keeper. Oliver’s left, remember?’

Fred and George cursed, while Harry smacked his forehead with his palm. He had completely forgotten about Oliver Wood’s absence, and the fact that they needed a new Keeper for the team.

‘Don’t worry, we can use this as a practice match before the real season starts next year,’ said Angelina. ‘It’s a bit too late for holding try-outs though, who do we choose?’

Fred waved her off. ‘Allow me.’ He turned to the crowd, still eagerly waiting for a response to their incessant questioning regarding Krum’s proposal. ‘Right, so, we need a Keeper for the team. Anyone who’s had prior experience as one?’

‘And get your mind out of the gutter, Lee,’ admonished George, but he was grinning at their friend. Lee Jordan, who was clearly about to say something highly inappropriate, mock-glared at the twins.

Only two hands were raised — Ian Rosenthal, and surprisingly for the rest of the Weasleys, Ron.

‘You?’ asked Ginny.

‘Yeah, well, these two —’ he indicated Fred and George ‘— always made me Keep when we used to play at the Burrow.’

‘Fair point, little bro,’ said Fred.

‘He was quite good too,’ agreed George with a nod.

‘We’ll do a trial run tomorrow to see which of you is better, then we’ll decide,’ said Angelina. ‘Fair?’

They both nodded.

Harry tracked down Krum before lunch the next day — Friday — confirming his agreement to have a match on Sunday morning with his friends. Krum nodded, and offered his hand for Harry to shake, which he did.

‘My friends are also ready,’ he said. ‘Ve vill meet on Sunday.’

Fred, George and Angelina had been able to reach out to Madam Hooch for refereeing the game, which she had gladly accepted. They had also obtained permission from Professor McGonagall to use the Quidditch Pitch for practice on Saturday morning, and for hosting the match on Sunday morning. She had agreed, and had also, surprisingly, advised them to create a notice about the match that could put up in all the House common rooms. It had been a brilliant idea, until Harry had caught sight of the name of their team, and audibly groaned, much to the amusement of others in the vicinity.

‘Harry’s Seven,’ he had muttered in exasperation. ‘I’m going to kill Fred and George.’

‘Do it after the game,’ Ginny had said, patting his arm sympathetically, while trying to contain her own giggles. ‘You’ll need the best Beaters of Hogwarts for this.’

The try-outs for the Keeper position for the team had been conducted by the three Chasers on Friday evening — the one to save the most shots out of twenty was to be selected. It was a tough contest, but ultimately Ian edged out Ron by a single shot — eighteen to seventeen. Ron was, naturally, disappointed, but, with a level of maturity Harry had not seen in his best friend, accepted Ian’s selection graciously, admitting that the spry third-year Gryffindor had been the better Keeper.

‘I’ll try out for the actual Keeper role next year. Maybe I’ll be selected then,’ he told Harry during dinner later that night.

The news that Viktor Krum had, effectively, challenged Harry Potter to a Quidditch match spread across the students and staff like wildfire — no doubt aided by the ministrations of Parvati and Lavender. By Saturday afternoon, the entire school knew about the upcoming match on Sunday, and had already decided to place unofficial bets on who would win. The prospect of a Quidditch match seemed to be intoxicating for the students of Hogwarts, making Harry wonder why this had not been done earlier in the year.

Harry could not remember the students being this excited about a match ever before — the ones between Gryffindor and Slytherin were feistier — and sometimes dirty — due to the intense rivalry between the Houses. This one, however, had none of that — it promised a healthy competition between two exceptionally good teams.

Harry knew the team he was in was good — Gryffindor’s Quidditch team, even with Oliver Wood absent — was still considered as probably the school’s best team in its time, second only to Charlie Weasley’s team while he was in Hogwarts. But he knew they could not take anything for granted — Krum’s team apparently had three international players at the junior level, two of whom — Sergei Volkov and Ana Ivanova — were younger siblings of the Bulgarian national team players.

‘So no pressure, Harry,’ said Fred with a wink when Harry had informed the team about this. ‘Just catch the Snitch before Krum does, simple.’

Sunday morning brought with it blue skies with a number of white, fluffy clouds floating about, and just a tiny hint of a faint breeze blowing across the grounds. Harry smiled gratefully as he looked out on to the sloping lawns from his bed in the fourth-year boys’ dormitories in Gryffindor Tower — the conditions were quite suitable for an excellent game of Quidditch.

With the anticipation building in his stomach, Harry hardly managed to eat what he could term as a proper breakfast. A single strip of bacon and a single gulp of pumpkin juice was not enough — certainly not by his usual standards. As the team finished their meals and stood up to head to the pitch, the Great Hall burst into enormous applause — most of the students seemed to be supporting his team, if the cheers were any indication. Krum’s team was not without its own fans, however — the entire Durmstrang lot was joined by a few Hogwarts students and more than half of the Beauxbatons contingent. Harry noticed that Fleur and Cedric had politely applauded both teams — a mark of respect for both their fellow champions.

To Harry’s relief, de-facto captaincy and leadership of the team had been assumed by the Weasley twins and Angelina, so while the rest of them were getting ready in the changing rooms, the three sixth-years had strode off to the pitch to get a better read on the conditions before the match.

Harry could hear the sounds of hundreds of pairs of feet thundering past the changing rooms as the students of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang made their way to the stands around the pitch. Their laughter and chatter was interspersed with occasional chants of ‘Go Hogwarts!’ and ‘Harry’s Seven!’, but there were more than enough cheers for Krum’s Seven as well.

Fred, George and Angelina joined up with the team just before the stands began filling up, and stood in front of them after changing into their robes. Madam Hooch had graciously agreed to modify their existing scarlet Gryffindor Quidditch robes to a more neutral colour — they were now all wearing black, with the Hogwarts crest emblazoned on the front, to the left. Their names and numbers had been printed in glowing gold at the back of the robes — Harry noticed that, rather smartly, Madam Hooch had put out “F. Weasley” and “G. Weasley” on their robes to distinguish them from the other. He somehow expected it wouldn’t have mattered either way — it would have been just like the twins to switch their robes and cause mayhem for the referee and the commentator.

‘Alright men,’ began Fred.

‘And women,’ interrupted Katie with a fierce glare.

‘Yes, and women,’ agreed George, winking at Katie.

‘This is it,’ said Fred.

‘The big one,’ continued George.

‘The one we’ve all been waiting for,’ finished Fred.

Silence. And then —

‘Have we?’ asked Ian.

‘Good point,’ noted Fred, running his hand over his chin as though in deep thought.

‘S’pose not,’ concurred George.

‘Okay, cut it out you two,’ said Angelina briskly, earning her half-hearted fist waves from the twins.

‘Are they always like this?’ whispered Ian to Harry, who was grinning at the twins’ antics.

‘This is actually tame,’ replied Harry.

‘Remind me not to join the team next year then,’ said Ian, and Harry chuckled.

‘Alright,’ said Angelina firmly. ‘We know Krum’s got one hell of a team, but we’re certainly no pushovers. Fred, George — I need you two to make sure that the Bludgers don’t come within a foot of us when we have the Quaffle. As for when they have the Quaffle, feel free to do anything to help us get it back.’

The devilish grins and wicked gleam in the twins’ eyes caused even Harry to feel sorry for the Krum’s team.

‘Ian, you’re the new one to this team,’ continued Angelina. ‘Stick to the hoops, and prove yourself as the last line of defence. Keep your eyes on the Quaffle at all time, got it?’

Ian nodded, looking slightly pale. Harry gave him a sympathetic pat on his back.

‘Katie, you’re the smallest and fastest Chaser of us all. You and Alicia combine together to score — I’m going to run interference for the two of you.’

‘Aye, aye, skipper,’ said Katie, flashing a mock salute.

‘Right, and Harry,’ said Angelina, finally turning to him. ‘We’re going to leave you a bit alone up there — we’ll need Fred and George more than you do. Just keep your eyes peeled for the Snitch, and —’

‘Catch it before Krum does, got it,’ finished Harry.

Just then, a shrill whistle sounded from the pitch outside.

‘Let’s win this!’ said Angelina fervently; the team shouldered their brooms and, with Angelina in the lead, traipsed outside on to the pitch.

They were greeted by a tidal wave of noise. The pitch had been expanded to accommodate the additional students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, although definitely not as large as the stadium for the Quidditch World Cup. The stands had been modified too — instead of the usual four distinct groups, it had been divided into two: the crowd in one half were waving Hogwarts flags, and brandished slogans like ‘Go Harry’s Seven!’ and ‘Hogwarts for the Win!’; the other half had people sporting banners in Bulgarian, French and a host of other languages, while some were also waving the Bulgarian flag in support of Krum.

‘And please put your hands together for Harry’s Seven!’ came the loud, magnified voice of Lee Jordan, who had agreed to be the commentator for this match as usual. ‘Johnson, Bell, Spinnet, Weasley, Weasley, Rosenthal, aaand Potter, all of Hogwarts!’ He was forced to pause as loud cheers for the team drowned out his voice. ‘Widely acknowledged as the best team Hogwarts has seen in a good few years, with the exception of Rosenthal — who incidentally is making his debut today!’

The crowd cheered and clapped for Ian; Harry noticed him still looking a bit peaky, and whispered in his ear, ‘Just play like how you did yesterday during the try-outs, and you’ll be brilliant.’

Ian nodded, his visage colouring slightly, just as Lee continued with the introductions.

‘And here comes Krum’s Seven, led by their captain and star seeker, Viktor Krum!’ The cheers for Krum were deafening this time. ‘With him, we have Volkov, Ivanova, Stojanovic, Kartal, Petrescu, aaand Dubois!’

Harry did a slight double-take at the names announced by Lee — while he knew of Volkov and Ivanova’s participation, he had not thought to consider where the other players were from. Indeed, going as per Lee’s current announcement, Paul Dubois, the third Chaser, was from Beauxbatons. Even then, the other three players were not of Bulgarian descent.

He had no time to think about that, however; Angelina and Krum had already shaken hands, and Madam Hooch had her whistle between her lips.

‘Mount your brooms!’ she said, and fourteen players got onto their brooms as one. Harry noticed that apart from Krum, both Ivanova and Volkov were riding Firebolts. ‘Three…two…one…’

The sound of her whistle was lost in the roar from the crowd as fourteen brooms rose into the air. Harry felt his hair fly back off his forehead; his nerves left him in the thrill of the flight: he was back in his domain, his familiar territory, and he was going to enjoy every minute of it. Glancing around, he saw Krum rise up above the action that had already begun below, his dark eyes darting all over the pitch in search of the elusive Golden Snitch.

Finally, someone who isn’t going to tail me the entire time.

‘And it’s Hogwarts in possession, Angelina Johnson of Hogwarts in possession of the Quaffle — what a fine girl she is —’

‘Jordan!’ interrupted Professor McGonagall’s voice.

‘Sorry, Professor!’ said Lee, although he didn’t sound sorry at all. ‘Johnson with the Quaffle, heading straight for the Durmstrang posts, looking good — no! Quaffle intercepted by Ivanova, Ivanova of Durmstrang streaking up the pitch, avoids a Bludger from Weasley — passes it to Dubois, who avoids Katie Bell’s attempt to cut in — nicely done there, good swerve around Spinnet — he’s clear, he shoots, he — WHAT A SAVE THAT IS!’

The Hogwarts crowd roared and cheered in delight as Ian pulled off a magnificent finger-tip save, preventing the Quaffle from slipping into the right-most hoop. It clanged off the side of the hoop, and was immediately snatched up by Alicia.

‘And the Quaffle is taken up by Alicia, Alicia Spinnet of Hogwarts tearing up the pitch, she swerves up above Kartal and — whoa, nice reverse pass there to Katie Bell, who zooms away from Ivanova — duck Katie, that’s a Bludger! — she’s past Stojanovic — SHE SCORES! FIRST GOAL TO HOGWARTS!’

Katie punched the air in delight as she soared around to celebrate with her fellow Chasers and the Hogwarts crowd, who were screaming in ecstasy, before they zoomed back to the middle of the pitch to defend against Durmstrang’s attack.

It was certainly not at the level that Harry had witnessed at the World Cup, but it was definitely a few notches higher in quality and entertainment as compared to the usual inter-House matches they played. The Durmstrang Chasers — Ivanova, Kartal, and Dubois — were passing the Quaffle with deadly accuracy and timing while moving seamlessly up the pitch; it was evident, however, that the Hogwarts Chasers were gelling well with each other, almost as though they could read the minds of the other two. Of course, it came with playing together for at least four years — and the tactics employed by them were some of the best Hogwarts had even seen in a long while.

They had, naturally, been worried about Ian and his ability to Keep against the formidable attacking trio of Durmstrang, but he was proving himself to be capable enough for the task — he had already pulled off a couple of astonishing saves from shots that Harry felt were certain goals. Of course, he was bound to let in a few goals now and then, this being his first ever game after all, so the match was quite even.

Within the first few minutes, both sides had exchanged a flurry of goals, with Hogwarts leading fifty-forty. Fred and George, true to their word, were belting the Bludgers as hard as they could away from the Hogwarts Chasers when they had possession, and were equally ferocious in their attempts to unseat the Durmstrang trio when they streaked up the pitch. Volkov and Petrescu were, however, equal to the task — evidently for Volkov, he had inherited the same genes as his older brother, and was slamming the Bludger around the park as quickly as possible, breaking up Hogwarts’ attacks with ease.

‘It’s Ivanova with the Quaffle once more, Ivanova haring up the pitch — WHAM! — nice Bludger work from Fred Weasley — and the Quaffle falls to Kartal, who — no! Stolen away from him by Bell, zooming off in the opposite direction — exchanges passes with Spinnet — ducks a Bludger from Petrescu — I say, is that the Snitch?’

Harry, who had been half-heartedly looking out for the Snitch while following the action below, looked wildly around in alarm at Lee’s exclamation — and then he saw something that made his heart stand still.

Krum was diving from sixty feet above, a look of pure concentration on his sallow face, his thick black eyebrows knotted together as he zoomed down below, his eyes clearly focussing on something in front of him…

Harry took off after him, flattening against his broom as he urged it forwards — he was twenty feet behind — fifteen feet — twelve feet —

But then something inside him clicked — in such glorious conditions like this, he would have seen the Snitch by now, especially if it was a straight dive from above — but he had not seen it at all —

And suddenly, he understood…Krum was faking — he was trying to pull off the Wronski Feint!

Harry immediately jerked the handle of his Firebolt upwards, a good height from the ground below him, levelled out, and turned to face Krum, who had just pulled out of his dive as well, albeit a lot closer to the ground. The Bulgarian was grinning.

‘Nice try,’ said Harry, slightly breathless from the dive.

‘That vas very good,’ complimented Krum, flying up into the air; Harry followed him. ‘You see? Better than Lynch.’

Harry grew red at the praise — being compared to Aidan Lynch was a tall order, but he accepted it all the same. Krum nodded, still grinning, and flew off to the other side of the pitch.

‘Whoa!’ Lee was yelling. ‘That was some insane flying from both Seekers — Krum tried the Wronski Feint, like he had at the World Cup, but Potter was on to it quite quickly! Don’t think we’ve ever seen that happen before — quite spectacular!’

In the excitement of the attempted Feint by Krum, Katie had dropped the Quaffle straight into Ivanova’s hands, who had streaked up the pitch and scored against Ian. A chorus of groans came from the Hogwarts support when they saw what happened, but the Durmstrang half were roaring their approval.

‘And Ivanova scores — goodness that Firebolt is fast, so much so that Nimbus is apparently having trouble in matching its speed for its new brooms —’

‘Get on with the game, Jordan!’

‘Right you are, Professor — just a bit of trivia — incidentally, there’s going to be a new Firebolt 2, to be released in two years’ time —’

‘JORDAN!’

‘Okay, okay, so Ivanova scores, levelling the scores at fifty-all, and it’s Hogwarts in possession, Johnson heading for the Durmstrang goal…’

Harry flew past Alicia, who was tailing Angelina in support…he ducked just in time to avoid a Bludger pelted by George across the pitch at Kartal, who veered off-course from his pursuit of Alicia, who now had the Quaffle — and then he saw it: the Snitch was flitting near the base of the Hogwarts posts, close to the ground.

Harry glanced around — Krum was flying across from him, still searching the pitch, while keeping one eye on Harry — he hadn’t seen it yet, and even then, Harry was slightly closer — the wind gave him the advantage…

Time to try it out myself.

He faked a look of sudden concentration, snapping his back to attention and staring at the Durmstrang posts before diving down. Behind him, Harry could hear the whoosh of someone following him — he chanced a quick look-behind, and saw Krum gaining on his tail…

He urged his Firebolt faster, still pretending to stare at the base of the Durmstrang hoops — he avoided a Bludger sent in his direction by Volkov, swerving now and then so that Krum’s line of sight to the posts was blocked — he was almost there, Krum right behind him — ten feet — five — three —

At the last possible moment, Harry turned the Firebolt upward, narrowly missing the pole of the left hoop, his knees grazing the ground — and behind him, just a second later, Harry heard a loud THUD — he looked back, and saw Krum on the ground —

‘WILL YOU LOOK AT THAT!’ yelled Lee in delight, over the roar of the crowd. ‘Will you just look at that — Potter’s fooled Krum with a perfect Wronski Feint! My word, they’ll be talking about this one at Hogwarts for years — what a play that was!’

Harry swerved around on the broom, in time to see Krum get up, looking a bit dazed, but still coherent enough to wave off Volkov’s concerns — he mounted his broom and grinned up at Harry.

‘See? That vos excellent, good job.’

‘Thanks,’ said Harry breathlessly. ‘And — sorry.’

‘Vot?’

But Harry did not wait for Krum to respond — did not want to give him time to kick off from the ground and pursue him; he turned and immediately streaked off to the Hogwarts posts, swerving and ducking amongst the players — he rolled over, missing a Bludger from Petrescu — then dived further — he was now level with the Snitch — he was almost there, he stretched out his hand —

‘YES!’

He pulled out of his dive, hand in the air, clutching the tiny golden ball, and the stadium exploded. Harry soared above the crowd, an odd ringing in his ears, the adrenaline from the thrill of the win coursing through his veins…

‘AND POTTER’S CAUGHT THE SNITCH! HOGWARTS WINS — TWO HUNDRED TO FIFTY!’

The crowd was roaring its approval and delight — then six black blurs converged upon him, cheering and shouting and screaming in unrestrained jubilation — tangled together in a hug, the group descended back to earth, yelling hoarsely.

Supporters spilled out onto the pitch, chasing after the victors; in the lead were Ron and Hermione, screaming his name in joy; they reached him first, engulfing him in a mad hug. And then the crowd reached them — he had the impression of many bodies being pressed against him; hands patted him on the back, ruffled his hair, shook his hands…

And then, she emerged from the crowd, as though she were an angel, with a fiery red halo on top of her hand — she broke away from her hug with Demelza Robins and charged towards him, a blazing look upon her face —

And without thinking — just as he had done three nights ago under the canopy of the beech tree — without worrying about the consequences, Harry wrapped his arms around Ginny, and kissed her.

Even years later, Harry would not forget the sensation — the utterly amazing feeling — of his first ever kiss with Ginny Weasley. Her lips were soft and inviting, and after a brief moment’s hesitation, she responded just as enthusiastically, moving in tandem with his own. It was heaven, surely it had to be — for nothing else on earth could feel this exquisite, this unbelievable —

They finally broke apart — in the middle of a crowd that was still jumping up and down and celebrating the victory. He looked down at Ginny, their arms still around each other — she was grinning widely, her eyes sparkling with happiness.

‘Finally,’ she whispered softly.

Harry grinned goofily back at her. ‘Yeah. Finally.’

She giggled, and hugged him tightly, which he returned with equal fervour. He closed his eyes, revelling in the victory, the feeling of the girl in his arms, and the sweet flowery scent from her soft hair…

He had done it. He had beaten Krum. He had finally kissed Ginny.

What could possibly go wrong?

Back to index


Chapter 10: The Trial of Sirius Orion Black - Part I

Author's Notes: And here it is – the build-up to the long awaited trial of Sirius Black. This isn’t the trial itself, mind you – that’s in the next chapter, because combining it with this would have made it way too long, and I need to do more research on the legal procedures that are prevalent in Muggle and wizarding Britain. Can’t afford to be sloppy there, can I?

Please read and review!

P.S. I apologise – I have taken the description of the Ministry almost verbatim from OotP – JKR’s wordings and imagery are too good to be altered.


When Harry Missed the Trick Step

Chapter 10: The Trial of Sirius Orion Black — Part I


Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…

Even years later, Harry would not forget the sensation — the utterly amazing feeling — of his first ever kiss with Ginny Weasley. Her lips were soft and inviting, and after a brief moment’s hesitation, she responded just as enthusiastically, moving in tandem with his own. It was heaven, surely it had to be — for nothing else on earth could feel this exquisite, this unbelievable —

They finally broke apart — in the middle of a crowd that was still jumping up and down and celebrating the victory. He looked down at Ginny, their arms still around each other — she was grinning widely, her eyes sparkling with happiness.

‘Finally,’ she whispered softly.

Harry grinned goofily back at her. ‘Yeah. Finally.’

She giggled, and hugged him tightly, which he returned with equal fervour. He closed his eyes, revelling in the victory, the feeling of the girl in his arms, and the sweet flowery scent from her soft hair…

He had done it. He had beaten Krum. He had finally kissed Ginny.

What could possibly go wrong?


As it turned out, contrary to popular belief, not much did go wrong.

Harry spent the final week leading up to Sirius’ trial basking in the euphoria of beating Viktor Krum in a Quidditch match — by actually catching the Snitch before the Bulgarian star Seeker — even though he knew that Krum was leagues better than him. This had, of course, resulted in a lot of people comparing him to Aidan Lynch and how he was already better than him. Harry made sure to downplay a lot of the flattery coming his way, by pointing out that not getting tricked by Krum’s Wronski Feint did not make him a better Seeker than Lynch — the latter had, after all, won a Quidditch World Cup.

‘But Lynch got ploughed twice! You didn’t even fall for Krum’s Feint!’

‘Yes, but —’ Harry would say.

‘And you managed to fool Krum with a Feint of your own!’

‘Yes, but —’

And you caught the Snitch before he did!’

‘Yes, but —’

But despite the repeated denials, Harry was unable to convince anyone that he had just had a better game than Krum on that Sunday morning, and Krum would probably have played a lot better had he had his Bulgarian national team with him. After all, form was temporary, but class was permanent. To his dismay, however, Krum had flat out refused that excuse.

‘It vos a very good game,’ he had said when they had met on the pitch after the match. ‘You fly better than me.’

‘You just had an off-day,’ Harry had tried to assure him, slightly apprehensive of Krum getting disgruntled that he had beaten by a school-boy four years his junior. On the contrary, Krum had grinned widely at him.

‘I flew like this at the World Cup,’ he had said. ‘You are better than me and Lynch. You should think of playing professionally. A lot of good teams vould vont to have you.’

Harry had had no veritable response for that, settling instead for shrugging half-heartedly.

In any case, the school had been ecstatic at the fact that their representative team had beaten Krum’s chosen seven in Quidditch, and had made their feelings about it quite known: on Sunday evening, the team had entered the Great Hall for dinner to a thunderous reception of cheers and a standing ovation. Harry had turned quite red at the applause, especially when it had been interspersed with calls of ‘Go Harry!’ and ‘Harry’s Seven is the best!’

Of course, his blush had only intensified — to the point of him resembling a ripe tomato — when the occupants of the Gryffindor table had begun ribbing him for his kiss with Ginny on the pitch. Of course, there had been no way of denying it - even if he had wanted to — what with the number of witnesses for it after all. While there had been no immediate reactions to it after he had kissed her, the news had spread pretty quickly, such that by dinner, everyone knew that he, Harry Potter, was together with Ginny Weasley.

Harry had not paid too much attention to the rumours and the teasing that had come his and Ginny’s way during the rest of that Sunday — over the years, he had gotten a grasp of the fickle nature of the memories of Hogwarts students when it came to gossip and rumours of this sort, and he knew that it would not last long. A week, at most, after which most of them would have found a new topic to chat about.

No, what he had been more worried about was the reaction of Ron to this new development between his best friend and his younger sister.

Fred and George had been, unsurprisingly, understanding about the whole thing — even going so far as to pulling him and Ginny into a messy four-way hug, and then loudly suggesting a couple of less-known, out-of-the-way broom cupboards in the castle for them to undertake, as Fred had succinctly put it, ‘their anatomical explorations.’ Both Harry and Ginny, along with the rest of the onlookers in the immediate vicinity, had turned a remarkable shade of scarlet at his words; something which Fred had been aiming to achieve, if his devious smirk and wink was anything to go by.

His mischievous expression was immediately wiped out though, once Ginny had recovered well enough from her embarrassment, to suggest that she could advertise their less than savoury activities with Angelina and Alicia respectively to the entire school, causing them to back off almost at once and cease their teasing. The fact that Ginny had threatened them with her Bat-Bogey Hex was probably a major factor as well.

Harry had not had the opportunity to speak to Ron about this until the next day, Monday morning, just as they were waking up to get back to their classes. Ron had been missing for almost the entire Sunday after the match had finished, leading Harry to worry that he was mad at him for kissing Ginny. This mood had continued till dinner, until Ginny herself had gently pointed out that even Hermione had been absent the entire time, something which Harry had not noticed.

‘Oh,’ Harry had said. ‘Where do you think they are?’

‘Probably doing the same thing as what we did on the pitch,’ Ginny had suggested with a smirk, one that had only increased as she spotted a slightly dishevelled Hermione enter the Great Hall rather late for dinner, followed by an equally unkempt Ron. Harry’s discomfort at the thought of his two best friends doing...that, had caused Ginny to giggle; he had not wanted to think about that, at all.

Now, as he waited for Ron to finish brushing his teeth and get out of the bathroom, he only hoped that the red-head would not find his relationship with Ginny uncomfortable and unwanted.

‘Hey Ron,’ he said, sitting on the edge of his bed as Ron exited the bathroom.

‘Hey.’

Harry had no idea what he was supposed to say next, so he racked his brains desperately, trying to think of the best and most gentle way to break the news to Ron. Nothing, apart from just telling Ron outright, seemed to present itself as a viable option.

‘Ron, I…I — err — just wanted to let you know that — err —’

Ron looked up quizzically from near his bed, where he had pulling out a fresh set of laundered robes from his trunk.

‘GinnynIaretogether.’

Ron raised an eyebrow. ‘Sorry.’

Calm down, he’s not going to curse you!

‘Ron…Ginny and I are together.’

Ron looked at him. ‘Okay…so?’

Harry blinked and stared at his best friend. Had he just — did he just say —

‘So?’ repeated Harry, nonplussed. ‘I was just worried if — um — if you were okay with it.’

‘Oh,’ said Ron slowly. After a bit, he said, ‘Should I be?’

‘What?’

Harry was completely thrown-off by this reaction from Ron. He had expected a raging, storming rant from him, yelling at him about things like ‘betrayal of trust’, ‘violation of my sister’, ‘uncomfortable and disturbing situation for me’, and the likes. He had definitely not expected a calm and collected Ron, responding to him with a level-head and — was he smirking?

‘You’re winding me up,’ said Harry suddenly, and finally, Ron couldn’t take it anymore; he burst out laughing, almost falling onto the floor near his bed in his mirth. His loud laugh had stirred the other boys — Dean, Seamus, and Neville — causing them to wake up with disgruntled, half-asleep expressions.

‘What in Hades’ name is that noise?’ demanded Seamus, rolling over on his bed in an attempt to go back to sleep.

Neither Harry nor Ron responded — the latter was, in any case, in no shape to reply at all in the midst of his laughter. Harry got up from his bed and strode over to Ron’s, waiting for his hilarity to subside so that Ron could explain.

And then, I’m going to kick his arse.

Ron finally returned to normal after another minute, looking at Harry with a wide grin on his face.

‘Oh, you should have seen the look on your face — it was priceless,’ he stammered out, just managing to control himself from another fit of laughter.

Harry glared at him, but he soon saw the funny side of it, and grinned back at Ron.

‘So…’ he said, his grin slowly fading away. ‘You’re alright with it?’

Ron gave him a genuine smile, quite unlike the mischievous smirk he had sported a while earlier, and the wide, happy grin after that. No, this was a proper, sincere smile, one that reached his best friend’s blue eyes, which were sparkling with happiness.

‘Yeah, of course I am,’ said Ron. ‘Rather you than anyone else, to be honest.’

‘Really?’ said Harry, with no small amount of relief, and a hint of surprise at Ron’s words. ‘I’d thought — well, I’d expected you would —’

‘Get all jealous and angry at you?’ finished Ron wryly. ‘Nah, I learnt my lesson from when — you know — we weren’t talking.’ Harry nodded quickly; those three weeks last year was as uncomfortable for him as it was for Ron, and he had no desire to relive it. ‘Our friendship is worth more than that, Harry.’

Harry stared at him, and then he smirked knowingly. ‘You talked to Hermione too, didn’t you?’

Ron chuckled. ‘Yeah I did. Smart girl, that Hermione is,’ he added, a smile on his face which Harry was pretty sure had nothing to do with his recent nonplussed expression. ‘She said that you’re the only one we could trust with Ginny, and that getting angry with you would ruin things between us, and between me and Ginny.’

‘She’s not wrong,’ mused Harry. ‘Remind me to thank her later.’

Ron grinned again. ‘Yeah, I will. In any case, Ginny’s old enough to take care of herself, and to make her own decisions.’

‘She’s been old enough since her first year and the diary happened, Ron,’ reminded Harry. ‘She hates being coddled and babied, I’m surprised it took you this long to figure it out.’

‘Yeah, well, Hermione explained it to me,’ he admitted sheepishly, ‘but that’s not the point.’

‘Oh?’

‘The point is, even if she is old enough to decide for herself, she’s still my younger sister. And if you hurt her,’ said Ron, trying — and in Harry’s view, failing — to adopt a menacing tone, ‘I will have to kick your arse.’

Harry nodded, desperately trying not to laugh out loud at Ron’s attempt at playing the ‘big brother’; he tried to control the twitches of the corners of his mouth as he replied in a solemn tone, ‘I would never dream of hurting her, Ron, trust me.’

And despite the hilarity of the situation, Harry meant every word: he did not know what he felt for her, but he was sure he would never hurt Ginny, nor would he allow anyone else to hurt her.

‘Good,’ said Ron firmly. ‘Just wanted to tell you that.’

‘Right,’ Harry nodded again, a smirk threatening to ghost across his face. ‘Now, it’s my turn to say the same to you.’

‘What?’

Harry finally allowed the smirk on his face. ‘Hermione’s like my sister, so if you ever think of hurting her, I will have to kick your arse.’ He paused, and then added for good measure, ‘And so would Ginny.’

The mention of Ginny’s wrath had Ron visibly gulping nervously — not one of her brothers, save Bill and probably Percy, were willing to get on her wrong side. It was always better to have Ginny as an ally, rather than a foe.

‘Hang on,’ said Ron slowly, frowning in thought, ‘how did you know about —’

‘You and Hermione?’ finished Harry; at Ron’s nod, he continued. ‘After last Thursday, when we were watching the sunset, it’s been quite obvious. Plus,’ he added, ‘I think your late entry for dinner last night, along with the way you two looked, confirmed that beyond a doubt.’

Ron turned almost as red as his hair as the implications of Harry’s words sunk in. He covered his face in his hands. ‘Merlin, Fred and George are never going to let me live it down,’ he said in a muffled voice.

Harry patted his back in commiseration. ‘I don’t think they saw it, although I wouldn’t put it past them to have figured it out already.’

Ron just groaned in response.

Apart from the euphoria at beating Krum in Quidditch, and at finally being able to spend some time alone with Ginny in public, the week — and the next weekend — passed in a blaze of classes, homework, research and trials for the Patronus Charm, and their nightly training sessions for learning new hexes and curses. Homework was becoming especially difficult — adopting the reason that they were to take their O.W.L.s soon, the teachers had begun setting them more and more challenging assignments.

With all of this going on, Harry was exceptionally glad with the end of the week, and that he could finally relax over the weekend — probably spending some quality time with Ginny. Soon, however, the relief was replaced by anxiety — the onset of the weekend meant that Sirius’ trial was just four days away.

The change in his visage did not go unnoticed, though.

‘Harry?’ asked Hermione in a concerned tone as she looked up at him in the library. ‘Are you alright?’

He started a bit, before returning her gaze, and attempting to school his features to appear relaxed. ‘I’m fine.’

Hermione raised her eyebrow questioningly.

‘Alright,’ he conceded. ‘Just a little anxious for Wednesday, is all.’

‘Don’t worry, Harry,’ said Neville; he had just returned from placing back on the correct shelves, all the reference books they had used for completing their Herbology essay. ‘Like I said, Cyrus Greengrass is a really good lawyer. Sirius will get off, I’m sure.’

Harry nodded, but he still could not shake off the sense of foreboding he felt whenever he thought about the trial.

‘When do you have visit him?’ asked Ginny, shutting her Ancient Runes textbook. ‘Cyrus Greengrass I mean.’

‘Tuesday afternoon,’ said Hermione promptly. ‘Professor Dumbledore and Professor Lupin will be going with us — we’re staying at the Leaky Cauldron on Tuesday night.’

The bit about their accommodations for the night before the trial was news to Harry — he knew they had to meet Mr Greengrass in the afternoon, but had assumed that they would return to school, before travelling to the Ministry of Magic early next morning.

‘Professor Lupin informed me of this after our research session today,’ elaborated Hermione. ‘He told me to tell you two this.’

Harry and Ron nodded, with the former’s worries about the trial not lessening at all.

Tuesday morning dawned surprisingly dull and dreary — Harry felt it quite reflected his anxious mood as he ate his breakfast. The enchanted ceiling in the Great Hall depicted an overcast, cloudy sky, with the sun barely threatening to escape from its fluffy prison above. Though breezy, there was no hint of rain; although, as Hermione had once said, Britain’s weather was one thing that even Professor Trelawney, in her actual prediction trance, would not be able to forecast with certainty.

The sound of hundreds of owls whooshing in with the post for that morning caused Harry to look up instinctively, but there was no post from Hedwig. Ginny joined them just then, greeting Harry with a soft kiss, and the others with a ‘Good morning’, before settling herself next to him and loading her plate with food.

Harry finished his breakfast just as one of the last owl stragglers landed in front of Hermione, delivering her copy of the Daily Prophet. Hermione untied the paper from its leg, dropped two Knuts into the small pouch tied to its other leg, and offered the bedraggled owl a piece of toast from her plate, which it accepted with a soft hoot. Ron had, meanwhile, snagged the paper from her grasp and was perusing it as though looking for something.

‘That’s odd,’ came his voice from behind the paper; seconds later, he folded it up and handed it back to Hermione. ‘There’s no word of Sirius’ surrender or trial in today’s paper.’

Part of the reason for Harry’s slightly dismal and anxious mood was the fact that, after more than a year on the run, Sirius had finally surrendered himself to the Department of Magical Law Enforcement on Monday evening. Lupin, who had Flooed to the Ministry in the evening to be present at that time, had returned with the news later that night: Sirius had presented his wand to the Aurors, personally surrendered to Madam Bones, and was now kept in a Ministry holding cell, quite separate and far away from both Pettigrew and Crouch Junior.

‘He’s going to be fine,’ Lupin had said in an attempt to reassure Harry, who was looking quite fearful and worried. ‘Madam Bones has assigned a security detail to him, comprising of only those Aurors who she trusts completely.’

Harry had felt slightly relieved after hearing that, but even Ginny’s comforting hug and kisses could not entirely quell his apprehension over the fact that Sirius was now back in Ministry custody, and was at the mercy of the Aurors.

‘I supposed Madam Bones wanted it to be kept quiet,’ said Ginny. ‘If word got out that he was in Ministry custody, but awaiting a trial, the public outcry would be too much to handle.’

Harry nodded. ‘That makes sense, I suppose.’

The morning’s lessons seemed to pass too quickly for Harry’s liking, and before he knew it, it was already lunch time, and then, all of a sudden, it was time for him, Ron, and Hermione to leave. They had made sure to have an early lunch, so that they could leave the common room with their bags for their stay at the Leaky Cauldron without attracting too much attention.

Harry descended the steps from the boys’ dormitories first; Ron was still looking for some items, having neglected to pack over the weekend; Neville was helping him; and Hermione had declared her need for a shower before their meeting with Cyrus Greengrass. As he reached the base of the steps, he found Ginny waiting for him near the fire. The light from the flickering fire caught her brown eyes in a way that Harry found absolutely enchanting; she straightened as he approached her, and opened her arms in a silent invitation.

Harry crossed the room, dropped his bag onto an armchair, and reaching her, sank into her hug. They stayed that way for quite some time; Harry was simply clutching onto her for support, as she ran both her hands up and down his back in a soothing, comforting gesture. He pulled back slightly, and leaned in to capture her lips in a kiss — one that spoke of desire for comfort, help, and reassurance. He could feel her responding to him with everything he sought for, her hands moving to encircle his neck as his rested at the small of her back.

They broke apart when the need for air became too much, both of them flushed from the kiss, and panting for oxygen; but their faces were still inches away from each other, tempting Harry to give her small kisses now and then.

‘Promise me that you’ll be safe,’ whispered Ginny after what he supposed was their tenth kiss; Harry was almost tempted to smirk with pride at her swollen lips, but restrained himself as he caught sight of her worried expression.

‘I’ll be fine, Gin,’ he murmured back. ‘I’ll be with Dumbledore and Lupin, I’ll be okay. It’s Sirius I’m worried about.’ He gave an involuntary slight shudder at that — which he felt was completely justified: Sirius’ fate now rested in the hands of some unknown Aurors, and then, the Wizengamot tomorrow.

Ginny pulled back and stared at him, her brown eyes trying to reach his own in a telepathic conversation that only couples could ever hope to achieve. He could see her conveying her assurance of Sirius’ safety to him through those beautiful eyes of hers, and despite the fact that it was logically not possible for her to have any influence on the matter, he was grateful for her faith and belief.

She gently kissed the tip of his nose. ‘He’ll be fine, too. Madam Bones won’t allow anything to happen to him.’ She paused, her eyes shifting downwards, which Harry had understood as a sign of her own anxiety. ‘I’m just worried about you.’

Harry put his hand under her chin and gently lifted it up, so that he was staring into those magnificent, swirling depths of brown once again. He tilted his head and bent to kiss her once again — and this time, as he moved his lips against her tender ones, he looked to give her reassurance, comfort, and an unspoken promise that he would return, unscathed. And this time, it was nothing like their previous ones — it had more desire, passion, and dare he think it —

A soft clearing of a throat caused them to break apart; turning around, they saw Hermione, Ron, and Neville standing near the long couch. Ron and Neville looked a little embarrassed, but Hermione was smiling at the pair.

‘We have to leave, Harry,’ said Hermione softly, despite the fact that no one else was in the common room.

Harry nodded. He turned back to Ginny, cupped her face in his hands, and placed a kiss on her forehead. ‘I’ll be back tomorrow. Don’t worry.’

Ginny chuckled wanly, her arms still wrapped around him and squeezing him tighter. ‘Just stay safe,’ she said.

He grinned at her, and let his arms drop from around her, before making his way to the portrait hole, where Ron and Hermione were. He clapped Neville on the back as he passed, while Ginny went to hug Hermione and her brother. Harry noticed her whispering something in his ear as she did so, but decided not to ask Ron about it. With their goodbyes complete, the three of them exited the common room to proceed to Dumbledore’s office, leaving Ginny and Neville behind — they were not going to participate in the trial, and having the two of them return from the Headmaster’s office alone would be bound to raise some questions and trigger some unwanted rumours.

They encountered no one on their way to the third floor corridor leading to the ugly stone gargoyle guarding the office of the Headmaster. Ron and Hermione, who had never been to this part of the castle before, looked around in interest — Hermione more than Ron — as they came to a halt before the statue.

A noise behind them made them jump and look around: Lupin was striding up the corridor, carrying his own bag and what looked like a Muggle ring-file — it was full of parchment and paper punched and bound tightly together. Lupin himself looked quite tired and drained — it took a few moments for Harry to realize that the full moon had just passed the previous Friday; Lupin was probably still recovering from the after-effects of his transformation, despite the Wolfsbane Potion.

‘Hello, you three,’ he greeted them as he drew nearer. ‘Shall we?’ He indicated the gargoyle.

Harry nodded, and turned to the statue. ‘Fizzing Whizbee.’

The gargoyle gave an ungainly forward jerk of its head, and jumped aside, revealing the rising spiral staircase that was winding its way up; the four of them quickly took to the stairs as it circled upwards to the oaken double doors. Lupin rapped the door with the griffin-shaped knocker, and after a ‘Come in!’, they stepped inside.

‘Blimey,’ breathed Ron in wonderment.

‘Wow,’ sighed Hermione.

Lupin and Harry exchanged a grin as Ron and Hermione stared around the office with amazement, awe, and in Hermione’s case, undisguised curiosity. Harry knew the feeling — even after so many visits to Dumbledore’s home at Hogwarts, he had the feeling he would never ever get tired of looking around. There were just so many things to see.

‘Good afternoon, Miss Granger, Mr Weasley,’ said Dumbledore from behind his desk, and the two of them jumped at being addressed directly. Hermione, in particular, had turned rather pink with embarrassment, no doubt due to her open stares at the items and portraits adorning the office. Dumbledore’s genial, yet knowing smile at her probably did not help either.

‘And a good afternoon to you both, Harry and Remus,’ continued Dumbledore; Harry and Lupin returned the greetings with smiles of their own.

‘I trust you had a fulfilling lunch?’ asked Dumbledore, opening one of the drawers in his ornate desk and pulling out what looked like a sweet jar. He took off the lid and offered it to the four of them. ‘Sherbet lemon? I find that it has a particularly profound effect when consumed right after a sumptuous meal.’ All of them politely declined the offer, leaving Dumbledore to pick one out from the jar and pop it into his mouth.

They stood in silence for a while, the calm stillness of the office proving to be a rather effective balm against the anxiety that gripped their minds over what was to transpire over the next thirty-six hours, with Mr Cyrus Greengrass and then the Wizengamot. Harry noticed most of the occupants of the portraits — all of them of former Heads of Hogwarts — looking down at the four new people in the office with unabashed interest. Hermione was observing the portraits and reading the names under each of them — or at least of those she could see from her position without having to twist her neck too much.

‘We must leave,’ announced Dumbledore at last; he stood up, headed for the fireplace at the other side of the room, and threw a handful of Floo power into the fire. It roared and crackled, before flaring high up, and turning a brilliant shade of green.

At Dumbledore’s signal, Lupin stepped forward and into the fire, hand grasped tightly around the bag and the file of parchment and papers. ‘Leaky Cauldron!’ he said in a clear and firm voice, and with a soft whoosh, disappeared out of sight.

One by one, Harry, Ron, and Hermione entered the emerald flames and copied Lupin’s actions; Harry, who had gone last, began spinning as soon as he’d finished uttering his destination; through the myriad of flames, soot and ash, he caught glimpses of various other households and establishments — and then he felt himself slowing down, and with a sudden jerk, stopped spinning; the abrupt action caused him to almost fall out of the fireplace and flat on his face, and was saved from breaking his glasses by Ron, who caught him just in time.

‘Oh, shut up,’ grumbled Harry, as Ron snickered beside him. Hermione gave a half-hearted glare at Ron’s apparent lack of tact, but she too looked quite amused at Harry’s annoyance with the Floo, while Lupin used his wand to siphon off the soot and ash clinging to Harry’s robes.

A moment later, another whoosh indicated the last arrival through the Floo, and Dumbledore stepped out gracefully from the fire, which reverted to its usual scarlet and orange blaze. As the Headmaster took the time to wave the dust from the Floo travel out of his robes, while striking up a quick conversation with Tom, the wizened toothless landlord, Harry took the opportunity to look around.

Harry had last visited the Leaky Cauldron in the summer before his third year; at that time, he had stayed here for two whole weeks when he had run away from Privet Drive after accidentally inflating Aunt Marge. Even now, almost two years later, the establishment looked the same: a number of patrons sat crowded around the bar, having their mid-day drink, while even more people occupied the numerous tables, most of whom had their faces either covered with hoods or balaclavas, while the dim light from the floating candles provided only the barest amount of illumination, as required for Tom and his workers to serve food and drink for their late lunches. At the far side, light filtered in through the grimy windows, leaving a scattered trail due to the dust in the air.

Every now and then, the main door would open, allowing them to have a glimpse of Charing Cross Road and Muggle London beyond it; and with almost the same regularity, the back door would open, leading to an area lined with rubbish bins and a huge brick wall.

Harry waved at Tom as he finished speaking with Dumbledore; the landlord returned the wave with a toothless smile. The five of them then headed out the back door; reaching the brick wall, Dumbledore took out his wand, tapped the third brick from the left above the rubbish bin, and stepped back. The brick he’d tapped quivered, wiggled and then jumped aside, leaving a small hole — it grew bigger and bigger, ultimately forming the archway to Harry’s second favourite place in the wizarding world.

Diagon Alley was not as busy as Harry had seen it during his stay two summers ago — he supposed it had something to do with the fact that at that point in time, there had been a lot of shopping done by parents and students for the upcoming school year at Hogwarts. With school now in progress, the Alley was relatively peaceful — Harry could only see a few people going about with their shopping, presumably after having a nice lunch at the Leaky Cauldron, or one of the other eateries situated in the Alley.

As fascinating as it was, they did not stop to look around; Dumbledore led them at a brisk pace down the Alley, with Lupin bringing up the rear; while the werewolf looked quite alert and watchful, the Headmaster was quite happily humming a tune. Harry noticed Hermione’s eyes widening in surprise as the tune drifted over from Dumbledore; she hurriedly whispered that he had been humming Beethoven’s Sixth Symphony, and that she hadn’t expected Professor Dumbledore to know of Muggle classical music.

‘He likes sherbet lemons, Hermione,’ grinned Harry, ‘what did you expect?’

Past Eeylops’ Owl Emporium, past Flourish and Blotts, past Madam Malkins’ Robe for All Occasions…on and on they walked till the very end of the main street of the Alley, where they finally stood before the imposing white building of Gringotts bank, the wizarding bank run by goblins. At the bank, Dumbledore turned left; a few paces later, he stopped in front of a small office on the ground floor. By all accounts, it appeared to be a normal office — there was an unassuming brown door, and the window was quite clean, with the words imprinted on it leaving them in no doubt as to whose office it was.

Greengrass and Associates


Wizarding Lawyers


Est. 1976


‘1976?’ said Harry. ‘Weren’t lawyers around much earlier than that?’

‘Cyrus Greengrass was one of the first wizarding lawyers to set up a separate practice,’ explained Lupin. ‘Prior to that, most lawyers were either employed by the Ministry of Magic, or served dual roles as Ministry workers, and as independent lawyers.’

‘Does he have partners, then?’ asked Hermione.

‘He did,’ said Lupin. ‘Nathaniel Davis and Declan Boot had started the firm with him. Unfortunately, Declan was killed in 1983, when a few rogue Death Eaters broke into his house and attacked him.’ Hermione gasped in horror, while Harry and Ron looked pale. ‘Apparently they were angry that he had not agreed to represent their comrades in a recently concluded trial. His wife and son survived, however; I believe Mr Terry Boot is in your year in Ravenclaw.’

Harry vaguely remembered seeing a boy with short, cropped hair, and of average height, responding to Professor Flitwick’s attendance calls during their Charms classes with the Ravenclaws. Until then, apart from Neville, he had had no idea of other families who had also been affected by Voldemort’s reign of terror.

‘And Mr Davis?’ asked Hermione.

‘He’s still a partner, I believe. I have never met him, though his daughter, Tracey, is quite a charming student of Slytherin House.’

Ron gave a half-confused, half-disgusted look, as though he could not comprehend how a Slytherin student could ever be charming. Hermione gave him a look that clearly said, ‘Behave!’ but before she could ask another question, Dumbledore cleared his throat.

‘I believe we should make our way inside.’ And so, following the old wizard, the four of them stepped inside.

And Harry’s jaw dropped.

From the outside, the office looked like any other commercial establishment — unassuming, normal, and judging by the size of the door and the building it was in, quite small. Inside, however, was a different story altogether.

The first thought that came to Harry’s mind was that it looked like a mansion.

The second thought was that this was certainly not possible without magic.

The third thought was that he loved magic.

They had entered a huge area — rather like a sitting room of a large house — adorned with a magnificent chandelier, its many candles emitting soft light that illuminated the room. Other small candle-brackets were affixed on to the circular walls — they provided a break between the numerous tapestries, portraits and paintings that were hung. The floor was richly carpeted in emerald green: in front of them was a comfortable looking settee, two single armchairs and a long couch — all in dark grey and surrounding an ornate glass-topped table. Two other chairs — straight-backed ones — stood near the main door.

Across the room were three doors, leading to the individual offices of the partners. Cyrus Greengrass had taken the office in the middle — a show of power, no doubt, to reaffirm who the real head of the firm was. To the left was Nathaniel Davis’ office, while the one to the right — although it did not have a nameplate — was surely that of Declan Boot, at least while he had been alive.

Surprisingly, there was no receptionist — Harry had half expected Cyrus Greengrass to have had one, given the location and the décor of the office. He supposed Mr Greengrass preferred to step out and receive his clients on his own — a more hands-on and personal approach.

His assumption was proved to be true when the middle door opened, and Cyrus Greengrass exited his office to greet them.

Harry’s first and immediate impression of wizarding Britain’s arguably most well-known lawyer was that he was not someone to be trifled with. Tall — though not as much as Dumbledore — and imposing, Cyrus Greengrass carried himself with an air of regal standing — a man who knew he was important, and made sure that others knew it as well. He was slightly built — either that, or the fine silk robes he was wearing were too tight for his frame — but the years of desk work and practice had evidently taken their toll on him: his long and wavy brown hair was greying around the edges, and he was sporting a small belly.

His face, however, drew the attention of everyone in the room; it seemed as though it would be more suited for an Auror of the Ministry — there were multiple thin scars criss-crossing along his cheeks and forehead, while an extremely prominent one ran from above his left eyebrow to finish just near the bridge of his rather sharp nose. Harry had almost dropped his bag in shock, and he knew Hermione had stifled a gasp of horror upon seeing that visage. His eyes, though, appeared smart and knowledgeable — the grey irises flecked with black streaks gave the impression that he was scrutinising each and every one of them, while simultaneously drinking up the knowledge gleaned from his observations.

Harry noticed he walked with the slightest of limps — as though his leg was almost healed, but not just yet — as he crossed the room and shook Dumbledore’s hand. He greeted Lupin in a similar fashion — Harry recalled that Lupin had been present during Sirius’ negotiations for the appointment of Mr Greengrass — before turning to the students.

‘These will be them, then?’ he said; his voice was deep yet clear — an impressive baritone.

Lupin nodded. ‘That’s Harry Potter, Ronald Weasley, and Hermione Granger,’ he said, indicating each one of them in turn.

Mr Greengrass did not offer his hand to shake; he did, however, look each of them over as Lupin pointed them out. When he reached Hermione, he frowned slightly. ‘Granger…related to Hector Dagworth-Granger?’

Harry had no clue who this Hector Dagworth-Granger was; clearly, neither did Ron, if his confused expression was anything to go by. Hermione seemed to know who it was, though, and she shook her head.

But before she could say anything, Lupin interrupted, ‘No, I don’t think she is,’ he said genially, but there was a sense of finality in his tone.

Harry stared at Lupin, who was smiling at Mr Greengrass — but it was not his usual, friendly smile. It was thinner than usual, and appeared to be conveying a lot more than what could have been said in words. Mr Greengrass was looking between Hermione and Lupin, his brow furrowed, before matching Lupin’s gaze with his own stare. He nodded once, and then indicated the seats behind him.

‘Please, have a seat. We have much to discuss.’
As they moved to take their seats, Harry glanced at Hermione and gave her a questioning look. Hermione shrugged in response; clearly she had no idea why Lupin had done whatever he’d done.

‘Tea, anybody?’ offered Mr Greengrass, but everyone declined. ‘Very well, very well…’

He stood up suddenly from his seat on the armchair and hurried to his office; half a minute, he returned just as urgently, a large sheaf of parchment tucked beneath his left arm. He deposited the parchment on the desk, and began rifling through them.

‘Yes, this is it,’ he said at last, pulling out a piece of parchment and placing it on the top of the others. ‘I’d started making my notes and observations, based on my discussions with Lord Black last week, but this would need to be supplemented by the witness accounts…yes…’

He waved his wand, and a rather handsome looking quill zoomed into his hand, accompanied by a bottle of ink that came to rest near the parchment. He twirled the quill around in his fingers as he looked at each of them in turn.

‘Let us begin.’

The discussion with Cyrus Greengrass lasted all afternoon, and well into the late hours of the evening; so much that by the time they had bid Mr Greengrass goodbye, night had fallen upon Diagon Alley. Lights from the many shops spilled out onto the main street, while flaming torches hung in brackets at regular intervals in the Alley added to the illumination, along with the white light from the waning moon in the sky above.

Despite having acquiesced to Mr Greengrass’ offer of tea later during the discussions — which was accompanied by biscuits and crumpets — they found themselves feeling extremely hungry as they exited the office. Harry attributed it to the rather intense and draining conversation with Mr Greengrass as they — Harry, Ron, Hermione and Lupin — gave him information regarding their encounter with his godfather in the Shrieking Shack. For some unknown reason, however, Dumbledore had chosen to give his information regarding Sirius in private — they had disappeared into Mr Greengrass’ office for fifteen minutes, leaving Harry, Ron, and Hermione under the watchful care of the tired-looking werewolf.

‘Well, the witness accounts do corroborate with each other,’ Mr Greengrass had observed at the end of it all. ‘We should be able to present a good defence before the Wizengamot tomorrow.’

Now, as they trudged past Flourish and Blotts, Harry wondered why they had not been given an assurance of a victory by the imposing lawyer. When he posed this question, Lupin shook his head.

‘Lawyers will represent and argue on behalf of their client, to the best of their ability, knowledge, and skill,’ he said, neatly stepping aside to allow a group of witches to hurry past. ‘Ultimately, however, the fate rests with the Wizengamot.’

Harry stared at him, nearly walking headlong into a street-vendor’s cart. ‘So that means…Sirius could still be…’

‘Yes, he could, but it’s a very remote possibility. The evidence in Sirius’ favour is too iron-clad, there will be an uproar if they do find him guilty.’

‘Wouldn’t put it past Fudge or Lucius Malfoy, to be honest,’ muttered Harry; his opinion of Fudge had decreased ever since the fiasco with Buckbeak’s attempted execution, and then Sirius’ capture later that night; the man seemed to be concerned only with what the people thought of him, instead of doing what was the best course of action.

‘Oh, Cornelius tried very hard to cancel this trial,’ said Dumbledore, falling into step beside Lupin.

‘He did?’ said Hermione, although she did not sound too surprised, as she too shared Harry’s sentiments regarding the Minister for Magic.

‘Oh yes,’ said Dumbledore with a smile. ‘Fortunately, however, the Chief Warlock can overrule the Minister’s objections when a motion for a trial is submitted, and supported by two members of the Wizengamot.’

‘Oh yeah,’ said Ron with dawning comprehension. ‘Dad told us about this. So Madam Bones submitted the motion, then?’

‘She did indeed, Mr Weasley,’ concurred Dumbledore. ‘Her motion was submitted in the dual capacity as the Regent for House Bones, and as the Head of the DMLE.’

‘Sorry — Regent?’ asked Harry.

‘A representative,’ replied Hermione promptly. ‘I’m assuming she holds the seat on the Wizengamot in Susan’s place?’

‘Very good, Miss Granger. Were we in school, I would have awarded you five points for Gryffindor,’ said Dumbledore, and Hermione glowed at the praise. ‘Yes, while Miss Susan Bones is the heir to House Bones, she is as yet a minor, and is therefore unable to discharge her duties as a member of the Wizengamot. Amelia takes up that role, in addition to being the Head of the DMLE.’

‘And who seconded the motion?’ asked Ron.

‘I believe it was Augusta Longbottom, Neville’s grandmother, and Dr Mahendra Patil, father of the Patil sisters.’

‘Wow,’ said Ron. ‘I didn’t know the Patils had a seat on the Wizengamot.’

‘The Patils have long been associated with the Potters and Longbottoms, if I’m not mistaken. Dr Patil has continued his father’s tradition of bridging the wizarding Healers and Muggle doctors — he holds a prominent position in both St. Mungo’s, and in a reputed Muggle hospital here in London.’

Harry found this quite fascinating, but something Dumbledore said intrigued him.

‘Susan is the heir to House of Bones? How come?’

It was Lupin who answered. ‘Her father — Amelia’s brother — was killed in one of the more brutal Death Eater raids, just before Voldemort fell. Her mother and elder brother were murdered as well.’

Harry swallowed uncomfortably, yet again reminded of the fact that he was not the only one who had suffered due to the actions of Voldemort and his Death Eaters — although he had had more cause than most.

‘Hang on...’ he said, as the dots suddenly connected. ‘Do I have a seat on the Wizengamot, then? Who’s been acting as the Regent for House Potter?’

Dumbledore looked at him. ‘I had meant to tell you this next summer when you turned fifteen — when some of your privileges as the heir to House Potter are activated by the Wizengamot and the goblins of Gringotts — but no matter.’ He sighed as they finally approached the brick wall that masked the back entrance to the Leaky Cauldron. ‘You do have a seat on the Wizengamot, Harry. You will be able to assume it once you are seventeen. In your stead, I have been acting as the Regent for House Potter.’

Harry blinked, and stared at his Headmaster. He had been mildly surprised to find out that he too had a seat on the Wizengamot, but the fact the Dumbledore himself had been acting as its Regent…

‘As I said, I would have preferred to inform you of this on your next birthday. In any case, there are a lot more details and intricacies associated with a seat on the Wizengamot and with the concept of Regency. It would be for the best if we discussed all of this over the summer.’
Harry finally found his voice and his coherence. ‘Yes, of course, Professor.’

‘Thank you, Harry,’ said Dumbledore kindly. ‘A word of caution, however: it would not be wise for this detail to be made public. There are some who may not take too kindly to such news.’

‘Yes, sir.’

Dumbledore nodded, and just as Lupin had done earlier in the day, tapped the brick on the wall with his wand to reveal the archway back into the Leaky Cauldron. They stepped through it, and entered the pub, now almost full of customers. Harry could see Tom and his employees rushing about to fulfil the various orders placed.

‘I will be returning to Hogwarts tonight,’ said Dumbledore, turning to them. ‘Professor Lupin will be staying here with you — Tom has already allotted rooms for you all. I will see you at the Ministry tomorrow. Stay safe.’ He nodded to the four of them, tipped his hat to the passing Tom, and disappeared into the green flames of the Floo.

‘C’mon,’ muttered Ron, barely audible over the noise in the pub, ‘let’s get some seats.’

They found a table near the back of the room, relatively secluded from the main source of the chatter in the middle of the room. Quite efficiently, Tom brought their orders within a few minutes; they ate their meal in silence, each lost in their own thoughts about the day just passed, or what awaited them the next day.

After they finished, Tom brought them the keys to their rooms — Harry was quite amused to note that he had been given room number eleven once more, the same as where he had stayed two summers earlier. Tom seemed to have done it on purpose, if his toothless grin and wink was anything to go by.

Too tired from the day’s events to talk or do anything else, the four of them bid each other goodnight and went off to their separate rooms. Harry shut the door to his room, changed into his pyjamas, and immediately collapsed onto the bed — within seconds of his head hitting the pillow, he was asleep.

Harry’s sleep was anything but peaceful, however — his sub-consciousness seemed to want to play extremely dirty tricks on him, and decided to trigger dreams of Sirius’ trial the next day, all of which ended in Sirius’ being convicted as guilty, and either being thrown back into Azkaban, or being sentenced to the Dementor’s Kiss. He woke up after the horrible conclusion of each scenario, and it took him a few seconds to realize that he was still in his bed at the Leaky Cauldron, and that the trial hadn’t yet happened.

Finally, he managed to get some uninterrupted sleep by around four in the morning, and woke up at half-past seven feeling extremely lethargic and drained. The hot shower did him some favours though, allowing him to gain a semblance of orientation and energy before heading down for breakfast.

To his amazement, both Ron and Hermione were already downstairs at the main parlour, waiting for Tom to bring them their breakfast. He saw them holding hands, and immediately thought of Ginny, and how he wished she could have been here too, at least for moral support. Pushing those melancholy thoughts away, he joined their table, greeted them, and placed his order for breakfast.

Lupin joined them as Tom brought them their plates, and they finished eating in silence, just like they had done for dinner. Harry, especially, felt a little peaky; the fact that Sirius’ trial — something he had longed and wished for ever since he’d gotten to know the truth about his godfather — was to take place in a few hours, was exciting and frightening at the same time. Truthfully, he felt more frightened than excited — there were so many things that could go wrong during the trial.

Lupin must have noticed his discomfort and fear, for he patted Harry on the back and, with an encouraging smile and nod, told him to finish his meal, which he did so with some difficulty.

Once they were done, they grabbed their bags and exited the Leaky Cauldron into the Muggle world.

Harry had never been to Muggle London before — the Dursleys had never bothered to take him out anywhere, and he had never had any reason to go there once he’d re-joined the wizarding world. This trip, however, was necessary: Lupin had told them that they would need to enter the Ministry of Magic through the visitor’s entrance, which existed in the Muggle world. Fortunately for them, the entrance was just a few roads away from the Leaky Cauldron — a reasonable walking distance for them.

The hustle and bustle of London passed them by as they walked along Charing Cross Road. Hermione kept their minds off the upcoming trial by pointing out the various famous buildings that she had either visited, or had read about in a book.

They took a left onto Shaftesbury Avenue, passing by a rather imposing building with the letters “HSBC” on the topmost floor. That was replaced by a smaller building, a fire station, then a row of what looked like Chinese restaurants — Hermione explained that this was the part of London known as Chinatown — a hotel and two theatres on the right, and then Lupin directed them to take a right onto Rupert Street.

Five minutes later, they arrived at a road named Tisbury Court, located in an area which contained some shabby-looking Muggle office buildings. The road they were on had a pub, some of those dingy buildings, and an overflowing dumpster. Nothing seemed to suggest that the Ministry of Magic — the main governing body of wizarding Britain — was located here; indeed, Harry, and Hermione, going by her expression, had expected a more impressive location.

They walked till almost the end of Tisbury Court, where Lupin suddenly stopped in front of an old telephone box that was missing several panes of glass, and stood in front of a heavily graffittied wall.

‘Right, here we are,’ he said, opening the door to the telephone box. ‘Ladies first, Hermione.’

Looking extremely sceptical about the entire thing, Hermione entered the box, followed by the rest of them. It was an extremely tight fit; Ron was trying quite hard not to squeeze her against the sides of the box. Harry, who was wondering what this was all about, noticed the telephone apparatus, which was hanging crookedly from the wall, as though a vandal had tried to rip it off.

Lupin, who had entered last and was furthest from the telephone, stretched his hand and reached past Harry and Ron for the receiver. To Harry’s utter bewilderment, Lupin held the receiver in his hand, and with his other, reached for the dial and began dialling — six, two, four, four, two.

Harry thought Lupin had lost his mind; so too, did Ron and Hermione for that matter. They stared at Lupin as he dialled the number, wondering why on earth he was dialling a five digit number, especially by using a clearly out-of-order apparatus.

So naturally, all the three of them jumped as a cool female voice sounded inside the telephone box, not from the receiver in Lupin’s hand, but as loudly and plainly as though an invisible woman were standing right beside them.

‘Welcome to the Ministry of Magic. Please state your name and business.’

What on earth…

He wasn’t the only one; Ron looked astonished, while Hermione’s mouth had fallen open at the absurdity of it all. The visitor’s entrance to the Ministry of Magic was a disused Muggle telephone box, in the middle of Muggle London!

‘Hmm,’ said Lupin thoughtfully, considering the receiver in his hand; he ultimately brought it up to his face to speak into the mouthpiece. ‘Remus Lupin, Harry Potter, Ron Weasley, and Hermione Granger. We’re here as witnesses for the trial before the Wizengamot…’

‘Thank you,’ said the cool female voice. ‘Visitors, please take the badge and attach it to the front of your robes.”

There was a click and a rattle, and Harry saw four small things slide out of the metal chute where returned coins usually appeared. He picked them up: they were square silver badges with writing on them; Harry glanced at the top-most one: it had the words Remus Lupin, Witness for a Trial. Silently, he handed out the badges to the others, before pinning his own to the front of his robes.

‘Visitors to the Ministry, you are required to submit to a search and present your wand for registration at the security desk, which is located at the far end of the Atrium.”

The floor of the telephone box shuddered. They were sinking slowly into the ground. Harry watched apprehensively as the pavement rose up past the glass windows of the telephone box until darkness closed over their heads. Then he could see nothing at all; he could only hear a dull grinding noise as the telephone box made its way down through the earth. After about a minute, though it felt much longer to Harry, a chink of golden light illuminated his feet and, widening, rose up his body, until it hit him in the face and he had to blink to stop his eyes from watering.

‘The Ministry of Magic wishes you a pleasant day,’ said the woman’s voice.

The door of the telephone box sprang open and Lupin stepped out of it, followed by Harry, Ron, and Hermione, whose mouths had fallen open.

They were standing at one end of a very long and splendid hall with a highly polished, dark wood floor. The peacock-blue ceiling was inlaid with gleaming golden symbols that were continually moving and changing like some enormous heavenly notice board. The walls on each side were panelled in shiny dark wood and had many gilded fireplaces set into them. Every few seconds a witch or wizard would emerge from one of the left-hand fireplaces with a soft whoosh; on the right-hand side, short queues of wizards were forming before each fireplace, waiting to depart.

Halfway down the hall was a fountain. A group of golden statues, larger than life-size, stood in the middle of a circular pool. Tallest of them all was a noble-looking wizard with his wand pointing straight up in the air. Grouped around him were a beautiful witch, a centaur, a goblin, and a house-elf. The last three were all looking adoringly up at the witch and wizard. Glittering jets of water were flying from the ends of the two wands, the point of the centaur’s arrow, the tip of the goblin’s hat, and each of the house-elf’s ears, so that the tinkling hiss of falling water was added to the pops and cracks of Apparators and the clatter of footsteps as hundreds of witches and wizards, most of whom were wearing glum, early-morning looks, strode toward a set of golden gates at the far end of the hall.

Harry noticed Hermione scowling in obvious disapproval at the depiction of the house-elf in the fountain, and he couldn’t blame her — it seemed quite degrading, especially after all the research by Hermione and Natalie had revealed that the intelligence of house-elves was on a different plane altogether, and could not be compared to that of witches or wizards.

Lupin was looking around in a bit of confusion, then he brightened up. ‘This way,’ he said, joining the large crowd wending their way between the Ministry workers, some of whom were carrying tottering piles of parchment, others battered briefcases, still others reading the morning edition of the Daily Prophet as they walked past. As they reached the fountain, Harry caught a glimpse of silver Sickles and bronze Knuts glinting up at him from the bottom of the pool. A sign placed near the pool read —

All proceeds from the Fountain of Magical Brethren will be given to


St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries


If they clear Sirius, I’ll put in twenty galleons.


‘They said we have to give our wand for registration or something,’ said Hermione. ‘Any idea where that is?’

They looked around; the stream of Ministry workers moving towards the gates was buffeting and jostling against them, making it hard to see through. Ron, who was the tallest, stood up on tiptoe, and signalled to Lupin.

‘I think it’s over there,’ he said, pointing to a point across the huge hall.

Following Ron’s directions, they re-joined the crowd, apologizing profusely to the grumpy looking Ministry workers as they cut across to the other side. They emerged in front of a desk, over which hung a sign saying SECURITY. A badly shaven wizard in peacock-blue robes sat behind the desk, reading the Daily Prophet.

‘Seems like this is it,’ said Hermione a little apprehensively.

Lupin walked up to the wizard, who looked up and put down his paper.

‘We’re visitors to the Ministry, for a trial,’ he said.

‘Step over here,’ said the wizard in a bored voice.

Lupin stepped up to stand next to the desk; the wizard held up a long golden rod, thin and flexible as a car aerial, and passed it up and down his front and back.

‘Wand,’ he grunted at Lupin, putting down the golden instrument and holding out his hand.

Lupin produced his wand from his robes. The wizard dropped it onto a strange brass instrument, which looked something like a set of scales with only one dish. It began to vibrate. A narrow strip of parchment came speeding out of a slit in the base. The wizard tore this off and read the writing upon it.

‘Ten and one-quarter inches, unicorn hair core, been in use twenty-four years. That correct?’

‘That it is.’

‘I keep this,’ said the wizard, impaling the slip of parchment on a small brass spike. ‘You get this back.’ He thrust the wand out to Lupin, who pocketed it.

‘Next.’

One by one, they all went through the procedure of being scanned by the golden rod, and having their wands being examined. Harry was intrigued by the fact that Hermione’s wand had a core of dragon heartstring, made of vine wood.

‘That’s the lot, is it?’ asked the wizard, as he returned Harry’s wand.

‘Yes, thank you,’ said Lupin, taking Harry and Ron by their shoulders.

‘Hang on…’ said the wizard slowly, his eyes raking over the partially covered scar on Harry’s forehead, to the badge on his chest.

Lupin gave the wizard no chance to say anything further; Ron had grabbed Hermione’s hand, and the werewolf steered the three of them to re-join the slightly thinner crowd heading through the golden gates. They emerged into yet another hall, albeit a slightly smaller one, where at least twenty lifts stood behind wrought golden grilles. They joined the crowd behind one of them. A tall, bald, black wizard with a single golden hoop in his ear was speaking in a deep, slow voice to a young-looking witch; she had a pale heart-shaped face, dark twinkling eyes and short spiky hair that was a violent shade of violet.

Harry blinked, then nudged Ron and pointed out the witch to him. Ron blinked, shook his head, and pointed her out to Hermione. Hermione stared at the witch.

‘Who dyes their hair violet?’ asked Ron in a horrified whisper, as the queue in which the wizard and witch were in began moving forward into the lift that had just clanged to a halt from above.

Lupin overheard Ron’s whisper; he turned to look at what the three teenagers were staring at, and chuckled softly.

‘Tonks,’ he said, with what Harry thought was a wistful air.

‘Sorry?’

‘Her name is Tonks,’ elaborated Lupin as their lift came jangling and clattering into view; the four of them entered the lift by themselves. ‘She’s an Auror, works for Madam Bones.’

‘She’s an Auror?’ asked Hermione, looking quite astonished. ‘She looks so young!’

‘She is,’ said Lupin, and Harry detected a faint trace of pride in his voice. ‘She qualified as an Auror last summer — she graduated from Hogwarts the year before you lot started.’

‘You know her, then?’ asked Harry, quite impressed. He had considered becoming an Auror after Hogwarts, although after his victory over Krum, the prospect of a professional Quidditch career did look quite inviting too. In any case, to become an Auror within three years of graduation — at the age of twenty — was quite an impressive feat.

‘We’ve met before,’ said Lupin shortly, and Harry knew, by that tone, that Lupin and this Tonks person had done more than just ‘met’ in the past.

‘Department of Mysteries,’ said the same cool female voice Harry had heard in the telephone box earlier.

‘Department of Mysteries?’ asked Hermione interestedly. ‘Why are we down here?’

‘They’re using the Courtrooms down here for the trial — that’s what Amelia told us yesterday,’ said Lupin. They walked along a corridor with bare walls, with no windows or doors, except for a plain black one set at the very end of the corridor.

‘The Department of Mysteries has courtrooms for trials?’

Lupin, who was looking around distractedly for something, did not immediately register the question from Hermione. Harry presumed he was wondering as to where to go.

‘Are we supposed to go through there, Professor?’ he asked, pointing at the plain black door.

‘What — no. No, no, no, not through there,’ replied Lupin, his eyes widening at the sight of the door, as though he had just seen it for the first time. ‘No, it should be here somewhere…aha!’

Lupin pointed at a small crevasse to the left of the lifts, where there was a flight of steps leading downwards. They followed his lead and descended the stone stairs; at the bottom, they proceeded along yet another corridor, which bore a strong resemblance to the corridor leading to Snape’s dungeons at Hogwarts, with rough stone walls and torches in brackets.

Up ahead, near the end of the corridor, they could just make out the silhouettes of people standing around, their low voices echoing softly against the stone. Harry spotted the outline of Albus Dumbledore standing farthest away from them, conversing in low tones with another, much shorter wizard.

Urgent footsteps behind them caused to turn around; the black man and the young witch, Tonks, were hurrying up the corridor — they passed them and rushed to join the small clustered group.

Harry noticed Dumbledore look up at the hurried footsteps, greet the new arrivals, and then catch sight of the four of them midway. He murmured something to his companion, and then strode down the corridor to greet them.

‘Ah, good, good, just in time,’ he said pleasantly. He gestured to the crowd behind him, who were now disappearing to the left. ‘The trial is just about to start, you should step inside now.’

Remus nodded, and led them down the remainder of the corridor to join the crowd. As the group thinned, they saw an opening into a room, which up till then had been shut by a grimy dark door with an immense iron lock and iron door handle. And at that instant, as they were about to cross the threshold themselves, Harry uttered a silent plea of hope — that Sirius would be free by the end of it all.

And as he stepped inside the enormous courtroom, Harry gasped out in horror.

To be continued…

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