|SIYE Time:8:42 on 16th January 2018|
When Harry Missed the Trick Step
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Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance
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!
Hitcount: Story Total: 13727; Chapter Total: 1410
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.
‘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.
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!’
‘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.
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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