Black Vengeance

Dragons and Balls

Sirius sat in his seat, his nerves on edge as he watched the dragon handlers place the first dragon. He had hit many dead ends in his quest to find out about the first task. He really did not know where or who to approach without making his intentions clear. Ludo Bagman tended to have loose lips and Barty Crouch … he would rather grope a dragon than talk to that man. The same went with Dumbledore. He doubted Fudge knew much. So that left more indirect means that took a lot of time.

By the time he first met Harry face to face, he had found out that the task involved dragons somehow. It was, surprisingly, through Hagrid that he had found out that the champions had to just get past them and not (mercifully) fight them.

He had contacted Harry post-haste and (after calming the boy down) had developed a strategy.

He silently watched Amos Diggory's son take on the Swedish Short Snout. The boy was quite good at transfiguration. He winced in sympathy when the dragon nearly roasted the Hufflepuff, having lost interest in the transfigured dog.

It looked like transfiguration was not that helpful. Dragons, Sirius guessed, were quite good at spotting real animals from conjurations.

The veela girl's attempt was quite … interesting. He had no idea that veela could affect other species of their gender. The general rule was that male veela affected females and vice versa.

Viktor Krum's strategy was the one that he had initially thought of himself. But now, he was beginning to see the possible downside to that strategy. Firstly, it was hard enough to aim at a dragon's eyes, what with it being quite capable of moving, and secondly, getting past a rampaging half blind dragon that is even more pissed off at being blinded is very difficult.

As the whistle sounded, Harry walked out of the tent. As he approached the arena, he felt as if he was in a dream. Hundreds of faces were staring down at him from the stands and the horntail was watching him from the other side of the field, its great yellow eyes suspiciously tracking his every moment.

Assessing the situation, Harry realised one crucial fact. The Horntail was too far for him to accurately get its eyes. Another plan was needed, and quickly. Nervously, he dug his hand in his robe pocket, hoping for some inspiration.

He gave a little start when his sweaty palm closed around an object. Looking at his surroundings one more time, a plan began to take form in his mind.

Taking out his wand, Harry began to act.

Sirius watched as Harry took out his wand and cast a summoning charm with a frown on his face. They had not discussed this bit.

Sirius' jaw dropped when he saw the Firebolt come zooming out into the clearing. Harry surely wasn't thinking to outfly a bloody dragon?!

Harry, on the other hand was not done. Running forward, he cast banishing charms at a few rocks, aiming at the dragon's head. He had only looked up the charm last night, and so was not as precise with the wand movements had he practised much earlier. However, sheer desperation enabled him to pull it off.

With a nimble swiftness, the dragon jerked its head to the side, neatly dodging the first boulder and getting into the path of the second which it obliterated with a lazy fireball.

But it was not prepared for the smaller projectile that was closely following the second stone.

Owing to its small size and lighter weight, the large packet of Dungbombs flew faster than the heavier rocks and was not noticed by the Hungarian Horntail till the very last moment when it exploded right in its open mouth.

Bagman actually stopped commenting as he and the equally stunned crowd watched as the dragon started gagging and coughing, rearing up as it tried to get the foul stuff out of its buccal cavity.

Not wasting much time, Harry jumped on his broom and flew towards the distracted Horntail and the golden prize nestled betwixt its clutch of eggs.

He was nearly there when the Horntail suddenly let out a jet of flame as it crashed down on all fours.

Ducking under the fire and feeling the tips of his hair getting singed, Harry made a sharp left and looped around the great beast's right foreleg till he was underneath the dragon's belly. Lowering his arm, he scooped the golden egg up and flew out as fast as he could, narrowly dodging a second jet of flames that nonetheless managed to singe his left side. But Harry did not care, as he was now properly aware of the noise of the crowd, which was screaming and applauding as loudly as the Irish supporters at the World Cup —

'Look at that!' Bagman was yelling. 'Will you look at that? Our youngest champion is quickest to get his egg! Well, this is going to shorten the odds on Mr Potter!'

Harry landed in front of Professor McGonagall; robes still smoking and a big grin on his face.

'Good work, Mr Potter,' the transfiguration teacher said with one of her rare smiles. She nodded towards the tent behind her. 'You better get that shoulder looked at.'

Nodding, Harry entered the tent.

He had barely set foot inside when Madam Pomfrey descended upon him.

'Dragons,' the matron sniffed in disgust. 'Well, sit. And take that robe off, let's see that shoulder.'

Examining the burn, she took a tub of yellow paste and started dabbing at the affected skin, muttering underneath her breath, 'You are lucky that this is only a second degree burn. This is lunacy I tell you!'

Harry quietly listened to her, trying not to flinch too much as the paste was applied onto sensitive skin.

'Now sit still. You can wait for a few minutes to get your score,' Saying that, the school matron left to go tend to the others.

But Harry was too keyed up to just sit in one place. As soon as he was left alone, he got up and began pacing. He was elated at having survived this task.

A minute later, Neville burst into the tent, sporting a huge grin himself. 'That was brilliant mate!'

'Thanks, Neville,' Harry replied.

'Come on let's go check your scores.'

Harry put on his robe and followed Neville out. He was met outside by Terry Boot and Susan Bones. The two of them were the first to apologise to him after Dumbledore had dressed down the whole school. While Susan had not worn the badge herself, she still felt guilty about not having said anything.

After some hesitation, Harry had accepted their apologies. He was on speaking terms with the two of them earlier in the year through Slughorn's party and had formed a tentative friendship before his name had come out. He understood that they really did not know him enough to be able to tell if he was being truthful the first time when he said that he had not put his name in.

Madame Maxime had given him an eight out of ten, while Professor Dumbledore was less strict with his score of nine. Bagman and Crouch were the most generous with full marks. The Durmstrang headmaster, on the other hand, was the least accommodating as the number four that shot of his wand showed, much to the indignation of Harry's friends. But Harry didn't really care. He was in first place, one point ahead of Viktor Krum. What was more, he wasn't feeling so miserable, isolated and friendless anymore.

A slow smile spread out on his face when he saw that most of the school, except the Slytherins (and he really did not care about them) was cheering for him. Just like Sirius had told him, seeing what he had to face had turned them around. The headmaster's speech had helped matters along too.

Feeling someone standing behind him, Harry turned around to see Sirius standing there with an inscrutable expression on his face.

'Good job, Harry.' He finally allowed a small smile to form on his face. Nodding, he greeted Harry's companions.

Harry grinned in relief. Sirius smiling meant that he wasn't displeased with the fact that he had not followed with the plan. Not that Harry felt that his deviation was unjustified.

'So,' Sirius said under his breath, slowly drawing him away from Neville and the rest, who were chattering amongst themselves, completely oblivious to what was happening behind them. 'Any reason you decided to out-fly a dragon?'

'That would be because of me, Sirius.'

'Alastor!' Sirius said as he turned around, a smile on his face. 'What do you mean?'

'Well I caught your kid warning Diggory about the first task,' Moody said, his magical eye focused on Harry even though he was facing Sirius. 'Apparently he knew that the other two champions also were forewarned and so wanted to level the playing field. I have to say, I am impressed at your lad's fairness.' He looked approving as he said that. 'So anyway, I decided to give him a bit of advice of my own.'

'You told him to go and fly against a dragon?'

'Fuck no, Black!' Moody barked. 'I only told him to play to his strengths. Everything else he did is his decision.'

Both men looked at Harry who stammered. 'W-well, I was going to do what we had planned, but seeing that Horntail so far away, I knew I wouldn't be able to hit it accurately in the eye from so far off. Getting closer wasn't an option as that would be a stupid thing to do,' he looked at Sirius meaningfully. 'So I improvised.'

'And that was a damn good plan!' Moody growled approvingly. You got the egg out in the least amount of time with minimal losses. With that kind of savior faire, you will make a great Auror.' He clapped Harry on the shoulder. Hard.

'Don't you think it is bit soon to be recruiting, Alastor?' Sirius, Harry noticed with relief as he rubbed his smarting shoulder, sounded like he was in a better mood when he spoke to the former Auror.

'You can't catch them young enough, Black.' Moody shot back. 'Besides, I am quite sure of this one's potential. Not only is he cool under fire, but he managed to throw off my Imperius curse!'

Sirius sniffed in return. 'Yes, that. Showing Unforgivable Curses to schoolchildren? And then putting them under it? That is a bit extreme. They aren't Auror trainees, you know.'

'We have been through this for the nth time, Black.' Moody said with a roll of his real eye. 'It's done with already. So shut the fuck up.'

'Wait,' Harry interjected. 'You agreed to this?'

'After much persuasion,' Sirius said sourly. 'I even made him swear an oath too.'

'Oh,' Harry was silent for a while. 'I think I want to be an Auror.' He finally said, making Moody grin maniacally.

'How about we talk about your career plans later on?' Sirius replied mildly. 'Right now, I trust you have your things packed?' Seeing Harry nod, he continued. 'Good. Mipsy!' The house-elf appeared with a crack. 'Please collect Harry's trunk from his dorm and send it to his new room.' As the elf disappeared, Sirius turned to his son. 'Meet me at the gates after dinner.'

Seeing the hesitant look on Harry's face, Sirius raised his eyebrows in a silent question.

'Well,' Harry started hesitantly. 'It's just that … they promised a party in the Gryffindor Tower tonight…'

'I see,' Sirius said. 'And what has Professor McGonagall said about this?'

'I say that it is fine,' the aforementioned teacher broke in from behind them. 'Mr Potter, congratulations again on doing so well on the first task. I am sure that your dorm mates are going to be missing your presence in the fourth year dorm, but know that your bed will still be there, should you feel the need to go back to being a boarder. As for the party that I am sure will be held in your honour, like I said before, I have no qualms about you attending.

'However,' the teacher broke in before Harry could cheer. 'I shall be there to collect you at ten. That is anyway the longest that I am going to allow the party to continue. You do have school tomorrow.'

'I'll be waiting outside the gates to collect him, Professor,' Sirius promptly promised.

'Thanks, dad, Professor!' Harry said gratefully.

Sirius chuckled. 'You deserve it, kid. Just make sure that you don't touch the hard stuff. I know what goes on in those parties.' With another smile, he clapped his son on his shoulder, being much gentler than Moody. 'Now go and enjoy yourself!' With a smile he watched as the boy headed off towards the castle.

'Oh, and Harry?' When the boy turned around, Sirius continued. 'You were great out there. I am proud of you.'

Harry's smile was enough to light up the darkest night. 'Thanks, dad,' he said softly. And with that, he shot off towards the castle, easily catching up with Neville.

Hermione watched from a corner of the Gryffindor common room as her best friend was swarmed by various well-wishers and hangers-on.

Well, former best friend, she supposed. She wasn't sure if he was willing to talk to her after the deplorable way she and Ron had treated him in the past few weeks.

She still couldn't believe that she had treated him in such a way. Looking back on it, she figured that it had started all the way at the beginning of the term.

While she knew of some of the changes Harry had gone through in the brief time she had met him during the summer (and she wasn't only talking about the physical changes) she still was unprepared for the full extent of his vicissitudes and was quite taken by surprise with the same when they became apparent.

For one, he was now one of the few to get a spell right the first time. He had also started doing his homework on time, making sure to put in extra effort. But what truly surprised her was the fact that he had not once asked for her help, and if he did, it was only to clarify small facts here and there.

Initially, she had thought them to be positive changes. But when she asked him about it, and he had told her about having a lot of practise over the summer, she changed her opinion. She had, quite rightly in her belief, accused him of cheating and having an unfair advantage.

But before she could start on her passionate discourse on how the purebloods and the government discriminated against the Muggleborns, Harry interrupted her with a rebuttal that was so sound in logic that she had no valid answer, leaving her, for the first time, utterly speechless (much to Ron Weasley's never-ending amusement).

It was this issue, coupled with the argument they had earlier in the Welcoming Feast about house-elf rights that had Hermione convinced that Sirius was not influencing Harry in a good way. The prisoner of Azkaban was slowly but surely turning Harry into a Pureblood … just like Malfoy.

When she shared her view with Harry, the boy had become angry with her and had not spoken to her for the rest of the day. And then the very next day, the Goblet had spit out his name.

Hermione had been convinced that Sirius had been behind this. She had heard stories from various sources over the summer to know that Sirius was a bit of a braggart and arrogant in his time. She also knew for a fact that Sirius had a bit of a grudge against Professor Dumbledore, and would thus use this as a way to get back at the headmaster. After all, he had created quite a bit of trouble for the Supreme Mugwump within the international magical community. Hence she was unwilling to believe Harry's claims.

She had even been happy at the school's reaction to Harry's name coming out. Perhaps, she thought, this would make Sirius stop his senseless pursuit of revenge. It might also get Harry to stop idolising Sirius so much.

Hermione also couldn't help but feel smug when the teachers soon started pulling Harry up for not doing his homework on time and barely paying attention. Maybe now that he no longer had her help, he would understand just what he had lost. Maybe he would also realise that cheating does not help one get good marks. It was a hard lesson, but it was for his own good.

Ron had his own issues of petty jealousy (something that she thoroughly disapproved of – he was so childish) but the end result was that neither of them were willing to speak to Harry.

Of course, that was before Professor Dumbledore had set the record straight, so to speak. After that day, Hermione could not believe that she had been so uncharitable towards her friend or for that matter, his adoptive father.

Yet, neither she nor Ron had gone to patch things up with Harry.

Well, she would have to fix it. Ron may be too proud, but she wasn't. Besides, she had the sneaking suspicion that the ginger was waiting for her cue.

Mustering up her courage, she got up from her chair and approached the dark haired boy. As she moved towards them, she could overhear their conversation. She mentally sniffed at the topic. Heavy metal was something she hoped had not caught on in the wizarding world. It was more noise than actual music. She, like Ron (and other sane people) preferred bands like The Weird Sisters.

'Harry,' she began tentatively. 'Can we talk?' She had noticed out of the corner of her eye that Ron was standing behind her, no doubt having followed her like a sort of puppy.

It was only because of the blood adoption that he had gone through that Harry could pull off the rather haughty look he sent her way.

'Very well,' he said after a long moment, getting to his feet.

Hermione followed him nervously. A part of her wondered how he had managed to lend elegance to the very action of getting up and walking and since when that had happened. Was Sirius Black this graceful at that age, or was it James Potter?

'Well?' Harry finally said, indolently leaning against the wall halfway in the passage that led towards the boys' dormitory and facing the two of them, his arms crossed in a nonchalant manner.

It was Ron who first spoke. 'Harry,' he said, very seriously, 'whoever put your name in that goblet — I — I reckon they're trying to do you in!'

Harry looked at Ron with a disbelieving expression on his face. 'Caught on, have you? Well, it took you two long enough.' He sneered.

He watched the two of them. Hermione was looking nervously between him and Ron, obviously waiting for the ginger to speak up. Ron, on the other hand, was working his mouth up and down, no doubt thinking of something to say.

Getting impatient, Hermione spoke up. 'Harry, we want to apologise for not believing you and ignoring you for the past few weeks. Can you please forgive us so we can be friends again?' she ended hopefully.

Harry looked at her for a long moment. 'That's it?' he asked, a tinge of incredulity in his voice. Unable to help it, he let out a dry chuckle. 'You two are the absolute limit. I mean, really?' His expression turned ugly and his posture lost the lazy air as the anger, betrayal and resentment he had felt the past few weeks started to come out. 'Susan Bones, a person who I barely spoke to until a few weeks back came and apologised to me after the assembly. Most of Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff, people who I barely talk to, apologised to me for thinking what they did and the badges. And you know what? I could forgive them. After all, they do not know me. But the two people who have known me for more than three years?' he snorted. 'I honestly don't know what I find more insulting: The fact that you didn't believe me or the fact that you took this long to tender an apology when relative strangers have done so before you. I mean Neville believed me when I said that I hadn't put my name in. And he has no reason to do so!'

Whirling on Hermione he continued, his voice bitter. 'I fucking saved your arse from that troll in first year. If it wasn't for me dragging Ron over here to find you, the troll probably would have decorated the walls of that bathroom with your brains. And as for you,' he turned to Ron. 'I risked life and limb to save your sister when she decided to make friends with the most evil dark lord in recent times. I was there when you needed me. Every. Single. Time. Where the fuck were the two of you when I needed you?'

Turning back to Hermione, he continued heatedly. 'And if you think that not believing me and not talking to me is all you have to apologise for, then you are completely and utterly wrong, Hermione.'

'What do you –?'

Harry interrupted her. 'You think that I haven't noticed the smug looks you have been sending me the past few days?' he was deeply hurt at the way the girl seemed to take pleasure at the stress that he had been undergoing. 'Or how about those dirty looks you have been sending me every time I get a spell right? Or maybe how about the way you keep criticizing my dad?'

'James Potter is your dad,' Ron blurted out.

Harry closed his eyes. 'Yes, Ron, I know that.' He said quietly, 'Sirius Black is not my biological father, he is my stepfather. My biological father is dead, thank you very much for pointing that out!' His tone had turned scathing at that point.

His voice steadily rising, he continued. 'Yeah, I don't have real parents, they are dead, and I am an orphan. There, you happy? You have something I will never have.' Breathing hard, he broke off, staring at the wall. He really felt like hitting Ron right now.

Ron, on the other hand, looked stricken. 'I –'

'Sirius is far better than a real father,' Harry said roughly, interrupting the ginger before he could even begin his apology. Glaring at him (for glaring was the only way he could stop the tears from showing) he continued. 'He took me in and adopted me, made me his son out of his own choice. It only proves that he loves me more.'

'Harry, I –'

'I think I have had enough of this party, it is getting late anyway, and we have school tomorrow.' Harry said in a deceptively light voice. Roughly brushing past the two, he started walking woodenly towards the common room.

'Well, this is brilliant,' he said sardonically upon encountering most of Gryffindor house outside, obviously eavesdropping. 'Excuse me,' saying that, he started brushing past, the expression on his face was more than enough to clear his path.

'Erm, Harry,' Hermione timidly pointed out. 'You are going away from the dorm.'

Noticeably stiffening, Harry spoke without turning around. 'If you had bothered to talk to me a few days back, Granger, then you would know that as of today, I am a member of Town House. Ergo, I am now no longer a boarder, but a dayboy. Hence, I am now headed home, to my adoptive father.' Spitting the last two words out, he fairly stomped towards the entrance. Stopping there he turned around for a last parting shot. 'You should be happy, eh, Ron? After all, a few short days back you did say that you did not want to be in the same room as a "cheater". Well, you got your wish. Fuck you, Weasley.'

Having said that, Harry flung open the portrait with all the fury he possessed, much to the occupant's vocal protest. Not in the mood to listen to her, he just slammed the portrait closed and headed towards Professor McGonagall's office. He supposed that she would be happy that he planned on turning in early.

Speaking of which…

'Potter,' the aforementioned Professor said in surprise, nearly running into him. 'I was about to fetch you.'

'Well, professor, I've had a long day.' Harry managed to say in a normal tone of voice. He faked a yawn for effect.

If she had noticed signs of distress in her student, Professor McGonagall did not comment on it. With a brisk, 'Very well,' she led him out towards the grounds.

At the Entrance Hall, they ran into a lanky brown haired boy coming out from the basement.

'Mr Trevallion,' Professor McGonagall called. 'Headed home, are we?'

The boy gave a start and turned around. 'Oh, yes, professor,' he said. 'I got permission from Professor Sprout to attend the celebrations in the common room because of Cedric's performance in the tournament.'

Professor McGonagall stared at him, hawk-like. 'Yes, Pomona did tell me that. Well, come on, I am on my way to the front gates myself with Potter. You might as well join us.'

Trevallion shrugged and fell in step with Harry as they followed the transfiguration teacher down to the front gates.

'I did not know you were a dayboy,' the older boy asked Harry in a low voice.

'Just became one today,' Harry replied shortly.

'Oh yeah, I cannot believe I forgot about that! The town was quite abuzz with Sirius Black moving in and all. Apparently the previous tenant did not pay his bills or something.' He looked at Harry enquiringly.

Harry just shrugged. 'I guess,' he replied succinctly. His mind was still on the confrontation with his former friends. Ron's words kept playing in his head over and over in an endless loop. He seriously wanted to punch something.

The other boy, however, was not fazed. 'Andrew Trevallion,' he said, sticking his hand out.

'Harry Potter-Black,' Harry replied automatically, shaking the offered hand.

'Cedric told us about how you told him what the first task would be. He was quite impressed with your sense of fair play. Most of Hufflepuff is quite impressed as well.'

Effectively jolted out of his black mood, Harry looked at the other boy in surprise. 'Huh?'

'Yeah,' the older boy replied. 'And I have to say, that was some wicked flying out there; nothing short of brilliant! Even Krum hadn't thought of that!'

'Uh, thanks,' Harry said genuinely, slowly warming up to the Hufflepuff.

The older boy shrugged. 'It is fine, Cedric's my best mate. If he says you're alright, then you are alright.' He said simply

Any further conversation was stopped as they had reached the gates. Harry spotted Sirius standing outside in wait.

Sirius peered at Harry's companion. 'Aren't you the kid that lives two houses down the street?' he asked.

'Yes sir. My name is Andrew Trevallion,' the boy introduced himself.

'Pleased to meet you,'

The three of them headed together towards their respective homes.

'Well,' Sirius said after Trevallion had left for his house. 'Home sweet home, I guess.'

Harry looked at the modest two storey house. 'Yeah,' was the only thing he could think of saying.

After a brief tour around the house, Sirius showed Harry his room, which was almost like his old room in Grimmauld Place (Sirius had thoughtfully replicated all the posters and decorations Harry had put up in his old room) only a bit smaller. Wishing him a good night, Sirius retired for the night.

The next day marked the start of Harry's new routine. After having breakfast, he would meet Andrew outside the house, his schoolbag and broom in hand. They would then fly over to Hogwarts (something that Harry loved doing). According to Harry's new acquaintance, there were four other students who lived in Hogsmeade, but they stayed a bit further away and were either in second year or younger and quite a tight knit group, choosing to travel together with one of their mums or dads by broom. This effectively meant that until Harry came along, Andrew had no company.

After prep was done with in the evening, the two of them would walk back home since their parents had strictly forbidden them from flying in the dark.

On Saturdays Harry would spend some time with Neville and his other newfound friends. He would come home for lunch after which he would spend the rest of the day either completing any remaining homework or learning about his finances.

Sundays would be spent fully with Sirius. They would spend the day mainly relaxing, ending with a night out somewhere for dinner.

Being the only dayboy in Gryffindor also meant that Harry constantly got requests for sweets and other such things from the village as he was the only one allowed to go into Hogsmeade for all seven days. Harry didn't mind too much ... as long as they supplied the money and the demands weren't too unreasonable. It did ratchet his already high popularity up by a decent amount.

With the first task behind him, the badges gone and no more trouble from the press, Harry was beginning to enjoy his time at Hogwarts again. Even Draco Malfoy had stopped sending out snide comments, electing instead to glare resentfully and threateningly at Harry every time they met.

Not that Harry was concerned. He was constantly surrounded by a crowd of people during the day, and he was at home by the time dinner was served at Hogwarts. Even if the ferret (he still had to thank Moody for that neat bit of transfiguration) did get him alone, Harry was sure he could take him on. The incident outside the Potions classroom was proof enough. On top of that, Sirius had been teaching him quite a few neat spells as well as duelling.

As for Ron and Hermione … well, Harry found it quite easy to ignore the two of them. After all, it was a big castle, and he was there only during the daytime. They had not attempted to contact him, and he hadn't bothered speaking to them either. He still felt a visceral anger every time he saw Ron's face. The ginger had no right to decide who he called dad.

The one thing that dampened the good times was announced after transfiguration.

'Dancing? She wants me to dance? And that too with a girl!' Harry fairly exploded in greeting as he entered the house.

'And a hello to you too,' Sirius replied with a bemused smile.

'McGonagall has gone 'round the twist!' Harry said dramatically as he put his bag down. 'She actually expects me to open the Yule Ball.'

'How is that a problem?' Sirius asked mildly.

Harry looked at him incredulously. 'I can't dance!'

'Oh, relax! It's simple, really. All you have to do is feel the flow of the music.' Sirius replied glibly.

'And not step on your date's feet.' He added.

Seeing the dirty look being sent his way, Sirius said, 'I'm joking. I'll teach you a few steps. It isn't the end of the world.'

'I have to ask a girl out.' Harry whispered to himself, a look of dread on his features.

'That is generally the custom, yes. Unless you, uh, prefer blokes,' Sirius added with a mischievous smile.

Harry responded with another withering look. 'Not cool,' he said.

'Come on, Harry, relax.' Sirius said, putting a companionable arm around his son's shoulders. 'They are human, you know. They aren't a different species. They aren't going to bite if you ask them. All you have to do is walk up to them and just ask. Chances are they understand English. If they don't, well, you know some French. Hopefully they will be charmed enough by that to not kill you for the atrocious accent and beginner grammar.' He winked to show that he was joking. 'Girls are very impressed by confidence, you know.'

'Besides,' he added. 'You don't really have to worry about asking a girl out.'

'What do you mean,' Harry asked.

'You are one of the Triwizard champions,' Sirius said with a smirk. 'Trust me, girls will be asking you instead. They probably will be falling all over themselves just to have you as a date.'

'"Falling all over themselves"?' Harry repeated with a slightly hunted look on his face.

'Oh yeah,' Sirius clapped Harry on his shoulder. 'All you have to do is say, "yes" to the fittest of the lot. In fact, don't commit straightaway. Just write down the names of those that ask you, put it up on a dartboard and let chance decide for you ... Unless, of course, you have someone you want to ask…'

'Well,' Harry said, blushing. 'There is this one girl.'

Harry had fully expected Sirius to tease him. But Sirius only asked neutrally. 'What's her name?'

'Cho, Cho Chang.'

Sirius whistled. 'Would it be that bird from Ravenclaw who plays Seeker?' Seeing Harry nod, he continued. 'Well, you might want to ask her out soon, mate. I have seen her, and well, she is quite fit. Someone will snap her up really quickly.'

'But how do I do it?'

Sirius just gave him a mildly exasperated look. 'Like I said, just ask her. She goes to Hogwarts and is British, so I am pretty sure she will understand English.'

'But, but she is always surrounded by her friends. Her giggling friends.' Harry complained.

Sirius chuckled. 'Yes, girls always travel in packs. Here's another fact. If a girl wants to go to the loo, her friends will tag along. So if you plan on ambushing Cho, well, you are out of luck. It is quite hard to catch a bird alone.'

'So what do I do?'

'Ask to talk to her in private?' Sirius spoke as if it was the most obvious thing in the world.

Harry took a deep breath as if steeling himself for an incredibly monumental task. 'Yeah, I'll do that the minute I catch her tomorrow.' He said grimly.

Sirius only shook his head. 'Relax! Anyone would think you are going into battle. You faced a dragon, a basilisk and dementors. A girl shouldn't be a problem.'

'Speak for yourself.' Harry muttered under his breath.

Harry did not say anything the next day after he came home. After dinner, Sirius could not stand it anymore and so asked. 'Well, did you ask her out yet?'

'Yeah,' Harry said, picking at his sleeve.

'And?' Sirius dragged out the word.

'Well, she said "no". Apparently Cedric already asked her.'

Sirius winced. 'Well, that happens. All you can do is move on. After all, your father was turned down by your mother quite regularly.'

Harry looked up, interested. 'Really?' he asked eagerly.

'Well, yes. Lily hated James' guts for the first five years. It was only near the end of sixth year that she started liking him.'

'How did that happen?'

Sirius narrowed his eyes and playfully glared at Harry. 'Well, James finally deflated his head enough for Lily to find him acceptable. But that is another story for another time. Right now, I want to hear the rest of the story. I know you are hiding something, so, out with it!'

'Well,' Harry began slowly. 'After lunch, as I was exiting the Great Hall, I saw Katie Bell headed outside. Suddenly I was filled with this sort of confidence and so I followed her outside and asked her.'

'Katie Bell?' Sirius furrowed his eyebrows. 'Isn't she on the Gryffindor Quidditch team?'

'Yeah. She's a year older than me, and one of the few that believed me the first time around.'

'That's nice. So what happened then?

'She looked at me steadily for the longest time ever. I – somehow, I just knew that I had to look her in the eye, which I did. Then finally, she said yes.'

Sirius' eyebrows shot up. 'She did?'

'Yeah! I was really lucky that her friends weren't around at that time. Imagine how mortifying that would have been to just stand there with them just giggling away.'

'That is pretty lucky of you.' Sirius observed.

'I was quite surprised.' Harry rambled on. 'Only after Potions did it register that I was going out with Katie Bell.'

Sirius smiled. 'That's my boy,' he said with a chortle. 'You bagged one of the fittest girls in school. Well done! I can only imagine how the others in the school must be feeling.'

'Well, they don't really know.' Harry said craftily. 'At least I think nobody really knows since there haven't been any rumours running around off late. But it's only been a day since I asked her, anything could happen between now and the ball. And I am not saying anything till then!'

'Why not?' Sirius asked with surprise.

'Just,' Harry shrugged. 'Besides, imagine the look on their faces when they see who I am going out with.' He ended mischievously.

Sirius threw his head back and laughed.

On the first day of the winter holidays, Harry and Sirius sat down with the golden egg. Neville, who had decided to accept Harry's invitation to stay for the day in the much quieter house (after getting permission), joined them.

'Mermaids,' Sirius said thoughtfully after the egg was shut and the last of the awful shrieking had gone. Neville just nodded in reply.

Harry, whose ears were still ringing at the cacophony, looked at the two of them incredulously, 'How did you know that?'

'Well, Mermish music is quite beautiful to hear,' Harry interrupted with a snort. 'Once you are in the right medium, that being water. So it is quite popular among the gentry, as concert halls playing that music are quite pricey. I might take you to a concert. You will like it, I think. Anyway, a few decades back, someone had the bright idea that Mermish music would be better heard in its purest form. This started off a trend where people would play recordings of it in open air, and pretend to be cultured as they enjoyed the shrieking and wailing. Of course, this fad did not last long, but my mother was quite taken by it.' He shuddered in remembrance. 'She forced me and my brother to listen to it almost every day and learn the language. One of the worst memories of my life,' he said with a shudder. 'She only stopped by the time I was to go to Hogwarts. I think father might have gone and destroyed the music crystals. It was one of the few sane things he had done in his life.'

Sirius looked at the egg thoughtfully. 'One of the only good things about Azkaban is that thanks to the dementors, I kind of am competent in Mermish. I think it said something about taking something of value? I don't recall the rest, and frankly I don't want to hear that screeching anymore. So you will have to put the egg and your head underwater to decipher the words. It's easier that way.'

He extracted his wand and waved it, causing a deep trough to appear.

'Have at it,' he said brightly after filling it with water.

A few minutes later, Harry withdrew his head for the fifth time. Gasping for air, he sat back in his chair.

Sirius was happy to see his son take out his wand and mutter a drying charm. The boy was beginning to think like a wizard.

'Well, they are taking something of mine, something dear to me, and I have an hour to get it back before it is lost to me forever.' Harry said. 'I wonder what it is.'

'Well, if I understand the Tournament properly and their love for dramatics, then it probably will be a hostage.' Sirius said after a moment of thinking.

Harry took a moment to think about that. 'So that would be you,' he said in a small voice.

'Probably,' Sirius said. Mentally he told himself that he wouldn't participate. While he knew now from his sources that extensive security measures had been implemented (that knowledge would have gone a long way in helping his worries in the first task) he still wouldn't put it past Dumbledore or Crouch to do something to make sure that he had a little "accident". Of course, if a hostage died, or any other deaths were to occur, for that matter, the Ministry and the Minister in particular would face heavy criticism. From what he observed of Fudge, Sirius knew that the man would point a finger at Dumbledore at the earliest opportunity. So they may not do anything. Not that he was going to bet on that.

'Though, I think not. Something tells me that adults aren't going to be participating in this.' He said aloud

'But, I can't swim!' Harry said desperately.

'Of course you can!' Sirius said patiently. 'I taught you myself when we went to Black Island, remember?'

'Yes, but I don't believe that the pool there comes even close in comparison to that lake!' Harry replied, his voice slightly hysteric.

'Hey, you got the basics. All you need to do is find a way to breathe underwater.' Sirius said soothingly. 'And I have just the spell for that.'

'What's it called?'

'The Bubble-Head Charm, it's a sixth year spell, however. So it will be a bit tough, but nothing you can't handle. After all, you managed a corporeal Patronus last year!'

'Actually,' Neville, who had been sitting there unnoticed, spoke up quietly, gaining the attention the other occupants. 'Why not use Gillyweed? It's far simpler.'

Sirius became thoughtful. 'Yes,' he said. 'That is a simple approach, but quite unconventional. Mainly because of its availability. I have a feeling that the other champions will definitely use a Bubble-Head Charm, so you might get some points for originality. ‘Good thinking, Neville.’

The boy blushed at the praise, a pleased expression on his face.

'What we will have to focus on is getting to your hostage and rescuing them well before the others. So speed is a necessity.' Sirius thought for a few more moments. 'So I think we should practise. Find out the shortest route to the village.'

Harry nodded. Now that there was a plan, he felt less nervous. Of course, there was the fact that another person's life (most probably his dad's) depended on him reaching in time. That worried him greatly. But he kept his peace for now.

'Of course, we can't practise now.' Sirius said with disappointment. 'The lake will be unforgivingly cold, if not fully frozen. No, we will have to begin in January. So we leave off for now. In the meantime, I will place a large order for Gillyweed. I know someone in Greece who could get it fresh.'

With that part out of the way, the winter holidays were spent doing homework, playing in the snow, and other such activities.

The one hiccup came about five days after the start of the winter holidays.

Ever since he had moved in, Harry had his eye on the motorcycle that Sirius had recovered from Hagrid. He had heard stories about what his adoptive and biological father had been up to when they were teenagers. He had also remembered the dreams (which he found out were actually repressed memories) of being carried on the same motorcycle as a baby.

Add in the coolness factor (it was a big black Royal Enfield Super Meteor) and it was only natural that he wanted to ride it.

In his earlier experimentations with the bike, Harry had somehow managed to figure out the gear combination. He had yet to turn the engine on, however.

Today, while Sirius was out doing Merlin knows what, Harry would finally do that.

The bike, stored with Sirius' car in the expanded storage shed was quite heavy to wheel out, but with some persistence, Harry managed. Once he was outside the door, Harry straddled the bike and turned the key, feeling the excitement.

But before he could do anything else, a hand suddenly came from behind, twisted the key and removed it.

Looking behind him, Harry gulped at seeing the stern look on his father's face.

'Off the bike please,' Sirius said evenly. Taking the handlebars, he quietly rolled the machine inside. Once he had it parked, he turned around. 'Did you just try and take the motorcycle out, without my permission, on a ride in the middle of winter?'

Gulping, Harry silently nodded.

'And have you had any prior training riding one of these?'

'Er, n-no,' Harry said hesitantly. 'But it can't be any different than riding a broom, and I was a natural at that!'

Slowly, ever so slowly, Sirius palmed his face. There were so many words that he wanted to use at that moment to get his opinion of the teenager's intelligence across.

'Really,' he finally said, in a voice heavy with sarcasm. 'Except that to ride a motorcycle, you need to be able to change the gears properly, have a good balance, be mindful of pedestrians, and since it's winter, be aware of slippery roads!' he finished sharply.

'Do you have any idea about the number of things that could have gone wrong had you taken that bike out?' Sirius continued lecturing. 'Considering what kind of bike this is, just using that kick-starter would have grievously injured you since you clearly don't know what to expect. And forget slipping and falling and then injuring yourself, you could have run into something or someone and then seriously injured or killed yourself or another person. You weren't even wearing a bloody helmet! And what's more, that bike hadn't been ridden for thirteen years! It isn't fixed, and for all I know, just starting the engine could have made it explode!'

Harry didn't say anything, finding his shoes rather interesting instead. He felt about two inches tall right now. To think that it had seemed like such a good idea about two minutes back.

'Right, up to your room with you,' Sirius finally said after taking a few deep breaths. 'Think about what I said and what you nearly did. I suggest choosing a corner to stand in while you do said thinking. I'll be up in a few minutes.'

Once Harry was gone, Sirius sighed. Taking out his wand, he cast a few more protection charms. Now the only way it would move was if Sirius himself was doing the moving.

While he had not verbally forbidden Harry from touching or riding any vehicle (and that thought made him start weaving the same enchantments around the car) Sirius had hoped that the boy would understand that he wasn't allowed to take them out without being told that.

With another sigh, Sirius headed upstairs to deal with the wayward child.

Minutes later, Sirius regarded Harry as the boy ambled into the kitchen rubbing his sore backside. While Harry was now composed, Sirius could still see some redness in his eyes.

Pulling him in for another hug, Sirius said, 'You know, all this could have been averted if you had only asked me to teach you how to ride the thing.'

Harry looked up in surprise. 'Really?' He asked incredulously.

'Well, I would have considered it.' Sirius amended. 'But if I had said yes, then I would have only taught you in the summer. Not that it would do you much good, mind. The only time I would allow you to take it out by yourself is after you turned eighteen. But that also depends.'

'Oh,' Harry paused for a moment. 'Will you teach me then?' he asked hopefully.

'Yes you cheeky monkey.' Sirius said, tousling the boy's hair. 'But only in the summer, after that bike is fixed.'

'I don't think I would be able to sit properly till then anyway,' Harry said with another empathic rub, looking at Sirius with sad eyes, clearly trying to get his father to feel guilty.

Sirius snorted. 'Oh please, I only gave you twelve with the ruler. That is much lesser than the last time. If you think that's bad, wait until you feel the cane.'

Harry blushed momentarily. 'So, can I at least help you in fixing it?' he said quickly, trying to change the subject.

'All right,' Sirius said after a long moment of thought. He could teach the boy more magic, and it would give them some time to bond. 'But,' he said sternly. 'It can be quite dangerous. So no goofing around, or you will feel that cane.'

Harry gulped. 'Yes sir,' he said solemnly.

'Good, we shall start tomorrow.'

The next morning, Sirius wheeled the bike out in the middle of the magically enlarged shed.

'Now this,' Sirius said as he set the bike on its centre stand. 'Is a Royal Enfield Super Meteor. Made in ninety fifty two, it was one of the last motorcycles ever made by the company on British soil. I got this one off an American Muggle chap about a year before you were born. It was in surprisingly good condition then.' Sirius looked at the bike wistfully.

'Anyway,' he said, coming back to the present. 'I changed only the colour. I kept the other modifications, such as the handlebars that are angled back and the elongated body and customised tank. But I have put in some magical modifications.'

He then pointed out and explained the different parts of the bike, making sure that Harry knew them well.

'Now the magical modifications,' Sirius said once he was done. 'I put in a runic array for a refilling charm on the petrol tank to ensure that I never have to stop to fill up. Now those I am sure are intact so it shouldn't be a problem. The brakes, on the other hand need looking into. I don't know if the charms I have applied on those still work or not.

'Additionally, I put in a magical device to start the engine with this button here.' Sirius pointed at a small black button. 'That is partly for convenience's sake and partly because using the kick starter is quite hazardous.'

'What do you mean?' Harry asked in confusion.

'Well, this thing is a right monster,' Sirius said. 'It's quite easy to break your leg using the kick starter. I should know … it happened to me. I had accidentally left it in gear when doing that. That made the bike lurch forward violently. Between you and me, I didn't know what was worse; breaking my leg, or having Lily lecture me for half an hour while she fixed it.'

'Anyway, riding it is another matter. The bloody thing accelerates like a rabbit and kicks like a mule, so you would have to watch how you change your gears. But we'll talk about that when we get to actually riding it.

'Now once we are done checking the engine, the brake lines, the fuel lines and the charms, we will have to check on the enchantment that makes it fly.' Sirius stated.

And then they got started. In the next few days, Harry learnt a lot about Muggle motorcycles and their parts. But most importantly, was his magical education. He had learnt enough about runes to seriously consider taking that subject, and a lot about enchantments, a subject that would only be touched on briefly by Flitwick in N.E.W.T. level charms.

Sirius was quite impressed at the enthusiasm displayed by Harry. He decided to hold off on working on the Lamborghini till the summer. He would do that with his son. Besides, it would teach the boy more.

Not having forgotten his promise, Sirius was sure to teach the teen a few simple dances. These, he explained would be enough to do in a pinch. If the boy wanted more, then they would have to hire a professional. Sirius himself wasn't great at dancing.

On the night of the ball, Sirius looked at Harry as the boy descended the stairs, looking conscious in his new bottle green dress robes. He was followed by Neville who looked just as nervous.

Smiling, Sirius directed them to sit at the dining table. Taking a seat himself, he spoke up. 'Well, gentlemen, I believe that this is the first formal party the two of you will be attending without much adult supervision.'

Sirius' lips twitched as both boys nodded in unison, seeming to get even more nervous.

'Anyway, before you two head out, there is one matter that I feel needs to be discussed. Neville, I have spoken to your grandmother beforehand, and she has agreed wholeheartedly to me handling this matter.'

Hearing this, Neville blanched. He was sure that he wasn't going to like this.

Taking a deep breath, Sirius continued. 'Well, boys, you are slowly growing into men now. You have already entered puberty, and I am sure that you have noticed the various changes in your body. For example, I think you have noticed that hair has started to grow in certain … places…'

'Daaaaad,' Harry whinged, mortified. He could not believe that Sirius was having this conversation now, that too in front of his friend! Neville, on the other hand, was too terrified to even squeak.

'Oh stop whinging,' Sirius said irritably. 'That is quite natural you know. Anyway, where was I? Oh yes, hair. Now, one major part of these changes on your growing bodies is something that I am confident that you haven't noticed.' He paused for a moment to see if he was going to be interrupted again. Satisfied that he could continue, he picked up his wand and said. 'And that happens to be your body odour. No matter how many times you boys have a bath it won't take long before people can smell you from a mile away. So, on that note, take out your wands. I am about to teach you a Deodorising Spell. It helps take the smell off for roughly an hour. Its primary use is in hunting, so that the quarry doesn't smell you, but it will do here. While you won't smell like roses, you won't offend people's olfactory senses. And with a beautiful girl in your arms, it is probably a good thing that you don't smell.'

Letting out a breath of relief, Harry and Neville took out their wands.

Once they had properly applied the charm, they turned to leave. 'Thanks, dad.' Harry said as Neville interjected with a 'Thanks, Mr Black.'

'You had us scared there for a moment.' Harry continued. 'We actually thought you were going to give us the "little wizard's talk"'

Sirius thought about what he had said and let out a bark of laughter. 'Well, I can see your point. That would have been quite awkward, no?'

Sirius waited till both of them had stepped into the carriage that he had hired to take them to Hogwarts and transport them back after the party ended. 'Now you two have fun, and make sure to treat your dates right. Remember the saying, "hell hath no fury like a woman scorned".' Getting nods, he stepped back.

'And one other thing,' he said getting their attention. 'That talk is going to be happening in the summer after you both turn fifteen! And don't worry, I have diagrams.' Cackling madly, he disappeared into the house, waving at Trevallion who was approaching the carriage that now contained two very worried boys.

Harry had quite a good time at the ball. Nobody knew about his partner till the very last moment when the champions had to stand on either side of the entrance to the Great Hall.

Harry wasn't the only one keeping secrets it seemed. Hermione had kept the fact that Krum had asked her to the ball a secret from the school as well. Harry absently noted that she looked quite beautiful in her blue dress robes with her hair done up and everything.

He pretended that he did not notice the forlorn looks she was sending him. He was still too angry at her. Though, he couldn't help the smug grin that graced his face. He was currently enjoying giving her serious competition, sometimes outperforming her at every class. While he wasn't as good with the theory as she was, he still got the spells down faster.

Harry couldn't help but smirk at the look on Ron's face when he saw who Harry and Viktor Krum had next to them. Somehow, he had a feeling that Ron and Hermione were soon going to have a major row about this. He idly wondered how long it would take before Ron blew up at her.

Padma, who Ron had somehow miraculously had as a partner, did not look too happy to be with him. Harry supposed that the dress robes the ginger was wearing had something to do with it.

Not that he cared.

Harry found himself seated next to Dumbledore and directly opposite Fleur who was with a very smitten Roger Davis. The French part veela was quite proud of her school. Though "proud" would be a nice word for it. A surreptitious glance around the table showed that all the members of the host school weren't happy about her putting Hogwarts down like that. Cho and Hermione especially were giving Fleur scathing looks.

Had this happened the previous year, Harry would have been quite content at holding his peace. However, that was before Sirius had rubbed off on him.

And so, instead of keeping quiet, Harry interrupted her description of Beauxbatons, a wicked comeback mentally prepared. 'That is quite interesting. The idea of Wood Nymphs serenading you as you eat sounds quite lovely.' He paused for a moment before continuing, politely. 'Do tell me more about the Great Hall. The interiors do sound impressive.' Unconsciously, he adopted the same intense pose Sirius used when pretending to give someone his full attention.

Harry ignored Cedric's wondering look as he concentrated on Fleur's face. Fleur, who sounded quite delighted at having an actively participating conversation, continued talking about the interior of great hall. 'Ze Great 'all is 'uge. Eet is bigger than zis.' She waved her hand around the Hogwarts Great Hall imperiously.

'I see,' Harry said neutrally. 'Is the ceiling as high as this one?'

'No, eet is 'uge. Much beegger zan zis one. Zere are carvings of important moments of wizarding French 'istory put zere.'

'Oh.' Harry paused to take a thoughtful bite of his dish. Swallowing, he continued. 'So, it's just a normal ceiling? I thought there would be some enchantment there. You know, like how ours is enchanted to look like the sky outside.' He finished innocently.

Fleur sniffed haughtily. 'I find zat to be too drab. 'Oo wants to eat under ze sky? You go outside for zat.'

Harry shrugged. 'You might have a point. After all, this enchantment has been around for ages now. I believe that Rowena Ravenclaw herself put it up when she and the others founded the school.' Looking at Professors McGonagall and Dumbledore he said. 'Isn't that about a thousand years ago, Professor?'

'One thousand and ninety five years to be precise, Mr Potter.' Professor Dumbledore replied with a twitch of his lips.

'Ah. Well that is a long time, indeed.' Harry replied. 'And it hasn't faded till now. In fact, it even mimics snowfall and rain! Only the snow and rain is dry, of course. It's quite fascinating, isn't it, Cedric?' Getting an approving nod, he turned back to Fleur. 'Of course, it isn't anything as grand as Beauxbatons. Why, your description of your Great Hall reminds me of the dining hall I saw during my summer holidays when I went to Buckingham Palace with my dad! Simply marvellous.'

Cedric coughed while Krum smirked infinitesimally at Harry's comment.

But Harry wasn't done yet. 'I don't suppose Beauxbatons has any secret passages, trick staircases or this weird feeling that the building is actually alive.' He gave a sigh. 'The school sounds very enchanting. And it's so modern! A whole three hundred years younger than this ramshackle old building with its millennium of history and powerful ancient wards and enchantments. This school is so old!' he said with exaggerated disgust. 'I mean, Merlin attended this school, that's how old it is. Who would want to be in such a draughty old castle when one could be in a bright sunny modern palace?'

Harry could have sworn that he saw a brief smile flash across Professor Dumbledore's face as Professor McGonagall's lips twitched.

Fleur, on the other hand, looked murderous.

'Zank you for your kind words, Meester Potter.' Madam Maxime interjected with a graceful bow of her magnificent head, neatly stopping any argument from forming. She surreptitiously sent a warning look at her champion, causing Fleur to subside.

'Should you wish to visit our school over ze summer, please, owl me. I will be delighted to show you and your fazzer around.'

'That was masterfully done, Harry.' Katie said as they danced much later. 'The way you subtly rubbed our history, magical strength and ingenuity in that frog's face all the while sounding as if you were degrading our school.'

Harry smiled. 'Thanks! That was the first time I did something like that. Did you catch the comparison I made to a Muggle palace?'

'So did most of the table. Did you see Crouch? He was grinning like mad! It was quite scary.'

'No, but I did see Professor Dumbledore's beard twitch. Though Madam Maxime did not look happy about it.'

'Yeah, she looked like she was going to step on you.'

Harry snorted. 'It was good fun though,' he said.

'Really? Well, then you'll find politics good fun. You should consider a career there.'

As the last syllable of the ritual died out, a manic grin lit up on the man's gaunt face as he watched the magic interact with the artefact. It had taken a long time to source the ingredients, as many of them were quite rare, but he had finally managed. Taking out a recording quill, he proceeded to the next step of the plan that had formed within his head when he had first found out what the artefact was.

'Harry! Neville! Had a good night?'

The boys in question looked around to spot Sirius sitting up in an armchair near the fireplace.

'Yes sir,' Harry answered, smiling happily even if he was a bit tired.

Harry waited till Neville had gone upstairs before speaking. 'Rough night?' He asked in concern. The wan expression on his stepfather's face had not escaped his notice. At the beginning when he had first come to stay with Sirius, he noticed that the unjustly incarcerated man used to have that same expression. It hadn't taken him long to figure out that it was mainly due to nightmares induced by his extended stay in that hellhole.

'Oh, nothing like that,' Sirius said with a yawn. 'Just been working really late,' he smiled reassuringly at Harry.

'OK, if you say so.' Harry said uncertainly.

'I'm fine,' Sirius said, getting up and briefly hugging the boy to him. 'Just tired. I haven't had any nightmares for nearly a month now. Now, off to bed with you. We'll talk tomorrow.' Giving Harry a playful swat, he sent the boy off to his room.

Late next morning, the three of them were seated at the dining table. 'You know,' said Harry. 'I don't think I want to go to Beauxbatons. For one, I don't want to end up being a stuck-up prat like they are.'

'What do you mean?' Sirius asked mildly.

Harry snorted. 'You should hear them speak about their bloody school and their country and their food. I mean, really, who criticises their host in their host's own home? The number of times I have heard them go on and on and on about their bloody school.' Doing a crude imitation of a French accent in a high pitched voice, he continued. 'Oooh, look at moi! My name is Flour and I am Franch.' Putting on a look of exaggerated disgust, he looked at his food. 'Zis Eenglish food is zo fatty and 'eavy.' Tossing his moderately long hair in an accurate impression of the Beauxbatons Champion, Harry said haughtily. 'Ze weazzer is zo cold and ze castle is zo zmall and booreeng. You should zee Beauxbatons! Eet is beautiful and elegant. Not like zis stoopid Eenglish School. Wood nymphs serenade us while we eat, and unicorns prance about in our grounds and seeng our names because we are Franch and zo zophisticated.' He flipped his hand effeminately.

Sirius looked on in bemusement while Neville laughed helplessly.

'I am sure that not all of Beauxbatons is like that,' Sirius said diplomatically.

'Maybe,' Harry replied in a normal voice. 'But if the champion herself acts like that in public without the headmistress saying anything, one has to wonder about the rest of the school. If it wasn't for me, Fleur would have got away with her remarks!' Seeing the questioning look on Sirius' face, he described what he said at the champion's table at dinner.

Sirius nodded approvingly. 'You might have a point, Harry. Though, perhaps the headmistress was planning on upbraiding her student in private. Maybe your response had her revaluate her decision and speak up in public.'

'I guess,' Harry conceded.

The remaining days of the winter holiday passed by quietly. To make up for the rather low key affair that was their first Christmas together, Sirius had bought tickets to a Pendragon concert. Sirius had introduced Harry to what he called "real music" over the summer, and this was one band that the boy really liked.

When the lake had thawed and the days had become relatively warmer, Harry started exploring the lake that was to be the venue of the next task. He was certain to do it as discreetly as possible. After all, he did not want the other champions to see his strategy.

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