It was very late in the evening and Bartemius Crouch Jr. sat at his desk, contemplating the latest orders from his master. 'Potter WILL be in my graveyard on the agreed date and time or I shall be greatly displeased.' Crouch sighed as he thought of the Dark Lord's carefully laid plans that had been destroyed by a single careless spell by Potter. 'Even then, it might have been saved, but the kid had to go break his arm on top of that.'
Another sigh escaped the bogus Defense teacher. His pocket watch emitted a chime. Crouch pulled out his hip flask and downed his latest dose of Polyjuice Potion. The potion always left a bitter taste in his mouth so he reached for his bottle of Firewhisky and poured himself a glass. He then settled back in his chair and gazed off into nothingness as he let his thoughts wander as he tried to find a solution to the mess he found himself in.
"How can I get Harry Potter into that graveyard?" He asked himself. "He's not even in the tournament anymore. He'll be sitting in the stands with all of the other students while the champions, including that redheaded idiot friend of..." Crouch stopped as a sliver of an idea came to him. He took another sip of his Firewhisky as he thought of that word again. "Friend," Crouch knew Harry Potter suffered from a serious, life-threatening illness called Saving People Syndrome. "If...if I can get that carrot-topped stink sap plant into the maze...yeah, and then let Harry know his friend was in danger and needed his help..." Bartemius could see it now, Harry Potter rushing out of the stands and into the maze. "Throw in a time-delayed portkey and he'll be rushing right into my Master's graveyard."
Crouch poured himself another glass of Firewhisky in congratulations to himself. 'I just have to make sure Weasley gets to the third task. That can't be that hard to do.' As he took a sip of the Firewhisky, Crouch had no idea what he was getting himself into.
'I CAN'T TAKE IT ANYMORE!' Daphne Greengrass exclaimed as she examined herself in a mirror. 'How can I be the Ice Princess of Hogwarts if my icy stare is covered with tears because of that smell? Look at me! My hair's frizzled and my robes smell like fresh hippogriff manure!' She sniffed her robes. 'Actually, the manure probably smells better.' She thought of her sister. 'Though Astoria has it much worse with her room that close to the common room. She hasn't slept in several nights.'
Though Dumbledore and Snape had tried to find the cause of the smell and failed, Daphne was positive she knew what, or in this case who, was causing it. 'Something has to be done. If Slytherin, or more importantly my HAIR, is going to survive this year, then sacrifices will have to be made and I'm positive I know who is needed to be sacrificed.'
Daphne, along with her close friend Tracey Davis, started to make plans the next morning. They composed the document that was the cornerstone of their strategy and then spread out to talk to the rest of their house. Through cunning, persuasion and the threat of bringing open flames into the common room (the fireplace was shut down due to safety reasons,) they were able to obtain the support of all the members of their house except for the one who was to be sacrificed.
It was Saturday morning, only four days until the first task and Ron Weasley knew he needed to do something to prepare for the tournament. Harry and Hermione had asked him to join them in Hogsmeade that day, but unfortunately for the Slytherins, he had turned them down, opting to work on improving his energy reserves by downing a fifth plate of food for breakfast and retiring back to his bed to conserve that additional energy.
"I have to admit, I'm glad he decided not to join us," Harry said to Hermione. It was Saturday morning and, more importantly, a Hogsmeade weekend. They had hesitantly asked Ron to join them in their trip into the magical village, but neither had been upset that through the cacophony of excess flatulence, he'd declined their invitation saying he needed to conserve his energies for the upcoming task.
This was Harry's first authorized visit to the village and he wanted to enjoy it to its fullest. For a late November weekend, the weather was very pleasant. There was a slight chill in the air that gave the two lovebirds a reason to stay close together and to repeatedly warm each other's lips, while it wasn't so cold they had to stay inside the shops.
The morning was spent going from store to store. Harry didn't care for shopping too much, but loved to see Hermione's eyes light up when she saw things she liked.
"We're buying you new clothes," Hermione insisted as she pulled Harry into a store. "Those things you wear are horrid."
"But...but I don't want the Dursleys to know I have money." Harry objected.
"It won't be a problem," Hermione said. "I'll pack your new clothes in my trunk and take them home with me so they can't see them."
It was a lot less painful than Harry imagined it would be and, he had to admit, the appreciative glances Hermione gave him as he tried on some of the tighter shirts as well as clothes that set off his eyes helped get through the experience.
Armed with the bags of clothes, they continued arm in arm throughout the rest of the village. They wandered to the Shrieking Shack where they remembered the frightful night of the previous year when they had went back in time to save Harry's godfather. Hermione confessed how much she'd loved it when she had been riding Buckbeak with her arms wrapped around Harry. It was outside the shack that they promised each other that they'd find a way to help Sirius. The pact was sealed with a kiss that turned into a blissful snog in the chilly air.
It was early afternoon when they finally made their way to the Three Broomsticks for a late lunch and hot chocolate to warm them up. They were lost in their own world in the crowded pub. As Hermione stared into Harry's emerald green eyes, and he into her almond brown ones, the rest of the patrons seemed to disappear. They barely noticed as the waitress placed the plates of food in front of them. Subconsciously, they somehow ate their lunch. Their eyes twinkling in delight as Hermione would steal one of Harry's chips, forcing him to retaliate by grabbing a tomato or olive from her salad. It was on the mutual acts of food thievery that their hands touched as they reached at the same time. Their eyes found each others and they became lost in the depth of each other's soul. The kiss that followed mesmerized the other diners nearby.
Harry blinked from the flashbulb as he pulled away from Hermione. He recognized the sound and what the light meant. He turned to find Rita Skeeter with her photographer. "Mister Potter and his young love, how very charming," Skeeter said with a look that suggested she'd probably never been kissed in her life.
"Miss Skeeter," Harry replied testily as he glared at the reporter.
"Harry, why the anger?" The Daily Prophet reporter asked. "I wrote a very nice article on you and Miss Granger. Most of our readers seem to be very happy for you."
"I would have preferred if you would have respected my privacy," Harry replied still glaring at her.
"But it wasn't private, Harry. It was in the middle of the Great Hall of Hogwarts," Rita commented. "Why don't you give me an interview so people can get your true feeling about the subject?"
"After the way you treated my friend Ron, I would never give you an interview," Harry spat at the reporter.
"Ron? Ron who?" Rita asked in obvious confusion.
"You know, the champion who took my spot," Harry replied testily.
"Oh sorry," Rita said. "I thought his name was Tom. Is that what's troubling you, a misspelled name?"
"It's not that Miss Skeeter. You still put my name as the champion. The Daily Prophet even ran my picture, when you knew I wasn't competing."
"Harry, we had completed the entire article before you were injured," she replied. "Hours of time went into the researching and writing that article. The editor decided to push the original story, but he did include Tom's, I mean Ron's, name at the end."
"But Ron said you interview him," Harry continued, "the day of the wand weighing."
"I, uh..left my notes there," Rita replied hesitantly as she looked away. She was still miffed at the expense of replacing one of her Quick Quote Quills.
"What about his picture?" Harry asked. "We heard you took pictures of them at the same time, why didn't you print his picture?"
Rita exchanged glances with her photographer who looked down guiltily. After snapping the shots of Cedric and Victor Krum, he had used the entire rest of his film roll on pictures of Fleur and he didn't have any film left when he snapped the shot of Ron. "That picture was, uh, damaged Harry. But I'll make you a deal," Rita started. "I'll make sure we get some excellent photos of your friend during the first task on Tuesday and we'll put it on the front page if you promise to give me an interview."
Harry looked at Rita and then at Hermione. Hermione chewed on her bottom lip as she thought over the agreement, trying to find some hidden statement in her offer. After a few seconds, she nodded at Harry. "Deal," he said. "Front page article on Ron with correct name spelling and a large picture of him for a ten minute interview."
"Excellent Harry, I shall see you sometime soon," Rita said as she and her photographer walked away.
Harry looked at Hermione. "Why do I feel like I just made a deal with the devil?"
"Because I think you just might have," Hermione replied as her eyes followed the reporter out the door.
"You know, I should write a letter to Padfoot," Harry said. "He doesn't even know about us yet, or the tournament. If he saw the Daily Prophet, he might be worried about me."
"If he's reading the Daily Prophet then he already knows about us," Hermione smiled at Harry. "It was a pretty large picture they had of us on the front page. But I agree that you need to write to him. He might have ideas on who put your name in the cup to start with. That still bothers me. If someone was trying to get you killed, they might try some other way to do it."
"True," Harry replied. "I better write to him tonight. What about we head over to Honeydukes? We can pick something up for Ron."
Hermione wanted to roll her eyes, but she knew Ron was Harry's first real friend and Harry was desperately loyal to his friends. "Okay Harry."
As they were getting up to leave, they saw Hagrid come in the door with Professor Moody. As they walked toward them, Harry could see Professor Moody whisper a few words to Hagrid who nodded. As Harry and Hermione drew next to them, Hagrid put an enormous hand on his shoulder, then leaning down, he whispered, "Harry, come down to my cabin tonight at midnight and bring that cloak of yours with you."
When Harry looked up and was about to reply, Hagrid put his finger to his lips and he and Moody continued on looking for a table.
After they left the Three Broomsticks, Harry turned to Hermione, "Hagrid wants me to come down to see him tonight at midnight."
"Does he?" Hermione asked. "But Harry, that's after curfew. You'll get in trouble. Maybe you shouldn't go."
"It's Hagrid," Harry said. "You know he wouldn't do anything to hurt…" Thoughts of acromantulas, baby dragons, three-headed dogs and blast-ended skrewts went through his mind. "Uh…Hermione, would you like to come with me? You know, just in case."
"I'd better," Hermione replied. "Someone has to keep you out of the hospital wing. Besides, a midnight stroll with my boyfriend might be a wonderful thing."
A little while later they were leaving Honeydukes with a bag full of assorted goodies. Harry started to tuck the bag into his cloak pocket when he felt something in the pocket that had not been there previously. He slowly pulled out a piece of parchment and showed it to Hermione. "Someone slipped me a note in my pocket."
Hermione's eyebrows rose and the two of them read the note together.
"Potter, Granger, we need to meet to discuss important issues. Transfiguration classroom tonight, 8PM." The note had been composed in block letters in an obvious attempt to disguise the handwriting.
Harry glanced quickly around, trying to catch anyone who might be staring at them. Seeing no one, he turned back to Hermione."What do you think?"
"Last names? Sounds like Malfoy," Hermione replied.
"Think it is a trap?"
"Probably. But who says it has to be a trap for us?" Hermione said with a grin.
"Got a plan?" Harry asked.
"I have an idea," Hermione said. "Shall we go back to the castle and prepare for our date? I can't think of anything more romantic than an evening in the Transfiguration classroom sweeping up Ferret."
Daphne looked at her watch and nudged Tracey. "It's time. Remember, we have got to get the upper hand. I'll go in first and distract them. You wait outside and be ready to back me up."
Tracey nodded as she tried to hide her nervousness. She knew Potter and Granger were a formidable team. Getting the upper hand on them didn't seem likely.
It was 7:50 and Harry was sitting alone in the Transfiguration classroom. He had his back to the door and his wand sitting on the table beside him. In his hand was the Marauder's Map. Harry was currently watching two figures approaching the classroom. 'Show time,' He thought. 'Let's see if Hermione's plan works.'
When Greengrass opened the door to the classroom she could see Potter sitting with his back to her. She wasn't that trusting though and quickly scanned the room. Seeing nothing, she smiled as she turned her gaze back on the lone Gryffindor. 'It's true,' she thought. 'Potter is too trusting. This shouldn't be too difficult.'
When Harry heard the door creak open, he looked one more time at the map and saw Davis had remained in the hall while Greengrass had entered alone. "Hello Daphne," he said quietly without turning around. "Why don't you invite Davis in as well?" The stunned silence from Greengrass was almost audible. It was only then that Harry turned in his seat and faced the Slytherin witch.
"How…How did you know?" Daphne stammered as she fell under the emerald-eyed stare of Harry Potter. The confidence she'd felt only seconds before fled before his gaze. Tracey came into the room and stood beside her
When Tracey joined her, they exchanged glances. This wasn't going according to plan. With a slight nod to each other they both lifted their wands.
Harry continued to stare at the two girls, ignoring their wands. "I have my ways. Now the note said we need to discuss something?"
"Where's Granger?" Tracey asked looking around the room. "I thought she was to be here as well?"
"Where else? Studying, but she'll be along soon," Harry replied evenly still eying the two young women. He made no motion toward his wand.
"So you're alone?" Daphne said, regaining her confidence, "Without even your wand in your hand? Trusting aren't you, Potter?"
"I've been told that," Harry replied with a shrug. "Again, what do we need to discuss?"
"It's got to stop Potter!" Daphne declared forcefully.
"What's got to stop?" Harry replied in a puzzled voice.
"You know what," the Slytherin witch snarled as she raised her wand threateningly.
Harry raised an eyebrow at her. "Threatening me? For something I don't have a clue about?"
"It's going to stop or I'll..."
"Or you'll what?" Harry asked as his eyes blazed. He pointed his finger at Greengrass and said loudly, "EXPELLERAMUS!"
Daphne and Tracey looked stunned as Daphne's wand flew out of her hand.
Behind the Slytherins, hidden under the invisibility cloak, Hermione was snickering at the sight of the two girls standing there with their mouths agape. It had been her plan to put awe into Draco making it seem like Harry was very powerful. So they had arranged this. He would act like he was vulnerable, expecting Draco (or whoever came) to try to get the upper hand. Then he would act like he was casting a disarming spell with just his finger saying the spell overly loudly cover Hermione's own accio summoning charm. Hermione dropped the Accio spell immediately after the wand left Daphne's hand, making it appear Harry's disarming spell had worked.
"You…You can do wandless magic?" Tracey stammered in helpless nervousness as Harry pointed his finger at her.
"Just something I picked up," Harry replied evenly. "Now do you want to put away your wand, or do you want me to do it for you?"
Tracey hastily put her wand in her pocket and then lifted her hands to show it was gone. She turned her gaze toward Daphne and saw the same horrified expression on her face she knew was on her own.
Hermione inched slowly into the hallway where she removed the cloak. Then with a bustle she hurried back into the classroom. "Hi Harry, did I miss anything?"
"Hermione, you know Tracey and Daphne don't you? Dungeon snakes?"
"They are the ones who sent the note?" Hermione asked, acting surprised and walking around to stand beside Harry.
"Seems so, just getting around to what they wanted though," Harry said.
Daphne was looking at the ground and when she looked back up, she had tears in her eyes. "We just need it to stop. Please." Her voice was now filled with despair. "We know it has to be you or the twins. You're the only ones. Even Dumbledore can't figure it out."
"Again what do you need stopped?" Harry asked.
"The smell, the bloody smell in our common room," Tracey yelled in desperation.
Harry looked at Hermione, "Hermione, do you have any idea of what they're talking about?"
"I know I've heard a few people talking about it in class," Hermione said, then sniffing in the direction of the two girls. "They are a little strong."
Now the Ice Princess of Hogwarts had tears streaming down her face. "We surrender. Whether it's you or the twins, we bloody surrender. Name your terms. Want us to hang Malfoy from the astronomy tower...fine, whatever." She held out a parchment to them. "This is signed by every member of Slytherin except for Malfoy. Even Crabbe and Goyle are on board. They all agree that if it's Malfoy you want, we'll deliver him. Just make the smell go away."
Harry smiled at Hermione, and was about to say something to Daphne when Hermione cut in. "We're sorry, but we really don't know what…wait. I did hear the Twins mentioning a couple of pranks they pulled. Something about the Slytherin points hourglass. Think they might have put a jinx on it to retaliate again unfair points. I also heard them whispering something about Malfoy yesterday at breakfast. Harry, did you hear that one?"
Harry wasn't sure where Hermione was going with this, so he just shook his head.
Hermione thought for a few seconds. "Something about proximity….that's it. Any time someone got close to Malfoy, something was going to happen. Either of those might be the problem. You know the twins, they like to pull some very elaborate pranks."
"Will…will you talk to them?" Daphne pleaded, her composure completely gone. "Tell them…I mean ask them to please stop the pranks. Or tell us what they want to make them stop."
"We'll try, but they have a mind of their own as you know," Hermione said. "But if those are the jinxes they did, they are only trying to make it fair. Malfoy struts around like he owns the castle and points are given to you by Snape for breathing correctly. I think if Slytherin cleaned up their act, their common room might clean itself up as well."
Both girls looked hopeful and plans started once again formulating in their Slytherin minds. They nodded to Harry and Hermione.
"We will talk to the twins as we said," Hermione repeated. "But I am sure if they are responsible and word got back to Snape, the jinxes might never go away. Understand?" When the two Slytherins nodded, Hermione continued "Now was there anything else?"
Both of the Slytherins shook their heads and left the classroom. Once they were gone, Harry looked at Hermione and they both broke out in laughter.
"What did you just do Hermione?" Harry asked.
"I think WE just made life very interesting for the Slytherins," she replied with a grin and, hand in hand, they headed back to Gryffindor tower.
Back in the Slytherin dorms, Daphne and Tracey were once again making the rounds among their dorm mates, passing on the information they obtained about the possible jinxes they had heard about, and made sure everyone understood not to tell Professor Snape. They also told everyone to be careful of Harry Potter. He knew how to do wandless magic.
Harry and Hermione spent the time until having to depart for Hagrid's composing a letter to Sirius. Harry had meant to write back immediately, telling Sirius not to come back north because of his scar hurting, but all the events up to now had prevented him from sitting down and detailing the message. With Hermione's help, he finally composed a letter he hoped would be comforting and still try to get Sirius from doing something unsafe.
My scar hasn't hurt anymore since that night. Maybe I imagined it. There isn't anything for you to do here to help. Don't do anything that might get you caught. I'm not sure if you read the Daily Prophet, but Hermione and I are together now. Also, my name was entered into a tournament here at school. Fortunately my wonderfully smart girlfriend found a way out for me, so no worries there. Just wanted to let you know I am safe and want you to be safe also.
PS: Hermione sends her love.
They took the letter to Hedwig in the owlry and sent her off to find Sirius.
Shortly before midnight, Harry and Hermione were walking down the path to Hagrid's cabin hidden under the invisibility cloak. "Wonder why he wants to see us?" Harry whispered. He had his arms wrapped around Hermione's waist to keep them close together. They were getting a little large to share the cloak easily.
"Probably wants us to take one of those skrewts for a midnight stroll," Hermione replied. "Get it some fresh air." The feel of Harry's breath on her neck was sending shivers throughout her body that had nothing to do with the chill in the air. She was thinking that if they didn't get to Hagrid's cabin soon, she was going to turn around and ravage the Boy-Who-Lived. Fortunately, or unfortunately depending on how you look at it, they soon arrived at the cabin.
When they knocked on his door, Hagrid opened it right away and asked, "You there, Harry?"
"Yeah and Hermione's with me," Harry whispered.
"Of course she is," Hagrid grinned at the spot the voice had come from. They slipped past him and into the cabin where they pulled the cloak off them.
"What's up Hagrid?" Harry asked.
"Got summat ter show yeh," said Hagrid.
There was an air of enormous excitement about Hagrid. He was wearing a flower that resembled an oversized artichoke in his buttonhole. It was obvious he had attempted to comb his hair - Harry could see the comb's broken teeth still tangled in it.
"What are you showing us?" Harry asked warily as he glanced at Hermione who had a terrified look upon her face. They started wondering if the skrewts had laid eggs, or Hagrid had managed to buy another giant three-headed dog off a stranger in a pub.
"Just come with me you two, and put the cloak back on," Hagrid said.
As they slipped back under the cloak, Hagrid strolled out of the cabin and headed straight for the Beauxbaton Carriage.
"Hagrid what–" Harry started.
"Shhh!" said Hagrid as he knocked on the door to the carriage.
Madame Maxime opened it. She was wearing a silk shawl wrapped around her massive shoulders. She smiled when she saw Hagrid.
"Ah, 'Agrid . . . it is time?"
"Bong-sewer," said Hagrid, beaming at her and holding out a hand to help her down the golden steps. Then he led her off past her winged horses.
"Wair are you taking me, 'Agrid" Madame Maxime asked.
"Yeh'll enjoy this," said Hagrid gruffly. "Worth seein', trust me. On'y - don' go tellin' anyone I showed yeh, right? Yeh're not s'posed ter know."
"Of course not," said Madame Maxime, fluttering her long black eyelashes.
Harry and Hermione found it uncomfortable to stay under the cloak and maintain the speed of the two larger people, but they kept following Hagrid and Maxime all the way around the perimeter of the lake. Further on, they started hearing men shouting, and then came a deafening roar and crash. As they rounded a clump of trees, Harry and Hermione couldn't believe their eyes.
Dragons; real fire breathing dragons.
Hagrid walked over and started talking to a redheaded man that Harry recognized immediately. It was Ron's brother Charlie Weasley.
"They're beautiful Charlie," Hagrid said emotionally as he gazed longingly at the large beasts.
"Yeah well, I've got all the eggs counted Hagrid, so don't get any ideas," Charlie replied.
"So four of them?" Hagrid asked.
"Yeah, one for each of the champions," Charlie had a worried look on his face. "Mom's going to have a fit when she learns Ron has to face one of these."
"Do they gotta fight'm?" Hagrid asked.
"No, I think they just have to get past them. But that's bad enough. Especially for the poor champion who gets the Horntail over there. Nasty creature. Tail is as bad as the teeth."
Harry and Hermione had seen enough, and backed out slowly. When they thought they were far enough away, they turned and started talking to each other.
"Ron's got to face a dragon? We've got to warn him," Hermione said.
"Of course we do, that's why Hagrid showed them to us," Harry said. "I'm sure by showing it to us, he can always claim he didn't tell a champion," Harry looked at Hermione. "Can you imagine going against one of those things? I am glad it's not me."
They had only gone a short distance when they heard a twig snap. They instantly went silent and crouched near the ground as the looked around.
"There," Harry whispered as he pointed at a figure in the distant. The goatee, visible in the moonlit profile, was easily recognizable. "Karkaroff."
Hermione nodded and the two of them crept away slowly until they felt they were far enough away. They then broke into a run. They didn't stop until they were at the castle. Back under the invisibility cloak, they sneaked back into the castle, up the seven flights of stairs and finally through the portrait hole. They collapsed on a sofa in the semi-darkness and could only stare at each other. They both had the same thought. 'Who in the bloody hell would bring a bunch of dragons to a school filled with students?'
"Okay, tomorrow morning we'll tell him. Then see if we can help him find a way around it," Harry said finally. "But for now, let's go to bed."
Hermione agreed and they both left for their respective beds. They both slept fitfully as their nights were continually interrupted by dreams of roasted weasels.
The next morning, Harry and Hermione woke up early so they could catch Ron before he went to breakfast.
"Ron, we need to talk to you," Harry started.
"Yeah, what to do you want Potter?" Ron replied as Hermione came and stood next to Harry.
"Look," Harry started. "We're worried about you. Hagrid showed us what you're going to be facing on Tuesday. It's dragons, Ron. They are going to have the champions get past Dragons."
Ron stared at Harry in disbelief, then his eyes narrowed as he snorted. "Yeah right, like they would have us fight dragons. Nice try, Potter. Think I would run scared and give you the spot back?"
"Ron, He's telling the truth, we saw them," Hermione pleaded.
"You too?" Ron spat. "Want your boyfriend to get all the glory? Remember the deal, this is mine."
"There are dragons, Ron," Harry tried again.
"Even if there were, we've faced a basilisk. Compared to that, what's a dragon?" Ron replied as he waved his hand in dismissal.
Harry's mouth fell open and he couldn't think of anything to say to that as a single thought ran through his mind. 'WE faced a Basilisk?'
"Oh Ron," Hermione said. "Use your brain…"
'Pbrrrrrp' sounded as Ron's face reddened and he turned and stormed out of the common room.
Harry turned to Hermione, "What do we do?"
"We tried Harry," she replied. "Not sure what we can do," Hermione was rubbing her hands together nervously. "But I'm sure Professor Dumbledore has ways to protect the champions. He'll be alright."
"Yeah, you're right," Harry agreed. "I'm just glad it's not me."
When the two of them made it down to the Great Hall, they saw an amazing sight. The blond Slytherin Ferret Mummy was sitting all alone. Not a single Slytherin was within ten feet of him. As Harry and Hermione watched the Slytherin table, they noticed Tracey and Daphne were glancing at them anxiously and upon catching their eye they gave a little nod.
Harry looked at Hermione and they both grinned.
"Do you think if we told the twins about the contract they would get upset? Ron is their brother," Hermione asked Harry.
"Are you kidding?" Harry asked. "They would think it is hilarious."
"I think we need to tell them then," Hermione said. "If the Slytherins start asking about the pranks, they might give it away. Besides, we need to shift the switching spell if they are going to make that kind of gesture." She stated, nodding to the Slytherin table to show what she meant.
"Yeah, okay. After breakfast? Should we tell them about the dragons too? Maybe they can get through to Ron."
Harry and Hermione had learned to eat their meals quickly as they ignored the sounds being emitted near Ron and the death glares coming from the youngest Weasley. Breakfast was soon over for them and they went in search of the Weasley twins. They found them back in the Gryffindor common room standing over a table, examining a document with care. They turned when Harry and Hermione walked into the common room.
"Excellent. Just the people we want to see," George said. "Operation Ronald is about to begin in earnest."
"Uh, guys," Harry said. "Maybe you might want to wait until the first task is over."
"But why Harry?" Fred asked. "We want to shake his confidence now. Before the task."
"Yeah, well we found out last night that he's got to go against a dragon on Tuesday," Harry said.
The twins looked at them in disbelief. "Dragons? Real dragons? Our little Ronnikins?"
"Yeah, Charlie's here and everything," Harry replied.
"We tried to tell him, but he doesn't believe us," Hermione said. "He thinks Harry is making it up to get his spot back."
"We think there will be some safeguards by the teachers to prevent anyone from getting seriously hurt. I mean, I'm sure with champions having died in the past, they would do their best to prevent it, right?" Harry asked hopefully.
"We can only hope so," Fred agreed. But the look he gave his brother didn't convey much confidence.
"So hold off the pranks until after he gets through this task," Harry said. "We don't want to do anything that might make him do something stupid."
Hermione looked sharply at Harry in response to that, but then bit her lip and remained quiet. She was sure, prank or no prank, if Ron Weasley was going to do something, it was going to be stupid.
"Good point Harry," Fred said. "We'll wait until he finishes it."
"Thanks guys," Harry said. "Now there is one other thing we need to tell you." And he and Hermione explained about the contract and the switching spell and about Daphne and Tracey approaching them. When they had finished, Fred and George were on the floor laughing so hard tears were coming out of their eyes.
"That has been you guys all along?" Fred croaked between hard to take breaths. "We have been in Dumbledore's, McGonagall's and Snape's offices several times in the last week. They all thought it was us, but since they didn't have any proof they couldn't do anything! In fact, they have Filch following us every time we leave the tower trying to figure out what we did, or are doing."
"Brilliant Hermione, bloody brilliant," George said, causing the bushy haired teen to blush.
"It looks like the Slytherins are taking it seriously," Harry said. "Malfoy didn't have anyone within ten feet of him at the table this morning."
Fred and George were still having trouble catching their breaths.
"One of the reasons we brought you in on this, is we want to give the Slytherins a break," Harry said. "See if you have any ideas on other possibilities for this? Or should we just vent to the outside?"
George looked at his brother, then back to Hermione. "What about combining two or three switching spells, each activating on a random basis so it doesn't always go to the same place?"
Hermione's bottom lip went immediately into her mouth as she started to think, then after a few seconds, "I can make that work. But where do you recommend?"
"Some outside place," George said.
"To give the castle in general a break." Fred finished.
"How about Snape's office?" George offered.
"Oh, and keep it going to the the Slytherin common room every once in a while."
"That way they think one of their own is still causing it to happen."
"Internal strife in the home of the snakes is always a good thing."
George turned to Fred. "You know Gred, I do believe we have set a bad example for these two."
"Bad? I thought it was good."
"Maybe you're right, uglier brother."
"You're just jealous of my good looks."
Hermione and Harry walked away, discussing the final plan. "Can you do it?" Harry asked.
"Of course," Hermione replied. "We'll do a fixed amount of time, but randomize the schedule of the switches. Let me think," She pulled out the parchment and, after a finite to cancel the previous charm, she quickly cast the new charms in its place. "There, that should do it."
By the next morning the Slytherins were already looking a little happier. Malfoy still had no one within ten feet of him. Even when he got up and went to sit down next to someone, everyone in the area jumped to their feet and either sat somewhere else, or left the Great Hall altogether.
As Draco watched another group of Slytherins leave the table when he moved positions, he knew it was time to write his father.
Lucius Malfoy sat alone at his desk in his private study. It was the same every evening after dinner. Narcissa would retire to her sitting room while he sat in his study. It had been years since they had last spent an evening together outside the various events and gatherings they attended together. Lucius was currently contemplating his life. It was contemplation caused by the Dark Mark on his left arm. The mark had darkened every week for several months now. Lucius knew what it meant, he knew his old master would return and it would be sooner rather than later. A sigh escaped the blond man's lips as he considered the last thirteen years. He'd grown accustomed to being his own master, raising his son, trying to teach him the proper... his thoughts were interrupted by an owl pecking at the window. Gazing out, he could see it was his son's eagle owl.
Another sigh escaped Lucius' lips as a sense of dread fell over him. He knew nothing that came from his son would be good news. He finally stood and crossed the room where he opened the window. The owl offered his leg and Malfoy removed the envelope. He was tempted to toss it aside and ignore it, but he knew he couldn't do that. He opened the envelope and read.
I am writing to tell you that I have been viciously attacked at school and I am sure it's Potter's and that mudblood girlfriend of his fault. Now our common room stinks and no one will sit next to me. Come fix it.
Lucius crossed back to his desk and sat down heavily as he shook his head. He reached for another letter he had received the previous day from the Hogwarts Headmaster detailing the incidents his son had been involved in. Cauldron explosion, trampled outside his own common room by fellow Slytherins and a flash flame inside the common room itself. All events investigated and all appearing to be unlucky accidents. Lucius' eyes found another missive that had arrived several days previously from the Parkinsons.
"Mister Malfoy," it had started and Lucius knew immediately it was to be bad news. The Parkinsons had been their friends for years. The letter had quickly arrived at the point it was written for. Per the request of their daughter, they had rescinded the betrothal agreement between Pansy and Draco. The thousand Galleons that had sent as a bribe was returned in full. 'That is going to be a problem,' Lucius thought. 'I have already approached every pureblood family around to get that agreement,' Then he remembered that he never approached the Bulstrodes since their daughter had broken Draco's nose several years ago. 'I'll send an offer to them later in the week. The Malfoy family line must continue at all costs.'
Lucius sighed again as he thought of his son. He had tried to teach Draco subtlety, but Draco was as subtle as Dumbledore's robes. Lucius tried to teach him how to manipulate from the background, but Draco kept being far too outspoken, bringing too much attention to himself. And finally he tried to teach the boy how to use one's tone of voice to relay a verbal opinion, but the boy constantly ran off at the mouth. A sneer and a sarcastic "muggle born" was much more effective than calling everyone a mudblood. It gave allies a way to agree without committing themselves as bigots in public. After another heavy sigh, Lucius wondered how many more galleons the current antics of his son were going to cost him. The elder Malfoy sat the letters aside; 'I'll be up there for the first task tomorrow. I'll talk to Draco then,' he thought.
Harry realized shortly after the Triwizard Tournament started that he'd only disliked Divination before. Now that Ron wasn't really talking to him, Harry truly hated the class. The only good thing, if you could call it that, was Professor Trelawney was alternating between predicting his and Ron's violent deaths. Ron loved the attention as he basked in the attention of Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil who kept looking at him with sorrowful eyes. It was just after lunch the day before the first task and Harry felt like he was marching to his doom as he walked toward Divination.
Harry was startled out of his ruminations when he recognized someone ahead of him. It was Cedric Diggory. 'Well, if I can't help Ron, at least someone from Hogwarts will know,' Harry thought. He quickened his pace and caught to the primary Hogwarts champion.
"Cedric! Hey Cedric," He called when he got closer. When the sixth year champion turned and saw him, Harry continued. "Got a second?"
"Look, I found out what your first task is," he said once the two were alone. "It's dragons. You have to get by a dragon."
"What?" Cedric asked looking at Harry sharply. "Are you sure?"
"Yeah," Harry said.
"Why are you telling me this Harry?" Cedric asked. "Why not your friend?'
"I tried to tell Ron," Harry explained. "But he doesn't believe me. Now, I know Fleur and Victor know about them. So at least you can go out there with a fair chance."
Cedric stared at the younger man, then held out his hand, "Thanks."
"Good luck tomorrow, Cedric," Harry said as he shook the older Hufflepuff's hand. "And if you get a chance, maybe throw a hint at Ron. I'm worried about him."
Cedric nodded at Harry.
As Harry walked away back toward his divination class, he heard a familiar voice.
"Potter!" Professor Moody said.
"Yes sir?" Harry asked turning around in panic. 'Did he hear me tell Cedric?'
"Noble thing you just did," Moody said. "Did you tell your friend as well?"
"Uh, thank you sir. Uh, yes sir," Harry stammered. "But he doesn't believe me. Do you know what safeguards they have to protect the champions, sir?"
"Safeguards?" Moody asked, then remembering that Ron Weasley had to make it through this event. "Uh yeah, I'm sure there will be something."
"Thank you sir. I need to get to Divination," Harry said and hurried away not feeling very reassured at all.
Professor Moody suddenly felt a very large headache loom behind his eyes. His Master was not going to be pleased if he couldn't get Harry Potter into that graveyard. Crouch knew a redheaded idiot stood in his way. He stomped off toward his office. He needed something a lot stronger than Polyjuice Potion.
"And you Harry?" Professor Trelawney asked later in class, "Have you experienced a premonition that you'd like to share with the class? Perhaps a dream?"
Harry glanced up, startled from his doodling, but then realized this might be an opportunity to help his friend. "Uh...yeah. I had a very vivid dream last night. It was...uh, like I was there."
Trelawney's large, bug like eyes gleamed from behind her glasses. "Well...share it with us, show us your link to the your inner eye."
"I...I dreamed I had a friend who was eaten by a dragon." Harry said as he looked at Ron.
Ron snorted as he rolled his eyes.
"Such courage to face that which must be seen," Trelawney said. "I think you're coming into your true inner eye." Harry was given full marks for the class.
Later that evening Ron sat on his bed, polishing his wand. He'd tried to send invitations to Cedric and Victor to join him but his owl, Pigwidgeon, had refused the delivery and flown away into the night. As Ron rubbed the polish onto this wand and moved the cloth back and forth, over and over he muttered. "Stupid owl, he's jealous too."
"I've got to try once more," Harry said to Hermione as they studied in the common room. "He's got to listen to me."
Hermione sighed as she nodded. She knew it was an attempt at futility but she also knew Harry had to try.
Harry disappeared up the steps only to reappear a few seconds later. "Never mind," Harry said as he took his seat back at the table.
"What? What happened?" Hermione was puzzled by how sudden Harry had reappeared.
Harry just shook his head, but when Hermione wouldn't drop the subject, he replied. "He's...uh...polishing his wand."
"So?" Hermione exclaimed.
"There's no way in the world I'm going to talk to any wizard while they are polishing their wand," Harry said emphatically.
"But..." Hermione started but then noticed Neville, Dean and Seamus were agreeing with Harry. She huffed as she threw down her quill and walked up the steps shaking her head. She also returned several seconds later, very red in the face. "Oh...yeah. I understand what you mean. Do...do all of you hold your wands like that when you polish them?"
Lucius Malfoy and his wife Narcissa arrived early on the day of the first task. He planned to check in with his son and validate his claim to being attacked. Since all of the incidents occurred either in the Slytherin common room or in his good friend Severus Snape's classroom, he immediately sought him out. Severus verified, grudgingly, that neither Harry Potter nor Hermione Granger had been anywhere near any of the incidents when they occurred. After listening to his son complain nonstop for twenty minutes, Lucius rejoined Severus for a bottle of firewhiskey. Soon, they were reminiscing the good old days of murder and mayhem before Draco Malfoy joined either of their lives. Unfortunately, Lucius did promise his son he would join him later to watch the first task and had to depart his friend's office and return to the real world.
Ron awoke early the morning of the first task. He was excited because he knew the day was his. This was it. This was the day he'd show the world he, Ronald Bilius Weasley, could face down any challenge. He was even one of the first ones to breakfast. As he shoveled spoonful after spoonful of eggs and various other breakfast foods into his mouth, he decided to set up his chess set for last minute training.
Ron had just settled into a serious match with himself when he heard a thunderous applause. Looking up, he saw Cedric Diggory walking into the Great Hall. 'Crap,' Ron thought. 'I got here too early. They must have been too sleepy to notice me come in.' He then called out to his co-champion. "Hey Cedric, I tried to invite you to help polish my wand last night, but ended up having to do it myself," Ron reached into his robes and pulled out his wand to show him. The females that were the Cedric Diggory Fan Club came in two parts that morning. The ones that had heard what Ron had yelled were on the floor laughing while the other half thought Weasley was jealous and trying to attack Cedric. Eight stunners hit Ron before his wand was all the way in the air. Ron slumped face first into his plate of food, where the people who came to check on him swore he was still eating while unconscious.
One of the people who checked on Ron Weasley was Professor McGonagall. She decided breakfast would be far easier to deal with if she waited until the meal was over before she revived the redhead. When finally she did re-enervate the young man, Ron went off to History of Magic where he promptly fell back to sleep and drooled all over his book. During that period, he dreamed of hoisting the Triwizard Tournament cup high over his head, while the Veela girl looked up at him adoringly.
"Mister Weasley," Professor McGonagall said when lunch was concluded. "It is time for you to make your way to the first task area."
"FTIGYAHJ!" Ron replied through a full mouth of food. McGonagall took that as he understood and started shepherding the younger students toward the arena.
Ron crammed four more bites of food into his mouth before he rushed up to his dorm to make sure he had everything he needed. He quickly went down his list.
"Polished Wand? Check."
"Quidditch book in case I get bored? Check."
"Quill for signing autographs? Check."
"Snack? Uh...no. I ate it before lunch." He chided himself. He scanned the dorm room looking for an alternative. He ran over to Harry's trunk and found no snacks hidden in it. He then proceeded to search Neville's, Dean's and Seamus' trunks, all were devoid of snacks.
Ron was panicking by the time he made it to the common room. As his eyes scanned the room, he noticed a small bag laying on one of the tables. He dashed over and found it filled with small treats. 'Whew...' he thought as he stuffed the bag into his cloak.
'Time to make history,' he thought as he strolled out of the portrait hole.