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Chapter 21 Over 400 reviews! You guys are awesome! Disclaimer: not mine The next week, McGonagall made a rather interesting announcement at the end of class. "Part of the tradition of Triwizard Tournament is to have a Yule ball on Christmas day. It is open to all students fourth year and above, though a younger year may attend, if he or she is escorted by an older student.

Mr. Potter, please stay behind." Harry set his book bag down and waited until the classroom had emptied, before he made his way up to the professor's desk.

Minerva looked at him and smiled, her stern teacher façade giving way to the caring guardian he had gotten to know quite well over the summer. "Harry, as a champion, you will need to make certain you have a partner, though I don't think that will be an issue, will it?" Harry blushed, but smiled. "Why is it necessary?" he asked. "It is tradition for the champions to open the ball with the first dance," Minerva replied, observing him carefully, noting the sudden paleness of his face.

Harry bit his lip, managing to stammer out, "D-d-dance?" Minerva nodded, and then frowned. "Harry, do you know how to dance?" Harry shook his head, embarrassed. "No one ever taught me," he admitted, ashamed. Minerva stepped forward, using one hand to force his chin upwards so that he was looking at her. "We can easily remedy that," she assured him. "Come and see me after breakfast on Saturday. Perhaps Miss Weasley would like to attend as well." Harry nodded, feeling better.

He muttered out a thank you, before he went to catch up with his friends. Minerva watched him leave, the smile still gracing her stern features. When Harry caught up to his friends in the Great Hall, he was somewhat confused to find a number of people watching him mostly girls.

They all seemed to be eyeing him in a way that made him a little uncomfortable. As he sat down, Harry explained what McGonagall had told him, including the dancing lessons, which he admitted to with a definite blush. Thanks to a well-placed elbow in his side, courtesy of Hermione, Ron didn't say anything around the mouthful of food not that he really could have, there was a lot packed in there.

Hermione just smiled and commented on how it would be very beneficial. Neville looked nervous, as he pushed the food around on his plate. "Do you think Professor McGonagall would mind if I came as well?" he asked quietly.

Harry studied his friend for a moment, before smiling. "You planning on asking someone specific, Nev?" Neville blushed, but nodded, glancing over at the Hufflepuff table. Harry's smile widened. "I think that'd be fine," he affirmed, before tucking into his own lunch as Ginny entered the hall, separated from the rest of the third years, and joined them.

She gave Harry a sidelong look as she spooned potatoes onto her plate. "Did you guys hear about the ball?" They all nodded, looking at Harry as well, but the Boy Who Lived just kept eating, hiding his smile.

He knew whom he was going to ask, but he wanted to make it special. He would need to send Hedwig off with a letter as soon as he finished lunch. When Harry didn't speak, everyone turned back to their own meals, Ginny with a little bit less enthusiasm than the others. It wasn't like she thought he would take someone else, but she did think he would at least ask her. Harry excused himself when his plate was empty, and told them he'd see them in History of Magic, giving Ginny a quick kiss before leaving the table.

Hermione waited until he was gone, before turning to her younger friend. She saw the disappointment. "What's wrong, Ginny?" she asked sympathetically. Ginny frowned. "I know we're going to go together, but just because we're dating doesn't mean I wouldn't like to be asked to the ball." Hermione smiled understandingly, while Neville leaned forward, being careful to avoid the spray from Ron's ingestion of his meal.

"I'm sure he's going to," he reassured the younger girl. "You know Harry. He probably just wants to make it special." Hermione nodded, though she couldn't say anything as Ron decided to add his two knuts. Unfortunately, it wasn't exactly audible, due to the entire steak he had stuffed into his mouth. Hermione sniffed. "Pleasant," she commented, before turning to Ginny. "Neville's right, Ginny," she smiled. "Harry really cares about you.

He'll probably ask you in some elaborate gesture. Too bad some others may not have that same initiative." Her gaze shifted over to Ron, who didn't seem to be aware of anything that wasn't capable of being speared on the end of his fork. Neville chuckled, nodding in understanding, while Ginny just looked faintly sick at her brother's eating habits.

Ron looked up, seeing their eyes focused on him. "Huh?" he asked, a bit of potato dropping back onto his plate. Hermione rolled her eyes, setting down her napkin and picking up her book bag. "I'll see you guys in History. Don't worry Ginny, I'm sure it will happen." Ginny nodded, as Neville stood up. "Hold on, Hermione, I'll walk with you." The two fourth years left, and Ginny turned back to her brother.

"Honestly, Ron. Why we put up with you is beyond me." Ron looked slightly affronted, but also very confused. "What do you mean?" Ginny sighed. "You could start by learning some table manners," she suggested.

"Or you could try listening when your friends talk." Ron cocked his head to the side, his expression not clearing at all. Ginny sighed, shaking her head.

"I can't do your thinking for you, Ronald. But you should consider whom you're going to take to the ball. You might want to think about it quickly, before your chosen date gets asked by someone else." With that, Ginny also left, and Ron was alone, even more confused than he had been before.

XXX History and Defense Against the Dark Arts passed both too slowly and too quickly for Harry, and he and his friends had a free period before dinner, so they all decided to go to the library well, Ron wasn't exactly thrilled, but he tagged along rather than be left alone. They found a secluded table in the back, and Harry decided it would be a good time to talk about their Occlumency training.

Everything he had read about the subject just made it seem all the more attractive a defense to learn. The idea that someone could just rifle through his private thoughts with him none the wiser was not a pleasant thought.

Hermione had been horrified to learn that people would actually do such a thing, especially after learning that the headmaster had tried it on Harry. It was quite a feat of magic that he had been able to enchant an object to protect himself from Legilimancy attacks.

She had asked about the spellwork involved, but Harry had just blushed and told her that Sirius had done most of it, but she hadn't seemed to believe him. Harry hadn't told Minerva about his suspicions on Dumbledore's use of Legilimancy yet. He wasn't sure what she could do, and he didn't want to worry her. They tried to keep their voices quiet, as none of them fancied Madam Pince throwing them out, and Harry asked them about their progress.

Ginny, who had joined them as they made their way down, since she had the same free period, was the first to speak. "I think I'm almost there. I've been working on organizing my memories like the book said, but I can't really tell if my shields are powerful enough to stand up to an attack." Harry nodded.

He had had the same issue. Until he actually went up against a Legilimens, he wouldn't know if they were any good. "I think the only thing we can do right now is to keep working at it.

Make the shields as strong as you can, and Aunt Minerva said she'd try and find someone to test us, but it might have to wait until next summer." He smiled. "She told me she learned Occlumency, but never Legilimancy, otherwise she'd just test us herself." Hermione went next, and informed them that her progress was much the same as Ginny's, not that Harry expected anything less.

Neville had made slightly less progress, and Ron didn't feel any significant change. Harry just told them to keep working at it. "I think we'd do better if there was someone to test us, so that we could know what an intrusion feels like, but I don't much fancy asking Dumbledore or Snape for help, not that they would.

Aunt Minerva says they're the only ones at Hogwarts with the ability." "Makes you wonder…" Ron trailed off, thinking, before he continued a few moments later, "Snape always seems to know what's going on, or what questions to ask. What if he does it to students?" Hermione gasped. "He wouldn't, would he? Unauthorized use of Legilimancy is illegal. I can't believe " "I don't think he cares," Harry cut in patiently.

"Or did you forget that Dumbledore tried it with me? If Snape does it on students, chances are Dumbledore knows and approves." That was a crushing blow to all of them. The idea of someone they trusted sanctioning such an invasion of privacy was not pleasant. It definitely made Ron vow to work even harder at Occlumency; he didn't want that greasy git to be able to see anything in his mind. Susan joined them a few minutes later, as her last class of the day ended.

She thought her progress was the same as Neville's, but she also had a few more insights. "I could ask my Aunt Amelia about it," she suggested. "She should know if a professor is possibly using Legilimancy on students, and she probably knows someone who could help us get better. I'm fairly certain she's trained in Occlumency herself." Harry nodded. "I don't think you should put it in a letter though. Maybe she'll be able to come visit next Hogsmeade weekend?" Susan nodded thoughtfully, and said she'd ask.

The group spent the remaining time before dinner studying, though Harry seemed to spend just as much time watching Ginny as reading his textbook.

Ginny caught his eye a time or two, but he just smiled and turned his head back to his book. Dinner started as it normally did; however, most of the hall's attention was soon attracted to a lone owl that came in shortly after the desserts appeared. Ginny, her attention drawn as well, noted with surprise that the owl in question was Hedwig.

What was more interesting to her was that the snowy white bird was carrying a bouquet of roses. She gasped in pleasure as the owl came to a rest in front of her. Hands shaking, she removed the bouquet of red and white roses, her cheeks glowing. Attached to the bouquet was a long velvet box. She looked up at Harry questioningly, but he just shook his head. "Open it," he smiled. Ginny did so, and gasped again as she saw the silver bracelet inside. The band was simple, but the charm took her breath away.

It was a doe, so artistically created that she could almost believe it was alive. For eyes, it had two tiny emeralds embedded into the silver. She looked up, tears in her eyes. "Harry," she whispered. Harry took the bracelet from her trembling hands, and gently took her arm to attach the jewelry. "It was my mum's," he explained quietly. "I owled Sirius this afternoon. It was something I saw when I looked at my family vault this summer, and I asked him to retrieve it for me.

According to him, my mum was an animagus as well; her form was a doe. My dad gave this bracelet to her when she completed the transformation right before her nineteenth birthday." Ginny admired the bracelet; it was gorgeous, but even more precious because of the history behind it. This had belonged to Harry's mum. Harry wasn't finished. "Ginevra Molly Weasley, would you do me the extraordinary honor of being my date to the Yule ball?" Ginny grinned and nodded.

"I'd love to, Harry," she replied, leaning forward to kiss him happily. They could both feel the contentment and ecstasy coming from the other.

The two broke apart a moment later, suddenly remembering where they were. Most of the hall had gone back to their own meals, but their friends were still watching them with varying degrees of delight. Well, Ron was the only one who looked less than happy, but Harry thought that might be more for seeing them kiss in front of him than anything else. They accepted congratulations with humility, and Ginny showed Hermione her new bracelet.

XXX The rest of the week passed in a flurry of guys trying to ask the girl they wanted to the ball, acceptances, and rejections. The most surprising came from Hermione. She had joined Harry and Ginny in the common room one night, as the two were the last of their friends still up. She looked somewhat nervous, as she asked Harry for a moment.

"What's up, Hermione?" Harry asked, setting his textbook aside. Hermione bit her lip. "I've just come from the library," she began. "I, well, I have a date for the ball." Ginny looked up, surprised. "I thought…" Hermione's eyes flashed.

"Yes, I had hoped, but until he actually wakes up and realizes I'm a girl, there's not much I can do. Someone else has already realized that, so I said yes." "Who is it?" Harry asked. Hermione flinched. "Viktor Krum," she admitted quietly. "What?" Ginny's voice was much louder than intended, but fortunately there were very few people left in the common room.

Hermione looked up, eyes pleading. "This won't be a problem, will it? I know he's your competition, Harry, but isn't the whole point of this tournament about fostering international relationships?" Harry smiled. "I don't mind," he assured his friend. "Viktor's a nice guy.

I'll just have to make sure he knows that if he hurts you, he's dead." Hermione looked scandalized, but Ginny just laughed. Harry shrugged. "I'm just borrowing the same threat Fred and George used on me." Ginny stopped laughing, and looked like she didn't know whether to kiss Harry, or go find her brothers and hex them to oblivion. Harry settled that decision by leaning forward and capturing her lips with his, wrapping one arm around her shoulders.

Hermione smiled and left them to it. XXX The next weekend found Harry and Ginny camping out in the library. Only part of their studies were school related, however. Both students were mostly caught up in their classes, so they had dedicated this weekend to two separate but equally important studies.

In beginning to prepare for the second task, Harry had discovered that his egg made a rather horrendous screeching sound when opened. He and Ginny had listened, discussed, listened, and discussed, and come to the conclusion that it might sound different under different circumstances, so they were researching possible ideas.

It was Ginny who found their first real possibility. "Harry, listen to this," she said, holding up the copy of Unmasking the Wilds: Magical Creatures of Every Habitat and reading a specific paragraph. "Some of the most mysterious of magical creatures are the merpeople. Colonies exist all over the world, but few have ever been able to observe them in their natural habitat; they have their own villages and customs, and their own language. They can breathe both in water and air, for limited amounts of time, but since their language can only be heard properly in water, on land it sounds much like a high screeching." She looked up, eyes eager.

"What if the screaming from the egg is mermish?" Harry nodded slowly, leaning forward. "So then it's possible that if we held the egg underwater…" "It would give us the clue!" Ginny finished excitedly.

Harry smiled. "We'll do that next weekend then," he decided. "Now, let's see if we can find anything in these other books." He set down his studies for the tournament, and turned to their second project. Ever since realizing that they could feel each other's emotions, they had been meaning to research just why that may be. This was the first opportunity they had had to do so without their friends present. Neville had worked up his courage to ask Susan to the ball, finally, and the two were spending the day together.

Ron had had a bit of a falling out with Hermione over her refusal to tell him who was taking her to the ball, and his refusal to believe that she actually had a date. And Hermione was furious with Ron, and had taken to the DA study. Their last meeting had worked on accuracy of spellwork, and McGonagall had done a fine job of animating a few practice dummies, which Hermione was no doubt destroying at this very moment.

Ginny picked up a rather worn copy of The Bonds of Time, and began reading the section on soul bonds. There wasn't much, and much of what was written was speculated, but she persevered, hoping for some more information. Harry chose a very slim volume simply titled Soul Bonds. It was no more than fifty pages in length, but it spoke exclusively on the topic they were most interested in.

They passed the remaining hours of the day reading and comparing notes, before joining their friends for supper. They hadn't learned much, but Harry had found some useful information in his book. There were many different types of soul bonds, and they could be formed for any number of reasons. Those formed due to life debts were very specific, but more common than fated bonds.

He wondered if his actions in the Chamber of Secrets had had something to do with this. Apparently, if their bond was due to a life debt, they would become attached to each other, not necessarily soul mates, but they would always be in the other's life.

They could feel emotions, but not much more. A fated soul bond would have been created the moment Ginny had been born. Such a connection would strengthen over time, but would need some sort of physical or emotional attraction between them before it would begin to manifest.

Simply put, it would mean that they had always been destined for each other, but they needed to realize that before it would happen. From what Harry had read, it would start with the sharing of emotions, and then move on to constant awareness of where the other was, what they were doing sometimes that included seeing through the other's eyes. Depending on the strength of the bond, some couples had noted that they could communicate by thought, or share power to create stronger spells.

Of course, none of this really told them what was going on with them, so the only thing Harry could come up with was to wait and see if any other skills developed. "I don't think we should tell anyone, for now," he suggested carefully as they packed up their books to place back on the shelves. "We still don't know what's going on, and until we do, there's not much point in telling anyone. Right?" Ginny nodded her agreement.

"We'll keep researching. It would be easier if the information was more readily available, but we'll make due. Maybe next summer, if we need to, we can consider telling someone. I'm not sure how my mum will react. She'll probably lock me in my room until I graduate." "But how would you graduate if you couldn't leave your room?" Ginny looked at Harry for a moment, before they both burst out laughing, earning them a hard glare from Madam Pince as they left.

Both felt like they had had a rather productive day, all things considered. _ _ _ Chapter 22 Disclaimer: not mine The next weekend held another Hogsmeade trip, which was a good thing, all things considered. Many girls wanted to make sure they were all prepared for the ball.

They had been told to bring dress robes, but of course, Ginny, as a third year, hadn't done so. She didn't want to write home to her mother and ask for some. For one thing, she didn't want to put that strain on her parents not to mention that she had seen the robes Ron had, and she didn't want to have to deal with the humiliation of wearing something like that and she also didn't want to tell her mother she had a date.

She wasn't ashamed, but she was afraid that her mum would think she was too young. Harry also wanted to tell her parents in person. He was sweet like that.

Saturday morning dawned bright and clear, and surprisingly warm for December. Harry and his friends met up for breakfast, with Susan joining them at the Gryffindor table. She drew some looks, but since there was no rule that prohibited her from sitting at other tables, no one said anything. They decided to spend the morning together, before Ginny and Harry, and Neville and Susan split off to spend the rest of the day on their own.

Ron and Hermione looked somewhat less than pleased, mostly because that would mean that they would have to spend time together; Ron still hadn't apologized, and Hermione was trying to speak to him as little as possible. As Harry had brought several of his formal robes from his and Aunt Minerva's shopping trip that summer, he didn't need to get anything; Neville and Ron were also all set, though Ron was definitely not looking forward to people seeing his moldy brown, one hundred years too old robes.

The girls, however, were very excited to go to Gladrags. Ginny had confided in the other two that she didn't have a lot of money, so she was hoping to find something on sale that would work. Susan and Hermione had been very supportive, and told her that they would help. The inside of the clothing store wasn't too crowded yet, since they had left early, and the boys watched, bemused, as the girls immediately disappeared between the racks.

Neville and Ron simply waited by the door, but Harry followed at a slower pace. He perused the racks of dresses, and was about to join the girls at the dressing rooms, when something jumped out at him. He pulled out the dress and studied it. It was a medium dark green in color, with golden highlights, across the top and bottom, and as a sash around the waist. It had spaghetti strap sleeves, and the cut was modest enough to consider Ginny's age.

And it would complement his own dark green robes. He smiled, and brought it with him to the back of the store. Hermione looked over the dress with a critical eye, and nodded, smiling. Harry just grinned, and went back to the other boys as Hermione handed the dress over to Ginny to try on. Susan joined them again as Ginny stepped out wearing the dress. It was perfect. Ginny could see it in Hermione's and Susan's eyes. And moreover, she felt beautiful in it.

Hermione was simply gushing. "Oh, Ginny, it's beautiful. You look amazing!" Susan wasn't far behind. "You should definitely get that one," she agreed. "Harry won't know what hit him." Ginny blushed, but nodded, before she went to change back into her regular clothes.

Hermione took that moment to fill Susan in. "Harry actually picked that one out," she informed her friend. "And I don't think he really considered Ginny's budget." Susan adopted the same worried look, but Ginny returned at that moment, and they headed to the front counter to pay for the dress.

Harry met them there, smiling. The clerk immediately wrapped up the dress, but shook her head as Ginny reached for her moneybag. "Oh, don't worry dear, it's all taken care of." Ginny frowned, confused, before she turned to Harry. "You shouldn't have," she started, but Harry cut her off. "I wanted to, Gin." He held up a hand to stave of any more of her protests.

"You're my girlfriend, Ginny. If I can't waste money on you, who can I waste it on? It's not like I don't have enough." Ron was close enough by that point to hear what his friend had done. His face turned red, and he started to splutter out objections, but Harry just spoke over him. "Ron, I've never had someone to spend money on, or really even money to spend. It makes me happy to see Ginny happy." He looked down.

"I finally understand why Aunt Minerva and Sirius keep wanting to buy me things." Ron shut up with that, and Ginny just gave him a huge hug and a kiss, thanking him profusely. Hermione and Susan just looked on, smiling, and Neville wisely chose that moment to drag Ron out of the store before he said something else to make a fool out of himself.

The group moved on from Gladrags, appeasing Ron by going to Honeydukes next, and then making their way towards the Three Broomsticks for lunch. After lunch, they split up, with Neville and Susan disappearing into the village, where they would meet Amelia at some point so that Susan could tell her aunt their worries about Snape and Dumbledore's use of Legilimancy on students, and Harry and Ginny heading away from the hustle and bustle of the crowd with a final wave goodbye to Ron and Hermione.

Harry led Ginny up to the Shrieking Shack, ignoring her questions with a secretive smile. Ginny gasped in pleasure as Harry stopped and stepped aside. There was a blanket set out, with a picnic basket and a vase containing a single red rose.

"Harry…" she trailed off. The boy wizard just led her to the blanket, sitting them both down and opening the basket. "I know we just ate, but I thought we could have some dessert," he said, pulling out a rather impressive looking cake. He looked a little embarrassed. "I asked Dobby for help; since he's working at Hogwarts now, I thought he might be willing. I think he got a little overenthusiastic." Ginny smiled, swiping at the chocolate frosting with one finger.

"Mmm," she sighed contentedly.

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"I don't think I mind his over enthusiasm, if this is the result." Harry chuckled and pulled out two plates, a knife, two forks, and a bottle of milk with two cups. Ginny was startled to realize that the area where their little picnic was taking place was actually much warmer than the December day would suggest. Harry just smiled and said, "Dobby," like it explained everything. Ginny had to admit, it probably did. House Elf magic would be more than capable of swathing the small area in warming charms.

The pair spent the next hour eating as much of the cake as they could, and talking. It was moments like these that Harry truly cherished; this was how he really got to know Ginny. They could feel each other's emotions, but that didn't necessarily mean the understood each other. These stolen moments in time, where he learned about her hopes and dreams, when she told him about how she wanted to play Quidditch, or how she always felt separated from the rest of her family, that was what he prized.

When the sun started to go down, Harry got up with a sigh, stretching before he held out a hand for Ginny. They looked at the basket and blanket, but Harry shook his head.

"Dobby said he'd clean up," he told her, so the only thing they left with was the rose, which Ginny tucked behind her ear after Harry cleared it of thorns and shortened the stem. They made a slow, leisurely pace back to the castle, and barely arrived back at the gates before they were closed. Minerva looked at them with a fond smile, shaking her head.

"Get inside you two," she said, looking down the lane for any more late stragglers. Harry grinned, nodding as he led his girlfriend inside for dinner. XXX Over dinner, Susan told Harry and the others about her conversation with her aunt, speaking in a low voice to keep other people from hearing. "Auntie said to keep practicing Occlumency, and she'll try and find a teacher for us over the summer. She can't do anything without concrete proof, considering Dumbledore's the most influential wizard in Britain, but she said if we feel anything like a pressure in our minds in their presence, to break eye contact immediately." They all nodded their agreement, and Harry tried to think back to the last few months of Potions lessons, trying to remember if he had felt anything like that.

He could visualize several headaches early on in the term, and from the last few years, and wondered if that may have been Snape trying to access his memories. Hearing Amelia's thoughts seemed to spur them all even Ron into putting more effort into their self-study. XXX Late that night, Harry met Ginny in the common room. The fire was almost out, casting an unearthly glow on the room.

Ginny met him with a kiss, as he slipped his invisibility cloak over them and led her out the portrait hole. A quick conversation with Cedric a few days ago had given him the password to the Prefect's bathroom. Cedric had wanted to tell Harry what the task was, to thank him for giving him the information on the dragons, but Harry had shook his head, telling the older boy that he had an idea of how to solve it, and asked if there was anywhere warmer than the black lake to submerge his egg.

Cedric had grinned, and given him the password. The halls were eerie in the light of the full moon, and Harry spared a thought for Remus, wondering if he and Sirius were playing on the grounds of McGonagall Castle at that moment.

Even though Sirius had been freed, he still hadn't moved from Minerva's ancestral home; he claimed it was because Black Manor wasn't ready for habitation, but Harry thought he just wanted to have access to a Quidditch pitch.

Harry figured the next move he would make would be to the Bones Estate, and it wouldn't come until he had put a ring on Amelia's finger. "Pine fresh," Harry whispered, and watched as the door opened to reveal an almost swimming pool sized tub. The pair removed the cloak, setting it aside and moving over to the tub. Ginny began filling it with water, and when it was full, the two of them removed their bathrobes, revealing their swimming costumes underneath.

Harry blushed when he saw the look Ginny was giving him. He didn't think he was anything special to look at, but Ginny apparently disagreed. Indeed, the thirteen-year-old was hard-pressed to stop staring. Harry didn't have well defined muscles, but they were definitely there. With the nutrient potions Madam Pomfrey had given him, he had grown into the young man he should have been. Without his glasses, she could see his sparkling green eyes clearly, a feature she absolutely loved. A subtle six-pack was beginning to make itself known, and Ginny raised an eyebrow.

"You've been exercising," she accused, a slight smile on her lips. Harry shrugged. "Sirius said it was a good idea, and I really have noticed a difference." Ginny nodded, tearing her gaze away as she shut off the water.

"Maybe I should join you," she suggested. Harry smiled in reply. "I'd like that," he replied, as he grabbed the egg and made his way into the tub. Ginny followed, and once they were both submerged, Harry placed the egg under the water. "Here goes nothing." And then he opened it. A small bubble of air escaped, and Harry and Ginny ducked under the surface, to hear the clue.

Come seek us where our voices sound We cannot sing above the ground And while you're searching ponder this We've taken what you'll sorely miss An hour long you'll have to look And recover what we took But past an hour the prospect's black Too late, it's gone, it won't come back Harry and Ginny resurfaced, gasping. When they got their breath back, they began to work out the clue. "Come seek us where our voices sound. Well, we already figured merpeople might have something to do with it.

It must be the Black Lake," Harry reasoned. Ginny nodded. "We've taken what you'll sorely miss. They're going to take something and hide it in the lake, probably." Harry agreed. "So I'll have an hour to find it. But what would they take? The only thing I really can't replace is my invisibility cloak, and I don't think they'd use that." Ginny bit her lip, frowning.

"What if it's not a thing?" she asked hesitantly. Harry looked confused for only a moment, before he scowled. "No. They wouldn't be that stupid, would they? To kidnap four students and stash them in the lake in February?

Not even Dumbledore could be that thick." Ginny stood up, exiting the tub and drying herself off before she put her robe back on. "Harry, this tournament's not supposed to be safe. I think they would.

It makes for better entertainment value, after all." Not even Ron would have missed the sarcasm in her voice as Harry also left the tub. "I won't let it happen, Gin," he promised. Ginny just shook her head. "I'll be fine, Harry. I don't think even Dumbledore would let something happen to those the champions will 'sorely miss'." Harry sighed, frustrated as he tied his robe.

"I understand the champions being in danger. They signed up for this well, most of them. But you, and whoever will get chosen for the others, you're just innocent bystanders. I can't believe your parents would be all right with this." "Harry Potter, you will not tell my mother," Ginny growled.

"She doesn't need to worry. Besides, you're going to rescue me. Right?" Harry leaned down and kissed her, not at all chastely. "Always," he whispered lovingly. All the fight went out of Ginny there, and she allowed herself to be wrapped in the invisibility cloak once more, as the two made their way back up to the tower. XXX Ever since Hermione had told him about Viktor asking her to the ball, Harry had wanted to have a conversation with the Quidditch star.

Fortunately, the opportunity to do just that came about the next morning. Harry and Ginny who was looking rather tired made their way outside for a morning run. Harry had explained the necessity of stretching properly, and not trying to do too much too fast. Harry set an easy pace around the Quidditch pitch, thinking to himself that it was getting too cold to do this outside, and trying to come up with a place he could exercise inside.

Even though he was going much more slowly than normal, Ginny was still panting by the time they made it halfway around the pitch. She was red-faced and completely out of breath by the time they finished one lap, so Harry stopped and led her through some basic warm-down exercises. When she had gotten some of her breath back, Ginny looked up.

"How many laps do you do every day?" she asked, still panting. Harry shrugged, stretching his arms behind his back before moving on to his hamstrings. "Usually four. I'm almost up to five now." Ginny stared, unable to comprehend how he could do so much without collapsing. Harry shrugged. "It really helps with spell casting. And if you get into a fight, you'll be able to hold your own, or maybe even win.

Something I've realized is that the wizarding world doesn't really have a lot of physical exercise. Other than Quidditch, there's no real sport." He started leading her back towards the castle, still explaining. "Something Sirius, Remus, and I talked about over the summer was what had happened to me over the last few years. We all agreed that Voldemort will come back, and if this tournament is any indication, it will probably happen sooner rather than later.

Sirius and Remus want me to be prepared for that eventuality, which is why all the training." He smiled. "Sirius said you were doing quite well this summer, but if you want to join me for more, I think I'd like that. As my girlfriend, you'll probably be in even more danger." Harry looked guilty at that, and Ginny half expected him to spout some self-sacrificing crap about breaking up with her, for her own good.

She shook her head. "Harry, the Weasleys have always stood against evil. I'm in as much danger from that as I am from you. You're not getting rid of me that easily." Harry smiled, selfishly happy that she wasn't afraid to be in danger, even if the noble part of him wanted her to walk away.

He spotted Viktor across the lawn at that moment, and nudged Ginny to head in that direction. When she looked at him, confused, Harry just winked. "Viktor!" The Quidditch star looked up, startled, and a little confused, but he waited for the two Hogwarts students to catch up to him. Harry waited until he came to a stop, nodding thankfully. "I just wanted to talk to you for a minute, if you have it," he said. Viktor just nodded, so Harry smiled and continued. "I understand you asked my friend Hermione to the ball." Viktor looked a little more uncomfortable, but he nodded again.

"Hermy-ninny is very nice. She does not fawn like other girls. She is smart, and beautiful." Harry's smile widened. "I just wanted to let you know that she is one of my best friends, so if you hurt her, I hurt you.

Understood?" Viktor looked startled, Ginny tried to hold in a snort. Harry cleared his throat. "Just so we're clear." He started to turn away, but Viktor spoke again. "Wait." Harry turned back. "Your other friend.

The redhead. He likes Hermy-ninny, doesn't he?" Harry looked a little surprised that Viktor had seen that, but then, he figured it was probably obvious to everyone except Hermione and Ron. "We talked a bit about him, last weekend.

Hermy-ninny wanted to go with him, but knew he wouldn't ask. I thought we could, maybe, make him jealous." Harry blinked, and then smiled broadly. "That just might work," he said, chuckling. He held out a hand, which Viktor took, his own smile breaking through. "I think we just might get along, Viktor.

And if you manage to get those two together, all the better. I'm getting tired of all the fighting." Viktor laughed. "I think I would like to be friends with you, Harry Potter. Your flying in the first task was very impressive. I would very much like to fly against you sometime." Harry nodded.

"Maybe next weekend we can work something out." Both seekers looked interested in that prospect, and as they walked into the castle together, they made plans to have a seeker-off after breakfast next Saturday. Ginny chimed in with her two knuts from time to time, as they set up the rules. As they reached the entrance doors, Viktor stopped and looked at the pair next to him. "How long have you two been together?" Harry and Ginny looked at each other.

"A little over a month," Harry replied, turning back to the Bulgarian. Viktor blinked, surprised. "You seem very close," he observed. "I think you will be together for a long time." The Hogwarts students looked a little embarrassed, but Harry nodded his agreement, once more turning back to his girlfriend. "I think we will, as well." Ginny blushed, but stood on her toes to give him a chaste peck on the lips, her eyes promising of more to come later.

Viktor smiled at the sight. They had the same look as his parents, a couple who had been together for over forty years now. He expected that Harry Potter and this Ginny Weasley would be the same. The Gryffindors said goodbye to Viktor as they headed up to the tower to shower and change, as the Durmstrang student went in for breakfast.

_ _ _ Chapter 23 Extra, extra long chapter for you all! Hope that makes up for posting so late in the day! Disclaimer: don't own The seeker-off garnered a lot of attention over the course of the next week. Fred and George had a betting pool going, and at least half the school was planning on attending. Viktor received many strange looks as he chose to eat lunch and sometimes supper at the Gryffindor table several times during the week. He and Harry spent a good deal of time talking about Quidditch, with Ginny chiming in.

Viktor was interested to hear that she was a chaser, and asked if she played on the school team. Her reply of hoping to take a spot in a couple of years when the current starters graduated gave way to a whole conversation on the bonuses of having a reserve team. Harry made a mental note to bring up that idea with whoever became Quidditch Captain next year. Ron tried to get into the discussions, but he wasn't quite able to hold a conversation with his hero.

Viktor even tried to get him to open up, once Harry mentioned that he was a fair keeper, but Ron just blushed and mumbled something unintelligible. Sitting with the Gryffindors also gave Viktor a chance to see up close and personal just how Hermione and Ron interacted. He knew he was taking the fourth year girl as a friend, and she hadn't wanted anyone to know until the night of the ball. The two Gryffindors in question were not speaking much to each other, and he had to wonder if they were in the middle of one of their infamous arguments.

Hermione would glance at the redhead every so often, clearly not enjoying his eating habits, but there was a hint of something more in her gaze. Saturday morning was slightly overcast, but as Harry and Ginny went out for their by now customary morning run, Harry noted that there was very little chance of rain hitting any time before late afternoon.

Viktor had started joining them in the mornings, and was obligingly keeping it slower for Ginny, as she wasn't accustomed to a heavy pace just yet, though she was getting closer to three laps around the pitch by now.

They kept their workout light, so that the two seekers wouldn't be too tired out, and after breakfast, he and Viktor headed back out to the pitch. Most of the school congregated in the stands as Viktor and Harry stood facing each other on the pitch. As both had Firebolts, neither one had a distinct advantage over the other.

"So, the rules we set. Give the snitch thirty seconds before we take off, first one to catch it wins. Nothing life threatening," Harry recited. Viktor nodded, and they both turned to Ginny, who had offered to release the tiny golden ball for them. Ginny gave them a quick smile, before asking, "Ready?" Both nodded, and the redhead opened the case for the snitch to fly out. It hovered for about five seconds, before vanishing into the air.

Harry and Viktor, as agreed, held each other's gazes for twenty-five more seconds as Ginny timed and on her "now!" both mounted their brooms and shot off into the sky. Each seeker had his own method of searching. Viktor's was more methodical; he seemed to search the pitch in a grid pattern, while Harry just wove back and forth, diving in short bursts before leveling out and rising back to his former height.

A shout drew Harry's gaze to his opponent, who had gone into a steep dive. A quick scan at the air below Viktor told Harry that it was a fake, so he didn't follow.

Viktor, realizing the younger boy hadn't bought the ploy, leveled out and continued searching. A few minutes later, Harry tried a fake out of his own. He had been practicing the Wronski Feint over the summer whenever Minerva hadn't been around to yell at him for risking his life and as he dove, he was oblivious to the screams and gasps of the crowd. He heard nothing except for the whistling of the wind in his ears.

Barely six inches above the grass, he leveled out, feeling the blades caress his feet. Behind him, Viktor also managed to straighten out in time, though not without a Bulgarian curse. As they both rose back to playing height, Viktor nodded. "Nice dive," he called out. Harry smiled his thanks, before they returned to searching. It took another twenty minutes for the snitch to show itself.

Both Harry and Viktor spotted it at the same time, hovering around the far side of the pitch, by the rings. They took off, the chase surging through their veins. The thrill of the hunt sung in the adrenaline coursing through their bodies. This was why both of them were seekers. The ball gave up a good fight, dropping down to barely four inches off the ground, which both players were able to follow, before it rose up again in a steady climb.

In the end, Harry managed to squeeze out a victory, his hand closing over the struggling gold ball barely half a second before Viktor, the older boy's hand swiping at the back of his.

They pulled up, Harry holding up the ball for the crowds to see. The stands erupted with cheers as the Hogwarts students realized that Harry had beaten out the best seeker in the league.

The Gryffindors were particularly happy. As Harry landed, he was met first by his girlfriend, who gave him a congratulatory kiss, and then by his team, who all gave him hugs. Fred and George seemed very happy, and Harry figured they had probably made a lot of money on his win. They had been rather blue after being swindled out of their winnings at the Quidditch World Cup Ludo Bagman had made a very commendable effort to ignore the redhead twins in the castle, not wanting to have to face the two he had tried to fool with Leprechaun gold.

Ron and Hermione were next, followed by Neville and Susan; Hermione and Susan hugged him as well, and Ron and Neville pounded him on the back. They all headed inside, and Viktor joined them for lunch, talking about the highlights of their match.

Viktor was very impressed, and he said so. "That was amazing, Harry. Where did you learn to fly like that?" Harry blushed and looked down. "I didn't really have anyone to teach me," he admitted. "It just happens. I don't really think about it." Hermione leaned forward, smiling at her secret date. "He's being modest. Our first flying lesson he shot up like he was born to fly.

Gave us all a right scare." "Hermione's right," Ron added, finally able to speak in full sentences to the Quidditch star. "He pulled off a perfect fifty-foot dive without a scratch, his first time on a broom." One of the twins felt the need to chime in now. "Our previous captain once told him to get the snitch or die trying. Little Harry just took it to heart," Fred or George said. Harry shook his head, mumbling something about making Ginny an only child not seeming to care that her already graduated brothers had nothing to do with this incident as his face turned red.

Viktor seemed shocked that someone could be so good without trying, but he just sighed. "Well, I hope we can have a rematch sometime.

My teammates will never let me live down the fact that I was beaten by a fourteen year old." Most of the table laughed, and they all turned to their meals. XXX The last few weeks of term passed quickly, and before he knew it, Harry was waking up on Christmas morning, thankfully before Ron found it necessary to dump water on him or something. Neville was watching their friend act like a five year old, and just gave Harry a smile as the black haired teen stood up to use the loo.

When he returned, Harry gathered up his presents and gestured to Neville and Ron. "Come on," he said. "If I know the girls, they're probably waiting downstairs for us." Ron looked slightly guilty that he hadn't thought about that, while Neville just nodded, gathering up his own pile and following his friend down to the common room, Ron bringing up the rear.

As Harry had said, Hermione and Ginny were sitting on the sofas by the fire, waiting with their presents by their feet. Neville and Ron both mumbled their 'Happy Christmases', while Harry went in for a holiday kiss from his girlfriend.

He could feel her happiness through their bond, and he sent back his own feelings of contentment. While they hadn't noticed any change over the last few weeks, if anything, their ability to feel the other had gotten stronger. It was starting to interfere, when he was in Ancient Runes and he felt her thrill at a practical Defense lesson, or when she was angry with Snape in Potions, and he had to try and pay attention to Professor Sprout in Herbology.

They were getting better at tuning it out, but it would never fully disappear, not that they wanted it to. Hermione clapped as they all sat down. "I'm so glad you all came down, I was wondering if we should go up and fetch you." Ron looked alarmed that she would go to their dormitory, but Hermione just continued, "Should we all open our presents at once, or go in turns?" "I think we should go in turns," Neville spoke before the rest of them. He blushed at their attention.

"I always like watching what other people get." Harry nodded. "I agree. Who should start?" They looked at each other for a moment, before Hermione sighed. "I'll go first, and then we can just go in a circle." She picked up her first present, which turned out to be from her parents. "Why don't we just open the presents we got each other together, and the rest on our own?" Everyone nodded, so Hermione set the package aside, and searched through her pile for a tag from one of her friends.

The first one she found was from Neville, and contained a book on magical creatures and their rights. Hermione had put up a big fuss upon hearing of the way house elves were treated after learning about Dobby, and when she had discovered that Hogwarts employed the creatures, she had been all for trying to free the entire species. Only some fast talk from Neville and Harry had calmed her down.

Once they had explained that house elves needed to be bonded to a family to survive, she had lost some enthusiasm. She still didn't like the way so many were abused, but she was more understanding of why they needed to serve wizarding families and households, and started focusing her efforts more on dealing with the way some families used physical punishments on their elves.

Ginny went next, and opened a box of chocolate frogs from Ron. She smiled her thanks, before they turned to Harry, as he opened his present from Ginny. She had given him a stag-shaped pendant with tiny green eyes. She was very nervous as he looked at her. "It can be added to the bracelet I got you for your birthday. The green isn't emerald, unfortunately, but I thought we could match. I had to make a special request for the shopkeeper to get the eyes right, but " She was cut off as Harry's mouth crashed on hers, kissing her passionately.

Ron gave a weak protest, but Hermione's elbow shut him up. Neville's turn was next; his gift from Hermione was a book on Herbology that he had been wanting to read. Ron's first present was a book on chess from Hermione. He was almost blushing as he thanked her. They continued to open presents for a while longer. Hermione received books mostly, on Transfiguration from Harry and Ancient Runes from Ginny, in addition to the one Neville had gotten her. Ron, of course, got her candy. She hid her disappointment as she thanked him.

She had thought he might be changing a bit she was sure she had seen something when he learned she already had a date to the ball, and Viktor had told her he was definitely jealous, but he still hadn't said or done anything.

Ginny's other presents included a book on Quidditch from Neville, a stationary set from Hermione, and a gorgeous hair ornament from Harry. On studying it further, she noted that it was encrusted with what appeared to be garnets and emeralds, in the shape of a rose. She was blushing as she thanked him profusely. Harry just smiled and let her snuggle into his side, feeling completely content.

Neville got another book on Herbology from Ginny, candy from Ron, and a grow your own herb kit from Harry. He looked it over, confused, and then turned to Harry. Harry was smiling. "It's a muggle thing," he explained. Neville nodded, smiling as he thanked his friend.

Ron opened up chocolates from Ginny and Neville, and a book on the Chudley Cannon's from Harry. Harry's other gifts from his friends included a book on practical defense from Hermione, the predictable candy from Ron, and a book on advanced Herbology from Neville. Once they were done with those gifts, they turned to open the rest of their presents at the same time. Harry was surprised by how many he had left. The customary sweater from Mrs. Weasley was nice to receive this year it had a dragon on it, and was accompanied by a box of fudge.

Sirius and Remus had given him a box set of books entitled The Battle Series. Inside were several books with titles like Battle Transfiguration and Battle Charms. He thumbed through the Battle Basics book, which seemed to be the first one in the series, and smiled at the detailed drawings. The accompanying note said that they had another present for him, but it would have to wait until he returned home for the summer.

Harry was beaming just thinking about the idea of actually looking forward to the summer holidays for once. His next gift was from Cedric. He had been surprised by the friendship that had sprung up between him and the Hufflepuff. Cedric was an easy person to like, and they got along quite well. The older boy had become something of an older brother to him.

He hoped the Prefect liked his present. Harry had gotten him a wand holster from Ollivander's, much like the one he had received for his birthday a few months earlier. It never hurt to have your wand easily accessible. Cedric had given him a book on the history of the Triwizard Tournament.

Fred and George had given him more of their homemade joke products, but the next gift was what really had Harry surprised. He hadn't expected to receive anything from any more Weasleys, but apparently, Bill and Charlie had warmed up to him, and given him a pair of very nice dragon hide boots spelled to be size adjusting and a book on dragons.

Ginny smiled, seeing that all of her brothers liked her boyfriend not that they had told anyone other than the Weasleys currently attending school that they were dating. And Ron, Fred, and George had all agreed however reluctantly to keep quiet until the summer, so that they could tell her parents in person. Harry was surprised to receive something from Viktor, and felt better about getting the Bulgarian his own gift. The book on Quidditch Viktor had given him was a somewhat predictable present, but Harry knew he would enjoy reading it.

Aunt Minerva hadn't given him anything, but she had already told him what his present was. She didn't want people knowing that he had a penseive in his possession and it would be uncomfortable for people to know that she could actually afford one so the priceless item would be waiting for him when he returned to McGonagall Castle for the summer, along with the gift that she, Sirius, and Remus had teamed up to get him.

Harry was really looking forward to going home in June, if only so that he could find out just what this present was. When they were through opening presents, they all went to get dressed in casual clothes for breakfast.

They spent the rest of the day relaxing and having fun. Harry, Ginny, and Hermione teamed up against Ron, Neville, and Susan, and had a snowball fight. They would have won, had Fred and George not chosen to intervene and dump a rather large pile of snow on their sister and her boyfriend.

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Their small snow fight soon turned into a rather impressive schoolwide event, as more and more of the DA poured outside and picked a team.

When Harry thought about it later, he was incredibly pleased at the way the students picked their teams: no one side was overburdened with any particular house. There were first year Slytherins calling out for third year Ravenclaws to join them, and second year Hufflepuffs motioning to first year Gryffindors. But what Harry considered the best part was when his little friend Evan, the boy who had asked him that innocent question on their first night in the castle the question that inadvertently spawned the whole DA shouted out for Adrian Whitlock, his yearmate in Slytherin, to help him beat a couple of third year Hufflepuffs.

These students were understanding that, beyond the houses, they really were not that different. Harry could feel the change his generation was bringing, and he knew it would have a great effect for years to come. It was almost like a fresh breeze after a storm. The group had grown even more in the last few weeks of term, and Harry was wondering if he should talk to Minerva about either expanding the room with some charms, or finding a bigger space to study.

A lot of the fifth and seventh years had decided to capitalize on the access to two of their best professors; McGonagall and Flitwick had a lot of knowledge in multiple areas of study, not only Transfiguration and Charms, and those particular years were already feeling the strain of exams.

Most of the Quidditch teams from Gryffindor, Hufflepuff, and Ravenclaw were coming regularly even Fred and George. Theodore Nott had finally joined the group, after a rather interesting discussion with Harry, at Blaise's request. While Nott Senior ran more to Malfoy's line of thought, it seemed that his son was not quite so eager to follow a halfblood maniac.

He wouldn't be following Dumbledore anytime soon, but then again, neither would Harry. The snowball fight wasn't looking good for Harry's side, until a rather opportune wave of snow managed to find itself on top of the large group that had flocked to support Neville, Susan, and Ron. Harry was grateful that their fight had ended up just underneath the window to the Transfiguration classroom. They returned to the castle, shivering but happy, mid afternoon so that the girls could start getting ready for the Ball.

Harry, Ron, and Neville wouldn't need to start for another couple of hours, so they stayed in the common room, Harry reading his Battle Basics book, and Neville bravely agreeing to play Ron at chess.

Harry privately didn't know why anyone bothered anymore, but he didn't say anything. Ron was a chess champion, and it made him happy to beat his classmates resoundingly. An hour before the Ball, Harry and the other boys went up to their dormitory to change. Harry once more thanked Minerva for getting him nice robes, as he watched Ron get dressed, trying not to grimace at the brown lace and velvet.

At a quarter to eight, Harry picked up a black box and went down to meet his date. Ron and Neville followed. With a nervous goodbye, Neville went to meet Susan in the entrance hall, and Ron and Harry waited for the girls. Ron had finally managed to get a date with Parvarti, but he didn't seem to be happy with it. Parvarti entered first, and with a badly hidden grimace at his robes, allowed Ron to lead her out the portrait hole. A few moments later, Harry felt anticipation and excitement rise in him, and knew that Ginny was on her way down.

He turned to the entrance to the girls' dormitories just in time to see perfection. Ginny practically floated down the stairs; the dress was beautiful on her, accenting her hips and chest, but not overly so. It hinted at curves that she was just starting to develop. Her hair was done in an intricate knot, and fastened with the clip Harry had given her that morning. Her eyes had a light gold color across their lids, and there was just a hint of blush and lipstick.

She looked beautiful. Hermione came down behind her, and smiled wistfully at the look of adoration on Harry's face. If only Ron would look at her that way! Ginny came to a stop in Harry's arms, as he hugged her. "You look amazing, Gin," he whispered in her ear.

Ginny smiled and stepped back. "You look pretty good yourself, Potter," she admired, taking in the deep green robes and the way they showed off his slim athletic figure. Harry blushed, and held out the box in his hands. "I have one more present for you," he said softly. Ginny looked like she was about to protest, but stopped on seeing the gleam in Harry's eyes. She just sighed and opened the box, gasping at the jewelry set lying on the black velvet.

The necklace was beautiful, with the tiny rubies embedded along the chain, and the teardrop emeralds at the bottom. The earrings clearly matched, and she looked back up at Harry, tears in her eyes. Harry removed the necklace from the box, gently spinning Ginny around so that he could attach it. "I found this set in my family vault this summer," he told her quietly as he attached the clasp, taking off the necklace she had been wearing already.

She turned back around as he finished. "Sirius told me that my dad gave it to my mum for her seventeenth birthday." He looked a little uncomfortable as he finished. "There's also an engagement ring that matches." Ginny blushed slightly, but smiled, giving him a kiss before she removed her earrings, and put the new ones on. "They're gorgeous, Harry, thank you so much." Hermione waited until they were done before she stepped out. Harry smiled at his friend. "You look great, Hermione." Hermione smiled.

"Thanks, Harry. You both look so great together. That necklace and those earrings are beautiful." Harry blushed at that, but he didn't say anything, and the two waited as Ginny returned her jewelry to her room. When she came back down, he offered his arm to her, as the three of them made their way to the Great Hall. Viktor was waiting for Hermione in the Entrance Hall, and Harry had to smile at the way his new friend seemed to admire his older one.

They were all growing up, and Hermione was turning into a beautiful woman. Harry and Ginny drew several sets of eyes, but thankfully, most of the students were already in the Great Hall. Cedric and Cho both gave them wide smiles, as they joined the group of champions and dates.

Fleur had asked Roger Davies, from Ravenclaw, though the sixth year didn't seem to be capable of much thought in the presence of his date, a fact that Fleur seemed completely aware of, if the slightly bored and exasperated look she was hiding was any indication. She gave Harry a nod and a smile as the young pair joined them, which he returned graciously. They had not had much interaction since the first task, but he had noticed a definite thawing in her attitude towards him. Professor McGonagall came at that moment, shooing all the milling students into the Great Hall, until the only ones left were the champions and their dates.

She smiled. "We will begin momentarily, and you will all enter and make your way towards the head table for dinner. After we have eaten, you will open the dancing portion of the evening. Does anyone have any questions?" They all shook their heads, and Minerva nodded. Her eyes rested on Harry for longer than the rest, and he gave her a smile. Their dance lessons had been a bit trying at times, but he felt much more comfortable with the prospect of having to dance with so many people watching him.

It had taken several sessions over the last few weeks, but Minerva had finally deemed him 'proficient'. She had been willing, and even happy, to see Neville join Harry and Ginny, and had dutifully taken up the role of the shy boy's partner, since he hadn't wanted to tell Susan.

She was truly happy to see the friendship Harry had developed with his fellow Gryffindor. She remembered the friendships their parents had cultivated, and it was good to know that another generation of Potters and Longbottoms would be standing side by side.

Minerva arranged the couples, and then opened the doors and stepped aside to allow the champions to make their way through the Great Hall. Fleur and Roger entered first, followed by Viktor and Hermione, and then Cedric and Cho, and finally Harry and Ginny. People were openly pointing and staring at Hermione with the Quidditch star, and more than one person sighed wistfully at the sight that was Harry and Ginny. He would later be told that they looked absolutely perfect together.

Dumbledore could not help but remember the Graduation Ball they had held in James and Lily's seventh year Harry and Ginny looked so much like his parents, it was uncanny. He had watched from afar, deciding to maintain his distance after that first rather unproductive meeting, and worried about how independent the boy was becoming.

This relationship could not be allowed to become serious. Harry was marked for death, after all, and allowing him to become attached to reasons to fight for life would only hurt the wizarding world. The four couples took their seats at the head table as everyone else sat down as well. Harry was less than thrilled to be seated next to Percy, who was filling in for his boss, Mr. Crouch. Over dinner, he informed his sister and her boyfriend whom he did not seem to be pleased about of how Mr.

Crouch had taken ill, and had entrusted him with seeing to the day-to-day operations of his department. His next topic was grilling the pair about how long they had been dating, what they had done, had they told Mr.

and Mrs. Weasley, and the like. Ginny finally had enough, and told her brother in a quite blunt fashion that if he didn't keep his knowledge private, he would not like the results. They would tell the elder Weasleys the next time they saw them.

Percy looked a little nervous at his younger sister's glare, but he chose not to comment, and simply said he'd keep their secret, as long as they told their parents by the end of the school year. He then asked Harry his intentions. Harry's gaze was steady and calm as he replied, "I care for your sister, Percy. I already had this conversation with your brothers over the summer.

I'm fourteen, she's thirteen; we don't have to have it all figured out right now. But I want to see where this goes. I have nothing but the highest respect for her, and I don't have to tell you that she can't be forced into doing anything she doesn't want to do." Percy looked taken aback by the straightforward response, and he was only able to nod as he watched his sister give Harry a kiss, smiling brightly as she pulled away.

"You keep talking like that, Potter, and I might just have to keep you around." Dessert finished at that moment, and with a clap, Dumbledore announced that it was time for the champions to open the dance. Nervously, Harry stood up and offered his hand to his girlfriend. The pair made their way to the dance floor with the other three couples, and as the band struck up an easy waltz, Harry felt himself falling back to the lessons Aunt Minerva had drilled into him.

He placed one hand on Ginny's waist, and took her hand with the other, and the two fell into the dance. Harry was thankful, later, that Colin Creevey had managed to find a date, as the pictures he saw of that dance were definitely ones he would want to frame.

They almost looked like they were floating as they moved across the dance floor. After that first dance, more and more couples moved out to have their turn. Harry and Ginny spent a great deal of time out on the floor, before they moved to the side for some drinks and rest, and simply observed their friends for a while. It was interesting to see the various couples there were definitely dates he would not have seen coming. Terry Boot from Ravenclaw had asked Daphne Greengrass, and the two seemed to be having a rather good time.

Fred and George had asked Angelina and Alicia, respectively, but Harry didn't know if the pairs were actually dating from what he saw, if it wasn't happening yet, it would soon. Perhaps the most surprising pair was Blaise and Luna. Harry had taken the other boy aside briefly when he had heard about them, a few days previously, to ask what the Slytherin's intentions were. Luna was becoming an increasingly good friend to him, and he knew that Ginny still considered the odd Ravenclaw one of her best friends.

He didn't want the younger girl to get hurt by a cruel practical joke. Blaise's response had surprised him. "I like her," he had admitted, after the last DA meeting of the term had wrapped up, and the rest of the leaders had already departed for their dormitories. "I know, it doesn't really make sense, but she's fun. She sees the world in a different way from the rest of us.

She makes me smile." Harry had just nodded, and given him a variation of the same threat he had used on Viktor. "Luna's my friend, and I take care of my friends. I like you, Blaise, but if you hurt her, I won't be held responsible for my actions. Clear?" Blaise had nodded his agreement, partially nervous, but also pleased to see that Harry really just cared about his friend. The comment about taking care of his friends also struck home as he had realized that the Potter heir considered him to be a friend as well.

Blaise knew that his classmate was promising to be there for him, as well, should he need it. Things with Malfoy had been tense all semester, especially with the DA. He had tried to stop the Slytherins from attending, but not very many listened to him, fewer and fewer as the term had progressed. Crabbe, Goyle, and Pansy were the only ones in his year that weren't attending, and it was mostly only the older years that were hesitant. The younger years had been swayed after the first couple of meetings, and were eager to attend every week, praising the attitude of the group, and the abundance of help they received.

Harry watched Blaise and Luna on the dance floor, smiling as they moved. His gaze moved over to Hermione and Viktor, also enjoying the music. Across the room, Ron was sitting at a table, scowling.

He also seemed to be watching Hermione. Parvarti said something to him, which he ignored, before she walked away in a huff. A moment later, Ron stood up and headed towards the dancing couple that included his friend. "Uh oh," Harry muttered. Ginny looked at him, confused, before she followed his gaze, and her own narrowed. Silently in agreement, they stood up and made their way to hopefully head off a confrontation.

They were too late. Hermione was already shouting at Ron, while Viktor looked on, scowling. "Ron." They all turned to look at Harry. His own expression was closed off, and he had clearly heard a few of his best friend's choice comments. "I think you should leave." Ron looked about to protest, but Harry just shook his head. "Hermione is well within her rights to attend the ball with whomever asks her, and Viktor is my friend.

If you can't accept that, you need to leave, now." Ron tried to stare Harry down, but the Boy Who Lived was more experienced, and simply held on until the redhead turned around and left in a sulk. Harry sighed and turned back to Hermione, who was almost in tears. His gaze softened. "I'm sorry, 'Mione. Don't listen to him, you two just have fun." Hermione smiled and nodded, turning back to Viktor.

The elder champion gave Harry a grateful nod, as the pair began to dance once more. Harry turned back to his own date, and with an offered hand, he and Ginny headed back to the dance floor as well.

Ginny could feel the disappointment and stress coming from her boyfriend, so after one more dance, she pulled him towards the doors, in a silent suggestion to spend a little time alone. Outside in the courtyard, there was a beautiful rose garden set up. Ginny shivered lightly, so Harry twisted his wrist, bringing his wand to his hand, and cast a warming charm over the two of them. Ginny smiled gratefully, and the two spent a few minutes walking through the flowers, until Harry finally spoke.

"Is it wrong for me to feel offended?" Ginny shook her head, but she didn't have time to speak before Harry was continuing, "I really thought Ron was growing up. I actually thought he would ask Hermione to the ball." Ginny nodded.

"I did too," she admitted, squeezing his hand tighter. "Harry, he's your friend, and he just blew up at your other friends. You feel upset, it's natural. We're all growing up, and he needs to figure it out, on his own.

You can't tell him how to feel or how to act." The pair sat down on a bench and pondered the situation for a few minutes. Or rather, Harry tried to think about what to do about his friend, but he kept getting distracted by the girl sitting next to him. His relationship with Ginny had only grown and deepened over the last few months. While he had told her brother that they were young, and didn't know where it was headed, he had to admit to himself that he knew he would never want anyone else.

He wouldn't tell any of her family that yet, especially since they were so young, but with this bond they had, he knew that they would never want to look anywhere else. He loved her. It was as simple as that.

Ginny started. "Did you say something?" she asked, shocked. Harry looked over, confused. "No," he replied, confused. Ginny's brow furrowed. "I could have sworn…" she trailed off, embarrassed.

Harry leaned down, caressing her cheek with one hand. "What?" he prompted. Ginny blushed, biting her lip. "I thought I heard you say you loved me," she admitted quietly. Harry jerked slightly, and Ginny looked about to apologize, when Harry gave her a light kiss on the lips. "I didn't say it," he told her, "I thought it." Ginny looked up, eyes widening.

"Did I…?" Harry nodded, once, and then concentrated. I love you, Ginevra Molly Weasley. Ginny paused for a moment. "I heard you," she breathed.

"Hold on." She stared into his eyes, thinking hard, I love you, Harry James Potter. Harry's smile was brilliant. "Do you know what this means?" he asked, letting go of her hand so that he could rest his arm across her shoulders. Ginny nodded. "It's a soul bond," she replied, voice quieter than a whisper. Harry leaned down and planted a kiss on the top of her head, before he sat back and turned slightly, so that he was facing her on the bench.

He stared into her eyes as he thought, We were fated to be together, Gin. We're meant for each other. You're not getting rid of me, ever.

Ginny smiled as she leaned into him, resting against his chest. Good, she replied. And the same is true for you. We belong together, Potter. You're mine. Harry chuckled, hugging her close.

"Good," he murmured into her ear. The two stayed that way for several more minutes, and were only interrupted when they heard a rather interesting conversation between Hagrid and Madam Maxime on the other side of the hedge. Harry hadn't known Hagrid was part giant, though he supposed it shouldn't be that much of a surprise.

And it wasn't like it mattered. Hagrid was still the gentlest being he had ever met. The couple decided to make their way back inside, as Harry's warming charm was wearing off, and they wanted to rejoin their friends.

As they walked inside, Harry noticed a beetle flying out of a bush, but dismissed it as inconsequential. _ _ _ Chapter 24 Almost 500 reviews! You guys rock! Disclaimer: not mine The start of the semester came as a relief to most of Gryffindor tower. The week between Christmas and New Years had been fraught with tension, as the Golden Trio was once more at odds. Ron had sulked around the tower, while Harry and Hermione had spent most of their time with Neville and Ginny, in the common room or the DA lounge.

In the lounge, they were joined by many members of the group, the older of whom knew what was going on with Ron, and supported Harry and Hermione completely.

Most of them had heard at least some of the youngest Weasley male's comments. Somewhat of a surprise was the inclusion of Viktor. He had asked Harry if he could join them during the day, since he had very little homework, and wanted to spend some more time in Hogwarts, getting to know his new friends after all, that's what the whole tournament was about.

Harry mentally grinned at that statement, reminded of Hermione's reasoning for accepting the date with Viktor in the first place. Not much studying took place in the lounge, other than the fifth and seventh years; Harry was even able to convince Hermione to lay aside the books for a few days. Instead, they just spent time together, talking and playing games.

Gobstones and Exploding Snap were the most popular, though there were a few chess matches as well the pairings were significantly more even than whenever Ron played someone.


The tenseness had culminated in one major blowout in the common room on New Years Eve, where Hermione had yelled at Ron that if he hadn't liked her date, he should have asked her out before anyone else had the chance. Ron hadn't had a response to that, and after a moment, Hermione had run up to the girls' dorms. Ginny had given Harry's hand a squeeze, before she followed her friend.

Harry had led Ron up to their own dorm, seeing all of their roommates in the common room at that time. A quick glance at Neville confirmed that he would keep Dean and Seamus from interrupting. Once in their dorm room, Harry locked the door and faced his friend. He took a moment to make sure that when he spoke, it would be calm and collected. "Ron, you're my best mate, but if you don't start thinking before you speak, we're going to have some serious problems." Ron opened his mouth to talk, but Harry held up one hand, shaking his head.

"Ron, you grew up in a very protected environment. You learned early on that Slytherins were bad, and Gryffindors were good.

You see the world in black and white, and while that's not necessarily bad, the world doesn't really work that way. Everyone has shades of gray, even you. I'm glad that you've managed to keep yourself in check at DA meetings, around the Slytherins, but you haven't really made an effort to include them or talk with them.

Not everyone in that house is a Malfoy." Ron didn't try and speak this time; his face was turning red, but he seemed to be listening to what his friend was saying. Harry sighed. "Ron, Viktor is a good friend. Hermione's right. The whole point of this tournament was to foster international cooperation; it's all about making new friends. So let's talk about what's really bothering you." He sat down on his bed, and gestured for Ron to sit down as well.

He did so, looking decidedly uncomfortable. "Why didn't you ask Hermione to the ball?" Ron's head jerked, and he adopted a deer in headlights expression. "Wha " he trailed off, so Harry leaned forward. "Ron, it's plain as day to everyone except the two of you. You fancy Hermione.

So why didn't you ask her?" Ron looked down, thinking. Finally, he spoke, his voice quiet and contemplative.

"I wasn't sure how. I mean, you asked Ginny in this elaborate gesture, and Neville asked Susan, and I just didn't know what to do. I… I like her, Harry. A lot. But now she's with Krum…" Harry shook his head.

"She's not," he disagreed. "What?" Ron looked up, confused. "She's not," Harry repeated. "She and Viktor went as friends, nothing more." Ron frowned. "Are you sure?" Harry nodded. "Positive." Ron looked slightly happier at that knowledge, but he still had a problem. "So what should I do now? I've really made a mess of things." Harry shifted in his seat, leaning back a little.

"I can't tell you what to do, Ron. Hermione's mad, but it's no more than you deserve. At least you realize that. Try apologizing, and then showing her, with actions, that you're interested." Ron bit his lip.

"What if she doesn't feel the same way?" he asked worriedly. Harry snorted. "Ron, did you, or did you not hear her tell the entire common room that you should have asked her out first? She likes you too, mate." Harry decided to leave his friend to his thoughts, and left the room to spend some more time with his girlfriend. XXX Other than Ron and Hermione's continuing coldness towards each other, the only other point of interest during the holidays, was an article in the Daily Prophet that appeared two days after Christmas.

Hagrid was refusing to leave his hut after the newspaper had identified him as a part giant, and Harry and his friends were hard-pressed to make him feel better. Even Ron and Hermione were willing to spend time in the others presence, in order to cheer up their large friend. The comments from Malfoy and his cronies didn't help the situation, but Harry just ignored him, knowing that the Slytherin was losing power within his house, and his way of degrading others was just a last ditch attempt to make himself look better.

Hagrid was eventually cajoled into leaving his hut by the first day of the new term, and he was relieved to see that the majority of the students didn't care about his heritage.

XXX The semester began, and Ron still hadn't spoken to Hermione. The tension in Gryffindor tower was starting to become stifling, and even Minerva managed to pick up on it during her classes. She asked Harry to stay after class to talk about it, but didn't receive much in the way of answers. From what she gathered, Ron and Hermione were having another one of their arguments, though this one seemed to have lasted much longer than most she wondered if it had anything to do with Ron's blow up at the Yule Ball.

She had told Harry how impressed she was with the way he had handled his friend that night. Ron finally asked Hermione for a word after the next DA meeting. With so many students attending now, Minerva and Filius had worked their magic to enlarge the room, and Harry decided that they needed to split up the students differently.

He and the other leaders had met once after Christmas, to plan and reorganize. The professors would take the fifth and seventh year students, and Cedric and Cho would handle the sixth years. Years four and below would continue to be split up into multiple groups, and would be led by Harry, Ron, Hermione, Neville, Ginny, Luna, Susan, Daphne, and Blaise.

Blaise and Luna were officially dating now, as were Neville and Susan. Harry was happy for all of his friends, though he did worry about how Blaise would be treated by the rest of his house. His worries were cast aside when Blaise told him quietly that the only ones he really needed to worry about were Malfoy, Warrington, and Montague as Crabbe, Goyle, and Parkinson were really just sycophants, following Malfoy like little lapdogs and the rest of the house was either neutral or on his side and actively watching his back.

At the end of the meeting, Ron held Hermione back, appearing much more nervous than any one of them could ever remember him looking. Harry gave his friend a nod, and grasped Ginny's hand, leading the remaining students out of the room. Once they were alone, Ron cleared his throat. He didn't know how to start, but he knew what he needed to say. "Hermione, I'm sorry." Hermione stared at him, waiting for him to continue. Ron coughed. "I've been a real prat lately, I know.

You didn't deserve that, and neither did Krum. I shouldn't have said what I did." "So why did you?" Hemrione asked, her tone giving away nothing. Ron sighed. "Because I was jealous," he admitted. A ghost of a smile crossed Hermione's face, but the redhead didn't see it. "I wanted to ask you to the Ball myself, but I just couldn't work up the nerve to do it, and then you were already going with someone else." Hermione sat down at a table, sighing.

"What exactly is it you want to happen here, Ron?" Ron also sat down, moving the chair slightly so that he was facing Hermione. "I'm not like Harry, 'Mione. I'm not good with words, or actions, and I don't really know how to show how I feel. I like you, a lot, but I don't really know how to say it." The smile this time wasn't fleeting.

Hermione leaned forward, grasping one of his hands in hers. "I think you just did," she said nervously. Ron looked at their intertwined hands, and then up at her face. He saw the happiness in her eyes, and he smiled a little hesitantly. "Hermione, would you go to Hogsmeade with me?" Hermione nodded, beaming. "I'd love to, Ron." They stood up, and looked at each other awkwardly, before they decided to make their way back up to Gryffindor tower before curfew.

It wasn't quite as romantic or easy as Harry and Ginny, but Ron felt he could learn to be that way, with time. XXX After leaving the DA lounge, Harry and Ginny said goodbye to the rest of their friends, as Harry led his girlfriend in a different direction. Harry, where are we going? Ginny asked as he led her along. Since Christmas, the two had been experimenting with this mind speak, trying to find the limits. It took a bit more effort when they were further apart, and it was the easiest to do when they were touching.

They had noticed that it was getting easier with time, though, leading Harry to come to the conclusion that it was like any muscle: exercise and practice made it stronger. Harry gave her a mental smile. It's a surprise, he replied, coming to a stop in the seventh floor corridor by the portrait of Barnabus the Barmy. Ginny looked around, confused, as Harry paced back and forth three times.

She gasped in shock as a door appeared. Harry once more took her hand and pulled her into the room that had magically shown itself, closing the door behind them. It was a cozy room, with a fireplace dancing merrily in the corner, and a very comfortable looking sofa. Windows that she knew must be artificial showed a silvery full moon, and millions of stars that would ordinarily be washed out from the light of the castle.

Harry led her to the couch, sitting down and pulling her close to him. They snuggled for a few minutes, as Harry explained. "It's called the Room of Requirement. Dobby told me about it a few days ago. Apparently, it stays hidden unless it's needed, and can become any room you want. I was thinking we might move our morning run in here, since it's getting rather cold outside." Ginny snorted lightly, remembering their rather ill fated run the week before; their runs over the last few weeks hadn't been as easy or vigorous as they had been before the snow had started to stick to the ground.

As the pair had discovered, not slipping in four inches of snow and ice was not quite as easy as they had thought. "So what else can the room do?" she asked, snuggling even closer. Harry smiled mischievously, pulling her up off the couch, and holding her hand. He closed his eyes, visualizing, and both felt and heard Ginny's gasp as the scene changed around them.

Where it had been a cozy study, was now an outdoor scene. He opened his eyes again, and studied his beautiful girlfriend by the light of the artificial setting sun.

He bent down to take off his shoes, and Ginny followed his actions, slightly dazed. "Harry…" she trailed off, looking around her in amazement. They were standing on a beach, and without shoes and socks, they could feel the sand between their toes. The sun was setting over an ocean. Ginny looked at Harry. "Is that real?" she asked curiously, gesturing to the water.

Harry smiled. "Let's go find out," he suggested, leading her up to the water's edge, close enough that the receding waves did not leave them dry. It was indeed real water, and Ginny sighed in contentment. She had always loved the water; even living on an island, she had very rarely seen the ocean, and she was immediately enraptured.

The two spent another hour walking in the surf, talking through their bond. The sunset remained just as amazingly stunning, casting orange and red hues across the water, sand, and the two people on the beach. When Harry realized it was getting late, he silently asked the room to go back to the study, and a moment later, they were once more standing in front of the fireplace. Their abandoned shoes and socks were sitting next to the couch.

As they sat down to shod their feet once more, Ginny smiled. That was amazing, Harry. Thank you so much. Harry blushed a little, but returned the smile. I had fun too, Gin. I've never seen the ocean before, but it was so beautiful. Just like you. Ginny's face took on a pink hue, but she kept smiling. I'd like to do this again sometime. Harry nodded, standing up and holding out his hand. I think I'd like that, Gin.

The couple hurried through the dark halls, barely making it back to the tower before curfew. Ron and Hermione were sitting on the couch by the fireplace, looking much happier than they had been the last couple of weeks. Neville was in an armchair nearby, reading the Herbology book Hermione had given him for Christmas. They all looked up as Harry and Ginny joined them. "Where were you two?" Hermione asked, closing her Transfiguration textbook.

Harry and Ginny looked at each other and blushed. "We were just spending some time together," Harry replied, before changing the subject. "So I gather you two made up?" It was the other pair's turn to blush. Ron turned a deep red, and Hermione's cheeks were tinged pink. Neville chuckled, looking up from his own book. "I'm glad you guys are back.

Something's going on with those two, but they won't tell me anything." Harry sat down, pulling Ginny into his lap. Ron looked like he wanted to say something, but apparently decided against it, and just swallowed, looking over at Hermione. The bushy haired witch smiled. "Ron asked me to go to Hogsmeade with him, the next weekend." Harry smirked, and nodded to his friends. "It's about time," he grinned. Ginny dug her elbow into his stomach.

"What my boyfriend means, is congratulations," she said, ignoring Harry's wince. They all laughed at Harry's discomfort, and passed the next hour talking. It was nice to just spend some time together, without worrying about homework or the tournament for just a little while. They just enjoyed being with each other. Soon enough it was time for bed, and the group headed up to the dorms feeling much calmer. XXX The weekend passed quickly with homework, spell practice, and the boys spending time with their girls.

Harry introduced the others to the Room of Requirement, and after answering all of Hermione's questions that he could, they decided to move their spell practice there, since the room was much better than they were at conjuring dummies and scenarios for Harry to practice under. The rest of the group had been suitably shocked to hear what Harry and Ginny had discovered about the second task; Ron was all for telling Mrs.

Weasley, and letting her ream Dumbledore out, but Harry and Ginny talked him out of it. "Mum doesn't need to worry, Ron," Ginny said calmly. "Besides, I don't think Dumbledore really has a say.

The tournament is controlled by Bagman and Crouch, and they won't change anything. I'll be fine." Ron still looked mutinous, but the others seemed to accept that there was nothing they could do, and they moved on. Now that they knew the second task would take place underwater, they needed to find a way for Harry to breathe.

The bubblehead charm was Hermione's suggestion, but as it was a seventh year charm, Harry doubted he'd be able to cast it. Neville was the one who suggested Gillyweed. "It's a plant that, when swallowed, gives you gills. It should work well enough, though there are some debates about its effectiveness in fresh water, versus salt water." Harry nodded thoughtfully.

"Do you know where to get some?" he asked. Neville smiled. "If you send an owl to the Apothocary in Diagon Ally, they should have it. You can get some extra, and practice a little before the task, so that you get the hang of it." "That's a great idea, Nev. Thanks." With that obstacle taken care of, they began to work on spells. Hermione had read about nonverbal casting, and thought it might be a good idea, considering he would be underwater.

They weren't really sure if he would be able to speak underwater, even taking Gillyweed.


And having the ability to cast spells without speaking could only be a good thing. After two hours and a great deal of hard work, Harry was able to cast a soundless levitation charm.

As the book he was levitating lowered back to the table, Harry let out a great sigh. "That's harder than it looks," he admitted. "But you did it, Harry," Susan placated. "Nonverbal casting isn't something we would learn until sixth year, and many witches and wizards never become proficient." Ginny nodded, smiling as she gave her boyfriend a kiss.

"You're doing great, Harry. We'll keep practicing. We've still got six weeks before the task." They decided to call it a night soon after, since it was getting late, and Harry was tired from the effort he had expended that evening. XXX As Transfiguration class ended the next Tuesday, Harry motioned for his friends to head to lunch without him.

They seemed confused, but willingly left him alone with his guardian. Minerva saw his hesitation, and waited until the rest of the students were gone, before she motioned for him to come closer.

Before he made it to her desk, the door opened once more, and both turned to see Ginny join them. She smiled as she came to a rest beside her boyfriend. "What can I do for the two of you?" Minerva asked, smiling lightly. Harry bit his lip, looking down briefly. "We wanted to ask you something about the second task," he replied cautiously. Minerva looked uncomfortable at that. "You know I can't help you, Harry." Harry shook his head. "I already know what it is, and what I'm going to do.

What I… what we want to confirm is whom the judges are planning on taking." Minerva looked even more uncomfortable. She glanced from Harry to Ginny, sighed, and nodded. "Your guess is correct, Harry. Miss Weasley will most definitely be deemed what you will 'sorely miss'." Harry looked distinctly angry. "What are they playing at?" he growled. Minerva appeared taken aback by his irritation. "What idiot thought it would be a good idea to have eight people take a dip in the lake in February?

And to drag innocent bystanders into it? Will they even be given a choice, or just taken from their beds without so much as a by-your-leave?" Minerva blinked, before standing up. "I cannot speak to the mindset of the committee that set up this tournament, so I cannot answer your question, but I will see to it that they are given a choice.

And Albus may be many things, but I do not believe he would intentionally place any student in harm's way." Harry and Ginny both snorted, thinking of all the things Dumbledore was responsible for.

The corner of Minerva's mouth quirked upwards, as she knew what they were thinking. She moved around her desk so that she could give her charge a hug. He leaned into the embrace, thankful for the support. When she pulled back, on an impulse, she also offered Ginny a light hug. Observing the two of them, she saw their very real worry, and on a whim, invited them to have lunch with her in her office, so that they might talk some more.

They agreed, and the trio spent the rest of the hour talking about Harry's plan for the task, the DA, and how they were managing with their homework. It was rather enjoyable for all of them, and as Minerva sent them off to their next classes History of Magic for Harry, and Arithmancy for Ginny she reflected of the couple.

She definitely wasn't surprised to learn that they had begun dating several months previously. Watching the pair, she had the same sense of rightness that she had felt when James and Lily had begun dating.

They just fit, and even though they were still so young, Minerva couldn't help but know that they had something special. She wouldn't be surprised to hear about their engagement in a few years. The idea that they may be getting too close too quickly worried her slightly, and she knew she would need to make sure Sirius finally got around to having The Talk with Harry over the summer, but what it came down to was whether or not she trusted Harry and Ginny.

And she did. They were responsible young adults. She might worry about them being alone in a room together, but in the end, it was all about the trust.

_ _ _ Chapter 25 Once more, I apologize for the late post. I was out of the house all day yesterday, and then when I tried to update last night, I kept getting a 'request timeout' page.

Enjoy! Disclaimer: not mine As Valentines Day that year was on a Tuesday, the Hogsmeade trip took place on the Sunday before. Ron and Hermione were becoming increasingly nervous leading up to the day, but relaxed slightly when Harry suggested they all meet up for lunch. That morning, the couples all headed to the village together before separating. It was agreed that Harry and Ginny, Ron and Hemione, Neville and Susan, Blaise and Luna, and Cedric and Cho would all meet at the Three Broomsticks at noon for lunch.

Harry and Ginny made sure to stop by the pub first, to ask Madam Rosmerta to reserve a private room for their large group. Since they had the whole morning to themselves, Harry and Ginny wandered through the village, looking in various shops and talking through their bond.

They refilled their candy supply at Honeydukes, stocked up on joke supplies at Zonkos, and Ginny picked up a few quills at Scrivenshaft's. Wandering past Madam Puddifoot's Tea Shop, Harry paused, looking at the garish decorations; it looked as if the madam of this particular shop had gone all out for Valentines Day.

Ginny also looked over the pink hearts and confetti. She shuddered. "Merlin, that's unfortunate." Harry tore his eyes away and focused on his girlfriend. "Lockhart, right?" he guessed, knowing what she had been thinking. Ginny nodded, and they continued walking, switching to mind speak. Why would anyone want to eat in a place looking like that?

Harry shrugged. It looked pretty busy to me, maybe some people just like that sort of thing. Ginny also shrugged, clearly not understanding. Harry mentally grinned. Thank Merlin you're not one of those girls, Gin.

Ginny gave him a mental shove. I think if I was, I'd kill myself. The couple continued to talk and walk for the rest of the morning, and just before noon, headed back to the Three Broomsticks to meet their friends. Slowly, the couples began to trickle in to the private room Harry had reserved.

Ron and Hermione were the first to enter, looking like they had enjoyed their morning. Neville, Susan, Cedric, and Cho came at about the same time, and Blaise and Luna followed soon after, leading Daphne and Colin Creevey behind them. "I hope you don't mind," Blaise said. "We ran into each other, and I invited them to lunch." Harry nodded, smiling, though internally, he was very surprised.

Daphne had a bit of a reputation as being an ice queen, and Colin was incredibly talkative. Still, there was that whole 'opposites attract' thing. And Blaise and Luna were a strange couple, but they seemed to work. Who was to say Daphne and Colin wouldn't as well? If they were actually a couple. As the oldest, Cedric had definitely worried he might feel a little bit on the outskirts of this gathering, but he was pleasantly surprised to be included so much in the conversation.

He had worked with most of them in the DA, and they had become very good friends. He was particularly pleased with the friendship he had started with Harry; the younger boy was incredibly mature for his age, and he was happy that the fourth year had made conversation with him as they waited for the portkey to the World Cup all those months ago. That seemed to be the starting point for their friendship. He wasn't ashamed to admit that, since Halloween, he had come to think of Harry as a sort of younger brother.

He was very supportive of Harry and Ginny's relationship, as he could see how much the two cared for each other. It was slightly unnerving to see such intensity in a fourteen and thirteen year old, but with everything that had happened to the two, Cedric figured they had probably been forced to grow up faster than normal.

The afternoon disappeared in a whirlwind of food and laughter. Madam Rosmerta kept bringing them drinks and snacks, making sure they had everything they needed.

The tournament was only mentioned in passing, and for the most part, it was speculation on who would win. Harry thought Cedric had a good shot, but the sixth year Hufflepuff remained adamant that Harry was his biggest competition.

Harry just blushed and stuttered out denials, while everyone else agreed that he was the one to beat. When it started to get late, they all headed back to the castle together. Minerva was once more waiting at the gates to see that all stragglers made it back.

She smiled at the large group, which unnerved a few of the students, but Harry was getting used to seeing her softer side by now. He grinned back, and Ginny even waved. They left the Transfiguration professor by the gate, and made their way inside, heading for the Great Hall. Harry didn't think he could eat another bite, considering they had spent all afternoon doing nothing but eating and talking, but he sat by his friends anyway, waving to the non-Gryffindors as they separated for their own tables.

Their large group had drawn many strange looks, most likely because of the two Slytherins present, but they all ignored it. People were getting used to Slytherins being more approachable, thanks to the DA, but it was still a bit of a shock to see so many people from different houses interacting without any animosity.

XXX Two days later was Valentines Day, and Harry came back from his morning run with Ginny to find Ron in a panic. Apparently, it had not occurred to him to get Hermione a gift before now. "What should I do?" he asked worriedly, looking around the room as if there was the perfect gift for him to give hiding in a corner.

Harry looked over at Neville; the other boy just shrugged as he made his way over, to add his two knuts. "You two just started going out, Ron.

Have you even made it official yet?" Ron shook his head. Harry went over to his trunk to pull out his clothes for the day. As he did so, he talked his friend down from his fearful state. "Since your relationship is new, you don't need to worry about getting something expensive or really meaningful.

Neville's right. Yesterday was the first time you guys really spent any time alone. Have you even kissed yet?" Ron shook his head again, looking embarrassed. Harry smiled. "You're taking it slow, Ron, there's nothing wrong with that. It just means that you think Hermione's special enough that you don't want to screw it up. And the fact that you're so worried about not having a present is also a good thing. You want to do it right. I think you should be fine with flowers this year.

Do you have any chocolate that hasn't been opened yet?" Ron went to search his trunk for anything he could use, and managed to pull out two separate boxes that hadn't been opened yet. Harry looked them over, and pointed to the one on the left. "These are sugar free; I think Hermione would probably like them more, considering her parents are dentists." Ron nodded, relieved, and put the other box away.

"How do I get the flowers?" he asked, biting his lip. "I can't do permanent conjuration." Harry wasn't surprised; advanced conjuration was NEWT level, and permanent conjuration took a lot of practice and a lot of power. There weren't many witches and wizards who could conjure anything to last more than a few months.

"There's a nice florist in Hogsmeade. If you send Hedwig with a request and payment, you could probably have the bouquet delivered at lunchtime." Ron nodded thankfully, but then had another thought. "But I can't afford roses," he said almost shamefully. Harry shook his head, holding in the sigh.

"It doesn't have to be roses, Ron. Lilies or irises would be just fine. You could do a mixture of the two, and it would look pretty, and be much cheaper than roses." Ron nodded again, and went to pull out his moneybag, to see if he had enough, as Harry went to shower.

Neville followed him into the bathroom with his own towel, shaking his head. "He's got it bad, doesn't he?" Harry laughed, nodding in agreement. He was very pleased with the effort he had made with Neville; the shy boy was no more.

Neville Longbottom was growing up. "Yeah, I think he does. So, what do you have planned for the lovely Miss Bones?" Neville blushed. "I got her a necklace, and some flowers," he replied. "You?" Harry's smile turned more secretive. "I have dinner all arranged, so we won't see you this evening." Neville nodded. "You love her, don't you." It wasn't a question. Harry looked at his friend sharply. Neville shook his head.

"You don't even realize the way you look at her, do you?" He paused, but Harry didn't speak, so Neville continued. "Merlin, Harry, it's like you're a blind man, who just learned how to see. The way you look at her, it's like she's the brightest star in the sky. And she looks at you the same way. I don't know if Susan's the one for me, but I hope to one day have someone look at me that way." Harry blushed, looking down.

He hadn't realized it was that easy to see. "I do love her," he admitted, glancing towards the door to make sure no one would interrupt them. "I know we're young, but I can't help how I feel. There's no question in my mind that Ginny's it for me. It's not a schoolchild 'I love you, I love you too.' I'm in love with her.

I'm taken. I can't explain it, I just know." Neville nodded, understanding. "Most people wouldn't comprehend, or they would tell you to wait a few years, but I get it. It's something you and Ginny have, and the rest of us have no right to tell you what to do. If you know, you know.

Right?" That seemed to be the limit of heavy conversations the two could have in the bathroom, so they both separated to separate showers, preparing for the day. Ron and Harry made a detour to the owlry before breakfast so that Ron could send in his order for a bouquet of flowers. Neville agreed to tell the girls that they would catch up in the Great Hall. Harry dropped down next to Ginny with a smile, and gave her a kiss on the lips. "Happy Valentines Day," he said softly. Ginny returned the sentiment, as Ron sat down as well, handing Hermione the box of chocolates with a blush.

"Happy Valentines Day, Hermione." He looked almost afraid of her response. Hermione looked at the package, and smiled broadly. "Thank you, Ron, this is very thoughtful. It's even sugar free!" Ron just blushed deeper, more thankful than ever that he had Harry as a best friend. He wondered how his friend had gotten so knowledgeable, but figured he was just more observant.

Ron wondered if he could become like that. It would be nice to not need help to figure out what to give as a present to the girl in his life.

Naughty Teen Sucks Lolly Like A Cock

Neville joined them a minute later apparently, he had been sitting with Susan for a while, and he blushed at Harry's knowing look, but met his gaze steadily. As the four fourth years left for a free period before Transfiguration, they were caught up in a wave of Hufflepuffs heading to Charms, and Harry noticed Susan wearing a new necklace.

He smiled. XXX Hermione was completely surprised to receive flowers at lunch, and gave Ron a kiss on the cheek, both of them blushing fiercely as they separated. "They're beautiful, Ron, thank you so much!" She and Ginny left to put the flowers in some water before their next class, and Harry and Neville spent the next few minutes pointedly not making fun of the boy who now resembled a tomato more than anything else.

XXX That evening found Harry and Ginny once more on the beach in the Room of Requirement, sharing a romantic dinner under the setting sun. Dobby had outdone himself, Harry thought, as he sampled the courses there was Cullen Skink for the first course, followed by Beef Wellington, with roasted potatoes, carrots, and peas. For dessert, Dobby had supplied a chocolate cake and fruit platter.

Harry and Ginny were well and truly stuffed as they stood up from the small table that the room had provided. It sunk back into the sand, taking the remainder of the food with it, as the couple watched in fascination.

"I will never understand how this room works," Ginny observed. Harry smiled. "Me neither," he agreed. "I think we should just accept that it does, and be thankful." They made their way down the beach, before Harry pulled his girlfriend down into the sand, kissing her passionately. Both were breathing hard when they separated a few minutes later.

"I have something for you," Harry said, pulling a box out of his pocket. Ginny shook her head, smiling. "Harry, you've already done so much, you didn't have to get me anything." Harry just held it out. "Gin, I don't do anything for you because I have to. I want to spoil you, because you're worth it. I love you, Ginevra Molly Weasley.

I want to spend the rest of my life with you, and I don't care how young we are. I know it in my heart that you're the one for me. I don't need a bond to tell me that, or to be a certain age to know. I'm going to spend the rest of my life buying you presents, and treating you like the queen you are. We belong together." Ginny's eyes widened. That sounded an awful lot like a proposal, and she trembled as she opened the box he had pushed into her hands.

She wasn't sure if she was relieved or disappointed to find a pair of sapphire earrings, rather than a ring. They were beautiful, without question; simple, small sapphire studs, but they sparkled in their white gold setting. She looked up, tears in her eyes. "Harry…" Harry smiled, and reached over to brush her hair off her shoulder.

"They pale in comparison to you," he whispered, leaning forward to kiss her again. The two barely made it back in time for curfew. They ran into Minerva as they hurried up to the tower, but she just smiled and shook her head.

"Hurry along, you two," she admonished, laughing a little as Harry and Ginny blushed, quickening their pace. Their friends were all still in the common room, but thankfully didn't ask for details on their evening, though Hermione complimented Ginny's new earrings. It was amazing how romantic her male friend had become; before this year, she wouldn't have thought he had it in him.

XXX February the twenty fourth was a dreaded day for Harry. He woke up that morning, later than normal, and almost stumbled as he got out of bed. A glance at his watch told him he had missed his opportunity for a morning run, but he didn't think he would have been able to do it even if he had woken up earlier.

He felt… different. Something felt wrong. He searched around for a minute, trying to figure it out, before he realized: where the bond connecting him to Ginny usually was, there was an empty hole. He couldn't feel her anymore. He panicked briefly, before realizing that she was most likely already in the lake, and trepidation settled over him. He hadn't realized how accustomed he had become to having her presence in his mind.

Breakfast dragged on and on, and Harry kept glancing up at the head table, hoping that McGonagall would come to take him to the lake. He needed to get Ginny back.

All of them were a little confused that Hermione hadn't joined them for the meal. Either she was sleeping late, which seemed unlikely, or she, like Ginny, was currently sitting under the lake.

But why would she be taken? Harry wondered if it was because she had been Viktor's date to the Yule Ball, and possibly the only option, as the Bulgarian didn't have anyone closer to be taken at Hogwarts. Susan had joined them for the meal, and was sitting in between Harry and Neville. She spent most of her time trying to get him to eat, but Harry stubbornly shook his head. "I can't," he refused, looking faintly sick at the toast and bacon she had placed on his plate.

Susan looked equally stubborn. Harry wondered if she had been taking lessons from Hermione. "Harry, you need your strength." Harry just kept shaking his head. How could he explain that any food right now would just make him sick? It would be hard enough to complete this task when it felt like a piece of him was missing. Ron looked up briefly, before returning to his own meal.

Neville, on Susan's other side, thought about joining Susan in her protests, but decided against it; that look in Harry's eyes said quite clearly that he wouldn't be swayed. Finally, Minerva descended from the head table, and before she had even reached Harry's place at the table, he was standing up, nodding goodbye to his friends, and fell into step with his guardian as they made their way out of the hall.

The package of Gillyweed was a comforting weight in his pocket. He had practiced several times over the last few weeks, and a rather embarrassing conversation with Moaning Myrtle had informed him that the merpeople's village was located towards the center of the lake. He had been practicing nonverbal spells, and was proficient with most first and second year spells by this point; he had made a point to learn the warming charm specifically, knowing that it would be cold in the lake.

Once more, he cursed whoever's brilliant idea it was to have eight people spend an hour in a lake in Scotland in February. Honestly, hadn't the wizarding world ever heard of hypothermia?

Minerva left him with the other champions, offering him nothing more than a hug and a "good luck". She knew he was worried. It was all over his face. The rest of the school streamed out after breakfast, and gathered on the platforms created specially for this task, as Harry and the others stripped down to their bathing costumes.

Harry felt the comforting presence both of his wand in its holster on his arm he noted that Cedric was also wearing his own holster, courtesy of Harry for Christmas and the small knife he had strapped to his thigh. It wasn't much, but it would help in a pinch. Harry noted in a detached way that Crouch was still absent, and Percy was taking his place as a judge. He wondered if that would be good or bad for him. He had always liked the studious Weasley the least of Ginny's brothers, and he didn't think the older boy was quite as thrilled as his younger brothers at Harry's relationship with his sister.

On the other hand, he did know Percy, and he thought his conversation at the Yule Ball might have had an impact. Just before nine o'clock, Bagman used the sonorous charm to announce the beginning of the task. "Welcome, ladies and gentlemen, to the second task of the Triwizard Tournament!

Last night, something was taken from each champion and placed in the Black Lake. The champions will have one hour to retrieve what has been taken from them. On my mark!" Harry pulled out the Gillyweed, shoving it into his mouth and trying not to gag at the slimy plant. Bagman counted down, and on the whistle, Harry wasted no time in jumping into the lake, feeling the gills begin to grow on his neck.

He quickly made his way towards the center of the lake, staying within a few feet of the surface. It was a game plan he and his friends had created; since they knew approximately where the village was, he could estimate the correct place to dive, and wouldn't have to worry about grindylows, or any other obstacles that preferred the deeper parts of the lake.

Harry reached what he guessed to be the middle of the lake, and dove. His webbed hands and feet propelled him swiftly down, and as he reached the bottom of the lake, he saw that he was pretty accurate; barely twenty feet away was a rather aquatically beautiful village; as he swam through, he observed what looked like reed huts, with seaweed roofs.

Several walls appeared to be made of mosaics, created by shells and rocks. In the center of the village, four people were tied. On the far left was Hermione, obviously Viktor's captive, though they were nothing more than friends. Cho was next, and there was a small girl next to her the resemblance to Fleur was so obvious, she had to be a sister, though she looked to be no more than eight or nine. Harry's breathing sped up and he quickly swam over to Ginny, tied on the far end. She appeared to be asleep, and he wasted a moment to touch her cheek, before forcing himself to calm down and complete his task.

He took out his knife and cut the rope binding her to the bottom of the lake. It took a few minutes to free her, and once he had her in his arms, he looked around at the other captives for a moment, before deciding that the most important thing right now was to get Ginny to the surface.

He hoped the other champions were coming soon, but he remembered what Minerva had said; whatever his other shortcomings, Dumbledore wouldn't let a student be harmed. He quickly propelled himself to the surface, angling for the shortest path back to the crowd. As soon as they broke the surface, Ginny appeared to come out of her trance, coughing lightly, and Harry suddenly felt something snap back into place. The bond was there, as strong as ever.

Harry smiled. Hey, you. Ginny looked around, startled, and realized where she was. Harry. Her mental voice was relieved. What'd I tell you, she kicked her feet as he held onto her, and the pair made their way back to the waiting judges. I knew you'd come for me. Harry nodded. I'll always come for you. They reached the platforms, and Ron was there to help Ginny out of the water.

Harry couldn't leave yet as he had to wait for the Gillyweed to wear off. It was then that Harry saw Fleur Delacour sitting down at the edge of the platform, wrapped in a tower and sobbing. From what Harry could gather between the sobs, she had been attacked by grindylows, and she had left her sister down in the lake. Ginny knew immediately what he was planning on doing, and tried to stop him. "Harry " She couldn't finish, though, as Harry turned and dove back beneath the surface.

Ginny sighed. Harry, if you get hurt down there, you'll only have yourself to blame. Harry continued to skim the surface, searching for the same place he had stopped before.

Her sister can't be more than eight, Gin. I have to help. He could feel Ginny's understanding, even as he felt her annoyance. Why do you have to be so noble? Harry didn't reply as he dropped into a steep vertical dive, making his way back to the merpeople's village. He noted with relief that both Hermione and Cho were gone, and the little Delacour girl was the only one left tied up.

As he started to cut her loose, a trident was shoved in his face, and he turned to look at the merman he wasn't sure how he could tell the difference, but he knew this one was a male who told him to stop. "Only one," the merman squealed. Harry shook his head.

"Her champion isn't coming. I'm taking her with me." And with one last cut, he had the littler girl free, and began to swim to the surface. The merman grabbed his ankle, but a quick blast with his wand gave him the room to keep moving upwards. He felt the Gillyweed wearing off as he broke the surface. The little girl woke up immediately, sobbing and speaking rapidly in French. As Harry didn't speak French, he simply tried to calm her down as best he was able.

"It's all right," he reassured her, wrapping her securely in his arms and kicking with his feet to get them back to shore. "Your sister's waiting for you. She's fine, and you're fine." The girl seemed to calm down hearing that her sister was all right. She sniffed and looked at her rescuer. Harry smiled. "There we go," he said. "Can you tell me your name?" The girl sniffed again. "Gabrielle," she replied, blushing.

Harry just kept smiling, doing his best to keep her calm. "It's very nice to meet you, Gabrielle. My name's Harry." He continued to try and make some small talk for the next few minutes, but he was also trying to get them to shore as quickly as possible, not quite as easy a feat without the webbed feet or any help from the girl he was towing. They made it to the platform with Fleur a few minutes later, and Gabrielle was quickly grabbed by her older sister, who was crying and asking what Harry assumed to be questions rapidly in French.

Gabrielle replied excitedly, and Harry really wished he had understood what the two were saying, as Fleur released her sister the next moment, to grab him in a tight hug. "You saved 'er. Thank you, so much!" she gushed, kissing him once on each cheek, before returning to Gabrielle. Harry stood there, bemused, before his girlfriend sidled up to him. "You trading me in, Potter?" she asked benignly.

Harry seemed shocked, and was about to sputter denials, when he saw the twinkle in her eyes, and felt her amusement. He smirked, grabbing her around the waist, and pulled her in for a kiss. There were a few whistles from the crowd, and they separated, blushing lightly, though both looked oddly satisfied. The judges finished deliberating a moment later, and using a sonorous charm, Dumbledore announced the results.

"In fourth place, Miss Fleur Delacour; she showed a mastery of the bubble head charm, however, she became incapacitated due to attacking grindylows. We award the Beaubaxton's champion twenty five points." There was a smattering of applause, but Fleur just looked relieved that her sister was all right. "In third place, Mr. Viktor Krum, with forty points, for his partial transfiguration to a shark." There was more applause. "In second place, with forty three points, Mr.

Cedric Diggory, for his mastery of the bubble head charm, though he returned with his hostage one minute outside the time limit." Even more applause. "And finally, in first place, with a full fifty points, Mr. Harry Potter, for his innovation in using the plant Gillyweed, and his rescue of not only his own hostage, returning first in just over half an hour, but also for going back to rescue the remaining hostage and seeing that all captives were safe." The applause was shattering.

Harry was just relieved that no one had been seriously hurt, and allowed himself to be dragged off to Madam Pomfrey with the rest of the champions and hostages.

The mediwitch treated them all for exposure, muttering her own complaints about how the creators of these tasks didn't see fit to consult a healer first. It was surprisingly similar to Harry's own thoughts, and he just smiled at her ministrations. Before long, he was being led back up to the castle by his friends; Ginny hadn't let go of his hand since he had returned with Gabrielle. Even though it was a Friday, classes had been cancelled because of the task, so everyone had the rest of the day off.

First on Harry's list was a warm shower, and a change of clothes. After lunch, he and Ginny left their friends, and spent some time together cuddling in the Room of Requirement, just happy to be together. Harry told her about waking up and feeling her absence, which led to another discussion on whether or not they should tell anyone. Harry was more eager to tell Minerva than Mrs.

Weasley, and Ginny agreed. I love my mum, but she's not the most rational of people. Professor McGonagall seems more reasonable.

If we told her, and asked her to keep it a secret, she would. Harry nodded. Aunt Minerva trusts us, he reflected. I don't know how I really know that, but I think she trusts us to be responsible more than your mum would.

We haven't even told your parents we're dating yet. How are we supposed to tell them we've got this bond? We should ease them into the idea. Ginny felt the same way, and the two spent the remainder of the afternoon discussing the pros and cons of telling anyone about their bond, and whether or not they should tell Sirius and Remus as well as Minerva. They joined their friends for supper, and were surprised when Viktor joined them as well.

He asked for a moment to speak with Ron, where he explained that Hermione was his hostage only because he didn't have anyone else in the country, and she was a friend.

He hoped that it wouldn't cause any issues between them, and he considered the brilliant witch a great friend, but that was all. Ron nodded, looking a little nonplussed, but he shook the Bulgarian's offered hand, and agreed when Harry asked the Quidditch star to join them for the meal.

Fleur and her sister came in a few minutes later, and hesitantly asked if they could sit with the Gryffindors. Harry nodded immediately, gesturing to two empty seats near Ron and Hermione.

Fleur guided Gabrielle to the seat, and slowly joined the conversation, which was now revolving around the differences in the education systems; Viktor was telling them about his classes at Durmstrang, and they were comparing various teachings of Transfiguration, Charms, Potions, and Defense Against the Dark Arts. Fleur chimed in from time to time with her opinions, and told them a little about her classes at Beaubaxtons. Gabrielle didn't speak much, but she seemed to be listening intently as she ate.

The group stayed sitting at the Gryffindor table for a while after supper ended, and were joined by more students from other houses as people began to depart for their common rooms. Cedric and Cho came over, as did Blaise, Luna, Susan, Daphne, and several more from the DA. Finally, Minerva had to inform them that they needed to leave if they wanted to make it back to their dorms by curfew. Her soft expression, however, informed them that she was very pleased by the gathering.

Many were unnerved to see their stern professor as anything other than unyielding. _ _ _ Chapter 26 Disclaimer: not mine Classes continued, and Harry was pleased at how much easier things seemed to come to him this year. He was constantly keeping up with Hermione in most subjects, and actually beating her in Defense and sometimes Transfiguration. Even Potions was less of a chore, now that he actually understood the subject.

Snape was as unpleasant as ever, but at least he was spreading it out more amongst the Gryffindors, instead of focusing solely on Harry. Harry still wasn't sure what to think about Moody. The Unforgivable curses his first lesson had been startling, but it had only gotten more disturbing as the term had continued. While Harry understood the ex-Auror's reasoning, testing out the Imperius curse on fourth years to see who could resist was stretching it a little thin, though he was pleased to find that he could resist the curse as he had accidentally left his charmed bracelet in his room that day, he knew that his resistance was all him.

He couldn't help but feel like the grizzly man was watching him constantly. It was starting to freak him out a little, but he didn't say anything, certain that it was just him. Ginny felt his unease, but didn't bring it up, waiting for him to say something.

As February turned to March, and March to April, Harry welcomed the warmth of spring. The Easter break wasn't quite as fun as the Christmas one, but Harry was keeping on top of his homework this year, and so was able to spend some time relaxing with his girlfriend. It was one such afternoon they were spending outside, enjoying the sun and warm air, that they were joined by Fleur.

It was just Harry and Ginny, as Hermione and Susan were in the library getting ahead a little, and Ron and Neville were trying to dig their way out of the pile of homework they had. Ginny and Harry had brought some books out with them, but it was mostly just reading ahead, as they both only had a few half finished essays left to complete, and half a week to do so. They looked up as a shadow descended, and saw an uncharacteristically nervous Fleur looking down on them.

"May I join you?" she asked, almost as if expecting them to say no. Harry and Ginny shared a brief thought, before Harry nodded, gesturing to the grass. "Sit," he offered, setting his Ancient Runes book aside, as Ginny did the same with her Transfiguration one. Fleur took the offered seat, and settled herself, before she began to speak. "I wanted to apologize, 'Arry, for my behavior at ze beginning of ze tournament. I treated you 'orribly, and I am sorry." Harry shook his head, but Fleur continued, overriding anything he might have said.

"I did, 'Arry. I know it. I saw you as a little boy, nothing more. I apologize for zat, and I truly 'ope we can be friends." Harry and Ginny looked at each other once more, before Harry nodded.

"I'd like that, Fleur. You seem like a nice girl, and I would like to get to know you better." Fleur smiled. "Thank you, both of you. It is nice to see someone who is not overcome by my… abilities." Harry blushed, looking embarrassed. "I'm sorry to say it, Fleur, but you're really not my type. I prefer redheads." Ginny looked down, her cheeks turning red, but Fleur smiled. "As it should be. With a bond like yours, I don't expect you to look twice at anyone else." Both Gryffindors look at the French girl, shocked.

"How did you know?" Ginny asked, looking decidedly nervous. Fleur smiled understandingly. "I am part Veela. We are classed as magical creatures, and like phoenixes, unicorns, and goblins, we can feel bonds. You two are connected by your very souls. I can tell that it has been there for a while, but I do not think you activated it until recently." Harry nodded, taking Ginny's hand in his.

"Halloween," he informed her. "The first time we kissed, it just sort of snapped into place." Fleur nodded. "When you acknowledged your feelings, the bond was solidified." Ginny looked up, her expression intense.

"Can you tell us anything about it? We haven't been able to find much information in the library." Fleur looked apologetic. "I am afraid I cannot help you much.

I can see bonds, and I know a little, but what you are looking for I cannot answer. I suspect you will need to figure it out for yourself." Harry looked like he had been expecting that answer, but Ginny looked disappointed. The trio spent some more time talking, before they decided to head in to wash up before supper. As they stood up, Harry turned to the French student. "Fleur, we'd really appreciate it if you could keep what you know a secret." Fleur actually looked scandalized.

"I would never tell anyone! A soul bond is a sacred thing between two people. It is for you, and you alone." Harry and Ginny nodded, relieved, and they waved their goodbyes as they headed back to the castle. XXX Harry had another dream that night.

It was fuzzy, and unclear, but the thing that spoke with Voldemort's voice seemed pleased by the way things were going. He woke up the next morning, confused and a little annoyed. It was bad enough that he had these dreams in the first place; couldn't they at least be clear? As he was slipping on his robe, his eye caught on the bracelet he hardly ever took off; he remembered reading about the spell work he and Sirius had woven into the piece of jewelry, and how glad he had been that the charms would keep out unwanted intruders to his mind until he could do it for himself.

His eyes widened. Across the bond, he felt Ginny's curiosity, so he shared with her the dream, followed by his thoughts. Whatever this connection is, it's sort of like Legilimancy, right? Ginny seemed skeptical, but she agreed readily enough. It sounds similar, but not exactly the same, she commented. Harry mentally nodded. Which is why the dreams aren't blocked completely. Voldemort can still get into my mind for some reason, but because of the bracelet and the spells, it's partially blocked.

Ginny's skepticism turned to concurrence. It sounds plausible. Maybe Sirius will have more ideas, if you want to tell him. Harry was a little more hesitant to do that, but he agreed to think about it. It was nice to finally have a working theory on why these dreams that felt real weren't clearer to him.

Now if only he could block them out completely. Somehow, he didn't think that would be a possibility until Voldemort was gone for good. XXX Draco Malfoy wasn't an idiot. His last three years, he had been seen, rightfully, as a leader in Slytherin House. His housemates had recognized his noble blood, and pure line, and treated him as such.

But something had changed this year, and it had all started last summer, with Black being freed, and Potter being made his heir. A title that belonged to Draco. Potter had changed. It was clear right from the start for Draco, from that first interaction on the Express, September First.

And soon after arriving at school, Draco had become even more aware of the changes. That stupid study group. Draco had tried to get the Slytherins to stop going, but fewer and fewer had listened to him, as the weeks progressed, and more good things were heard about the group. How much help they received, how welcoming everyone was, the new friendships they had made… it went on and on, and it made Draco sick. Why would anyone in the noble house of Slytherin want to consort with mudbloods and blood traitors?

He had even heard some first and second years talking about how they didn't understand why people looked down on those of less than pure blood.

Zabini and Greengrass had become much more popular since the creation of that cursed group. It nauseated him; Greengrass was at least a pureblood, though not of as noble lineage as himself, but Zabini didn't even know his own line. His father had either left or died when Zabini was very young, and his mother kept marrying, and then becoming widowed. She was a formidable woman, but there were definitely questions about her late husbands, and the causes of their deaths. Why would anyone look to those two before the heir to the Ancient and Noble House of Malfoy?

Draco didn't know how much worse it could get, but he did know that his days as prince of Slytherin were over, unless he did something. He had lost much of his respect in his House. Only Crabbe, Goyle, Parkinson, and a few of the older years really listened to him anymore, and Draco knew that was more because of his father then him.

She knows how to fuck

He would have to think about what he could do to change this, but he had a sneaking suspicion that things were too far gone for him to do much without some drastic action. XXX Harry flopped down on a sofa next to his girlfriend one night towards the end of May.

Ginny took his hand reassuringly, while the others looked up, confused. Harry grimaced. "I've just been informed of the third task. They're growing a maze on the Quidditch pitch.

They're going to place the Triwizard Cup at the center, and put various creatures and obstacles inside. The first one to get the cup wins. Since I'm in first place, I get to enter the maze first; Cedric and Victor are tied, so they'll enter together a minute later, and Fleur will go last." Hermione nodded, already pulling a spare piece of parchment towards her. "We'll have to spend some more time working on spells that you're likely to need," she thought out loud, beginning to make a list. Ron and Neville just watched the girl in amusement.

With all this uncertainty, it was always nice to see something predictable. XXX Saturday, June twenty fourth, Harry woke up earlier than normal, and spent the hour before Ginny joined him reading his Battle Defense book, from the Battle Series he had received for Christmas. When Ginny woke up, the two went outside for their morning run. They had avoided the Quidditch pitch for the last month, since it wasn't possible to run laps there anymore, and had moved to running around the lake.

They would reach a certain point and turn around, heading back the way they came, and the total distance was usually around three to four miles. This morning, they kept it simple and easy, so that Harry could save his strength. As he went through his morning routine of showering and dressing, he couldn't help but feel like something big was about to happen.

It was the same sort of feeling he had gotten before his name came out of the Goblet, and his stomach curled in dread. On the other hand, he was prepared as he could be. He and his friends had spent the last month putting the Room of Requirement through its paces, as Harry strove to master all the spells Hermione could come up with that he may need in the final task.

He was mostly able to cast all spells through fourth year silently, and had learned most of the major charms, hexes, and jinxes through sixth year, and a few of the more important ones from seventh. He was thankful that Ginny understood as well as she did, or she might have been a bit put out with the lack of alone time they had had since learning of the third task.

Thankfully, she wanted him to succeed as much as the rest of them, and was eagerly helping him practice, acting both as a researcher with Hermione, coming up with spells to learn, and as an opponent, with Ron, Neville, and Susan, who teamed up to fight against Harry usually, it was two or more on one, to give Harry some actual work and practice. The few times he had gone up against one of them alone, he managed to win in less than two minutes.

Except for Ginny. She had lasted almost five. As breakfast dwindled, with students leaving to go to class for their exams, Harry was in no rush. As a champion, he had been excused from end of the year exams, so he wasn't sure how he was supposed to spend his day.

He was surprised when Minerva came to collect him after he wished his friends luck on their tests. She led him to the same door that he had gone through after his name had been called back in October, and he was surprised to be accosted by Sirius, Remus, Amelia, Mrs. Weasley, and Bill as soon as he arrived. As he hugged his godfather, Harry noted that the other champions appeared to have their family visiting as well.

Minerva smiled. "I wish I could spend the day with you as well, Harry, unfortunately, I have exams to administer. I will see you all at supper, however." Harry nodded, smiling, feeling slightly better, as the Transfiguration professor left, and Harry turned back to his family. He couldn't ignore the glow that thought ignited in him. For the first time since his parents' deaths, he had a family. Of course you do, Ginny's voice sounded in his mind.

Harry mentally smiled. Yes, dear, he replied cheekily. "I hope you don't mind us tagging along, dear," Mrs.

Weasley said as the group exited the room and headed out onto the grounds. "Sirius invited us." Harry smiled. "I'm glad you're here," he assured her. Mrs. Weasley beamed, and they spent most of the morning listening to Sirius and Remus talk about their Hogwarts days.

It had Harry and Bill laughing, with Amelia doing her upmost not to follow their example, and Molly looked like she didn't know whether to scold or smile. They were joined by the lake shortly before lunch by Cedric and his parents, who were very pleased to meet the boy their son had spoken so highly of over the months. Amos remembered the boy from the previous summer, and was happy to make his acquaintance once more.

As they headed inside for lunch, Fleur, with her parents and sister, joined them for the walk up to the castle. Harry noted with interest that the French champion seemed to be rather interested in a certain Weasley male.

And he seemed to be returning the attention. With a knowing smirk, Harry discreetly maneuvered the two of them to stand next to each other as they walked, and made the introductions.

"Fleur, I don't believe you've been properly introduced to Ginny's eldest brother Bill? William Weasley, this is Fleur Delacour, the Beaubaxtons champion." Bill gave Harry a searching look, but took the hand that Fleur offered, giving it a light kiss. "It is a pleasure to meet you, Mademoiselle Delacour." Fleur actually blushed as she smiled. "It is Fleur, please, Guillaume." Bill smiled in return. "Bill," he said, lowering her hand and staring into her eyes.

He felt something stir within him, but it wasn't overpowering. Fleur seemed very happy to be standing next to the Weasley heir, particularly since he hadn't let go of her hand yet. Harry just gave himself a mental pat on the back. Playing matchmaker now, are we, Mr. Potter? Harry just grinned at his girlfriend as they entered the Great Hall, and felt her excitement at seeing her mother and eldest brother, as well as her fear of telling them about their relationship.

The group that sat at the Gryffindor table was rather large, as Sirius, Remus, Amelia, Molly, and Bill were joined by the younger Weasleys. When Susan entered the hall, she immediately joined her aunt, not caring about the house boundaries. Cedric and his parents separated for the Hufflepuff table, but Fleur and her family sat with the Gryffindors.

After the meal was over, Hermione, Ron, and Neville left for their last exams, but Ginny had finished that morning, so she joined Harry and their families for the afternoon. The two students showed the adults the DA lounge, and all expressed their pride at what their children had done for their fellow students. "I'm really very proud of you, Harry," Remus said, sitting down at on of the tables. "This study group really seems to have helped your fellow students, and particularly the younger years." Harry blushed, and Sirius snorted, joining his friend.

"Ever the Prefect, Mooney. You just have to corrupt my godson." Molly tried to come to his defense, but Remus just laughed. Clearly, this was a longstanding argument between the two. Harry sat down as well, and Ginny followed him.

The rest pulled up chairs so that they were all sitting at the same table. "We just wanted to help the new students," he admitted. "I remembered what my first year was like, and I wish I had had someone to help me find my way around the castle, and understand a little more about this world I found myself in. To be honest, it just sort of snowballed from there.

I don't think any of us were expecting it to become so popular, let alone for us to actually have to magically expand the lounge to make more room." They all chuckled, and spent some time talking about what they covered in DA sessions.

As the afternoon wore on, Harry began to pick up a sense of fear emanating from Ginny. He knew they needed to tell her mother about them, but he worried that she wouldn't react the right way.

Finally, there was a lull in the conversation, and Harry caught Ginny's eye. She nodded imperceptibly, and he turned back to the adults, clearing his throat. "Erm, Ginny and I have something we want to tell you, Mrs.

Weasley." Sirius and Remus looked at each other, knowing that the couple was finally going to tell the Weasley matron about their relationship. They had kept quiet at the young pair's request, knowing they wanted to tell Ginny's mother on their own terms, and in person. Amelia could also guess what was about to be brought up; she had seen the way Ginny had congratulated Harry on his completion of the first task, back in November, but on Sirius' request, she had buried the information and not said anything to Arthur or Molly, the few times she had come into contact with them over the last few months.

Molly and Bill looked interested, though both noted the lack of reaction from the rest of the group. Harry coughed, and looked at Ginny for help. She took his hand, and turned to her mother and brother, smiling.

"Harry and I are dating," she informed them bluntly. Molly gasped, and Bill just gave Harry an assessing look. He finally nodded his approval, remembering their conversation from the previous summer. "How long?" Molly asked, recovering from her shock. Harry looked down. "Since Halloween," he admitted quietly.

"Why didn't you say anything sooner?" she asked, looking between her daughter and her daughter's… boyfriend. Harry and Ginny shared another look. "We wanted to tell you in person, mum," Ginny explained. "This was the first chance we got. It wasn't something I wanted to just put in a letter." Molly nodded, understanding, as she began to thaw to the idea. Harry had always been like a seventh son to her, ever since the first time he stayed at The Burrow.

She wasn't sure if she approved of her thirteen year old daughter having a boyfriend, but if it had to be someone, Harry was probably as good as it got. She made a mental note to have The Talk with Ginny as soon as they got home. They had spoken about sex and becoming a woman before, but now that there was an actual man in the picture, it would be good to have a frame of reference.

Finally, she smiled, standing up to hug her daughter and the boy she thought of as her seventh son. "I'm happy for you," she gave her approval, grabbing Harry tightly before stepping back.

They all returned to their seats as the others all threw in their congratulations, and Sirius and Remus had to explain that they had known since the first Hogsmeade weekend, but had kept it a secret at the young couple's request. Molly was understandably upset, but refrained from actually hexing the men, which could only be a good thing. Though Sirius and Remus wondered if she was just waiting until there were no witnesses.

The rest of the afternoon dissolved in questions about how they had spent their time over the year which made Harry and Ginny blush and questions about the Yule Ball. The couple promised to show the adults the pictures the Colin had taken. As soon as they had seen them, Harry had requested copies of all of them, giving the third year the necessary funds to pay for it, plus a little extra, commenting that if he had any others of the two of them, he'd like copies of those as well.

Supper was once more a large group event, and even Minerva joined them at the Gryffindor table, sitting next to Harry and forcing him to eat something with an unyielding expression that reminded all of the Weasleys of their own mother. Throughout the meal, Harry grew increasingly quiet, until Ginny gave his hand a sharp squeeze. You'll be fine, Harry. If something goes wrong, I'll be able to tell, and I can get help. Harry nodded imperceptibly. I know, Gin. I just want this to be over with already.

Ginny agreed. Me too, Harry. But you need to eat something, so that you don't collapse from an empty stomach in the maze. Just finish what's on your plate, all right? Harry mentally sighed, and picked up his fork, slowly but surely finishing the remainder of his rather small meal. Minerva watched in satisfaction, pleased that he seemed to understand that eating was necessary.

Soon enough, dinner was over, and with a mass exodus, the entire group surrounding Harry walked with him down to the Quidditch pitch.

Outside the arena, Harry received hugs from his friends, before Sirius, Remus, and Amelia had their turn. Mrs. Weasley and Bill followed, and Ginny was the last one Harry came to. She gave him a hard kiss, stepping back with tears in her eyes. "You better come back to me, Potter," she growled lowly. Harry smiled, kissing her once more, oblivious to Mrs. Weasley's discomfort, and the knowing smirks their friends were wearing.

"Always," he whispered, pulling back once more. With a last look at the group, he moved inside to join the other champions. Cedric offered him a one-armed hug, smiling reassuringly.

Fleur and Viktor both offered up their own smiles, which Harry returned, though he didn't think his expression did much to put anyone at ease. Slowly, the school assembled in the stands, and Bagman was once more announcing the task and the points as they were.

With a short whistle blast, Harry was running into the dark maze. He paused at the first intersection, and used a quick point me spell before taking the left path. He kept going, hearing the whistle sound twice more, indicating that they were all in the maze now. He met few obstacles, and it was starting to worry him.

Shouldn't he have run into more challenges by now? A shocking cold drew his attention forward, and with a frown, he took in the Dementor coming towards him. He thought about his first kiss with Ginny as he shouted, "Expecto Patronum!" Prongs shot out of his wand, but it charged right through the Dementor.

A Boggart, then, Harry thought. "Riddikulus!" Harry put as much power behind the spell as he could, and instead of the Dementor becoming less frightening, it simply burst into a shower of sparks, raining down on the path. Harry continued forward. He ran into a strange fog that turn the world upside down for a few moments, and one of Hagrid's Blast Ended Skrewts, which he dealt with decisively, before a scream from his right had him running in that direction before he really thought about it.

Harry, what's going on? Ginny's voice sounded worried. Harry arrived at the scene, and found Fleur unconscious on the ground. He sent up red sparks as he replied, Fleur's out.

I sent up sparks so that someone can get her. I don't know what happened. Ginny was silent for a moment. Be careful. She sounded even more worried. Harry mentally nodded as he moved on, using another point me spell to direct him. Finally, he saw a clearing ahead.

Unfortunately, there was something rather large blocking it. It had the body of a lion, but the head of a woman. As he approached, her amber eyes turned towards him. "Congratulations, champion, on making it this far. That which you seek is just beyond, but in order to pass, you must answer my riddle. Should you answer correctly, I will step aside. Should you decide not to answer, you may leave unharmed. However, should you answer incorrectly, you will die." Harry nodded nervously.

"Can I hear the riddle?" The sphinx nodded. "Listen carefully. "First think of the person who lives in disguise, Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies. Next, tell me what's always the last thing to mend, The middle of middle and end of the end?

And finally give me the sound often heard, During the search for a hard-to-find word. Now string them together and answer me this, Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?" Harry considered the riddle for a moment.

A person who lived in disguise, who dealt with secrets. Something like a secret agent, but that wouldn't work. A spy, perhaps? And next, the last thing to mend… the middle of middle, the end of end?

It took him another moment, but finally, the letter 'd' came to mind. He wasn't sure about the next two lines, so he moved on. The final two lines also gave him a bit more of a challenge.

Stringing the two clues together gave him spy d, but he didn't think that was the answer. A creature he would be unwilling to kiss? A picture of a gigantic creature he had had the misfortune to meet a few years previously sprung to his mind, and he smiled.

"The answer's a spider, isn't it?" The sphinx bowed low and stepped aside. "Congratulations, champion. You have answered correctly. You may pass." Harry nodded his thanks, and hurried down the path towards the clearing he could now see housed the glowing Triwizard Cup. A shout as he entered the clearing drew Harry's attention, and he saw Cedric making his way down another path.

Seeing movement behind the Prefect, Harry pointed. "Cedric, behind you!" The Hufflepuff glanced over his shoulder, and threw himself to the side, just in time to miss being speared by the acromantula's sharp pincer.

Together, the Hogwarts students subdued the creature, shouting stunners for all they were worth, until with a squeal, the beast scuttled away from the students and back into the shadows. Harry and Cedric looked at each other, and then at the cup. "You take it," Cedric said, stepping back.

Harry shook his head. "No. You deserve it more." Cedric was unyielding. "If anyone deserves to win, Harry, it's you.

That spider would have gotten me if you hadn't warned me. And you've been the best at all the tasks. The cup is yours." Harry looked at the older boy. He sighed. "You're not going to take it, are you." It wasn't a question. Harry thought for a moment, before he made a suggestion.

"Together, then? It'll still be a Hogwarts victory." Cedric thought for a moment, before he nodded. "On the count of three?" The two students made their way over to the cup, as Cedric counted down. "One." Harry reached out his hand. "Two." He could feel Ginny's pride through their bond. "Three," Cedric said, and they both grasped the cup, as a familiar pulling sensation tugged Harry behind his navel.

_ _ _ Chapter 27 Wow, I'm amazed by the outpouring of support for Cedric! I hope you all enjoy this chapter. Disclaimer: don't own Ginny watched the hedges with worry, her hand grasping onto Hermione's with a strength the older girl hadn't known the redhead possessed.

She didn't say anything, however, because she knew the girl was scared for her boyfriend. After almost an hour of staring at the hedges, the crowd jumped at a high-pitched scream, and shouted and pointed at the red sparks that burst over the maze. A few minutes later, Fleur was brought out of the darkness, unconscious, and Madam Pomfrey descended, as her family flocked to her side. Ginny sighed, and they went back to waiting. It was another half an hour before the hedges started to melt back into the ground, even as Ginny gasped and screamed, "Harry!" The rest of the group around her looked at her, confused, but she just continued to stare ahead, tears streaming down her face.

They all turned back to the maze, trying to see what she was looking at, and were immediately confused when they appeared to be missing two champions. Viktor was fighting a Blast Ended Skrewt, but Harry and Cedric were both absent. Chaos seemed to reign, as Hermione shook Ginny, trying to gain her attention.

Finally, Ginny shook herself and turned to the witch next to her. Hermione frowned. "Ginny, what's going on?" Ginny just furrowed her brow, thinking as she surveyed the crowds. Something didn't feel right. Her gaze settled on their Defense professor. Harry hadn't said anything, but she had caught on to his feelings of discomfort around the harsh man. And she had learned that Harry's instincts were usually correct. He was currently looking rather shifty, as if waiting for something, and not at all concerned that two students were apparently missing.

"Hermione," she said lowly, turning back to her friend. "Something's wrong. Look at Moody." The older girl turned to their professor, confused. Ginny elaborated, "Harry's had a bad feeling about him for a while, but he didn't think it was anything important.

But I think he might have been on to something. He doesn't look worried about Harry and Cedric." Hermione studied the man in question, and realized that Ginny was right.

Moody was standing off to the side, but his expression was more… anticipation. She turned back to her friend. "What should we do?" she asked quietly, subconsciously deferring to the younger girl, knowing that Ginny was much more like Harry, in that she was better able to lead in a battle situation when called for.

Ginny bit her lip, trying to reach out to Harry, but she couldn't feel him at all. She wondered if he was incapacitated in some way, or if their bond just didn't stretch as far as wherever he was now. She hoped it was the latter, and wherever he was, he was fighting. "Get the others," she decided.

"We'll watch him, and if he tries something, we stun." Hermione nodded, and gestured for Ron, Neville, and Susan to follow them, while the adults were all heading over to Dumbledore and Minerva to find out what was going on. The two girls explained to the others what they had observed, and the five students discreetly got into a position where they could watch their Defense professor and be ready to act, should the situation require it.

XXX Harry braced his legs for impact, and hit the ground with a thud, jarring his knees, but thankfully remaining standing.

The cup rolled away, and Cedric picked himself up shakily. "A portkey?" he asked. Harry nodded, the feeling of dread curling in his stomach.

He tried to reach out to Ginny, but he couldn't seem to feel her. Apparently, their bond was not quite strong enough to reach across the distance between them. Not that he had any idea where he was right now. It appeared to be a graveyard, and Harry studied a few gravestones, before he came to one in particular.

Tom Riddle, 1905-1943 was written on one stone. His stomach dropped, and Harry quickly made his way back to Cedric.

"We need to get out of here," he said urgently, keeping his voice down. Cedric looked confused, but didn't argue as the two tried to hurry back to the cup.

Before they reached it, however, a third figure entered the graveyard. Harry felt a headache coming on, but it wasn't bad enough to be debilitating. "Kill the spare," a hissing sound came from the bundle the third figure was carrying. "Avada Kedavra!" A jet of green light made its way towards the two students, and with a shout, Harry threw himself on top of Cedric, feeling the heat of the spell as it passed over his shoulder.

The two scrambled behind a nearby gravestone. Cedric looked at Harry. "What do you reckon?" he asked quietly. Harry deliberated for a moment. It was clearly him they wanted. If Cedric could get out of there, he would be safe. Unfortunately, the cup was the only way he could think of to get out, and he didn't know where it was, and he couldn't risk standing up to search for it. There was only one option he could think of.

Harry was grateful at that moment that he had been practicing the disillusionment charm. He looked Cedric in the eye, and the older boy was surprised by the heaviness he saw there. "I'm sorry about this," Harry whispered, before he petrified his friend. Cedric felt himself freeze up; he tried to will himself to move, but he couldn't.

Harry's next spell felt like a raw egg being cracked on his head, and without even looking, he knew he had been disillusioned.

Harry's last look was one of pain, as he whispered, "Tell Ginny I love her," before he stood up and walked around the gravestone. The stunner caught Harry in the shoulder, and the world went dark. He woke some time later, to find a cauldron set up in front of him. He appeared to be tied to the gravestone of Tom Riddle Senior, and the mystery third person's identity had finally been revealed.

Peter Pettigrew, also known as Wormtail, was muttering as he added ingredients to the cauldron. There was a bundle of something sitting next to it, and Harry's keen eyes caught a glimpse of what looked like a skeletal hand protruding from the blanket. He walked over to the grave Harry was tied to, and levitated a bone, saying, "Bone of the father, unknowingly given, you will renew your son." His next act almost made Harry throw up, as his parents' betrayer cut off his own hand.

"Flesh of the servant, willingly given, you will revive your master." He moved over to Harry, and made a large cut in his left arm. He went back to the cauldron. "Blood of the enemy, forcibly taken, you will resurrect your foe." He then dropped the… something… into the cauldron. Harry got his first glimpse of the bundle, and was revolted; it appeared to be of the approximate size of a baby, but it was the ugliest baby Harry had ever seen.

Smoke began to rise from the cauldron, and a grown man stepped out. Harry gulped. Lord Voldemort had risen again. "Robe me," the man-like being commanded, and a moment later, he was standing clearly before Harry, and he got his first glimpse at the man who had ruined his life. He didn't look at all like a man, unless you counted the fact that he was around the same size, and had a humanoid body.

He had no hair, and his eyes were red. Instead of a nose, he simply had two slits sitting above his thin mouth. His skin was a gray pallor. "Ah, Wormtail, you have done well. Very well. Give me your arm." Wormtail held out his left arm, breathing, "Thank you, master." Voldemore sneered.

"Your other arm, Wormtail." He grabbed the appendage, and pressed his finger to the deep black Dark Mark. Pettigrew hissed, and Voldemort let go, allowing the rat-like man to scurry back. It was at that moment that Voldemort seemed to see Harry. "Ah, Harry Potter, welcome. I apologize that I cannot offer you more comfort. But you see we were woefully unprepared for the company. You stand on my father's grave, the worthless muggle that he was. But we all have the opportunity to create our own family, and look, Harry Potter, my real family returns." And indeed, shadows were popping into existence around them.

Voldemort's Death Eaters were rejoining their master. Harry lost track of time for a while, as Voldemort waxed on about how his followers had betrayed him, and gave Wormtail a replacement hand of silver, only paying attention enough to make note of the names he heard.

Malfoy was no surprise, but he also vowed to remember Crabbe, Goyle, Avery, and Macnair. He was much more interested in trying to think of an escape plan.

Cedric was still petrified and disillusioned, and he knew he needed to get them both out. From their position, he knew the Hufflepuff could see everything from his location, and felt guilty for what he had done. If they both made it out of this, the older boy was sure to kill him.

Voldemort returned his attention to Harry, and the teenage wizard forced himself to pay attention as the dark lord remarked on how the sharing of blood meant that his mother's protection was null and void, and proved it by touching Harry's scar. A searing pain burst into existence behind his forehead, and Harry struggled not to pass out.

He then followed it up with the Cruciatus curse, causing Harry to feel like his very veins were melting. His bones creaked, and he had to grit his teeth to keep from screaming.

Voldemort used the curse three times before Harry broke and screamed out. He then cut the ropes that bound Harry to the grave, and smiled as the boy fell to the ground.

"Give him back his wand, Wormtail. You have been taught how to duel, have you not, Harry Potter?" Harry got to his feet slowly, as Pettigrew pressed his wand into his hand. "Come, come," Voldemort's voice was silky and alluring.

"First, we must bow." Harry made no move to do so. Voldemort frowned. "Imperio. Bow, Harry Potter." Harry felt the caressing voice telling him to do what the dark lord told him, but he was able to ignore it, and shook his head. "If you want to kill me, let's just get on with it," he growled, before casting a blasting hex at the gravestone behind Voldemort and ducking behind another stone, as several Death Eaters cried out in pain. "Nobody touches the boy!" Voldemort's voice carried over the sound of falling rocks.

"He's mine!" Harry ducked and ran, casting spells every chance he got, moving quickly to avoid being hit in retaliation. After a few minutes, a lucky shot ended up connecting with Voldemort's killing curse, and Harry couldn't let go. A strange connection was forming between their wands, and a bead of light was making its way down the bond towards him.

He instinctively knew that he couldn't let it touch his wand, so he began pushing back with all his might. The bead of light started moving in the other direction, and as it touched Voldemort's wand, wisps of smoke began to shoot out of it.

A loose, golden web formed around them, and Harry watched in amazement as the smoke wisps began to form into people. The first person he recognized as a Ministry employee that had gone missing the previous summer. Next was an unknown man, and then… his parents appeared, one after another. Harry felt tears forming in his eyes. "Mum. Dad." His voice was barely above a whisper. The ghost-like Lily Potter was crying unashamedly. "Harry. My son. We are so proud of you." James was also tearing up.

"You've done so well, Harry. But you need to get out of here. We can linger for only a moment, so get yourself to the portkey as quickly as possible, and get yourself out." Harry nodded, staring at his parents hungrily. Lily smiled. "We love you, Harry. Now go. Live, for us. Break the connection!" With a great wrench, Harry tore his wand away, and the ghost images of the dead merged together to surround Voldemort, as Harry ran to where he knew he had left Cedric.

He felt the still invisible boy, as he lifted his wand and called out, "Accio portkey!" The cup came flying at him, and as the mist disappeared, so did Harry and Cedric. XXX As soon as they arrived back on Hogwarts grounds, there was a great deal of confusion. Harry immediately released the cup and released Cedric from the full body bind, before lifting the disillusionment charm.

Cedric sat up shakily, looking haunted. "Harry…" He didn't seem to know what to say. Harry looked down, worried. "I'm sorry, Cedric. But it was me they wanted, and if they had found you, you'd be dead. I couldn't let that happen." Cedric nodded, but his expression told Harry they would talk about it later, as their guardians descended on them.

Cedric's parents immediately flocked to him, while Sirius, Remus, and Minerva seemed determined to make sure that he was in one piece. Ginny felt when Harry had returned; she could hear him again, feel him in her mind, which relieved her beyond all measure.

His disappearance had terrified her, and she remembered how he had felt when she had been under that spell in the lake during the second task. Every now and then, she would get bursts of feeling pain and fear but she didn't know what was happening, which only made it worse.

She was about to run to Harry, when a movement out of the corner of her eye drew her attention. Moody appeared to be making his way towards the exit. A glance at Hermione and Neville, standing on either side of her, a short distance away, told her that they had seen it too. They cautiously and surreptitiously made their way towards the defense professor.

A little ways away, Ron and Susan were also closing in. When they were close enough, all five of them began firing stunners. Caught in the crossfire, Moody didn't stand a chance. He went down hard, and the students surrounded him, looking at each other, trying to figure out what to do next. "What is the meaning of this?" Minerva had seen their actions, and separated from Harry to join them.

Harry, seeing his friends, followed his guardian, and Sirius, Remus, and Amelia followed Harry. Cedric looked like he had wanted to join them, but his parents were currently holding him in place and didn't look like they would be willing to let him go any time soon. Dumbledore and Snape also separated himself from the crowds, in time to hear the students' explanation. Ginny explained about Harry's misgivings causing her boyfriend to raise an eyebrow.

He definitely hadn't told her that. She and Hermione told the group how they had kept an eye on him after Harry and Cedric disappeared, seeing that his behavior was rather odd. When the two students had returned, he had tried to escape, so Ginny and the others had stunned him. Ginny immediately went to her boyfriend's side, while the adults deliberated. Hermione's eyes narrowed as she noticed the flask Moody had always carried around.

It was lying on the ground next to him, as if it had fallen out of a pocket. She picked it up and opened it, sniffing cautiously. Her eyes widened. "Harry," she gasped, passing him the flask. Harry took it and gave it a sniff. "Polyjuice," he agreed, nodding at his friend.

Snape's eyes narrowed. "And just how would you know what that smells like, Potter?" he sneered. Harry just shrugged, handing the flask to Amelia's protruding hand. His other hand remained firmly clasped in Ginny's. Amelia's eyes narrowed as she sniffed the brew herself, and she turned back to whoever it was lying stunned on the ground. A muttered spell had him bound securely. "Now, Amelia, is that really necessary?" Dumbledore asked, eyes twinkling.

Amelia glared at the headmaster. "Albus, whoever that is, it is not Alastor Moody. I want to know who he is and why he's impersonating your professor.

Later, you and I will discuss how it is you were unaware of an imposter in your midst for an entire year, especially since it was someone you are supposed to be great friends with." Their eyes were drawn to the man bound on the ground, as his skin started bubbling.

The magical eye burst out and rolled away, and the fake leg was pushed down as a real one grew in its place. Amelia gasped. "Barty Crouch Junior." Harry looked confused, but the other adults seemed just as shocked. "He died years ago, in Azkaban, didn't he?" Minerva looked like she didn't believe her eyes. "Apparently not." They all looked over at Neville, shocked at the growl in his throat. With a start, Harry remembered that Crouch Junior had been with the Lestranges when they tortured his parents into insanity.

He gave Susan a pointed look, which the Hufflepuff immediately understood, since she went immediately to her boyfriend's side, grasping his hand and whispering in his ear. Slowly, Neville relaxed, and without a backwards glance, Susan led him away towards the castle, still whispering reassuringly. Amelia smiled at her niece's actions, pleased at the relationship those two appeared to have, before she returned her attention to the escaped criminal in front of her.

"Albus, I believe I will be taking this man with me. He is a criminal, and I want to find out what he was doing here." Dumbledore looked like he wanted to protest, but he knew he was already in the proverbial doghouse with this group, so he just sighed and nodded, before turning to Harry. "Harry, my boy, let us go to my office so that we may talk about the events of this evening." He made to pull the boy with him, but Minerva was suddenly there.

Albus was disconcerted to discover that her wand was in her hand. "Harry will be going to the hospital wing, Albus. You will have a chance to speak with him after he has been cleared by Poppy, and only if Harry allows it." Dumbledore tried to protest, but Minerva just led Harry towards the castle, Ginny still grasping his hand tightly.

Before he made it, Harry turned back, his eyes haunted. "He's back. Voldemort's back." His words caused a chill to settle over the group as the implications set in. Minerva gave him a one armed hug, and led the two Gryffindors up to the hospital wing.

_ _ _ Chapter 28 Disclaimer: not mine Poppy immediately bundled Harry into a bed, giving him a pain reliever before checking him over for injuries. Besides the obvious cut on his arm, he ached all over from the Cruciatus curse. The entire group that had been allowed into the infirmary with Harry Minerva Remus, Sirius, and Ginny all looked like they would like nothing more than to confront Voldemort and tear him limb from limb at hearing that he had been put under the curse three times by the evil man.

Minerva even started hissing, her eyes narrowing to slits, though she forced herself to calm down when Poppy started threatening to throw them out.

The mediwitch had to work around the petite redhead who had attached herself to Harry's side. She was only allowed to stay because she refused to leave, and Minerva had quietly implored Poppy to allow it. She knew Ginny needed to be reassured that Harry was here, and safe.

Soon enough she was insisting that he take a Dreamless sleep potion, and Ginny relaxed as she felt her boyfriend drift off. Poppy looked up at the adults. "He'll be fine," she assured them. "He'll be sore for a few days, but there are no long term lasting effects. Other than that, the cut on his arm is the only injury of note. I've healed it, but the skin will be tender for a few days, so make sure he takes care of that arm." Minerva nodded and walked with Poppy back to her office as Sirius and Remus took up places on the other side of the bed from Ginny.

"Thank you, Poppy." Poppy smiled sadly. "Why does it all have to happen to him?" she asked rhetorically. Minerva snorted lightly. "Because old men can't help but keep playing games with his life." Poppy looked startled, but Minerva didn't elaborate, as she wished the mediwitch a good night. "Minerva." The Transfiguration mistress turned around and returned to Madam Pomfrey's side.

"Perhaps Miss Weasley should return to her dorm." Minerva looked at the young woman, still seated by her boyfriend's side. She shook her head, smiling fondly. "I will give her my permission to be out of bed for the night. I think she needs to be here." Poppy looked like she wanted to protest, but Minerva didn't give her a chance, as she returned to her charge and made herself comfortable in a conjured chair.

She offered to conjure some for the others; Sirius and Remus were both grateful, but Ginny just stubbornly shook her head, and instead lay down in the bed on top of the covers.

She was facing Harry, and kept his hand entwined in hers as she studied him in sleep. The adults weren't quite sure what to make of that, but the young girl dropped off to sleep shortly after, and no one had the heart to wake her up and insist she move. Minerva even enlarged the bed slightly so that she wasn't in danger of falling off, should she shift in her sleep. They passed the night watching over two special young people, talking quietly about what was to come.

Given Harry's parting statement before being led away, they all knew things would be happening, and soon. If He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named was indeed back, everything would change. XXX When Harry woke up, he felt completely rested. He was relieved to not have to worry about any dreams. The first thing he noticed was that there was a mane of red hair in his face. He started for a moment, before he recognized Ginny.

Looking around showed him to be in the hospital wing. It was then that he saw his guardians, and Remus, all sleeping in conjured chairs. He panicked briefly, before trying to wake Ginny up as gently as possible, before anyone saw them. Minerva began to stir a moment later, and when she saw Harry, she smiled gently.

"Good morning, Harry." Harry looked guilty, and glanced at Ginny. Minerva shook her head. "We left her there for a reason, Harry. You weren't going to do anything, and I think she needed to be with you just as much as you needed her." Harry looked up, surprised, and then smiled slightly. "Thanks," he whispered, returning his gaze to his girlfriend.

Just having her next to him made him feel so much better. Sirius and Remus woke next, and a few minutes later, Ginny finally stirred. A few minutes later, Poppy exited her office, and smiled at the large group, heading over to give Harry another check up. "How are you feeling, Mr. Potter?" she asked, waving her wand over his body before grasping his left arm to check the healing wound. Harry shrugged, looking down.

"I'm fine," he replied quietly. Minerva was about to protest that statement, but Ginny got there first. "Harry James Potter, what have I told you about using that word?" she asked rhetorically as she gave his shoulder a light slap.

Harry looked taken aback, but Ginny was just getting warmed up. "You promised me you would stop lying, so look at Madam Pomfrey, and tell her the truth!" Sirius and Remus stared. "Scary," Sirius whispered, as Remus nodded. Ginny and Harry looked at the pair, confused. "What?" Harry asked. Sirius looked at his godson. "It's like watching Lily yell at James all over again." Both students looked slightly uncomfortable, but Harry smiled at his girlfriend.

He sent feelings of assurance through their bond, before he turned back to the mediwitch. "I'm a little sore," he admitted. Poppy nodded, hiding her own smile. "That's to be expected, Mr. Potter. After an ordeal such as yours, I would be shocked if you weren't. As I already told your guardians, you will be so for a few days. Just take it easy, and don't overexert yourself. No more morning runs for at least a week!" Harry nodded, though he felt a little disappointed.

Sirius looked proud that his godson had been keeping up with the exercise they had started the summer before. Poppy left, and Harry turned back to the adults.

"So what happened last night, while I was… gone?" he asked somewhat hesitantly. It was Minerva who answered, her voice soft and reassuring. "There was a lot of confusion. Ginny and your other friends have explained how and why they captured Crouch Junior, and I suppose we are lucky that Amelia was there. I heard the Minister trying to deny anything about yet another Azkaban escapee.

If he had his way, Crouch would have been Kissed on sight before any questions could have been asked." Sirius shuddered. "Did anyone tell him about Voldemort?" Harry asked, noting the flinches from Minerva and Remus, but happy to note that his girlfriend and his godfather had no reaction.

The other two's reactions were much less pronounced than they had been previously, so Harry considered that a win. Minerva sighed. "We all went with you, so I don't know what the Minister has or has not been told.

However, Amelia did hear you, and she is not one to play to the politics. She will make sure that the right people know." Harry nodded, relieved. Minerva's next words had him subconsciously curling in on himself with dread. "Harry, you will need to talk about what happened." Ginny reached out and took him in her arms, offering her support both in body and mind. Mienrva looked like she truly regretted what she had to say next.

"Albus needs to know, Harry." They all looked like they wanted to protest, but the professor just shook her head. "He's the leader of the light, and probably one of the few who can make Cornelius see reason. We will stay with you, and you don't have to tell him anything you don't want to." Poppy returned at that moment, muttering, looking like she wanted to keep whatever it was to herself, but she dutifully passed on the message.

"Mr. Potter, there are a number of people waiting outside to see you. Should I send them away?" Harry shook his head, sitting up straighter in bed, and Poppy walked towards the doors, still muttering.

"Fifteen minutes only," she ordered, as the group descended. Harry was shocked. Cedric was there, as were Viktor and Fleur the part Veela had been treated and released the night before by the mediwitch without having to spend any time in the hospital wing. Mrs. Weasley and Bill were back, and Harry noted with interest that Bill made an effort to ask Fleur how she was feeling, and to stand next to her. Hermione, Ron, Neville, and Susan were also there, as were Fred, George, Angelina, Alicia, Katie, Cho, Blaise, Daphne, and Luna.

There looked to be a few more people out in the hall, but these were the important ones. His close friends.

They all spent some time talking, and everyone expressed their congratulations to Harry, as the second Triwizard champion. Cedric tried to tell him that they would split the prize money, but Harry just shook his head. "Trust me, Cedric, I don't need it." Cedric just shook his head stubbornly.

"So give it away. But you earned it, so it's yours." Harry was going to protest again, but then he thought of a use for the money, so he just sighed and nodded in resignation. Ginny, catching on to his thoughts, gave him a beaming smile. That's brilliant, Harry. They'll love you. Harry smiled back. As long as your mum doesn't ever find out, he replied.

They both laughed a little, making everyone else confused, but they didn't elaborate. Poppy kicked the large group out after fifteen minutes, as promised, but a few of them vowed to come back later. Susan informed him in a quiet tone that she wanted to talk to him about something, and the side-glance she threw at Sirius indicated what it was about.

Dumbledore came in after the group was gone, and he was most insistent on speaking with Harry. "I must insist that we go to my office to talk," he persisted.

Poppy shook her head stubbornly. "Mr. Potter has not been cleared to leave yet. If you want to speak with him, you will do so here, or not at all." Albus sighed in resignation, before he tried to get the still remaining adults and Ginny to leave them alone.

Minerva's eyes narrowed as she stood up. "Harry is a minor, Albus. He is allowed to have his guardians present. We're not leaving." Albus had to accept that, but when he tried to get Ginny to leave, Harry put his foot down. "She's staying, or you can just guess at what happened yesterday." The adults all looked slightly taken aback, but Sirius and Remus smiled after a moment.

Albus grit his teeth but remained calm as he conjured a squishy armchair, and asked Harry to tell him what had happened after he and Cedric had disappeared. It took a while. Harry spoke in great detail, talking about how he had recognized the name Tom Riddle, and known that something was wrong.

He told them how he had pushed Cedric out of the way of the killing curse, feeling its heat as it passed by. Ginny tried to clamp down the spike of fear that rose up, hearing how close he had come to death. Harry told them about petrifying Cedric and hiding him, so that he wouldn't be found. "They were after me. They had already tried to kill him once, I couldn't let it happen.

He's my friend." They all said they understood well, Dumbledore didn't say anything beyond nodding and asking what had happened next. So Harry told them about being stunned, and waking tied to Riddle's grave. He informed them of the resurrection ritual, which had Dumbledore very interested, and Harry was certain he caught a gleam of satisfaction in the headmaster's eyes when he spoke of how Wormtail used his blood.

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Both Sirius and Remus were growling at their former friend, but they remained quiet to hear the rest of it. They had tears in their eyes at hearing how Voldemort had used the Cruciatus curse, and Ginny's grip on his hand just got tighter. Harry recited the names of the Death Eaters he had heard, and finally moved on to the duel.

They were proud of how he had managed to throw off the Imperius curse, but all were holding their breath to hear the conclusion. When Harry spoke of the connection their wands had formed, and how the ghost-like people had come out of the bond, there was no question about it. Dumbledore's eyes were gleaming. "Priori incantatem," he murmured. "What's that?" Harry asked, confused. Dumbledore sat back and sighed.

"Your wand shares a core with Voldemort's. As such, they will never be able to work properly together. When forced to duel, one wand will make the other regurgitate the last spells the other has used." Harry nodded, and finished his tale.

He was almost crying as he spoke of seeing the wispy images of his parents, which made Sirius, Remus, and Minerva leak a few tears as well. He informed them of how they had lingered to give him time to escape, and how he had returned to Cedric, accio-ed the cup, and returned to Hogwarts. Dumbledore stood up when he finished. "Thank you, Harry." "Professor?

What's going to happen now?" Harry's question caused Dumbledore to turn around in his path to the door. He sighed internally. "I will attempt to make the Minister see reason. And certain people must be informed." He gave his Transfiguration professor a pointed look, which she understood.

Harry nodded, and watched the headmaster depart the hospital wing. The adults all shared a significant glance, knowing what Dumbledore was talking about. The Order of the Phoenix was going to be re-formed. They decided to leave the young couple alone for a while, promising to return before he was discharged, and left to have a serious conversation about recent events. Harry and Ginny stayed on the bed for a while, talking through their bond, as Harry told her about seeing his parents like that, and how he felt, hearing them tell him how proud they were.

They were both crying when Poppy came back with another dose of Dreamless Sleep. Harry was too tired to even argue. XXX Harry was released from the hospital wing the next day, and was surprised to see his four best friends and his girlfriend waiting for him as he left the infirmary. They all walked to the DA lounge, where Harry locked and warded the door against any intruders and eavesdroppers before sitting down and motioning for them to do the same.

Once they did so, he grasped Ginny's hand tightly, and began to tell them what had happened in the graveyard. It was strangely easier the second time around, and Ginny's presence definitely helped.

His audience gasped in all the right places, and Hermione and Susan wasted no time in giving him hugs when he finished. He had left a few things out, but for the most part, he told them exactly what he had told Dumbledore. They sat and speculated on what would happen in the coming days and weeks, and when it was time for lunch, they all made to head down to the Great Hall.


Could I have a word?" Susan sounded hesitant, and Harry sent the rest of them on ahead, telling them they'd catch up, before he turned back to Susan, and the two sat down once more. "What's up, Susan?" Susan bit her lip, looking down for a moment.

"Has Sirius talked to you at all about this summer?" she asked. Harry shook his head, confused. "Why, did he say something to you?" Susan nodded. "Aunt Amelia has written me a lot about their relationship, and we spoke a few days ago about what would happen.

I think Sirius is going to propose, but Aunt Amelia wanted to make sure it would be all right with us first." Harry sat back and considered.

He was happy for his godfather, and he liked Amelia. He thought they were good for each other. Amelia kept Sirius grounded, and Sirius helped Amelia to be more carefree. "So Sirius would be moving out," he said.

Susan nodded, looking concerned. "I know he's your godfather, Harry, and I don't want to take him away from you. I like him, and he could become my uncle, but if you have any concerns, you should tell him." Harry shook his head.

"I think they're great for each other. I'll miss Sirius, but I'm not going to stop him from living his life." Susan smiled and hugged him. "Besides," Harry continued, pulling back, "He'd just be a Floo call away.

You practically lived at McGonagall Castle towards the end of last summer." Susan nodded, smile widening, and the two hurried to catch up with their friends for lunch. Harry was surprised to receive a standing ovation when he entered the Hall, but most people were cheering him as he walked to Gryffindor table. All of his housemates, all of the Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws, and well over half of Slytherin were all clapping for him. He just ducked his head to hide a blush as he sat down.

Susan joined them for lunch, but refused to say what they had spoken about alone. Ginny of course knew, though the other's didn't know that, and gave Harry a hug; for being you, was the reply when he asked. XXX The Daily Prophet the next morning was filled with news of Crouch Junior's arrest, and Crouch Senior's death apparently when the Aurors called upon his home to ask some questions about his son, they found him dead and decomposing in a hidden room under the floor.

That led to Percy having to answer questions on whom he had been in communication with, since Crouch had been dead for months. Percy had suddenly found himself under close scrutiny, and temporarily relieved of his duties. The proud Weasley had no doubt made some mistakes in not questioning his boss' orders, but he felt it was a little extreme. This scandal could derail his plans to rise in the Ministry, if he didn't play his cards right.

There was also a large article on the co-champions of the Triwizard Tournament, but nothing on Voldemort's return, though Harry suspected the Minister was trying to suppress the information for as long as possible. He didn't think Fudge would be able to do so for long, since Amelia knew the truth, and would make sure people knew.

He had received a note from her that morning, telling him that she had a lot to do with Crouch Junior, but as soon as the summer holidays began, she wanted to speak with him about what had happened. The remaining week between the end of exams and the beginning of summer was always filled with anticipation and fear as people waited to see how they had done in their classes.

While Harry didn't have to take the end of year exams, he was still curious to see how much he had improved this year. When they got their results, Hermione was all for sharing their scores, but managed to control her reaction when she saw Harry's nervous expression. Instead, she just put her scores away, and smiled at seeing the relief all of her friends seemed to share at that gesture. Ginny was ecstatic to see that she had placed in the top five for the third years, and for the first time, Neville couldn't wait to show his grandmother his grades.

He had even received a high A in Potions, which was a miracle in itself. Ron was also pleased to see he had been doing better, without really even thinking about it. Maybe it had something to do with the fact that he and Hermione were officially dating now. Harry's scores were a startling change from the year before. The O in Defense he had expected, but receiving an O in Transfiguration and Charms was a surprise.

He had even received an E in Potions, and considering Snape's bias, he figured that with any other professor, that would have been an O. He had also received an O in Arithmancy, and an E in Herbology, Ancient Runes, Care of Magical Creatures, Astronomy, and History of Magic.

All in all, he was very happy with his scores, and knew that he was near the top of his class most likely he had been beaten out by Hermione and most of the Ravenclaws. XXX Minerva and Sirius made a point to have a rather frank discussion with Dumbledore a few days after his discussion with Harry in the hospital wing.

They unfortunately left with more questions than answers, as the headmaster refused to tell them much, but the one thing they wanted to know was why Voldemort had such an interest in Harry.

Dumbledore had said he didn't know, but both of Harry's guardians knew he was lying. They vowed to find the answer to that question so that they could protect their charge.

There was a definite feeling of guilt surrounding the headmaster, but he hid it well. He wanted to help the child, but he didn't know another other way.

The only way for Voldemort to die, was for Harry to die. He wished it didn't have to be that way, but it did. So he held on to his secrets, and continued to play chess with people's lives.

They would all understand after Voldemort was gone for good. XXX For the first time, Harry was actually looking forward to summer vacation. He was going back to a family that loved him, and he would get to see his friends as much as he wanted.

They all planned on spending a great deal of time at McGonagall Castle, though Susan also invited them back to her home, her aunt permitting, and Neville offered up his manor as well. Harry was very pleased with the changes that had come about since the previous summer.

Neville was a good friend, and Susan was much closer than she would have been. Hermione and Ron were finally together, and he had a beautiful girl to call his own.

Soon enough, it was time to board the Express for the trip back to London. Final farewells were passed between the Hogwarts students and the visiting schools. Fleur gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek, smiling radiantly. "I very much enjoyed getting to know you this year, 'Arry." Harry returned the smile. "Me too," he replied. Fleur stepped back, turning her gaze to Ginny, who was standing right next to her boyfriend. "You take care of each other," she admonished. Both blushed and nodded, and Fleur's smile widened.

"I think we will be seeing each other again. I 'ave applied for a job at Gringotts." She nodded to Ginny. "Your brozzer was most 'elpful, 'e told me 'e would speak to 'is bosses about openings in 'is department." Ginny beamed. She knew that her oldest brother had developed a bit of a crush on the part Veela, and she was pleased to see that those feelings were returned. It was all in the way Fleur spoke about Bill. Next to her, Harry gave a mental wink and a grin.

Come on, who did a good job? He asked. Ginny rolled her eyes. All right, so they could be good together. Harry nodded, turning to look at his girlfriend as Fleur wandered back to her schoolmates. I really think Bill sees right passed the Veela charm. He genuinely likes her, I could see that clearly last week. Ginny smiled. I'm happy he's found someone.

Or will… we shouldn't get involved any more, Harry. If they're meant to be, it'll work out. She felt his agreement, as the two turned to face their next visitor.

Viktor held his hand out to Harry, and the two shook. Viktor smiled. "I was glad to get to know you, Harry. If you ever need anything, just ask." Harry almost raised an eyebrow, but held in the gesture, and nodded. "Same goes for you, Viktor. I'm really glad we became friends." Viktor let go of Harry's hand, and shook with Ron and Neville in turn, before giving the three girls light hugs. "You all take care of each other," he practically ordered them, stepping back from Hermione.

His gaze swept across the group of six. All of them were somber now, knowing that their lives were about to get more complicated. Viktor sighed, turning around as one of his classmates shouted for him to board the ship. He looked back at Harry. "I mean it, Harry. If you need anything…" Harry smiled, and nodded again.

Viktor shook his hand one last time, before he turned back and made for the Durmstrang ship. Harry took one last look at the Castle that was the first place he had thought of as home, and sighed. Wherever he may live, Hogwarts would forever be home.

He felt a little shiver inside of him, and smiled. Apparently, the Castle agreed with him. Smiling, feeling just a little bit calmer, he followed his friends down to the train. Cedric joined them briefly on the train, asking Harry for a quick word, which the Gryffindor accepted somewhat nervously.

The sixth year hadn't said a lot over the last week; indeed they hadn't even seen each other much since the awards ceremony, where both received a copy of the Triwizard cup making Harry wonder if they had had more than one, or if someone had conjured a second and five hundred galleons. Cedric was just as nervous as Harry, as he led the younger boy into a nearby empty compartment.

"I just wanted to thank you, Harry, for what you did." Harry looked surprised, and Cedric smiled lightly. "I was angry at first, but then I thought about it, and I know you were right. If they had found me, I'd be dead right now. You saved my life. And I know you know that I saw what happened. I told my parents everything; my dad says the Minister's trying to deny it all, but Madam Bones is on a warpath. She won't let him get away with it for long.

He's offered her his support." Harry nodded. "I'm going to meet with her soon, to tell her the whole story. I'll let you know when, so maybe you can come to and tell her your observations. Amelia will make sure people are informed." Cedric smiled even more. "I heard she and your godfather are getting serious." Harry blushed and nodded. "Take care of yourself, Harry. I'll certainly help tell Madam Bones what happened, so I'll probably see you soon." Harry nodded again.

"Have a good break, Cedric." He returned to his friends, and Cedric went back to Cho. The group spent the rest of the trip discussing Dumbledore's end of the year speech - where he informed them of the dark lord's return and implored them to use caution over the summer - what Voldemort's return would mean for the wizarding world, and what they were going to do to help.

Maintaining the DA next year was definitely something they could do; learning how to defend oneself would be more important than ever. Various members of the study group stopped by from time to time, to thank them for all their help, as they had done much better in their classes then they had expected, and to ask if they would continue next year. Harry gave them all an affirmative answer, and each student left smiling.

Hermione watched her two friends over the course of the trip, thinking hard. Harry and Ginny were very close, but that was nothing new. She couldn't help but remember Ginny's scream when Harry disappeared from the maze. Something was up between those two, and she vowed to figure out what it was. The train began to slow as they reached London, and Harry and his friends packed up their belongings, preparing to depart. Harry stopped the Weasley twins just before they exited the train, pushing the bag of five hundred galleons into the left twin's hand.

Fred or George looked up, confused. "Harry, what " Harry shook his head. "I don't want this," he insisted. "You two take it. Use it to start your joke shop. I have a feeling we'll need all the laughs we can get in the near future." The other twin also tried to object, but Harry wasn't backing down.

"Take it," he repeated. "I don't need more money. Make me a silent partner if you want, but this is my decision. Just do me a favor, and buy Ron some better dress robes." Both twins nodded, thanking him profusely. Harry had one last request. "Please don't tell your mum where you got the money if she asks.

I'd just as soon not be killed by my girlfriend's mother." Fred and George both laughed at that, and agreed, as the three of them caught up with the rest of the group. Sirius and Remus were waiting with Bill and Mrs. Weasley on the platform. They both gave Harry a tight hug, before Mrs.

Weasley grabbed him and hugged him as well. He was gasping slightly as he pulled back, trying to get air back into his lungs. All of the students were greeted by the adults, and the other parents and guardians eventually made their way over. Amelia immediately went to stand by Sirius, and he wrapped an arm around her waist. Augusta joined them as well, and the adults all agreed to share houses over the summer, so that their charges could spend some time together.

Hermione left with the Weasleys through the barrier to Kings Cross, so that she could find her parents on the muggle side, but not before giving Ron a kiss that had his mother beaming, and his brothers plotting on how to use it against him. Harry also gave Ginny a goodbye kiss, holding her tightly, not wanting to let go.

He didn't think their bond would work over the distance between The Burrow and McGonagall Castle, but they vowed to see each other every day, if they could. Their guardians looked on fondly, seeing the caring between the two, even if they didn't know about the bond. When it was just Harry, Susan, Sirius, Remus, and Amelia, Sirius turned to the students. "We're all going to go back to McGonagall Castle for supper; Minerva will join us there shortly. You two ready to leave?" Harry looked from his godfather, to his pseudo uncle, to his godfather's girlfriend, to his godfather's girlfriend's niece, and back again.

He smiled. "Yeah. I'm ready to go home." And that's it for this story. The next one will take place during Harry's fifth year.