Keith Lewis Keith Lewis 7 928 2002-12-30T17:12:00Z 2003-07-06T10:46:00Z 21 12220 69659 580 139 85546 9.2720 Chapter 4 Strengths, Weaknesses and Quidditch.
DISCLAIMER: This story is based on characters and situations created and owned by JK Rowling, various publishers including but not limited to Bloomsbury Books, Scholastic Books and Raincoast Books, and Warner Bros., Inc. No money is being made and no copyright or trademark infringement is intended.
Author's Note : To answer a couple of your questions on the review board :
- Lara - she'll pop up once or twice in the rest of this book.
- Have I got a site? - afraid not.
Ginny joined her friends for breakfast the following morning. Madam Pomfrey had given her a clean bill of health after she'd had a good night's sleep. Harry and Ron were deep in discussion about the best Quidditch tactics for the inter-school match, which was only about two weeks away now.
Hermione noticed Ginny looking dreamily at Harry. "Ginny, your eyes are going to pop out of your head if you're not careful."
Ginny gave a start and smiled. "I can't help it Hermione. I've really tried not to think about him that way, but what can I do? If only he weren't so damn gorgeous!"
Hermione shook her head sadly. "Well I'm off to the library to do my Arithmancy homework. Are you coming?"
"No. I think I'll stay here for a while. Maybe I'll come up a bit later."
Hermione made her way up the stairs and along the winding corridors to the library and pulled out her parchment and quill, relishing a few mind-bending hours on her homework. However, she found it strangely difficult to concentrate. She kept thinking about Ginny's continued crush on Harry, and how it would affect her. Did Harry have feelings for Ginny? She knew that Harry wasn't exactly insensitive - he had shown that with Lara yesterday. But she couldn't help feeling that he looked on Ginny only as a best friend - perhaps even as a sister - rather than a girlfriend. She hoped Ginny wouldn't be hurt.
These thoughts prompted her to try to examine her own feelings for Harry. She tried to make sense of the strange jolts she had been getting sometimes when she looked at him. Were they a sort of friendly - even brotherly - concern for him? Apart from Viktor Krum, whom she hadn't thought of in that way anyway, she'd never had a boyfriend. She'd never experienced any romantic feelings for a boy. Were those jolts something to do with .. with any romantic notions she might have for Harry?
No, it wasn't possible. He's her best friend, and would remain so. She wasn't going to risk losing that friendship by some airy-fairy notion that she might have concerning romance.
'Get a grip, Hermione,' she thought. 'Put it out of your head and get on with some work!'
The following Wednesday evening saw Harry and the team on the Quidditch field. They had discussed various tactical moves the previous evening, and were now going to try to put them into practice.
Under the direction of Madam Hooch, the three Chasers and two Beaters rose into the air. The Chasers took up a 'V' formation, with Katie Bell up in front and the other two about twenty yards behind on either side of her. Fred and George patrolled on either side of the 'V'.
They flew up the field, the Chasers passing the Quaffle between them. Katie found it very difficult since she had to catch the ball coming over her shoulder, and then throw it back behind her. With her head looking back more than in front, she found it difficult to see where she was going.
"Ernie, Terry - get wider apart to give her a chance," shouted Harry.
"Don't be daft, Harry," shouted George. "That'll make the gap between them too wide, we'll never be able to give proper protection from the Bludgers, and anyway, the Yanks will find it too easy to intercept the Quaffle with all that space in between them."
Harry looked at Madam Hooch. "All right," she shouted, "come on down. Back to the drawing board." She led the team into the training room to work out more realistic manoeuvres.
"Look. We've got to try to counteract their size and reach," said Harry. "The best way to do that is to use our speed. Why don't we try the crossover move? One Chaser up ahead and one behind and to the side of the one with the Quaffle. Say Katie is in possession, Terry is up ahead and Ernie is wide and behind."
He drew the formation on the blackboard to illustrate his ideas. Then drawing arrows to show the direction of movement, he continued, "Ernie puts on a burst of speed and comes up towards Katie, who streaks off to the right and loops ahead, feinting that she's taken the Quaffle with her, but in fact, leaving it behind in the air before she streaked off. Ernie collects it and throws it to Terry. By this time Katie is alongside Terry, about 20 yards away and slightly ahead of him. Terry throws it to Katie, and if we do this at speed and with guile, she'll be clear on goal. What do you think?"
"That's looks good, Harry," beamed Madam Hooch.
"Would you mind going through that again, Harry?" said all three Chasers at the same time. So he did.
When everyone was happy with the play, they again went outside to practice the move. To start with, it was a disaster - their timing was all wrong. However, by the end of the session, they had it right, and were starting to do it at speed.
"Ok, that's it for tonight," said Madam Hooch. "I think that it's been a successful session, and we can only get better. Off you go."
The following Sunday was 19th September. It was Hermione's 15th birthday. She was feeling slightly aggrieved that no one had wished her Happy Birthday yet, as she walked down to the Great Hall for breakfast. She went into the hall and saw that most of her friends were already there. She sat down beside Lavender, and started to spoon scrambled eggs onto her toast.
"Good morning, everyone," she said.
"Good morning, Hermione," everyone replied. But still no 'Happy Birthday'.
'Oh well,' she thought, 'they've obviously forgotten - typical!' and started to eat her breakfast moodily.
As the day went on, still no one said anything to her. She went up to her dorm and opened the parcel she had received from her parents - a lovely new set of robes, hazel coloured to match her eyes. She was thrilled with the present, but was still feeling down that her friends had forgotten her birthday - she thought that Ginny, at least, would have remembered.
After sulking on her bed for a while, she decided to snap out of the mood, and went down to the common room. None of her friends were there - except Harry, who was sitting in his favourite chair reading a Quidditch book.
"Hi Harry," she said as she sat down beside him. "Where's everyone?"
"They've all decided to go for a walk down by the lake," said Harry, "but I needed to brush up on my tactics. You look a bit peaky today. What's the matter?"
"Oh nothing, Harry. Nothing at all," she said with rather more force that she intended.
She'd half decided to have a go at Harry about her birthday, but looked towards the window when she heard an insistent tapping. It was Hedwig, so she went over and opened the window to let in the owl. Hedwig flew over to Harry and dropped a note into his lap, and then flew off without waiting for a reply.
"It's from Hagrid," said Harry as he read the note. "He says he's got something to show us. Come on, let's go."
They walked down to Hagrid's hut and knocked - Hagrid opened the door and let them in. "What is it, Hagrid. What've you got to show us?" asked Hermione, looking around the room.
"Oh, it's out the back, Hermione. Come on, come and see."
Hagrid opened the back door, and stood aside for Hermione to go outside. She was stunned when she saw a long table, overflowing with food, and all her friends sitting around it, beaming at her. Hagrid walked up behind her and raised his arms - and conducted them all to a chorus of "Happy Birthday."
Hermione was laughing, although a small tear escaped from the corner of her eye, as she stood and watched her friends. Hagrid then led her to the head of the table and sat her down in front of an empty plate. "Come on, then, Hermione. Tuck in!" said Hagrid.
That was the signal for everyone to start filling their plates with all manner of sandwiches, pies and pasties, sausage rolls and plenty of other goodies.
"You thought we'd forgotten, didn't you?" said Ron, who was sitting next to her.
"No I didn't … ok, yes I did," she pouted and everyone laughed.
When the feast was finally over, Hermione was surprised when a load of parcels were put in front of her. She opened them all, thanking each of her friends in turn. She noticed that she hadn't had presents from Ron and Harry.
Ron grinned as he handed her a large package. She opened it and saw a large book entitled '2001 Recreational Spells by Gladys Helmont'. "Oh, Ron, thank you. That's wonderful - I haven't read this one!"
Everyone laughed. Only Hermione could appreciate a present such as that. Then Harry handed her a smaller parcel, about two inches wide and six inches long. She looked at him as she tore open the wrapping to reveal a long narrow box. She opened it and saw a gold chain necklace, with a gold pendant in a Celtic design. At the centre of the pendant was a beautiful hazel-brown sapphire.
Hermione gasped, "Oh it's beautiful. But it must have cost the earth. I ... I can't accept this, Harry."
"Yes you can! I've been wanting to get you something nice for a while, and when I saw it in Diagon Alley just before school, I had to get it. It's your birthstone, you know. The wizard at the jewellery shop said that it has traditional magical properties - it is said to cool the inner heat of anger. And it's said to lessen the powers of spells cast by evil ones. It also enhances the powers of love and peace. It was made for you, Hermione."
Hermione looked deeply into Harry's eyes as he spoke. And she felt the biggest jolt yet, deep within her.
"Thank you, Harry," she whispered as she kissed him tenderly on the cheek. Everyone clapped and cheered then, and both Harry and Hermione felt their cheeks burning.
The party went on until it was almost time for the evening meal, and everyone made their way back up to the school. As they walked, Ron caught hold of Harry's arm and motioned him over to one side, apart from the rest of the group.
"Harry, can I ask you something?"
"'Course you can, Ron. What's the matter?"
"Eh ... you and Hermione. Is there anything going on? I ... I mean, that present and the way she looked at you and kissed you and everything?"
Harry looked wide-eyed at Ron. "No of course not. She's our best friend, Ron."
"Good," said Ron forcefully. "Harry, I think I like her - you know, like her that way - not just as a friend. I think I will ask her to the Halloween ball. What do you think?"
"Look, Ron. You couldn't ask her last year - and you haven't done it yet this year. When are you going to do it?"
"I don't know yet, Harry. But Krum isn't on the scene, so I haven't got to worry about him, have I?"
"Right. So don't hang about then, Ron. Ask her before somebody else does."
"Yes, I will, Harry - just give me a bit of time to build up to it."
Harry rolled his eyes and whispered, "Oh no, here we go again!"
He had been flying over the forest for some time now. The bright sunshine was warm, and he felt good - he was in his element. But there was still no sign of water.
He noticed a curiously shaped tree up ahead - it was taller than those surrounding it, and the dark trunk was bare from the top of the other trees until the very top, when the spread of leaves formed a sort of arrow, pointing straight ahead. His heart leapt - is this a sign?
He sped on until he was directly over the tree, and looked in the direction the arrow seemed to be pointing. Way up ahead he thought he caught sight of a glint of sunlight shining off something. 'Water!" he thought. It must be.
He increased his speed and swept towards the spot of shining light, and …
He woke up. "Damn, damn, damn," he said. "I was sure the water was right there!" It had been nearly two weeks, now, since he had started dreaming and he was getting frustrated. 'Still,' he thought. 'I must be getting close. Maybe next time I'll get there.'
He looked at the window, and saw the pale light coming through the pane - it was just past dawn. Harry got out of bed and put on his training shorts, and went down stairs to do his exercises.
That evening, Quidditch practice had gone well. The Chasers had perfected the crossover move and were now looking quite slick. There was a feeling of relief in the team - the game was only one week away. It looked like they may have a good chance of winning.
Fred and George were hitting the Bludgers harder than ever, and the training had obviously helped David Bletchley. Harry had never seen him make so many saves during practice. As for himself, Harry concentrated on speed. He constantly practiced his dives, now managing to pull up from screaming dives just inches from the ground.
Another week of training and practice and they would be as ready as they ever would be.
That night, Harry still couldn't find the water in his dream. He again found the 'arrow tree' but couldn't reach the silvery glint before he woke up.
At breakfast the following morning, Harry and Ron talked about the team's progress until it was time to go to their first class - Divination with Trelawney.
As they walked to the class, Harry asked Ron, "Well - have you asked her yet?"
"No, not yet. Give me a chance, Harry. There's still about five weeks to go yet," he said nervously. Harry grinned at his friend's discomfort.
Professor Trelawney was sitting at her table at the front of the room when they entered. Lavender and Parvati were already there at the front gazing at some strange looking stones on the table. Harry and Ron took their seats at the back of the class, hoping that they wouldn't be the subjects of any death predictions today.
The professor stood and addressed the class, "Today we will begin studying the ancient art of Prediction using Rune Stones." She pointed to the stones lying on the table. "The Runes are thought to have been made by the main god of the Vikings - Odin. This set contains 24 stones, and the person wishing to see the future casts them on the ground. It is quite complicated to read the messages in the stones, and you will need to study your 'Divination for 5th Years' book, chapters 90 to 125 thoroughly before you'll be able to make any sense of the patterns - that will be your homework for the next few weeks. Now, I'll demonstrate how they are used. Lets see … hmmm … Harry, come down the front of the class please."
Harry groaned and Ron nudged him in the back. "Go on, Harry, let's see how you're going to die this year." Harry walked slowly to the front.
"Right, Harry," said Trelawney. "Pick up the stones and cast them on the floor in front of my desk. The rest of you come and gather round."
Harry picked up the stones, bent down and let them fall from his hands onto the floor. The professor then sat on the floor and started to read the pattern. "I see that you are going on a long journey, and the way will be difficult and dangerous."
Lavender and Parvati sucked in their breath and looked at Harry sadly. Harry just looked at the professor and Ron started giggling.
"Weasley! This is not a laughing matter, you know!" Professor Trelawney speared Ron with one of her hurt looks. "The Runes never lie. You will do well to pay proper attention." She sniffed and looked back down at the stones.
"I see that you will not be alone on this journey … but it is unclear who you are with." She suddenly gasped and put her hand over her mouth, "Oh my dear boy. There is danger here, great danger." Lavender cried out and made the rest of the students jump.
Trelawney's eyes then became glazed and had a far-away look in them. She spoke in a low-pitched voice that didn't sound at all like her own. "But you must come. I have been waiting for you. I have been waiting for so long now, and time is getting short."
The professor jumped slightly and looked about her. "Did I say anything just then? I felt as if I were asleep." Parvati told her what had happened, and Trelawney looked at Harry.
"Harry, heed the warning. I … I don't feel very well. I need to lie down and think a bit more about this. Class dismissed." She staggered towards the door to her room.
"But Professor," shouted Harry. "What does it mean? Where am I supposed to go, and who is waiting for me?"
She turned round. "That I don't know. All I know is that you must do what the Runes tell you, and what the spirit told you - the spirit that used me as a medium to deliver his message." And she opened the door and went into her room to lie down.
"What do you think it's about, Harry?" said Lavender breathlessly. "What are you going to do?"
"I'll tell you what he's going to do," said Ron. "He's going to forget about cranky predictions and concentrate on the real issue - Quidditch."
Harry grinned at Ron but couldn't help thinking if what he'd just heard had anything to do with the feeling of urgency he had from his amulet.
The students went out through the trap door, one by one, and walked through the corridors to their next class - Transfiguration with Professor McGonagall.
Harry lay awake in bed that night, hoping that he would get to the water when he went to sleep. Sleep was a long time coming, but he eventually drifted off …
Flying over the trees in bright sunlight, he went towards the 'arrow tree', which he found quite easily. He looked in the direction the arrow was pointing and again saw the sunshine reflecting off something. He sped towards the glint, which he thought was brighter than in any of the previous dreams.
He flew over several clearings until at last he saw a lake up ahead. It was a fairly small lake, but the water looked glassy since there was no wind to ruffle up any waves. He started to descend towards the lake, clipping the trees that stood all around it. He landed at the waters edge and walked over to peer into its ice-blue surface.
At last, he saw his animal self, and marvelled.
At first, he saw a smallish head, with a large, sharp curved beak as the prominent feature. He smiled as he saw that his eyes were emerald green, and there was a dark brown lightening-bolt shaped mark on his forehead, which was otherwise covered in golden fur and feathers, as were his neck. He leaned further out over the water, and saw that his body and wings were dark brown. He spread his wings.
He was a golden eagle - but a lot larger than a normal bird. He saw that his body was about 5 feet in length and he had a wing- span of over 12 feet.
He rose up into the air and hovered over the lake, looking down at his reflection, making sure that he had identified the animal correctly. He had no doubt - he had seen photos of golden eagles at his Muggle school, and he had even seen one flying in the hills above Hogsmeade.
He soared upwards into the clear blue air and relished the feeling of freedom.
He awoke the following morning feeling elated. He had done it. He heard the snores of the other boys in the dorm, and looked at his watch to see that it was 7.30 am. He went quickly into the shower, and then dressed and went down to the common room. His exercises went forgotten this morning - he was too excited. He went out through the portrait hole and made his way to Professor McGonagall's office, hoping that she would be there even at this early hour.
He knocked on the door and was relieved to hear the professor shout, "Come in. It's open."
McGonagall took one look at Harry's beaming face and said, "You've found the lake haven't you?"
Harry nodded, "Yes, Professor. I'm a golden eagle - and a big one."
"I bet you're happy, Harry," she said, getting up from her chair and walking around the table. "You always have liked flying. Well, now for the next stage in your instruction. Have you got a clear image of your animal form in your mind?" Harry again nodded.
"Right, what you need to do now is to close your eyes and concentrate on that image. Then see your human self in your mind's eye, and slowly visualise yourself changing into your animal form. As you do this, think the words 'CONVERTO AQUILA AUREUS' - that means 'Transform Golden Eagle'. When you want to transform back to your human form, you do the reverse. See yourself, in your mind's eye, changing from the eagle to human form and say 'CONVERTO EGO'. You'll need plenty of practice, Harry."
"Can I try it now, Professor?" asked Harry excitedly. She smiled and nodded.
Harry closed his eyes and saw his eagle form in his mind. Then he saw himself changing into that form, and he said the words silently to himself. He opened his eyes and looked down at himself - and was disappointed to see that he hadn't transformed.
"Harry," said the professor grinning. "You look rather strange with the head of an eagle and the body of a human. I think you'd better change back."
Harry went through the reverse process and said, "What did I do wrong?"
"Nothing, Harry. Like everything new, you need to put in plenty of practice before you can perfect it. You've made a good start - nothing usually happens when most Animagi first try to transform. You need to concentrate more - you'll soon master it. But don't practice where anybody can see you - remember that this must remain a secret for now. I'll give you the password to a room known only to the Headmaster and myself. It's right next to my office, behind the suit of armour. To get in, you tap the right arm with your wand and say the password 'sugar beans'."
"Thanks, Professor. Can I tell my friends now?"
"Yes, you can - but only Ron, Hermione and Ginny - no-one else. And you may like to wait until you can transform properly first to save yourself from any embarrassment. Let me know when you've mastered it."
Fred and George walked into the Great Hall late for breakfast, and went over to sit opposite their brother and sister - they were grinning like Cheshire cats. "Uh oh," said Ginny to Ron. "They've been up to something. Look at their faces."
"Hey, you two," said Ron. "What have you done now?"
"It's great," said Fred. "We've just been down to the dungeons to try out a new trick we've invented on the Slytherins. We set it over the entrance to their common room, so when they come through they'll … well, just wait."
The two pranksters sat eating their breakfast, glancing all the while at the door to the Great Hall. The first Slytherins - Mandy Brocklehurst and Pansy Parkinson - came in and went over to their table. They were soon joined by Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle. Fred and George were sitting on the edge of their seats, looking expectantly at them as they spooned food onto their breakfast plates.
Ron nudged Harry and Hermione. "Look at the Slytherins, something's going to happen I think - Fred and George've done something."
The tension at the Gryffindor table could be cut with a knife as the word was passed around. Every Gryffindor was now staring and waiting for something to happen.
Draco Malfoy noticed the Gryffindors watching them and said - or at least he meant to say 'What are you gits staring at!' What came out of his mouth was 'Eee aaw … Ee aaw ... Ee aaw.' He clapped his hand to his mouth, and stared wildly about him.
The other Slytherins had heard Draco and started to ask him what was up. "Ee aaw … Ee aaw… Ee aaw ." they asked.
By this time, Fred and George were rolling on the floor in fits of laughter. The other Gryffindors just looked at the Slytherins in disbelief before they all cracked up, letting out hoots of laughter. The Slytherins run out of the hall, red-faced, but not before Draco stopped and looked at Fred and George, shouting. "Ee aaw … Ee aaw ..."
This only served to double the mirth of the Gryffindors. Eventually, Fred and George explained that they had named their new spell 'The Donkey Charm', but it would dissipate from the Slytherin entrance after about half an hour. The people it affected, however, would be talking like donkeys for about two hours.
"Great," said Harry. "That means we'll have some peace from them at the DADA class."
Harry, Hermione and Ron went to their first class of the morning. Remus Lupin was looking angrily at the Slytherins, who were already at their seats. "What's wrong with you lot?" he said. "When I ask a question, I expect a reply."
Harry went over and whispered in Remus' ear, telling him about the 'Donkey Charm'. Throughout the rest of the class, Remus had to call on all his powers of restraint to stop bursting out laughing at the Slytherins' predicament. He knew he shouldn't have done it, of course, but he couldn't help singling out Slytherin students to answer the questions he posed.
"From now until the end of the term," he said, "we are going to concentrate on spell-blocking and deflecting. With the rise of the Dark Side, you will find this increasingly helpful."
Hermione's hand shot up. "Yes, Hermione?"
"Professor Lupin, I thought that unforgivable curses can't be blocked," she said.
"Well, your right and wrong, Hermione. Nothing can block the Avada Kedavra, of course - although there has been one exception," he said looking at Harry. "But the full power of some of the others can be dispelled. For instance, you all know that Harry, there, is very adept at resisting the Imperious curse. He can't stop the curse, but he can resist it. The key to it all is having a strong mind and high powers of concentration. With practice, even the worst effects of the Cruciatus curse can be deflected."
Again Hermione's arm shot into the air. "How can you practice that, Professor? I mean, apart from it being illegal to throw the Cruciatus, how can anyone stand the curse for the number of times it'll be needed to practice? We'll be gibbering idiots before we get near to deflecting it."
"Again, you're both right and wrong. We won't be using the Cruciatus, but a very close and surprising relative of the curse - Rictusempra - the tickling charm. I know that they seem completely opposite in their effect, but think about it! They both work by stimulating the nerve endings - one to cause extreme pain, and the other to cause extreme itching. So if you can resist the tickling, you should be able to resist Cruciatus. Now, I need a volunteer - how about you, Ron?"
"Me!" said Ron, his face going quite pale.
"Yes you. Come on Ron, come out to the front of the class."
Ron walked towards Remus looking nervous. "Right, Ron. When I cast the charm, concentrate hard, and visualise the nerve endings of the part of the body I'll be aiming at. Visualise that you are placing a hard cover over them - a cover that can't be penetrated. Are you ready? - I'll give you a minute so that you can put yourself in the right frame of mind."
"Ready, Professor," said Ron after a little while, looking determined.
Remus pointed his wand at Ron's arm and said, "RICTUSEMPRA."
Ron immediately fell to the floor, laughing, and futilely scratching at his arm. "FINITE INCANTATEM" said Remus, and Ron got to his feet, looking shame-faced.
"I was useless, wasn't I? I can't see how I'm going to do that," said Ron.
"Ron, it will take a great deal of practice, and a lot of people can't manage to deflect it even then. Most of those who can deflect it do so with only limited success - they still feel the effects, but not their full power. So don't feel bad about it. You'll improve, I'm sure. Lavender, you next."
Lavender fared no better than Ron, and went back to her seat.
"Hermione, you come up and try."
Hermione had a very determined look on her face as she walked to the front of the class.
"Are you ready? RICTUSEMPRA," said Remus as he aimed his wand at her arm.
Hermione concentrated hard on putting up shields to the nerve endings in her arm. After feeling extreme itching for a moment, the tickling seemed to decrease in intensity. She was able to keep it up for about 5 seconds before collapsing in fits of laughter, rubbing her arm.
After removing the charm, Remus beamed at her. "That's absolutely brilliant, Hermione. You managed to block it for about 5 seconds. For a first try, that is really amazing. Harry, you come up next."
Harry concentrated hard as Remus aimed the wand at his arm. He felt only a slight irritation as the charm hit him. He kept up his concentration for a full minute, feeling hardly anything, before Remus lowered his wand, looking completely gob-smacked.
"Harry, I have never known anyone to completely resist that charm as you did. And at the first attempt too? That ... that's completely unheard of! Let's try it again."
Remus again flung the charm at Harry, this time with all the power he could muster. Again Harry was able to block the charm, feeling just a slight itching in his arm.
"Now, Harry. If you agree, I'll try the Cruciatus curse to make sure you can deflect it. Do you want to try?"
"Professor!" shouted Hermione, looking worried. "That's illegal. You can't!"
"It's quite all right, Hermione, I've got special dispensation to use certain unforgivables for the purpose of instruction. No laws will be broken. And Harry, if it doesn't work, I'll lift the curse immediately. What do you say?"
Harry looked nervously at Remus, but nodded. He had felt the curse at the hands of Voldemort, and didn't want to feel the agony again. But it was important that he try.
"Ready?" Remus lifted his wand and pointed it at Harry's arm. "CRUCIO," he yelled.
Harry concentrated harder than ever, putting up shields on the nerve endings in his arm. As the curse hit him, he felt only the slightest pain, before it dissipated. Remus kept the curse on Harry for a full minute, but Harry stood unflinching.
"Amazing! Sit back down, Harry," said Remus after he had lifted the curse.
Remus looked distracted for the rest of the class, not believing what he had seen. Dumbledore had said that Harry's powers were increasing day by day, but this was astounding. He'd have to report to the headmaster as soon as possible.
Harry and the team were practicing down at the Quidditch field. It was the day before the big game and they were putting the finishing touches to their tactics. Madam Hooch was pleased to see that they were all looking very fit, and that the session was progressing very well indeed.
She called the team to her as she saw a group of people walking towards them from the direction of the school. The group was being led by Professor Dumbledore, and comprised six large teenagers, one smaller one and an older looking wizard.
"Ah, Madam Hooch," said Dumbledore as they approached. "This is Professor Bill Bangley. He's the Quidditch instructor at Salem, and these fine young people are the Salem Quidditch team."
Madam Hooch shook hands with her counterpart, and she introduced the Hogwarts team. Professor Bangley then introduced his team.
The two teams looked at each other appraisingly. The Americans looked very fit and very big.
"I've taken the liberty," said Dumbledore, "of offering the Quidditch pitch to our guests for a practice session. Is that all right with you, Madam Hooch?"
"Yes, perfectly," she said. "We've just finished our final session."
"Right. The facilities are all yours, Professor Bangley," said Dumbledore. "When you've finished, come up to my office and I'll show you to your rooms. We can then all go to dinner together - I've set up a separate table in the Great Hall for both teams to share."
The Salem team attracted a lot of attention from the Hogwarts students at the evening meal. The special table was arranged so that the Americans were seated along one side of it, with the Brits facing them. Harry found himself opposite their Seeker, Kristen Davis, a very pretty girl about his own age. He found himself comparing her with Lara and Hermione. Like Lara, she was a blue-eyed blond, and like Hermione, she had warm and kind eyes.
Things were inevitably a bit tense between the two teams initially, but with Fred and George at the table, they didn't remain so for long. Fred told everyone about the prank they'd pulled on the Slytherins and soon they were all laughing merrily - except, that is, for David Bletchley who had the good grace to keep a somewhat forced smile on his face.
This pleased Dumbledore, who was sitting between Madam Hooch and Professor Bangley at the top table. "It's nice to see them all getting on well together," he said to Bangley.
"Yeh, it sure is," he replied. "I was a bit worried that there would be too much rivalry, and the thing would fall flat."
"Professor Dumbledore," he continued, "my headmaster asked me to have a word with you about the student exchange programme. We've got 5 students coming to Hogwarts in two weeks time. But one of them is in the Quidditch team - and since she's here already, we thought it'd be a good idea to let her start now. What do you think?"
"That's fine by me," Dumbledore replied. "Is the student happy to stay if her friends won't be coming for another two weeks?"
"Oh yes, she's happy to start now. She's a very friendly girl and she's looking forward to meeting new people and making new friends."
"Then that's settled. Have you got her school file? I'll need to look at it and arrange for her to be sorted into a house." Bangley pulled a file from his robes and handed it to Dumbledore, and then went over to the girl to tell her that she'd be staying.
Dumbledore opened the file and glanced down at the details, until he came to an entry that made him stare, unblinking, at it.
Kristen Davies - Date of Birth : 31st October 1980.
It stood out like a beacon. He quickly went over to McGonagall, Lupin and Snape. "Meeting in my office straight after dinner - urgent news." He then asked Remus to contact Sirius so that he could be there.
"So you're the famous Harry Potter," said Kristen, looking over at Harry.
"Yes," sighed Harry.
"Well now that's out of the way … I've just been told I'll be staying here after the game - you know, the student exchange program."
"That's great, Kristen. I wonder what house you'll be sorted into?"
"How do they do that here?" she replied. "At Salem, they've got a magical broomstick you have to sit on, and it flies you over to the house table it thinks is best suited."
Harry told her about the sorting hat and what the houses were at Hogwarts. "I hope you're not placed in Slytherin," he said, "but I can't see that happening. Your eyes are too warm and kind." He coloured up a bit as he said that, as did Kristen.
"I hope I'm in Gryffindor," she said. "From what you say, it sounds like the house I'm in at Salem. By the way, who's the captain of your team?"
"Eh, that's me," said Harry. "Who's yours?"
"Tom Broadbent," she replied nodding at a tall, slim boy sitting further down the table. "He's one of our Chasers."
After the meal ended, Dumbledore rushed up to his office with the other professors he'd spoken to earlier. Sirius was already there waiting for them. "What's wrong, Headmaster?" he said. "Remus told me that you had something urgent to discuss."
Dumbledore showed them Kristen's file. "Look at the date of birth - right on the button for the Anima Summa. And didn't you all notice how well the two of them were getting on tonight?"
"What's she like, Remus?" asked Sirius.
"She's a blue-eyed blond with a body to kill for," he said, grinning.
"Remus. Please!" gasped McGonagall. Remus and Sirius just grinned - they loved baiting Minerva.
"We'll have the sorting at the evening meal tomorrow after the match," said the headmaster, "but first I'll have a word with the sorting hat - and I'll suggest that Gryffindor would be a suitable house for her to be sorted into. Of course, it doesn't always listen to me, but I think I can get it to see the sense of it."
"It would certainly be a help, Albus," said McGonagall. "The closer Harry is to her, the more likely that things could happen. I will, of course keep a close watch for any signs."
"Thank you, Minerva. And all of you - keep a close watch on the girl. We want to make sure that nothing happens to her."
The following morning arrived, and Harry had a knot in his stomach. He was nervous about the game, and felt the responsibility of being captain weighing on him. Ron, Hermione and Ginny tried their best to help him by trying to keep him distracted with their light-hearted chatter, but Harry couldn't help but feel nervous.
After breakfast they all headed down to the Quidditch field. The others wished him good luck as he headed to the changing rooms, and they then went to try to get good seats in the stand. Harry waited for his team to arrive, thinking about what he was going to say to them. He looked up to see the six enter the room.
"Harry, I hope you haven't got a fancy speech prepared," said Fred. "We had enough of those with Oliver."
"Yes, and don't tell us how big they are - we can see that for ourselves," said George.
Harry grinned. "I can always rely on you two to lift the gloom. Anyway, I won't say anything - except concentrate on what we've talked about and practiced. We can't do anything more than that. And we're as fit as them - don't forget it."
They changed into their playing robes and Harry led them out onto the field to the loud cheers of the students. All the school was there to watch - even Professor Dumbledore. There were also a few others that Harry spotted - he saw Cornelius Fudge, the minister of magic, sitting next to the headmaster, and he also saw Percy Weasley. One person he saw made him scowl - Rita Skeeter. She worked for the Daily Prophet newspaper and was there, obviously, to report on the game. 'No pressure then!' thought Harry wryly.
They all shook hands with the Salem team and the referee, who was a wizard who normally officiated at Quidditch First Division games, tossed a sickle to decide ends. "Dragons," shouted Harry. However, the coin came down 'Centaurs' and Tom Broadbent chose to play towards the Forbidden Forest end, with Hogwarts playing towards the school.
The spectators roared as the referee blew his whistle, and fourteen players rose quickly into the air. The referee then released all four balls, and play began.
It was clear, very quickly, that the Salem team were good. They moved about like they knew exactly what they were doing, and looked like a team who were used to winning. Harry rose above the players, as he usually did, keeping his eyes peeled for the Golden Snitch to show itself. There was something different, however. Normally, the opposing Seeker would sit on Harry's tail and follow him everywhere. But Kristen Davis was clearly confident in her own abilities to spot the Snitch. She slowly circled the field, ignoring where Harry went.
A gasp went up from the crowd as the Quaffle was thrown with tremendous pace at the Hogwarts goal. David Bletchley didn't even see the ball as it zoomed through the right-hand hoop. "TEN - NIL SALEM," shouted Lee Jordan, who was commentating on the match.
"Don't worry, David," said Harry as he flew past the Keeper, "that was a fluke. You'll be ok."
The next fifteen minutes, however, showed that it was no fluke. The score was 40 - 0 to Salem and the Hogwarts Chasers had hardly touched the Quaffle. Harry flew up to Fred and George. "Come on, you two. Get those Bludgers at their Chasers. They're murdering us."
"We would, if we could get at the Bludgers," shouted George. "Their Beaters seem to be everywhere."
"Sit on our Chasers' tails," said Harry. "The Bludgers will soon come in your direction."
This proved to be right, and as a Bludger hurtled towards Ernie, George managed to get in front of him and smash the ball in the direction of the Salem Chaser in possession of the Quaffle. The Chaser was clearly not used to this sort of treatment as he ducked his head to make sure it stayed on his shoulders. In doing so, he dropped the Quaffle and it was gratefully collected by Ernie, who passed it forward to Katie.
Harry saw that the Hogwarts Chasers were now in the ideal position. "Crossover," he yelled at them.
Ernie immediately started to streak towards Katie, who dashed off to the right, taking one of the Salem Chasers with her. She had left the Quaffle behind her, however, and Ernie grasped it as he sped past and to the left. The Chaser marking Terry Boot flew over to cover Ernie, and Ernie passed to Terry, who saw Katie streaking past his right-hand side, with a Salem Chaser desperately trying to catch her. He passed the Quaffle to Katie and she sped towards goal, unopposed.
The crowd cheered wildly when she sent the Keeper to the right with a feint, and threw the Quaffle through the left-hand hoop. "Goal," shouted Lee Jordan. "Well done, Katie. 40 -10 to Salem"
The move had worked perfectly, and it gave them the confidence they needed. In the lull after the goal, Fred and George had a quick tactical chat and decided on a ploy to keep the Bludgers away from the Chasers. The Salem Beaters were just too powerful and were disrupting most of the Hogwarts moves.
The next time Fred intercepted a Bludger, he sent it screaming off in the direction of David Petrucci, the big Salem Beater. He ducked frantically to avoid it and glared at Fred. Fred just laughed at him and shouted, "What's the matter, Petrucci? Don't like a taste of your own medicine?"
Petrucci and his fellow Beater were never ones to resist a challenge, and the next half hour saw the Bludgers rocketing back and fore between the four Beaters. Harry saw what was going on and grinned at the way Fred and George were giving the Chasers the space they needed - and it was paying off. Unrestricted by the Bludgers, the Hogwarts Chasers started to show their superior speed, and after 2 hours play the score stood at 170 - 150 to Salem, with Hogwarts catching up fast. They had worked the crossover move seven times by then, and Salem seemed to have no answer to it.
The Americans were not champions for nothing, though, and Tom Broadbent rushed up to his Beaters and told them not to be suckered into a contest of wills with the opposing Beaters. Unfortunately for Hogwarts, they took his advice and once more started to concentrate on the Chasers.
The game continued at a fast pace and the Americans, with their Beaters back to normal again, started to pull away once more. Even though Bletchley made some great saves, after three hours the score was Salem 340 Hogwarts 220.
The pace of the game was fast and furious, and Harry was pleased to see that his team-mates were not flagging - the training was certainly paying off. He was still circling above the field slowly, looking everywhere for the Snitch. It hadn't shown itself once, yet. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw the Salem Seeker go into a sudden dive toward the centre of the field.
'She's seen the Snitch,' he thought, and started to dive himself. Before he had gone 10 yards, he pulled up - he couldn't see the Snitch. 'Wronski Feint,' he thought.
Kristen laughed as she stopped her dive and flew up past Harry. "I see you're not fooled that easily, Harry," she shouted.
"Nice try, Kristen," he replied.
After 4 hours, the score was 420 - 290 to Salem. Both teams had slowed up by now - it was impossible to keep up with the earlier pace of the game. And as the game slowed, the superior height and reach of the Salem team began to show. After another 10 minutes it was 460 - 320 to Salem.
Harry started to get worried. If the game went on much longer it would be beyond their reach. He couldn't blame the team - they had given everything and had played well. It was up to him, he had to find the Snitch. He increased his speed as he flew above the play, looking everywhere for the glint of gold that would reveal the position of the Snitch.
He was behind his own goal posts when he spotted it. It was very close to the ground in the centre of the pitch. Kristen was behind her own goal posts and by her actions, Harry knew that she had spotted it as well. They both put on furious bursts of speed and streaked downwards towards the Snitch.
By the time they neared the middle of the pitch, they were both moving so fast that they were just blurs to the crowd. "They've seen the Snitch," shouted Lee, and the level of noise increased as the crowd's excitement grew.
'I've got to get there first,' Harry thought as he approached the Snitch, with his right arm held out, ready to grab it. Kristen obviously had the same idea - she was also screaming towards the Snitch with her right arm outstretched.
They both arrived at the Snitch at the same time, and their hands grabbed the fluttering little ball simultaneously. Now, obviously, they were moving in opposite directions, and when their forward momentum was suddenly stopped with the Snitch as their centre of gravity, something had to happen.
Ron later told Harry that what happened next would go down in the annals of great sporting moments at Hogwarts, and what was even better, Colin Creevey was on hand with his camera to capture it all. The forward momentum of the two Seekers was immediately transformed into angular momentum, and they cart-wheeled around the Snitch, both of them determined to hold onto it. They were a blur as they spun round and round.
Something had to give eventually. The crowd by this time were in a frenzy, and the other twelve players had stopped and were just staring, holding their breaths. Lee Jordan was going mad, not knowing who had the upper hand in the duel of the Snitch.
Suddenly, both Seekers went hurtling away from each other and skidded along the ground, both falling from their brooms. They both then stood up and looked at each other. The crowd had suddenly gone quiet - even Lee Jordan was quiet.
Then slowly, Harry held up his arm to reveal the golden Snitch fluttering in his hand. He had a broad grin on his face.
"Hogwarts wins - 470 to 460," shouted Lee excitedly. The crowd erupted.
The six Hogwarts players zoomed down to Harry and surrounded him, ruffling his hair and patting his back, and Katie kissed him. "Don't you dare kiss me, Bletchley," growled Harry, still with a grin on his face.
The students were now milling around and cheering, congratulating their team. Ron ran up to Harry and pulled him into a bear hug, and Hermione and Ginny were close behind, each kissing him on the cheek excitedly.
When the excitement died down a bit, Harry walked over to the dejected Salem captain and held out his hand. "That was the closest game I've ever played in," he said.
Tom Broadbent grinned ruefully. "That it was, Harry - and well done."
Harry then went over to Kristen, who was still staring at the ground in disbelief. It was the first time she had not claimed the Snitch in all the matches she had played. Harry grinned at her and said, "I don't think I want to come up against you again. You're good, Kristen, the best Seeker I've ever played against."
"Thanks, Harry. I can't believe I didn't get to the Snitch first."
"Well neither do I. We got there together - remember? It was just luck that I managed to keep hold of the Snitch."
Kristen's brow creased in a frown. "Oh I don't think so, Harry. I guess your arms are more powerful than mine. That's what it came down to in the end - you're a boy and I'm a girl!"
Harry just nodded, thankful for all the arm exercises he had done over the summer and during training. Harry was grabbed by his excited school-mates just then and was lifted onto their shoulders and paraded around the field with the rest of the team. Harry looked over at the 'celebrity stand' and saw the beaming professors applauding, and was surprised to see Madam Hooch and Professor McGonagall hugging each other, with tears in their eyes.
It was a moment to savour for Harry and the team. But Harry couldn't help but reflect, as he looked towards the watching Salem players, on how close it had been. It could easily have been him and his team who were looking on wistfully as the opposition celebrated.
Lee Jordan's voice rang out over the stands and the field, "Professor Dumbledore has asked me to announce that dinner will be served in thirty minutes. Will everybody please make their way up to the Great Hall. Thank you."
The two teams went over to the changing rooms to shower while the rest of the school walked slowly back to the school building.
The fourteen players walked up to the school together, about thirty minutes later, and the mood was that of friendly rivalry. Fred and George had struck up a good rapport with the other two Beaters, and as they walked along, they exchanged views on the noble art of Bludger-smashing.
They walked into the Great Hall to tumultuous applause, and just stood in the middle of the hall where their table had been the previous evening.
Professor Dumbledore then stood up. "Would the Hogwarts players please sit at their usual tables. The Salem students will tonight sit in among their many friends at each of the four house tables." He then directed the two Beaters to the Slytherin table, two of the Chasers to Hufflepuff, Kristen and the Keeper to Ravenclaw, and Tom Broadbent to Gryffindor. Tom took a seat between Harry and Katie Bell as the headmaster remained standing.
"Before we eat, let me and my fellow professors pay a tribute to the two teams. Without doubt, this was the best match ever seen at Hogwarts, and all who took part are to be congratulated. Will all the players stand up please." Dumbledore led the applause that filled the room as all fourteen players stood, a bit self-consciously, grinning at everyone.
"Now Professor Bangley is understandably disappointed at the result of the game, and feels that another game should be arranged. I have agreed to this, and a return match will be held, this time at Salem, next year. I know that we all look forward to that."
After the applause had died down, Dumbledore continued, "And now for another announcement. The Salem Seeker, Kristen Davis, will be staying at Hogwarts until the end of the school year under the student exchange program. Since she is here already, it has been agreed that she will start straight away. So that means that she will have to be sorted into a house - and we will do that now. Kristen, will you come up to the top table please."
As Kristen walked up from the Ravenclaw table, Professor McGonagall brought out the stool and placed it in front of the teachers' table. She then placed the sorting hat on top of it. She whispered to Kristen, who sat on the stool and placed the hat over her head.
'Hmmm,' said the hat. "It has been suggested that Gryffindor would be the best house for you, but I'm not so sure. I see that you are very intelligent, and that makes you a prime candidate for Ravenclaw. Hmmmm."
'Oh please,' thought Kristen. 'I'd like to be in Gryffindor. My house in Salem is similar to that.'
'Now let's see … Yes, I can see those qualities in you - brave and true. It's very difficult … but I think that you should be in ..."
"GRYFFINDOR," shouted the hat.
The Gryffindor students jumped up and cheered as she walked over to their table - not least because she wouldn't be opposing them in the Quidditch tournament later this year. For the same reason, the students in the other houses groaned - except for Draco Malfoy who was pleased that he'd still be the Slytherin Seeker. Kristen sat opposite Harry and between Parvati and Lavender.
Harry introduced Kristen to his friends at the table, and Parvati and Lavender especially gave her a friendly welcome, and told her that she'd be in their dorm along with Hermione. The rest of the evening was spent mainly talking about Quidditch.
Early the next morning, Lavender and Parvati shook Kristen awake. "You've got to see this, Kristen. Come on," whispered Lavender, not wanting to wake Hermione.
They pulled her, grumbling, out onto the landing at the top of the spiral staircase and pointed down into the common room. Harry was there doing his usual morning exercises. Kristen looked admiringly at Harry, before turning and going back to her bed.
"Hey," said Parvati who had followed her, "didn't you like the show?"
"Yeh, he's ok, Parvati. But I think he deserves a bit of privacy."
"I quite agree," said Hermione who had been woken by the chatter. "If Harry knew you were ogling him every morning, he'd be mortified. Come on, Parvati, give him a break." Parvati returned sulkily to her bed, as did Lavender.
At breakfast, Kristen was sitting with her new friends when Fred and George came and stood behind her, one on each side.
"Right, Kristen," said Fred. "Just a few pointers on being a Gryffindor. See those slimy gits over there?" He pointed to the Slytherin table. "They're the Slytherins, and you won't find a more objectionable bunch on the planet."
"That's right, Kristen," said George. "Nobody likes them, not even the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs. If they get the slightest chance to drop you in it with the teachers, they will."
"And if they give you any grief, just call us," said Fred as they both went back to their seats.
Kristen looked at Harry and raised her eyebrows questioningly. "That's Fred and George's standard introduction for new Gryffindors," he said laughing.
That first day, Kristen found it strange getting into the way things were done at Hogwarts but by evening, she was pleased that she hadn't done anything that could have embarrassed her and was happy that she seemed to be fitting in. She was helped by her fellow 5th years, especially Parvati and Lavender, and the three seemed to have struck up a budding friendship. Feeling tired, she went to bed early that night, leaving most of her friends in the common room.
A few hours later, only Harry and Hermione were left in the common room, all the others having gone up to their dorms. They were sitting next to each other at the end table by the window, putting the finishing touches to their essays on the causes of the third Goblin uprising, which had to be handed in to Professor Binns the following day. Hermione sighed as she finished writing and took out her ruler to measure the length of the parchment - it turned out to be five feet, even though the requirement was only two feet.
She leaned over and looked at Harry's parchment to see if he had nearly finished. At the same moment, Harry turned his head and looked up. Hermione found herself staring into Harry's eyes, their faces only inches apart. As she stared into the depths of his emerald greens, she felt the biggest jolt yet, deep within her. What she did next she just couldn't explain. It was as if something had taken her over, and she felt helpless to resist. She leaned closer and gently and sensuously brushed her lips against Harry's, their eyes still locked together. Harry's eyes were wide as she drew back slightly, and then taking in a deep breath, she kissed him again, this time more passionately.
Feeling the passion in that kiss, Harry responded and he brought his hand up behind her head and pulled her closer.
When they broke apart, they were both quite breathless, their mouths open and their eyes wide, both trying to make sense of what had just happened. They jumped as they heard a noise at the top of the stairs and looked to see Ron gazing at them, with a hurt look in his eyes.
"Ron, I … I …" stuttered Harry, a feeling of guilt suddenly coming over him. He knew that Ron liked Hermione, and he felt that he had just stabbed him in the back. Ron didn't wait to hear any more and he turned and went quickly back into the dorm.
"Oh no. What have I done?" whispered Harry. He looked at Hermione who was now gazing with a distraught expression at the spot that Ron had just vacated. Harry briefly glanced at her and then ran up the stairs to the dorm. When he got there, the curtains were pulled around Ron's bed.
"Ron!" groaned Harry. "Let me speak to you ... please." He was met by silence from the other side of the curtain.
"Damn!" he whispered to himself and went back out onto the landing. When he looked down at the common room, Hermione was nowhere to be seen. "Damn, damn, damn!" he again said to himself as he slowly climbed into his bed and pulled the curtains around him. He knew he was in for a sleepless night - he had a lot to think about.
'I've lost them both,' he thought. 'What was I thinking of? My two best friends - I've screwed up big time! But it was Hermione who kissed me first - why did she do that? She's never said that she liked me that way before - so why? And why the hell did I kiss her back? She's my best friend for God's sake! If I lose her friendship, I don't know what I'll do. And Ron … oh what can I do?'
These thoughts bounced around Harry's head all night before he at last fell into a disturbed sleep. He woke late the following morning, to find that everyone had left the dorm. He was glad that the 5th year Gryffindors had a two hours free period this morning. He was filled with trepidation as he made his way down to the common room, but only a few first years were there, getting ready to go down to breakfast. He sat down in his favourite chair to think, and looked up as he heard someone coming down the stairs - it was Hermione. By the look of her she, also, hadn't had much sleep. She looked at Harry as she reached the bottom of the stairs, and he stood up to go to speak to her. However, she looked guiltily at Harry before quickly going out through the portrait hole without saying a word. Harry groaned inwardly - his worst fears were being realised.
When he walked into the Great Hall, only a few Gryffindors were there eating breakfast - Hermione wasn't there. When Ron saw him coming in, he got up and walked right past him without saying anything. Again Harry groaned and sat down beside Kristen.
Kristen had noticed that Ron had ignored Harry, and saw the stricken look on Harry's face as he sat down. "What's wrong with you two, Harry? Have you had a fight or something?" she asked, a look of concern on her pretty face.
At that moment, Harry was very grateful for someone to talk to, and he told her what had happened the previous night. "What am I going to do, Kristen?" he pleaded.
She thought for a moment, then said, "How do you feel about Hermione, Harry?"
"Well, we've been best friends for 5 years. I've always seen her as just that. I mean ... I've always been very protective of her and I'd go through hell and back for her - but I'd do the same for Ron too."
"Are you sure you only see her as a best friend? You did return her kiss, Harry."
"Oh ... I don't know Kristen. It ... it just seemed the right thing to do at the time."
"Well, I'm sure you've noticed that Hermione is a very beautiful girl, and any red-blooded wizard would have done the same I'm sure. How do you think she feels about you?"
"I ... I just don't know, Kristen. Until last night I always thought she saw me as ... well, as a sort of brother. But now, I just don't know!"
"It seems to me that the first thing you've got to do is to find Hermione and talk to her. You've got to sort out what you're feeling for each other. Then you've both got to patch it up with Ron somehow."
"I suppose you're right. But I'm so scared of losing her ... both of them ... as my best friends."
"Harry - you've got to do this, and do it now. You can't let it fester, or you will end up losing them both. Now go!"
Harry got up from his chair leaving his breakfast untouched, and walked out of the Great Hall, thinking where Hermione could be. 'The Library!' he thought. She always went there when she had to think about anything. He quickly made his way up the stairs and through the corridors, trying to sort out in his mind what he was going to say to her.
Hermione, at that moment, was indeed in the library. She was sitting in a quiet corner, away from the few other students who were there. Her eyes were slightly red from all the crying she'd done the previous night, and she wasn't far from a few more tears now. 'How could I have been so stupid!' she thought to herself. 'What made me do that? I don't know what Harry must think of me. I hope to goodness that I haven't lost him as my best friend.'
As these thoughts went through her mind, she couldn't help but think how she felt when Harry had kissed her back. She had felt strangely elated.
'And yet,' she thought, 'he'd run off after Ron - he hadn't stayed with her. He must be feeling guilty about what happened. No, I have to put things right, somehow. Back the way they were before.'
She heard a noise behind her and turned to see Harry standing there, looking very nervous. She drew in a deep breath. "Harry. Sit down - we need to talk. Look, I'm sorry for what I did last night. It was stupid, and now you, Ron and I are all suffering and it's all my fault. All I can say, Harry, is that any witch in the school who found herself sitting so close to you would have kissed you then. You can be irresistible, you know - after all, you're the sexiest boy in Hogwarts. Will you forgive me?"
As Harry listened to what she had said, he had an odd sinking feeling - which he quickly dismissed. He now knew how she felt about him - she obviously didn't like him that way - it sounded as if it was just an attack of hormones.
"Of course I forgive you. And it was just as much my fault. You can be pretty irresistible as well, you know. I had a terrible night thinking that I'd lost you as my best friend - thank god I haven't."
Hermione also had the same odd sinking feeling that Harry'd just had as she listened to him. But at least he was still her best friend! "Thank you, Harry - I don't know what I'd have done if I'd lost you as a friend." she reached over and squeezed his hand - and felt another odd jolt - which she quickly put out of her mind.
"What are we going to do about Ron?" asked Harry, looking worried. "He ... well don't say I told you, but he likes you, you know - that way, and he must be feeling that we've both put the boot into him."
Hermione's eyes went wide. "Ron likes me? I knew that he was a bit jealous of Viktor and me - but I always thought it was because he didn't like Viktor - not so much that he liked me. Or lord, this gets worse."
"Do ... don't you like Ron that way, then?"
"Well no - he's my other best friend. I could never think about Ron that way." Again Harry had that sinking feeling - Hermione could never feel that way about her best friends - and that included him. The thought was again quickly dismissed.
"We've got to speak to him - together. Tell him that nothing's going on between us. And the sooner we do it the better." They walked out of the library together, and went to find Ron. They went to the common room but he wasn't there. Harry looked out of the window, and saw Ron standing by the edge of the lake, skipping stones over the surface of the calm water.
"He's there - down by the lake. Come on, Hermione, let's go."
"Ron!" they both shouted as they ran over to the lake. Ron turned and looked at them and then turned back to skip another stone over the water.
"Look, Ron - there's nothing going on between me and Harry."
"Come off it, Hermione. I know what I saw last night - and that wasn't just a friendly peck on the cheek between friends."
"I know what it must have looked like, Ron," said Harry, "but Hermione's right. There isn't anything going on between us. What you saw ... well it just sort of happened. It was a stupid thing and it didn't mean anything. We've sorted it out between ourselves, and we're still best friends - and we don't want to lose you as a best friend either."
Ron looked at them both, and saw the pleading look in their eyes. "Are you sure? I mean, are you sure nothing's going on between you?"
"Nothing Ron. Come on, you've got to believe us," said Hermione.
Ron smiled. "Well don't let me catch you doing that again. I might have to throw up all over you both."
Harry and Hermione grinned with relief as they each put an arm around his shoulder, and pulled him back towards the school for their first class of the day - History of Magic.
That night, Harry left the common room and went to the special room that Professor McGonagall had let him have to practice his Animagus transformation. After giving the password, he walked into the room, which was fairly small and completely empty, except for a mirror standing against the wall. He walked over and stood before it, looking at his reflection.
"Oh my," said the mirror, "aren't you something then. You can look into me any time you like."
Harry groaned. 'Trust me to end up with a female mirror,' he thought.
"Will you please keep quiet - I have to practice my Animagus transformation."
Harry concentrated and visualised himself as a golden eagle. He then saw himself as his human form changing into the eagle and thought, 'CONVERTO AQUILA AUREUS'.
He watched, fascinated, as he saw his head and shoulders change to those of a golden eagle, but the rest of him was still Harry Potter. "Oh dear," said the mirror, "you really do need the practice don't you."
Harry spent the next hour trying to transform, but by the end of that time he had only managed to change his right arm into a wing, apart from his head and shoulders, that is. He was feeling quite weary by that time - the transformation process was very tiring if repeated so often. So he walked back to Gryffindor tower and went straight to bed.
The middle of October saw the onset of autumn in Scotland, and the evenings began to take on a chilly feel to them. It was a beautiful time of year at Hogwarts, with the leaves changing to russet, gold and red before dropping to leave a kaleidoscopic carpet over the fields that surrounded the school.
Sirius was sitting in the shrieking shack, looking out of the window at the fields. It never failed to amaze him - the beauty of this place in autumn. He was waiting for Ceri to arrive. He had received her message that she would be returning tonight, and he hoped she would be in time so that they could both spy on another meeting of Voldemort's inner circle. Snape had told him that it would take place at 10.00 pm in the same location as the last meeting.
It had just started to get dark when the side door opened and Ceri walked in. "Hi Ceri. It's been a long time. How did it go?"
"Hello Sirius," she said cheerfully. "Well after a long, hard slog, I finally managed to convince them to take my report seriously. Then they insisted that I be involved in setting up special infiltration teams before they let me come back over here."
"We've got another spying mission tonight. And we haven't got much time to get there. Do you feel up to it, or do you want to go to the hotel for some rest?"
"Lead on, kind sir," said Ceri, and they went off towards the Forbidden Forest.
The she-wolf and the big black dog had settled down under a large bush as the first of Voldemort's inner circle arrived. Then came the man himself, with Wormtail in tow. This time Sirius did not react - he had learned his lesson.
"Lucius," hissed Voldemort. "What's the delay? Why is it taking so long to recruit these past few weeks?"
"My Lord," replied Lucius Malfoy, "we've found spies at some of our recruiting meetings. We've dealt with them, but we've had to be more careful with our security. This has slowed us down, but it hasn't stopped us. It'll just take a while longer to swell your army to the required size."
"Hmmm, I've had the same reports from my servants in America. It seems that the Light Side have noticed our activities. You're right to increase security - nothing must stand in the way of my destiny. I've told my foreign friends to be on their guard as well. At this rate, it won't be until next spring before we are ready - but we must be patient. I don't want anything to go wrong now. Keep me informed of your progress. Has there been anything more from our friend at Hogwarts? What has Potter been up to lately?"
"No nothing, my Lord. Things are very quiet there."
Voldemort and Wormtail then Apparated away, quickly followed by the inner circle. Sirius and Ceri stayed in their animal forms as they made their way to Hogwarts to report to Dumbledore.
"Sirius - welcome," said Dumbledore as the black dog entered his office, followed by a pretty young woman. "And you must be Ceri Jones. I'm pleased to meet you at last."
Sirius transformed as the professor shook Ceri's hand. "I'm glad - no - privileged to meet you Professor Dumbledore," she said as she looked into two twinkling blue eyes.
"The privilege is all mine, my dear. Sirius has told me all about you. Did you manage to convince your people of the seriousness of the situation?"
"Yes, Professor, after a while. We've set up a number of teams to infiltrate the Death Eater meetings to try to slow them down."
"And it seems to be working," said Sirius as he told Dumbledore about the meeting they'd just spied on.
"Well that's something, anyway. It should buy us the time we need to set up our defences for the coming attacks. Ceri, the rest of my team will be here shortly, and I'll introduce you to them. I've laid on supper for you both, and you can help yourselves later. Sirius tells me that you normally stay at the Three Broomsticks. You are welcome to stay here in one of our guest rooms if you wish?"
"That's fine, Professor. I'd love that. But how are you going to explain my appearance to your other teachers and students? As Sirius has told you, there's a spy hanging around watching Harry Potter."
"I'll tell them you're a visiting observer from one of the premier Witchcraft and Wizardry schools in America - here to see how we do things at Hogwarts. And yes, I know about the spying on Harry - he and his friends are being watched by us too - not that he really needs it. He's quite capable of looking after himself these days. Did you know that he can now block the Cruciatus curse with ease?"
Ceri gasped, "How can he do that? I didn't think anyone could block that curse."
"I told you he was special, Ceri," said Sirius. Remus had told him all about the DADA class.
Dumbledore nodded. "He's growing stronger all the time - both physically and magically. Ah, here they are." Dumbledore waved in McGonagall, Snape and Lupin and introduced them to Ceri. Then she and Sirius again gave their report for the benefit of the newcomers.
After the meeting was over, Sirius and Ceri went into Dumbledore's anteroom to eat supper. The headmaster then showed her to the guest room.
The Halloween ball was fast approaching, and the excitement of all the girls in the school was rising. They constantly talked about who had asked who to go to the ball, and in particular, if anyone had been asked by Harry.
About a week before the ball, Harry was sitting alone at the breakfast table when a pretty 6th year Ravenclaw - not Cho - came up to him, nervously wringing her hands.
"Harry, I was wondering, are you going to the ball with anyone?"
"Eh ... no, Sarah. I don't know if I'll be going, yet."
"Well if you do decide to go, would you ... come with me?"
Harry looked at Sarah, feeling sorry for her obvious agitation, and marvelling at her courage in asking him. He searched for the right words to let her down gently. "Thanks Sarah, I ... I'll bear it in mind. But I really don't know if I'll go."
Sarah walked dejectedly back to her table, where she was pounced on by all her friends, excitedly wanting to know what Harry had said. This was only the first of several offers by girls from all four houses, and it got to the stage where Harry was almost afraid to go outside his dorm. The trouble was that he found it very difficult to say 'No', especially to a pretty girl.
He thought about what he could do and came up with the obvious answer. If he asked someone to go to the ball and it became common knowledge, then they would stop asking him. But who could he ask? Just as he was thinking about it, Ginny walked into the common room. 'Ginny - of course!' he thought. 'Who better than one of my best friends - she's long over the crush she used to have on me, so we'll just be going as friends - just as long as she hasn't already been asked, or there's no one she expects to ask her. I don't want to cramp her style, after all.'
He called Ginny over to him.
"Hi, Harry. What's up?"
"Has anyone asked you to go to the ball yet, Ginny?"
She looked at him with narrowed eyes. "No, why?"
"Is there someone you think might ask you?"
"Noooo…." she said wondering what was coming next.
"Ginny, what do you say we go to the ball together?"
Ginny couldn't believe her ears. Harry Potter had just asked her to the ball! "Yes, ok Harry. I'd love to go to the ball with you. Eh ... can you excuse me now? I have to do something." She ran up to her dorm looking for her friends.
'That went ok,' thought Harry. 'Ginny's a nice girl and she obviously doesn't mind that we're going just as friends.'
How wrong Harry was.
The next day, just before their DADA class, Harry whispered to Ron, "I'm taking Ginny to the ball."
"WHAT!" shouted Ron, attracting the attention of the other students in the class.
"Ron!" whispered Harry. "I'm only taking her as a friend. I had to ask someone to keep all those girls off my back. Ok?"
"Well, ok Harry. As long as that's the only reason!"
"It is, Ron. It is"
Later that evening, Harry went to his secret training room to practice his Animagus transformation. He had been steadily improving over the last few days and had great hopes that he'd succeed during this session.
His first attempt had the mirror in fits of laughter. She said she had never in her life seen anything so funny. Harry was grateful for McGonagall's advice that he not tell his friends before he had perfected the technique - he had to admit that the sight of a magnificent golden eagle, perfect in every respect except for a pair of human feet, was hilarious in the extreme.
Unabashed, however, Harry persevered and after half an hour managed to complete the full transformation. He was elated, and repeated the change four times to make sure that it wasn't a fluke. He'd done it.
He went to Professor McGonagall's office and told her the good news, and demonstrated the transformation. The professor nodded her approval, and told Harry she would inform the headmaster that the task was now completed.
Harry walked happily into the common room, and saw a very downcast Ron sitting in front of the fire. He looked as if he had the troubles of the world on his shoulders.
"What's up Ron?" asked Harry. "Why are you looking so miserable?"
Ron raised his chin from his hand. "I've done it again, Harry. I'm a stupid git."
"What - what have you done, Ron?"
"I just asked Hermione to go to the ball with me, but she said that Neville's already asked her."
"Oh," said Harry. He wondered if Neville had asked Hermione, or if Hermione had asked Neville - just to have an excuse not to go with Ron. He wished that he hadn't told her about Ron's feelings. 'You're not the only git, Ron,' he thought.
Afterwards, he cornered Hermione, who seemed a bit distant, and asked her about Neville. "No, Harry. He asked me three days ago. And what's this I hear about you and Ginny? The whole school is buzzing about it - but I don't suppose you've noticed as usual!"
Harry frowned slightly at Hermione's odd attitude. "I only asked Ginny to keep the other girls off my back.We'll only be going as friends, you know."
"Are you sure about that, Harry? You may think so, but does she? I don't want to see her get hurt, Harry." And she stormed off.
Harry was confused now. 'I did tell her we'd be going just as friends, didn't I?' He tried to think back to when he'd asked her - but he couldn't remember! 'But it doesn't matter anyway. Ginny doesn't like me that way any more. She must realise we're only going as friends - mustn't she?'
The day of the Halloween ball arrived, and everyone had been given a day off from school. Although the boys didn't mind a day off, they couldn't really see the need for it. There was plenty of time to get ready - after all, it wasn't due to start until 7.30. Not so the girls. They seemed to think they needed every minute of their day off to get ready. There was a buzz of excitement about them, and all you could see that day was one group of girls after another talking excitedly and running here there and everywhere. Harry thought that Dumbledore had put a spell on the female population of the school.
Dumbledore had organised dinner before the dance, but the tables were not the usual four, one for each house. There were now quite a few smaller tables, each seating 10 people. Harry and his friends sat together, eating their meal - Harry with Ginny, Hermione with Neville, Ron with Lavender, Dean and Parvati, Seamus and Kristen.
The ten friends chatted together and had a great time. Until the dancing started, that is. There were no romantic feelings between any of the 5 pairs and they just let their hair down and enjoyed themselves - but Ginny was the exception. When the band played a slow number, the others danced in the prescribed foot-apart manner. But Ginny moved in close to Harry, put her arms around his neck and rested her head on his chest. Harry was in turmoil. He looked over to Hermione pleadingly, but was met with a deadpan expression, which said 'I told you so!'
Harry let Ginny stay in that position as the song continued, wondering what on earth he was going to do. At the end of the song, he said, "Ginny, come outside for a minute?" and she happily went with him, holding his hand. She attracted quite a number of envious stares as they went outside onto the balcony.
Harry sat down on a bench and motioned for Ginny to sit down next to him. "Ginny," he said nervously, "I've got a confession to make. And I don't think you're going to like it."
That was the highpoint of the ensuing conversation. Things then went quickly downhill as Harry explained why he'd asked her to the ball. Ginny was mortified. She hardly heard Harry's apologies, and she got up and ran back to Gryffindor tower, wiping the tears from her face. Harry felt terrible and knew how Dobby must have felt when he used to beat himself up when he'd done something he'd been ashamed of.
He knew he had to go after Ginny. He knew he had to make things right between them. She was one of his best friends, and like a stupid git, he'd put that friendship at risk - just as he had with Hermione and Ron. 'What the hell is wrong with me?' he thought. 'If I've hurt her - and all because I was thinking of myself. All because I wanted to get the girls off my back. Did I once think about what I might be doing to Ginny? Did I hell!'
He walked back to the common room, but there was no one there. He went up the stairs and walked towards Ginny's dorm and then stopped. He could hear the sound of muffled crying. He knocked quietly on the door. "Ginny? Ginny ... can I speak to you please?"
"Go away, Harry," came the reply.
"Ginny, please. I really need to talk to you. I can't leave you like this."
He put his ear to the door, and heard a rustle of clothes. Ginny slowly opened the door and walked back to her bed and sat down. Harry followed.
"Oh, Ginny," he said, "I've been such a stupid fool. I never thought you still felt anything for me. I thought that was all in the past." He paused and took a deep breath. "I've always liked you, Ginny. We've become best friends. I haven't told you this before, but I do love you, Ginny." Her eyes widened. "I've come to love you as the sister I've never had, and always wanted. So you are special to me, and when I asked you to the ball, it was on those terms. But like a fool, I just assumed that you felt the same. I can see that I've hurt you, but I just don't know what to do about it. The only thing I could do is to tell you how I truly feel. I hope you won't hate me for what I've done."
"You have hurt me Harry - I've never felt so bad. I wish you'd told me how you felt earlier - before I made a fool of myself. I'll speak to you tomorrow, Harry. But now, I just need to be on my own."
Harry squeezed her hand and then left the dorm. He walked down to the common room to see two very angry faces looking up at him. "What have you done to my sister, Harry?" shouted Ron. That was bad for Harry to take, but nowhere near as bad as Hermione's angry whisper, "I told you Harry. I warned you about this. You're nothing but an insufferable, insensitive, bloody fool. I really despair for you sometimes Harry."
Harry sank forlornly down into his favourite chair as Hermione raced upstairs to Ginny's dorm. Ron sat down next to Harry. "Care to explain?" he said.
Harry told Ron all about how he'd messed up, and how bad he felt about hurting Ginny. He half hoped Ron would hit him - it would at least make him feel better. He told him what he'd said to Ginny, loving her like a sister, and then put his face into his hands, feeling too bad to continue.
Surprisingly, Ron didn't hit Harry. Nor did he shout at him - he could see how upset Harry was. He put his hand on his shoulder. "Harry, I do understand you know. Ginny had us both fooled. I didn't suspect that she still had some sort of crush on you - she certainly disguised that pretty well. If I'd known, I would have warned you."
"But Hermione warned me Ron. But I didn't think she was right. I ignored her. How stupid can I get? When is Hermione ever wrong?" he wailed.
"Look, Harry. I know you didn't intend to hurt Ginny, and she'll come around to that way of thinking soon enough - she's not stupid. And to think," he grinned. "How long have you thought of her as a sister? And does that mean you think of me as a brother?"
Harry looked up to see Ron's grinning face. "Of course I do, Ron. I've never told you this, but I really envy you. You've got the best family anyone could possibly have, and ever since I met you, I've hoped that I could be part of it. Does that surprise you?"
"In a way it does. I've always been envious of you Harry - oh in a friendly way of course - Captain of the School and House Quidditch teams, youngest Seeker at Hogwarts, fame - the list is almost endless. I never thought that the famous Harry Potter would ever be envious of me!"
They both looked self-consciously at each other. They had rarely spoken in such an intimate way to each other before. But a strong bond between them was forged that night - even stronger than the one they'd already had. They went up to bed, both feeling a little better than earlier in the night.
The next morning, Ron and Harry went down to the common room to see Hermione waiting for them. She speared Harry with a glare and said, "Ginny wants to see you - up in her dorm. She's on her own." And she turned and went to sit over by the fire. Ron sat next to her as Harry went back up the stairs.
Ron told Hermione everything that he and Harry had talked about the previous night. "I understand how Harry's feeling," she said, "but if only he'd thought - that's the trouble with you boys - you don't think! Harry didn't even realise that he was playing with Ginny's emotions. He's hurt her Ron - badly. She really thought she had a chance with him, but your sister is one noble witch - she's the best. She's going to forgive him, you know. She can accept that Harry sees her as a sister - she's even flattered by it. But it's going to take a while before she fully gets over this. We'll need to keep an eye on her."
Harry felt relieved that Ginny had accepted his apology, and had forgiven his stupidity. When she had finished speaking, he hugged her and whispered in her ear, "So is it all right if I think of you as my sister?"
"Yes, of course it is," she replied, "brother mine." Harry didn't see the tear than ran down her cheek.
It was getting impatient now. It had waited for a long time, there beneath ancient Rhedae, and nothing had happened. It increased the power of its summons, sending it out into the four corners of the world. It had to do something for time was getting short.
Buckbeak lifted his noble head. The emanations had changed. They were stronger. He flew into the air above the forest to join his friends, craving the comfort of their nearness.
The noise increased in the forest, and the wizards patrolling the perimeter noticed the change in activity. The creatures were still confined, but they sent their report to the French ministry, hoping that something would be done soon.