Unofficial Portkey Archive

Always and Forever by Lorelover

Always and Forever


Always and Forever


Disclaimer: Harry Potter, and all the characters associated there with belong to JK Rowling, and Scholastic. Also, any similarities to any other work is unintentional. I make no profit from this story. I wrote it, just for fun.



Chapter 16

A Cold Dark Feeling


"Checkmate," Ron said with a smirk.

"Bloody hell Weasley, I thought I had you that time,"

Ron had taken to playing chess against a couple of fifth-year students, because nobody in his own year would play him anymore. "Don't take it so hard Andrew, you almost had me. Go again?"

The older boy laughed, "Naw, I've had enough humiliation for one day. Besides, I've some work that needs seeing to."

"Right. Maybe later," Ron said, as Andrew headed for the stairs.

Ron packed up his chess board and set it aside, then looked around the room. It was still fairly cold this time of the year so most of Gryffindor was inside, even though it was Saturday. Some were up in their dorm rooms, and a few were still at breakfast. The rest were scattered around the common room.

Ginny was sitting with the twins having some kind of discussion. Actually, when he looked closer, it looked more like a lecture; judging by how animated Ginny's hands were. Occasionally, one of his brothers would glance over at him only to have Ginny chastise him for not paying attention. Ron smiled, his sister was the smallest one in the family, but was also the scariest. He had no idea what they were talking about; maybe one of his brothers had said something about a boy she had eyes on or something. He really didn't care as long as she left him out of it. Ever since Harry started dating Hermione, she had been a little more open about seeing other boys. Ron didn't care for the idea, but as long as his brothers were handling the situation, he'd stay out of it… for now.

As for the rest of his class mates; Dean was having a lie-in, his girlfriend too for that matter, and since Seamus had come down so late, he was probably still at breakfast. And Neville… `Where was Neville?' Ron wondered. "Probably with Loony," he muttered.

And finally, there they were… Gryffindor's golden couple, sitting together in their favorite spot by the fire. Last night as he was heading to bed, Ron had overheard a couple of giggling third-years girls call Harry and Hermione that. He wondered if they even knew they had a label.

Hermione Granger, what did Harry see in her? Sure, she was smart; great to have around for help with schoolwork, but you didn't have to date her for that. She was nice enough… most of the time, although she could get a bit bossy at times. Also, she was always on about something, and if you didn't agree with her, she'd get her knickers in a twist faster than you could say Merlin's hairy bits. Ron laughed to himself at that last thought. Yeah, she could be a real bint if she wanted. As Ron continued to watch the couple, he focused on Hermione a little more. He really didn't think she was all that pretty either; no, not much of a looker as far as he was concerned.

So why did Harry ask her to be his girlfriend? Ron had no idea. Harry could have asked almost anyone else, and a lot of them were prettier than Hermione. He could have asked that veela girl he went to Hogsmeade with, she was a good-looking bird.

Ron watched as they sat on the couch and worked on classwork; about as friendly as they got, was to share an occasional smile. If it had been him and Lavender, he'd be sure to make better use of his time; they'd be snogging for sure. Nope, no matter how hard he tried, he didn't think he'd ever understand Harry Potter.


The fourth task was just two days away, but for now, Harry's attention was focused on today; March first, Ron's birthday. Harry, along with help from Ginny and the twins, were going to throw him a party. After explaining to McGonagall, that he was only trying to improve things with Ron, She gave her consent for not only the party, but use of the common room as well. Hermione, Parvati, and Lavender also helped, as did Neville, and Seamus. Oddly, Dean never seemed to be available; Harry wasn't even sure if he was going to show up for the party.

Harry and Hermione had talked about their friendship with Ron. Both had agreed that they missed the old Ron. The Ron they had adventures with, or sometimes just hung out with. They missed the Ron who made them laugh.

Hermione had thought it was a good idea and quickly agreed to help, after Harry had decided to throw Ron a party for his fifteenth birthday. Harry had reasoned, that maybe by doing something big for Ron, and with him the center of attention if only for a little while, it might snap him out of the strange mood he's been in. She also knew that with Ron splitting his free time between them, Lavender, and his new friends, they weren't spending a lot of time together. They both felt it was a chance to reconnect with him, and to show him they still cared. It was the main reason Harry pushed so hard to make it happen. She could only hope that Ron would see as the gesture it was meant to be.

Lavender's job, was to keep Ron busy for an hour after dinner. When she mentioned that she knew of several broom closets on the sixth floor she could probably interest him in, Parvati had to remind her they only needed an hour.


The portrait open and Ron stepped through followed closely by Lavender. "What the hell," Ron mumbled; the common room was completely dark. A second later, Ron nearly jumped out of his skin as a dozen people all yelled, "Surprise!" At the top of their lungs. The fireplace, and all the candles around the room flared back to life at the same time.

Lavender came up from behind and looped her arm through his, and intertwined their fingers, "Happy birthday Ronnie."

Ron looked around in disbelief. Everyone was wearing a party hat, and there were balloons all around the room. On the far side, sitting on his favorite table was a cake, shaped and decorated like a chess board along with several brightly wrapped presents.

Turning to Lavender with a surprised look still on his face, Ron asked, "You did all this... for me?"

Lavender smiled, happy that Ron thought she had done it all, but she couldn't take all the credit, "No silly, your friends did. I did help of course." Pulling him further into the room she explained, "We all helped; your sister did all the organizing, but it was Harry's idea."

Ron looked around and found Harry standing by the fire with his arm around Hermione, looking right back at him, a huge smile plastered on his face. Ron started towards him, "Oy Harry," Ron started as he gestured around the room, "this was your idea?"

Hermione slipped away, she knew Ron would want to talk to Harry alone.

Looking a little sheepish, Harry answered, "Well, just the idea," then, pointing to his sister, "Ginny did most of the work."

"Hey," George hollered, "if by most of the work you mean, telling everyone else what to do... well then, yeah."

"Spend all day baking a cake," Fred started, "no respect I tell you."

"Spend half the day in the kitchen eating, while Dobby baked the cake is more like it," Ginny laughed.

"And look at what our supervision got you," retorted Fred.

"The perfect cake," added George. Both brothers turned towards each other and gave themselves a deep bow of appreciation.

When Ron reached Harry, he gave him a brief one-armed hug, "Thanks Harry, haven't had a real birthday party since I started Hogwarts."

Harry glanced at Hermione, who was standing a few feet away quietly talking to Luna. "Well, I've recently become aware of just how important birthdays can be."

Hearing what Harry had said, Hermione looked over and caught his eye and smiled, before turning back to Luna. She knew exactly what he meant, and she felt exactly the same way.

"Well still... awfully nice of you Harry, considering how I've acted lately," Ron said rather sincerely. For a moment, it felt like old times and he smiled, even though he knew way too much milk had already been spilled for things to ever be the same again.

"Won't ever be proper mates again if we can't put the past behind us," Harry said hopefully, "right?"

Ron smiled, "Right." Then turning to the crowd, he yelled, "Oy you lot, who wants cake?"

Harry laughed at Ron's antics. Then spotting Alicia, he slowly made his way over to talk to her about the twins. Harry was hoping for a repeat performance next month on their birthday.


Snape had been watching Harry and his friends, look for ways for him to stay underwater for an hour with little success. Finally, the Longbottom boy joined the group, and within a short time had suggested Gillyweed. The only problem was where to obtain some. Snape saw his opportunity, and as soon as Mr. Longbottom was alone, he summed him to his office.


McGonagall had called it a magical sleep. Deeper than regular sleep, but not as though one were in a coma, it would slow down all of my bodily functions and allow me to survive underwater without breathing for a long time. I couldn't see or hear anything, but strangely enough, I could feel. I was floating weightless in space… in a black silent void. The odd thing was, I wasn't really asleep, or maybe I was, and I was only dreaming. It was impossible to tell. My part in this task was simple, all I had to do was wait… but sometimes waiting can be hard. I honestly don't think Harry will have any problems finding me, it's what he'll do once he does, that gives me pause. In light of recent events, what will he do? Hermione decided she didn't care, she was his girlfriend now, and would stand by him either way.


Harry awoke with a start, something was wrong. The eastern sky was only just starting to lighten as Harry quickly showered and got dressed for the day.

They had taken her, he was sure of it.

As he left his dorm and headed down to the common room, Harry never noticed the other empty bed. At breakfast, his worst fears were all but confirmed, Hermione was indeed missing.

They had talked about the clue, and what it might have meant several different times. It was Harry who first suggested that, `What you'll sorely miss,' might refer to a person. Hermione had agreed, but knew the thought bothered him, and so tried to play it down. Eventually however, she had to admit he was probably right. Later that night as Harry laid awake going over their earlier conversation, it didn't take him long to reason, that of all the people they could take, Hermione would be the one he'd miss the most. Harry never got a chance to tell her. Hermione's earlier words, that he had dismissed so easily before, `Students have died in the tournament,' now came back to haunt him. It never occurred to him that someone other than a champion might get hurt, or even killed.

In less than two hours, the fourth task would begin, and Harry couldn't help the feelings of anger he felt towards the headmaster for involving her. She was innocent, what right did they have to endanger her life.

Neither Harry nor any of the other champions had any real idea what the fourth task was about yet. All they knew for sure, was that someone very important to them, had been taken hostage, and were now probably somewhere on the bottom of the lake.

Harry was so deep in thought, he barely noticed when Ginny sat down across from him. It was only when a second later, that Luna sat down on his right, and Neville on his left, that he realized they were all there. They were there to support him... in Hermione's absence.

They had all heard the clue, and since Hermione would never miss being here for Harry; they also knew, Harry was right about them taking her.

"Don't worry Harry, I'm sure she'll be all right. You'll do whatever it is you have to in order to get her back," Ginny tried. She wanted to help, but she really didn't know what else to say.

The look on Harry's face was grim as he looked around at his friends. He was most certainly thankful for their support, but his worries about Hermione were evident. "Thanks Gin," was all he could say.

As breakfast dragged on, Harry thought he'd go spare waiting, and was about to get up and go look for Dumbledore, and demand that he bring Hermione back.

"May I have your attention please?"

Harry looked up towards the head of the Hall, "Finally!" He said to no one.

"In just over an hour, our champions will begin their fourth task," Dumbledore began. "They have all heard the clue from their golden egg, and by now I'm sure most, if not all of you, have heard it as well. Hopefully, they have deciphered it correctly."


The last thing Hermione remembered when she was still awake, was sitting in McGonagall's office listing to her explain the spell she was about to put on her. After that, time seemed to have no meaning. She couldn't tell if she'd been down in the lake for an hour, or a day. At first, the sensation was peaceful, similar to that wonderful feeling you have right before you wake up in the morning; not quite awake…drifting. Now, the feeling was changing, she was becoming more restless, yet she still couldn't move. Hermione felt the first sign of panic take hold. Was the spell starting to wear off, she wondered?


Harry glanced at Neville, who nodded yes to his unasked question, and reached into his robes and pulled out a small jar of Gillyweed. "Remember Harry, it only lasts an hour, and you can't take a second dose," reminded Neville.

Harry quickly pocketed the jar, "Thanks Neville." He still couldn't believe Snape had done him a favor. Neville had said he'd only given it to him, because he was tired of people breaking into his stores. Harry couldn't be sure, but he thought Snape might just have another reason, besides the one he gave Neville. However, for now he'd take whatever he could get; never look a gift horse in the mouth they say, or so he thought.

"A word of advice to our champions," Dumbledore began again, "Look with your eyes... but see with your heart." Dumbledore paused to let his last statement sink in. "On the surface, the clue may seem straightforward, but below... look deeper, and you may find a different meaning."

Harry shook his head, why did Dumbledore always have to speak in riddles? It seemed the more important the information, the more obscure the riddle. `Great,' thought Harry, `I hate puzzles.'

Luna stared at Harry, she knew what he was thinking. Harry thought he knew what he had to do; search the lake, find what they took, and bring it back to the surface. Now, Dumbledore had gone and all but said, there was more to it. It wasn't that simple anymore. Normally, Harry would just take this news in stride. He was quite good at thinking on his feet. Harry would just jump in and go, and he would do what was necessary even if that meant taking chances. But now Hermione was involved; Harry wouldn't want to take any chances that might get her hurt. Harry was at a loss, as to how to proceed. Luna felt, she would have to take Hermione's place this time, if she wanted Harry to start the task with a clear head.

"Harry... Harry, look at me," said Luna, in a very serious no-nonsense voice, "you stick with the plan to start with..."


"Listen to me Harry, move quickly, but don't rush on blindly." Luna made sure he was paying attention before going on. "Think about what the Headmaster just said... `Look with your eyes.' He wants you to see something, maybe real, maybe not."

Harry realized, that Luna was trying to help. He nodded his understanding and gestured for her to continue.

"The clue said, `what you'll sorely miss'... Hermione, but Dumbledore said, `look deeper, you may find a different meaning.'"

Harry took a deep breath and blew it out quickly, "Yeah, okay... but what?"

Luna could only give him a sad smile, "I don't know Harry, I think perhaps that is what this task is really all about."

"Harry," Neville interrupted, "remember the clue, remember what Dumbledore said, but most importantly, remember what Hermione always says. She believes in you. She knows you can do it. And we all know she's rarely wrong."

Harry looked away and stared out the window in the direction of the lake. He could almost see her face in his mind's eye, somewhere under the water. A smile on her face, waiting for him, knowing he'd come. His resolve strengthened, he wasn't going to let her down... he couldn't.

Harry turned back, and first looked at Ginny, then Luna, and finally at Neville. He slowly nodded his head, "You're right... all of you. Thank you."

"Champions, if you'll please make your way to the champion's tent down by the lake, so that you can begin preparing for the fourth task. The rest of you, may want to start down towards the viewing stands. And yes, we have a way for you to watch your favorite champion's progress."

Harry stood, and glanced at his friends and nodded once again, then turned and left without saying another word. The last thing he heard as he left the Hall was the twins yelling, "Good luck Harry," before he slipped out the door and started down to the water's edge alone.

Neville watched him go, then looked back at the twins after their encouragement. That's when he noticed; he'd been so focused on Harry; they all had been, no one noticed, "Hey, where's Ron?"


McGonagall took her seat in the judge's booth, high up in the stands. After settling, she surveyed the rest of the spectators. She let a small smile form when she noticed, that the majority of her lions were here and sitting together. Sitting with them was a pair of Ravenclaws, a site that was becoming more common every day. Looking out over the lake, she examined a fog like mist, created by a complex set of runes and charms. It was designed to allow the spectators to watch the events that were happening far below the surface. Projected into the mist was a dim misty three-dimensional image as seen, as if one was actually below with the champions. The face of the mist shimmered, and rippled not unlike that of the surface of the lake. The effect only added to the mysterious view from below. The runes and charms work necessary to accomplish all of this were quite extraordinary. McGonagall doubted few besides the Headmaster could have done it. As much as she hated the entirety of the tournament, she had to give Dumbledore credit for this, it was very impressive.

Harry stood at the edge of the lake on the dock with the other three champions, anxious to begin. "Come on already!" He said, while looking towards the stands where he knew the officials would be. While he waited, Harry took notice of the other champions. To Harry, Cedric looked a little nervous, probably for much of the same reasons as himself. Viktor on the other hand, was impossible to read. It was Fleur however, who really caught Harry's attention; she looked... terrified. Harry would find out later, that most veela had a natural phobia concerning water.

"Champions, at the sound of cannon, your time will start, and you may begin," came Dumbledore's voice from the viewing stands, amplified by the Sonorus Charm. "Once you enter the underwater forest, or deep forest as some like to call it, your paths will diverge. You each have a different destination.

Thankfully, Hermione had thought ahead, and had made sure that Harry knew several basic spells to help with this task. To protect him from the frigid water, Harry cast a warming spell on himself, then, to ensure he could see clearly, he cast the Impervius Charm on his goggles.

Boom… came the cannon blast, just seconds later.

Harry quickly opened the jar of Gillyweed and swallowed the contents whole before diving into the lake. After a brief period of pain and some disorientation, Harry was soon making his way towards the deep forest.

Ginny sat in the viewing stands by her longtime friend Luna, and watched as Harry dove into the water. She still couldn't believe, that she hadn't noticed, that Ron had been missing from breakfast. She knew of course that she had been worried about Harry, and therefore, Hermione by association. But Ron was her brother, she wondered what that said about her. Was she too focused on Harry? She did think about him a lot, even though Hermione was his girlfriend now. She had finally gotten over her shyness around him last summer, and now this. Ginny was sure, that if it hadn't been for the tournament, she would've been a lot closer to him by now, maybe even his girlfriend, and it would have been Hermione that was still just his friend. Without Quidditch, she had nothing special in common with him that Hermione didn't have. The tournament had turned it all around. He needed help with the tasks, and Hermione being older and more knowledgeable was far better suited for that roll. Another problem was, she just didn't know how to deal with all the trauma, it was one crisis after another. `But Hermione did,' a nagging voice in the back of her head reminded her.

Viktor immediately took the lead; he was obviously a very strong swimmer. `That helps explain why he spent so much time in the lake,' thought Harry. Bringing up the rear, was Fleur; without a doubt, her apprehension was slowing her down.

Within a few minutes, Harry had reached the underwater forest. Unlike trees that grow on land that were fairly rigid, these trees were very flexible, fluid like in the way they wavered with the current. The trees themselves were more like thick long stalks that branched out into smaller stalks the closer to the surface you got; much like regular tree branches. Trying to swim near the surface would be almost impossible because of how thickly the branches enter-twined.

On the lake bottom, growing up like a thick carpet around the tall stalks, was a long fine grass like plant. Harry tried to remember Hagrid's lesson on grindylows, which he knew lived in the tall grass. Harry ended up, swimming several feet above the top of the grass to try and stay clear of the nasty little creatures that lived there. While at the same time staying low enough to avoid getting entangled with the forest top.

As soon as he entered the deep forest, Harry lost sight of the others. Harry struggled forward, his anxiety starting to build again as the forest slowed him down. He had to twist and turn at sharp angles to get through. Finally, after what seemed an impossibly long time, the forest began to thin. That's when he heard it; the mermaid's song. Maybe, it's another clue, thought Harry, so he stopped to listen more carefully. Sure enough, it was.



Friendship taken, or friendship gone.

One is weak, and one is strong.



Even though he didn't know what it meant exactly, Harry repeated the phrase a couple of times to himself to commit it to memory. Looking around, he saw the mermaid who had been the one singing. Now she was pointing and gesturing, indicating that Harry should head in a new direction. Just as he started to resume his search, he felt a sharp sting on his right leg. "Crap," Harry said through a mouthful of bubbles, "grindylows." One had its claw-like hand wrapped around Harry's right ankle, and was pulling him down where several others were waiting.

Luna turned away from the scene below, and looked at her friends. `Her friends,' the thought still amazed her. Except for Ginny, she never really had any friends. Now, she had several, thanks to Harry. She was much closer to Neville of course, and he was definitely her best friend, but most of her other friends; Ron and the twins, Seamus, Padma and her sister, and of course Hermione; were all because of Harry. He had not only openly called her a good friend, but he had been the first person her age to defend her as well. Nobody, had ever done that before.

Luna only vaguely heard Neville's warning about being too close to the grass; spoken aloud as if somehow Harry could hear him. When a collective gasp rose from the stands, Luna knew Harry was in trouble.

Harry pulled his wand from his holster, and fired off a stunner, "Stupefy..." but nothing happened! Apparently, casting spells underwater was harder than he had thought. Harry started to panic as a second grindylow grabbed him around the neck. The two were working together to drag him down. Harry forced himself to calm down, and a moment later he tried again. This time, he concentrated on slowly pronouncing the incantation, "Stoo-puh-fye," A blue-white flash emulated from his wand. It was a weak stunner at best, but it had the desired effect. He had hit the grindylow who had been holding his ankle, square in the chest. It instantly released him and floated away apparently unconscious. The other grindylows, including the one wrapped around his neck, wanted no part of what Harry had just done, and hurried back to the relative safety of the tall grass. Harry quickly moved away from the tall grass and resumed swimming in the direction he was told without wasting any more time.

Harry swam hard, and strained his eyes in the dim murky water, looking for another clue. With little or nothing to navigate by, all Harry could do was hope he was heading in the right direction. Even though it was almost noon, light from above barely managed to penetrate to this depth. Filtered by the water, it bathed everything in an ominous twilight green hue. A cold dark feeling, pressed at him from all sides, as if it was trying to squeeze the life from him. As foreboding as the feeling was, Harry knew he couldn't stop. He couldn't quit, not until he knew Hermione was safe. Harry pressed on and tried to put the menacing thoughts out of his mind as he swam deeper into the darkness.

At last, Harry saw something. Up ahead... a figure started to take shape... 'Hermione?' He thought. No, it wasn't her. As Harry swam closer, the figure of two mermaids holding hands came into view. He swam closer and circled around them slowly, looking for anything out of the ordinary. They were made of stone, but aside from that, Harry found no other clues. Just as he was starting to swim away, he heard another mermaid begin to sing.



To save what you'll miss, you must choose one, not two.

But chose wisely, or it won't come to you.



Harry floated still and stared at the mermaid who had appeared out of the darkness, while she sang it twice for him. When he was sure he had it memorized, Harry nodded, and again the mermaid pointed the way.

As Harry swam, he tried to reason out the new riddle, but he just couldn't make a connection. Fifty minutes had gone by since he had started. Harry briefly wondered how the others were doing; especially Fleur.


With Harry starting out again and on the right course, Neville and Luna turned their attention to the other champions to see how they were doing. Cedric and Viktor both appeared to be doing well. Cedric had used some form of cutting hex to help him through the forest, while Viktor just seemed to muscle his way through.

Fleur however, was having a very hard time trying to navigate the forest. She first tried to swim over the top of the forest, but quickly lost her way. The water above the forest was thick and very murky, and limited one's ability to see more than just a couple of feet. Now she was making her way along dangerously close to the bottom, trying to make up for lost time.


As Harry swam, he focused on the riddles. He was so absorbed in thought, that he never noticed the large water snake until it brushed up alongside him. Fortunately it wasn't interested in him, only curious. Harry continued on, although with a little more caution.

After a short swim, Harry again saw something up ahead, another statue... no, two statues. Getting closer Harry corrected himself again, no... two people! Harry swam a little closer and stopped in front of the pair. One, was Hermione. `Thank God,' thought Harry, relieved. The other person was Ron, but what was he doing here, one hostage wasn't enough? Harry looked around, there was no sign of the other champions or their hostages, though he didn't really expect to see anyone. If they too had to decide between two people to rescue, that would mean, that there were six other hostages scattered around the bottom lake. Later, when he had the time to think about that, he'd shake his head at the careless disregard for their safety.

Both Ron and Hermione were obviously asleep, or were in some sort of trance, because neither showed any sign they were aware he had arrived. Both had a rope tied around one ankle, the other end was tied to a large stone structure on the lake bottom. They floated there as if in a weightless void. The ebb of the current caused their hair to swirl around their face as if it had a mind of its own. Their arms floated out to their sides in a very unnatural looking way. Harry immediately decided he did not like the way Hermione looked, and hope to never see her like this again, so... lifeless.

Ginny watched transfixed, as Harry looked at his two best friends, both tied with ropes to the lake bed. By now, everyone in the stands had heard all the clues as well. What a horrible position to be in. Inwardly, Ginny hoped Harry would choose Ron, not for Ron's sake, but for hers. However, if she was even only slightly honest with herself, she knew he choose Hermione. Even if you didn't count the fact that she was his girlfriend now, considering how much Hermione had been helping him, and the way her brother had been acting up until lately, she'd probably choose Hermione too, if in his place. Knowing that, she really couldn't blame him, but that didn't make it any easier to watch.

Harry started forward, intent on cutting both Ron and Hermione free. `Two for the price of one,' Harry joked to himself. No sooner had he started to move when another mermaid appeared in front of him, arms spread wide, blocking his way. As soon as he stopped, she started to sing.



No time to plan, don't try to understand.

To get what you seek, in your heart you must peek.



The mermaid gestured to Hermione and then to Ron, before moving off to the side.

Suddenly, it all made sense. `Choose one, not two.' He could only take one, either Ron or Hermione. Why though? What was the point?

Friendship... that's what they took, that's what Dumbledore meant. He wasn't choosing which person to save. He was choosing which friendship to save. But he wanted to save them both... `No, wait,' he thought, `not which friendship... just friendship in general.' Choose the right person, and he could save both their friendships, `But choose wisely,' or he could lose one or both friendships.

Choose Hermione, and save her friendship for sure, but risk Ron not understanding, and lose his.

Choose Ron, and save his friendship… but would it really. Would that finally prove to Ron how much he valued his friendship? Maybe. Would Hermione understand? Yes, Harry was sure she would. But wouldn't that also be telling her, that he thought she should make yet another sacrifice just because Ron was too immature to handle it.

That's all it took, Harry's mind was made up. Hermione deserved better from him, and not just because she was girlfriend. She had made more than enough sacrifices for him, and Ron. It was time he made one for her. Harry was willing to lose his friendship with Ron, he wasn't willing to lose Hermione's. He had put Ron's friendship and feeling before Hermione's too many times in the past when he shouldn't have. He needed to show her… show them both that wasn't going to happen anymore. `Who knows,' he thought, `maybe Ron will understand; if not right away, maybe later.'

There was also the fact that Harry really didn't know what would happen to the one left behind; although he didn't think Dumbledore would intentionally let any harm come to them, he couldn't be sure. Obviously, no one intentionally let any of the previous students die, but some did none the less. Harry sure wasn't going to risk Hermione's safety unnecessarily. Not for Ron, not for anyone. There was just no way he was going to leave Hermione behind in this forsaken sunless world.

Harry swam forward and pulled his wand. Pointing it at the knot that tied the rope to Hermione, he said, "Alohomora," and the rope came free. Moving up, Harry couldn't resist gently touching her cheek. He slid the back of his hand down her jaw line, and was amazed at how soft it felt, even down here. Time was running out however, he had to move quickly. Wrapping his arm around her waist, he pulled her tight. Harry hesitated only a second, as he stole a glance in Ron's direction, only to find he was already gone. The mermaids had probably taken him, now that they knew Harry's decision. He could only hope that Ron would be all right, and would later understand.

Hermione had never felt this way before; she wanted to move, but was unable to, she couldn't even open her eyes. Even though she knew she'd drown if she tried to open her mouth and breathe, she still had an overpowering urge to do so. Would Harry have trouble finding her? Would the spell wear off before he could reach her? Hermione never felt so alone. Then suddenly she felt something touch her face. It was soft and gentle. She knew that touch; it was Harry, and she instantly relaxed. She would have smiled if she could have. Harry had found her, she'd be okay now.

Harry swam hard for the surface, but Hermione's water logged robes made it difficult. He hadn't realized just how far down they were. Upward, he continued, swimming with one hand, and kicking hard with both feet. He was getting close, he could tell; the light was considerably brighter. With about twenty feet to go, Harry felt it, the sharp pain in his neck. The tell-tale sign that the Gillyweed was wearing off. Harry held his breath, and fought through the pain. He couldn't stop now. Harry struggled upward, bringing Hermione with him, as he wasn't about to let go. Like in the second task, when he was climbing the cliff; His muscles burned as if liquid fire ran through his veins. His vision was starting to fade from lack of oxygen, and his lungs felt ready to burst. Harry kicked harder; he had to make it, he needed air…Hermione needed air.

With a splash, Harry broke the surface of the water, and took in a great lung full of air.

Harry immediately turned to take in Hermione's condition. The sleeping spell must have broken now that she was on the surface, because she was slowly coming to. Suddenly, her eyes flew open. Harry thought brown never looked so beautiful. Hermione's hair was soaking wet, and clung to the sides of her head; a few strands running across her face. Without letting go of her, Harry reached out with his free hand, and moved the errant strands behind her ear. Then he pulled her in close and gave her a kiss, mindful not to get too carried away and embarrass her, knowing the whole school was watching. Hermione was finally able to smile; no words were spoken, because none were needed. The kiss told her everything; Harry was relieved of course, but mainly he was happy with his decision and had no regrets. There would be time enough for that later. For now, the task was over, and more importantly for Harry, Hermione was safe.

He had been instructed to wait wherever he had surfaced, and someone would come along and pick them up. Harry knew the water must be near freezing, as even with the heating charm, he still felt quite cool, almost cold. Looking at Hermione, he knew she was getting colder by the second; her lips had turned blue, and she had started shivering. They wouldn't be able to wait long. Pulling his wand, he cast another heating charm on her; apparently, the original had stopped working at the same time the sleeping charm had broken. Fortunately the wait was short and they soon heard a familiar voice.

"Oy, Harry, Hermione," came the booming voice of Hagrid as he guided a small boat alongside. To huge hands reached over and gently lifted Hermione into the boat. Harry wasted no time and climbed in from the other side at the same time. Sitting close together, Hagrid wrapped them both in a warm blanket, and handed Harry a large flask and two mugs. "Hot cocoa with a wee bit of firewhisky. That'll warm you up in no time," he said, while tapping his umbrella on the bottom of the boat to start it back towards the viewing stands and a waiting Madam Pomfrey.

"Hagrid, do you have my wand?" Asked Hermione.

"No, fraid not. I believe Professor McGonagall still has it."

Hermione turned to Harry, "Harry, do you mind?" Harry didn't even bother to answer, or ask why she suddenly needed one, he just reached down to his thigh and pulled it from his holster. As soon as Hermione took the wand, she felt a warm sensation moved up her arm, just as if it was her own wand. A few flicks later, and both of them were dry. As Hermione handed Harry back his wand, she couldn't help but notice how easy it had been to do magic with it. She made a mental note to asked Harry, to try hers sometime for comparison.

Harry's good mood quickly soured as they approached the tiny makeshift dock attached to the viewing stands. Along with Madam Pomfrey and Professor McGonagall, stood the Headmaster.

Noticing Harry's angry look, Dumbledore asked, "Harry, is something wrong?"

Harry still didn't know whether or not Professor Dumbledore believed him or not, in regards to how his name ended up in the Goblet of Fire. Likewise, Harry still hadn't decided how he felt about him. Was Dumbledore trying to help him in any way? No, he didn't think so, or at least he saw no evidence of it. Dumbledore was acting more like a spectator, sitting back and watching the events unfold, and it made him feel like a mere pawn on his chessboard. In Harry's mind that alone was bad enough, but now he'd gone and involved two of his friends. It only took a split second for Harry to decide Dumbledore, was not on his side. He didn't know what he was up to, but Harry was pretty sure, he wouldn't like it when he found out.

"Sir, was it really necessary?"

Using his most patient voice, Dumbledore answered, "I'm sorry Harry, I don't follow."

Hermione had been watching Harry and Dumbledore with rapt attention. Hearing Dumbledore's answer, she thought he knew what Harry was talking about, that he knew exactly what Harry was talking about. What she didn't know, was why he'd lie about it.

Harry gestured to Hermione, "Was it necessary to include Hermione," then almost like an afterthought, he added, "and Ron?"

Dumbledore smiled, "They were never in danger Harry." Tilting his head down slightly to peer over his glasses, his damn eyes twinkling in full force, he went on, "The illusion of danger was mostly for your benefit. Of course we wanted you to worry about them, but they were never in any real danger."

"Tied to a stone at the bottom of the lake with nothing more than a simple spell to keep them from drowning. A lake filled with dangerous creatures, like the giant squid and the grindylows… and nothing but a single mermaid to protect them!" Harry had worked himself up to the point of almost yelling at his headmaster. "They didn't even have a wand!"

Hermione moved to his side and slipped her arm through his and whispered, "Harry, I'm okay... please, calm down."

Harry turned to Hermione and saw her concern. He gave her a half smile, and a soft pat on her arm with his free hand before turning back to Dumbledore. "I'm sorry for raising my voice Sir, but obviously, we disagree on what's dangerous, and what's not." Everyone stood still and silently waited for Harry to continue, "Perhaps, if the organizers took the possible dangers more seriously... there would've been fewer dead students."

Harry's last comment struck hard and tension rose a few notches. Dumbledore was taken back and was momentarily at a loss for words. McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey shared a nervous look. Since no one had died so far in this tournament, they all knew Harry was referring to the past. It was also clear however, that he didn't consider this one any safer than the others.

Dumbledore was saved from responding when a sudden commotion nearby drew everyone's attention. A hysterical Fleur Delacour was being pulled from the lake. "Let me go, let me go... I ave to go back!" She kept screaming.

Hermione noticed she had several nasty looking cuts and claw marks, and her whole body was covered with sore looking red rings; the same rings she had noticed on Harry's neck. "Poor dear, I wonder what happened."

"She was attacked by grindylows, same as Harry," came Neville's answer from behind as he approached, "but she panicked; couldn't manage to get a spell off."

Hermione glanced at Harry before turning back to Neville and asking, "Then why does she want to go back?"

Neville raised his hands, palms up and shook his head slowly, "I don't know, for one of the hostages' maybe."

Luna stepped forward and stared out towards the middle of the lake, "One of them was her little sister."

The rest of the group turned and followed her gaze, all wondering and worrying about the same thing. Harry briefly thought of Ron. No one had seen any sign of the other hostages yet.



AN: I hope it was clear what this task was supposed to test.



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