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 8

The Gauntlet


Neville watched Harry push his food around his plate for a moment before speaking up, "What time do you start Harry?"

"Three o'clock."

"What are you going to do till then?"

"Nothing much, I only have a few more minutes before I should leave. I have to be in the champions tent by one thirty," Harry said, then looking up added, "from the viewing stands, you guys will be able to see and hear things that are happening inside... so I can't be there... might see something that would give me an advantage."

"Oi Neville, what's got your plums in a twist? You look more scared than Harry," Dean asked with a smirk.

"Neville's not scared," Luna said as she sat down next to him, "he's just concerned for a friend, we all are."

Ron saw his opportunity and took it, "Oh really…all his friends are concerned for him, all three of them?"

Ginny decided to take action, it was time to do more than just talk. She knew her dorm mates would probably give her a hard time later, but right now, she didn't care. She'd deal with them when the time came. Standing up, she said loudly, "Four!"

Never ones to miss an opportunity, the Twins quickly jumped up and said together, "Six!"

"Seven!" Parvati said as she too rose up from the table, and then quickly moved away from Lavender, and stood next to Ginny.

Ron stood up too, now glaring murderously at his sister. "Three, seven…big deal, that's nothing!" he yelled.

"On the contrary Ronald, it is something, it's something very special," Luna said softly.

"But you don't see it, do you Ron?" asked Hermione. But before he could answer, she tilted her head slightly and continued, "Sadly, I think that's the real problem."

"Doesn't matter," Harry said slowly raising, "I'd rather have seven true friends, than seventy dodgy ones."

Ron was turning redder by the minute, but before he could say another word, the clock struck one.

The noise in the Hall rose as benches were slid back, and student began to make for the exit. The second task was about to begin,

Harry reached for Hermione's hand, "Walk with me?"

As the pair left, neither noticed the rare smile play across the face of their Head of House.


They walked slowly and in relative silence, as they made their way to the champions tent. Just as Harry was not allowed in the viewing stands, Hermione was not allowed in the tent. Stopping just outside, Harry turned to her, "Well... any last minute advice?"

Remembering Dumbledore's words about one's strength and faith, Hermione looked him in the eye as she said, "Stay focused Harry. You have it in you. You can do this... I know you can."

Harry stared back at her almost in awe. It really amazed him, how much faith she had in him. His voice was a little shaky as he asked softly, "Do you really think so?"

Hermione lifted her head a little higher to show her conviction, "Yes, I do Harry," then, with a little more warmth in her voice she added, "Because... I believe in you." Before he could see the tears that were building behind her eyes, she gave him a long hard hug, then turned and started for the stands.

Harry watched her walk away for a moment, then he too, turned and entered the tent.


After Hermione had left Harry off at the champion's tent, she had made her way to the grandstands. She could care less about watching the spectacle that was the second task. And she only vaguely cared about the other champions. No, she realized she was only there to watch one champion. She would follow his progress, as if to do so, insured his safety. Hermione was only worried about him, about Harry. Did that make her callous, was she being selfish, not to worry about the others? 'No,' she thought, `they have plenty of people to worry about them.' She would focus on the one individual, few others would worry about.

She sat down in the stands near her friends, but not so close as to encourage any conversation, she didn't want to be distracted. Looking around, she noticed Susan and Hannah from Hufflepuff sitting together, no doubt ready to cheer for Cedric. Ginny was sitting with a couple of friends, and would occasionally look over. A couple of rows down sat Neville and Luna. Hermione smiled at the pair and briefly wondered if she'd be sitting like that with Harry, if it won't for the Tournament.

In front of the stands was a huge display, like a giant billboard one might see along a roadside, only very much larger. Currently it was blank, but soon it would show the gathering crowd what was happening inside. Inside the gauntlet.

As Hermione sat quietly in the stands, and waited for the second task to begin, she thought, a gauntlet is about a challenge. If you were challenged, didn't you have a choice as to how to respond? `He was never given a choice,' she thought. Harry had to accept, he had to take up the gauntlet.


Inside the tent, Harry sat with his eyes closed, trying to control his breathing less he lose what little lunch he had managed to eat. It wasn't the unknown that bothered him so much, but rather, it was the waiting. Waiting to be challenged by some unknown. Strength and faith, what exactly did that mean? That he will need his strength, to find the faith to get through, or that he has to have faith that he will find the strength he will need. Those thoughts were a perfect example of why he hated waiting... too much time to think.

Harry felt a gentle hand on his shoulder and looked up.

"It's almost time Mr. Potter," Professor McGonagall said softly. The compassion in her voice was plain to hear.

Harry gave a nod and slowly stood on shaky legs, "Yes ma'am." It had been nearly an hour since the first champion had entered. He had yet to come out.

McGonagall led Harry through an opening in the side of the tent, and then along a narrow walkway high up on the edge of a cliff. She stopped in front of an opening to a cave. "Here is where you'll start Mr. Potter. From this point forward... you'll proceed alone. Your time will start as soon as you enter," McGonagall gave his shoulder a light squeeze, "Good luck… Harry."

Harry stared into the cave, and then looked back at his professor. With as much courage as he could manage he answered in a thin voice, "Thank you ma'am, I'll do my best." He gave her a quick half smile, then before he could change his mind, he turned and quickly entered the cave.

For Harry, the second task had begun.

Watching him walk off to face his very own unknown, she knew he was scared. She could see it in his eyes, but she knew he wouldn't turn back, wouldn't quit. Long after he had left she whispered, "Merlin help you Harry Potter."


Back in the stands, Hermione sat wondering how she could have forgotten just how nervous she had been the last time. She sat and studied the giant board in front of her. The main part was split in two halves. One side showed a kind of map, and where each champion currently was. The other side showed a random view of one of the champion as they worked there way through the Gauntlet. Off to the sides were their names along with their current time since starting the task. Below their names were a few minor stats, such as their current ranking, whether they were hurt or not, and even if they were conscious or not. If Hermione thought she was nervous before, then she didn't know what to call her current state. Harry had just reached the first gate.


After walking a short distance, the cave opened up into a small chamber lit by torches along the walls. Harry looked around cautiously before he moved further into the chamber, that's when he noticed someone off to the side, "Hello Professor."

"Hello Mr. Potter, welcome to the first gate," Professor Flitwick greeted. Then he gestured behind him, "To approach this gate, you must first answer a riddle. Answer correctly, and you will be allowed to continue through the gate, and to be tested. But be warned Mr. Potter, after passing the gate you cannot turn back and your faith will be tested as you step into the void. You may choose not to try, and bypass the gate, but you'll have to take a much longer route. Should you choose to try, but answer wrong, you'll have to take an even longer route."

"What... what exactly is the void, sir?" Harry asked with some trepidation.

"I can say no more Mr. Potter. Do you wish to attempt the gate?"

Harry looked beyond his Charms Professor, clearly they were three paths. Obviously, two were easier, but considerably longer. While the other apparently shorter, but of course not so easy. His mind made up Harry said, "I wish to attempt the gate sir."

Professor Flitwick nodded, "Very well Mr. Potter." Beckoning him forward to make sure Harry heard him correctly, Flitwick asked, "What belongs to you, but other people use it more than you?"

`Hermione would probably get this in an instant,' Harry thought. Just thinking of her name gave him hope. Then it came to him, "My name sir."

Stepping aside and gesturing to the gate, the tiny Professor said, Mr. Potter, you may proceed," then he gave a shallow bow before walking away, seemingly disappearing into the shadows.

Harry took the offered passage only to come to sharp stop a short distances later. The path ended abruptly. In the dim light, Harry could see no other way to proceed, except down, straight down. The walls were sheer and smooth. There were no handholds, no footings, and no stairs... nothing but a sheer drop-off. Peering over the edge Harry couldn't see a thing, certainly not the bottom. It was a vertical shaft that seemed to go on forever into darkness. Your faith will be tested, Harry silently remembered his professor's words of warning from only a moment ago. `No shite,' and with that last thought Harry stepped off into the abyss.


Her arms held tightly in front of her as if holding herself, Hermione sat numbly in the stands, one knee nervously bouncing up and down. She sat staring at the board, at one name in particular, and only half paying attention to the others. The board would randomly changed from showing one champion to another, trying to show at least most of the action. While she watched, the view on the main board suddenly changed and she saw him.

The view was from inside the cave, slightly above and to the right, facing Harry. It clearly showed him standing on the edge of what appeared to be a sort of overhang with a steep drop-off. Hermione tensed when he closed his eyes, and then a second later, gasped when he stepped off into nothingness. In a fraction of a second, he was gone. Intellectually Hermione reasoned he'd be okay. Surely, they wouldn't let him jump to his death. But Hermione would not breathe again, until she knew for sure.


It had only been a few seconds, but to Harry, it felt like hours. Falling through the blackness he didn't think he had ever felt more alone. He wasn't even sure which way was up anymore, and he was beginning to worry about what he would eventually hit, and of course how hard. Suddenly, he felt it. The unmistakable feeling of a charm. It was slowing his fall, impeding gravity. Then without warning, he crashed into, or rather through, the surface of a body of water. It was still pitch black and not knowing which way was up, meant he didn't know which way to swim to reach the surface, Harry was about to panic. Finally, he touched bottom. Re-orienting himself, he pushed off and swam upwards, and a moment later was rewarded with smell of fresh air.

Thankfully, Hermione was always thinking ahead, trying to prepare him for whatever he may encounter. She had showed him how to fasten his glasses with a strap that tied to the back of his robes so they wouldn't get lost if knocked off. Reaching up, he pulled them off the top of his head and pushed them back on his face where they belonged. Looking around he found himself in the middle of what appeared to be an underground lake. A short ways away, he saw a rather large fire burning high up the bank. Without wasting any more time, Harry started to swim.


The view on the board had changed back to Vasil, who was struggling with some sort of vicious looking vines. So Hermione had gone back to studying the map. Finally the little dot next to Harry's name started to move. It crossed a small underground lake, then started moving away from the shoreline. Hermione took a breath, for now... she could breathe again.


Harry was halfway up to the fire before he calmed down enough to remember he was still soaking wet. Without stopping, he used a quick drying charm on himself and thought, `I've got to relax a little and try to stay focused.' As Harry approach the large fire he looked around, but saw nothing out of the ordinary. The flames danced and lit the entire inside of the cave up nicely, but there was still nothing to see. Moving a little closer, he stopped near the fire. Looking up through the flames he could see an arch starting to appear out of thin air on the far side, and beyond that there were three pathways lit by torches. Walking around the fire to get a closer look at the arch, he stopped right in front of it. Standing about ten feet high, it looked to be made out of stone. As he looked more carefully, he saw the writing inscribed across the top, not unlike the mirror of Erised. Thankfully the writing wasn't written backwards, it simply read,


Welcome to the second gate.

I look for but one answer.

Touch me, for a question.

Harry touched the arch, and then stepped back to read the following,

A wizard on his way to St. Mungo's.

Came across seven witches.

Each witch had seven sacks.

Each sack held seven cats.

And each cat had seven kits.

Kits, cats, sacks, and witches.

How many were going to St. Mungo's?

Give me your answer, and I will judge.


Harry stared at the riddle for a moment, `What the hell,' he thought, `ah, seven times seven, ah, forty-nine, times seven... no... too obvious...' "Oh, seven to the fourth power," Harry answered confidently.

The arch pulsed with light, then slowly started to fade. Behind him, the fire died down and when out. Harry noticed, that beyond the arch, two of the pathways had gone dark, making it clear which way he was to go. Before starting forward, he again looked up at the arch, it was fading fast, but one word across the top still glowed bright, One. Harry stared confused at the one-word answer, until it too started to fade away. What a quick sigh, Harry started down the only path available to him while rethinking his answer. It didn't take long before it finally came to him and the answer made sense, `Of course, one. The wizard... he was the only one going to St. Mungo's.' a few seconds later Harry groaned, "Oh Merlin, Hermione's going to rip me a new one."


Hermione stared at the board. Harry had been stationary for a couple minutes at the second gate. Finally, he had started moving, "Oh no," she whispered. He was taking the longest route. Looking over at his stats, she found out why. Next to the number two, written in red lettering was, `Riddle'. "Oh Harry," she whispered again. She knew Harry wasn't the fastest with logic puzzles or riddles, hopefully there wouldn't be anymore.


It took Harry nearly twenty extra minutes to reach the third gate, he had lost a lot of time. Like the first gate, the path led to the edge of a cliff. Only this time it was obvious he was somehow supposed to cross a nearly thirty foot wide chasm. Harry could clearly see an alternate path that zigzagged down the side of the cliff, probably leading to the fourth gate, though at the expense of more lost time. Moving a little closer to the edge and taking a better look around, Harry noticed writing carved into the rock face.


Sometimes, in order to see, one must turn out the light.


Harry sighed, "Bloody riddles." Harry then closed his eyes and took a deep breath to calm himself. Opening his eyes a moment later, he looked around. On both sides of the chasm were several brightly lit torches. Smiling, Harry took out his wand for the first time since starting this task and extinguished the torches. It took only a moment for his eyes to adjust to the darkness, and that's when he saw the bridge glowing faintly in front of him. The color and shape of the jagged edges of the rock that made up the bridge, matched perfectly with the color and shape of the rocks on the opposite side of the rift. With its natural camouflage, it had been nearly invisible in the light, which also washed out the soft radiant glow from its surface. Harry moved quickly, and once safely across, he relit all the torches. Now with his path clearly illuminated again, he wasted no time heading for the forth gate.


Hermione smiled, probably for the first time since she had sat down. Harry had figured out his third riddle rather quickly, and she was quite proud of him at the moment. `Maybe I didn't give him enough credit earlier,' she thought. Suddenly, the crowd seemed to gasp in shock as a whole, and Hermione's smile was gone in an instant. Vasil was being carried from the last gate on a stretcher. His robes were torn and bloody, and he was unmoving. A quick check of his stats calmed her fears if only marginally. He was only unconscious, thankfully still alive, if only barely. Hermione remembered him entering with confidence, he had certainly started out strong. Yet ninety-two minutes later, something had gone horribly wrong.


Once again Harry's path lead to a cliff, only this time he was at the bottom. The route was clearly marked, he had to climb, there was no alternate path. Hoping there was a pattern, Harry looked around for a clue. Sure enough, written at the base of the cliff was a simple note,


To reach the top, climb sure, but quick.


Harry thought that odd. It seemed to him, that one would want to climb with caution. Making sure of your hand and foot holds, and taking care not to tire one self out. It was hard to estimate how high the cliff was, but it was certainly high enough, that he was sure he wouldn't want to fall. Harry decided to compromise, he'd be careful, but climb as fast as possible without exhausting himself.

The ascent was going well, after only several minutes Harry figured he was about half way to the top. Having been in pretty good shape, and being able to use both his arm and legs to climb, he was hardly tired at all. He was about to reach for his next hand hold, when he heard a deep rumble from below. Looking down, Harry saw the cause. The rock ledge he had used to get to the base of the climb, had receded completely into the wall of the cliff.

"Great, no going back now," Harry said to no one, as he continued his climb. A minute later, Harry stopped for a moment to catch his breath, and took another look down. Something about the rock face looked different, but he didn't want to waste a lot of time studying it. The cliff was nearly vertical, and only lit by the torch light coming from the other side of the chasm, he was certainly glad he had relit them as well. He was just about to resume his climb when he suddenly noticed what was different. Harry stared in horror, all of the hand and foot holds he had used at the bottom of the climb, were gone, replaced by smooth rock!

Harry quickly turned his gaze upward, and started to climb. He needed to hurry, because soon, there'd be nothing left to climb on. He should have known, Harry thought, nothing is that simple, there's always a catch. The alternate route, was falling. The simple note had been a clue after all… be quick.

Harry was almost there, just a few more feet. No sooner had he looked over his shoulder, than he wished he hadn't, the smooth rock face was only inches from his feet. It was going to be a race to the top. Hot and sweaty, Harry struggled upward as fast as he could. He was nearly there, when his left foot slipped out from under him, the smooth rock had caught up to him. His right foot soon slipped as well, his toe holds were gone. Taking a deep breath, Harry pulled with the last of his strength, using only his arms. His muscles were already tired, and now as he pushed them to the limit, they seemed to burn. He could feel one of the hand holds he was using start to recede into the rock. One last heave with trembling arms, and Harry had managed to hoist himself onto the ledge. He laid there half on, and half off for a few second and rested. At the moment, he didn't think he even had the strength to push himself up to stand. Harry would have liked to have just laid there a while, but he knew time was of the essence. As soon as he felt a little strength return, Harry struggled to his feet and started for the fifth gate.


Hermione had been hyperventilating while she watched transfixed as somehow Harry managed to find the strength to finish the climb. Only now that he was relatively safe, at least for the moment, did she relax. Her breathing slowly returned to normal and she thought, `It's a good thing he's been working out.' Hermione made a mental note to tell Harry her thoughts on this, and to double her own efforts.


"Hello again Mr. Potter."

Harry smiled as he reached the fifth gate, "Hello Professor."

McGonagall gave Harry a quick look over, "I see you're still in one piece."

Harry dropped to his knees to rest, "Thanks for the confirmation, I wasn't quite sure myself."

McGonagall smiled, "Rest for the moment, but remember the clock is still running." She studied Harry as he regained his strength. `Was he strong enough for what was to come?' She wondered. "Mr. Potter, beyond this gate lies your hardest and longest challenge yet. The previous challenges tested you from without, this one... will test you from within. Are you ready, and do you wish to try the gate?"

Harry stood up and looked down at his feet for a moment, then after a deep breath he looked up, and with his head held high, he answered his Head of House, "Yes ma'am," his voice was loud and clear.

McGonagall nodded, "Very well, answer my question and you may pass to the direct route. What is so fragile, that when you say its name, you break it?"

Both stood completely still not saying a word. Harry's eyes were closed in deep concentration. His time nearly up, he opened his eyes and smiled, "Silence."

"Very good Mr. Potter, you may pass. And Mr. Potter, do remember your answer, it will mind you well in the near future... regardless, of your past."

Harry nodded slowly, not quite sure what to make of her cryptic words. Without saying another thing he turned and headed for the sixth and last gate.

As Harry followed the path onward, the cavern quickly narrowed, and at the same time the ceiling lowered. The passageway was rapidly becoming harder to navigate. He would often have to step around or over an obstacle that try to block his path. To make matters worse, they were no longer any torches to light the way, Harry had to use his wand for light. Entering a slightly wider part of the cave, Harry stopped to take in his surroundings. He couldn't be sure, but it felt as if he was being watched. No sooner than he started forward again, than he thought he heard a faint noise, something or someone was behind him, "Who's there?," he called, but no one answered. "Just my imagination," Harry said softly to himself. However, a little voice in the back of his head said, `In here... I doubt it.' He had only taken a few more steps when he started hearing it again, whispering. But rather than slow down or stop again, Harry quickened his pace.

Was it only now that the cave seemed so… dark and foreboding? Or had it always been like this. Was it only his imagination?

Turning a corner, the cave opened up into a large cavern, only this was completely different than all the others. Where the others were bare with nothing but rocks and sand, this one was full of plants and trees. He could almost swear he was outside in the forbidden Forest if it weren't for the high ceiling of the cave. How they grew down here, Harry had no idea. Fortunately there was a faint blue-white light filtering down from above, almost like moonlight, so Harry could extinguish his wand. The ground was covered with a low fog about 2 feet thick, and as Harry cautiously walked forward, it swirled behind him in his wake.

"Well this is... unexpected." Harry mumbled.

"What's the matter Potter, are you scared?" Came a voice out of the shadows.

"Ron! Ron is that you?" Harry asked confused, "what are you doing here?" There was no answer, then a moment later Harry heard whispering again.

Harry noticed he was sweating, even though the air held a definite chill, as evident by his short rapid breaths, visible in front of him. He was scared. Harry realized his heart was pounding so hard in his chest, he wondered briefly if Ron could hear it. He needed to move, to move fast. Harry was quickly being overcome with an unexplainable feeling of dread. He had to get out, he had to get out now!

Fear was rapidly taking over as Harry recklessly pushed on, almost at a run. He was barely conscious of his surroundings, and only in the back of his mind, did he notice Ron's laughter fading away behind him.

Fear's grip was becoming stronger as Harry continued to struggle through thick undergrowth. It almost seemed as though the plants along his path conspired against him. They slowed him down, and held him back. He desperately needed to get out. He moved in slow motion like one did in a nightmare. As that single thought threatened to consume him completely, he heard her. A voice he had not heard in a very long time. A voice he now only heard in his dreams. The voice stopped him dead in his tracks, "Mum?"

"Yes Harry, it's me."

Not more than ten or fifteen feet in front of Harry, the voice seemed to coalesce into the ghostly outline of Lily Potter. Harry stared, too shocked to move. It can't be real, she can't be real... can she. "Mum... are you really..."

"Yes Harry, I'm really here." The ghost was slowly becoming more... solid.

Harry wanted to believe... but she was dead... wasn't she, she died for him, didn't she, but here she was. "Why are you here mum?"


A different kind of fear was taking hold of Hermione as she sat and watched. Harry was slowly losing touch with reality. She wasn't even sure if he knew he was still in the cave anymore, or that this was only someone's sick idea of a test. The enchantments in the cave were playing off of his fear, much like a Bogart. However, no spell would break this charm. Harry was truly alone, a victim of his own fear, trapped in his own mind.


"To see you one last time," answered the incorporeal being.

"What do you mean? I'll see you again... someday. I'll see you and dad."

Lily spoke a little louder, "He is strong Harry. He will keep us apart... forever." Then Lily's voice took on a hard edge as she continued, "I died for you… for what, this?" She gestured around angrily. "If I had known you were going to let him kill you, that you were just going to throw your life away... I should have stepped aside."

Harry dropped to his knees in anguish and cried out, "Nooo!" He had let his mother down. She regretted giving her life for him. Harry was now regretting it too.


The tears were now flowing freely down Hermione's face. They dropped from her chin and soaked into her robes just above her knees, knees that were pulled up firmly against her chest. She never wanted anything more badly that she did at this moment. He needed her, and she needed to be there for him. She needed to hold him, and tell him, he was wrong. It was only the cave talking, not his mother. Lily would never regret giving her life for him.


A deep sarcastic laugh rumbled through the cavern. "Harry Potter... pathetic. This time. You. Will. Die." Voldemort voice was cold and calculating.


Hermione's hand flew to her mouth to cover her gasp. A moment later she felt a hand on her shoulder, turning she found the concerned gaze of the only adult at Hogwarts that might understand.

"I didn't realize his memories were so... strong. I don't know if he'll have the strength to reach the gate," McGonagall said sadly.

That seemed to snap Hermione out of her self induced haze of sadness. "No! Harry will make it, he'll find a way. He'll find the strength, I know he will." `He has to,' the last part she kept to herself.


Harry watched in grief stricken horror as his mother stepped aside. There standing behind her was Voldemort, a cruel smile on his face.

Fear was winning.

"This is how it should have been Harry, and now we shall set the past right," Voldemort sneered, and slowly raised his wand.

Harry was still on his knees, he bowed his head and thought, `So this is how it ends.' But no sooner had he thought that, than a recent memory played back in his head, `…regardless of your past.' Harry closed his eyes as he tried to remember. `Remember your answer, it will mind you well.' Harry thought harder… "Silence," he whispered.

Harry was confused, what did it mean? Do I need silence? No, that couldn't be it. There was no way he could make Voldemort stop laughing. Maybe... I need to be silent. Harry relaxed and closed his mind. He focused only on himself and tuned out, the rest of the world. Voldemort's taunts slowly faded away. Soon he felt more at ease, more at peace, no sound... silence. That's when he heard the whispers again. Only now that it was quiet could he tell they weren't coming from outside, they were in his head. He focused on the sound, focused until he could hear them clearly. "I believe in you Harry, you can do this." Hermione!

Harry's eyes snapped open, and with renewed strength he stood. He smiled at his mother, and she smiled back, then nodded her approval, before quickly fading away. Harry turned his attention towards Voldemort and pulled his wand.

Voldemort screamed in rage, "You will die Harry Potter." After bringing his want to bear he yelled, "Avada Kedavra."

At the same instant, Harry also yelled, "Confringo."

The blasting curse left the glowing tip of Harry's wand and collided with the killing curse from Voldemort's. The cave exploded with a blinding light, and then a few seconds later faded away. As the spots left his eyes, Harry looked around ready for the next attack, only to find himself alone. His vision now back to normal he looked around again this time in awe. The cavern was completely empty, no plants, no trees, and no Voldemort.

Fear had lost.

Harry had reached the last gate, but there was no one there. There were no signs, or inscriptions to read. Too tired to care, Harry sighed and stepped through. As soon as his body crossed the plane of the archway that marked the gate, Harry heard a loud gong and the exit to the cave just appeared in front of him. He took a few more steps and walked out into the fresh air of early twilight.

The second task was over.


Harry started for the exit tent as instructed earlier so he could be checked over by Madam Pomfrey. He had only gone a few feet when he heard her.


He turned just in time to catch a racing Hermione as she crashed into him.

"Oh Harry, I was so afraid for you, I thought I would die more than once," she said very quickly. "And at the end... oh... but you made it. I knew you would Harry." As soon as she had finished, she tightened her arms around him and laid her head on his shoulder. She needed reassurance, she needed to know he was all right, and currently the feel of his body held tight against hers was the only thing that might possibly convince her. A few second later, after realizing how intimate this particular hug was becoming, she released him and stepped back hoping the darkening sky would hide her rising blush.

But it wasn't quite dark enough, and Harry smiled when he had noticed the color of her cheeks. Reaching out, he took her hands and gave them a squeeze, "It was because of you... you know."

Hermione tilted her head and worried her lower lip while she tried to puzzle out the meaning of his words.

Harry dropped one of her hands, but held fast to the other as he began to slowly continue his walk to the tent. Only then did he offer an explanation, "At the end... I was only able to keep going because of you." Harry paused, "Remember what you said before I started?"

They came to a stop and turned to face each other again. Staring into his eyes, Hermione gently nodded yes.

Harry gave her a sheepish smile, "I didn't want to let you down."

"You didn't."




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