Hermione ushered Harry and Ron into an empty classroom. It was the day of the Leaving Feast at the end of their second year. Tomorrow afternoon they would be on their way home. In Harry's case, that was a problem.
"What is it, Hermione?" Ron asked impatiently, the worried expression on his face contradicting his tone.
"Harry, you shouldn't have to go back to the Dursleys," Hermione stated, trying to keep the tears out of her eyes as she watched Harry trying to mask his emotions. She knew he couldn't make himself really talk about the Dursleys, but they had guessed anyway.
"I asked Dumbledore if I could stay at Hogwarts for the summer, after last year, but he said no."
"Mum and dad asked if you could stay with us, mate, but Dumbledore said you have to stay with the Dursleys for at least half the summer."
"I had an idea. Do you remember the polyjuice we made? I've been brewing a new batch since I woke up. It has a shelf life of three months, you see, and this way the two of us can trade places this summer."
Harry started to protest.
"You've had eleven years of Dursleys, Harry. Please let us do this for you. Besides, I have no intention of letting those baffoons starve or hit me. Since you freed Dobby, I took the liberty of hiring him," Hermione blushed. Dobby still had a ways to go in his recovery because he'd argued her down to a galleon a week and a day off per month. Still, he was free so she counted it as progress.
Ron was frowning. "House elves can turn invisible. That could actually work!"
"Dobby will supply me with food, do the muggles' chores, and prevent them from getting physical with me. It'll be rather dull, but then again I'll be able to do all my summer homework and read ahead for next year and-"
"What about your parents? Wouldn't they notice?"
"Harry, my parents raised a total bookworm. Just keep your head in a book," she ignored Ron's disgusted scoff, "and they won't think anything odd if you're a bit withdrawn. We're taking a vacation in France this summer so I'm sure they'll be plenty disctracted."
"I don't want to take up your vacation-"
"Hermione's had vacations. You haven't," Ron said a bit tactlessly.
After a half hour, they'd argued Harry around to agreeing. Then she'd given Harry a written schedule, "If we follow this precisely, we can shower and go to the toilet in our own bodies before taking another polyjuice," she explained as all three of them blushed.
Early the next morning Hermione, Harry, and Ron met up in Moaning Myrtle's bathroom. The trio spent the last of their time at Hogwarts putting the potion into hundreds of single-dose vials and adding the hairs. Hermione took the divided vials and put them into the mokeskin pouches she had owl-ordered, handing Harry the darker-colored one.
Silently, they left Hogwarts behind them and took the horseless carriages down to the train. They took a compartment in the middle, where Ginny and the twins joined them. They played exploding snap until the train arrived at Platform nine and three quarters. In the bustle of everyone getting off the train, Harry and Hermione each ducked into an empty compartment.
Harry stripped down, keeping on his underwear and undershirt, and took the clothes he'd be changing into out of Hermione's trunk. He eyed the vial nervously. His dose was a smooth emerald color. Pinching his nose, he swallowed the polyjuice. It tasted like freshly cut grass which was a bit weird. The transformation was strange and felt a bit like pins and needles, with an uncomfortable stretch here and there, but nothing like the pain of turning into Goyle.
When it was over, he felt a bit weird. Obviously he was a girl which had him blushing, but he was also a few inches shorter than he was used to. He quickly changed into Hermione's shirt, sweater, jeans, socks, and shoes. Thank merlin Hermione had drawn up a schedule and packed their trunks apropriately. That way, they'd never actually see each other's bodies naked.
Blushing, Harry quickly grabbed his (Hermione's) trunk and left the compartment just as Hermione exited the compartment next-door.
Hermione was grimacing with Harry's face.
"Did it hurt?"
"Not at all. It's just..your trainers don't fit, Harry," nevermind the rest, she thought angrily. Those bastard Dursleys had some nerve dressing their nephew worse than homeless!
Harry winced. "They're Dudley's old trainers from a few years ago. We can ask Ron to send you some shoes?"
Harry and Hermione quickly left the train and joined up with the Weasleys on the muggle side of the station. Hermione noted that Miss Weasley hugged her a lot harder as Harry than she had hugged Hermione last year. But then, Harry was an orphan so it figured she would feel more motherly to someone without his own mother to hug.
Hermione smiled as she saw Harry blushing under her parents attentions. This summer would be good for him. Squaring her shoulders she walked over to the Dursleys who were waiting impatiently some distance away and glaring at the Weasleys with disgust.
"Hurry up, boy, we haven't got all day."
"Yes, Uncle Vernon," she said seriously as she pasted a polite mask on her face. As they walked off, she turned around and saw herself staring anxiously at her. She smirked confidently and held two thumbs up. Harry laughed a little at that and Hermione smiled as she hurried to catch up to the Dursleys, dragging Harry's trunk behind her.
At the Dursley's, Hermione wasted no time dragging the trunk up to Harry's room. She felt more than outraged when she saw the state of it, particularly the locks and cat flap, but what was worse was the perfectly lavish guest bedroom she had passed on the way. The Durleys obviously took pleasure in providing Harry with ruined things. She narrowed her eyes.
"Yes, Miss Harry's Grangy? What can Dobby bes doing?"
Hermione pointed at the door. "Please put all of the locks on this side of the door so I can lock it, but won't be locked in. Vanish the cat flap and fix the hole. Then could you repair all of the furniture in here and bring me some new bedding and perhaps a carpet?" Hermione had given the elf permission to take funds from her Gringott's account which held all her allowance money she'd saved up. She had never cared to buy anything other than books and her parents were more than happy to buy anything for her anyway.
In a snap, the room was much better. Her new bedding was a lush chocolate color with silk sheets and new pillows and the new carpet was a dark blue. It looked very handsome with the restored desk, wardrobe, and sidetable which looked like polished mahogany even though Hermione was sure it hadn't been that type of wood to begin with.
She passed the rest of the night doing her summer homework for charms, taking her polyjuice potions every hour except the scheduled toilet break. She had to go downstairs and pretend to cook the Dursley's dinner as Dobby magically and invisibly did all the work. As she sat at the table with only a tiny portion of mashed potatoes in front of her, she decided to get one thing out of the way now before she hexed the lot of them.
"Aunt Petunia, can you sign my permission slip?" She pushed the Hogsmeade slip across the table.
"I don't think so. Did you really think I'd do you a favor, you stupid boy?" the woman and her horrid family laughed.
Hermione pulled her wand, Harry's rather, and pointed it at her. Vernon Dursley started shouting, his face going blotchy, and Dudley scurried out of the room holding his buttocks.
"You can't do magic outside of that freak school," Petunia Dursley sneered as she refered to the warning Harry had gotten last summer.
But Hermione had already arranged things with Dobby who could mask his magic and hers. "Lumos. I've taken care of that and I can, in fact, perform all the magic I want without the Ministry knowing. I'll thank you to sign my slip now, Aunt Petunia."
Ten minutes later she tucked the signed slip into Harry's trunk and asked Dobby to bring her dinner. She happily went to bed that night as herself after making sure she locked the door.
It was a good thing that Hermione had really thought of everything, Harry thought, as he went through airport security without anyone blinking at the mokeskin pouch around his neck. The vials were small enough that he could palm one and take the potion as he pretended to cough into his hand. Even Mrs. and Mr. Granger didn't notice anything when he did it.
The only thing was having to call someone else's parents 'mum and dad'. He'd almost tripped up because of that. Not to mention it made him feel uncomfortable. He wished he'd never let Hermione talk him into this.
His reticence lasted all through the plane and following cab ride until they were sitting down to dinner. Harry had never had a fancy dinner in his life. Suddenly, he felt overwhelmed by gratitude towards Hermione and her unwittingly-borrowed parents. He silent swore to himself that he'd find some way to repay them. For the first time since the Dursleys, Harry was able to have a meal where he wasn't hated or stared at or whispered about or harassed like at the Dursleys (or Hogwarts). For once he had enough to eat and felt comfortable enough to eat his fill. Dinner passed pleasantly as Harry regaled Hermione's parents with stories of Hogwarts and magic and Hermione's cleverness.
At the hotel, in his own suite, Harry was able to get started on his summer homework. He didn't have to worry about sneaking around his relatives and doing his assignments in the dark. He didn't have to worry about barely getting any sleep before being up at the crack of dawn to cook and do all the chores. He wasn't going to be overworked, sleep-deprived, bullied, starved or hit at all this summer.
He was starting to feel a bit giddy which made him feel guilty about Hermione. He knew that she had Dobby and that she said that she would be fine but he couldn't help worrying.
"Dobby bes giving Mister Harry Potter a letter from his Grangy!" Dobby was hopping from one foot to the other excitedly.
Don't worry about me here. Everything's going smoothly. Thanks to our friend, I know how to prevent pudding from making a mess. The Dursleys would be upset if I made another mess like that, but this way it'll be cleaned up before anyone notices. As long as I cook a few meals, they won't mind if I stay in my room doing homework.
I'm sure you've already started on your homework. Those new books you bought on Defense looked really interesting! Hope you learn lots of wicked hexes!
Harry read the letter carefully and eyed Dobby afterwards. "Hermione can do magic at the Dursleys without getting a warning?"
"Yes, yes, Mister Harry Potter Sir. Dobby bes masking Harry's Grangy's magic and yous magic!"
"So, I can practice spells this summer?"
"Thank you, Dobby."
Well, Harry thought, after this essay he'd start reading one of those defense books. This was sure going to be a productive summer for him.
Time passed blissfully for the two teens. Hermione got to do all the reading she wanted without anyone bothering her to spend more time outdoors and act like a normal teenager. On the other hand, Harry got to go to beaches, fancy restaurants, and beautiful places he'd never thought he'd see. The Grangers didn't begrudge spending money on him (Hermione). Even when he didn't ask for anything, they bought everything he stopped to look at. Books, postcards, a chess set that Ron might like, and a few small (expensive) souvenirs were purchased over his objections. Harry was starting to think that Hermione had understated her family's wealth a bit. Both teens were more than eager to finally meet up at Ron's for the last two weeks of summer.
Unfortunately, that wasn't going to happen.
I'm sorry but mum says I can't have you over because it wouldn't be fair to Harry. Dumbledore told mum he has to stay at the Dursleys for the rest of the summer 'due to the circumstances.' I think he means due to the fact that Sirius Black escaped Azkaban. I don't know if you've got The Daily Prophet in France, but Black was You-Know-Who's biggest supporter so he might be after revenge on Harry.
Don't worry though. He can't get near Harry at all and I'm sure everything's fine there. Mum said we'll pick Harry up from the Dursleys on August 29th and meet you at The Leaky Cauldron.
Harry sighed as he put the letter from Ron with the letters he'd gotten over the summer. He was back in England now at the Granger's house which was twice the size of the Dursley's. So far, this had been the best summer ever, but he had really been looking forward to The Burrow. Shaking his head, he decided to practice the shield charm in Hermione's advanced defense book. It sounded like he might need it this year.
Hermione narrowed her eyes at the horrid, drunk woman. She grit her teeth as Marge criticized Harry for everything from his ungrateful attitude to the way he dressed like a vagabond (Hermione spared a glare at Petunia for that), then she started in on Harry's parents and Hermione lost it.
"You bitch! If it wasn't for them, Voldemort would have taken over England and all of you would be dead!" Hermione glared at Petunia Dursley instead of Marge who had no idea what she was talking about. Petunia and Vernon, however, went completely pale. "They were police, not drunks! They didn't die in a car crash, they died as heroes!"
At this point Marge, who was very loudly patriotic, elbowed Vernon. "What rubbish is the boy saying, Vernon? It isn't true, is it?"
Hermione flounced out the door with her trunk behind her as Petunia and Vernon tried to convince Marge that they'd never lied about Harry's parents or criminal, trouble-making ways. She had had a peaceful summer, really, until now but she couldn't stand to be in there a second longer if they were going to talk about Harry's mother like that.
As Hermione walked to end of Privet Drive, trying to gather her thoughts, she slowly realized she was being followed. Carefully, she set the trunk down as if she was taking a break then she whipped her wand at the shadows. "Stupefy." She heard a yelp, but she'd been aiming at roughly chest height. The spell had missed the large stray dog that stepped out of the shadows. Hermione winced. "I'm sorry, boy, I guess I'm a bit paranoid." Hermione sat down and leaned against Harry's trunk.
The dog was the largest she'd ever seen and covered in black hair that was straggly and knotted. It was bald and scabby in a few places, likely from mange, and so thin that she wondered how the poor thing was still alive. She wanted to call Dobby, but didn't want the dog to run off. After a few moments of silence, the dog drifted towards her, sniffing in her direction. Then, it growled at her. Nervous, she called Dobby.
The dog jumped back but it was still snarling at her.
"What can Dobby bes doing for Miss Harry's Grangy?" Dobby asked nervously, clearly afraid of dogs.
The dog stopped snarling and growling and cocked its head to the side.
"Dobby, can you please bring a medium-rare steak cut in small cubes and a bowl of water?"
Dobby didn't reappear but two bowls appeared where he'd been standing.
After the dog had eaten and drank the water with zero hesitation she tried to bathe it with an aguamenti charm which got her growled at as the dog dodged. After a few minutes of unsuccessful attempts, Hermione threw up her hands in exasperation.
They both abandoned their stalemate to stare at the large triple-decker purple bus that had appeared out of nowhere as a gangly spotty teenager stepped off and read a speech off of some cards.
"We would like to go to The Leaky Cauldron," Hermione stated confidently.
"Wot's your name?"
"James Smith," Hermione answered, sure that the man couldn't see the scar under Harry's bangs.
"Well, James, we don't take pets. Does we, Ern?"
"I'll pay double, of course." Hermione blurted. Surprisingly, the dog followed her onto the Knight Bus, although she was sure he regretted it after a moment.
It was with great relief that they disembarked on shaky legs at The Leaky Cauldron. Only to come face to face with the Minister for Magic. Hermione gulped and the dog tucked its tail between its legs and tried to hide behind her.
Hermione finally let out the breath she'd been holding as Fudge left without even insisting on a chaperone. Sure, she'd promised not to go into London or Knockturn Alley, but that wasn't a hardship.
Her attention turned back to the dog as it started growling at her again. "What is your damage?"
Hermione resolved to ignore the on-and-off growling as she wrote letters to Ron and Harry. Maybe when the dog tuckered out she could hit it with a few scouring and tergeo charms.
A fortnight later the Weasleys and Harry (polyjuiced as Hermione) met up with her at The Leaky Cauldron to do their school shopping the day before they had to leave for Hogwarts. Hermione quickly dragged Ron and Harry up to the room she was staying in so that they could switch back.
Two things happened. The dog started wagging it's tail and jumped up to lick Harry's face.
Ron yelled. "Scabbers bit me!"
Suddenly it was pandemonium. The dog knocked into furniture as it chased down Ron's rat until it had Scabbers trapped under its paw. Then it changed into a man. "I can explain," he rasped.
He was so focused on Harry that Hermione was able to hex him. "Scourgify!"
Ron and Harry gaped at her. "Well, I want to hear his explanation. Besides, he probably could've killed all of us by now if he was going to and he hasn't touched a hair on my head since he's been with me." Black was glaring petulantly. "Don't you growl at me, you smelled!"
Hermione stunned the rat, put it under a body-bind, then locked it in Hedwig's shrunken empty cage with an impervious charm on it for good measure.
Haltingly, Black explained how he and his friends save one were animagi. How he hadn't been the Secret Keeper, Peter had been. How he'd failed to stop Hagrid from taking his godson. Then he'd gone after Peter. And lost. No one had questioned him. Dumbledore had abandoned him. He hadn't even had a trial. He had shouted at the guards for years about Peter the Traitor and Peter the Rat, but he'd been ignored. Then he'd seen the picture of Scabbers in the paper with the Weasleys. The thought of his innocence had helped, in Azkaban. If he found Peter, he could prove it. So he'd finally escaped.
"There's a problem with that, mate," Ron said hesitantly. When they all turned to stare at him, he sighed, "Fudge didn't care that Hagrid was innocent when he tossed him in Azkaban last year and he won't care that you're innocent either. Especially if it would hurt the Ministry that you didn't have a trial."
Harry looked at Hermione "Can't we do something?"
It was Hermione's turn to sigh. "We'd best buy some powdered bicorn horn and boomslang skin. I'll need to brew polyjuice during the school year and we can't count on stealing from the supply cupboard again. We should also buy fresh potion from the Apothecarium." Between Harry's invisibility cloak and their new supply of polyjuice potion, they'd sneak Sirius into Hogwarts and hide him in plain sight.
"We also need to go to the Owl Emporium," Sirius said. When they all stared at him Sirius gestured with his hand between Ron and Scabbers. "I owe this boy a new familiar."
He abruptly turned back into a dog as the borderline hero worship on Ron's face embarrassed him.
On the way to Hogwarts, there was a bit of a kerfuffle on the train when they all recognized Lupin's name from Sirius' stories. Luckily, the man didn't wake up as the door opened and shut by itself as Sirius fled.
"Shouldn't we tell him?" Ron asked, nodding at Lupin.
"Not yet." Black was half-child, half-dog, and emotionally-constipated long before he'd been traumatized by Azkaban, Hermione figured. He'd need a lot of work before he could face Lupin.
They sat and chatted idly until something went wrong.
When the dementors were gone and after Harry came to, the trio waited for Lupin to leave before they got up to go search for Sirius. Ron ended up staying behind to distract Ginny from following them. Hermione held Harry's hand as they slowly made their way to the bathrooms which they reasoned was their best bet.
A quiet whine answered them. Harry collapsed in relief as the dog made its way over, the invisibility cloak trailing the ground as the front half of Padfoot became visible.
"That was bloody close," Hermione sighed.
Hermione offered a vial to Sirius who gulped it greedily. Now that he was disguised as Harry, and less worried about dementors, Hermione grabbed his hand (ignoring the childish attempt to shrug her off) and they walked back to their compartment. Harry was now under his invisibility cloak. He tapped her lightly on the back to let her know he was in before she shut the door.
Neville and Ginny had left back to their own compartment and Ron was attempting to waylay Lupin from searching for Harry and Hermione.
"I'm sorry, Professor. I thought Harry should splash some water on his face."
"Are you feeling better, Harry?" Lupin asked softly.
"Er, yes. Of course, M- mister Lupin," Sirius croaked out. Quickly he sat down and held Ginny's abandoned magazine in front of his reddening face. Rolling her eyes, Hermione sat across from him, that way Harry could sit between Ron and Sirius. Lupin sat next to her.
At Hogwarts, McGonagall pulled Hermione aside as Lupin pulled an uncoopertive Sirius towards Madame Pomfrey. Hiding her grin by looking away, she followed her Head of House into an empty room.
"Miss Granger, you've selected all five electives,"
Oh no. Was she been forced to drop classes? Her eyes widened in horror.
"Due to scheduling conflicts, the Headmaster has received permission from the Department of Mysteries, within the Ministry of Magic, to lend you a time-turner. One spin of the hourglass equates to one hour. You can spin back no more than five hours. Your body will not age or change when you are under the influence of the time turner as long as you wear the time-turner during the repeat. However, if you turned back time from the afternoon to mid-day, you would need to eat lunch again. Repeating hours can also mess with your perception of time. You may find yourself needing to constantly check the time or take extra naps. As long as you do not attempt to change the past, come into contact with yourself, or let anyone know about the time-turner, the Headmaster and I will trust you with it. If you break these rules, you likely won't have to worry that the time-turner will be taken because disastrous things befall those that meddle with time. Do you understand, Miss Granger?"
Hermione choked on her own spit. After a moment's consideration, she nodded. Professor McGonagall unceremoniously handed her the small time-turner on a long chain and walked off to fetch the first years. Hermione made her way back to the Great Hall.
"What was that about?" Sirius demanded.
"Oh. Professor McGonagall wanted to talk to me about my classes." She must look as shocked as she feels because Sirius isn't satisfied with that answer. "Later," she promises in a whisper that Lupin can't hear.
At dinner, Malfoy tried to get a rise out of Harry by pretending to faint to gales of fake-laughter from his cronies. Sirius didn't even glance in their direction. Hermione and Ron stifled giggles at the affronted look on Malfoy's face as he went completely unnoticed. She couldn't see Harry, but since the dementors had come so dangerously close to Sirius she thought he probably wouldn't pay as much mind to Malfoy's pathetic taunts either.
Sequestered in Harry's four-poster bed with the curtains shut, Hermione cast silencing charms and perimeter wards as Dobby brought Harry some dinner and Sirius let the polyjuice wore off.
"I want to know what part of talking to McGonagall made you look like you'd died and couldn't figure out if you'd gone to heaven or hell," Black accused as he shook his finger at her dramatically.
"She gave me this." Hermione showed them the time-turner. Then she huffed at the three identical blank looks she got. "A time-turner."
"Exactly. I'll be using this to attend my extra electives."
After promising again to eat and sleep during her repeat hours, Hermione left to go to bed. Sirius would be sleeping with Harry since the bed was large enough and neither minded, with the invisibility cloak covering him just in case.
The next morning they got their schedules and set a routine. Sirius went as Ron to Charms class while Ron slept in, then he went as Harry to Herbology, Hermione reluctantly let him take her spot in Astronomy since she was miles ahead of the limited curriculum anyway, he skipped Transfiguration and Defense since he was worried about being caught out. When he wasn't with them, Sirius hung out in Gryffindor tower under Harry's invisibility cloak and read a lot of fiction (ignoring the heap of self-help books that Hermione had ordered for him). He also skipped History and Divination because they were dull and convinced all three of them to drop Divination. Since they had to have another elective, Hermione convinced Harry and Ron to join her in Muggle Studies where they often listened to the radio and ate muggle snacks as part of the lessons. Sometimes Sirius traded with Ron for Muggle Studies and he really seemed to get a kick out of the assignments. Hermione did abuse the time-turner to attend Potions polyjuiced as both Harry and Ron, but technically she didn't meet herself (as herself) and she did draw the line at doing their homework.
At the end of the day, Hermione looped the chain around Ron's and Harry's necks and they turned back five hours and snuck off to Moaning Myrtle's bathroom where Sirius met up with them. Hermione included Sirius in the remedial Potions lessons she gave on top of showing them what they were supposed to be learning this year. Then Sirius tutored Ron in Charms (and Transfiguration) while Hermione got Harry caught up in Herbology. Then they stopped to eat the dinner brought by Dobby (second dinner, in the trio's case) and studied History of Magic at Hermione's insistance. She rewarded them with a new spell from a new Defense book she was hoarding. They made sure to take a quick nap before they went back to the Tower. On the weekends, they studied in the library (Sirius under the cloak) and researched ways to get Sirius declared innocent and free without Fudge's or Malfoy Senior's or anyone's interference.
Half-way through the first term, Ron and Harry were almost caught up to her at the top of their classes. They hadn't lost points or earned detention (Snape was looking a bit wild-eyed from withdrawal as Hermione refused to be baited) and Sirius was almost starting to look peachy. He still bathed irregularly, unfortunately, but Harry was sworn to Scourgify him in his sleep if he started to smell.
With Quidditch season starting and Harry and Ron no longer needing Remedial Potions or History and Sirius doing well enough on his own, Hermione relaxed the amount of time that they used the time-turner to just catching them up in their missed classes. Sirius even relaxed enough to take Defense once as Harry. They were hoping he'd get the courage to speak to Lupin soon.
Hermione followed Ron and Harry down to the Quidditch pitch. They were having tryouts for a Reserve Keeper. If no one made it this year, they'd have tryouts next year but with Oliver Wood graduating it'd be best if they could train with a reserve. Ron had decided to try out and changed his mind a dozen times since. Still, he actually showed up for the tryouts so Hermione hoped he'd do well.
Luckily, his brothers didn't even tease him. Alicia, Katie, and Angelina scored two out of the five shots that they took. Even though he'd started out so nervous, he looked really confident by the end. When Cormac McLaggen let in four shots, and the subsequent tryouts failed to save even a single shot, Hermione started to realize that Ron had actually done well. McClaggen threw a fit when Ron was made Reserve Keeper.
Harry nudged her. "Padfoot told him we reminded him of James and him playing Quidditch. I think he promised Ron to get him a Firebolt if he made it." Harry grinned.
Hermione rolled her eyes. She was surrounded by Quidditch-obsessed twits.
Ron ended up getting that Firebolt. It was a good thing, too. He managed to catch Harry when the pitch was flooded with Dementors during the Gryffindor-Hufflepuff match. Sirius (under the cloak) spelled Harry's broom to stop it from flying off. Unfortunately, Ron's interference caused them to Forfeit on a technicality. Luckily, Ron had been in the air before Cedric Diggory had caught the snitch so it wasn't quite as bad as a Loss. There were no hard feelings since Cedric admitted that Harry would have had the snitch if it weren't for the Dementors and the Gryffindor team was just bloody grateful that Harry was alright.
Soon, it was the first Hogsmeade weekend and they'd hit a minor snag. McGonagall had refused Harry's permission slip on Dumbledore's orders, telling him only that he'd best remain in the castle. Before they could commence with plan B, Fred and George showed up and introduced the trio to the Marauder's Map which they generously gifted to Harry (not knowing its true creators).
Hermione and Ron decided to follow the plan that the Weasley twins had presented which was sneaking an invisible Harry off to Hogsmeade through a secret tunnel except that Hermione was Harry and Ron was really Sirius and they snuck Ron under the cloak. Hermione stayed back at Hogwarts, as Harry, providing his alibi should anyone check. She really didn't mind since this was just more time to study a few arcane things that Ron and Harry would be bored by (and Sirius would actively disrupt).
The three found her in the library just before dinner, her face (Harry) glowing. The only trouble had been when Sirius was regaling them with stories about the Shrieking Shack and Malfoy came along. Unfortunately for the spoilt heir, Sirius had gone into one of his Moods and couldn't spare him a lick of attention. Harry and Ron were too concerned with Sirius to do anything either and they left Malfoy having a tantrum behind them. Then they went to Three Broomsticks where Sirius cheered right up. Hermione accepted some candy that Ron had gotten her and beamed at the new quills Harry got for her. She glared at Sirius after he cheerfully dumped prank slime into her open hand.
The four of them left the library and stuffed themselves into a broom cupboard where they let the polyjuice wear off and covered Sirius with the cloak.
They stepped out and continued on to the Great Hall, unaware of the rumors they left in their wake.
On Christmas morning, Sirius begged some polyjuice potion and ran out of the dorm shouting "MEET ME YOU-KNOW-WHERE AND BRING YOU-KNOW-WHO, ER, I MEAN THE RAT!"
Exasperated, they covered Harry with the cloak and set off for the Shrieking Shack. And waited. Some time later, Harry (Sirius) appeared and he was dragging a confused Lupin along.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione looked up guiltily from their game of gobstones (the invisibilty cloak abandoned in the corner).
Naturally Professor Lupin reacted by putting himself between them and the double and firing off a stunner. Sirius dodged it. The trio watched in fascination as Sirius ducked, jumped, weaved and rolled (with the advantage of a young quidditch athlete's body). He dodged another six stunners, a body-bind, a banishing hex, a jelly-legs jinx, and a stickfast hex before screaming, "IS ANYONE GOING TO SHOW HIM THE RAT?!" Another impressive dodge. "ANYTIME NOW!"
"Professor Lupin, we can explain-"
"I know it looks bad, but we gave him that polyjuice-"
"He's not going to hurt us, Professor-"
Professor Lupin pinched the bridge of his nose with one hand, his wand still pointed at the double. "What rat?" he asked in a dangerous voice.
Hermione presented Hedwig's cage for inspection. "Pettigrew," she said unnecessarily.
Lupin sat down on the floor and took deep breaths. "And Sirius?" he barely whispered.
Harry and Hermione exchanged sheepish looks as Sirius went down from the unexpected double stunner.
"Has he always been like that?" Ron asked.
"He's been worse," Lupin admitted.
The polyjuice wore off and Lupin revived Sirius to have their heartfelt reunion. Sirius put himself on the other side of the room afterward (emotionally-constipated) and pretended to be enthralled by the moth-eaten curtains over the boarded window.
"The problem is that Fudge would probably have Sirius tossed back in Azkaban or Kissed despite the evidence," Hermione finished explaining.
"You could send Sirius and Pettigrew to Bulgaria where Sirius could hand over Pettigrew to their Ministry. Fudge is on shaky ground with the Bulgarians and they won't extradite a man that didn't have a trial. They passed a law back when Voldemort was branching out. Anyone caught with a Dark Mark within their borders would be sentenced to ten years in prison. Any Death Eater caught who was found guilty of murder would face the Firing Squad." Lupin explained quietly.
They decided to put it off until the summer because Sirius liked hanging out with them. And because Hermione thought Lupin should go with him to supervise.
Professsor Lupin asked them to call him Remus or Moony and promised to teach them all the Patronus Charm while Sirius tried to convince the man to spend full moons with him. And failed.
"I'm certain that Severus has a spell on my door that will alert him the instant I try to step out before the night is over, if it doesn't hex me. I, for one, don't want to piss off the man who brews my Wolfsbane." Remus thought that would be the end of that argument.
Unfortunately, that led to a second argument as Hermione offered to brew the potion.
They shelved the argument to go back to the castle for lunch, but Hermione and Sirius didn't drop it in their minds.
A month later, Hermione proudly presented Moony with a successfully brewed Wolfsbane on only her first attempt ('Third.' 'Shut up, Sirius.')
Moony agreed to spend full moons with Padfoot, but refused the Shrieking Shack or the Forbidden Forest. Luckily, Dobby knew a place. He told them about the Come-and-Go room which supplied the two Marauders with a vast indoor rainforest to run around in.
Hermione dismantled the complex alarm ward on Remus' door and the Knee-Reversal Hex, replacing them with a gentle reminder charm in case Remus did forget his potion. She put two reminders on her watch as well.
After the full moon had passed, Remus thanked her profusely and quietly confided that while Severus' Wolfsbane had been expertly brewed the dour git had saved time, effort, and money by leaving out the part that took away the pain of the transformation and prevented the aftereffects. Thanks to her, Remus started looking healthy and he didn't miss any more classes.
At the end of the year Gryffindor had easily won the House Cup and the Quidditch Cup, rebounding from their forfeit by beating Slytherin by a landslide. Hermione was the top student in all of her classes except for Defense (Harry), Herbology (Neville), and Transfiguration (Ron, surprisingly). Ron and Harry had also passed all of their classes, including History, with at least an E or higher.
The Polyjuice Club, now including Sirius, once again met in an abandoned classroom to discuss The Summer Situation.
"It's my turn," Ron said with surety, "You'll go to the Burrow. You'll spend your summer playing pick-up Quidditch, eating mum's cooking, and trying to avoid Ginny's and the twins' pranks."
Predictably, Harry tried to insist that he would be fine going to the Dursleys with Dobby's help, but he was outvoted.
"Ron, I've drawn up a homework and study schedule for you." Hermione ignored the melodramatic groan. "Dobby will once again be masking our magical signatures so you'll be able to practice spells at the Dursleys and I'll be learning some advanced charms. I'm sorry, Harry, but we don't want you getting caught doing magic at the Burrow so you'll have to stick to book learning."
Harry shrugged. "That's alright."
"Dad thinks he can score tickets to the Quidditch World Cup so you might be inviting me and Hermione over for the last two weeks."
Sirius pouted. "You wouldn't let your favorite godfather miss the World Cup, would you?"
Suddenly the door opened. Remus came in and started pacing without looking at any of them.
"I've been forced to resign," Remus admitted quietly.
Unfortunately, Snape and Malfoy had been infuriated by Remus' and Harry's good cheer (they considered them their respective nemeses). With Remus sure to return next year after passing his probationary period with flying colors, Snape had decided take action. For starters he told Malfoy about Lupin's Lycanthropy. Malfoy reported it to his father and then he told the entire school.
"Dumbledore actually made you resign?!"
"No. Severus..Snape did. Snape said that there is no statue of limitations on reporting a werewolf attack and he would go over Dumbledore's head and personally report me for almost killing him in school if I didn't resign."
Sirius collapsed and put his arms over his head. "I'm sorry. Moony, I'm so sorry. It's all my fault. Everything."
"I don't know what you're talking about," Hermione interrupted cautiously, "but you should know that Snape is bluffing."
"What do you mean?" Remus asked sharply.
"There may not be a limit to when you can report a werewolf attack, but there are limits on what qualifies as an attack. May I ask you some determining questions?"
"Yes, of course."
"Prior to the encounter, was Snape aware that you were a werewolf?"
Sirius and Remus exchanged a look. "I think he suspected."
"Prior to the encounter, was Snape hostile to you?"
"And were you hostile to him?"
Remus hesitated. "No. But I allowed my friends to bully him."
"Did you make any effort to transform away from humans?"
"Did you make any effort to contain or restrain the wolf?"
"Yes," Sirius answered when Remus hesitated. "Prongs contained Moony. Plus we invented a spell that mimics the scent of wolf's bane. We used it to mark a boundary."
"Was Snape infected with Lycanthropy from this encounter?"
"Was he permanently maimed or disfigured?"
"I can assure you, whatever may have happened that night, it does not qualify as a werewolf attack."
Remus sighed. "I'm going to ask Dumbledore if I can withdraw my resignation."
"You might mention that Snape tried to blackmail you!" Sirius grumped.
As the train unloaded at platform nine and three quarters, Ron and Harry stayed back to change places. They stripped down to just pants and pulled the prepared vials out of their mokeskin pouches. The potion in Ron's hand was a pure golden color. He was amused to notice that Harry was holding Chudley Cannons orange.
It wasn't like he expected. The potion didn't taste like anything bad like he remembered Crabbe's had (feet). It tasted like..Broomstick polish? It didn't hurt either.
"Broomstick polish," Ron said aloud. "What did mine taste like?"
Harry rolled his eyes. "Pumpkin Pasties."
They quickly hurried up and dressed and dragged their trunks over to the Weasleys.
Ron watched himself get a crushing hug and kiss from his mum. How could he have ever been jealous of Harry when they first met?
Shaking his head ruefully, Ron admitted to himself that there was nothing to be jealous of. If anything ever happened to his family, fame and fortune wouldn't comfort him one bit.
Ron stepped up and let his mum hug and fuss over Harry. "I'll be fine, Mrs. Weasley," Ron assured her. "The Dursleys treat me much better now." (Basically true). He let his mum look him over critically, knowing that Harry was now tan and healthy since last summer.
"If you say so, dear. Now, promise me that you'll write to Ron over the summer and let us know how you're doing."
"I promise." He couldn't help but grin at her. He had the best mum.
At the Durseys, Ron sighed in relief. The cold, awful room he'd seen when they had rescued Harry with the flying Ford Anglia was gone. The furniture was brand new, the bed had much better than the thin sheets and blanket he'd seen, and there was a new carpet. Even the air felt warmer.
"What can Dobby bes doing, Mister Harry's Wheezy?"
Ron snorted. "Right. Can you please color the walls blue? Just a few shades lighter than the carpet? Thanks."
Ron flopped back on the bed. Hm. He would bet the mattress wasn't this nice before, either. He reckoned he had about a half hour before he had to do one of his summer assignments, according to Hermione's schedule. That was enough time for a quick nap. He topped off on polyjuice first then set the alarm clock on Harry's sidetable, glad he'd taken Muggle Studies after all.
After what felt like hours later but was only thirty minutes, he turned off the alarm and moved over to the desk. Transfiguration homework first, he thought. He had been as surprised as Hermione when he'd come out top in the class! McGonagall had even congratulated him in private and told him that none of his brothers had done so well at his age. He knew that Bill and Charlie had each gotten eight straight O's on their N.E.W.T.s and Percy was sure to get twelve, but knowing that he was considered prodigenous at something was really cool. Not that he was jealous of his brothers anymore, anyway. He probably hadn't been since Sirius talked about his brother Regulus.
It was also thanks to Sirius that he'd picked up in Transfiguration so fast. Sirius was really gifted in that subject and he'd given Ron a lot of pointers. Although he'd also said that Ron had an affinity for the subject, like Harry had for Defense (and flying) and Hermione had for Charms (and reading). He was hoping that meant he could talk Sirius into teaching him how to become an animagus whenever he returned from Bulgaria.
By the end of the week, he had finished his Transfiguration and Charms homework and set up a routine. After pretending to cook breakfast and eating half a piece of toast (jerks) Ron would go upstairs and eat a healthy breakfast thanks to Dobby. Then after Harry's ruddy uncle left he'd sit down in the family room and watch television (Petunia glared but he dared her to say something). He'd pretend to make lunch then he'd go upstairs, eat, take a short nap, and study for half an hour. He didn't want to be cooped up all day and Hermione had given him generous free time so he usually headed out to the neighborhood basketball court (the first time he'd seen it he'd thought that the hoops were broken). The guys didn't let him play at first until Harry's cousin said he was okay. Now, he was getting pretty good and he was glad he'd be doing some kind of sport if he couldn't play pick-up Quidditch. Although, he'd been thinking about teaching the muggles how to play Quidditch on the ground. Maybe. Before pretending to fix the muggles dinner, he showered and ate and afterwards he took another short nap. Then he did homework for an hour. Hermione had left the rest of the night free as well, but Ron usually spent the extra time studying and practicing Transfiguration. He didn't want to lose the top spot now that he knew he was actually good at it.
At the Burrow, Harry gaped at Ron's room. Before, the room had been even smaller than his room at the Dursley's and his head almost touched the ceiling. It was completely transformed now. The room had been expanded and now it was a little larger and the ceiling was much higher. It didn't have a slope any more either. At the end of the room, there was a brand-new door. Harry opened it and found a tiny but nice bathroom with its own shower stall.
He noticed Mrs. Weasley beaming in the doorway. "We had a few extra galleons and thought to renevate the Burrow a bit. We were going to just add a balcony, but then we got a letter from Professor Mcgonagall saying you'd gotten only good marks in all your classes and top of the class in Transfiguration!" Mrs. Weasley paused to wipe away tears. "We were going to do balconies for everyone and add one large extra bathroom for the house, but we wrote to all your siblings and they voted to do this instead. Although we did have just enough to give Ginny her own bathroom as well. We just want you to know, we are very proud of you."
Harry hugged Mrs. Weasley tightly and thanked her enthusiastically. After she left, Harry quickly wrote a letter for Ron and sent it with the small fluffy grey miniature scops owl that Ron had picked out and Sirius had paid for. Ron had originally named it Jenkins after a Chudley Cannons player, but had nicknamed it "Jinx" since the bird had managed to annoy all other owls and once got itself stuck in a half-full pitcher of pumpkin juice at the Gryffindor table.
Harry started in on his Defense homework, pleased that Remus would be returning to teach them next year. As a bonus, Harry had heard a rumor on the train that Dumbledore had put Snape on probation. If it were true, then the git wouldn't be able to give out detentions. Harry might even start attending Potions again. Or not. Hermione was a much better teacher.
The next day Harry was hustled outside for pick-up Quidditch. He'd be playing Keeper with Ginny playing Chaser/Seeker and Bill as their main Chaser against Charlie and the twins. There would be one bludger in play (Harry noted that it wasn't quite as fast as the school bludgers) but no Beaters. The twins and Charlie won all three games. The twins were as good at predicting the bludger as Harry was at finding the snitch. Ginny was clearly a very good Seeker (and the better Chaser), but Charlie was the kind of Seeker that Harry wanted to be. He could definitely go professional if he wanted to.
Harry played with them every day before breakfast and after dinner. It was no wonder that Ron and the twins were on the team if this was their normal routine. If Percy could be convinced, they'd have a broom race in the afternoon, taking turns on Ron's Firebolt (they thought it was from Harry). In-between breakfast and lunch Harry did his summer homework and studied. After lunch they sometimes had chores like de-gnoming or helping Mr. Weasley fix something in the house when he got home (the washing machine was particularly hostile). After Quidditch in the evening, the Weasley family usually gathered in the family room. Mrs. Weasley listened to the wizarding wireless while she knitted and Mr. Weasley usually taught the boys some muggle game or other (Harry wasn't sure that Mr. Weasley understood that Poker was a gambling game).
Harry had been to a lot of incredible restaurants and eaten some strange things last summer, but he appreciated Mrs. Weasley's cooking more than ever. He hoped she didn't notice when he took extra helpings of his own favorites instead of Ron's, but he tried to eat a variety just in case.
Half-way through summer, the twins did get him with a prank. The prank, which soaked him in bright green slime (the same Zonko's product Sirius had bought), was triggered when Ron stepped on the third stair going down. Unfortunately for the twins, they hadn't warned Ginny and she happened to get caught up in it. Harry knew something worse than slime though and he sent off an order to the muggle world via Hermione as he put Ginny in charge of setting up the prank.
The next morning, Percy was the first one to notice as he choked on his tea and started laughing at the twins. They were covered head to toe in a thick layer of pink glitter (not a speck of the twins' skin, hair, or clothes could be seen under the glitter). Harry and Ginny high-fived without looking away from their breakfast. Mrs. Weasley set them to washing the dishes by hand as punishment (after she stopped laughing). The twins spent three days trying to get the glitter completely off and Mrs. Weasley tried a few cleaning charms which didn't work. The wizarding world had never even heard of glitter (Bill took pity on them, succeeding with a sand-vanishing charm).
Fred and George called a truce and Harry didn't have to spend the rest of the summer being pranked like Ron had warned about.
Harry had a couple of terrible nightmares, waking everyone up with his screams, but when he woke up he couldn't remember them. Luckily the lock on the door had bought him enough time to take polyjuice.
When Mrs. Weasley asked he said that he dreamed about the Chamber of Secrets. She told him that Ginny was still having nightmares too and maybe they could help each other by talking about it. Even though he hadn't actually had nightmares about the Chamber, Harry talked to Ginny about Tom Riddle and assured her that it wasn't her fault (he had fooled Harry just as much). He realized suddenly that if she hadn't stolen the diary back then it would have been Harry in the Chamber and no one else would've been able to rescue him since he was the only parselmouth. Voldemort probably would've come back right quick. He told her so and said that technically she saved Harry Potter so Harry saving her only made them even. Ginny had laughed at that.
On his birthday, a piece of international news made the front-page headline in The Daily Prophet.
'SIRIUS BLACK DECLARED A CITIZEN OF BULGARIA!'
'Bulgarian Court Finds Peter Pettigrew Alive and Guilty!'
Below the headline, there was a large photo of Sirius grinning winsomely, shaking hands with the Bulgarian Minister for Magic. He couldn't have looked any less like those awful wanted posters of his. It looked like Remus had made him cut his hair and shave. He looked healthy and handsome dressed in a nice muggle suit with a modern robe on over it. Harry suspected it was actually Remus polyjuiced. He had a hard time believing that Sirius could look so respectable (or clean).
The article itself failed to mention that the British Ministry for Magic hadn't given Sirius a trial (surprise), instead painting Peter Pettigrew as the lone villian who had cleverly framed the Black heir. The reparations for Sirius' incarceration would be taken from Pettigrew's estate and Pettigrew's Order of Merlin, Third Class, was revoked. Even though the Ministry appeared to be wiggling out of the blame, the paper had at least made it perfectly clear that Sirius was innocent and had never been a Death Eater in any way.
The Weasleys talked about it for days especially after it leaked in the news that Pettigrew had spent twelve years hiding as a family's pet rat (The Daily Prophet hadn't mentioned the Weasleys by name). Harry had to tell them that he'd actually met Sirius Black once during a Hogsmeade trip but that he'd believed Sirius' story about being innocent and had given Scabbers to him.
"Next time something like that happens, dear, tell Professor McGonagall and write to us right away!" Mrs. Weasley admonished him.
Unfortunately, the twins and Ginny were less than convinced by his story, but the twins couldn't make him spill the beans and Ginny chose not to badger him.
Harry and Ron switched back the day before they would be going to the Quidditch World Cup. Mr. Weasley had gone via Floo to pick up Harry (Ron) from the Dursleys after Harry just barely managed to convince the twins not to go. Hermione had arrived by Floo as well, having driven with her parents to a public Floo. Harry, having not gone to pick up Ron either, was the first one to greet her.
Thankfully, he was able to assure her that he had all of his summer homework done even though she had refrained from making him a schedule.
As soon as Ron arrived, the three of them went up to his room for the polyjuice to wear off.
"Bloody hell!" Ron looked around in ecstasy. "I know you described it to me already, but this is incredible."
As Harry changed in the bathroom he overheard Hermione quizing Ron about his homework and grinned. Since Sirius (someone Ron already looked up to) had shown interest in the trio's schoolwork, Ron had stopped the whining and procrastination he'd been prone to back in first and second year. He still grumbled from time to time, in jest, but Harry knew he hadn't needed Hermione to push him for awhile. If he had only been doing homework and studying because of Hermione, Harry doubted he would of been top of the class in Transfiguration.
Harry knew that all three of them were a lot more focused on their studies than they had been before. Harry thought that at least part of it was because of the Polyjuice Club. If Harry had been treated like he always had at the Dursleys then he wouldn't have gotten to study during the summer and if Ron hadn't totally ceded to Hermione as the leader of their group then Harry might've still procrastinated with Ron last year.
Their portkey to the Quidditch World Cup was shared by the Diggorys. Cedric was as polite as ever, but his father was overly boastful. He bragged that his son had 'beat the Boy-Who-Lived to the snitch', nevermind that the game was a forfeit and that Harry had fainted because of Dementors ('But you didn't faint, Cedric.')
"He didn't hear his parents dying for him when they bloody came near, either." Ron snarked under his breath.
Harry elbowed Ron, but luckily Mr. Diggory hadn't heard him although Cedric, Bill, and Percy had.
At the camp grounds, Ron impressed Harry and Hermione by helping his father pitch the tent the muggle way and started a campfire.
"T.V.," he explained when no one else was paying attention.
That night Harry was jerked out of a nightmare by Ron who was shaking him.
"Voldemort..couldn't stay in Bertha's body any more. He has his most loyal servant now...mark a message to the disloyal..great plans for the tournament"
Harry finally stopped talking because he couldn't remember the dreams anymore. Now that he was calming down, he saw that everyone was crowded around him.
Mr. Weasley had gone white as a sheet.
"Bertha? Bertha Jorkins?" Percy asked, frowning. "Hasn't she been missing?"
"I need to speak with Dumbledore. Percy, you'd best go warn your boss." At Percy's confused look, Mr. Weasley clarified, "A threat to The Tournament?" Percy paled.
The rest of them exchanged worried looks as Mr. Weasley and Percy both rushed out of the tent, half-dressed, in the middle of the night.
"What tournament?" George wondered aloud. Bill and Charlie seemed to have a silent argument, but neither of them would answer the twin's question.
Percy returned after only half an hour. "I couldn't find Mr. Crouch anywhere! I had to leave a message with his house elf."
They all fell asleep before Mr. Weasley got back.
In the Minister's private box, at the Quidditch World Cup, stood Sirius looking smug. He also didn't look like his picture from The Prophet and Hermione sighed regretfully as she forked over a sickle. Harry pocketed it and waited for his godfather to pretend to meet him for the first time.
Unfortunately, his godfather had no shame.
"Harry Potter!" he cried dramatically as Fudge introduced Harry to the Bulgarian Minister for Magic and his guest. He picked Harry up and swung him around. "I'm your godfather!" He yelled into Harry's ear. Harry had to fight to be put down, blushing.
"Minister Fudge, I am in your debt for introducing me to my godson! Despite the fact that I'm a Bulgarian citizen now, I hope that you'll continue to let me visit England so that Harry can keep attending Hogwarts?"
Fudge's eyes bugged out. "Yes, of course. This is, afterall, your birth country," he stammered. "And Harry's country as well. Of course you can stay with him here."
Harry knew that Remus was already putting together Sirius' legal custody of Harry. He grinned.
Before the match started, he and Sirius took turns making outrageous bets with the Weasley twins. Earlier, Harry had stopped them from betting all their savings by pointing out that Bagman was a gambling addict and probably wouldn't pay up (a blatant lie he'd thought up to stop them gambling when he remembered how much they sucked at poker). They only bet a sickle a piece, but Harry caught Sirius whispering to them that if Ireland managed to win with Krum catching the snitch no less he'd give the twins a thousand galleons.
Rolling his eyes, he turned his attention back to field. When the veela started using their allure, none of them felt it. Sirius put his wand away, grumbling about mind magic. Hermione perked up and started peppering him with questions (Harry and Ron laughed at him).
The twins did win their bet and Sirius unsubtley handed off a large pouch. Mr. Weasley was too deep in a discussion with Percy, Mr. Crouch, and Minister Fudge to notice. Bill had seen but clearly pretended not to (knowing their dreams of opening their own shop).
That night, Mr. Weasley packed up the tent to everyone's confusion.
"Although Mr. Crouch and Minister Fudge are confident that there is nothing to be worried about, Bertha Jorkins knew a lot about the security arrangements for the Quidditch World Cup-"
"What's the tournament?" Fred asked.
"-And even if nothing's wrong, I'd feel better if we all went home," Mr. Weasley said loudly.
He pulled Harry off to the side, reminding Harry of the moment he'd taken to warn Harry not to go looking for Black. As Mr. Weasley's eyes crinkled and he shook his head, Harry figured he was remembering the same.
"Now, Harry, I know you've only just met but I've invited Sirius to come back with us to the Burrow. Is that alright with you?"
Harry hugged Mr. Weasley spontaneously then blushed. "Yes. Thank you!"
Mr. Weasley grinned and ruffled Harry's hair.
The mood the next morning was somber as they read about an attack at The Quidditch World Cup.
Mr. Weasley and Percy weren't at breakfast because they'd gone into work early.
Hermione scowled as she tossed the paper back on the table. "They aren't calling it a Death Eater attack."
"It says the perpetrators fled when an unkown person cast the Dark Mark," Ginny said.
Harry could feel everyone sans Sirius and Mrs. Weasley staring at him. He looked up from his bowl. Sirius was staring at him too. "What?" he cried.
"Mark a message to the disloyal," Hermione quoted back at him. "If these were Death Eaters then they weren't loyal to Voldemort. All of his loyal followers went to Azkaban. You must've heard Voldemort telling someone to cast the dark mark and scare his old followers, the ones that claimed the Imperius."
Sirius frowned. "Are you saying Harry's having visions of Voldemort?"
Harry grimaced. "Yes."
Sirius tapped his wand against Harry's scar, the back of his head, and his ears all the while grumbling about mind magic.
Harry saw that Hermione was biting her lip hard to stop herself from asking questions. "What are you doing?" he asked.
"Occlusion Ward?" Bill guessed knowledgeably.
Sirius nodded. "There are spells to stop different types of mind magic, like I used at the match with the veela's allure. This ward should keep someone out of your mind long enough to defend yourself, or in your case wake up, but" Sirius grimaced, "it's not sticking to you. I think you'll have to go the hard way and learn Occlumency. I don't know it," Sirius held a hand up to forestall any questions, "but I'll write to Moony and ask if he knows anything."
At Ginny's request, he cast the ward on her and it worked. Harry didn't think she'd be having nightmares anymore.
Bill leaned over to whisper something to Sirius and they both looked at Harry worriedly.
"Whatever you're whispering about, if it concerns Harry then it concerns all of us," Ron said boldly.
"Harry, have you ever had that scar checked out by a Curse Specialist?"
"No. I don't think so."
"Do you mind if I cast a few spells on it? They'll probably sting like hell and you might have a migraine after," Bill warned.
The first spell didn't feel like anything. The second spell made it feel like his scar was heating up and the third spell made Harry grit his teeth in pain. It felt like his skull was splitting open. Through tears, he saw a small ball of light hovering inches in front of his face. It was mostly blood red with a thick black vine wrapped around it. It appeared to Harry that the black vine was slowly crushing the red light. The entire tangle was attached to Harry's scar by a bright green thread of light. Harry thought he heard Mrs. Weasley shouting before he passed out.
He woke up with a killer migraine. He swallowed the potion shoved at him without question. When the migraine had been mostly reduced, Harry put on his glasses and was surprised to see Percy frowning at him.
"Mum's still telling off Bill and Sirius. Dad's questioning Ron and Hermione about your scar and Ginny's locked herself in her room," Percy explained seriously.
"What's wrong with me?"
"Bill thinks that you have a horcrux, a piece of someone's soul, stuck in your scar."
Percy sighed. "Apparently." He shook his head. "I have to get back to work. Don't worry about your scar, Harry. Bill's the expert in these sort of things. Once mum comes around he'll have you all patched up."
Mrs. Weasley, Sirius, and Bill were the only ones allowed in the room for what Harry called "The Operation."
"It's atypical," Bill explained. "I've never even heard of a horcux being attached to a living being. It's likely that it happened by accident when the killing curse was reflected back at Voldemort. The red light that you saw is the result of Blood Magic. Probably a sacrificial ritual designed to protect you," Bill had to pause to clear his throat (Mrs. Weasley and Sirius looked likely to burst into tears). "The blood protection has worked as a barrier to keep the horcrux from attaching itself to your mind so we'll be using your blood and intent to help prevent the horcrux from possessing you as I physically remove the horcrux."
Harry let Bill carve a rune over his heart. Bill took the blood from the shallow carving and carefully traced a rune over Harry's scar. Then came the awful part. Harry had to chant while Bill sliced the scar off. Bill was wearing dragonhide gloves because apparently Harry's scar was probably going to catch on fire.
"I am Harry, the son of Lily. I cast this evil away from me."
Harry kept chanting even when blood ran into his eyes and he couldn't see. Harry forced himself to keep chanting even as the pain of having his forehead cut into felt like Bill was killing him. Harry could tell when the fire started because he would say that pain didn't exist until that moment despite whatever he thought he'd just been feeling. Harry was no longer aware that he was still chanting. He wasn't aware of Sirius holding him down as he tried fruitlessly to roll way from the fire. He didn't hear his mother's voice as the residual Killing Curse echoed her last words as it finally dissipated along with Voldemort's soul piece.
He passed out before a small red spark leapt from the discarded, mutilated flesh next to him into the rune over his heart.
When he woke up the rune over his heart had become a permanent dark red tattoo. "That kind of protection is priceless," Bill said in awe. Then he performed a couple of diagnostics before declaring Harry horcrux-free.
Sirius had to check for his own peace of mind, casting the Occlusion Ward on Harry (tapping smooth, new skin). They both relaxed when it worked.
Hermione, Ron, and Ginny were relieved to see Harry looking well as if nothing had happened (not that Mrs. Weasley was letting him get out of bed even though he was fine).
"Your scar is gone," Ron noticed right away.
Harry shrugged, "Maybe people will stop staring."
"I wouldn't count on it, mate."
Dumbledore sent Harry a box of chocolate frogs and a note wishing him well and saying that he hadn't known Harry's predicament, having only discovered horcruxes recently (Sirius was skeptical of this).
The night before they were leaving for Hogwarts, Harry snuck down to talk to Sirius in private.
"You aren't coming with us, are you?"
Sirius smiled bitterly. "No, I'm not."
"Why not?" Harry winced at how needy he sounded and looked away.
"The Dementors really did a number on me," Sirius confessed. "They've made quite a mess of my memories, forcing me to relive all the bad stuff and sucking away at my happiness. Some things are starting to come back to me, but it's still a process."
"I thought that being with us helped?"
"It did," Sirius said. "But it can't get me all the way there. I need to see a professional. If I don't do this, Remus thinks I'll lose the custody claim."
"Take this. It's a two-way mirror. Your father and I used them to talk to each other when we had separate detentions."
"Can we still spend Christmas together?"
"Yes, Harry, I'll still come home for Christmas."
Harry had just thought that it would be nice having a normal year when Dumbledore stood to make the Welcome Speech at dinner. He had a sinking feeling even before the few shocking announcements.
Harry used the mirror to call Sirius as soon he was in Gryffindor Tower.
"Our new History of Magic professor. We think she's here to get Remus fired," Harry blurted.
"We don't know that, Harry!" Hermione exclaimed.
"I think Harry's right," Ron chimed in. "What does Hogwarts need a 'High Inquisitor' for anyway?"
"She made this horrible speech about upholding traditions, something about the 'right sorts', and pruning what needs to be pruned," Harry explained. "Then she glared at Remus all through dinner."
Sirius frowned. "A High Inquisitor hasn't been used since the 1700's and I think there's only been four since Hogwart's inception."
"It wasn't in Hogwart's, a History." Hermione said, upset.
Ron snorted. "Maybe because it isn't officially Hogwart's stuff? Umbridge said the Minister sent her."
"Yes. You've heard of her?"
"She wrote a bunch of anti-creature laws, particularly anti-werewolf. She's the reason the werewolf registry was made public although it was later restricted to the DMLE only."
Hermione looked ill. "Wasn't there a string of murders-"
"The Half-Moon Murders. Fourteen adults, twenty-five children, all from different parts of England. All of them were on the registry at the time it was made public. All of them were butchered in human form, during a half moon. The murderer or murderers were never caught."
Harry and Ron shuddered in horror. "How can someone blame a werewolf for being bitten?" Ron asked angrily. "It's not like they choose to be a werewolf. They're still human beings most of the time!"
"Prejudice isn't logical," Hermione said softly. "People have hated others for little to no reason without any provocation. They'll say anything to try to justify it, but there's no excuse for being hateful."
"She can't get rid of Remus just for being a werewolf, can she?" Harry asked, stricken.
Sirius hesitated. "The reason for a High Inquisitor is if the Board of Govenors unanimously alleges gross misconduct and corruption against the Hogwarts staff. The Minister of Magic then appoints a High Inquisitor to investigate the Headmaster and each member of staff. They have as little or as much authority as the Minister sees fit to give them. I don't think a High Inquisitor has ever actually been a Ministry employee before. I'll look it up."
"We need to find something fast," Ron said. He blushed as everyone looked at him in confusion. "That Triwizard thing starts at the end of October. They probably want to look good for the other schools so that's probably their deadline."
"What can she do in a month and a half?" Hermione asked in disbelief.
The three guys groaned.
By the end of the week, everyone in Gryffindor was thoroughly sick of Umbridge and Harry thought he heard a second year Hufflepuff threatening to 'shove his mudblood pen up her pureblood derriere.'
Umbridge didn't actually say mudblood, but the way she stretched the word 'muggle' made it perfectly clear what she really thought.
In only a week, she'd confiscated more items than Filch and taken more points than Snape.
She had assigned Hermione and Dean detention just for asking questions during class. Harry couldn't help but notice she didn't assign any purebloods detention and appeared to favor Slytherins worse than Snape (Ron swears he even saw Snape glare at her).
Hermione was still using the time-turner, but Harry and Ron attended Potions now (Snape really couldn't give detentions and they tried not to give him any reason to take points). Harry and Ron didn't need the time-turner to help them get caught up in classes anymore. The three of them still spent an hour each day in the Room of Requirement learning advanced Defense from Moony and plotting ways to get rid of Umbridge (they hadn't heard back from Sirius yet).
They were contemplating drastic action (Gryffindor was down to a meager fifteen points while Slytherin was up almost one hundred) when Sirius came through.
"There isn't any rule that says the High Inquisitor can't be a Ministry employee, but if there's any evidence of bias the Board of Governors has to dismiss her."
"We've got evidence in spades," Hermione snapped (Hermione got a copy of every detention assigned and every point taken and had every muggleborn in the school sign it).
Umbridge was gone before you could say b-i-t-c-h (She was transfered to the Department of Transportation the last that they heard).
It took two weeks to get a replacement History of Magic professor. Apparently, Binns had vanished after Umbridge ousted him for the job. They were shocked when Bill Weasley was announced as their new professor.
"I'm taking a year off from Gringott's," Bill explained later in the Room of Requirement. "Dumbledore thinks Voldemort has more horcruxes so I'll be helping him look."
"At least History of Magic won't be so bloody boring anymore," Ron said happily. "Now, if only they'd get rid of Snape.."
Bill frowned. "I thought you were passing Potions?"
"He's still a horrible git."
Harry shook his head. He didn't think that was quite true. He thought that Snape seemed relaxed, like he didn't even care that he was on probation. He was sarcastic and barked them as much as ever, but he didn't bully anyone anymore (Neville was decent at Potions when he wasn't intimidated). Harry and Hermione thought that maybe he'd only been acting before. Remus agreed, saying that Snape was Dumbledore's spy and had to keep Malfoy's suspicions off him (Sirius, on the other hand, fully agreed with Ron). Now he was using the probation as a reprieve from acting like the bastard he pretended to be (soon Harry would change his charitable opinion and start skipping Potions openly).
The two schools competing in The Triwizard Tournament arrived in the last week of October.
Krum made a beeline for Gryffindor table (to his Headmaster's dismay).
"You are Sirius' godson?"
"Yes," Harry answered, kicking Ron who had just kicked him under the table.
"My cousin is very good friends with Sirius. He asked me to thank you. Britain's mistake is Bulgaria's gain," he smirked.
"Your cousin is the Bulgarian Minister for Magic?" Harry guessed (ignoring another kick from Ron).
"Yes," Krum said. "Perhaps you and I will be friends?"
Harry smiled. "That would be cool. Would you like to sit with us?" (Harry carefully didn't look at Ron who had just missed and kicked Hermione by accident).
"Tonight I must sit with schoolmates," he gestured at the Slytherin table, "but tomorrow I will tell them we sit here."
"We'll save you some seats," Harry promised.
Harry ignored his fan-struck housemates and mentally reminded himself to ask the Gryffindor Quidditch team to sit with them tomorrow as a barrier between Krum and his fangirls. Harry side-eyed Fay Dunbar who was bragging about having something Krum had thrown in the trash at the World Cup. And now he'd have to ask Fred and George how to detect love potions in food.
Ron apologized for kicking him ('but you had better introduce us properly tomorrow, mate') after Hermione had only lectured him a little.
The three of them enjoyed placing bets on who would be the Champion for Hogwarts. Ron bet on Lee Jordon, Hermione bet on Roger Davies ('he's supposed to be Head Boy next year') and Harry bet on Cedric. Viktor's friends explained that no one from Durmstrang was betting since only their Prefects, Headboy, and Krum were permitted by Karkaroff to enter their names (they all knew it would be Krum anyway).
Viktor and his friends played against the Gryffindor team at their practice (the Tournament couldn't stop them from practicing unless they needed the field. Ron had checked).
Harry and Viktor teased each other in the air, matching every move and dive that the other one made.
"You should have Firebolt," Viktor grunted, "Then maybe next time you win."
Harry didn't mind losing to the international Quidditch star (he was glad that the attention wasn't on him for a change).
On Halloween, the Goblet of Fire chose the three Champions.
Harry grinned. Since the bets had been school-wide (even though he'd only a bet a sickle) he'd just won a hefty amount of galleons. Harry clapped hard even as Ron grumbles ('bet his father brags about this as if Diggory's won before they even have the bloody tasks').
They weren't really paying attention anymore so it's Katie that reaches out to get Harry's attention. The entire Quidditch team has gone pasty white.
Harry looks up confused. Remus and Bill have both stood up, looking shocked and outraged respectively. Snape was sneering in his direction like he hadn't done all year. Dumbledore was looking gravely serious. Dumbledore was holding a piece of paper.
"Harry Potter." Dumbledore repeated.
"Five points from Gryffindor each," McGonagall said automatically.
Harry quickly got up and walked away from his bewildered housemates (they didn't really think he'd put his name in, not after he and Hermione lost points for swearing and with his pseudo-uncle looking freaked out). Harry tried not to hear the hisses from Slytherin and cries of 'cheater' from Hufflepuff as he walked up to the Headmaster.
"I didn't put my name in," he said as soon as he got close enough.
"I know you couldn't have," Dumbledore said (the vicious mutters dropped off). "We will discuss this," Dumbledore waved him to join the others.
Harry tried not to flinch as the Champions turned towards him at once. He couldn't find the words to tell them.
"It is not good news?" Viktor asked.
Harry shook his head.
When Dumbledore entered the room, Snape and Remus were with him. Dumbledore explained the situation as Remus squeezed Harry's shoulder in support. Then the arguing began. Crouch was certain that Harry was under a magical contract from the Goblet of Fire. No one knew exactly how that had happened since only incredibly Dark magic would overpower such a strong magical artifact (Snape and Karkaroff looked offended when everyone looked at them). He had to choose between competing or losing his magic.
"I need to ask Sirius for advice," Harry said.
The room exploded again as even Karkaroff and Madame Maxime admonished him for even considering losing his magic.
"If Britain is this bad, you can become Bulgarian citizen," Viktor said viciously after Snape tried to take points from Harry for entering the Tournament and lying about it.
Crouch quickly assured Harry that he would contact the aurors and they would find the person who put his name in the cup and arrest them. "Besides, at least you get to skip your classes to prepare for the Tournament," Crouch offered weakly.
Dumbledore tried to say that since Harry hadn't taken his O.W.Ls he wouldn't be able to drop any classes, but Remus pointedly asked how long it would take Viktor to write to his cousin and the Headmaster wisely shut up and left (taking Snape with him).
"Sorry," Harry said to Cedric during the lull.
"It's not your fault," Cedric assured him. "Although, at least if you win, it wouldn't mean the same as me losing," Cedric joked.
"You think a little boy has a chance?" Fleur scoffed.
Harry shrugged. "It's not the first time someone's been trying to kill me and if I survived then I can probably win now," Harry said honestly. "It's not as if Hogwart's has another thousand-year-old basilisk to use in The Tournament."
Ludo Bagman clapped his hands to get their attention for the formal announcements before Fleur and the others could ask what he was talking about (Cedric's eyes had gone wide in realization).
"Due to some security concerns brought to our attention near the end of the summer," Bagman's ears turned red at the incredulous looks and glares he garnered, "the dates have been moved up and spectators will be restricted. The first task will take place in six days on November 6, the second task is on December 4, and the third and final task will be held on January 1. Further information will be given before each task."
Harry, Remus, and Viktor made beeline for the Room of Requirement as soon as they could escape (Harry could hear Fleur demanding Cedric tell her about this basilisk).
Harry threw himself in-between Ron and Hermione on one of the couches the room had provided as he let Remus explain what had been said (with sarcastic interjections from Viktor).
"You wouldn't really move to Bulgaria?" Ron asked.
"You're missing the point," Hermione said. "This is Voldemort's interference."
Harry let Ron and Hermione do the talking as they filled Viktor in on the Dark Lord's not-dead status and history with Harry (not mentioning the horcruxes).
"So, Hermione," he asked overly casual, "how do I catch up on three years worth of magic for the Tournament?"
Unfortunately, Hermione wasn't sure if he could use the time-turner while he was magically bound to compete and ultimately they decided not to risk it.
Instead, he'd drop Potions (with pleasure), Muggle Studies, Astronomy and History of Magic. During those class times Remus was going to let him attend his fifth, six, and seventh year Defense classes (with or without the Headmaster's blessing, Remus promised).
Hermione reasoned that he'd also have more time to learn spells if he didn't turn in any homework ('who are you and where is Hermione Granger?') since he had the ability to skip any class anyway.
"Professor McGonagall might not like it, but theoretical knowledge won't help you survive the Tournament and you'll be exempted from your exams thanks to Crouch-" 'Lucky for you, not having N.E.W.Ts,' Viktor interjected. "-so you can catch up on all the theory later."
Snape harassed Harry and tried to take points when Harry didn't attend class until Remus threatened to turn him upside down. Harry didn't understand the subtext but Snape left him alone and went back to his previous near-neutrality (Harry would never forget, though, the hatred that boiled beneath the surface).
Fifth year Defense was with the Slytherins, but Harry was relieved that they were all perfectly content to ignore him ('unlike your year, the Grey faction holds the majority in fifth year Slytherin' Remus explained without explaining anything). Harry found that he already knew the spells they were learning, but he still failed to shield in time to avoid a stunner which his opponent had cast at lightning speed. Harry resolved to practice his aim and speed. Sixth year Defense was with the Ravenclaws, learning non-verbal spellcasting and basic counter-curses. Seventh year Defense was with Hufflepuff (Cedric greeted him warmly, oblivious to his housemates' slightly cooler attitudes). They were learning counter-hexes (along with a few carefully chosen hexes).
Two days before the first task, Harry and Cedric were summoned to the Weighing of the Wands Ceremony. Thankfully, Harry wasn't paid any extra special attention (thanks to Remus hovering over his shoulder and making fierce expressions at a backpedaling Skeeter).
Dumbledore tried to chastise Remus for cancelling his class.
"It was hardly fair to continue without the two students in need of it most," Remus re-directed his piercing glare to Dumbledore, "I've rescheduled the class for after dinner."
Harry tried to duck out of the group picture, but Viktor and Cedric threw their arms around his shoulders to keep him in place.
'HARRY POTTER BECOMES FOURTH CHAMPION IN TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT!'
'Boy-Who-Lived Considers Fleeing To Bulgaria as Britain Fails to Protect Him from Yet Another Attempt on His Life!'
"At least the article isn't negative," Hermione comforted Harry as Viktor and Ron roared with laughter at the byline.
"Avoid Fleur," Cedric advised as soon as he saw him. "That article didn't get Fleur's name right and that was the only mention of her at all."
Hagrid invited the whole lot of them to tea then loudly reminisced about Norbert as he showed them the photos that Charlie had given him that morning. The hint was so obvious even Cedric and Viktor had instantly gone pale.
"Do you suppose I can borrow Dumbledore's phoenix?" Cedric quipped (obviously thinking of the basilisk).
"Maybe I will borrow your luck," Viktor said frowning (his thoughts along the same lines).
"Ron, can I borrow your Firebolt?" Harry asked conversationally.
Ron, Cedric, and Viktor stopped and stared at him. "Brilliant," they said at the same time. Hermione rolled her eyes at the four of them, but she was smiling too.
Cedric got second place in the first task after getting docked a few points when his dragon smashed one of it's own eggs lunging for him as he swiped the golden egg from the nest after a complicated Corkscrew dive and Sloth Roll. Viktor got full marks, getting his egg with ease in the fastest time. Harry's dragon managed to break away from it's chain, but Harry managed to outmanuever it (thanks to the ridiculous amount of Quidditch and broom-racing practice he's had). He tied for first place with Viktor. Fleur looked like she was spitting mad when she was announced in last place, having taken the longest time to get her egg and completely panicking when her skirt caught fire which resulted in a pretty nasty burn when she didn't put it out fast enough.
Practically the whole school turned up to watch Gryffindor's next practice, having gone completely nuts over the three 'Quidditch Champions' (as The Daily Prophet called them). The team had to abandon the plays they were working on, but were content playing another scrimmage against Viktor.
Hufflepuff house finally fully believed that Harry hadn't put his name in the Goblet of Fire (despite the fact that even Slytherin house knew someone was just trying to see him killed and Cedric had only told them a hundred times).
Harry succeeded in casting his first non-verbal spell..in his fifth year Defense class. Harry revived his opponent and nodded in acceptance that she was probably going to try her damndest to hex him instead of stun him on her turn (he didn't quite catch the rest of the class's reaction as he picked up on and responded to the Slytherin cue). Remus would later inform him (with a straight face) that he was an honorary Slytherin (to Harry's utter bafflement).
Harry cracked the egg clue easily (Ha!). He had written about merpeople in Muggle Studies (summer homework: pick a muggle feature film or book and compare the differences to the wizarding world). He knew that the screeching was Mermish and listened to the thing in the bathroom, shrinking it to fit in the sink. He winced at the high-pitched singing but at least the riddle was straightforward. He also knew that breathing underwater was as easy as eating Gillyweed and promptly asked Remus to get him some (no reason to antagonize Snape).
Harry wiggled his eyebrows meaningfully at Cedric and Viktor as he ate scrambled eggs for breakfast, silently asking if they'd figured out their eggs.
"You really are going to win, aren't you?" Cedric sighed, half-joking.
Harry only shrugged.
Cedric and Viktor redoubled their efforts and solved the clue in the egg (Cedric a bit quicker than Viktor). Once they were all on the same page, they had no shame in discussing what method they were planning on using in the lake.
Deciding to play to their strenths again, so to speak, Cedric would be transfiguring himself into a merman and Viktor (whose best subject was the Dark Arts) would be casting a mildly dark but legal summoning spell, theorizing that they wouldn't think to block Dark Magic.
Again, Fleur came in last place in the task having failed to rescue her hostage. Viktor got first place despite the unorthodox way Hermione had been Summoned to him by his Carpe Retractum without Viktor even entering the lake. Cedric had taken second place, with a perfect transfiguration and Cho happily clinging to him. Harry had rescued Sirius and taken third place without any trouble (except feeling a bit foolish for not realizing the riddle had meant hostages).
"It was almost Ron," Sirius explained, "but I think Dumbledore is trying to get on your good side."
"By kidnapping you?"
"By bringing me back to Britain to spend time with you."
"What about Christmas?" Harry asked suspiciously.
"The Triwizard Champions have to stay at Hogwarts to host the Yule ball," Sirius mumbled.
Ron and Harry loathed the idea of the Yule ball.
Harry promptly said 'yes' to the first non-fangirl to ask him, relieved that he wouldn't have to ask a girl himself.
"Isn't she like a head taller than you?" Ron asked insensitively.
"As if that matters," Hermione huffed.
"She's my partner in fifth year Defense," Harry explained. "She's alright and I don't think she likes me likes me."
Hermione rolled her eyes at them. "Who are you going to ask, Ron?"
"I dunno. Maybe some girl will ask me, too."
"Doubt it," Harry joked.
Ron ended up taking Lavender whom Hermione had politely asked (polyjuiced as Ron and then later told him about).
The night managed to go well (thanks to Sirius' dance and etiquette lesson that he'd pushed on them).
Harry had ended up sat next to Percy at dinner (filling in for Mr. Crouch who didn't wish to attend a frivolous dinner party or ball) and gotten a tip for the third task (If Percy had used the word 'amazed' in one more sentence, Harry would've smacked him).
After the ball, Harry took the secret tunnel to Hogsmeade where he took the Floo to Sirius' house for Christmas ('we've got you covered,' Hermione had said, dangling her time-turner as Ron nodded significantly).
Sirius was like an overeager puppy. The entire house was stuffed with Christmas decorations: fairy lights, garlands, wreaths, snow globes, nutcrackers, and poinsettias everywhere. The Christmas tree in the foyer was so large it blocked off access to the formal dining room and formal sitting room (there was a second Christmas tree in the corner of the kitchen and no less than five trees throughout the whole house). Harry eyeballed a painting that had been near-completely covered in christmas-themed stickers and stamps. "My mother was the former occupant," Sirius explained, "A real grinch." Upstairs, the walls in every room had been painted bright red with shiny gold ceilings. A miniature enchanted santa sleigh flew around room-to-room. Sirius held up his open palm and the sleigh landed on it. "Open," Sirius cajoled him. Harry opened the bright velvet sack which started spilling out Bertie Bott's every flavour beans. "It's enchanted to be filled with whatever candy you're in the mood for. I always wanted one when I was a kid."
Sirius was the one to wake up at five in the morning, floating trays of food into Harry's room for breakfast (peppermint pancakes, egg nog french toast, and pumpkin cheesecake).
The large room Harry had been given was painted bright red with a gold ceiling like the others (Sirius offered to change it but Harry liked it). There was a Christmas wreath on each side of his door. Beside the door was a handsome credenza desk with a hutch and in the corner was a large wardrobe (empty except for a pair of pajamas, slippers, and a dressing gown). There was a door to a marvelous attached bathroom that had a large clawfoot tub. The bed in the middle of the room was a king size four-poster with a Ballycastle Bats bedspread (his favorite team). At the foot of the bed, was a cream settee and a lift-top coffee table. Across from this was a fireplace. Against the next wall was a massive floor-to-ceiling bookshelf that had a sliding door over a large middle compartment, in the middle of the floor was a muggle bean bag chair on top of a shag rug, and in the corner was a very nice reading chair. It was the nicest room Harry could ever imagine.
After breakfast, Harry was ushered into the second floor library for presents. The tree was decorated with various muggle cartoon characters and shiny red tinsel. There were a dozen of packages around the tree. Harry carefully opened the first package (eyeing Sirius' mad grin with a healthy dose of suspicion). The first present was a christmas jumper. Harry put it on and let Sirius take his picture. The second package contained a stack of cardigans in earth tones. He opened up sweaters, tee-shirts, jeans, silk pajamas, socks, pants, sneakers, boots, one very nice trench coat, and a grooming kit. "Thanks," Harry said with sincerity, somewhat surprised by the sensible gifts.
Sirius shook his head, "You're not done yet!"
Harry followed his godfather to the drawing room where more presents waited under another tree (decorated with live fairies). Harry started to protest the excess ('there are five Christmas trees') but Sirius wasn't listening, rummaging around for the first package he wanted Harry to open. It was a pair of dark grey fingerless leather gloves that went up to his elbow and contained a built-in wand holster. The next five packages were wizard robes, in various greens and blues, ranging from traditional to extremely modern-cut. Then he got duelling robes and dragonhide armour. He opened up an amulet matching the rune tattoo over his heart ('it's made with my blood. It'll block hexes cast at you by anyone with Black blood. Don't go challenging Draco to a duel, though, it only has three charges'). He also got a jewelry box.
The jewelry box was red mahogany with a beautiful wooden inlay lily made out of willow.
"Your father gave this to your mother on their anniversary," Sirius said quietly.
The box was enchanted with an expanding charm and folded out to a large jewelry organizer. A pair of ruby cufflinks were nestled next to a pair of pearl earrings.
"The rest of their jewelry is in the main Potter vault, but these were their favorites. They exchanged them on their first Christmas as a couple," Sirius said, misty-eyed.
The third Christmas tree brought Harry brand-new Quidditch robes, gloves, a personalized signed poster of each team from the Quidditch World Cup, posters and season passes for the Ballycastle Bats, a Wizard Wireless radio, a large calender/bulletin board made from an old Quidditch scoreboard, his own Firebolt, and a practice snitch ('your father used to carry one of those everywhere').
The fourth Christmas tree had one very obvious bicycle leaning against it that was wrapped in two layers of polka dot wrapping paper. He also got a skateboard, a pair of rollerblades, a nintendo and a television ('electricity should be up by this summer. Arthur and Bill are helping me with it'), a VCR along with some animated movies, and a video camera. When he opened a personal computer with exactly sixteen computer games, he hit Sirius with a knowing look.
"Moony didn't let me hex them," Sirius confessed petulantly, "but I did find out exactly how all your past Christmases and Birthdays had gone to know how much I had to make up for."
Harry flushed. "It wasn't really all that bad. Okay, maybe I didn't get any presents," Harry confessed at Sirius' disbelieving expression, "but I don't need this much stuff."
"I know you don't need it, but I want to give it to you." Sirius fiddled with the last package which turned out to be a muggle photo album of his grandparents and his mother as a child. Sirius accepted a hug from Harry and then offered to make him a hot cocoa.
The fifth and final tree was in the kitchen. This was where Sirius had put all of the gifts from his friends. Moony had sent him new book called 'Practical Defensive Magic and Its Use Against the Dark Arts', Hermione had given him 'Quidditch Teams of Britain and Ireland', and Ron got him a large box of Bertie Bott's beans.
Harry found that every member of Ron's family had sent him something. Molly sent him a hand-made green jumper with a Hungarian Horntail dragon on the front and three little broomsticks stitched on one sleeve, Bill sent him a karambit (a type of curved knife), Charlie sent him a pair of knee-high boots ('fireproof and can withstand up to 6,000 PSI'), Percy sent him an ornate compass and a ball of twine, Fred and George sent him their new invention called Extendable Ears, Ginny sent him a bludger, and Mr. Weasley gave him the game Battleship.
Viktor had sent him gift certificates to a bunch of stores in Bulgaria (making Sirius scream with laughter), Cedric sent a realistic painting of Hogwarts that Harry suspected he made himself, he received a silver badge from the Gryffindor Quidditch team engraved 'HJP, Quidditch Champion and Future Captain', Professor McGonagall sent him his mother's favorite sweets (toffee eclairs), and Hagrid sent him a large variety of wizarding candy. Dumbledore and Dobby, coincidentally, had each sent him pairs of mismatched and violently bright-colored socks.
"One more," Sirius said handing him a wrapped picture frame.
It was the papers granting formal guardianship of one Harry James Potter to one Sirius Orion Black.
"We won," Sirius said emotionally as Harry bowled him over. "The Dursleys cooperated even though Dumbledore tried to make them contest. They wouldn't have had a leg to stand anyway since I'm your Godfather. You're officially never going back there even as a ruse. I know this house isn't the nicest or the cleanest (Bill found a bloody horcrux here) but I hope you consider this your home."
After Sirius and Harry finished hugging (and pretended they hadn't been crying), they cleaned up all the gift wrap and ate lunch. Harry put all of his new things in his room except for what he was taking back with him to Hogwarts.
"You'll see me before and after the third task. They've sent me a pass," Sirius assured him as Harry lingered after dinner.
"What if Voldemort tries something?"
"Moony will tear him a new arsehole," Sirius joked. Then he looked serious. "There will be Aurors everywhere, Dumbledore has someone who can keep a good eye on you and let us know instantly if you need help, Cedric and Viktor will have your back, and you're going to wear that dragonhide armour under your clothes. Besides, you are a bloody brilliant wizard, Harry. Voldemort's just a relic."
"Will you carry your mirror in case I need to call you?"
Since there weren't any classes leading up to the third task, Harry and his friends split most of their time between the library and the Room of Requirement. Harry had shared the knowledge that the third task involved a maze which gave them a good direction to start their research.
Harry researched magical creatures likely to be used (with the idea to run his list by Hagrid), Ron looked up magical mazes and plants, Hermione was in charge of finding useful spells and charms, Viktor was looking up wards and barrier spells (Ron had pointed out the connection between mazes and curse-breaking), and Cedric was trying to replicate Sirius' and Harry's enchanted mirrors.
The three Quidditch Champions had tried to invite Fleur into their group (more concerned with Voldemort than winning), but they'd been rudely rejected by the proud elitist witch.
The day of the task, Bill informed Harry that Voldemort only had one horcrux unaccounted for. "Dumbledore thinks it's Voldemort's familiar, Nagini. We think that the best chance Voldemort has to interfere with the Tournament is by smuggling Nagini in with the other magical creatures. He's used her to assassinate people in the past."
Bill made sure that Harry was wearing his protective armour and carried his karambit.
"I thought Horcruxes couldn't be destroyed easily?"
"If it was an object, it could absorb an extraordinary amount of damage making it nearly impossible to destroy by normal means. A living horcrux is much weaker because the horcrux binds to the host. As long as Nagini is killed so is the horcrux." Bill showed him how to ruthlessly strike with the karambit.
Harry entered the maze second, after Viktor. Cedric had given up on mirrors (which were difficult to enchant and prone to shattering), but was able to work out something using alternating Protean Charms on each end of three pairs of Extendable Ears. Harry put one small fleshy bud in his ear and let the other end hang at the nape of his neck. Hermione had been impressed by the magical version of technology that Cedric didn't have a clue existed.
"Harry. This Tournament organizer is trying to kill us I think."
"What did you run into?"
"A swarm of Acromantula between a dead-end and a pit. If you find a path without obstacles, don't cross it. The next hedge will close behind you."
"Are you alright?"
"Yes. For now."
Harry faced a boggart, limbo mist, a sphinx, and a blast-ended skrewt.
"Harry? Viktor?" Cedric's voice came in.
"That was just five minutes?!" Harry exclaimed.
Viktor laughed at him.
Harry warned them to be on the lookout for Nagini.
Ten minutes later, they heard an ear-splitting scream and saw red sparks that meant a contestant was too injured to continue. Fleur was out of the competition.
Viktor made a strange noise.
"Am fine. Just surprised. I found the cup."
"Take it," Cedric said immediately.
"End this thing," Harry agreed.
"Shouldn't the hedges vanish or something?" Viktor voiced uncertainly.
"You've got the cup? You should just reappear at the start of the maze, then the other contestants can exit.." Cedric trailed off.
"So, what you're saying is we're all trapped in here?" Harry asked. "That figures."
Harry quickly pulled out the mirror and let Sirius know. Unfortunately, some wards had gone up and were preventing anyone from getting in.
"Bill says he can bring them down, but it'll take some time." Sirius looked worried.
"We're okay," Harry told him. "We'll meet Viktor in the center-" Everyone immediately protested.
"We'll come to you, Harry. Don't move," Cedric instructed.
Fifteen minutes later, both Cedric and Viktor had managed to join up and find him in the maze.
As soon as Viktor stepped into the path, the cup in his hand turned blue. An orange rope of light shot out of it and wrapped around Harry's throat. Viktor was trying to cast the counter to the spell as Cedric physically grabbed the magical rope and tried to get it off of Harry.
Harry was being choked by the rope. He could hear Sirius shouting when he felt a yank behind his bellybutton. He was thrown violently to the ground and gasped loudly as his airway was no longer restricted.
"Portkey," Viktor said ruefully.
"Just take slow deep breaths, Harry" Cedric said.
"Y-your- hands-" Harry choked out.
Cedric's hands were severely burned from trying to interfere with the overpowered dark spell. His wand hand was curled in a nasty way where his skin had fused together. "At least I still have my wand."
"ARE YOU EVEN LISTENING TO ME?!" Sirius bellowed from the mirror. The three teenagers jumped guiltily. "Snape's and Karkaraff's Dark Marks just burned, meaning Voldemort is calling his followers. I need to know where you are now."
"A graveyard. I can see a house," Cedric answered.
"Someone's coming," Viktor hissed.
"We're not leaving you!"
"We'll rescue him," Viktor said firmly as he pulled Cedric away and pushed him behind a large statue.
"Harry Potter," someone said in a singsong voice, "My master is quite eager to see you."
Harry struggled to his feet, quickly stuffing the mirror into his pocket. Stupefy, he cast non-verbally.
The man laughed mockingly as he twisted out of the way.
Harry stumbled as vines shot out of the ground and wrapped around his feet. He had to shield quickly against a stunner. The vines were almost up to his thigh. Harry grabbed his karambit.
"The foolish boy thinks he has a chance," the man mocked, "We should prepare him to meet Voldemort. Shouldn't we, Macnair?" he sneered.
"Don't make the Dark Lord wait, Crouch," a second man sneered from behind Harry. "Stupefy," he said before Harry could twist around.
Harry woke up tied tightly to a headstone. There was a half-circle of a dozen Death Eaters standing around a large cauldron. The strange man (Crouch??) was stirring something into the cauldron with an insane grin on his face (the only one not wearing a mask).
"Harry Potter," a creepy voice drawled softly to his left.
Harry turned his head slowly and saw a toddler-sized thing sitting on a stone throne, Nagini beside it.
Harry tuned out the evil monologue as he shimmied against the headstone, doing a quick check. Wand and karambit, gone. Mirror, check. Extendable Ear, check (the bud had fallen out of his ear though). Amulet, check. He was also still wearing his dragonhide armour (Macnair must've hit him in the head or neck or arms or..he was going to buy full-body armour, he promised himself). He was also wearing boots that Charlie had given him.
He peered around discretely, but couldn't spot Viktor or Cedric.
"Blood of the enemy, you will renew your foe!" The crazy man was suddenly in front of him, slicing Harry's wrist with a thin ritual blade.
Harry fought not to be sick when the man chopped off his own right arm over the cauldron. Then the man picked up Voldmort and dropped him into the potion. Drown, he thought.
Voldemort stepped out of the cauldron, fully reborn. For a split second Harry thought they were all fucked. Then Voldemort started screaming, his skin bubbling in a familiar way.
"Kill the snake now," Harry hissed into the Extendable Ear.
The Death Eaters were distracted. They didn't notice Cedric until the blasting curse threw pieces of Nagini in their direction.
"Kill him," Voldemort ordered as Crouch tried to cast some sort of healing spell on him.
Cedric ducked behind a headstone as green light sped in his direction.
Crouch threw himself in front of the green light before it could hit his master.
"Severus," Voldemort hissed, "you will die in the way you fear most," he said ominously.
The Death Eaters left Snape tied up as they spread out to search for Cedric. Voldemort had mostly recovered, though he looked terrible with half his skin melted off.
"I thought I could possess your mother's protection for myself by taking your blood."
"It was never about blood," Harry said with false confidence. "My mother loved me."
"No matter," Voldemort said. "Good-bye, Harry Potter. Avada Kedavra."
Harry flinched away, but the curse hit something else. The Triwizard Trophy. Viktor must've flung it at Voldemort.
Before Voldemort could turn in Viktor's direction, something else tackled him.
"Harry!" Sirius ran up to him and cut the ropes tying him to the headstone.
"Don't look," Sirius said, putting his hand on the back of Harry's head. "I told you Moony would take care of Voldemort," he said half-jokingly.