Chapter Eighty Nine – Feeding the threstals and falling into traps
"Could you at least take off the cloak?" Hermione asked in a low voice, trying not to look like as if she was speaking.
"No." Harry answered right away, from under the Invisibility cloak. "I would never take it off if it depended on me."
And Harry meant it. Hermione just resigned in silence, walking down to Hogsmeade… She couldn't quite understand how Harry felt, but she knew what he was going through. The last days were definitely hard for him: after Rita's article about the interview went out on the Daily Prophet, what a rumor was before turned in a self proclaimed fact. Unlike the time Harry was believed to be the Slytherin Heir, he didn't have the benefit of the doubt this time. Harry just wished he could be invisible forever and go away from Hogwarts.
He knew he couldn't. The day of the first task was approaching more quickly than Harry find to be comfortable… And he knew nothing about the first task he had to accomplish in the next few days. The only information he got about the tasks was that one of them had to do with dragons. He didn't know which one – and much less what was he supposed to do with the dragon once the task with it arrived. Hermione, Lila and Neville were lost, as well. Harry was under a great emotional distress, but his friends were sharing the same boat with Harry, without the benefit of Occlumency… Or without have to worry with Voldemort seeing through their minds at every second.
"But you already have a plan?" Neville muttered to Harry. "About the task?"
"I have one." Harry said. "It involves not dying."
"Well, Harry, you could always check the library for some spells." Lila shrugged. "You will only have your wand, right…? I guess you could have some use of it."
"The problem is that we don't know what kind of spell we should look for." Hermione observed with a displeased face. "Harry would have to memorize hundreds of spells and count on luck to memorize one which will work to do something useful."
"Is better than not memorizing anything at all." Lila argued. "But… Well, I think you are right. Harry doesn't have much time… If only we knew more about the task…"
That's what they all wished. It was the first time Harry was visiting Hogsmeade, but not even the sight of all kinds of magic candies and the colorful sugar quills at Honeydukes – and the taste of some Harry purchased under the slightly frightened looks of the cashier - made Harry's humor better that day.
They decided to end the day earlier, but not before a visit to the Three Broomsticks to have a butterbeer, which Harry never previously experimented. He kept himself under his cloak trying not to repeat what happened at Honeydukes, and the four sat at a table nearby the door, with sight to all the public area of the pub.
"Look who's there." Hermione observed, while they waited the butterbeers. "Hagrid and Professor Moody."
Indeed, they were at a corner, probably trying to be the discreet. With Hagrid's size, it was very hard. Moody was drinking in a bottle Harry saw him carrying around a lot of times before while Hagrid was having a giant mug of some beverage. They seemed to be talking about something not made to the public ears. Madam Rosmert arrived with the butterbeers. Harry waited for a moment where no one was looking at the table he was sitting so he could snatch one to under the cloak, while he observed Hagrid and Moody.
Several minutes passed, and a rather large group of students walked inside the bar, bringing in laughter and loud noises to the pub which was previously silent. Moody inclined to mutter something to Hagrid, and they both stood up to leave.
"Enjoying Hogsmeade, eh?" Hagrid greeted them when he walked past. "Where's Harry?"
Harry had the impression he saw Moody smirking. "Uh… He's not feeling well." Lila lied. "I wouldn't be well if I was him either."
Neville and Hermione agreed, while the door opened again. No one of them turned their necks to see who arrived, as they were focused on the exchange they were having with their teachers. And yet the person who just walked in presented herself.
"Hello, Hogwarts comrades." Luna said, a stack of magazines in her arms. "I suppose you are friends of Harry Potter." With no further talk, she handed a magazine to each one of them, but Harry, who she could not see. "My father has been unhappy with what the Daily Prophet publicizes about Harry and I thought you would want to see it."
Harry eyed the magazine Hermione studied thoughtfully. The cover was a picture of Harry, with the headline: "Harry Potter: Truly a Dark Lord?" The magazine, it seemed, was called Quibbler.
"Well, if you want to help him, what about giving a magazine to him?" Moody suggested, also studying his own magazine. At first, no one understood what Moody meant. "The poor boy is almost breaking his neck to read what's in those magazines or yours."
"Who?" Hagrid questioned.
"Who…? Harry Potter himself, Hagrid." Moody replied simply. "He's right there having a butterbeer."
"You can see through Invisibility cloaks?" Neville blurted out.
"This eye can see through them, boy." Moody pointed to his twirling blue eye. Harry, seeing that his cover was long over, uncovered himself. Luna clapped her hands once in a cheer and immediately gave Harry one magazine as well. "Have a good day." he said at last and he and Hagrid left the Three Broomsticks.
"So, do you like it?" Luna questioned, sitting at Neville's side and resting the magazines on the table. "I helped my father writing it."
Harry flipped the pages of the magazine. There was no way Fudge was secretly a werewolf… He just skipped to the part which was about him. Oddly enough, there was more truth on the weird looking magazine Luna brought than in the Daily Prophet. Harry Potter is more innocent than we think. It is possible that nargles were the ones to put his name on the Goblet. Accordingly to a Gryffindor student, friends with Harry, Ginny Weasley: "Skeeter is crazy if she thinks Harry did it. He's not dumb, and much less goes around looking for trouble… And the idea of Harry being a Dark Lord is nothing more than nonsense and stupidity."
The co-writer of this article agrees with Ginny's sincere input.
"It's very good." Harry said at last. Probably no one took that particular magazine seriously, but at least there were more people with some sense in their heads that Harry was aware of. "Who is your father?" he asked, then.
"My father is the editor of the Quibbler." Luna replied. "I help him sometimes, writing some articles and I made the interview with Ginny. If you want some to distribute to you other friends, I can give them for free. I was distributing with my housemates, but they were unkind about it… Perhaps I could try with other people."
And then she stood up, and picking up the magazines, she approached the loud group who had entered the three broomsticks before. It was formed mostly by third year gryffindors. Luna gently handed some Quibblers between them, but as soon as Luna turned her back on them, they formed balls with the magazines and threw them away.
"The situation isn't good, is it?" Lila observed.
"It isn't." Harry agreed.
"Well, when I'm sad, I always go feed the threstals in the Forbbiden Forest." Luna suggested, joining them again. Harry suddenly remembered what Luna told him, about losing her mother. "They make me feel better… But lately it's harder to find them. I guess they are afraid of the oncoming dragons."
"Dragons…?" Hermione echoed.
"Yes." Luna told Hermione. "I heard that the dragons will arrive today."
"And where did you hear these things?" Harry asked.
"I can show you, if you want." Luna said. "I can take you to feed the threstals tonight. Midnight is probably the best hour."
"Won't it be dangerous?" Lila questioned. "Being at the Forbidden Forest at midnight?"
Luna considered the question for a moment. "Not with those dragons around."
It was fifteen minutes until midnight. Snape was a little impatient, and even though he felt the situation was more stable than from a couple of weeks ago, it was still pretty bad. All Snape did so far was handling information about the Order with very little use. And he had to make it sound as if he was giving everything he knew to Voldemort. Yet, he got nothing in exchange but the location of the Dark Lord, which changed to a cold cottage in a forest far in the north.
The problem was that he felt useless, in the way everything was going. The Order of the Phoenix remained with the small number of members it had in the summer, since the identity of the spy was still unknown – thanks to him – and so were the supposed plans of Voldemort. The Order needed a bigger task force, and they thought they wouldn't be in the dark anymore as soon as Snape returned to his spy activities, but that wasn't happening.
And Snape didn't even dare to slightly suggest to Voldemort he might be interested in knowing about the spy or about the big plan. Voldemort still didn't trust him and only believed in what Snape had to say because he had no choice about it. Snape was his only source of information from within the Order, still very well hidden from public knowledge.
He could feel the weight on his shoulders as he walked in the damp grass towards the Hogwarts' gates, to reach a point where he could finally use apparition. Something startled him, near the borders of the Forbidden Forest. A voice. But there was nothing but shadows nearby the beginning of the forest. Snape leered at the shadows between the trees. Everything was calm. The horses from the Beauxbeatons coach were sleeping, and the windows from Hagrid's hut were closed. Snape stood very still, almost not breathing. The door from the coach opened, and Madam Maxime appeared, looking around as if she didn't want to get caught. She didn't see Snape, however, because he was very well hidden in one of the gigantic shadows the castle casted on the grass, and there was very little moonlight.
Then she left the coach and tiptoed around where her horses were sleeping, following the border of the forest until she disappeared from Snape's sight. Snape knew very well what she was doing, as Charlie kept the Order well informed about the situation of the dragons. They were going to arrive tonight… And, of course, the Headmistress of Beauxbeatons would like to have a walk in the moonlight to see what the first task was going to be about. Snape didn't know how Madam Maxime guessed where the dragons were. He, in fact, had no idea about it.
But he was running late, and her activities during the night didn't interest Snape in the slightest, he had greater things to worry about. He resumed his walk towards the gates, passing nearby the Durmstrang ship. At this time, usually all the lights would be off and everyone would be asleep, but apparently Karkaroff had a second thought about sleeping and was watching the castle from the ship, and Snape went further in the shadows so he would not be seen by Karkaroff as well. Finally he was out of Hogwarts' grounds, and disappeared with a crack.
Within a split of second, his feet reached the cold ground of another forest. It was already snowing there, and the roof of a simple cottage in a small clearing was white from the fall of the snow. Anyone else, knowing who was inside of that cottage, would turn around and flee. Snape, without even hesitate, walked towards the door and opened it, entering in the warm ambient, due to a charm casted on the cottage in order to make it comfortable.
The room Snape entered was supposed to be a cozy living room, perhaps with a rug on the floor and some couches to people gather and warm themselves in the fireplace. But there was nothing of it. There was only a single armchair facing the fireplace, and nothing more than that. "You are late." Voldemort observed, and like the first time Snape met him earlier the same year, only the top of his head was visible.
"The Hogwarts' grounds were quite busy today." Snape explained. "It seems as if Dumbledore isn't the only one Headmaster who wants to keep his champion alive over any cost." He had told Voldemort about the Order being aware of what the first task involved a week before. It somehow pleased Voldemort, Snape could tell.
"I see." Voldemort mused. "But they are not important in the moment. I have a question to make, Severus, and I hope you could answer it to me. Is the boy ready for the task?"
Snape hesitated in answering the question. The answer was no. Even though Dumbledore wasn't tied to play fair in the Tournament, he still didn't authorize for Snape to tell Harry about the first task. Dumbledore made sure, instead, that at the task would be enough people to intervene if Harry's life was put in danger. Snape didn't tell Voldemort about that…
"Is the boy ready for the first task?" Voldemort insisted harshly.
"He is not, my Lord." Snape replied, actually expecting that the answer would be satisfactory.
"He must be." Voldemort said. "You will help him." he decided, then. "Use of these detentions you give him nearly every week to teach him something. Use your previous bond with him, if you must."
Snape remain in silence for some time. "You expect him to live, my Lord?" he asked, then.
"He will live." Voldemort answered Snape's question. "That old man won't let him die, of course. But the boy must succeed in this task, not merely be saved, and you will help him. This is my task for you. Do not fail me."
That left Snape puzzled. Protecting Harry was on Voldemort's plans? What was he thinking of? Snape knew the Tournament was nothing but a big trap. He didn't know that he had to help Harry to purposefully fall into it.
P.S.: I was ill and unable to think. Turns out I have gluten intolerance along with my already known lactose intolerance. I won't answer the reviews this chapter because I am really tired and everything, but I will answer them next chapter, pinky promise… Also, I'm quite enraged that I can count the food I can eat with my fingers, so it's probably not the best time to answer reviews anyway.