Because unity cannot be brought about by constant battle, the first point of the Treaty of the Wood was that all its members would be at peace with each other.
-Sayern nar-Hazozh (The History of the Treaty), translated from Gobblededook circa 1952
Harry quickly came to the conclusion that Alastor Moody was utterly mental. Despite that, though, he was easily the best defense professor they'd ever had.
He spent the first class of the term going over a syllabus of sorts. Since their defensive education had been 'flubbed by a coward and a brainless fraud,' he would spend the first month catching them up to where they should be (in other words, where Moody himself had been as a third year). "Then the hard part will start," he informed his stunned class, cracking his knuckles. "Curses, countercurses, how to survive; and above all, constant vigilance!"
"I kind of like him," Harry informed his friends as they left the class. "He reminds me a bit of a demented Firenze. Learning through experience and hard work, and that."
"Harry, he's going to be having us duel each other."
"Exactly." The boy nodded cheerily. In a lower voice, he added, "That's how he trained, you know. My source. He would find enemies and take them down." He grimaced. "Though I suspect we'll be leaving our fallen opponents alive for class."
"One would hope so, yes," Blaise muttered.
"Say what you will about Harry's source," Daphne sighed, "but he is a talented duelist."
Blaise nodded. "I acknowledge that," he said. "I'd be stupid not to acknowledge that. What I'm annoyed about is that we'll probably end up partnered to Crabbe and Goyle so they can catch up. Moody seems like the type to pair the stupidest with the smartest, and we are the smartest."
"Humble, isn't he?"
"He is indeed," Harry agreed. "But he's probably right. We do have the advantage of more training."
"In other words," Blaise decreed, "it's your fault that we'll have to train Crabbe and Goyle."
Their conversation quickly degenerated into a squabble about whether or not they would have to train the aforementioned imbeciles, and, if they did have to, if it would be Harry's fault. Daphne remained neutral, as was her wont, so they couldn't agree on whether or not Harry was responsible for their impending tutoring mishaps.
Professor Slughorn was just as interesting as Moody, though in a slightly more sane fashion. He began the class with a demonstration of the potions they should be able to brew by the end of the year. At the end of the class, he asked Harry, Daphne, and Blaise to stay behind for a while.
"Told you we'd all be in his Slug Club," Harry muttered under his breath.
"Of course I am," Blaise chuckled. "It's you I'm confused about. He probably wants you to be the servant."
The Parselmouth snorted.
Slughorn beamed at his three pupils. "A pleasure to meet you three. I've heard good things about all of you." His tiny eyes fixated on Daphne. "Miss Greengrass. I hear you're an excellent addition to your family, even with your new brother."
The girl's eye tried to twitch. Only supreme self-control kept it still.
"How is the little tyke doing, if you don't mind my asking? I taught both your parents, you see, and I know how much they wanted a little boy."
"Ascanius is perfectly all right, Professor," Daphne replied. "He's quite healthy, particularly his lungs."
Slughorn laughed. "Yes, I think that all babies have healthy lungs. And what of you, Mr. Zabini?"
"My lungs are healthy too, sir."
The professor chuckled again. "Glad as I am about your health, that's not quite what I meant. How are your mother and stepfather doing? I knew Anath in school as well, though not Endymion."
"They're doing just fine, sir." Meaning that his mother hadn't killed poor Endymion yet. This stepfather was easily Blaise's favorite of the lot, and he didn't want the older wizard to die. Unfortunately, though he'd tried to warn the man about Anath's homicidal habits, Endymion hadn't believed him. He was too enamored of his lovely new wife to think anything bad about her.
And if Blaise had anything to say about it, Endymion would stay fine for a good long time. He didn't know what kind of love potion his mother was using on her latest husband, but surely there had to be some kind of panacea that would help him. If not, he would just have to figure out which potion was responsible for Endymion's adoration and find its antidote.
His task was easy compared to Harry's goals. Surely, even without the benefit of Voldemort's memories, he was smart enough to save a single wizard? He had to, or he wouldn't be worthy of the title Smoking Mirror.
But Blaise let none of these thoughts show as he spoke with Slughorn. He'd heard about the new potions master to realize that the man would dance around the subject of Anath's 'mysteriously' short-lived marriages.
They chatted lightly for a couple minutes more before Horace turned his greedy gaze onto Harry. The youngest Slytherin had been waiting silently, observing everything with sharp green eyes. The potions master smiled. "And here we have Harry Potter. A rising star, or so I've heard."
Harry shrugged. "If you say so, Professor."
"Come now, Harry. Don't be so modest. Are you or are you not the brightest young man of your year? Not to mention what you've done for Slytherin House's reputation."
Slughorn didn't know Harry well enough to see the effect his approving words had on the boy. Blaise and Daphne, though, couldn't help but notice that his ears pricked up, his shoulders straightened, and he became much more alert. Before, he had been bored, biding his time until this was over. Now he had found a potential ally, and he wasn't about to let this opportunity go to waste.
"All I'm trying to do," he explained, "is return our House's reputation to where it should be." He sighed, uncharacteristically weary. "It's an uphill battle, really, but it'll hopefully be better this year. Snape and Malfoy were the leaders of the 'Slytherin is home to future Dark Wizards' campaign."
"Yes," Slughorn agreed. "I remember Severus as a student. Excellent at potions, a true prodigy, but not… not a people person."
His male students laughed. Even Daphne had to smile.
"You have a gift for understatement," Harry teased.
Horace had the odd feeling that he'd known this boy for years- which was impossible, of course. It was probably just the resemblance to James. Not to mention Lily's brilliant green eyes.
Or perhaps not, he reflected as their conversation continued. Harry was probing him carefully, trying to figure out his ideas about Slytherin House without actually acting. A part of Horace wondered if Harry wanted the professor to know what he was doing. He dismissed the thought quickly- Harry was good, but not that good.
And oh, was he good. Slughorn had always prided himself on the ability to spot potential, and this young man had more potential than anyone he'd ever met- more than his famous twin, even! Mark Potter was already famous; he had reached his peak, and it would be difficult to ascend from there. Harry, though… yes, he was indeed a rising star.
And who better to train this rising star than his new Head of House? That would of course involve helping the boy clean up Slytherin's reputation. Yes, he could imagine it now: he would guide Harry, show him the ropes. The boy would become a leader, in Hogwarts and after graduation: a leader who owed his success to Horace Slughorn.
Harry smirked as he and the others walked out of the classroom. "Mission accomplished."
The quintet had long ago recognized that teachers and headmasters weren't the only influential people in Hogwarts. In all honesty, they couldn't help but notice- they were students themselves, and they were certainly influential. Not to mention Mark.
They also knew that many of these influential students were on Quidditch teams. Though they would probably enter into the Tournament, they were also disappointed by the lack of official Quidditch games.
Harry and his friends approached the team captains. They were blunt: "Just because the Heads of House aren't organizing an official game plan doesn't mean we can't still have Quidditch," Blaise told Cedric Diggory, the captain of Hufflepuff's team.
Cedric's eyes lit up. He was smart enough to see the implications immediately. "You're right. I could get the team together. They'd be thrilled. I'm guessing that Slytherin is organizing too?"
"Hopefully," Blaise admitted, "but are you sure you want to use House teams?"
The Hufflepuff frowned. "Well, yes? What else would I use?"
"Since there's not going to be a Quidditch Cup this year," Blaise said innocently, "why not mix things up a bit? Especially since this year is all about inter-House unity and such. We were thinking that if enough people were interested, we could have eight teams. Each would have players from every House, or at least players from most of them."
Cedric's eyes narrowed. "Oh?"
"Yeah," Blaise answered. "Because like I said, this year is about inter-House unity. What better way to foster inter-House unity than by playing Quidditch together?"
"I don't know," the Hufflepuff replied dryly. "Maybe having us all compete against each other? After all, that's never gone wrong before."
The Slytherin blinked, surprised. "In all honesty, we didn't think that anyone else noticed that."
"Of course I noticed," Cedric sighed. "Mum and Dad taught me to take things with a grain of salt. I don't suppose that you know why, though? Because I can't think of any reason for anyone to promote hate between the Houses."
"Ever heard of divide and conquer?"
A nod. "Of course. But who wants to conquer?"
Blaise hesitated. He didn't know if he could trust this wizard; he didn't know if Cedric trusted Dumbledore. So he settled with a lie. "Someone on the Board of Governors, perhaps? Lucius Malfoy was on the board until last year, and he was definitely interested in conquering. It's quite likely that someone like him is still at least partially in charge of our education."
Cedric blanched. "If this guy is anything like Malfoy, then I really don't want him to win. I'll ask around, see if there are any people interested in a mixed-House team."
"Eight mixed-House teams," Blaise reminded him.
"Eight," Cedric agreed. Then his eyes narrowed. "Has Harry Potter figured out which team he's going to play on? Because if he hasn't, I'd like to talk with him."
The mixed-House teams proved incredibly popular (more out of love for Quidditch than for hopes for inter-House unity). By the time the equinox rolled around, the informal Quidditch league had its schedule all planned out.
The tournament was based on a win/lose system: if a team lost a game, they would be excluded from the rest of the competition. Games would take place on the first Saturday of every month. The final game was scheduled for early April.
Harry had actually been surprised by his idea's popularity. He knew that Quidditch was well-loved, but who would have thought that it could make students set aside House rivalries like this?
Of course, the rule stating that 'To honor this year's theme of inter-House cooperation, each team MUST have at least one member from every House' probably had something to do with that. If the students had been left to their own devices, they would doubtless have selected players from their own House instead of other, potentially more talented players from other dormitories. But since the rule was the rule was the rule, they were happy to go for the best.
Harry had, much to his own surprise, been talked into participating. It had taken Cedric Diggory over an hour of fast talking, but he had eventually joined the Hufflepuff's team. After all, since he was the source of the idea, he was kind of obligated to join, wasn't he? And it wasn't like Quidditch would take up as much time as it normally did- due to the fact that some players would have to be in Quidditch and in their House's team for the Tournament, they couldn't afford to use too much time. Practice would only occur once a week.
It was when he was discussing Quidditch with his friends, laughing about the irony of him joining up in the one year there wasn't any official sporting, that Hermione brought up something that had been troubling her for quite some time. "You know I don't like heights, right, Harry?" she asked.
"How could I not?" he teased.
Hermione wasn't in a teasing mood. "You also know that my Animagus form is a bird. I would… I know that you're busy, but would you mind giving me flying lessons? I'd like to overcome my fear before actually flying of my own power. What if I froze up and couldn't move my wings?" She shuddered.
"…That would be bad. Maybe I could spend an hour with you before my team's practice?"
"That would be wonderful," she replied fervently.
Blaise made a kissy face. "Ah," he crooned, "you're so cute together, with your little broomsticks and romantic flights. Are you blushing, Harry? Because I think you're blushing."
"I think you're delusional," the other Slytherin sniffed, sticking his nose in the air. The action was partly out of faux snobbery but partly to hide his reddened cheeks.
"Guys, it's about time for dinner," Neville announced. "We need to get to the Great Hall now. Or didn't you want to hear who's going to be the champions?"
"Good point," Harry acknowledged.
"You're just glad that he changed the subject before I tricked you into revealing your secret love for Hermione."
"Once again: Delusional."
Harry and Blaise bantered back and forth about Hermione, Quidditch, and broomsticks as they and their friends approached the hall. Neville and the girls listened quietly, occasionally grinning at a particularly clever sally but not really contributing to the conversation. Then, just as they were about to enter the hall, Neville blurted, "Can I have those lessons too, Harry? I'm not good in the skies either, and I think that would be a good skill to have. Besides," he grinned devilishly, an expression that made him look rather like Blaise, "someone needs to chaperone you two lovebirds."
The Smoking Mirror roared with laughter. Several students, who were already seated at their House tables, glanced up from their meals to stare at him.
"Ah, Neville, Neville," he chortled, patting the younger boy on the back, "you really must let that sense of humor loose more often. Wit such as you have should not be wasted."
"I'm better this year," the Gryffindor pointed out. He spoke truly: without Snape's malignant influence, his grades in Potions had skyrocketed. The confidence boost he'd gained from deciphering the secret of the Chalice of the Moon hadn't hurt, either.
"That you are," Blaise acknowledged. "The little acorn is sprouting into the mighty oak." He wiped a pretend tear from his eye. "They grow up so fast…."
"We have to sit down now," Hermione pointed out. "I'd personally like to finish supper before the ceremony."
But despite her words, she was almost unable to eat. In just a few minutes, she and the others would discover who had been chosen to compete in the Tournament of Houses. Hermione knew intellectually that she was probably the top choice for her year and House, but the esteem issues she'd long harbored reared up like angry ghosts. Sure, she had been trained in magic by a young man with Voldemort's memories and skills. Sure, she was friends with a basilisk and (to a lesser extent) a group of dragons. But deep down, she was still Plain Hermione Jane Granger, the bookworm despised by her peers.
"Don't be silly," Luna instructed, patting her friend on the back. "Unless the Goblet of Fire has been completely corrupted by Hungarian woopahs, you'll be Ravenclaw's official champion in just four minutes and twenty-seven seconds. Oh, wait. Twenty-two. Twenty-one…."
"I get the idea," Hermione chuckled. The butterflies in her stomach slowed their frantic flapping. "What are Hungarian woopahs?"
"They're spirits of confusion that linger by doors. You know they've been at you when you walk into another room and completely forget why. But I don't think they can affect powerful magical artifacts like the Goblet of Fire. Not unless they've completely gorged themselves on exam nerves, of course." She touched her chin. "Hm. I wonder if they can do that?"
"I don't know." Hermione told herself that maybe- not likely, but still- just maybe these woopah things were real. It was hard to avoid her knee-jerk rationalism, but Saysa and Hogwarts had taught her that anything was possible.
Besides, Luna had faced more than enough mockery already. As the second year's friend, she could hardly add to the contempt.
Had they had more time before the ceremony, Hermione would still have changed the subject, just as she always did whenever Luna started babbling on about mystical animals. Fortunately, that was when Albus Dumbledore came to her rescue.
"Ooh, look!" Luna exclaimed, twisting in her seat. "They're bringing it in!"
Hermione craned her neck. Sure enough, Dumbledore marched into the Great Hall, Goblet in hand. The headmaster's phoenix, itself a creature of fire, perched on his shoulder.
"Fawkes looks sad, don't you think?" Luna observed.
Hermione didn't hear. She was too busy staring at the beautiful red bird.
Fawkes spent most of his time in Dumbledore's office, where the headmaster could keep an eye on him (ostensibly, the reason was so that he wouldn't be disturbed by gawkers). Luna was right, the phoenix did seem rather melancholy. Perhaps he too grieved the division this tournament would inevitably cause. Or maybe he felt the burden of Dumbledore's compulsion more strongly than usual.
The headmaster smiled, his benign grandfather persona in full swing. "Some of my more talkative colleagues believe that I should make a speech," he began, "but I'm certain that you are all much more eager to learn the identities of your champions. So, without further ado, the Goblet of Fire."
Applause echoed around the hall. Then, just as quickly as it had begun, it died down. Students waited in breathless silence for the artifact's decision.
"For Slytherin House…."
A plume of fire burst from the Goblet's interior. Like a solar flare, it stretched up, twisting into fantastic shapes. Unperturbed by the great heat, Dumbledore reached into the fire, extracting a charred scrap of parchment. But the Goblet's flames did not die down. Quick and nimble, Dumbledore plucked six more names from the inferno before it retreated into the depths of the cup.
"Adelbert Bulstrode, Philip Harper, Daphne Greengrass, Lisette Flint, Adrian Pucey, Celestine Montague, and Emrys Srijata!"
The table erupted in cheers. Harry and Blaise clapped their friend on the back, laughing their congratulations. Hermione waved from the Ravenclaw table, beaming. Daphne, for her part, accepted the praise without her characteristic stoicism. She was grinning ear to ear.
"For Hufflepuff House…."
The three friends shushed their classmates, who would otherwise have continued on. No need to be rude to the badgers.
"Astoria Greengrass, Zacharias Smith, Susan Bones, Lucas Summers, Nadia Perkins, Cedric Diggory, and Anthony Crane!"
The badgers' joy put the Slytherins' celebrations to shame. It was, after all, the House of loyalty.
"Good for Cedric," Hermione murmured.
Luna nodded. "I like Cedric," she said. "He's nice to me. I just hope this doesn't conflict with his Quidditch practice."
Hermione blinked, surprised by how sensible the statement was. "It probably won't. He'll be careful to schedule around the Tournament."
"For Ravenclaw House…."
The Hufflepuffs needed no prompting to fall silent. They leaned forward in their seats, almost as eager as the eagles.
"Samuel Bell, Luna Lovegood, Hermione Granger, Cho Chang, Sadie Fawcett, John Davies, and Penelope Clearwater!"
Luna's jaw was slack with disbelief. Hermione grabbed her in a tight hug. "I knew you could do it!" she exclaimed.
"I… can't believe I got in." Luna shut her mouth. Her lips began to twitch. "I can't believe it! Oh, Hermione, wait till I tell Daddy!"
"And last but not least, for Gryffindor House…."
Dead silence. More than a few eyes fixed on the Boy-Who-Lived.
"Romilda Vane, Colin Creevey, Mark Potter-"
Here Dumbledore found himself incapable of continuing. The cheers emanating from the Gryffindors were simply too loud.
"How sad," Luna murmured. The elder witch could barely hear her over the sound of the lions' glee. "Your friend Neville should really have gotten in."
"He didn't even try," Hermione lamented. "I don't think that anyone else in my year tried. Mark didn't have any competition."
"Settle down," McGonagall barked. Grumbling, her students obeyed.
"Yes." Dumbledore smiled. "As I was saying, the remaining competitors for Gryffindor House are Katie Bell, Lee Jordan, Jack Sloper, and Oliver Wood."
The cheering resumed almost before he had finished Oliver's name. Gryffindor was utterly thrilled. With the Boy-Who-Lived on their team, how could they not win?
Dumbledore let the children rejoice for a few moments more before wryly commenting, "Would you like to know what your champions are up against, or would you prefer to be surprised?"
The Gryffindors settled down- not quickly, but they did eventually fall silent. Except for Mark's friends cuffing him on the back, the table was still.
"Thank you," Dumbledore said. "Now, just one more announcement before our delicious repast. The first task will take place on Halloween. It will test your cunning and quick-wittedness, your street smarts and wit. In other words, the Slytherin task."
The green and silver table grinned. They were clearly looking forward to this.
"But until then, chop chop!" He clapped. Food appeared on the tables, aromatic and steaming.
"…Isn't he going to tell us what the task is?" Hermione wondered.
Luna shook her head, blond hair hiding her luminous eyes. "Evidently not."
"Oh." Hermione shivered. "Oh dear."
Am I the only one who didn't understand why no one warned the canon Champions about the fire-breakthing lizards of death they were expected to face? I can understand why they didn't spell out the second task- they had the riddle for that- and the third- the champions were actually warned that time- but dragons? Seriously? Dragons are scary when they want to roast you.
Also, I'm taking suggestions for any and all of the tasks. Just leave me something in a PM or review, whatever works. If I use your idea, I'll be sure to credit you.