Disclaimer: I do not, of course, own J K Rowling's Harry Potter or anything here except my own original ideas.
He was lying on his back with something warm and soft beneath him, his glasses were nearby, yet he could still see perfectly. That he could somehow see without his glasses wasn't really the most concerning thing because standing in front of him was Hermione.
She was brewing something in a vast black cauldron, stirring it cheerfully while her hair shifted between bright, sleek silver and its more normal bushy brown.
That's very strange.
'What're you making?' he managed to ask eventually. The hair changing was probably the product of his bad vision. He certainly hoped that when he put on his glasses it would stop.
His friend looked up at him and he recoiled in horror. Hermione's eyes had grown to almost twice their size and beneath the huge, black orbs a cruel, hooked beak protruded. Even his eyesight wasn't bad enough to convince him what he was seeing wasn't really there.
'Amortentia,' she replied dreamily.
Harry tried to edge away as she came closer and Hermione frowned, her brows descending and her vast, dark eyes narrowing angrily. She patted him gently on the head as he struggled.
'It's for you,' she told him happily,' drink up.' Hermione proffered him a ladleful of bright, silver liquid that steamed and shimmered. It looked almost drinkable until he caught sight of twisting, slithering, silver serpents within it.
'I don't want to,' he told her.
'It's for your own good Harry,' she assured him, raising the ladle to his lips.
'No,' he spluttered, turning his face away and sending the liquid snakes squirming all down his chest.
'You should've drunk it,' Hermione screeched, lunging for him. Feathers exploded over her body and her beak gaped towards his head, stretching in a soundless shriek.
Just as the curved tip of her beak was about to reach him there was a flash of green light and Harry flinched upright in his bed with a gasp.
It took him a long minute of mind-clearing exercises to regain his even breathing.
'Mr Potter,' the familiar, stern voice of Madam Pomfrey greeted him, 'you're awake.'
'I hope so,' Harry replied.
Weird, veela-Hermione dream, he shuddered. The memory of that dream was going straight into the too disturbing to think about category of his mind.
Madam Pomfrey gave him an odd look. 'You're in the school hospital wing,' she began, 'term hasn't actually started, but it was so close it was decided you'd be better off here than at St Mungo's.'
'What happened?' he asked. 'I remember falling asleep in the ashes of the camp at the World Cup, but that's it.'
'You were found by one of the Bulgarian team's cheerleaders after the chaos was over by all accounts. She, of course, recognised you and brought you to the nearest hospital point where you were found by the Weasley family and Miss Granger, then you were brought here.'
'Are they all okay?'
'Miss Granger and the Weasley family were all quite worried, but otherwise fine. You however, Mr Potter, have somehow exhausted your magical core and in recovery you have set a new record for your lengthiest stay in my hospital wing. I daresay it is the first time that a student has manage that before term has begun.'
'That's good,' Harry replied, relieved that the Weasleys and Hermione were fine.
'It's not good, Mr Potter. Honestly, you seem to almost die at the end of every year, you'd think you might have learnt some caution by now.' Madam Pomfrey fixed him with a disapproving look.
'It's the start of the year,' Harry replied flippantly, 'I wasn't expecting anything for months.'
'Be that as it may, Mr Potter, you are awake, and once I have made sure you are fine you may return to Gryffindor Tower.' The strict nurse placed the tip of her wand against his forehead, tutting when Harry flinched slightly.
'Everything seems fine,' she nodded. 'Off with you, and don't let me see you back in this bed for at least a few months.'
He was only too eager to depart, absentmindedly transfiguring his hospital robes into a set of school robes. He imagined the clothes he had originally been wearing were now ruined.
'You're alive,' Ron greeted him midway across the Great Hall.
'Yes, Ron,' Hermione responded, 'that's a great way to say hello to your friend who was in a coma because he used too much magic.'
'I don't mind.' Harry laughed at the outraged expression on her face and walked with them on the back towards the common room.
'So what happened, mate?' Ron, it seemed, had waited as long as he could before the question burst out.
'I'm not actually sure,' Harry started carefully, unwilling to mention the ash basilisk. 'It was chaotic, one moment I was running with you guys, and the next I was waking up in the hospital wing.'
'The healer at the World Cup said you had put too much strain on your magical core, Harry,' Hermione explained skeptically. 'That means you tried to push so much magic into a spell that it forced everything out of your body.'
'I don't remember casting a spell like that,' Harry shrugged. It was the truth of sorts, whatever he had done had been all intent and power. There had been no incantation at all. 'So what actually happened to cause all that?'
'They haven't told you yet,' Ron gaped.
'Harry only just woke up, Ron,' Hermione sighed. 'How could he know?'
'Oh,' Ron looked slightly mollified. 'It was Death Eaters, they attacked the site, only you can't tell anyone I said that because we heard it listening to Percy and Dad talking before work. Apparently they attacked the muggles near the site and anyone nearby. It's been chaos at the Ministry since then and Dad reckons something's up because Percy's boss, Mr Crouch, has supposedly resigned.'
'That's not what they said,' Hermione cut in, frowning, 'Mr Crouch is supposed to be resigning later in the year. Something is happening that he's organised before he can retire easily. He's unofficially resigned.'
'Same thing, Hermione,' Ron objected.
'It's not the same thing really, and it means that whatever he's doing must be really important to allow him to continue on.' Harry understood what Hermione meant, even if he wasn't sure Ron did.
'There are loads of rumours flying around the Ministry and Bill says that he heard one of the auror captains talking about Barty Crouch's son being found dead in the campsite.' Harry gave him a questioning look. It might explain why Mr Crouch had resigned, but Ron made it sound like a great deal more than that.
'He was a Death Eater, Harry,' Hermione explained. 'Ron never explains anything properly. He was supposed to have died in Azkaban ages ago.'
A horrible chill settled down Harry's spine. The mad, dark wizard he had unleashed the ash basilisk on suddenly seemed very prominent in his mind. 'What else happened?'
At least he deserved it, a small voice pointed out. Harry had technically killed before, Professor Quirrell had died quite literally by his hands, but he'd been too young to really understand what he had done then. That was not the case now. He'd done something so wrong it made him feel slightly sick, despite the nature of his victim.
'Not much,' Hermione answered. 'We were all so worried about you. Mrs Weasley went around every healing point trying to find you.'
'Yeah,' Ron added, 'and then some gorgeous Bulgarian girl came out of the camp carrying you in her arms. It might have been worth being injured just to be in her arms.' His eyes went slightly hazy at the memory until Hermione elbowed him in the stomach.
'It's not funny, Ron. That was a veela, they're not just pretty faces you know.'
'They're gorgeous, though,' Harry noted absentmindedly, only to receive Hermione's elbow himself.
'So, when does term start?' It seemed unwise to continue their current conversation. He either might give something away about the wizard he'd killed, or be on the receiving end of Hermione's elbows, which he realised, rubbing his ribs, were rather sharp.
'Today, Harry,' she told him.
'Where is everyone, then?'
'It's only ten, mate' Ron added helpfully, 'still another hour or so before anyone arrives. You need to speak to Dumbledore about what happened. He asked us to tell you when you were awake.'
'I need to change as well,' Harry reminded them.
'You're in school robes.' Hermione looked at him oddly.
'I transfigured my hospital gown,' he explained. 'I don't know how long it will last.'
'That's quite advanced transfiguration, Harry,' Hermione beamed at him. 'I only read about doing that last year.'
'Headmaster first, then,' he decided and detoured towards the gargoyle.
'Sugar quills,' Hermione commanded the gargoyle and they made their way up to Dumbledore's office.
'Ah, Harry,' the old headmaster smiled after he opened the door. 'Come and have a seat. Are you feeling better?'
'Much better, sir.'
'I was beginning to fear you might not wake up in time for the school year and end up missing classes,' the headmaster nodded. The portraits around him appeared to be largely uninterested in their conversation, but Fawkes was peering at him curiously.
I'm sure Snape would've been gutted if I'd missed potions, Harry thought, trying hard to keep a smile from his face.
'Do you remember what happened?' Dumbledore asked hesitantly. 'I don't want you to feel I'm forcing you to think about anything unpleasant, some quite atrocious things were done to the muggle owners of the site.'
'Actually I don't remember much at all, sir,' Harry admitted. 'We tried to run out of the camp into the woods, but something hit me and I blacked out. As you know I was found afterwards and brought here.'
The old headmaster ran a hand through his famous, silver beard. 'At least you don't remember anything terrible then,' he smiled. 'You're too young to have to live with such things.'
'Professor Dumbledore?' Harry began carefully. 'Is it true about Barty Crouch's son? I heard he was found in the camp.'
'Unfortunately it does seem to be the case, though I recommend you keep this information to yourselves. It could cause great panic if everyone suddenly starts to think Azkaban can't keep hold of its prisoners.'
'We will, professor,' Hermione answered enthusiastically.
'You had best go and prepare for the welcoming feast, Harry,' Professor Dumbledore suggested gently, eyes twinkling. 'Those transfigured robes, while impressive, may not last for the whole meal.'
'I was going to, sir.'
'Very well then. Try and stay out of trouble this year, Harry. There will be unfamiliar faces around us soon.'
'Of course there will unfamiliar faces,' Ron blurted the moment the gargoyle closed. 'The first years will be here, they come every year.'
'I doubt he means the first years, Ron,' Hermione laughed. 'It's probably something to do with whatever Mr Crouch was organising. He mentioned being at Hogwarts to Percy at the World Cup.'
The Gryffindor common room was empty when they arrived, but somebody had pinned the schedules of the students to the board for each dormitory. Someone whom both Harry and Ron thought deserved a good hexing since the moment Hermione had seen them she had instantly flown into a rant about Ron's options. Care of Magical Creatures and Divination were apparently easy options and not what should he be taking if he wanted to do well after his OWLs.
Harry had managed to quietly change while Hermione was berating Ron, but he was not subtle enough to remove his schedule without her noticing. Her gaze snapped to him in a birdlike motion uncomfortably similar to his dream and she all but tugged the paper from him to read it herself.
He frowned. It was all very well to be interested, but there were boundaries that should be respected. Harry would never snatch anything out of hands if she hadn't already decided to let him read it.
'Fourth year Ancient Runes and Arithmancy,' Hermione read aloud. 'How did you get into the classes without doing the third year exams?' That seemed her only exception to his schedule for which Harry was quite grateful.
'Why did you take those?' Ron asked, horrorstruck. 'Divination and Magical Creatures are easy OWLs. You've gone and done a Hermione, mate.'
'If by that you mean he's made an intelligent decision about his future then you are quite right, Ron.' It looked like she wanted to say a great deal more, but instead she waved Harry's schedule at him. 'You might be really far behind in your electives, Harry,' she warned. 'It's good you want to try, but I don't know if you'll able to manage everything.'
'I'm sure,' Harry replied, doing his best to conceal his annoyance, 'that I'll be fine.'
He would be more than fine. Ancient Runes was easy enough until it came to the longer essays. He had had to improve his handwriting considerably over the summer so that the difference between some of the more similar glyphs was clearer, but using them and knowing their meanings was simple enough. Arithmancy wasn't too tricky either; it was merely maths applied to magic. He had chosen them because they were useful and because neither subject would require foot after foot of essays every week.
Harry had always been quite a visual minded person, something that applied well to practical subjects, but not to essay related ones. The History of Magic, by far his least favourite, had well demonstrated that fact.
'If you say so.' Hermione seemed unconvinced and Harry took a deep breath when she wasn't watching to calm down. For all of his friend's intelligence she was often quite stubbornly narrow-minded. In three years here she had always been top at nearly everything, outstripping both he and Ron, but when it came to actually using magic Hermione's only advantage lay in her knowing more than they did beforehand. Harry was fairly confident that should they try and perform the same spell without prior practice his would be just as good.
Hermione was going to get a surprise when she discovered that he now knew almost as much theory as her. He had to concede that she would still know far more about many other things; Harry would not be rivalling her in History of Magic, or any subject with a final grade composed of more than a couple of essays. He was fairly confident that he could at least equal her in potions, their electives, charms and transfiguration. Harry thought the latter, now his strongest subject, was the most likely one in which he might surpass his intelligent friend. Transfiguration spells lent themselves well to the visually minded.
'The welcoming feast starts soon. We should go down and join everyone,' Ron suggested. He was glancing between the two of them slightly nervously and had evidently picked up on Harry's irritation a lot better than Hermione had.
'Yeah,' Harry agreed, slipping his wand into his sleeve, 'let's go.'
All of a sudden it was loud again. There were students everywhere, many of whom, despite an extra couple of inches gained over the summer, were still taller than he was.
They took the nearest seats amongst those in their year, joining Neville and Seamus. Ron slipped in alongside him and gazed down at the empty sparkling plate with some consternation.
'Food soon, Ron.' He comforted him with pat on the shoulder as the first years nervously entered.
The sorting hat, looking as every bit as underwhelming as it did every year, sat on the chair at the front. No doubt it would soon start singing.
'Do you think it makes up a new song every year,' he whispered to Ron as it launched into verse.
'Dunno, mate, but my brothers say they've never heard the same one twice.'
'That's probably a good indicator it does, your brothers must've covered the last decade or so here, and it does have all year to write them.'
'When it's not delivering swords to you,' Ron replied with a grin.
'It's a good thing it does deliver swords,' Harry responded. 'What happens if there's another giant snake in Hogwarts and Neville needs to kill it? He can't be expected to go get the sword himself now can he.'
The two of them laughed until Hermione hissed at them to be quiet.
As the sorting drew to a close and the first years anxiously squeezed on to the ends of the tables, Dumbledore rose to speak. Harry cocked his head curiously. If something was going to happen at Hogwarts this year now was when it would be mentioned.
'A few announcements before we all get too distracted by our impending food to forget them. Firstly, I would like to welcome Professor Moody to our teaching staff. He will be taking over the role of Defence Against the Dark Arts. Secondly, I must remind members of all years that the Forbidden Forest is so named for a reason and, lastly, this year, after centuries, a great sporting event will be making its return. This means, unfortunately, that there will be no quidditch.' A murmur of barely concealed horror rose from the hall at this announcement. Harry was sure there had been less reaction when Quirrell had declared the arrival of a troll in his first year.
'The Triwizard Tournament will be held at Hogwarts come October,' the headmaster continued unabated. 'A chance, for those who enter, to earn eternal glory as school champion.'
'So that's what's happening,' Ron said excitedly. 'I'm definitely putting my name in. Eternal glory,' he finished with a longing sigh.
'Professor Moody looks none to impressed about it,' Hermione remarked.
She was right. The new teacher's gash of a mouth was downturned, twisting the scar-scattered face above into quite a forbidding frown.
'He looks like he's been through the wars,' Harry noted quietly.
'He has,' Ron enthused. 'That's Mad-Eye Moody, that is. Dad says he was one of the greatest aurors back in the war against You-Know-Who, but that he's sort of lost it recently.'
'His eye is a bit creepy,' Neville added hesitantly.
'It's supposed to be magic,' Ron agreed, giving it a nervous look himself. 'Don't know what it actually does, though.'
Harry helped himself to bread, despite Hermione's insistence that he should eat more. He had admittedly just awoken from a coma of sorts, but he wasn't particularly hungry. If anything he felt slightly sick. It was the sort of unsettled feeling he got every year from the Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher for one reason or another.
'You need to eat more than just bread, Harry,' Hermione pressed, attempting to add food of every kind to his plate when he wasn't guarding it.
'Ron's eaten enough for all three of us,' he defended, deflecting a serving of potatoes onto Ron's plate. The red-head happily speared and devoured one of the vegetables without a second thought.
'Just because Ron eats enough food for a small country doesn't mean you should starve yourself to compensate,' she huffed.
'I'm doing it out of protest,' Harry tried. 'The food is all made house elves and that's practically slavery, Hermione. I can't exploit their efforts in good conscience.'
Hermione looked horrified and dropped her fork as if it had bitten her.
'You've done it now, Harry,' Ron muttered. 'We'll be hearing about this for the rest of the year.'
'Should've taken the potatoes,' Seamus agreed. 'Who knows where this will lead?'
'Did you hear about the World Cup?' The Irish wizard continued after a few forkfuls.
'Yeah,' Ron griped, 'Ireland won, congratulations.'
'Not that,' Seamus grinned. 'Well a little bit that, but I meant the attacks.'
'We were there,' Hermione broke in. She had, it seemed, recovered from the shock of learning about the house elves enough to begin eating again.
'Harry was in a coma until this morning,' Ron added, 'he got carried out of the camp by one of those beautiful, Bulgarian cheerleaders.' All of the nearby guys turned to give him slightly awed and jealous looks, even Neville.
'You learn that your friend was in a coma and the first thing you do is imagine the cheerleaders.' Hermione shook her head in disbelief. 'I'm going to the library.'
She stalked off leaving her plate half full.
'Wasteful that is,' Ron commented, helping himself to Hermione's plate.
'Imagine what the house elves would think,' Seamus chuckled.
'What was the cheerleader like?' Dean asked, sliding in where Hermione had been.
'Don't remember,' Harry shrugged, 'I was in a coma.'
'I saw them during the game,' Ron embellished, 'they were gorgeous.'
'Hermione said they were veela, apparently they can charm men.' Harry felt he should at least try to defend her viewpoint.
'Anyone that looks like that is going to charm me. Until they grow all this feathers at least.'
'Feathers?' Seamus shot Ron a look of disbelief.
'When they got angry at the end of the match they grew feathers and beaks and started throwing fireballs around. They didn't like that Bulgaria lost,' the red-head explained.
'Is that what started all the fires then?' Neville asked.
'Nah, that was Death Eaters, or people dressed like them,' Ron replied. 'Dad says there was no Dark Mark like they used back in the war, so it might not have been real Death Eaters, just sympathisers.'
'Ministry didn't catch anyone, though,' Neville piped up. 'Gran was furious that they all got away with it. She spent an hour muttering to herself about how useless Fudge is.'
'It doesn't exactly inspire confidence,' Seamus nodded. 'Still, the Irish won, and that's what counts.'
Harry smiled and tried not to remember the ebony basilisk he had conjured from the ash and the dead Death-Eater who he suspected must have been Barty Crouch Junior. He was trying his hardest to forget that, and, when he couldn't, to remind himself that he had only defended himself and killed a wizard who had already been sentenced to worse.
'Let's head back to the common room,' Dean proposed. 'I've got to unpack everything still, but I'm fairly sure I've brought the new exploding snap cards to replace the ones that Lavender lost. Anyone fancy a round or two?'
There was a murmur of mutual consent and the group of them rose to return to Gryffindor Tower.
'Harry,' three familiar voices rang out. He stopped, allowing the others past him to the stairs up to the dormitory.
'Angelina, Alicia, Katie,' he smiled at them each in turn. They looked quite put out.
'Can you believe they've cancelled quidditch,' Katie fumed. 'This was going to be a really important year for us. We needed to start to add new faces to the squad, like a keeper.'
'At least you've got the Triwizard tournament,' Harry placated. 'Eternal glory comes a close second to quidditch, but at a pinch…'
Alicia and Angelina laughed, but Katie continued to fume.
'Are you not going to enter?' Angelina asked. 'I am.'
'No,' Harry declared. 'I'm going for a nice quiet year. No snakes, no dogs, no dementors and hopefully no more trips to Madam Pomfrey either.'
'Fair enough,' Alicia agreed. 'Hogwarts' champion will be from the upper years anyway. We know more than you cute little fourth years.' Harry dodged the attempted pat on the cheek.
'Where do the other two champions come from?' he asked, suddenly curious.
'From Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, they're magical schools in Europe. Some of their students will probably come here to support their champions when we compete.'
'Well good luck, Angelina. I promised the guys I'd play exploding snap with them.'
'Bye, Harry,' they called as he turned away.
Snap didn't last long. Exploding snap games never really did and, despite their attempts to build a pyramid of cards out of both Dean's new pack and the old one that Lavender had rediscovered over the summer, everyone inevitably drifted away.
It left Harry on his own, behind the curtains of his bed, to think. This year had started almost identically to the last three, with the exception of the flying car incident, and for a while he had forgotten his conviction. He had remembered it now. This year might have started the same, but it would be different.
I'll be better, he vowed.
Peter Pettigrew, the one who had betrayed his parents, condemned his godfather to over a decade in Azkaban, and served Voldemort had escaped because he wasn't good enough. He had been the only one with a wand and he'd let the rat get away. It would not happen again. He would bury himself in books if that was what it took.
All summer he had tried to improve himself, to learn everything he should have already known and more. Hermione would not have let Pettigrew get away.
It hadn't been enough.
Harry had advanced far farther than he expected in every area, even potions, but he had still nearly died at the World Cup and had it not been for his inexplicable and terrifying basilisk conjuring he would be.
I have to do better still.
He could test his improvement against his classmates in most areas. As long as he was equal to Hermione that would be acceptable. Harry knew he would never be able to compare with her essay writing skills or general knowledge, but practically casting magic at her level or higher should not be beyond him.
Harry did need to learn how to fight. The disarming spell was useful, but it was also the only combat curse he had. Harry knew you could use transfiguration and conjuration in a duel, but he needed to practice, to learn and to grow before he could consciously do anything remotely useful.
He would be better and by the end of the year. If he ran into Pettigrew again, the little rat wouldn't know what hit him.
AN: Please review, all constructive feedback is more than appreciated.