Chapter 40 – A Cold Day in May

Room of Requirement

Chaos.

His life had become engulfed in chaos.

Severus Snape repressed a shudder as he watched a Grim chase a coyote around the room, that coyote had a Capuchin Monkey riding on its head. The little mischievous monkey was alternating between making faces at the Grim and throwing water balloons at unsuspecting bystanders, where the water balloons came from was anyone's guess at this point. It had been a very busy day so far and the pranking antics were giving him a headache.

The group had finally all been able to meet after a few weeks of conflicts. After the attack on Diagon Alley things had been hectic. He and Remus were almost constantly in meetings or helping with security measures for the events when not teaching so they had not been able to help the kids with their training, leaving it almost entirely in Sirius's hands. Bill had also been absent due to his current assignments with Gringotts. Luckily, Albus and Minerva had demanded that he and Remus take the weekend off from their rigorous schedule. Unfortunately, at least for him, that meant spending his afternoon with eleven teenagers instead of his fiancé and Roderick.

It was a Sunday, the day after Draco's final quidditch match of the year, an event he had almost skipped but went anyway because it was Draco. Had it been a match that did not include Draco or Harry, he would have gleefully spent the day in his quarters doing absolutely nothing. Draco's team had faced off against the Beauxbatons Unicorns and had very narrowly won the match. The Basilisks and Unicorns were very evenly matched in all positions. Neither team had allowed many points, it was seventy to fifty for the Unicorns after an hour and a half of game play and the seekers had yet to get close to the snitch. Draco had been excited for the match because Harry had told him that Aimee Beaucourt was an excellent seeker with incredible speed. The blond Slytherin fought for every edge and sincerely thought he was going to lose when they were finally able to track the snitch long enough to fight for it.

In a move that surprised even him, Draco managed to perform a sloth roll while flying under Aimee and just managed to swipe the snitch as it changed directions suddenly heading the complete opposite direction. It was a move he had once thought only Harry could pull off. Draco had admitted that he looked a lot less graceful doing it when he watched a replay of the catch. The Basilisks had won the match by 140 points and had the snitch simply called the end of the game instead of awarding points, they would have lost by ten points.

Now it was Sunday and he had a free day but instead of doing something calming, he was here. It had been a group decision that they focus on the Animagus transformation instead of dueling, which was fine with him as this was less stressful for the kids. The group had been studying hard, meditating, and channeling their animals, at every opportunity since Harry's surprising transformation during the fifth task. Harry had not been able to help anyone in explaining exactly what had allowed him to finally make the full change, he had only been able to say that he had just known when he had looked at Idris on the platform of the event.

George did not need any help to find his form. He had admitted weeks ago that he felt he was nearly there, and he proved it after they had been in the room for only ten minutes. The quieter twin had taken a few moments to observe his friends before closing his eyes and channeling the coyote. A canine, characterized as the clever trickster, the very animal representation of George Weasley. He finally let go. Where a young man stood a moment before, a red-toned coyote sat, his tongue lolling in a doggy smile.

Fred had stared at his twin, his expression more intense and focused than usual and then a moment later he was a small capuchin with a hint of red in the white sections of his fur. As one, the twins changed back to human, gigantic smiles on their faces.

Before a word could be spoken, they returned to animal form and the insanity began. Sirius was quickly drawn into the madness, transforming into Padfoot, and barking joyously as he gave chase. Draco, not to be outdone, managed a partial transformation and was running around with furry tiger arms and hugging people, rubbing his whiskered cheeks in everyone's hair. His Tiger tail kept smacking people too.

Luna and the Slytherins, who now spent almost all of their free time with the group decided to join in on the water balloon fight.

Harry had transformed into his Griffin form and was using his giant wings as shields while Neville and Hermione hid behind him, shooting paint blobs from their wands over his back before ducking back down to avoid getting soaked.

The only ones not participating were Remus, Fay, Daphne, and himself. He and Daphne had attempted to read but had abandoned that after the first water balloon splashed at their feet. Daphne had since cast a shielding charm around herself and was now glaring at the rowdy group, planning some form of punishment.

He had given up attempting to control this group long ago and had just slumped into her seat, cast a shield, and started planning a surprise for Narcissa, his fiancé was stressed and needed a break.

"Can I kill Fred?" Fay asked immediately after a water balloon pelted her in the face, exploding on impact. It didn't hurt as it was tossed by a tiny monkey but was still annoying.

"As much as I would enjoy killing a few of them," Remus rubbed his temples, "I would regret it in a few days, so no, you can't kill Fred."

"Draco?"

"No."

"Theo?"

"No," he sighed, "you also can't kill Padfoot, George, Neville, or Blaise."

"Why didn't you say Harry, Hermione or Luna?"

"None of those three have aimed at you."

"Fair point," the little werewolf frowned, "can I maim one of them?"

Instead of answering, Remus gave her a look. For the 'nice' one, Remus had an impressive glare, especially on the day of the full moon. "ENOUGH!" Remus's voice reverberated around the room and each and every one of the miscreants froze. "I have a headache and Fay is currently contemplating murder," he glanced at Daphne, "and I really don't want to know what miss Greengrass is planning for you."

Sirius transformed back into a man, "Fair enough, Moony," he too glanced at Daphne and shuddered, "and please remind me to not irritate miss Greengrass. Her father is terrifying when he gets that look in his eyes and I get the feeling she will be even more formidable."

In answer, Daphne merely raised an eyebrow, causing several individuals in the room to reevaluate their priorities when it came to spontaneous fun.

"I think," Hermione said, leaning her head on Harry's now human shoulder, "that we should congratulate our friends who succeeded in their transformation and perhaps, give them their Marauder names."

"Fantastic idea, Miss Granger," Sirius said, attempting to sound serious while bouncing on his toes, glee painted on his face.

"Before you go any farther, Snuffles," the brunette stared him down, "if anyone suggests feather brain for Harry, they will have to face me."

Sirius raised his arms, "I wouldn't even dare, but keep in mind, Marauder names are not meant to be too serious. I say we put names forward and then vote, Harry will not have a say."

"King," Hermione shouted out before anyone else could comment.

"Lightning-beak," was Draco's idea.

"Sky Lord," Neville suggested.

"Shadow-tail, you know because he is a black lion."

George rolled his eyes at his twin, "Too obvious my attractive twin. Talon."

"Darkwing," Sirius grinned.

Harry turned his face into Hermione's hair, "Do you think he watched it or is it a coincidence?"

"Coincidence, he would be far more obnoxious if he had seen Darkwing Duck."

"What are the chances that will end up being my name?"

Hermione looked around at their friends, "high, Fred and George have abandoned their ideas and Luna is grinning deliriously. The truly horrible thing is I think Fay has seen Darkwing Duck so she will vote for that and then introduce it to Sirius at some point."

"I'm doomed then?"

"I would expect a Darkwing Duck costume for your griffin in the near future. Perhaps one for you to wear at Halloween as well."

While they were having this conversation, Sirius had called it to a vote. It was nearly unanimous; Harry would forever be known as Darkwing. Fay had in fact seen the cartoon, thanks to her grandparents, because she coughed 'duck' under her breath when Sirius announced their decision.

"What should we call our illustrious twins?" Remus started them off this time.

"Bobo," Hermione grinned, "For Fred."

"Cheeks," George pushed his twin.

"Banana breath," Draco rolled his eyes.

Harry winked at Hermione, "Abu."

Sirius looked at Harry, that reference he did catch. The former resident of Azkaban LOVED Disney movies because they were so cheerful. Hermione had made it a point to have their 'family' watch them so they could see what she grew up with in terms of fairy tales. "No vote, Fred is now Abu!"

"Wrong type of monkey," Hermione and Fay both said at the same time.

"True," Remus agreed, "but that doesn't mean it wouldn't be hilarious to dress him up in a vest and fez. Maybe give him some tiny cymbals while we're at it."

The girls shared and look, "Agreed, but definitely no cymbals," Hermione shuddered, "I can already imagine him trying to drive us crazy with them."

"Do you have any idea what they are talking about?" Theo asked his fellow Slytherins.

"I am as confused as you are," Daphne frowned in irritation.

"I get the monkey reference," Blaise sighed, "It's from a children's movie made by muggles; if I'm being honest, it's rather entertaining. I have no idea what is so funny about Darkwing though."

"And this nickname business?"

"That I can answer," Theo pipped up at Daphne's question. "It's a tradition of sorts. Professor Lupin, Mister Black and Harry's father were pranksters back in school and gave each other silly nicknames or codenames. I believe they were somehow inspired by their animagus forms."

Blaise blinked, "They managed the transformation in school? Without help?" He knew they weren't registered, at least not on any public record and, had it been known when he was arrested, Sirius's form would have been put on a public record.

"It shouldn't be that surprising," Daphne shrugged gracefully, "Harry, Fred and George have all managed it with the help of mister Black. There is only a slight problem with your explanation though," she glanced toward their defense professor. "Professor Lupin is not an animagus."

"That I can't explain," Theo admitted.

"But I can see that Miss Greengrass can or at least has a theory," Severus had walked up behind his snakes, to see just what they were whispering about. "I would hope that you not share anything you learn here without permission. There are those who wish people in this room harm and the best way to get to most of them is to cause harm to one of the others here."

The trio nodded, "My father has shared a number of things with me, I have known that particular secret since third year. My father has no problem with it, and I have no intention of allowing a subpar teacher to take his place."

"Quite logical," the potions master nodded, "If either of you ever realize what they are hiding, I expect the same discretion."

"You have my word professor," Theo agreed solemnly.

"Had I wanted to say anything, I would have said it over the Yule holiday," the young Italian shrugged. "It wasn't that hard to figure out, especially when you know who his foreign friends are. My family has business dealings with Marcello Giovanni, who was invited as Professor Lupin's guest for his New Year's party."

"Do not let me down," Severus spoke quietly, but his tone brokered no arguments.

While the Slytherins had been talking, the rest of the group had been discussing the brilliance of Aladdin and the humorous antics of Darkwing Duck, or at least he supposed they were meant to be humorous considering all the laughing that was happening as a result of Fay's tales. The dignified man rolled his eyes, "Can we continue this madness or am I allowed to leave?"

"Right you are my friend, though it is very strange for me to call you friend," Sirius laughed at himself, "it is time to pick a name for twin number two. Ideas?"

"Rusty."

"Yips."

"Toto."

"Puddles," Harry suggested, not really serious about the idea but he thought it would get a chuckle. Inevitably the twins and Sirius laughed hard.

"It's too bad that hyena in the Lion King is named Ed, if his name was better it would be perfect for George," Fay sighed. "I know, Chucky!"

"The murder doll or the baby?" Blaise wondered.

"I was going for the baby, because of the hair. How do you know about the murder doll? That movie is rated for 18 or older!"

The Italian boy raised an eyebrow, "Do you honestly think my grandfather cared what I watched when I was with him? Mother wasn't too concerned about me being scared by movies either. There are far more terrifying things happening at the compound than any muggle could come up with. I thought Child's Play was rather amusing."

"Your response scares me," Fay admitted. "I kind of want to rescind my idea because now I will be thinking of the murder doll instead of the goofy baby whenever that name is said."

"What about Wakko?" Harry wondered. "Isn't that a character from some cartoon?"

Hermione nodded, "The Anamaniacs. Which almost makes me want to suggest Pinky and the Brain, but I like Abu too much to change Fred's name."

Remus chuckled, "I believe we have a winner," he had been watching the reactions and Wakko got the best one. "Forever more, our Coyote will be known as Wakko!"

Neville leaned into Hermione and stage whispered so everyone could hear, "This discussion makes me a little afraid of what I'm going to be saddled with when my time comes."

"I was afraid the moment Harry said he wanted to become an animagus," the brunette admitted. "I knew Sirius would take over just like this."

Severus allowed a small smile to cross his face; time and again, Hermione Granger proved she was smart beyond her years.

Grimmauld Place

Sirius Black stood at the hearth of the fireplace within the Black library, lost in thought. He wanted to be elsewhere, anywhere else if he was honest. Grimmauld Place may have been redecorated but it still held terrible memories.

His life was a mess despite the positive changes. While he may not still be locked in a cell for crimes he did not commit, he felt as though he was still imprisoned by circumstance. He was stuck, fighting against two forms of one man that wanted to bring the wizarding world to its knees at the expense of everything pure, at the expense of his godson. If it weren't for Tom Riddle, he would be out, trying to convince a young widow that he was good enough for her but most importantly he was good enough to be in her son's life; if he wasn't good enough to be around her kid, she would never let him stick around. Instead, he was here, in his family home trying to come up with a way to protect those most important to him.

His reasons for living were outside his home, away from the memories of the past. Harry was his reason for surviving. Remus was his shoulder, his support. Narcissa was his ally. Fred and George were his humor. Hermione was his reminder that he was right to look beyond his family's beliefs. Severus was the proof that people could change.

And then there was Liz and Chris. The mother and son were becoming his hope. He knew that he shouldn't be that focused on her as they had only just met but he couldn't help it. She was just so different from everyone he had ever known. Sirius had told her more than he should have, shared his dark past, but she had not run away. Liz had appreciated the fact that he had shared his shame and her son thought he was hilarious. Harry may have always been his hope for the future, but they were a different kind of hope. Liz and Chris were his own personal hope. A hope that he might have a chance at a family of his own, a chance to be a husband and father. That might sound creepy and a bit like he was a stalker, but he knew that if she didn't want him, he would let her go. He would never force his darkness on someone that pure.

He needed to buckle down and find a way to end this. His family would always fight. Not simply to survive but because the darkness would come for them no matter what they did or said. They needed a plan, an answer. The answer had been in front of him since the attack on the Alley, but he hadn't wanted to think about it.

Atonement.

This had traditionally been the Black family's way of ensuring that justice was served. He should have thought of it before Andy and Cissy, but he had been too afraid to chance the potential repercussions, too afraid of his history and his inner turmoil. He might play at being recovered, but he was still damaged, still fighting back the darkness that plagued him. It was not that he didn't think their cause was just, there really was no question there, but he had spent his childhood listening to how his ancestors had screwed up. Though his cousins didn't know it, Bella's insanity was a result of a Black seeking revenge instead of justice through Atonement. His own mother had been affected by the consequences too. While most of the family thought the consequences of casting for the wrong reason were immediate, he knew, as did every head before him, that there were lasting difficulties. He hadn't wanted to even think about what could potentially happen to Harry or Draco if magic deemed their cause unjust, not to mention what would certainly happen to him or his cousins.

"Sirius," Narcissa called quietly from her seat on the divan behind him, "what is troubling you?"

"I would like to know why he called us here," Andromeda grumbled. She was doing well considering she had lost the lower part of her wand arm only weeks before. One good thing about being raised by the Black family of their youth was that you were trained ruthlessly and relentlessly. All of them had been forced to become adept at casting with both hands. Though slightly out of practice, Andromeda was progressing quickly. "Why just us? Where are Severus and Remus? What about Dora and the Nott boys?"

The head of the Black family sighed; it was time. "I have been avoiding the obvious out of fear." He knew he was talking very quietly but he could barely get the words out, "It is time to take the chance."

Andy quirked an eyebrow as he turned, "What do you mean?"

"Atonement," he sighed. "We can end him if we get the chance, you were right about that. My question for you is, do we teach the kids too?"

"Nymphadora deserves to know," Narcissa said before her sister could. "That girl has proven herself time and time again. She is an Auror and in my opinion, she is incapable of seeking vengeance."

"My daughter became an Auror to right wrongs and protect the little guy," Andy nodded, "I think she can handle this emotionally and she definitely has the power requirements."

"What about Draco?"

Narcissa nodded, "Had you asked me that a year ago my answer would have been different. My son is a different person now that his father is no longer in his life. His relationship with Harry and the Gryffindors has changed him for the better, as hard as that is to say for a true Slytherin. I think he will be able to handle the responsibility as long as he understands the enormity of the consequences."

"Harry should be taught as well," Andromeda added before Sirius could respond. "His grandmother was a Black, he should be Black enough to perform it and if there is anyone pure hearted enough to have this knowledge and use it properly it is that boy."

Sirius nodded, "That was my opinion, but I wanted yours as well. My only concern is that Harry is not the child of a Black and grandfather made it clear that your parent needed to be a Black."

"You are his godfather," Narcissa rolled her eyes.

"We didn't perform the ceremony," he sighed. "There wasn't time. Typically, you wait until the first birthday for that but that was when the Potters kept getting attacked. We couldn't keep them hidden long enough to plan something like that. Once we decided on using the Fidelius we decided that we would perform the ceremony on the winter solstice, but obviously that didn't happen."

"So do the ceremony now," Andy shook her head like it was the most obvious conclusion. "It will bring him into the family magics more securely and will prove to you and the ministry that you only have his best intentions in mind. You don't need to wait for a magically important day, any day is important if your goal is to create a stronger family bond. The fact that he is a grandson of a Black should be enough, but you are right that we should not take any chances with this."

"Agreed," the blonde woman stood, "You should do it this weekend, after the sixth task. If he is injured at all, the ceremony will help heal him too. Remus, Aria, Severus, and myself could stand as witness and I am sure that Albus would consent to preforming the ceremony. He will probably say it was long overdue with that obnoxious twinkle in his eyes."

"And then we can start training the three of them the next day. He should be fully integrated into the family magic after he sleeps."

Sirius pulled Narcissa into a hug, "Thank you for being here." He looked to Andy, his heart in his eyes, "I don't think I could do this without you. Remus may be my brother, but he lacks the Black mindset. He doesn't understand our family traditions and I can't share certain things with him because he is not blood. We should never have let this war tear our family apart. Blacks are stronger when they stand together." He released his cousin and started to pace. "This family will survive this, even if it is just our children who see the light at the end of the tunnel. Riddle will be defeated, or we will all be dead and buried in the fight to bring him down. I will not let him survive this and I will use every weapon I have at my disposal."

The Head of House Black made his way to the back of the library, "It is time for us to act like a house under siege. Blacks do not let insurgents lock them down, we fight. No one leaves this house, or Hogwarts grounds without being fully prepared to fight for your life. You carry a spare wand no matter where you are, wards or not."

"We should also pull out our dragon hide armor," Narcissa stood next to him, a concealed door between them. Together they tapped the wall on either side of the hidden chamber with their wands. The wall disappeared, revealing the Black armory. "We should also arm our closest allies."

The trio walked into the room, examining the collection of Black battle gear. Narcissa walked directly to the dragon hide and pulled down a cloak, it was the one their grandfather had made for her during the first war just in case things got any worse. He had insisted on her keeping it at Grimmauld in the armory so that no one else could use it; she guessed that he didn't want her former husband to gift it to one of the Dark Lords generals. The door could only be opened with the Head and one other Elder of the family. The fact that those three were considered Elders of the family when not one of them was even close to fifty was sad and said more about the last war than any other statistic. Riddle did not value the oldest families. She also pulled down two dragon hid coats and two vests.

"I think these will fit Draco and Harry." She examined the wall of dragon hide garments, "We may want to commission more so that we can make sure all the kids are covered."

Andromeda walked up next to her, "I think our old vests and jackets should fit Hermione and Fay." She grabbed the garments, "The issue is going to be the Nott boys. We just don't have enough. We should try to cover the younger kids first, right?"

"Fred and George won't stand down even if ordered," Sirius agreed. "They are far too protective of Harry to allow him to fight without them. Neville is the same."

"I will talk to Augusta," Narcissa decided, "I am sure they have at least some dragon hide armor because of Frank and Alice. Maybe something they have will fit the Nott boys or the twins." She tilted her head considering, "I should also speak with Don Zabini; he will undoubtedly have more armor and may be willing to kit out our group because we are working to destroy the man who killed his only daughter."

"Lord Greengrass probably has some armor for his daughters, he may have something from the past we can use as well," Andromeda may have abandoned her family after Hogwarts, but she did know how the old families functioned. It came back quickly when she was given back her family heritage.

"I'll talk to Bill Weasley as well. I know he has dragon hide for himself but maybe he has an old jacket one of his brothers could wear. Gringotts takes care of its curse breakers and dragon hide is standard issue." Sirius called from the end of the room, before him was a chest full of wands. "Start testing wands," he nodded to the chest, "If you can't find one here, I can pull some from the Potter vaults too."

"Shall I take this to the school so the kids can start testing wands too?" Narcissa ask as she picked up an elegant wand from the chest. She knew it had belonged to Aunt Cassiopeia. As a child, she had borrowed the wand often, so she knew it worked well for her.

Sirius nodded, "Please do, I'll have the Nott boys check before you leave here today."

"Dora already caries a spare, Amelia Bones demanded that all Aurors start carrying a spare when things started getting bad; said it should have been standard procedure all along but the man in the Head Auror position thought it unnecessary."

Sirius nodded as he headed to the wall of dragon hide. His hand brushed over Regulus's last coat sadly, it would fit Remus relatively well. His best friend was still skinny, much as his little brother had always been. His father's dragon hide would be perfect for Severus.

"Do we carry blades?" Narcissa wondered.

Sirius turned to see her staring at the other weapons in the room. The Black family had taken good care of its bladed weapons. There were probably a hundred knives and swords on the wall opposite the armor, all of it polished and exceptionally sharp. "May as well; if you can conceal a knife it might just save your life as most dark idiots don't expect a physical attack." He snagged a black handled knife his grandfather had favored. "I am sure Severus would agree."

"He would," the man's fiancé agreed. "You need to call a meeting with our allies. They need to be made aware of the fact that we are taking the fight to him, to both versions of him." She met his gaze head on, "Let them decide how they will respond. One of them will need to remain out of the fight just in case we both fall so that we still have a leader to speak to the Wizengamot. I would suggest both Silas Greengrass and Lady Augusta, but it will be up to them to decide."

"Honestly," Sirius sighed, "I doubt any of the founding families will chose to fight physically. We are the youngest of them and the ones with the most to fight for. Some of our other allies may offer the help of younger members of their family but I do not want to force anyone to put their wand forward. We are Blacks and we are always prepared to fight for our family."

Andromeda wrapped her arm around her cousin, "You are brining honor to a family that I once thought had none. You have shown me that anyone can change and that the past does not have to decide your future. I am proud of you Sirius."

Sirius rested his chin on her shoulder, "Thank you for believing in me, Andy, Cissy."

"I always have, Siri, and I always will."

Narcissa leaned into them, sighing in contentment. The Black family would fight. They would not rest until Tom Riddle was dead.

Slytherin House

Draco shoved Blaise out of the room with a laugh. It had become his mission in life to attempt to make the Italian smile at least once a day. While Draco could never understand what it was like to lose a beloved parent, he could imagine how he would react if he lost his mother. Heck, Draco was fairly certain he would be a mess when his father passed, even if he wanted nothing to do with the power-hungry bigot who was rotting in prison.

As always, Blaise rolled his eyes at all of Draco's attempts to bring amusement into his life. Blaise had explained, in great detail, that he was not ready or willing to be anything other than angry until Voldemort was completely dead. It was the Zabini way, revenge before mourning.

"Come on you two," Theo yelled down the hall. He was waiting in the common room with Daphne and a good portion of the house. "We are supposed to meet Hermione in ten minutes, and you know she will give us homework or something if we are late."

"Shut it, Theo. Hermione is not going to give you homework, but she might lecture you because it will take her mind off of the danger Harry is going to be in this afternoon." Daphne often questioned why she associated with any of her house members, but if not them, then she would be completely alone. She really needed to work on getting some of the other girls in her house to have an actual opinion of their own.

"Now that I can see," Draco dropped an arm around Theo's shoulder. "She is more than a bit crazy when she is worried about Harry." The quartet made their way through the room, headed for the hall that would lead them through the castle and to the grounds. Before they could exit their common room, Draco noticed Vincent Crabbe.

Vince sat in one of the armchairs near the fire. While it was relatively warm for Scotland in May, it was still chilly in the Slytherin common room. The husky teen sat, brooding over some parchment, looking almost lost. This was new for the often-simple young man. Vincent Crabbe was known for his love of food, mocking those less fortunate and generally not caring. He didn't care about school, didn't participate in anything, and didn't really get along with anyone anymore. When he started Hogwarts, he was close with Greg Goyle and followed Draco around like a loyal dog, mostly because that is what he had always done because his father told him to. But time changes everything.

The first to leave the trio was Draco. The former Malfoy had stopped listening to his father's every word and started to actually pay attention to the world around him. Crabbe saw that Draco was happier than he used to be so maybe thinking for yourself was better for you in the long run. That summer changed Greggory Goyle. His father's arrest after the events of the world cup changed the other boy. Greg didn't find joy in the things he used to and started taking his studies seriously. The change freaked Vince out.

"Draco?" Daphne looked over her shoulder seeing Draco had stopped. "Are you coming?"

Draco bit his lip, looking back and forth between his friends and the lone boy by the fire. He took one step toward the door but then shook his head. "Go on without me, there is something I need to do." And there was something he needed to do. He might not be close with Vince anymore, but they had been friends, or at least friendly, for a long time. The blond made his way to the frowning boy and dropped down into an open chair. "Are you alright, Vince?"

Vincent Crabbe jumped, startled by the intrusion. "Hey, Draco." He looked up briefly, only to drop his gaze back to the parchment gripped in his hands.

Draco waited, hoping to get a response but one never came. He sighed, "I know, we haven't really talked in a while, but I am still here if you need me. I've noticed you have been kind of quiet recently and I just wanted to make sure you were alright."

The other boy just shrugged.

"Greg mentioned that you got a letter from your father the other day. He said you seemed troubled when you read it. Is everything alright with your mother?"

"She's fine."

"Your grandparents?"

"They're fine too."

"Your dad?"

Vince shrugged again. "He's happy enough. He asked me to do something, but I don't know if I should."

"Do you want to do it?"

"I kind of have been for a long time but now it's not just for the fun of it. There could be consequences."

"Is it dangerous?"

"Not really but it also could be."

"Could you get hurt by doing it?"

"No. Not by him. But if I did it and it got out and things didn't go the way my dad wanted then I could get in serious trouble for doing it."

"I take it other people could get hurt?"

"In a roundabout way, yes."

Draco nodded. While he might not know the details, he was fairly sure he knew what Vince's dad had asked him to do. It was the same thing every Death Eater asked their kid to do when they entered Hogwarts. Evaluate all students in your year and house and report which follow the path, which could be turned, and which are beyond redemption. Draco had sent his father reports for the first few months of school in first year but had stopped after the yule holiday when his father failed to even comment on Draco's assessment. The fact that he wasn't scolded for not turning in reports for the remainder of that year just meant he had made the right decision to stop. Vince it seemed had not stopped. Maybe his father had actually been grateful or praised his son.

"I can't make that decision for you Vince. I know what I think you should do but I can't force my thoughts and beliefs on you; I think our parents have done that enough. What I can say is that if you are having doubts about this mission, then it might not be the right thing for you." He looked at the other boy. Vince had lost weight. His face used to be a lot rounder and it had made him look younger, like he was still carrying all his baby fat. Now he just looked tired and perhaps a little sick. "Think about what you want and do that. I know you haven't talked to Greg since the beginning of the year because your father forbade it but was that really what you wanted?"

Vince shook his head. "I miss hanging out with Greg."

"Do you want to follow the man that killed Pansy's mom?"

"No."

"Do you want to side with the man who is going to have the full force of Blaise's family after him? They killed his mom too. And they weren't just aiming at adults. Several kids were taken to St. Mungo's after the attack on the Alley."

"I don't want to kill kids. It is one thing to kill someone in the middle of battle, at least you know they are aiming to hurt you too, but kids can't do that."

Draco stood and put a hand on Vince's shoulder, "Then don't do it. Your dad will hand over anything you send him to that mad man. They will use that information to gain entry to the school or to target families who just want to live their lives in peace."

"But what about our traditions?"

The blond blinked, "Did your dad tell you that the only way to keep our traditions was to follow Voldy?" Draco sighed when the other boy nodded, "You really need to pay attention to the papers once and a while. My mom and cousin Sirius may be trying to change a few things in our society, but they are doing it while honoring tradition. Uncle Sirius may not care about tradition, but you know my mom does. The traditions honored at the manor growing up were not a result of my father's planning but at my mother's insistence. Heck, from what I have been able to gather looking at the records, Voldy has done more to destroy our traditions than anyone else, but don't take my word for it. Do the research or talk to one of the older students."

"What will I do if I don't do what he asks? He will kill me."

"Then you find somewhere else to stay. You could probably stay with me. Or I am sure Greg's mom would take you in. Blaise's grandfather might even consent to let you stay with them. You have options as long as you ask and don't try to double-cross us. We have a couple of really scary elves that would love to capture a traitor."

Vince wasn't sure if he should laugh or cringe at the mention of scary elves. Draco had given him a lot to think about, but it wasn't Draco he wanted advice from. It was time to mend the bridge between him and Greg.

Tournament Field

Hermione stood at the railing of the stands staring out at the arena Harry would have to compete in. It should have been surprising, but they had guessed correctly. What else would you need an ice pick for?

She had come down early with Harry and the other champions; the organizers, most likely through Percy, would be explaining a few things about the task. Hopefully, there would be some safety measures in place in case things went wrong inside the tournament field.

"Is that a giant snow globe?" Ron asked, surprising Hermione. They really didn't talk that much anymore other than the occasional group event. Ron seemed to be much happier spending time with Seamus and Dean.

"Yes, it is."

"Why didn't they do this event in January? I mean it was already snowing so they wouldn't have really needed to make snow and the lake is bloody cold in April, so it had to be icy in the middle of winter."

"I don't have a good answer for you, Ron. Logic seems to be lost on wizards."

"Come on, Hermione," he bumped her shoulder with a grin, "you're the know-it-all bookworm of the Gryffindors, you've got to have a better answer than lack of logic; you used that in first year."

She rolled her eyes at him, Ron saying those words two years ago would have really hurt but now that they weren't as close, she could see the joke behind them, at least most of the time; sometimes she thought he called her a know-it-all just to see how poorly she would react. It also helped that she didn't feel the need to hound him to get his homework done. "Fine, then perhaps they decided that it would be best for the contestants to have a warmer climate for when the exited this arena. If the snow globe is cold enough then the organizers might have thought that the difference in temperature would have been better for the contestants after they completed the task. While not an entirely bad idea, it would have been better had they chosen March or April. Too much of a temperature shift can actually be worse for the body than remaining in a cold environment for a bit longer than anticipated. We have magic so there would be no fear of hypothermia as the tasks aren't really long enough for that to set in unless someone fell into a frozen lake but there are healers on hand if something drastic were to happen."

"You lost me, but that definitely sounded more like a Hermione Granger response."

"I am glad so I could be of service," she said, her voice dripping with sarcasm.

Ron slung an arm around her shoulder with a chuckle, "We are much better friends like this aren't we, Herms?"

"Herms?" She looked at him, more than a bit disturbed by the nickname, "Herms? Why would you shorten my name to Herms?"

"I don't know," Ron shrugged, not seeing the danger of this particular line of thinking, or his brothers standing behind him exchanging money. "I thought it was more of a buddy name and thought Mione sounded funny. Come one Herms, your name is a mouthful."

Hermione felt her eye twitch as she stared at the youngest male Weasley and wondered if he actually had any sense of self-preservation.

"Ickle Ronnie-kins," Fred said grabbing his little brother's shoulders and pulling him backward, away from a clearly irritated Hermione Granger and placing him in a headlock.

"How are you this fine Saturday?" George slid between Ron and Hermione.

"Oi, get off me," Ron grumbled, "and do you have to call me that?"

"I don't know, Georgie, do we have to call him ickle Ronnie-kins?"

"Good question, Frederick. We don't have to, but then again, he insists on calling the lovely miss Granger Herms."

"Too right, dear twin." Fred looked down at Ron, "Yes, we do have to call you that."

"If you call Hermione Herms, we call you ickle Ronnie-kins."

"But you've been calling me that for years and today is the first time I've called her Herms."

"He is correct, George."

George nodded, "Well, yes, but we really only call him ickle Ronnie-kins after he does something stupid"

"Ah, yes, you're right. We try to save him from himself by drawing attention away from the idiotic thing he says by embarrassing him."

"So, you see, Ronnie," George grinned, "we will call you that as long as you do something that could cause you pain. You often open your mouth and say things that will get you hexed and we did promise Percy that we would look out for you, since he is no longer here to do so what with his job at the ministry."

"We're just trying to train you so that when we are gone too, Hermione doesn't kill you for being obnoxious."

"Or Fay."

"Or Katie."

"Let us not forget our short-tempered sister."

"And the entire house of Slytherin."

"Ravenclaws find him annoying as well."

"So basically, we are trying to protect you from everyone but Lavender."

"Too true, we don't think you need protecting from Lav Lav," the duo made kissing faces.

"Hermione," George wondered, "have we succeeded in saving our dear younger brother from a hexing on this fine morning?"

The brunette shook her head, fighting a laugh. "You two are utterly ridiculous."

"Yes, I believe that is the point; but are you still going to hex Ron?"

"No, Fred, Ron will live to stick his foot in his mouth another day."

The twins high-fived, "Best big brothers ever," they said in unison.

"Actually, I thought that was my title."

The quartet turned to see Bill standing behind them.

"Darn," Fred sighed.

"Indeed, Bill is correct. He is the best big brother ever. He just had to show up and steal our thunder."

"So cruel, Bill," Fred whipped his cheek as though he was swiping away a tear.

"Couldn't let us have a moment."

"I think I need a hug."

"I do too."

"Will you hug me, Gred?"

"Of course, Forge."

The twins fell on each other, pretending to sob.

"How do you stand them?" Ron asked, once again standing next to Hermione. "You spend way more time with them than I do, and when I am at home, I can only stand about two minutes of them before I have to hide."

Hermione shrugged, "They make Harry smile, so I do my best to ignore the chaos. Plus, I think they have learned my moods and know when to turn it off."

"So, you aren't irritated at them right now?" Bill wondered.

"They do something before every task to try to distract me. The more bizarre they act, the less I focus on what could possibly kill Harry this time while I am incapable of helping him."

"They plan this stuff?" Ron wondered, awe in his voice. "I thought they were just crazy."

"No, Ron, they are far from crazy." Bill placed a comforting hand on his youngest brother's shoulder, "If I'm being honest, those two have the potential to do so much more than I could ever imagine. You should see their grades since Remus and Sirius had a talk with them. They are actually near the top of their year, George is fourth and Fred is eleventh or twelfth," the fourth years looked at Bill in shock. "Sirius said they had to pass their NEWTs, or they wouldn't get to use the building Sirius bought in the Alley for their store. Knowing Remus would be watching, they have actually been trying instead of turning in rushed work that covers the bare minimum."

"Did you hear that, George?"

"I did indeed, Bill is sharing our secrets."

"How should we punish him?"

"Can we punish him?"

"I don't suppose we can. If we make him too mad, he won't let us stay with him."

"And if we can't stay with him, then we have to stay at home with mom," they both shuddered.

"We might be able to stay with Harry."

"Yes, but Aunt Cissy is pregnant, and I don't want to cross her."

"Too true. Why is it that all the women in Harry's life are downright scary?"

"Don't know; he kind of deserves scary, protective people in his life though, doesn't he?"

"Right." George straightened. "You win this round, Bill. I am going to go find my girlfriend and see what pranks she has been dreaming up."

Fred watched his twin walk away wistfully, "I wish my girlfriend didn't hate my pranking."

"Well, I'm going to find Lavender. Are you going to sit with the Lions or with your strange group of everyone?"

Hermione watched Fred walk away for a second, "I'm not sure, Ron. Would Draco, Theo and Blaise be welcome?" Their group had adopted the Italian after his mother's death. They forced their company on him so that now he just sought them out to simplify things. Seeing him pause with a constipated look on his face, she shook her head, "Neville, Fay and I will be sitting with our group; if you can handle being around that many Slytherins then you can sit in our section but there will also probably be a few professors, including professor Snape."

"I think I'll pass," he said before waving and running off.

"How are you holding up, Miss Granger?" Bill asked.

"I'm… fine," she shrugged, unable to find the right word. "It shouldn't be too bad in there. I think they are all competing at the same time and, if so, I know they won't let anything happen to him if they can help it. Plus, it's Harry; he somehow manages to come out of everything, impressing the hell out of even his biggest sceptics."

Bill nodded with a smile, "And how is Rah doing this morning?" he could see the snake peeking out from Hermione's robes.

"He's frustrated," Hermione smiled and patted the boomslang's head. "At least I think he is. Harry told me that Rah said the judges are cruel and biased for not letting him join Harry. Parselmouth wizards are meant to have their snake familiars with them."

"Rah went on a long rant about intolerance this morning," Neville added joining Hermione at the railing of the stands. "Barring a snake from aiding his Speaker is discriminatory toward the wizard and the snake. He is highly insulted," the Gryffindor grinned. "It is really strange listening to a snake and a Parselmouth have long conversations. I could tell Rah was agitated, he was basically pacing as he hissed. Apparently, I have been spending enough time with him to be able to tell the difference between normal conversational hissing and irritated/angry hissing."

"Lucky," Draco nudged Neville aside so he could stand next to Hermione, or perhaps because of Rah. "Has Harry made any headway into making me able to talk to snakes? Rah and I really need to be allowed to bond properly." The Slytherin ran a hand over Rah's head, "Come bond with cousin Draco," he held his arm up to Hermione's shoulder so the snake could choose who to sit on during the task; it was not a surprise to anyone that he flicked his tongue on Hermione's cheek and then proceeded to slither down Draco's arm to the coil around his shoulders and neck. "How is my serpent buddy doing today?"

"I have seen this before," Blaise said in his usual dignified tone, "but I still find it unnerving that a child of such a prestigious family can become so flamboyant around a serpent." He looked to Rah when he hissed, "I will admit that you are a glorious creature, but I see no need to lose my dignity when I see you."

"And this is why I say Blaise needs to relax," Theo placed an arm around the Italian. His persona had become even more emotionless since his mother's murder. "Rah is awesome and we are Slytherins, my friend; show some house loyalty."

"Fay, Luna" Hermione looked to the two girls who had just arrived at their position, "Save me from idiot boys."

"Hey," Neville said in feigned insult.

Hermione patted his back; Draco had moved over toward the seats to coo over Rah while Theo tried to make Blaise relax. "You are the only one who doesn't drive me to distraction, Nev, but a girl still needs female company for time to time."

Bill shook his head at the antics of the teenagers. He missed being able to forget about his responsibilities like that. "Perhaps we should start taking our seats? It is starting to get crowded and there are quite a few members of our group still missing. If we don't get seats now, they might not be able to sit with us."

"That is actually why I came over here," Fay grinned. "Ilya is with Remus and Aria; they have seats in the next section over. There is also a rather large, Grim looking dog with them." She winked at Hermione, "for some reason, people are afraid to get near Padfoot."

Hermione shook her head, imagining the childish man purposely chasing after people who walk away in fear of his animagus form. "I suppose he is a good deterrent, even if it is just a little cruel."

"Not everyone is falling for it," Luna smiled serenely. "Little Brendan, the boy who won Harry's broom, and his father came to see the task and wanted to sit with Harry's friends. He took one look at Padfoot and asked his dad for a dog. He has been hanging onto the silly dog ever since."

The Gryffindor bookworm found herself shaking her head once more, "We are never going to hear the end of this now. He won't just be waking everyone else up as a dog anymore, he will decide to greet us as a dog now too."

True enough, when the group made it to their blocked-out seating, there was a large Grim running around with a small six-year-old on his furry heels. Hogwarts students and guests to the school were giving those seats a wide berth, hoping to avoid a creature that looked so much like an omen of death. The students could see that Remus was fighting his own amusement with the situation; while he was an educator, he had spent some of his happiest years with the man turned dog. For Sirius and Remus to be that carefree considering their past was somewhat of a miracle.

"Oh, come on, you mut," Severus somehow managed to growl and sigh in exasperation at the same time, "must you always make a spectacle of yourself? Do you even know the meaning of dignity?"

"He knows the definition," Narcissa sighed, "if he didn't, he wouldn't take such great pleasure in being undignified."

The grim paused in his game of chase to look at his cousin, his tongue lolling outside in a doggie grin. A moment later, Sirius Black the man stood there in his worn jeans and t-shirt. "I will have you know; I believe the wizarding world would be better off if we were a little less dignified." He scooped Brendan into his arms as the young boy ran by, "We would be a lot more relaxed if we were."

"Sit down you idiot," Remus chuckled, "and tell me about this date I've heard so much about."

The teens and adults froze, their attention slowly coming to complete focus on the man in question.

"Did Sir Moony say date?" Fred asked while throwing an arm around Sirius's shoulder.

"He did," George agreed, Nicole at his side nodding.

"You've been holding out on us, Padfoot," Fay mock glared at the man, who appeared to be blushing. "Talk."

"I don't know what you are talking about," he passed Brendan to his father and slid into the seat next to Remus, pointedly avoiding Fay and the twins and glaring at his best friend. "We should all sit; this thing is going to start any minute."

Fay opened her mouth to argue but Ilya put his hand over her mouth while pulling her down to the seat beside him, Hermione dropping down on her other side.

"I suggest you all look to the judges stand," Hermione nodded toward the special box, "It appears that one of our normal judges is missing."

The group looked to the judges to see Ludo Bagman stepping forward his wand at his throat to amplify his voice. Behind him, the three headmasters stood with Percy Weasley, not Crouch. Percy looked just a little green.

"Good afternoon witches and wizards," Bagman declared, "and welcome to the sixth task of the Triwizard tournament. As I am sure many of you have guest, today our contestants will brave the bitter cold inside this giant snow globe. I am proud to announce that all of the contestants guessed correctly about the field of competition despite the fact that we only gave them one clue. All four champions showed up today fully kitted out in some very warm clothes meant for snowstorms so there is no need for anyone to worry that they will freeze to death," the man chuckled under his breath.

"They will have to collect four keys while making their way up the mountain in the middle of a blizzard." He let that sink in, nodding as though he knew what they audience was thinking. "Each key will have to be found in order because they will open doors blocking their way up the mountain. To add a challenge, each contestant will only be allowed to cast warming charms, levitation spells, Lumos, Incendios, Accios and Bombardas. They will be allowed one additional curse or spell of their repertoire, but it must be found in the standard book of spells series. Any spell outside those will be a deduction to their final score. All spells must be cast vocally so that everyone is assured that the contestants are following the spell rules of this event. Additionally, it was decided that Mr. Potter would have to stick to regularly worded spells, no Parseltongue so that we know he doesn't cast more than the allotted seven. Miss Delacour and Mister Potter will also not be allowed to transform into their other forms so no Veela avian form or Griffin animagus for us today.

"Each contestant will start at a different point in the globe. Mister Krum will start at the North side, Mister Diggory at the East, Miss Delacour at the South, and Mister Potter to the West; their paths will eventually cross when they go inside the mountain, which means that they may see each other toward the end of the task. As always, thanks to Lord Black, each contestant will be monitored by mirror so that we can check in with them more easily on the screens around the stadium." Ludo looked around, "Like all the other tasks, they will be scored out of a total fifty points. Each judge can award up to 10 points and will be looking at how quickly they complete the course and what spells they choose. On a side note, Mister Crouch is ill and was not able to make it today. Young Percy Weasley, from the Department of International Cooperation is filling in as he is most familiar with the tournament and our scoring methods."

Percy gulped visibly before waving with a tentative smile.

"We are all sure he will do just fine." Bagman boomed, pulling attention back to him. "If you bring your attention to the screens, you will see that each competitor is standing at their entrance to the globe. They will have an hour and thirty minutes to finish this task"

Harry's family had lucked out; they were sitting in the section directly behind where he was supposed to start. Hermione got to her feet and rushed to the railing, looking down at her boyfriend. As if he sensed her, he turned and smiled. The brunette blew him a kiss, causing him to grin even harder before waving and sending his own air kiss to her.

"Ladies, Gentleman, Champions," Bagman twirled, arms spread, "Let the sixth task begin!"

Four entrances to the snow globe opened and the four champions walked cautiously into the swirling winds of a blizzard.

One hour remaining:

Aimee Beaucourt was enjoying her time at Hogwarts. She had embraced the idea of international magical cooperation. While many of her friends and teammates had come for the competition, she wanted to make friends, something she may not have thought of doing if she had not gone to the world cup that summer. When on the quidditch field, Aimee was competitive, but she knew that competition should remain on the pitch because you never know when you would need friends off the pitch. She had hated losing so obviously to Harry and Viktor but would still admire them for their skill as seekers; at least she and Draco had been more evenly matched.

Proof of her resolve to make friends was the man sitting next to her. Aleksander Todor was now her boyfriend. They may have met at the World Cup under some horrible circumstances, but they had looked past the darkness of their meeting to the underlying people they truly were.

Aimee and Alek had been sitting together at each of the of the Triwizard tasks, switching which section they sat in each time. This time, they were sitting with her Beauxbatons classmates.

"Is your friend going to be alright?" Alek asked, squeezing her hand.

"I'm not sure," Aimee leaned into him. "Fleur isn't used to this kind of cold. None of us are actually. Being here at Christmas was quite the shock for most of us. I had only ever seen a dusting of snow on the ground before coming here. Fleur is much the same." She shivered at the memory of the cold, "to make matters worse, she is a creature of fire. While this won't be quite as bad as the lake, it won't be easy for her."

Alek glanced at the screen showing Fleur and she was once again casting a warming charm on herself despite casting one only about five minutes before and the copious layers she was wearing. Fleur was the only champion who had not found the first key.

Harry had found his first, lucking out in choosing the right direction and using the levitation spell cleverly to levitate a boulder so he could climb onto it to reach the ledge the key was on. The key was spelled to not respond to summoning. Viktor had found his key next. He had used low powered Bombardas to make hand holds in a wall to reach his own key. Cedric had used the Avis spell to make birds and then had them push the key into his waiting hands. None of those three had cast the warming charm more than three times since the beginning of the event; Fleur had cast it at least a dozen times.

"Surely they wouldn't let her freeze," Alek wrapped his arm around Aimee, trying to be reassuring but thinking that there was no way Fleur would do well in this event, especially because she was not allowed to transform.

"You're right, but she will be very disappointed in herself for doing so poorly. Not to mention she will be embarrassed for doing poorly in front of the eldest Weasley boy." Everyone knew that Fleur had a gigantic crush on Bill Weasley. Her girlfriends could not blame her; he was a very attractive man.

On the screen, Fleur had just found her first key. Aimee watched as she cast a very large Incendio, probably for the heat more than anything. Luckily, that Incendio melted some of the snow above the key, causing water to run down the cliff wall and push the key over the lip and into the snow at her feet.

Fleur Delacour picked up the key with trembling fingers and made her way back to the door she had found ten minutes before, clearly wishing the task was over so she could get warm.

Forty-five minutes remaining:

The Hufflepuffs in the crowd cheered loudly as Cedric opened the second door. While Cedric was clearly in third place in this task, he wasn't far behind Viktor or Harry so there was hope he would come out on top.

Cho was sitting with Cedric's closest friends as she was once again fighting with Marietta. Tamsin Applebee and Herbert Fleet had been skeptical of her relationship with Cedric, but they had slowly started to accept her.

"He's going to be alright, isn't he?" Cho frowned, seeing him shiver and cast another warming charm.

Tamsin smiled at her while Herbert laughed. "Ced is indestructible," the keeper boomed, throwing his hands in the air. "Go Ced!"

"We live in Scotland during the worst of winter, Cho," Tamsin gave her a side hug. "He is going to be fine. Especially if you compare him to the French girl. She is struggling."

The Chinese girl nodded slowly, "True, but I don't want him to get hurt."

"None of us do, girly," Fleet grinned, taking a bite of a chocolate frog. "But we know what Ced is capable of. Did you see how he used those birds? I was worried when he picked his spell so early on, but they have been bloody useful." Cedric had used the birds again, this time using them to carry the second key across a chasm to the keyhole. Once the key was in place, a bridge had appeared at the same time the door opened. "Harry used a feather light charm on himself to walk across levitated boulders he had made by blasting larger boulders into smaller, more manageable pieces. Brilliant for sure, but it took more time than getting a bird to do the work for you."

"Not to mention Krum," Tamsin agreed, "He used a blasting hex to break off a piece of the mountain. His makeshift bridge started to slide into the chasm while he was still on it. He almost went down with it!" Viktor had run along the stone bridge he made and jumped at the last second, only just managing to catch himself on the opposite ledge. There had been a great many fearful gasps when he had nearly fallen into the chasm.

"His plan really was the safest, wasn't it," Cho smiled slightly. "Harry is doing really well too."

"Can't argue with that." Herbert was grudgingly proud of the fourth year. He still wanted Cedric to win but he would settle for Potter if he had to.

"Potter is awesome," Tamsin grinned. "I can cheer for him because we're on the same team this year," she stuck her tongue out at Fleet.

This caused the keeper to push her head away with a fake scowl. "Traitor!"

"Loser!"

Cho shook her head as the pair exchanged insults. Cedric really did have fun friends. It was nice not to constantly judge people.

Thirty Minutes remaining:

Mikhail Markov was enjoying himself immensely. Life had become so much less stressful after his brother was found and healed. It didn't matter to him that Dmitri didn't have magic, as long as he was alive. Now, he could watch and enjoy his friends compete in the various tournaments held at Hogwarts to celebrate international magical cooperation.

Their Dragons quidditch team was so far undefeated, with their only real potential competition being the Hogwarts Griffins. It seemed in this tournament that the seeker really did make all the difference. Viktor and Harry Potter far outclassed the other seekers, though Aimee Beaucourt and Draco Malfoy had serious potential. His other best friend, Alek was also on the Dragons team but as a chaser.

While most would not enjoy watching the academic competition, Mik had. It hadn't surprised him that Beauxbatons was the best there, what had surprised him was how good Hogwarts was at Potions and Runes; they had won those hands down. It had saddened him slightly that Hogwarts had also squeaked out a victory in Care of Magical Creatures as well, but the gap had been much smaller in that event. It would be interesting to see who would win in the Herbology competition the first weekend of June. Rumor was that the strongest competitor for Hogwarts was only fourteen; if the boy was anything like Potter, Mikhail was sure that Hogwarts would come out on top for that event as well.

Durmstrang's true strength was on the dueling stage, which was why their headmaster had suggested it as a task for this year. Mikhail had managed to get on the team and had done alright. He had only had one duel at this point, this being against a Hogwarts boy and Mik had won his match. The true triumph of their team was Ilya. The boy was beautiful to watch. He just wished his school had designed the dueling tournament with more matches. At least they had decided to add an individual competition to name the top duelist of all the participants the day after the last team competition.

Mikhail turned his attention back to the snow globe; Vik was doing fine. When Viktor had discussed the possibility of a snowy field of play, he had been excited. Viktor Krum loved being out in the snow. The professional seeker was often out walking during snowstorms or making plans to go mountain climbing during the heart of winter. This was his element.

The cold did not bother the strong men and women of Durmstrang.

Vik's only problem was that he was not the most creative individual in the world. When he learned a spell, he knew what it was designed for and rarely understood why people thought about how else a spell could be used. The fact that they limited him to a handful of different spells meant Viktor would struggle with that portion of the event. Mik had not been surprised when Bagman announced that he had used an extra spell and would get a deduction for it.

The choice of Aguamenti to melt ice off a key stuck in a frozen waterfall was brilliant, but then Vik had also conjured a rope to use to help him scale a wall.

Diggory had been forced to melt the ice around his own key with an Incendio and used the only the ice pick they were given during the second task to help him climb the wall. Potter's choice of a feather light charm proved to be brilliant. He made himself light again when he needed to climb the wall after using a Bombarda to break the key out of the ice and placing it in his pocket while he climbed. Eventually the boy had used Incendio to melt the excess ice.

As for Fleur, she had just arrived at the chasm, nearing her second door. She had used the levitation spell to float the key to the other side, much like Cedric had with the birds. The blonde was far behind the others and clearly struggling with the cold.

Fifteen minutes remaining:

George Weasley grinned from ear to ear. Fred, who was beside him as always, was jumping up and down, screaming at the top of his lungs. Harry Potter was doing them proud. It took a prankster to really excel at creative spell use.

"He's doing brilliantly," Nicole bounced in her seat next to him. "Who would have thought to use a feather light charm on themselves? It definitely makes climbing easier because he doesn't have to pull up his body weight and he also didn't have to fight his weight when he was levitating those stones to make a bridge."

Harry was closing in on the final key. The designers had decided to show the audience just where the keys were before the contestants found them. This portion of the course was inside the mountain. Harry, like Viktor and Cedric, was using Lumos to light his way. It was the obvious choice considering it was one of the spells they were allowed to use. Unlike the older students, Harry had been altering how much magic he put into the spell to increase and decrease the amount of light he projected. He would periodically flare his magic and the spell allowing him to see farther ahead in case there was something he needed to know about. Viktor had almost fallen in a hole because he wasn't paying enough attention to the darkness at his feet.

"I am so proud of him," George grinned. "We duel fairly often, and the professors have been pushing us to think about creative ways to use spells in duels. Apparently, Harry has been applying that to this sort of stuff too."

"I get the impression that boy would beat me a duel," she leaned her head against his shoulder.

"He beats me half the time," George smiled and glanced at his twin, "Fred only wins when he does something really crazy."

"Do you think it's the training or is he just that talented?"

Had Nicole's head not been on his shoulder he would have shrugged, "A little bit of both, maybe? Harry has always been a quick practical learner and powerful. How many thirteen-year-olds do you know that can produce a corporeal Patronus when facing live Dementors? But a good portion of it has to be the training. He decided after second year that he had to be prepared; it seemed like every year something attacked him and if he was going to survive he had to be ready."

"He didn't feel ready before?"

George shook his head, "Harry said he just got lucky before. As much as I love him, my little brother is not a good student. Ron does the minimum to get by and Harry was afraid of losing a friend by doing well in school because Ron gets jealous. So he was doing the same."

The crowd around them cheered as Harry slide the final key into the lock, opening the wall before him. He had tried to Accio the key but once again it was spelled against summoning like all the others. The youngest contestant had tilted his head in thought and then made himself feather light again before performing an Accio on the wall behind the key. Instead of the wall being pulled toward him, he was pulled toward the wall. Unfortunately, he wasn't quite quick enough to prevent himself from hitting the wall, face first. Luckily, his arms had been pushed slightly behind him as the force of the spell pulled him toward the wall, meaning his wand remained unbroken.

"I really wish I had that kid's brain," Fred sighed at George's side. He couldn't help but agree.

Twelve minutes remaining:

Harry performed a quick warming charm on himself as he stepped back into the blizzard. Though the snow was falling in thick blankets, he could still see what had to be the finish line. Up the slope, he could see a flag. It could only be a flag because he could see it flapping violently in the swirling winds.

He had no idea what in place he was currently placed, but he felt good about his performance. Harry had tried to channel the twins in this task; creative and sneaky. He thought he had done rather well with that. Beyond that, he simply kept moving.

Despite the freezing cold, Harry kept pushing himself to move forward. The sooner he got to the end, the sooner he could get out of this cold and get warm. It really was irritating that they put them in a blizzard in May.

It was feet away. He stumbled, almost falling face first into the knee-deep snow but caught himself.

With a final lunge, Harry grabbed the small Gryffindor flag that was flapping beneath the large flag sporting all house crests. He looked up just as the portkey activated and saw Viktor surge onto the plateau.

Harry Potter grinned; he knew had beaten at least one of his competitors.

Ten minutes remaining:

Viktor breathed in deeply as he stepped back out into the snow. Despite the low visibility and the biting cold, he was enjoying himself. He knew he had screwed up already, having cast two extra spells instead of one, but he would live with it. At this point he didn't really care. This tournament was not what they had claimed it would be. The danger was worse, and the security was lacking.

He was too young to die and too young to lose his career to an injury not caused by a Bludger or diving face first into the ground below the playing field.

Ahead, he could see a flag. He had made it to the end of the task, and he had managed to avoid injury. Pushing his legs through the thick blanket of snow, he mounted the peak. His eyes fell first on the flag and then on Harry Potter, just as he was port keyed out of the arena. With a rueful smile, he looked at the three remaining small flags; he would have to live with second place this time.

Four minutes remaining:

Cedric swore under his breath as he slogged through the snow toward the peak. He really wished the end of the task had been inside the mountain, not out in the elements. He may live in Scotland in January but that didn't mean he like to bury himself in feet of snow.

Glancing down at his watch, he realized that time was almost up. He had lost quite a bit of time in the caverns, part of that was intentional. It was so much warmer when there was no snow or wind. Cedric had berated himself for not casting an impervious spell on his clothes before the task began, it really would have helped keep him warm if his clothes hadn't become soaked through. He had a feeling that Harry and Viktor had not forgotten to protect themselves before they were monitored.

Luckily, he had long legs, so he was able to push through the deep banks of snow as he made his way to the end of the task. Seeing two of the four small flags gone made him sigh, third place really did seem to be his position in this tournament. It was rather embarrassing to continually lose to a fourteen-year-old wizard, even if he was Harry Potter.

Thirty seconds remaining:

Fleur smiled to herself as she sat against the wall inside the mountain course. It may be pathetic, but she had decided she would rather be warm than go back outside. She had succeeded in finding and collecting all four keys, but she refused to go back out into the cold if she could sit here and warm her hands by the fire. She would take the loss gracefully.

As a Veela, she was a creature of fire and air. She did not do well with water or with cold. This task was her ultimate enemy. The cold had immediately seeped into her bones and she was shivering violently in seconds despite warming charms. Her extra spell had been an impervious spell for her clothes, which she really should have cast before she got to the tent today; she had known they would be in the snow just like the boys. It made her wonder if anyone else had forgotten that simple protection.

As the final second of the task ticked by, Fleur was port keyed out. She was warmer than she would have been if she had walked back into the snow and that was all she cared about at the moment.

Room of Requirement

There were some who would say that Harry should have been with his house, celebrating his win in the sixth task of the Triwizard tournament. Many more would think it strange that he was not even remotely thinking about the fact that he had slid solidly into first place as they went into the final task due to the fact that he finished before Viktor that afternoon.

A part of him was proud of himself. He had received perfect scores from Percy and Bagman, a nine from Dumbledore and Maxim, and Karkaroff had awarded him an eight while scowling as he had been forced to award his own champion a seven. Despite finishing only moments after Harry, Viktor had scored only one point higher than Cedric because of the spell violation. This penalty had moved him from being first overall to trailing four points behind Harry. Cedric ended up ten points behind Viktor and twenty-three above Fleur.

The older champions had been forced to face their own disadvantages once again. Age did not mean they were better. Viktor knew he had done well in part because of Karkaroff scoring him slightly above what he should have. His other saving grace was he remained consistent. In the sixth task, he thought his comfort in extreme cold would allow him to finish well ahead of anyone else so that his extra spell would not matter; he knew he should not have underestimated Harry Potter. Cedric had not underestimated his younger competition; Harry had done too much in his young life for Cedric to fall into that trap. He had, however, not performed to his own skill level and had realized he did not perform well under pressure. The French witch had been forced to concede to herself that she had overestimated herself with this tournament. She knew she could have done better in almost all of the events but had relied too much on the fact that she had never really had to try before to be the best.

Harry was just glad that he had not embarrassed himself in this tournament. He knew he had trained hard, but he had never once assumed that this training would put him at the same level as his fellow competitors. The fact that he was in first position was not what he focused on, he focused on his own performance. It was obvious to him that a few aspects of the tournament had been designed to aid him in scoring well, but he was also rather proud of how he dealt with each challenge. Harry was much more concerned with his ability to survive whoever wanted him in this tournament in the first place.

It was for this reason that he was not partying with the rowdy Lions. Before the sixth task, Sirius and Narcissa had sat him down to discuss an idea they had concerning the destruction of Tom Riddle in all his forms. They thought that the best way to do that was to teach him a certain spell but before they could do that, they needed to make him more of a Black.

Harry and Sirius stood in the center of the room, facing each other. Around them, spaced equidistant, were Remus, Aria, Narcissa, Severus and Headmaster Dumbledore. Sirius had painted the floor with a circle of runes and each of the five around the circle stood at a certain point. As with many ceremonies or rituals, the natural elements were important. In this case, the fifth element was the soul or heart. The headmaster stood there. Aria stood at water for her unwavering calm, Remus at earth for his continual stability. Severus was the fire, fierce and deadly; Narcissa the air, free and mysterious.

Today, he would officially be recognized as Sirius's godson. The paperwork had been filed long ago but magic had never accepted it because there had never been an opportunity to perform the ceremony before their lives were all but destroyed.

For the first time in a long time, none of his friends were there with him. This was something that should not be shared. If anyone were to watch, it would have been his parents, but for obvious reasons that was not possible for him.

"You ready pup?"

Harry nodded, "more than ready."

"Do you remember the words?"

"Couldn't forget them if I wanted to." The ceremony was different for children older than the age of five. Normally it was the parents and potential godparent who did all the talking. When the child was old enough to speak, the parents' part of the ceremony was transferred to the child. Somehow, magic decided that at some point a kid was old enough to have a say in who would be a part of their life if their parents were gone.

"Are you ready boys?" Albus asked quietly. When both nodded, he raised his arms, "then we will begin. If you would all take your places."

As a group, the witnesses took their positions on the elemental runes written into the circle. When Albus stepped onto the rune representing heart, the circle began to glow with a soft, silvery light. "We gather today, guided by the elements of life, to join this child with his godfather.

"A godfather's role is to protect, teach, guide and love a child. To act as the child's hearth, home, and shield." The rune for earth at Remus's feet flashed with increased intensity. "To guide, instruct, and cleanse." The water rune brightened underneath Aria. "To train, aid, and avenge." Severus's rune of fire flashed next. "To soothe, listen, and defend." The rune for air glowed illuminating the gentle smile on Narcissa's face. "A godfather's job is to love, unconditionally." The rune for heart flashed and then all the elemental points flashed as one.

"Sirius Black, before you stands a child in need, will you perform the duties of a godfather for him?"

"My knowledge for him, my magic is his, my life for his, my love forever his," Sirius spoke quietly but with conviction.

"Harry Potter, do you accept his gifts?"

"I accept his knowledge, magic and love with open arms. May the need for his life never come." That he felt to the very bottom of his soul.

"Witnesses, do you believe his promises?"

Somehow, all four answered as one, "His words are true, proven in action and heart."

"Sirius Black, what is your vow?"

"I, Sirius Black, Head of the Ancient and most Noble House of Black, do herby swear on my life and magic to protect Harry Potter to the best of my ability as godfather. To raise him, teach him, listen to him, and love him as if he were my own child from this day and every day that follows, so mote it be."

As the last word left Sirius's mouth, the circle and the two within were bathed in silver-white light. The light was so intense that none of them could see inches in front of them, let alone the pair they were there to join magically as family.

Slowly, the light faded from the circle in, until only a soft glow remained around Harry and Sirius. "Magic has accepted your vow," Albus continued quietly, "you are now, and forevermore, the godfather of Harry James Potter."

"So mote it be," all seven said as one, closing the ceremony and allowing the magic swirling around them to dissipate.

"I love you, pup," Sirius whispered into Harry's hair as he pulled him into a tight hug.

"I love you too, Siri," Harry managed to whisper as her burrowed into his godfather, overwhelmed by the warmth he felt both from the lingering magic and the absolute proof that he was loved unconditionally by his godfather.


And here it is, the next chapter is finally here. I have portions of the next three chapters written and the final task of the Triwizard tournament is fast approaching.

I will not start another multi chapter fic until this is completed. There are three main possibilities for what I start posting next one of which is a continuation of Chance Encounter, one begins the summer before fifth year and the last begins before the death of Regulus Black. We shall see where my muse leads me after this is complete.

Thank you Draconin for helping me with editing!

Stay safe everyone!