Author's Notes: Rotten Writer here once again folks. I LIVE!
Seriously the last two or three years have just sucked balls with everything that's been going on in real life. But I finally, FINALLY managed to finish this chapter that has been sitting, half written in my docs for almost three years now. Can't begin to tell you how happy I am to have finally finished this, proving once again that this story, nor any of my other stories, will ever be abandoned. Just it might occasionally be some time between updates. I'm really hoping not to take so long for the next one but I am not going to make any promises as to a schedule. I just have so much going on damn near all the time these days.
I want to thank all of you for your patience and for those of you that haven't given up on me. This story will continue to it's eventual conclusion, however long that may take.
Disclaimer: Yeah, I still don't own jack.
And now, with no further ado, I give you Chapter 52 of Soul Scars
Soul Scars Part 4:
Director Croaker stared from within the shadowed confines of his hood at the two, similarly cloaked, figures that sat on the other side of his desk. He had been staring at them in utter silence for some time now, his gloved fingers laced together and held beneath where his chin would be if it wasn't hidden by the charms on his cloak, his elbows resting comfortably on the smooth surface of his desk. The silence continued to stretch as Croaker sat, completely still.
Finally, after a significant amount of time had passed since the two first entered the room, the figure on his left cleared their throat and leaned forward slightly in their chair.
"Was there something that you needed when you called us in here?"
"Yes, Sable… and no, at the same time."
The two figures turned slightly to glance at each other, their faces unknowable and unreadable beneath their own cloaks.
"What would that be, Director?" asked the figure on Croaker's right.
"I'm not exactly sure, Mink, to be perfectly honest."
Resisting the urge to sigh, Croaker leaned back in his seat, his still linked hands coming to rest in his lap.
"You are aware of what day it is, I assume?"
"October 31st," came the immediate reply.
Croaker nodded, his hood shifting around his head with the motion.
"October 31st. All Hallows Eve. Saimain… this is a day that has always held power, much like a Solstice or Equinox… this is the kind of day when powerful magic can be done that might otherwise not be possible."
"Do you suspect something of occurring?" Sable asked, their voice almost sounding concerned.
"I don't know," Croaker responded with a shrug of his shoulders. "Honestly, I believe that my primary suspicion is simply a matter of past experience. What has this day meant in the last three years?"
"How do you mean, Director?"
"In the last three years, something… dangerous, disturbing, or otherwise unpleasant has occurred on this day and all dealing, in some small way, with subject White King."
His operatives did not respond, merely waited patiently for him to continue as he mused silently over his thoughts.
"Three years ago, a troll was let into Hogwarts, and the subject managed to kill it. As a first-year student he killed a fully grown mountain troll. It was a stroke of luck that he managed to do so, and he was fairly heavily injured in the attempt, but he still did it. Two years ago, he brushed against the basilisk that had been let loose within the school, and last year there was that situation with Black. Every October 31st since the Subject re-entered the wizarding world there has been some incident at that school when things should have been just a normal day.
"I'm sure you're aware of what is happening there this year?" he asked, fully aware that they were both informed on the situation. As such he didn't wait for them to respond. "I can't help but wonder, if those things could happen on what should have been an unremarkable day… what could possibly happen this year, when the day should be anything but unremarkable?"
Sable and Mink said nothing, and Croaker nodded his head thoughtfully.
"I thought as much."
"What should we do, Director?"
"If something happens at Hogwarts tonight? Should we inform Dirk that they should intervene?"
Croaker shook his head.
"No. Whatever happens tonight, or doesn't happen, we do nothing. We do only what we have always done; observe. Voldemort is coming back into power. Everything we've seen over the last few years points fairly clearly at that conclusion. Right now, there isn't much that we honestly can do, and while Tom Riddle is without a body there is even less that is within our power to change."
"Director? Are you… are you saying that we should let Voldemort regain a body?"
Croaker shrugged in response to Sable's question.
"How else is Potter going to be able to kill him if he doesn't have a body? As he is there's almost nothing that could affect him. Until his anchors are all discovered and destroyed, and he has a physical form to be properly disposed of there's nothing anyone can do… No… we continue as we have been. Inform Dirk that they are to observe and report as usual. The only action they are to take must be unobtrusive and only to prevent the loss of life. Dismissed."
Days and weeks passed, during which time, Harry kept to his plan and took each of his girls on a date. For Hermione's birthday the four of them managed a small, private celebration in the Room of Requirement that ended with all four of them cuddled together on a large sofa, still mostly dressed, but each missing at least one article of clothing. With each day that passed, Harry slowly stopped questioning how he'd gotten lucky enough to have the three young women in his life and simply began to enjoy the moments they spent together without wondering.
While in some ways he felt as if his life had improved beyond measure, in others there was still plenty of difficulty to be had. The limitation he'd managed to place on Malfoy the previous year had ceased, and the arrogant pureblood appeared to be making up for lost time. As they moved through October, Harry had already found himself serving ten detentions due to altercations started by the blond Slytherin. Somehow, Snape always happened to be nearby whenever one of these altercations occurred, arriving just in time to take points and issue a detention.
His girls argued that he needed to tell Professor McGonagall or the Headmaster, and while he had faith that they would do something about the situation, he personally felt it would be admitting defeat to run to a higher authority over the incidents. They accepted that, but it was obvious that they would not put up with it for much longer if he didn't find a way to handle the situation on his own soon.
He supposed that it was somewhat lucky the girls had a few distractions of their own to deal with that kept them from focusing too fully on his difficulties with the Head of Slytherin House and its resident prat, Draco Malfoy. In the weeks since the other two schools arrived at Hogwarts, and the incident in the Great Hall, they had been unable to get close to Fleur Delacour in order to talk to the girl. Wherever she went, she was always accompanied by a fairly large number of students from her school and more often than not their Headmistress, Madame Maxime was somewhere close by.
On the plus side, there had been no more situations involving the beautiful French witch, but that still left them without any form of understanding with the girl and that situation was always at the forefront of their minds. The closest they'd gotten to the girl had been that morning during breakfast when she and the rest of the Beauxbatons hopefuls had put their names into the Goblet of Fire.
And wasn't that a fascinating article, Harry mentally scoffed. As if a magical artifact, sitting almost unguarded in the middle of the Great Hall wasn't a recipe for disaster waiting to happen. After the cask with the Goblet had been brought out the night before, Harry had resolved to stay as far away from the thing as he could possibly get and aside from breakfast he hadn't returned to the Great Hall for the entire day, going so far as to have lunch in the Room of Requirement with his girls and most of his friends.
"What are you worried is going to happen, Harry?" Hermione finally asked as they all trooped their way toward the Great Hall for dinner that evening. Around them, the Halloween decorations gave the entire castle a festive, if spooky atmosphere that did absolutely nothing to calm the niggling sense of pervading doom hovering at the back of his mind. A glance around showed everyone was just as interested in his answer as Hermione was. Neville, Blaise, Tracey, Hannah, Daphne, Susan, even Fred and George, still sporting vestiges of their Dumbledore-like beards that the age line had inflicted on them when they attempted to circumvent it that morning, looked intently curious.
He sighed and slipped his right arm around Hermione's waist, drawing the girl close against his side as they walked.
"If I had to guess," he mused, darkly, "I'd be willing to place money on the fact that my name will probably come out of that damn Goblet tonight and I'll somehow get roped into this stupid tournament. You know how things go, if there's a dangerous situation happening anywhere in this school, I'm pretty much guaranteed to get drawn into it."
"But the tournament is only for students that are considered 'of age'," Neville pointed out. "Even if your name came out somehow, you're not old enough to compete."
"I might not be physically old enough, but I have been considered, legally, 'of age' since I was eleven, remember Nev? I took up my title as Lord Potter, that emancipated me in most respects. It's a rather fine distinction, but if the rules only state, 'of age' and don't specify a certain number of years…"
He trailed off and could see the rest of them pondering that information, each with a slowly dawning look of concern spreading across their features.
"Exactly," he muttered as they entered the hall and those friends that belonged to a different House split off to sit at their designated tables, each with a murmured farewell as they left, leaving the seven Gryffindors to find their seats. Harry and his girls sat on one side of the table near the doors while Neville sat directly across from Harry, the twins sitting on either side of their friend.
"What happens if your name comes out of the goblet?" Neville asked after the feast appeared on the table and they had all filled their plates.
Sighing quietly, Harry set down his fork.
"I honestly don't know," he admitted. "A magical artifact is being used to choose the participants. Do we honestly think it won't be magically binding in some way? Is there even a chance that I could just refuse to compete and not have something terrible happen to me?"
"Whatever it is might not be that bad," Hermione pointed out.
"If it is magically binding, breaking something like that is always bad," Daphne disagreed.
"And you girls are tied to me." Harry reached out to grasp Susan and Hermione's hands. "If whatever happens spills over to the three of you… I could never let that happen."
"We would never want you to put yourself at risk for us, Harry," Susan insisted, Daphne and Hermione both nodding their silent agreement.
"I know that." He lifted Susan's hand where it was still clasped in his own and placed a soft kiss on her knuckles. "And you know that I will always put myself between the three of you and any trouble. I know you can take care of yourselves, but I just don't have it in me to stand aside and do nothing if you're in danger."
Letting go of their hands, he resumed eating, ignoring the way all three of his girls leveled an exasperated glare in his direction.
You don't get to sacrifice yourself for us, Harry. Like you said, what happens to you affects us, and vice versa.
Harry paused, his fork half-way to his mouth, as Daphne's voice echoed inside his head. Hesitating a moment longer he gave a curt nod of his head and let his fork continue on its interrupted path. He honestly wasn't entirely certain what he was even eating. He didn't have much of an appetite with his stomach churning anxiously, and he hadn't been paying much attention to what he'd put on his plate to begin with. Most of his focus was directed at the cup standing on a tall pedestal at the front of the room. The blue flames danced within the cup, casting a pale light in a small circle around it and to Harry it seemed to be mocking him somehow with how simple and unassuming it appeared to be.
I really hate that damn cup, he thought irritably, stabbing his fork absently into his food.
There was a 'clank' and he blinked in surprise, looking down to find his plate had cleared itself without his noticing, leading to him just jabbing the fork into the gold surface. The sound it had made wasn't exceptionally loud, though as Harry lifted his head, he realized that the entire Great Hall had gone silent just before his fork hit the plate, thus the noise echoed throughout the cavernous room, drawing every eye to him.
"Sorry," he muttered as he carefully set his fork down on the table, fighting back a blush, and the urge to hide under the table, the entire way.
"Quite alright, Lord Potter," Dumbledore said from his position standing beside the Goblet of Fire. Lifting his wand, he waved it through the air and all of the many candles floating above their heads dimmed, leaving the room lit only by the dozen giant jack-'o-lanterns. "If I might have everyone's attention, however?" he called. "I believe that the Goblet is very nearly ready to make its decision. I would estimate that it only requires one minute longer, and we shall know who has been selected as each of our schools' Champion."
Immediately there was a rustling sound as every head swiveled toward the front of the room, many of the students shifting forward eagerly in their seats. Harry sank back in his own seat, arms crossed over his chest as a heavy scowl made its way onto his face.
It will either happen, or it won't, my love, Susan's voice whispered in his mind. Worrying yourself about it won't change anything at this point.
"I heard someone say that Montague put his name in this afternoon," Ron muttered from his seat a few places down the table.
"Aye, that'd be a bleedin' tragedy, it would, if we ended up with a Slytherin for School Champion," Seamus said with a distasteful grimace.
"Rather have Pretty Boy Diggory than a slimy snake," Dean added.
All three boys fell silent when Harry turned a fierce glare in their direction. In the dim Hall, his glowing eyes shone brightly, the same acid green as the killing curse and all three of them felt a shiver run down their spines.
It isn't nice to pick on the children, dear.
Harry turned his attention back to the front, a small smirk twisting his lips as Hermione's voice filled his mind.
Not my fault they're being idiots, he thought back to her.
On his left, Susan snorted out a laugh before her elbow suddenly dug into his side. Harry didn't even grunt, his smirk growing into a full, toothy grin.
A grin that all too quickly fell away from his face as the flames in the Goblet of Fire turned red and sparks began to shoot into the air. A moment later a tongue of flame burst from the cup and a tattered and singed scrap of parchment appeared, spinning, and fluttering as it fell toward the ground.
The Headmaster snatched it from the air with one hand and held it up to read.
"The Champion for Durmstrang is Viktor Krum," he announced.
The accompanying applause was loud, every student clapping for the chosen Champion, with more than a few whistling or calling out encouragement.
"No surprise there," Harry heard Ron yell over the noise to Dean and Seamus on either side of him.
In a few minutes, Viktor had slouched his way up toward the front of the room and had gone around behind the Head Table to enter a door at the back of the Hall and the noise level died down, every eye fixed on the Goblet of Fire.
Blue flames shifted to red. Sparks flew. A long tongue of flame appeared again and the Headmaster plucked a second piece of singed parchment from the air.
"The Champion for Beauxbatons is Fleur Delacour."
More cheering and whistling, though somewhat less as most of the males that the beautiful French witch passed seemed to lose their wits, staring vacantly into space for a few moments before managing to shake themselves back to attention. At the Ravenclaw table a few of the girls broke down into open sobs, their arms folded on the table in front of them with their heads resting on their bent limbs.
"They don't seem to be very proud of their school's champion," Hermione pointed out in an irritated tone. "What?" she asked at the incredulous look that Harry gave her. "We might have some small issues with her, but her own school should be supporting her! I'm sure she would have supported one of the others if they'd been chosen instead."
Harry wasn't entirely sure about that, but he simply shrugged as Fleur disappeared through the same door that Viktor had taken, and silence reigned once again.
Harry could feel the tension that now filled the Great Hall. The Hogwarts Champion was next, and he knew that just about every student from the school was practically on the edge of their seats, waiting for the inevitable red flames and the piece of parchment that would come flying from the mouth of the Goblet of Fire.
Beside him, Hermione slipped her hand into his even as Susan did the same on his other side, both without taking their eyes away from the front of the room. He felt a hand land on his left shoulder and knew that Daphne had reached around Susan in order to reach him, offering her own comfort.
Moments later blue flames transitioned to red, and a tongue of fire burst forth, bearing a third singed piece of parchment that Dumbledore snatched out of the air without pause. Lifting the parchment, he peered at it for a moment before raising his head to look out over the crowd, a small smile just barely visible behind his beard.
"The Champion for Hogwarts is Cedric Diggory."
Harry didn't care about his outburst, lost as it was in the sudden noise as most of the school cheered and clapped in celebration. Over at the Hufflepuff table, Cedric stood, smiling brightly as he made his way to the front of the room and quickly disappeared through the door behind the staff table.
Nothing to worry about, my love, Hermione's voice whispered in his mind and without thinking, he turned, gathered her into his arms, and placed a passionate kiss on her lips, right there in the middle of the hall.
A nudge of Susan's elbow against his back had him releasing their bondmate, luckily before anyone else noticed, and he turned back to the front, grinning at the flushed and breathless girl beside him.
"Thanks," he muttered to Susan.
"Wouldn't do to draw too much attention," she whispered back. "Just don't forget, you owe Daphne and I one of those once we get out of here," she added with a wink.
"Any time, dear."
At the front of the room, Dumbledore raised his hands for silence and slowly the noise level dropped off to nothing. "Excellent!" Dumbledore called happily once silence filled the Hall again. "Well, we now have our three champions. I am sure I can count upon all of you, including the remaining students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, to give your champions every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champion on, you will contribute in a very real —"
A spike of concern shot through the four bonded, filtering back and forth through their connection from one to the other as they, along with everyone else still present within the Hall easily spotted what caused Dumbledore to cut off in the middle of his speech.
The blue flames within the Goblet had turned red for a fourth time.
Groaning, Harry bent forward, letting his forehead hit the table in front of him with a dull thump.
He heard, more than saw, the gout of flame that erupted from the mouth of the Goblet, and he assumed that Dumbledore reached out to grasp a fourth singed piece of parchment. For several long moments a breathless silence hung in the air before Dumbledore's voice rang out over the Hall.
Groaning again, Harry began to repeatedly thump his forehead against the table. He ignored Susan and Hermione as they both placed a hand on his shoulder, worry and concern radiating from them.
Don't complain to us when you give yourself a headache, Hermione whispered inside his mind, and he couldn't help but let out a short snort of laughter.
I won't, he assured them as he sat up, sighing despondently.
"Lord Potter?" Dumbledore called, his voice calm and controlled. "If you please?"
Sighing again, Harry stood, his girls following just behind him as all four stepped over the bench and made their way up towards the front of the room, each doing their level best to ignore the murmurs and whispers that had broken out around them. At the Slytherin table, many of the students, led by Malfoy, were jeering and making less than subtle insulting comments. The Ravenclaws were muttering amongst themselves while giving Harry a considering look as they passed. It was the Hufflepuff table that Harry most focused on. Most of the students there had dark expressions on their faces with only a few exceptions.
This is going to be like second year all over again, he thought to himself as he watched Hannah speaking quietly but urgently with several of the other Puffs sitting near her, gesturing wildly with her hands as she spoke. Least they're not all immediately against me.
When the four of them reached Dumbledore, they stopped and Harry looked the aged wizard directly in the eyes, all trace of his usual twinkle missing.
"I asked only for you, Lord Potter," the Headmaster pointed out, though his tone was not admonishing in any way.
"And you honestly think they're going to let me go anywhere after what just happened without them being there?" he shot back, a wry grin twisting his lips despite his irritation with the entire situation.
Dumbledore seemed to consider that for a moment before slowly nodding his head.
"A fair point, Lord Potter," he admitted. "If you could join the others?" he added, gesturing to the door the three champions had passed through. "Myself, and the other judges will join you all momentarily."
Giving him a nod, Harry led his girls around the staff table and through the door at the back of the hall. It closed behind them with a quiet click that cut off the rapidly rising noise as more and more people began to voice their opinion on what had just happened.
Harry looked up from where he'd been contemplating the stone floor beneath his boots to find Cedric giving him a questioning look. He and Viktor Krum were both standing in front of a large fireplace while Fleur was seated primly in a plush armchair nearby, her legs crossed at the knee, hands folded together and resting on her skirt.
All told, all three of them looked impressive. The French beauty, lit by the fire, while the two wizards were cast in shadows due to the flames behind them, their bodies shown in silhouette.
Cedric stepped forward, his hands stuffed in his robe pockets.
"What's going on?"
Harry sighed and pinched the bridge of his nose between the thumb and forefinger of his right hand.
"My name just came out of that damned Goblet," he grumbled irritably, jerking his free thumb over his shoulder to indicate the Great Hall behind them.
Cedric, Viktor, and Fleur all blinked in surprise, shocked expressions stealing over their faces.
"But… you are too young," Viktor pointed out in his thickly accented English, a puzzled frown furrowing his brow.
"And I didn't put my name in either," Harry insisted. "I really don't want anything to do with this stupid tournament. I've had more than enough life-threatening adventures. I really just wanted a quiet, calm school year."
At that statement Fleur let out a surprisingly indelicate snort of laughter, causing everyone in the room to turn their attention to her.
"My apologies," she murmured, one hand coming up to cover her mouth in mortification. "Eet ees just… from what I 'ave 'eard around zis school, mon Chevalier, eet does not seem possible for you to 'ave a 'calm school year'." She actually lifted her hands and used her fingers to make air quotes around the words 'calm school year' and Harry honestly couldn't dispute the observation.
"True enough," Cedric observed. "So, have they decided to just give you the trophy already?"
Harry and his girls all blinked, staring at the older Hufflepuff in confusion.
"Really?" Cedric asked. He let out a short laugh. "The three of us are older than Harry, but I've dueled with him before, and I know he can kick my arse any day of the week. In your first year, something big happened that never really made it into the papers, but we know that Professor Quirrell disappeared right around then. It was in the paper that you killed a thousand-year-old basilisk in your second year. You even got an Order of Merlin for it, youngest recipient in history, if I'm not mistaken. Third year I heard about the fact that you can cast a patronus and we saw it in the papers as well when that toad, Umbridge, made you cast it in court during your godfather's trial.
"I can't cast a patronus, I can't keep up with you in a duel, I wouldn't want to ever face a basilisk, no matter how old it was." Cedric was smirking as he ticked off his points on his fingers.
"You saved me and my seester at ze World Cup," Fleur added. "You led your group to safety."
"You had great command of flame vhip curse," Viktor added. "I haff never seen someone use that curse so vell. Smart tactical thinker. Leader. Powerful…" He trailed off for a moment, dark eyes studying Harry curiously before he broke into a grin. "I do not know about giffing cup to you right avay. I do not know if I think I could beat you, but I think it vill be very fun to try."
Hermione, Daphne, and Susan held back their laughter as much as possible as Harry spluttered and did his best to protest while the three older students went about extolling his achievements, but before he could quite gather his wits the door to the room banged open and a small parade of people entered the space. Quickly, Harry urged the girls closer to the fireplace, and thus further away from the door to make room and to avoid them being separated by the new bodies pressing into the small chamber.
Madam Maxime alone filled a large portion of the space they had to work with and aside from her there was the seven students already present, Dumbledore, Karkaroff, McGonagall, Snape, Bagman and Umbridge bringing the number of people in the room up to fourteen.
"This is an absolute outrage!" Karkaroff snapped as soon as he was in the room, glaring for all he was worth at Harry. "Hogwarts cannot have two Champions. If this is what you mean by 'International Cooperation', Dumbledore, I'm inclined to take my students and leave! Rest assured I will be lodging a formal complaint over this blatant cheating by the host school!"
"Empty threat, Karkaroff!"
The entire room swiveled around to look at the door and the grizzled, retired Auror that filled it. Professor Moody's magical eye moved from one person to another, studying them each intently while his real eye never wavered from the Durmstrang Headmaster.
"What was that?"
"The names coming out of the Goblet amounts to a binding magical contract. None of the participants can back out without losing their magic at the very least."
As he said, 'at the very least', his magical eye directed itself toward Fleur and Harry and his girls had a front row seat as all the blood drained from the woman's face.
Veela don't just use magic like we do, Daphne whispered in Harry's mind as his confusion bled over their link. They are beings of magic. To lose her magic wouldn't just make her a squib like it would you, Cedric, or Viktor. It would be an actual death sentence for her.
"Does anyone have any plan in the event that Fleur was injured or incapacitated?" He abruptly snapped, his glowing gaze sweeping over the judges.
"What do you mean, Lord Potter?" Dumbledore asked as the other judges stared at him.
"Say, for example, Fleur was injured during the first task. If for some reason she was physically unable to participate in the second task, is there any sort of plan in place to prevent her from losing her magic? Could the task be postponed or something?" He gestured between himself and the other two boys. "If we can't participate, we lose our magic. That would suck, but it wouldn't be the complete end of our lives." Angrily he gestured toward Fleur. "If Fleur loses her magic, it will probably kill her. This tournament has already had a lot of deaths attributed to it, that's why it was abandoned to begin with. So do you have any plans to prevent the death of a competitor over a technicality?"
"We do not have any contingencies in place specifically for the possibility of someone with Miss Delacour's heritage," Dumbledore admitted. "However, there are contingencies for if a Champion is injured and a task needs to be rescheduled. I believe those plans will suffice in the event that Miss Delacour is unable to compete by the scheduled date of one of the tasks."
Relieved to hear that, Harry gave a grudging nod.
"And just where does a little boy, like yourself, get the opinion that he has a right to question his betters?"
Harry hid a wince as a spike of irritation from all three of his girls drove through his mind at the simpering high pitched voice of the Umbitch.
Deciding to ignore her, Harry turned his attention to the Headmaster.
"Professor? I believe you probably have some questions for me? Just for the sake of clarity, if nothing else?"
"Indeed, we do, Lord Potter," Dumbledore said, putting a very slight emphasis on Harry's title.
"Lord Potter, I believe that it should be clear to anyone that knows you, but for the sake of transparency, did you place your name into the Goblet of Fire?"
"No, Sir, I did not. I wanted nothing more than to be a spectator during this tournament."
"Did you ask anyone else to put your name in? Either by simple request, through payment, coercion, or blackmail?"
"Absolutely not, Sir. My girls would have kicked my head in if I'd even thought of trying," Harry said, feeling a fierce sense of agreement from his bonded.
"I really must protest being ignored!" Umbridge finally snapped.
"Then kindly shut up when your superiors are speaking and you won't be ignored," Harry snapped back, turning a brightly burning glare in her direction.
"I am the Ministry's representative during this event," she shrieked back, causing several people in the room to wince at the sound of her voice. "And you are nothing but a child attempting to butt in where you have no place."
"I am a Lord, for I don't know how many times now, Madam Umbridge. In all social ways of our society, I outrank you. The Headmaster is also our Chief Warlock and the Supreme Mugwump of the ICW. He outranks you. You have an irritating habit of butting in your opinion where it isn't required and is also, typically, patently false. So shut your mouth before I am forced to silence you myself!"
Harry had started out at a normal speaking volume, but by the time he finished he had gradually worked his way up to a full-throated bellow that actually had the twisted woman rocking back on her heels.
Silence reigned for several seconds, finally broken by a low, astonished whistle coming from Cedric.
"Indeed, Mister Diggory," the Headmaster said in a dry tone, his eyes twinkling madly.
"But 'e is lying, of course!" Maxime burst out. "What possible reason could 'e 'ave for not wanting to be a part of ze tournament? This gives 'Ogwarts two bites of ze apple."
"Believe whatever you want to believe, Madame," Harry snapped as Fleur began cursing under her breath in French. Most of what he heard was rather uncomplimentary of her Headmistress. "Professor, the submitted names all have a school associated with them, do they not?"
"Yes, Lord Potter. That was part of the instructions given as to how to go about submitting one's name for the tournament."
"What school is written down for my name? I'd be willing to bet it isn't Hogwarts, since I doubt I'd have won the selection against all the other students that submitted their names."
There was a loud scoffing sound from several different sources, including Cedric and all three of his girls, that Harry ignored, his gaze focused on the Headmaster.
"Well, there appears to be no school listed, Lord Potter."
"So that means that Cedric is the only Hogwarts Champion?"
"It would appear so."
"In that case I will be competing for House Potter, if it has been agreed that I have absolutely no choice and must compete?"
The question was directed toward the ministry representatives, Ludo Bagman and the toa- Madam Umbridge.
"According to the rules you don't have a choice," Bagman quickly confirmed. "I think. Honestly, Barty was the one that knew more about all this, he was supposed to be here but… well, since he disappeared and all…"
As Bagman trailed off Umbridge once more opened her gob and proved that she didn't even have two functioning brain cells to rub together.
"I don't see how a cheater should be rewarded by offering them a chance at fame and fortune," she sneered, a truly unimpressive sight compared to the kind of sneers that Snape was capable of. "I personally vote that… Potter, be barred from competing. It would serve him right for cheating his way into this auspicious ministry sanctioned event. I move that we, the judges, vote on the issue immediately."
Several people in the room sucked in a hissing breath and Harry spun back to face the antagonistic bitch, but he was cut off before he was able to lay into her.
"Chief Warlock Dumbledore, I believe that Lord Potter will want to file charges against Madame Umbridge," Daphne hissed in an icy tone. "As well, I think the other judges may want to consider if they wish to press charges as well."
Standing next to her, Susan was already on Harry's mirror, most likely speaking to Amelia.
"Madame Bones will be here in a few minutes with a couple of Aurors and Lord Black," she said a moment later as she ended the call and stepped forward to slip the mirror into one of Harry's robe pockets.
"And just what are you carrying on about, Miss Greengrass?" Umbridge simpered.
"It's Lady Greengrass," Daphne snapped, "something you should be well aware of as the headship status of all families and any changes made in regard to those matters passes through the Minister's office. And my statement is in regard to the fact that you just stepped in it up to your neck. I really don't know that even the Minister will be able to haul your fat out of this fire unless you retract your statements and offer several formal apologies, and rather quickly, I would imagine."
"Indeed," said Dumbledore gravely, his own gaze hard as he stared at the Ministry representative.
"Me? I'm not the lying cheat in the room," Umbridge spluttered. "I have done absolutely nothing wrong, and I don't owe anyone an apology of any kind!"
"Attempted line assassination, attempted conspiracy to commit line assassination, attempted coercion to conspiracy to commit line assassination," Daphne counted off on her fingers. "And those are just the charges immediately related to Lord Potter, that does not include whatever charges the judges and possibly the other champions might be able to bring against you."
"Girls got the right of it," Moody growled. "I'd have already arrested you if I wasn't retired."
"Could someone please explain for the rest of us that maybe aren't so quick on the uptake?" Cedric asked, a hopelessly lost expression on his face where he stood near Fleur and Viktor, the other two looking lost as well, though both appeared to be trying to work things out in their heads as they followed the discussion.
"Madame Umbridge proposed a vote, casting her own already, to prevent Harry from competing in this Tournament. That's attempted line assassination as it has already been made clear to her that not competing could cost Lord Potter his magic and if he loses his magic his House will be considered dead in the wizarding world until a magical heir comes forward to reclaim it. By suggesting a vote, she is attempting to involve the other judges in pushing this decision and that would constitute a conspiracy to commit line assassination. By calling on them she is also attempting to bring them to her way of thinking by constantly implying that Lord Potter cheated in some way in order to get his name into the goblet, that could be considered attempted coercion of the other judges." Hermione explained.
"Admittedly the coercion charge is rather flimsy but it's not an impossible conclusion to reach."
"Not to mention all of the judges are also bound by contract so any attempt to sabotage a competitor… well, who knows how the Goblet will take that and what breaching such a contract would do to the judges. That's why they might be able to levy charges of their own as Umbridge's request could be puttin' them in danger as well," Moody added. "Congratulations, Madame Umbridge, you just nearly caused an international incident of epic proportions."
By the time Hermione and Moody finished talking, Umbridge had lost any trace of color and appeared to be swaying on her feet. Idly, Harry wondered if she was going to faint and if it would be considered poor form for him to laugh if she did.
If she goes down, I'm going to bust a gut, Susan's voice echoed in his mind. I don't care if it would be poor form.
Luckily for Umbridge she did not faint and was rather summarily disregarded as the bonded all turned their attention back to Dumbledore, dismissing the toady as unimportant, something that would probably have utterly pissed her off if she'd been capable of feeling much of anything in that moment other than stark terror.
The door banged open again and half the occupants of the room jumped in surprise as Sirius, Amelia, and Aurors Kingsley and Tonks strode into the room.
"Pup, I thought we agreed, no more getting involved in vicious plots to kill you without me being here. I need advance warning to make some popcorn for the show," Sirius said in a mockingly stern voice as he wagged one finger at Harry. Anyone who knew the man could tell that, even though he was cracking a joke, he was very worried over the situation.
"Not my fault, Padfoot. I had my fingers crossed that nothing was going to happen this year."
Sirius and Tonks both scoffed at that, well aware of how well that line of thought had worked for Harry in the past, but before either of them could comment, Amelia stepped forward, a steely look in her eyes as she stared down at the shorter Madam Umbridge.
"We have been kept abreast of the discussion as we made our way here," she said in a firm tone. "Madam Dolores Umbridge, you have made some severe mistakes so far this evening, and charges can and will be pressed against you if anyone here wishes to pursue it. As we have plenty of witnesses, all no doubt willing to give testimony, I don't think we'll have much trouble pushing this through the court. Would you like to apologize for attempting the line assassination of one of the Most Ancient and Noble Houses? Or would you rather take your chances at trial?"
Even the people in the room that had never met Amelia before could see just how gleeful she was over the idea of getting Umbridge into a trial, and people around the room shifted nervously as they watched the interaction between the two witches.
Harry and his girls watched Umbridge carefully as her eyes flicked rapidly back and forth around the room, no doubt looking for someone, anyone, supporting her. Of course, she found none, and as horrible a person as she was, there was no doubt that she could be savvy and cunning. One didn't rise to her position in the Ministry of Magic without some political skill and the intelligence to properly use it.
Slowly, her teeth grinding together, she gritted out an insincere sounding, "I apologize to Lord Potter for my words earlier. I'm sure it was just the unusual nature of this situation that got the better of me."
Harry held back a scoff, and then had to bite his tongue not to burst out laughing when Daphne's voice whispered at the back of his mind. I'm pretty sure that caused her actual, physical, pain to have to say that.
Bagman clapped his hands together. "Well, if that's everything? We do still have to tell our Champions about the first task."
Dumbledore cast a glance around the room for a moment before giving a slow nod of his head. "I do believe that should be the extent of things that otherwise cannot be discussed later amongst only the individuals involved," he said in his usual serene way.
"Well, the first task is set to take place on the 24th of November. We won't be telling you what the task consists of as this particular task is the task of Bravery, and bravery in the face of the unknown is the theme."
'Cause there's no way at all that that could go wrong, Harry thought to himself.
"If that is everything, then at this time I will ask that everyone except for Lord Potter, Lady Greengrass, Miss Bones, and Miss Granger go about your evenings. The rest of the students have already returned to their dorms, and I believe our three official Champions would prefer to celebrate their selection with their classmates," Dumbledore pointed out as people began to leave the room.
Umbridge was the first one out of the room, hightailing it away while muttering darkly under her breath, Bagman following right behind her in a seeming rush to get out of the room. Madame Maxime ushered Fleur away, ignoring the way the girl kept casting looks in Harry and Daphne's direction. Karkaroff began chivying Viktor toward the door, but the Bulgarian ignored the man for a moment to stop in front of Harry and extend one hand.
"It vill be an honor to compete against you, Lord Potter," he said.
Harry accepted the offered hand in a firm shake, a small smirk twisting his lips. "It's Harry," he said as they shook. "Personally, I'd rather compete against you in a race for the snitch, but I'll do my best to give you a challenge."
Viktor barked out a laugh. "Ve could still try that sometime, ve haff brooms, pickup game would not be difficult to arrange, I think."
Still laughing, he let his Headmaster lead him from the room, Cedric following behind with a wave to Harry and his girls as he went. Eventually the only ones left were the Headmaster, Professor Moody, the four bonded, Sirius, Amelia, Kingsley, and Tonks.
"Well," Dumbledore started, "should we discuss here, or would we all rather make our way up to my office?"
Sirius and Amelia exchanged a look before turning back to Dumbledore.
"Might be best to head to your office, Albus," Sirius said. "Seems like a discussion that might be better suited to a less casual environment."
"Agreed, well, off we go."
By the time that the group arrived at Dumbledore's office, Sirius and Amelia had been completely brought up to speed on what had already occurred that evening. Sirius was muttering furiously under his breath, his face getting more and more red as time passed while everyone took one of the many chairs that Dumbledore conjured for them.
"Oh, for the love of Merlin, Sirius, put a sock in it, already," Amelia finally snapped once they were all seated. "You sound like a drunken sailor."
"I think I've more than a little right to be furious, Aims," Sirius shot back.
"So do I!" she responded. "But grouching about it isn't going to accomplish anything so stow it and you can go hit the firing range when we're done and blow off some steam."
Sirius growled furiously but quieted down, sinking into a high-backed chair with his hands clasped together tightly in his lap, his knuckles white from the strength of his grip.
"Okay," Amelia finally said after taking a moment to take in a deep breath that she slowly let out in an effort to calm herself. "First things first, what exactly does this all mean? Harry's name came out of this Goblet of Fire, but he didn't enter his own name. And considering their bond, what does it mean for the girls?"
From where he was sitting with his girls Harry felt the pangs of nervousness from each of them and did his best to send calming emotions through their bond.
"In regard to the girls," Dumbledore began, "according to Madam Pomphrey all three have an identical magical signature now. However, Harry's magical signature is still just different enough that the young ladies should not be affected by this situation." He frowned and let out a deep sigh. "Unfortunately, the same cannot be said for Lord Potter, himself. Obviously, someone else entered his name into the Goblet, however the scrap of parchment that I inspected appears to have been torn from a larger piece and the name was written in Lord Potter's own hand. I imagine it was torn off of one of the essays that he has turned in over the last few years of class here. As such, there is a trace of his magical signature lingering in the parchment."
Dumbledore spread his hands helplessly. "The Goblet was used because doing so binds the contestants through a magical contract. I was against this, but the Ministry overruled me. It was insisted that the contract be in place so as to ensure that no one attempted to back out of the competition, and thus embarrass the Ministry." He said the last part with a trace of disgust in his voice.
"So, I really have no choice?" Harry asked. "I absolutely have to compete?"
Dumbledore considered the question silently for several moments before he let out another sigh, his gaze somber.
"As far as I am aware, I am afraid you do not. As far as I am aware, you must compete, or you will lose your magic, at the very least."
Harry shook his head.
"No. I can live without magic. I've done it before. I'm not putting my girls at risk. If I get hurt, or killed, they'll suffer. I won't have that happen."
"Harry," Hermione interjected in a small tone.
"I don't think that will work," Susan added.
"Why not? I'm perfectly capable of living without magic. I mean… I probably won't be able to go to school here anymore, but oh well. I'll miss you all very much during the school year, but we'll have holidays and summers and once we're all finished with school it won't matter anymore. It's not ideal, but it's better than the alternative."
"Harry, our bond is created with magic. If you lose your magic… I don't think anyone knows what that would do to our bond."
Daphne's words had all the color draining from Harry's face and the rest of them watched as his mouth moved up and down without producing any words for several moments before finally snapping shut with an audible click.
"We would much rather you didn't compete either, Harry," Hermione told him, reaching for one of his hands and holding it carefully between both of hers. "I think you've already faced far too much danger over the last few years and if we could avoid this I would prefer to. But… just the thought of losing our bond… I…"
As Hermione fell silent all three girls had tears spilling down their cheeks and Harry reached out, pulling them from their seats and towards him. All four teens tangled themselves together in a tight hug, the rest of the room seemingly vanishing from their collective awareness as their focus turned towards each other.
"Albus, I need to know what the rules are with this tournament. What kind of help can the Champions ask for? What is prohibited? Everything," Amelia stated in a cool, tightly controlled voice that did little to hide the fact that she was absolutely livid. Kingsley and Tonks exchanged a look and a wince, sure that there would be quite a lot of noise unleashed in the Ministry once their boss got back to the office.
"That much is fairly simple," Dumbledore said, ignoring the still tangled pile of teens in his office. "Information about the various tasks will be imparted to the Champions at specific times. Any resource the school has is available for their use. The library, including unfettered access to the restricted section, training facilities, and so on. The staff cannot offer aid to any Champion, however."
"The staff can't offer aid," Amelia repeated. "That doesn't mean that no one else can, does it?"
The Headmaster shook his head, a small twinkle appearing in his blue eyes.
"Right then, Kingsley and Tonks. I'm assigning the two of you to the school for the duration of this tournament. Someone placed Lord Potter's name into the Goblet, this constitutes an attack on the Lord of a Most Ancient and Noble House, therefore your assignment is to provide a security detail for Lord Potter and his bond mates. For now, we'll attempt to let them continue their school lives as normally as possible, but if necessary, we may see about moving all four of them into private quarters where you two can be on hand to better guard them. For tonight you'll be making yourselves comfortable in the Gryffindor Common Room."
Amelia spun from where she'd been addressing her Aurors to face the Headmaster again. "Is there a problem with any of that, Headmaster Dumbledore?"
"None at all. I welcome the additional security and I would also ask if you might take the Goblet with you when you return to the Ministry? Perhaps Director Croaker can investigate and attempt to determine how a fourth name was picked for a tournament that was only supposed to include three contestants?"
"Absolutely, I'll see that he gets it. Actually, Kingsley, could you please accompany the Headmaster to collect the Goblet of Fire and deliver it directly to Director Croaker. Not to one of the other Unspeakables. It goes from your hands to the Directors', and no one else, am I understood?"
"Yes, Ma'am," Kingsley said, his deep voice filling the office.
"Good. As soon as you've done that, come straight back here."
"Professor?" Kingsley gestured toward the door with one hand and Dumbledore nodded. As he rose from his desk, Sirius and Amelia gently cajoled the four teens to separate and began ushering them from the office, Moody already stomping his way down the stairs ahead of them.
With everyone outside the stone gargoyle that guarded the office, Dumbledore and Kingsley started their way down the hall at a brisk clip while the four teens, Amelia, and Sirius began slowly making their way with Tonks trailing behind them at a respectful distance.
For a minute no one said anything until Amelia stopped them in the middle of the hall and pulled Harry into a bone crushing hug.
"I don't know what happened," she muttered in his ear. "I think some ancestor of yours must have pissed off someone very powerful for this kind of crap to keep happening to you, Harry. But I promise you, we are going to figure out what happened, and you are not going to face this alone. You have a lot of people willing to help you and we will do absolutely everything in our considerable collective power to make sure you get through this in one piece, do you understand me?"
Harry silently nodded his head, arms hanging limply at his sides.
When Amelia pulled back, she held him out from her, hands on his shoulders for a moment as she stared into his glowing eyes, her own gaze firm and determined.
"Auror Tonks," she said, not looking away from Harry. "As the Headmaster said, the staff can't help any of the Champions. I want you and Kingsley..." Here she paused and her eyes flicked to the side to land and Hermione, "with Hermione's help, if she wishes, to put together a training schedule. You two are here as security for the school, but primarily you are security for Lord Potter as well as his official Auror Trainers."
"Understood, Ma'am," Tonks said.
"Curse breaking might not be a terrible idea either," Daphne interjected. "Gringotts has the most extensive staff of curse breakers in the world. We might be able to hire someone through them."
"All Harry needs to do is send a letter to Sharpshard," Susan scoffed. "Pretty sure someone will be here within a day or two."
"So, we have a plan?" Amelia asked, finally looking away from Harry fully to turn her gaze on the rest of them. "Kingsley and Tonks will train Harry while Hermione helps with research and putting together an effective schedule. Daphne and Susan-"
"We will be training with Harry," Daphne cut Amelia off.
"Someone put Harry's name into that Goblet. That's going to put him in danger. We're already in danger because of our association with him, not that we'd change that for the world, and that's why we've all been training all this time. The odds that whoever did this might decide to come after one of us is not so small that we can afford to sit back and continue as we have been."
A barely audible growl came from Harry's direction, but the women all ignored him in favor of eyeing each other. Daphne, Susan, and Hermione stood shoulder to shoulder, steely resolve evident in their expressions while Tonks kept to the side and kept her peace, knowing that this was between them and Amelia.
Amelia let out a long sigh. "I wouldn't expect anything else from you, honestly, though I would wish that it wasn't necessary." Her brow furrowed as she considered the situation. "I know I said that I wanted your school lives to continue as unchanged as possible but I'm not sure we can really do that," she muttered.
"I'll have to speak to your parents, Hermione, and I'll need something from you, Lady Greengrass, when I go to the Headmaster to request that the four of you be allowed to skip classes. Harry is already allowed to as a Champion. Ideally, I'd like him to continue attending lessons but, for the amount of training and work he'll be needing to do, he really won't have time. And if the three of you are going to insist on attending his training with him then you'll have to be able to skip classes as well. Harry is exempt from having to take the end of year exams but the three of you won't be, so we'll have to make absolutely certain that all the exam material is covered as part of your training."
"I'll head over to talk to the Doctors Granger as soon as we're done here," Sirius interjected. "I'll save the firing range for later, when there aren't things that need to be done."
"I won't be skipping the exams," Harry interrupted. "I'll take them, too."
"Are you sure, Harry?"
Harry let out a scoff. "Hi, have you met my bond mate, Hermione Granger? She of the academic excellence that the rest of us just try to keep up with? Do you really think she'd be happy with me if I used this as an excuse to just skip the exams?"
There was a muted 'smack' as Hermione slapped Harry's arm, an action that did absolutely nothing to remove the amused grin from his face and set Sirius off snickering behind his hand, something which earned him a glare from the brunette which he manfully ignored.
"I'm not that bad," she insisted, her face flushed a brilliant red.
"Yes, you are, love," Susan chuckled, moving up to wrap an arm around the brunette bookworm's waist. "But that's just one of the many things that we love about you. We tease, but don't think we don't appreciate your dedication to your studies. You've helped all three of us often enough the last few years."
"Okay, okay," Amelia called, smiling softly as she got their attention. "Training is going to focus a lot on practical applications of magic and be pretty light on theory. I will speak with your professors and make sure that we get a list of what you need to know to properly pass your exams and you'll have to do the theory study on your own time."
"I can absolutely make sure that we're ready for the theory portions," Hermione muttered, her eyes narrowed in thought, an expression that sent a small shiver of dread down the spines of all three of her bond mates.
The grin Amelia shot them told them she was well aware of their reaction, even if it wasn't exactly outwardly visible.
"Alright… alright, I have a lot to do so I'll be heading to the office. I'll keep in contact, but at the moment I have a lot of work that I need to be getting on with, so the four of you should get to the tower and I'll talk to you all, soon. With any luck I'll have something together by tomorrow."
Amelia paused in the act of turning away to glance at Harry, who was frowning while absently stroking the scar behind his jaw with his right hand.
"Do you… do you think we should offer to share our training with the other champions?" he finally asked. "I mean… I'm not even supposed to be in this damn thing, but I've been shanghaied into it anyway. Cedric, Viktor, and Fleur… they're not going to be getting any extra training. Their headmasters can't offer them any special help, or it would be breaching the contract. I just… it doesn't feel fair for me to get special training and for them to just be left to their own devices."
"What isn't fair is for a fourteen-year-old to have gotten roped into this against his will," Amelia argued. "Normally I might agree that you have an unfair advantage in the extra training and practice that you'll be able to get but the difference here is that the other champions actually signed up for this of their own free will."
"I get that, but it still doesn't feel right to me. Also, this whole tournament is about building closer relations, isn't it? Making new friends and getting to know different people. I think it would be just in the spirit of this competition if we all worked together as much as possible. Yes, we're supposed to be competing with each other, but there's no reason we can't be friends at the same time, right? I compete against Cedric in Quidditch, but I consider him a friend, what's the difference here?"
Amelia could see all three girls smiling broadly at their bond mate, their approval of his idea was obvious, and she couldn't help but feel rather proud of him for the conclusion that he came to, herself.
She glanced over at Tonks who was still standing unobtrusively nearby.
"Auror Tonks?" she asked. "It's up to you. I'm sure that Kingsley would agree with whatever you decide here so what do you think? Would making it a class of seven be too much?"
Tonks considered the question in silence for a moment, her hair randomly cycling through several colors as she thought before returning to its usual bubblegum pink.
"Kings was a guest trainer for several of my classes during the Auror Academy," she finally said in a thoughtful tone. "If he can handle a class of forty plus adults, I'm pretty sure that between the two of us we can manage to train seven, especially since I've already worked with these four before and I already have an idea of what they're capable of. Shack can work with the other three until we know where everyone is, and we can work from there."
Amelia sighed again and rubbed at the center of her forehead where she could already feel a headache coming on.
"Alright. This is going to sound cutthroat, but I honestly can't find myself caring all that much right about now." She fixed Harry with a stern look. "You are welcome to invite the other champions if you want. But as bad as it may sound, they're not my ward." She reached out and squeezed Harry's arm with one hand. "Or my daughter," she added with a glance at Susan. "Nor are they family," she finished with a look at Daphne and Hermione. "If it comes down to it, I will have Kingsley and Tonks focus on the four of you and let the other champions figure it out for themselves. They're not my responsibility, you guys are, and I love you too much to let them be a distraction if it will slow you down or cause any trouble, am I understood?"
"I understand, Amy," he said as he pulled her into a hug. "I promise, we'll do our best and we won't let anything slow us down."
"Alright, I really need to get going now. Auror Tonks, make sure that they get back to the tower." She pulled back from Harry and reached up to brush his hair off his forehead before she leaned in and pressed a soft kiss to the scar above his eye. "I'll talk to you lot tomorrow, yeah?"
Harry offered her a soft smile. "See you tomorrow, Amy."
Sirius took a moment to hug all of them, and to talk quickly to Hermione to see if she had any messages she wanted passed on to her parents before he and Amelia separated from the group and the four bonded, along with Tonks, continued on their way toward Gryffindor Tower.
When they finally arrived outside the entrance into the tower, the four students stopped, Tonks still keeping a respectful distance behind them. For a time, no one moved or spoke, save for the painting of the fat lady who eyed them curiously and asked a few times if they were going to enter.
Eventually, Susan turned and looked at Tonks.
"Mind if we make a quick detour for a few minutes?" she asked, her voice tight.
Tonks simply nodded and followed as the four of them moved down the hall toward a familiar part of the castle. She watched as Harry walked back and forth three times in front of a blank stretch of wall and she followed as a door appeared and the four of them went inside. With the door closed behind them, Tonks moved to one side, standing near the wall and looking around at the rooms' new configuration.
If Amelia had been present, she would have recognized the target range Harry had created back in their second year, right after he, Susan, and Daphne had woken up after Hermione had been petrified. At that time Harry had unleashed a lot of pent-up aggression, blowing up target after target for nearly fifteen straight minutes before Amelia finally stopped him.
Since Tonks hadn't been there at that time, she was simply observing the room and wondering what exactly they were doing there. Right up until a wordless scream tore through the room and her head whipped back toward the four bonded as the spells quickly began flying. Target after target erupted into flames, was shredded into confetti, blown to pieces, melted, crushed, pierced, and otherwise destroyed.
The impressive part to Tonks was that the enraged screaming never faltered, save for when breath was needed, so every spell was cast without the use of the incantation.
When did Hermione get so good at silent casting? she thought to herself in some bemusement.
After several minutes, the screaming and the casting stopped and Hermione's arms fell to her sides, her shoulders shaking as Harry slowly approached her. He placed his hands gently on her shoulders, Susan and Daphne flanking him on either side and Hermione suddenly spun in place, her wand dropping from her hand as her balled fists came up to thump against his chest.
"Why?!" Tears streaming down her face, she drove her fists into his chest again. "Why you? Why is it always you? Haven't you done enough? Haven't you suffered enough? W-why is it, that every god damned fucking time something goes wrong, it's you that's stuck right in the middle of it?!" she practically shrieked.
Abandoning her ineffective pummeling of Harry's chest, she suddenly threw her arms around his neck and collapsed against him, sobbing loudly. Daphne and Susan moved forward, bracketing the pair in the middle as Harry's arms came around the brunette witch and their own arms encircled the two of them. For herself, Tonks felt more than a little uncomfortable, like she was witnessing something extremely private and personal, and so she turned her attention away from the group in the middle of the room, focusing on the various targets, those that were still standing, as she started thinking on the training program that she and Shack would need to get them to follow.
"I don't want you to do this," Hermione mumbled into Harry's chest, her fear and worry hammering across the bond at them. "You shouldn't have to do this, but if you don't…"
"If I don't, we don't know what will happen to our bond," Harry whispered, "just like you and Daphne said. And like I've said before, I will always do everything that I can to protect you. I was willing to give up my magic just to protect the three of you from whatever might happen to me during this thing. If that's not an option, then you know damn well that I will do my absolute best to get through this in one piece. I won't have you three hurting because of me if there's anything I can do about it."
"What if you just show up at each task and then just don't do anything? Would that count as 'participating' enough?" Hermione asked, a desperate note in her voice.
"He can't do that," Susan cut in before Harry could even attempt to answer the question. That seemed like a good idea to him.
"Why not? He doesn't have to win. Do any of us care if he wins? I just want him to come back to us in one piece."
"So do we, love," Daphne murmured emphatically. "The problem with that all boils down to who Harry is."
Hermione turned her head toward the blond.
"He's Harry," she hissed. "He's our Harry."
"He's also the Boy-Who-Lived," Daphne pointed out, "which doesn't matter to him or to us, or to our families, but it matters to other people. On top of that he's Lord Potter, Ally to House Longbottom. He's the youngest Order of Merlin First Class recipient in history. He's a Friend to the Goblin Nation and named a Blooded Warrior by the Goblin Nation. He's a political powerhouse whose reputation and standing in the public eye is massively important, as much as we all hate it."
"As much as I would prefer for Harry to start each task with conjuring himself a chair and a table and just sit down to play solitaire, or something," Susan said, causing Hermione to turn her head toward her, "if he were to do something like that he would lose face in front of a lot of people, people that we're all going to need in the future."
"Why do we need them?"
"We have all agreed, along with our friends, that we're going to change the Wizarding world when we grow up, yeah? Right now, our biggest, heaviest hitter to achieve those goals is Harry. Our friends' houses, mine and Daphne's houses, we've all got some political clout, but all of us combined could hardly reach the level of power and influence that Harry will be able to wield once we're all able to take our seats on the Wizengamot. If we want to be able to make those changes to this world, so things like this can't happen anymore, so women get the recognition we deserve, so magical beings aren't treated like creatures by wizards and witches, we will need every last ounce of political capital that we can get. We all have big dreams for the future, and we won't be able to achieve those dreams if we squander the political power that Harry has amassed so far. It will take far too long to build it back up."
"And," Daphne added, "once Harry beats Voldemort, that power he has will reach a whole new level."
"So, we're going to just let our husband risk his life for politics?!" Hermione blurted out incredulously.
"Not for politics," Susan interjected. "Well… not just for politics. But for the future."
"What do you mean?"
"Hermione… you want children one day, don't you?" Susan asked, ignoring how red both the brunette in the middle had become as well as the wizard holding her, who had remained silent as he let his girls work things out.
Hermione sheepishly nodded her head.
"Do you want to bring them into a world where women are used like bargaining chips? One where a Head of House could sell away his daughter to the highest bidder, despite what she wants? One where some people use love potions on others and, depending on who the victims' parents are, there's no laws being broken? Do you want to bring them into a world where people like Voldemort can so easily rise to power because of how messed up and broken this society is? Or do you want to bring them into a world where you can look our kids in the eye and tell them, honestly, that you, and we, did absolutely everything in our power to give them a better world than the one we had?"
Hermione sighed and turned her head, so her forehead was pressed into the center of Harry's chest.
"I just hate that everything seems to be at Harry's expense," she muttered.
"I do, too," he said, running one hand up and down her back. "Believe me. But I think we need to stop hoping for a calm life."
All three girls leaned back a bit to look at him, incredulously.
"We've heard you whining that you want a calm, quiet school year, practically since we met you," Daphne pointed out. "To hear you suddenly flip that around… are you feeling okay?" She schooled her face into an expression of concern and lifted one hand to feel his forehead. "You do feel warm," she muttered, her brow furrowed.
"I always feel warm," he said with a snort. "No… it was being in the Headmaster's office that got me thinking."
"What about, Harry?" Susan asked, her lips turned up into a smirk as Daphne continued to feel his forehead, despite him attempting to move his head away from the reach of her hand.
"What did the Hat say about me during our sorting? And after second year when we were all in the Headmaster's office after the Goblins came in to render down the Basilisk corpse?"
Daphne lowered her hand, and all three girls exchanged a look.
"I think we need something a little more specific than that, Harry," Hermione finally admitted. "The Hat said a lot of different things."
"It said that I was something called a 'nexus', a point around which extraordinary occurrences will happen."
The girls looked thoughtful for a moment, Hermione with her eyes closed as she thought back to that day.
"'I told you, that you are a nexus'," Hermione mused, quietly. "'There are some people in the world within the tapestry of fate, around which momentous events will transpire. You are one such individual. There are actually several such people in this room, right now. You are by far the strongest of them in this instance. You might as well get used to strange things happening around you with little to no explanation. It's going to be happening for a long time whether you like it or not.'"
When she opened her eyes again, she found all three of her bond mates now giving her incredulous looks.
"What?" she asked, parroting Harry from just a few moments before.
"Did you really just quote the Hat from memory?" Harry asked. "From more than a year ago?"
Hermione shrugged, her shoulders hunching slightly. "I have a good memory," she muttered.
After a moment of silence, Harry grinned and shook his head in amusement before he leaned in to press a kiss to Hermione's forehead.
"Anyway," he said. "I think at this point we, I, need to stop hoping for a quiet life and focus on simply living and surviving to spend that life with the three of you. What's that phrase? 'Hope for the best but prepare for the worst?'"
The girls nodded their heads.
"Well, that should be our new mantra. This all sucks, horribly, but we're stuck with it. So, we keep training, we up our training, apparently," he added with a look at Tonks over his shoulder. The pink haired Auror grinned and waved at them from her spot near the door. He turned his attention back to the girls. "We hope for the best, but we prepare for the worst. I can't keep living my life trying to hide from every crazy thing that's going to happen. Since it's apparently going to happen despite my wishes. All we can do is be ready to take each new thing as it comes, right?"
Hermione sighed, letting her head fall forward against his chest again.
"I hate when you're right," she muttered, setting both Susan and Daphne off chuckling at her annoyance.
"Alright," she finally said, lifting her head again and stepping back from their huddle to wipe the tears that still stained her face. "So, what do we do now? We head back to the tower and deal with the crowd that's definitely up waiting for us. We go to sleep, and tomorrow we get started preparing for the worst, right?"
"Sounds like a plan to me," Harry said. The rest of them are going to want to party, aren't they?"
They started toward the door, Harry groaning as the girls all nodded in agreement to his question.
"I really don't want to have to deal with that," he muttered.
"We'll bow out as soon as we can," Daphne reassured him. "I don't know about you three but I'm exhausted."
Daphne felt a fierce sense of agreement from her three bond mates as they left the room and began making their way back toward the tower.
Halfway through their walk, Harry's voice drifted through her mind, his question obviously directed at Hermione.
Did you really call me your husband, back there? he asked, and on his right side Hermione's cheeks flushed a deep red.
It's how I've been thinking of you in my mind since you told us about the letter you received from Sharpshard, Hermione admitted in a sheepish mental tone. You are my husband, our husband, and Daphne and Susan are my wives as well. Even if it isn't entirely official, yet.
Harry's right arm snaked out from his side and wrapped around Hermione's waist, pulling her close against his side as they walked.
I've been calling the three of you my wives in my head, too, he admitted. I might not be ready to think about really being a husband yet, not with everything that really goes into that. But I really love the sound of it.
Susan and I love it, too, Daphne's voice whispered to them as they stopped at the entrance into the tower. But for now, husband and wife of ours, let's get ready to deal with the rest of our house mates.
Smiling softly at each other, Harry removed his arm from around Hermione and the four of them, along with their Auror escort, strode into the tower and a veritable wall of sound.