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Harry Potter And The Game of Death

Level 1

Chapter Thirty-Five: Information Gained and Hidden

Post-game saw Harry and his teammates leave the field in an ecstatic jumble. Everyone slapped one another's backs as they walked, crowed over maneuverers that they or someone else had pulled during the match, and basically celebrated every aspect of the team's accomplishment. All while cameras blazed away and the crowd screamed in raucous jubilation.

Once the team had done a few victory laps around the stadium and returned to their tunnel, they split up by gender and headed into the locker rooms. With the fun part over and no one badly injured, everyone had to clean up for the next act.

The contractually obligated post-game media sessions.

Harry, as the only minor, was left on his own while the men hit the showers first. It would be the only alone time he had to himself for the near future and he planned to take advantage of it once he finished his post-game rituals.

With a quick brush of a towel, Harry finished wiping his head of sweat as he sat on a wooden bench. Coming down from the high of playing Quidditch always took a bit, but he had found that taking a moment to reflect on himself did wonders in speeding the process along. He hummed an off-key tune under his breath while carefully stowing his Firebolt and Quidditch gear into a specially Charmed bag that Sirius had purchased for him when Harry had joined the national team.

While he worked, aches and pains from the violent match had begun to flare to life across his body. They reminded Harry rather painfully that being a wizard did not, sadly, make one immune to pain.

He gingerly raised a hand to the worst spot, located between his shoulder blades, where he could feel a rather large bruise beginning to form thanks to a nasty Bludger hit. Grumbling to himself, Harry pulled out a jar of ointment from his bag and began to slather it on; while not as good as a trip to Madame Pomfrey, the stuff would dull the pain and expedite the healing process.

Giving his shoulders a stretch and happily noticing that the ointment was fast acting, Harry pushed the rest of his various aches to the back of his mind. He then firmly shut his locker door and looked around to make sure that he was truly alone.

Because with his post-game routine mostly complete, it was time to claim his reward from the Game of Death.

Ding!

Quest Notification

I, Seeker

Progress:

You Have Just Won Your First Professional Game of Quidditch, but More Remain (Hopefully)

Quest Rewards:

10,000 Galleons (To be Deposited in Your Gringotts Account at a Future Date by the Ministry of Magic's Department of International Magical Cooperation), a Moderate Boost to Your International Fame, and a 'Hint' for the 'Attack on the World Cup' Quest (Select 'Hint' to View the Information in a Separate Screen)

Win More Games for More Rewards

Quest Reward Update:

Further 'Attack' Quest Hints Will Only be Given Before and After the World Cup Match Should You Make It That Far in Your Matches

The first feeling Harry felt after reading the quest was elation at the Game having stuck to its metaphorical word. But this feeling was soon followed by one of annoyance when he saw the revision the Game had made to the quest parameters.

"Of course the rewards were changed on me," Harry muttered to himself after rereading the most important part of the text, the part about gaining more information. "This is starting to become a pattern."

As Hermione liked to say, 'once was an anomaly, twice a coincidence, and three times a pattern.' This was the third time the Game of Death had done this, and it was starting to get very tiresome.

Wanting an answer, Harry enabled the 'Help' feature and posed it a question. "Why does the Game change the objectives for a quest after I have already accepted it?"

Ding!

A Temporary Exemption to the 'Help' Feature's Normal Operating Rules Has Been Made

Changes to a Quest or Other Part of the Game of Death Which are not Previously Stated are Usually Due to a Shift in the Ethereal Tides Overseen by Fate

Well. That was a rather direct answer. One which Harry had honestly not expected the Game of Death to provide.

But as Harry had no idea in the slightest as to what the 'Ethereal Tides' might be, the answer was of little help to him. So he gambled on the Game's good grace continuing and asked it to clarify the answer.

Ding!

The Temporary Exemption to the 'Help' Feature's Normal Operating Rules Has Ended

The 'Help' Feature Does Not Have Any Information on this Subject at this Time

Great. That lack of an answer meant Harry would either have to ask someone like Hermione or Remus about it later to see if they knew what the 'Ethereal Tides' might be, or he would need to research the subject on his own time. Neither of which was of any assistance to him right that moment.

Annoyed, Harry shoved the topic to the back of his mind for later consideration, closed the Help feature with a grumble, and went back to the Quest Notification screen, whereupon he selected 'Hint' to bring up his final quest reward.

Ding!

Quest Hint

Lucius Malfoy hopes to orchestrate an attack on the World Cup's attendees in order to cement his self-perceived position as the foremost practitioner of Dark Magic in Magical Britain. His next move has already been made and will come to pass on the date of the World Cup's title match. The ones known as Morgan and Yaxley will execute the key portion of Lucius' scheme. Stopping them before they can enact their assignment, or exposing their actions afterwards, will irrevocably damage Lucius Malfoy's plan.

Bloody hell!

Now that was some useful information! Harry felt his earlier annoyance at the Game's revision to the Quest parameters evaporate like mist on a hot summer's day. Because the Game of Death's hint had not only told Harry why Lucius Malfoy was plotting to harm people – even if it was for a predictably stupid reason – but also when and how Harry could best stop the pale-faced ponce.

Laughter burst from Harry's lips as he banged a hand against the nearby lockers in joy.

Sure, some of the major details still needed to be filled in, such as exactly how Harry and the rest would go about stopping Malfoy. But that was just fine by Harry. He would take that issue any day versus being asked to blindly scrabble in the shadows to try and locate even a hint of his enemies' plan or presence, as was the usual scenario for him.

While Harry excitedly pondered over the Game's revelatory hint and how he might best go about using it to foil Malfoy's sinister plan, the other guys on the Quidditch team began filing into the locker room from the shower area.

Before they could get any closer, Harry gave the guys a nod and stopped what he was doing with the Game of Death. Only once he was in the showers and certain that he had the area to himself did Harry finish his business. He closed out the various screens which still hovered before his eyes and used the 'Party' feature to send a short message to Sirius relaying his success. Then Harry allowed himself to relax and revel in how the hot water chased away much of the lingering aches and pains from his match.

When he emerged from the showers a short time later, it was to find the changing room empty save for a panicky looking Ministry wizard holding a set of fresh Quidditch robes in Harry's size.

Harry bit back a groan as the official rushed forward, talking a million kilometres an hour. The good mood he had gained from winning the game and getting a great bit of information from the Game of Death was totally ruined. Because if this was how the media sessions were going to begin, Harry could already tell that the next two hours were not going to be enjoyable in the slightest.


Ding!

You Have Received a Message from One of Your Party Members

Select to Read

"Finally!" Sirius growled to himself. He had been waiting to hear from Harry since the match had ended, but it had been nearly half an hour and the boy had yet to say so much as a peep.

Alas, his excitement over getting word from Harry was ill-timed.

"Finally what, Sirius?" Andromeda inquired. His cousin's full lips pursed while her eyes narrowed in evident suspicion at his outburst.

Ah, bloody hell. Sirius felt like kicking himself. He had forgotten that he had been in the middle of talking to his gorgeous and far too intelligent cousin when the message had arrived. And of all the people Sirius knew, only Remus was better at figuring out when he was trying to hide something.

"Er, well, you see, 'Dromeda," Sirius began as he searched his brain for some excuse she would actually buy. "Our conversation put me in mind about Harry's upcoming birthday party…"

"Talking about the latest movements of Lucius and his goons made you think of Harry's birthday?"

"Ah ha ha! Well, of course it did! Why wouldn't it?"

Yeah, that had been the wrong choice in topics; she was not buying it in the slightest. Andromeda's narrowed eyes gained a predatory glint to them as Sirius began to babble about his plans for Harry's party.

But luckily for Sirius, the coming interrogation was stalled thanks to the timely arrival of Magical Britain's biggest idiot.

"Sirius, my friend!" Ludo Bagman called out as he bustled past the twins. "I hope that I'm not interrupting – oh! Why Andromeda, dear, it is simply wonderful to see you again. You look more lovely than ever. It's simply been far too long since I last had the pleasure of your company!"

After breathing out a soft sigh of relief at having dodged Andromeda's wrath, Sirius watched with some amusement as Ludo tried, and failed, to place a kiss on the woman's hand.

Andromeda rolled her eyes in clear annoyance at the man's presence. "Hello, Ludo. It has indeed been quite some time. I believe that we haven't spoken since the 1986 Annual Winter's Solstice Ball at the Ministry, where you tried to ask me out on a date. While I was on the arm of my beloved husband, if I remember correctly."

A lesser fool would have blanched at Andromeda's words, but Ludo's foolish grin only grew wider. "Ah, but your beauty was so brilliant that evening, my dear lady, that I was rendered speechless by its radiance. You cannot blame a mere mortal for daring to reach for the sun, can you?"

"Perhaps not," Andromeda replied curtly, her acrid tone causing a smile to dance its way across Sirius' lips. "But as I recall, that particular moment of flattery came shortly after you had also asked my daughter, who was quite underage at the time, if she had wanted to take a 'special tour' of your private flat. Or did my hex drive the memory of that meeting out of your admittedly thick skull, Ludo?"

Ludo visibly wilted at the rejoinder. "Oh. Erm, yes, well, that did happen, didn't it?"

"Yes. It did."

Andromeda's acidic reply left the man no room for retreat. But to Ludo's credit, or so Sirius thought to himself, the man drew himself up and met her glare straight on.

"I'm terribly sorry about all that; I am normally a gentleman of the highest order. I can only imagine that I must've had a little too much punch that evening… although, in my defence, both you and your daughter possess an unearthly beauty which outshines even the most tempting sirens of legend."

And there went any credit Sirius had thought of giving the man. The strategy of digging a second, even deeper hole when you were still stuck in the first hole was not an intelligent decision. And Sirius' cousin had never responded well to ostentatious flattery.

When his words were met with an icy silence, Ludo seemed to realize that his flattery had failed miserably. This realization was shortly followed by a look of sheer panic that crossed over his features when he saw Andromeda's hand began to twitch towards her wand.

Ludo grabbed onto Sirius' shoulder and began to walk away, post haste. "Well, erm, I'd enjoy nothing more than if we could continue to catch up, my dear, but I, uh, have a somewhat pressing matter to discuss with your cousin. Many thanks for lending him to me, and you have my deepest apologies for disturbing your conversation!"

Moving with a speed born from fear and desperation at what might happen should he continue to engage Sirius' cousin, the idiotic man hustled Sirius into a corner of the room far, far away from everyone else.

Amused and happy at not be the one on the hotseat, Sirius allowed the man to do as he wished. One short conversation and a signed legal paper later found Sirius left to his own devices and a beaming Ludo on his way to locate Harry.

After glancing around to make sure that he would be undisturbed, Sirius moved to the bar and busied himself with getting a new drink, using it to disguise his movements in opening Harry's message.

Ding!

The Game's reward was amazing. Got info on Malfoy's plans. Need to come up with a counterplan. Will meet as discussed.

Closing the short message with a swift flick of his fingers, Sirius raised his head and looked around for Hermione. With Remus still out of commission, the young girl was the only other person around who was in the loop about everything, and the girl seemed to have a good head on her shoulders when it came to planning.

He eventually located Hermione in a far corner of the room, where she was clustered with Molly's little spitfire of a daughter. The two young girls had their heads held rather close together, seemingly engaged in a rather important discussion judging by their red faces and agitated movements.

Sirius shook his head at the sight. If he had not known just how badly both girls fancied his godson – and by Morgana's luscious lips, but the early signs were pointing to Harry having better luck with the ladies than both his father and Sirius combined – then Sirius might have thought the two to be flirting with one another. He had not seen a girl turn Ginny's particular shade of red since he had stumbled in on Aurora and some Hufflepuff girl, both starkers, in a broom closet during Sirius's sixth year at Hogwarts.

Ah, what a fond memory that was to recall. While it had not been Sirius' first threesome, it had certainly been a memorable one.

In any case, memories of threesomes with gorgeous gals would have to wait. And whether the interaction between Hermione and Ginny was either a problem or a delightful future possibility for his godson, Sirius would let the boy be the one to figure it out. Though he eagerly plotted out some advice on the subject should Harry ever come calling for guidance.

After watching the two continue to argue for several minutes and judging that it would be likely to continue for quite some time if they were left alone, Sirius decided to intervene.

Moving calmly so as not to arouse suspicion, Sirius walked behind one of the Weasley twins as the boy checked out the massive dessert table Sirius had ordered for the suite. A deft flick of his wrist caused a golden Galleon to slip neatly into one of the boy's pockets; his subtle start told Sirius that the boy had noticed the addition.

Sirius moved to stand beside the boy while pretending to peruse the table's offerings.

"Without being seen, I need to take Hermione out of the suite so we can meet up with Harry in advance of everyone else," Sirius whispered under his breath. "There's more Galleons where that one came from if you can make a good distraction and keep your lips sealed in the bargain."

A grin large enough to put a giant's to shame spread over the boy's face. He gave Sirius a miniscule nod in reply and selected several desserts at random before walking away.

Thirty seconds passed, during which Sirius made sure to slowly make his way over to where the two girls were still locked in conversation.

From the corner of his eye Sirius saw the twin he had not spoken with take a vial out of his sleeve and hold it over Ron's cup. Several seconds – and one large swig – later saw the entire booth enveloped in pandemonium when a low, resounding boom tolled through the air.

Molly's voice was the first to ring out in response. "Fred! George! How dare you bring one of your daft inventions here and use them on your brother! What have you done to him this time?"

"Aw, don't be like that, mum."

"Yeah mum. It was an honest mistake. Really. And why is it us who always gets blamed?"

"A mistake? Do you two think I'm some blind and deaf ninny? I saw you put the potion in Ronald's glass just before he took a sip! And the reason why you two always get blamed is that these sorts of shenanigans are nearly always your fault!"

"Aha! Nearly is the key word there, mum."

"Exactly. It means that we're not always to blame and therefore might be innocent."

"Well said, Gred. Capital reasoning there."

"Why thank you, Forge. Just pointing out the basic mistakes in mum's logic is all."

"That's – you – I - Argh! The both of you are incorrigible!"

"Don't fret, Molly, I'll sort it out," came Minerva's voice as the woman hustled over, wand out. "This looks to be an… unorthodox… combination of the colour changing Charm, an Engorgio, and some rather advanced Transfiguration that the two boys failed to showcase on their end of year exams..."

A blue flash rang through the room, followed by a second round of shocked gasps.

"Oh, my. What could possibly have caused this to… ah. Andromeda, would you mind performing a diagnostic spell on Ronald's goblet? It looks like there are some rather exotic potion ingredients involved. I need to know what they might be so I can properly account for their effects."

Sirius chuckled to himself as the chaos continued to unfold. And by stumping Minerva for even a short time, the two mischief makers who were the source of it all had earned themselves a large bonus.

When Ginny began to move towards her family, a wry smile on the girl's face, Sirius darted in to grab Hermione. He held a finger up to his lips so she would not give his plan away.

After mouthing the word 'Game' to her and getting a quick nod in reply, the two of them made a break for the exit, completely unnoticed thanks to the continuing commotion.


An hour after he had left the locker room found Harry doing his penultimate, and most loathed thus far, post-game media commitment: the solo session. And to make things worse, the witch and wizard reporters in the audience, dressed in a mishmash of poorly thought out muggle outfits, seemed to be bursting with energy as they fought with one another to pepper Harry with a vast assortment of questions. Many of which had very little to do with Quidditch.

After weathering the initial wave of questions, Harry determined that the reporters could be split into roughly three separate sections.

The first section was mainly comprised of British wizards and witches. All of whom seemed obsessed with asking some variation of when Harry had first felt he was destined for greatness.

Harry hated replying to this group and always kept his answers short.

"Erm, never, really," was his most common answer. Followed by, "Well, I've always just thought of myself as a regular person. I didn't even know that I was a wizard 'til I turned eleven."

The second section, meanwhile, was mainly comprised of foreign wizards. And though Harry found them easier to deal with than the first group, it was mainly because they were obsessed with trying to find out if Harry sought to become a rival to that foreign player Ron had mentioned a few times, Viktor Krum.

Since Harry did not really know the bloke and had no desire to increase his own fame in the slightest, his humble and vague replies always seemed to disappoint.

"I have nothing but respect for Viktor," Harry always prefaced. Then he would give some version of, "but I've never really thought of being a rival to anyone. I'm still new to all of this and am still trying to take it all in. What I do know is that I really like to fly on a broom, and that flying in Quidditch is probably the most fun I've ever known."

The third and final distinct group, meanwhile, was mainly composed of witches both foreign and domestic. Harry found his dealings with this group to be the most difficult of all since they were very interested in a topic he did not want to discuss with anyone: his love life.

And after he had mistakenly caved and blushingly answered that he did not have, and had never had, a proper girlfriend, the questions from the third group turned to what sort of traits he found attractive in a prospective partner. Responding to these questions often brought to mind the images of several girls Harry knew he was into, like Cho. Though some of the faces that popped into his brain made Harry squirm in his seat as he wondered why he was thinking of them in his current situation.

His responses to their prying questions made him ramble like a blithering idiot, and Harry just knew that he would one day come to regret them.

"Erm. Um. If, uh, I had to say anything, erm, about what I like in a girl, uh… maybe brains, beauty, and loyalty? And kindness, too. Definitely kindness. That's very important. But I also like girls who are sporty. Who are tough, or funny. Cultured, too, or maybe even a little bit weird. As for age… I haven't really thought about that too much; I only really see people who are close to my own age at Hogwarts. Though I guess that it would, um, feel a little odd to date someone old enough to be my mother, who would only be in her mid-thirties if she were still alive."

But the end of that particular reply, and any other reply Harry made which was phrased in a similar manner, was often a mistake. Since nearly every reporter, regardless of their gender or country of origin, wanted to pry into his past and jumped on any opportunity to dig into it.

Harry had quickly lost track of how many times on of the reporters had twisted something he had said and spun it into some comment on his dead parents. But it was a topic for which Harry had prepared himself to face beforehand, and he always gave them a single answer phrased in a variety of different ways.

"Though I will forever miss my parents – without whom the darkest and most evil wizard since Grindenwald might still be in power – knowing that my godfather and many of my closest friends were in the stands today, cheering me on, is a special memory that I will never forget."

That sort of reply would take the wind out of a reporter's sails, but another reporter would always jump in and pick up the slack. And all told, the discomfort Harry felt from the media session was nearly enough to drive him spare. The longer it went, the harder it was to keep his temper in hand and not yell at some reporter for asking an insensitive or deeply personal question.

Especially when a certain reporter stepped forward and, for the eighth time that session, subtly insinuated that there was something wrong with him. That he was a glory seeker out to gain fame even if it came at the expense of those around him.

Harry locked eyes with the curly, blonde haired woman and gave her a tight smile. "Well, if I had to say something on the matter, er, miss..."

"Skeeter, dearie," the woman replied. A floating, acid green quill moved, seemingly on its own accord, across a floating pad of paper beside her while she spoke. "Rita Skeeter of the Daily Prophet. But you can call me Rita; I have the pleasure of being closely acquainted with your godfather since well before his terrible and unjust incarceration tore him out of your life at such an early age, and I was able to… renew… our acquaintance several weeks ago in a private interview session."

"Well, miss Skeeter," Harry said firmly, sidestepping her attempt to establish a connection with him. "To answer your question, no, I am not a glory seeker. Nor have I ever been one. For as you so crudely put it in an earlier question, my entire life has been a series of crises coming at me one after another. Be it surviving against a horde of Dementors last year, the issues at Hogwarts the year before, and so on in a line that goes all the way back to the day my parents fell to Voldemort's wand."

Harry felt as though his eyes could spit fire as he spoke. "If the price of glory is to have those you care about get hurt or die while you are constantly thrown into deadly crises after deadly crises, then I would gladly give it all up. But since not even magic can bring back the dead, I just have to keep on doing what every other decent person on this planet does every single day. Which is to try and keep both myself and those I love as safe and healthy as is humanly possible."

Skeeter flinched at his words while a hush fell over the crowded room of reporters.

For a moment Harry thought that his impassioned speech was the cause and felt a little pride in himself at having finally silenced them. But then he remembered that he had mentioned Voldemort's name and knew that the reaction of the largely British crowd had probably come from hearing the Dark wizard's name spoken aloud.

As stupid as Harry generally found that taboo, he wondered if he might have had an easier time of things had he mentioned the evil sod's name earlier in the session.

After a few awkward moments of quiet shuffling amongst the crowd of reporters, Skeeter faux coughed into her well-manicured hand and regathered her aplomb. "My apologies, Harry, if I brought up any painful memories. But, considering the general trend of your initial answer, is it your intention to suggest that you suffered terrible events even before you returned to…"

"I am not suggesting anything, miss Skeeter," Harry stated bluntly. "And I think that I've answered your question well enough. Please sit down and allow someone else to step forward."

"But I wasn't finished with –"

Harry ignored her and looked around the room. "Who's next?"

"Ha ha! I'll take you up on that offer if I am allowed. Sirius already gave me permission – see Francis, it's all here in red and gold ink, there's no need to get all huffy and stop me – and I'd like to field a few questions myself if that's alright with you."

Confused by the voice which was coming from the area reserved for Ministry employees, Harry turned around and saw Ludo Bagman making his way to where Harry sat. The man was waving a brightly inked legal paper at the same harried looking Ministry wizard who had escorted Harry throughout the day.

Figuring that he had nothing to lose and having no desire to answer any more questions himself after the combative exchange with Skeeter, Harry gave a shrug of his shoulders and assented with a nod of his head.

Ludo's ruddy face was almost bursting from joy as he joined Harry on the raised platform and conjured himself a chair to sit upon. A few flashes rang out, catching the moment on film as wizarding world photographers fired away with the oversized and unshielded bulbs on their outdated cameras.

As he gave the crowd a jaunty wave, Ludo conjured a chair and sat down at the table with Harry. "Well, well, well. Thank you for letting me join you, Harry. And how else should I begin but to praise the youngest professional Seeker our sport has ever known? Recommending him to the team was the right decision on my part. Maybe one of the best decisions of my entire career in sports, and Merlin knows I've had a good one so far!"

A few polite laughs rang out at Ludo's comments. Then questions filled the air as the packed crowd of reporters resumed their crazed competition. All except for one, that is.

Harry caught sight of Skeeter shooting a venomous look at Ludo, the woman's previously busy quill going still with a sharp flourish. It appeared that the vile woman was more interested in questioning Harry about his dead parents and imaginary glory seeking tendencies than she was in feeding Bagman's bloated ego and actual glory seeking. And though Harry was happy to see her settle down at long last, he had a feeling in his gut that this was not the last he had heard from her.

But speaking of his gut, Harry felt the remnants of his breakfast begin to heave when Ludo began to tell an embellished story of how he had supposedly prepared and recommended Harry to Britain's national team.

But since it was far, far better than fielding more questions himself, Harry kept silent and did his best not to let his growing urge to vomit show on his face.

After a momentary lull in the questioning, during which Harry cast a hopeful look at Francis and received a mouthed 'one more minute' in reply, a slightly pudgy man wearing a mismatched red sweater and skirt meant for a Muggle teenage girl thrust his hand into the air.

Ludo nodded in his direction and the man, an American wizard from his accent, stood to ask his question. "So, Ludo, it sounds like you've had quite the influence on the young Mr. Potter. My question is, have you known each other for very long?"

"Aha, Peter! It's a pleasure as always to see you," Ludo responded genially. "In fact, the two of us only recently became acquainted through his godfather, Sirius Black. Sirius and I go way back, you see, to the days when I was still on the national team myself. But the length of our partnership isn't nearly so important as our chemistry, and young Harry and I got along famously once his godfather made the introductions."

"Uh huh. And what would you say the secret to your, erm, chemistry, has been?"

"In a word? Humility. The boy takes in everything that I tell him. While on my end I never hold back in sharing even a bit of my wealth of experience. You see, teaching Harry how to play the game on a professional level has been like soaking a sponge in water. Easy, simple, and completely natural." Ludo winked at the crowd and gave a terribly fake chuckle. "With a little dash of fun added in to keep things from getting stale, of course."

A few polite laughs rang out from the audience. Harry, meanwhile, felt his eyebrows twitch as he did his best to avoid grimacing.

Were it not for his experiences with Lockhart during his second year, especially when Hermione had been mooning over the pretentious liar, Harry did not think he could have made it through Ludo's vomit inducing nonsense without causing an incident.

The American reporter jotted down a few things onto his pad of paper before turning towards Harry. "So, Harry, do you feel the same? Because the way Ludo describes things, it all sounds like a tall tale made for little kids rather than an actual partnership."

Harry blinked at the unexpected question tossed his way. "Erm, sure?"

Thankfully, Harry was saved from giving a lengthier reply. The Ministry wizard who had been guiding Harry chose that moment to step forward and grab the microphone. "I'm sorry, Peter, but we're all out of time. The photography event is up next, and we need the team's star Seeker to be there early for some solo shots."

Groans and shouted words, including a few colourful comments, rang out from the assembled reporters at the announcement, causing Francis' face to darken. "And before anyone here complains about the brevity of this Q. & A. in your articles, please remember that Harry is still a minor and that his media availability is restricted by both British and International Law regarding a minor participating in professional sporting. Thank you."

The crowd of reporters grumbled at Francis' reminder and still shouted out a few more last-minute questions, but Harry found himself hustled off-stage faster than he could blink. Francis sped Harry through dozens of hallways in the stadium before thrusting Harry into a large, garishly lit room, whereupon a veritable horde of photographers from around the globe descended upon him.

What followed was something Harry would rather burn from his memory. Because being forced into a series of costume changes and strange poses – some of a rather risqué nature – was not his idea of a good time. The oddly dressed man in a terrible white wig and eyeliner who shouted at him while the photographers blasted away with their unshielded bulbs did not help matters either.

Though the terrible, sour cherry on top of the entire experience that was Harry's media session came from the Game of Death.

Ding!

Quest Alert Notification

Blue Steel Meets Emerald Eyes

You Have Been Introduced to the Global Media and Stand on the Cusp of Becoming its Darling

Become the Wizarding World's Top Male Model and Use Your Modicum of Fame and Developing Good Looks to Tear a Path Through the Fashion World and Earn the Adulation of the Masses

Quest Rewards:

+25 Levels

Fashionable Trait

Top Male Model Title

More Fame the More Your Pictures are Seen

Earn Between 500-5000 Galleons Per Photo Shoot

+10000 Reputation to Anyone with a Fashion Trait or Title

+300 to Charisma When Seducing Any Man or Woman Who has a Fashion Trait or Title

Do You Accept?

Yes or No

It had been quite some time since Harry had selected the 'no' response for a quest. The Game had been on a roll lately and had done nothing but good for him with the quests it had issued.

But in this case, it took Harry less than a second to select 'no' since stopping Malfoy and saving people's lives were completely unrelated to becoming the wizarding world's top male model. And there was nothing the Game could say or do which would ever convince Harry otherwise.

Five minutes later, when the photography session finally came to an end, Harry flew out of the room as fast as his feet could carry him. He only stopped by the team's locker room long enough to grab his bag of gear before running to meet his godfather.

Once he reached the private meeting room they had chosen, Harry slammed the door open with a bang and made his way inside.


"Sirius! Good, you were able to make it here alone. The reward I got for completing the first part of the quest was…" The rest of the words Harry had started to say crumbled to a halt as the boy had finally realized that Sirius was not, in fact, alone.

Harry's gorgeous green eyes, which were absolutely his best physical feature in Hermione's opinion, widened in puzzled surprise as they landed on her. She hid a smile and preened under the attention, loving that he had been stricken into silence upon reuniting with her.

The handsome boy of her dreams awkwardly cleared his throat and nervously shifted from foot to foot. "Oh. Hi, Hermione. I, uh, didn't know that you'd be here too."

Ugh. Was that not the dumbest thing he could have said? If it had been any other boy who said that to her after not even noticing her presence, then Hermione would have given them a piece of her mind.

But not Harry. Oh no. When he said something dumb to her, Hermione's breath hitched in her throat. And the way his gawky, awkward smile did funny things to her stomach as he stared was just not fair.

Cursed hormones! They addled a woman's brain and made it impossible for her to think!

To make matter's worse, Hermione could tell that Sirius was well aware of what Harry's smile was doing to her if the man's poorly stifled snickering was anything to go by. He was certain to be a terrible influence on Harry when it came to women if his leering at every pretty woman they had come across was any guide.

But that was a problem for Hermione's future self to handle, because good lord did it feel good to finally see her Harry once again.

For want of a more precise word, which Hermione could not currently locate because her brain had gone all fuzzy, Harry just looked better. He had grown an inch or five since they had parted, he had more flesh on his bones than was usual for him at this time of year, and he was wearing clothes that not only fit him, but seemed to accentuate his already handsome features.

Life really was truly, horridly unfair in how some people could just effortlessly appear good looking. Whereas others such as herself had to struggle to get anywhere close to reaching that level. Ugh!

Hermione had never thought much of fashion previously, having been of the opinion that brains were far more important than looks in finding one's life partner, but if Harry could look that good in just an emerald shirt and a pair of black slacks… then maybe Lavender and Parvati were right about some things. Hermione made a mental note to write them soon and to check with Ginny on the latest trends in Witch fashion when they got back to the Burrow.

Because if Harry looked this good, or better, come this year's Yule Ball, then Hermione was probably going to need more fashion advice than her mother alone could provide if she wanted to keep up with him.

"So, uh, Hermione. It's, um, great, I mean wonderful, to see you," Harry continued shyly. The boy scratched the back of his head as he visibly fumbled for his words. "No one told me that you'd be here. Which… I already said… when I first walked into the room… argh! Sorry for sounding like such a daft twit. I'm just, y'know, really, really, really happy, and surprised, to see you."

Listening to Harry stumble through his greetings yet again finally brought Hermione out of her hormone induced daze. She took a deep breath and reordered her thoughts, because at least one of them needed to appear calm and collected right now and it did not look like it would be Harry.

Hermione stepped forward and wrapped her arms around Harry in one of her signature hugs. "Oh Harry, just shut up and hug me back already! It's good to see you too. And no one was supposed to tell you that I would be here, you loveable dolt; it was meant to be a surprise."

As his arms wrapped around her shoulders in return, Hermione felt her heart soar. As though some missing part of her was now back. It was a feeling she had associated with Harry since the start of their second year.

She had missed it. She had missed him. Perhaps more than even she had realized.

"It's great to see you," Harry whispered into her ear after a few seconds. "I missed you."

"I missed you more," Hermione whispered back, feeling as though a swarm of butterflies were dancing in her stomach. "It feels like it's been ages since we last saw one another. And you look so different too. Good, but different!"

Harry laughed and broke the hug so that he could hold her at arm's length. "Oh, like what you see, do you? Sirius and Remus helped me to update my wardrobe and I've been getting loads of compliments ever since."

Hermione's cheeks, which had only just begun to cool, flushed yet again at his comment. She lightly swatted his left arm in mock outrage. "Harry James Potter! It seems that my absence has allowed your ego to become dangerously inflated. Remus and Sirius did a wonderful job in helping with your clothes, because they really do look good on you, but don't get too full of yourself or I'll have to take you down a peg or two. And don't think I won't do it, either!"

Harry gave another laugh at Hermione's miniature tirade, and oh what a wonderful feeling it was to hear it. But as he continued to laugh, Hermione began to notice some worrying differences in his appearance since last she had seen him.

Harry's skin looked paler than it should have when considering the time he spent outside practicing for Quidditch. Heavy, dark bags from lack of sleep were under his eyes, and he kept making little movements with his body and hands that he only did when feeling greatly stressed.

Hermione frowned. While they had waited for Harry to arrive, Sirius had given Hermione an overview of what had happened over the summer and the incident where Remus and someone else had gotten injured during his duel with Malfoy had stuck out to her like a sore thumb.

Harry had always possessed an overdeveloped sense of guilt for as long as Hermione had known him. And knowing him as she did, Harry had probably withdrawn from everyone for the past week while he tried to deal with that feeling of guilt on his own. It would explain both the tired expression on his face and the lack of any letters from him over that span.

But before Hermione could say anything about how terribly he looked, and maybe draw the truth of the matter out of her best friend, Sirius cleared his throat from behind her.

The dark-haired man had a wry grin on his face as he stared their way. "Well, loathe as I am to interrupt this spectacular demonstration of terrible teenage flirting…"

"I'm not-"

"We weren't-"

"Yes, yes. In any case, there's a more important matter to discus and we only have a limited amount of time to do so. We also cannot stay here overlong lest we arouse the suspicions of everyone back in the booth." Sirius ignored Harry and Hermione's continued objections and moved to sit down by the small table in the room's centre. He tapped his wand against his head and the pink flash of a spell going off came out before he continued to speak. "Now let's all take a seat so we can discuss what we came here to talk about, eh?"

Hermione's blush must have been spectacular as she parted from Harry and nodded her head. The hormones really must have been getting to her if she had temporarily forgotten what they had come here to discuss.

Once everyone was seated and extra privacy spells had been cast, Sirius gave a Harry a look that was all business. "You sent me a short message saying that the Game of Death had given you, and I quote, an 'amazing' award.' What is it, exactly, and how does it affect our plans moving forward? I already brought Hermione up to speed on pretty much everything else that's happened this summer, so you can skip ahead to what the Game sent you today."

Sirius' words caused a change to come over Harry's face. Though Hermione's best friend in the entire world still looked happy, the expression on his face had changed from a look of open and honest joy to one of grim enthusiasm.

Hermione did not like that look. It made Harry look older, and harsher, and was not a look someone their age should ever wear.

Not even someone like Harry, who had dealt with terrible events and circumstances which no one their age should ever have been forced to handle.

Seeing him look like that made Hermione want to run over to him and follow some of her mum's tawdrier advice. But as her more rational side reminded Hermione, now was not the time to do so. Not when he still viewed her as his best friend instead of a girl with whom he could be more.

It was with great regret and reluctance that Hermione stuffed her feelings into a little box, closed the lid tightly, and put on a cheery smile. She prepared pen and paper, taken out from a brown book bag at her side, to take notes with as she sat next to Harry on a small couch. The routine nature of the activity calmed her heart and mind.

In the process of doing so, however, Hermione's eyes landed on the small journal of notes and theories she had compiled on the materials Headmaster Dumbledore had provided.

The journal was only half finished, and not yet ready to be given to Harry as Hermione had not yet reached any firm conclusions regarding his situation with the Game of Death that Headmaster Dumbledore had not shared with them on the night Harry had received his new ability.

Except, possibly, for one.

The source books, every single one she had read thus far, had made three things absolutely clear. Which is that Harry was merely the latest in a very, very long line of 'chosen' individuals that stretched from the dawn of history to the present era. That said individuals were often given brutal tests both obvious and subtle. And that said tests often lead to the destruction of those who were closest to the ones being tested.

The Headmaster had been clear about the first two parts. But if he had known about the third part, and Hermione suspected that he had, then he had deliberately chosen to withhold it. And when she had realized this, Hermione had known that she would be forced to make a choice. To either tell Harry the truth, or to follow the Headmaster's example and conceal it from the boy she loved in order to protect him.

Harry was much too noble for his own good, and Hermione's fear was that if she told him about her theories, Harry would smile and thank her for it before slowly withdrawing from everyone who cared for him. And in her readings, it seemed that the chosen ones who lived the longest only did so because they were surrounded by friends, companions, and loved ones who were able to assist them.

In that moment Hermione made her choice.

She would protect Harry, no matter the cost. And if one of those costs meant hiding this information from him for his own good… then so be it. Hermione knew the stakes she was getting herself into, and she was willing to bet that everyone else around Harry would agree with her decision as well. And without further thought, Hermione pushed the half-finished notebook deeper into the bag before tightly shutting the clasp. Only then did Hermione let herself look up at Harry's still grim face and give him a nod.

"All right, Harry. Tell us about the Game of Death's hint. We're ready."

A/N: And with the sowing of seeds, the plot thickens ;-).

It's two days early, but I couldn't let the two-year anniversary of this story go by without an update. This is a one-time deal though, as I don't expect to post the rest of the chapters for several months yet. As to why… Life being a total heartache of late with the premature loss of a beloved pet, being a responsible adult, pandemic blues, yadda yadda yadda. The list goes on.

But in the meantime, my shadow rewrite is complete (and posted) from chapters 1-19! I'd recommend going back and reading those chapters again if you have not done so already, because I guarantee they are much improved.

Also, leave a review to let me know what you think. Getting feedback helps me as a writer and gives me inspiration.

Stay Safe and Healthy,

~Elsil