Harry carefully aligned the broom so that he was right underneath Fred just as the bludger came into the redhead's possession. As Fred was about to smash the bludger, Harry pulled the broom straight up.
The Firebolt's advantage compared to the Nimbus models is that it has better acceleration in the first thirty seconds. There was no lurch on his body when he went for an abrupt fly-by. The Firebolt carried him through and distracted Fred from concentrating on the bludger in favour of veering away.
Instead of strictly playing the role of a Seeker Harry was asked to play interference all throughout the practice session. This was not something he was expected to do in the last three years owing to his small body frame. But now, Angelina was of the opinion that he was ready to play more aggressively next year as he was putting on some muscle and height.
Harry was quite happy with the recent role. It means there is some noticeable improvement in his growth and physique. Madam Pomfrey was also satisfied with his development. Her potions did better than expected and she credited that to his physical activity. The faster the potion-induced nutrients burn out the better it is for the body. This is the only piece of good news this week so he was going to hold onto it for the time being.
The bad news in contrast was overwhelming.
In the wake of Sirius' trial, the Ministry had launched an inquiry into Bartimus Crouch only to find the man was nowhere to be found. Once Harry learned that from Andromeda he immediately used the Marauder's Map and Crouch Senior was stuffed inside fake Moody's trunk along with the real Moody. At least, he assumed this was the case as he inferred this from the Marauder's map which showed Crouch Senior and real Moody at the corner of fake Moody's quarters.
Crouch Jr must have feared his secret getting out if his father was caught by the ministry. Hence, the death eater must have thought it is better to imprison his father for the time being.
Since Harry was not about to jeopardise Voldemort's plan, he was also not willing to act against Crouch. For the time being, Crouch will have to be allowed to play Moody's role.
The next bit of bad news was the most unacceptable one.
After all the trouble he went through, Lucius Malfoy somehow managed to survive the day. The only consolation was that the man had to sell out everything. The Daily Prophet reports that Malfoy lost all his fortune, his lands, investments, the family manor and even the last bottle of firewhisky. The Goblins also confirmed the story. All the funds as per the contract were paid in full supposedly from a German account. And no matter how much he pressured, the Goblins were not willing to divulge more on the matter.
To make matters worse, Malfoy was also free of any prison time. Harry suspected bribes were in play but he couldn't think of anyone that could bail out Malfoy with significant Death Eater leaning from Germany. Nonetheless, he was determined to find the source of Malfoy's support. As such, he requested Andromeda Tonks yesterday to keep her ears open for any bit of information. It was unlikely for the Goblins to divulge anything but you never know.
"Good game Harry. A few more practice sessions and you'll be surprising the chasers and beaters next year." said Angelina as they grounded their brooms.
"Thanks. It's a shame we didn't have Quidditch matches this year. With Oliver gone we really needed to hold try-outs for a new keeper." said Harry as he stepped out of the Quidditch gear.
"There is still time. We will find someone next year."
After saying his goodbye, Harry was rushing toward Professor Babbling's quarters. On his way, he noticed Cedric Diggory snooping around the Black Lake.
Harry was not so surprised by this turn of events.
He was wondering when Cedric would figure it out with Krum spending most of his time swimming in the Black Lake. Even Fleur Delecour had tried her hand but her 'fans' made her think otherwise. The French Champion was barely able to get some privacy. It turns out she has more obsessive fans than even Krum. And the most obsessive one so far was Roger Davies. The seventh-year Ravenclaw has been pining after the French Champion after the Yule Ball like a lost puppy.
Harry was sure there must be an interesting reason behind that but he neither had the time nor the patience to dip into the Hogwarts rumour mill.
The Second Task was only a few days away and he supposed this time it was going to be an even field. Cedric must have picked up on the Second Task by observing Krum who was a regular visitor to the lake. It was not shocking for Harry this happened. He had guessed something like this would happen. It just means he'd have to finish the Task faster than Cedric and keep the Hogwarts Champion at a disadvantage in the Third Task. That should keep Cedric from any danger.
Harry had only explored the Black Lake twice. Once he located the Merpeople village he stopped further exploration and focused on the spells essential to complete the Second Task.
Even this meeting with Professor Babbling was related to the Second Task. Of course, Hogwarts Professors were not allowed to help out with the Tasks but there are loopholes that Harry was determined to exploit.
Facing the large oak doors to Professor Babbling's quarters, he knocked twice and waited. The doors swung open and this time when he stepped in, Harry sensed the detection runes around the entrance door but he paid it no heed. With his magical aura stabilized by the ritual, Harry got a sense of foreign magic. In a castle full of versatile magic like Hogwarts, it was a bit difficult to walk a few meters without his senses getting triggered. The Occlumency training was a big help in keeping his cool but it was difficult to control some of his involuntary reactions.
"Mr Potter. Come, take a seat." Professor Babbling welcomed him jovially pointing to his usual seat.
Ever since Harry had proved he was no slacker in class and was quite interested in more practical aspects of the runes, he was welcomed far more cordially by the Ancient Runes professor. While he was a beginner in Ancient Runes, all things considered, there was that unnatural intuition that makes Harry pick up on magic working in the background. Whatever the ASB did on his mind, it seems to have been filtering Voldemort's soul shard and injecting its knowledge or at least impressions of magical knowledge into his mind.
'There is no other sensible explanation. After all, how else could I've managed to come this far in Ancient Runes in such a short time.' Harry thought, eyeing a set of parchments deriving a specific runic script improving upon the Impervious charm. 'Or maybe, I'm a super genius or something when it comes to the practical use of magic.'
"I've tweaked a small part of the block scripts for better results but overall your work was phenomenal Mr Potter." Professor Babbling complimented him.
"Thank you, Professor." said Harry, as he reviewed the changes Professor Babbling made to his runic work over several days.
"I tweaked the runes to hold out the effect for more than twenty minutes. It could be developed further in the future if you put your mind to it. Now, are you ready for the forging process?"
The forging process was something well beyond his capabilities. Simply because it was a recent development in this particular field of study. Only licenced Runic Scripters are legally allowed to do the forging. So, Harry observed the process keenly as Professor Babbling showed him her craft. It was a process that combined extensive employment of Charms and Transfiguration. The runes would be ingrained into the final product after the forging process was completed. This was far different from the usual runestone making process.
Besides, runestones were the oldest form of runic magic. They were still employed but any runescripter worth their salt has advanced away from runestone making.
It took almost an hour for Professor Babbling to complete the forging process. When it was done Harry took in the beauty of the final product. It was elegant and it was certainly powerful. He could feel the magic rolling over its surface. The bracelet shined with golden runes on its surface thrumming with magical power.
"Well...there it is!" Professor Babbling rubbed her hands in excitement with passion shining in her eyes. "Of course, it'll need to be tested."
"I can do that Professor." said Harry, taking the small bracelet from Professor Babbling's hands.
"Don't think I don't know where you are going to use it, Mr Potter. Just remember that I helped you on the premise that this is for your project next year. I expect to see you submit an improved version of the present runic cluster before your OWL exams."
"Of course, Professor."
Harry turned another page of the Transfiguration book he borrowed from the Library. This one was a recommendation from Hermione who thought advanced Transfiguration would be of some help to him in the Tasks.
She was not wrong but Transfiguration was not exactly an easy discipline of magic that can be perfected overnight. It took months of dedicated work for transfiguration spells to work as intended especially if it is human transfiguration. If it is known that he attempted human transfiguration he might just get a year's worth of detention from McGonagall. Nonetheless, there are transfiguration spells that could be used as a backup if his Plan A suffered any setbacks.
And the good news is there was no human transfiguration involved. Despite the intuitive support from Voldemort's soul shard or whatever the ASB did with his mind, he was not willing to take risks that could hamper him when there were easy alternatives.
Turning another page of the book, Harry was about to resume reading when a cushion hit him straight on his cheek breaking his concentration.
"Sorry Harry." Neville apologised before summoning the cushion back using the Summoning charm.
"Intent, Neville. You have to focus on where you want the pillow to land. If you can't see the destination in your mind the Banishing charm won't work as you intend." said Hermione.
His two friends have been going at the Banishing and Summoning charm for a while now. With Neville being an enthusiastic student eager to test his fledging magic and Hermione eager to teach someone in her own unique way, the two were having the time of their life. Professor Flitwick had rolled out this whole thing about mastering the Summoning charm and Banishing charm using a cushion. The Professor turned it into a competition of sorts and he offered a book on charms from his personal collection for the pair to maintain the spell combo for the longest without fail. Hermione and Neville were practising to stake their claim on the book.
"I don't know why you are interested in this book Hermione. You could just find out the name of the book and order one from Flourish and Blotts." Harry suggested as Hermione and Neville continued their practice.
"What if Professor Flitwick is offering a book that's rare and can't be found in Flourish and Blotts?" Hermione asked.
"Then I'm sure Hogwarts library would have it." Harry reasoned.
"In the Restricted Section." Hermione deadpanned.
"Which can be accessed by a permission slip from any of the professors. Besides, do you really think Flitwick is going to hand out the copy of a book in the Restricted section to a fourth-year?" Harry asked with a raised eyebrow giving Hermione pause.
Neville chose that moment to banish the cushion into Hermione's face causing Hermione to lose focus and drop her wand.
"Well...that does it." Hermione huffed and vanished the cushion with a flick of her wand. "Have you looked over the spell I found?"
"I did. Did you know that transfigured flowers don't have the same smell as the original ones? I wonder why that's the case?" Harry mused out loud.
Hermione suddenly pulled the transfiguration book from Harry and looked it over.
"This is not the page that I marked for you to read." Hermione stared daggers at him.
A leaf fell into Harry's lap at that moment from the tree beneath which they were sitting. Harry pulled out his wand and used the transfiguration spell Hermione marked out for him. The leaf twisted into an odd shape before changing into a flipper.
"There you see. I learned your spell. All I have to do is turn my shoes into flippers during the Task." said Harry.
With a flick of his wand, he turned the flipper back to the leaf.
"That's impressive. So, you are swimming to the bottom of the lake and reclaiming something valuable to you. Is that it?" asked Neville, a little bit put off by Hermione stopping the practice session.
"Swimming to the bottom of the lake is my plan B."
"So, what's plan A?" asked Neville.
"You'll find out soon." winked Harry, before going through a small list of spells that could be useful underwater.