Chapter 2 – Flames of the devil

Hi everyone! Sorry about the delay posting this - I got busy. With life. Thank you so, so much to all of you who followed, favourited and especially to those of you who reviewed. You completely made my week :D I've taken one guest reviewer's idea into my planning, so if you have any suggestions, please do tell! Okay, on with the chapter.

Hermione frowned as she looked around the room. The two weeks following her supposed friends' deception, she'd barely managed to sleep at all in fear of what exactly she'd have to endure within the Orb, and it was only with the help of a drastic amount of concealment spells did she manage to appear presentable. On the orders of Skeeter, she'd apparated to the Ministry that very morning after what was intended to be a surprise goodbye party – clearly the group felt guilty, but the damage was done – and had found a supervised portkey waiting for her, which had taken her to a "secret location".

"The entire scheme is absurdly overdramatic." She muttered to herself, drumming her fingers against her wand. Naturally, she's been the first to arrive, and even she was getting frustrated by the lack of company.

"I can only agree."

She whipped around at the sound of a voice behind her, and gasped when she saw who stood before her. "PROFESSOR MCGONAGALL?" She yelled in disbelief.

"Now, dear. It's been a few years since you were my student. I should think that Minerva is quite acceptable."

"But Pro – M – Minerva!" she twisted her lips. It sounded strange coming out of her mouth. "I refuse to believe that you willingly volunteered as a contestant for the - "

"It's a subject I'd rather not discuss Hermione. Some things are better forgotten." She clearly looked pained, and Hermione gave up, deciding it would be better if the matter was left alone.

Before she could change the subject, another two contestants spun into view and joined the pair.

"HERMIONE!" They shouted, running forward to hug her.

"Parvati? Padma! I haven't seen you both in so long!"

"Last we heard of you, you'd become some fancy business management Godric-knows-what." The Patil twins grinned.

"Well, you can talk!" Hermione smiled. "You've been publishing books left right and centre, Padma. I only just read the one on the Unforgivables – you really are brilliant."

"Says the brightest witch of her age!"

The group continued to talk, and slowly but surely, the room began to fill up over the course of a half hour. When Hermione finally managed to fight her way through the group to speak to her former professor again, she found her hunched over a piece of parchment in a corner, scribbling away with a quill.

"What's that…Minerva?" she asked, making her jump with surprise.

"You startled me, Hermione!" she smiled.

"Sorry." She muttered sheepishly.

"You can have a look if you'd like." McGonagall passed her the parchment at her nod, and Hermione peered closely at the handwriting scrawling across it.

Competitors

Myself

Hermione Granger

Padma Patil

Parvati Patil

Augusta Longbottom

William "Will" Mathieson

Valerie Labelle

Oliver Wood

Viktor Krum

"And we're missing one person." McGonagall frowned. "I never approve of being late."

Hermione scrunched up her nose. "If you'll excuse me asking, why exactly - "

"You never know when a list will help, my dear." McGonagall nodded knowingly. "I'll go through it with you, shall I?"

"Oh, that's really not - "

"Nonsense! I insist!" the transfiguration professor exclaimed. "Information is always useful."

With a resigned sigh, Hermione sat down and attempted to smile. "Okay then."

"Right! We start with myself – no, wait. You know who I am." Old age was clearly catching up with her. "Then there's you, and the two Patil twins – they're obviously famous due to their works in Divination and Healing, and clearly Padma has published numerous books over the years. Then we have Augusta Longbottom – now, I don't really understand her presence here. I suspect that Miss Skeeter simply wishes to provide the group with easy bait, but she underestimates Neville's grandmother. The woman is made of iron." She said approvingly. "And: William Mathieson."

"Yes, the surname sounds familiar, but I can't quite place where I've heard of him before…"

"Mathieson! His father – Fredrick Mathieson, the great broom creator."

"Oh, yes!"

"I believe that Mathieson Jr wishes to pursue his father's career…in fact, he is supposed to be working on a new model. The students at Hogwarts are very excited."

"I can only imagine." Hermione rolled her eyes. "Next is…Valerie Labelle? But she's a Muggle model... French, I'm sure of it!"

"Au contraire!" McGonagall exclaimed. "She is a witch – half Veela at that too! She turned to Muggle modelling following her mother's footsteps, but her father is very well respected by many members of the Wizarding World."

"You certainly know a lot." Hermione smiled, mildly surprised.

"You of all people should know that." McGonagall attempted to look severe, but a smile stole its way across her face nevertheless. "Finally, Oliver Wood and Viktor Krum…they're rumoured to be acquaintances now, through quidditch etcetera. But of course, I have no need to explain anything to you about these two."

"And what do you mean by that?" Hermione retorted indignantly.

"Oh, nothing. Nothing at all." She replied with an air of mocking innocence.

Hermione steered the conversation away from whatever McGonagall was suggesting. "We're still missed a person."

And on that note, the room was suddenly silent.

"Well, well, well. If it isn't bookworm Granger." She heard a slow drawl coming from behind her.

"Oh Godric." She moaned. "No…this cannot be happening." She slowly turned around on her seat, and looked up from in front of her until she reached the face with an unmistakable smirk and mop of white-blond hair, sneering down at her.

"Malfoy." She managed to choke out.

"It's been a long time."

Silence. And then -

"Good morning, my dearest contestants!"

The entire group whipped around to see Skeeter appear out of nowhere, and behind her, a photographer.

"How did she - "

"She wasn't there the whole time, was she?"

"Disillusionment charm. Now hush hush, dears!" she turned around, it wasn't clear if she was speaking to Bozo, or her Quick-Quotes Quill. The quill seemed to pause for a moment, and Bozo – permanently dumbfounded, it appeared – simply nodded, so she turned back to the group with a brisk nod. "Aren't you an interesting lot?" She paused to survey the group at her leisure, smirking slightly, and Hermione had to resist the urge to punch her. She wouldn't have minded punching Malfoy too, who kept on glancing down at her at regular intervals to sneer.

McGonagall cleared her throat and frowned. "Are you going to explain what exactly we're going to be doing, then?" she raised an eyebrow.

Skeeter bit her lip. "My my. Ever the impatient one."

"I'll have you know - "

Skeeter dismissed her with a wave of her hand, and walked towards the group. "Just imagine. In little over a month's time, one of you will be" she paused, resting her hand on Will Mathieson's chest, "a champion."

"This isn't the Triwizard Tournament." Hermione snapped, and following Skeeter's movement away from Will, the young man shot her a grateful grin. She couldn't help but blush. He was quite charming, really.

Skeeter cleared her throat, and smirked again. "Miss Granger. So we meet again. Got your eye on another athletic wizard, I see. First Harry, then Viktor." She nodded at the beefy Bulgarian across the room. "Now Will." She laughed, an infuriatingly girly giggle. "I wouldn't be surprised if your next conquest was Oliver, here." She smiled at the other young man. "Although," she leant forward to wink conspiratorially, "I hear this one's already taken the bait."

Slowly but steadily over the course of the past minute, Hermione had begun to flush a rather attractive shade of crimson. When she noted the scribbling of the quill behind Skeeter, it was only a restraining grab from Parvati that stopped her from leaping at the despicable woman.

"Well. Gossip will be gossip." She ground out from between gritted teeth, hardly able to look at any of the men in the room – especially Draco.

"Yes." Skeeter giggled again, and Hermione desperately hoped that she was only imagining the sinister undertone to the blonde's words. "But let's move on. You're all here for a reason, and I think we should get around to addressing it, no?"

"Quite." Mrs Longbottom's acid remark was heard from the back of the room, but ignored by Skeeter. Only Hermione heard Draco mutter beside her – something about how it was remarkable that Augusta and McGonagall were even alive – and she allowed herself to glare at him.

"I'll skim over the rules quickly. They're quite simple. You will be paired up, by a method which I shall reveal shortly, and sent the the Orb. There, you will stay for five weeks. At the beginning of each week you will receive a challenge, and the highest scoring pair will receive the highest number of points. The failing pair will be eliminated from the process." She looked around the room, attempting to evoke some sort of fear – to no avail. "To make things a little more exciting – your "points" can be used each week before being "wiped"; they can be used to make your life more comfortable, gaining more water or clothes or whatever you need – as you will spend the remainder of the week in some sort of" she paused, "hostile environment." Needless to say, you and your partner should try to become close, because you will be relying on each other for everything."

Parvati shuddered slightly. "Did you say "hostile environment"?"

"Yes." Skeeter nodded, unperturbed. "But nothing too serious." She dismissed her fears. "Should something happen – let's not go into details – and you wish to leave the arena at any time, you should – oh!" she cut herself off in midsentence. "Do all of you have your keys?"

"Our…keys?" the previously silent French model looked confused, and when she realised that all eyes were on her, she pouted slightly, taking care to smile at Oliver, Draco, Will and Viktor. Each man had to turn away.

"A complete bimbo, I'll bet." Hermione rolled her eyes at Parvati, who laughed.

"The keys!" Skeeter repeated. "You each received a key when you signed your entrance form."

"Oh!" Valerie gave a little laugh, then bit her lip. I think I have mine…somewhere. She leant forward so her low cut top dipped even further, and stared straight down her cleavage on display.

"Oh my God." Hermione muttered.

"I'm certain it is in here." She actually put her hand down her top in front of the entire group, her lilting accent carrying through the silence, then she gave a delicate little snort of irritation. "I cannot seem to find it." She turned to an unsuspecting Will. "Could you have a look for me?"

Hermione had had enough. "He will do no such thing!" she snapped, saving the stuttering man from an excuse – who shot her a second grin of the day – and whipped out her wand. "Accio Valerie's key," she tried, and after a few seconds, an object of metal flew out of the French girl's bag.

"Oh! I did not realise it was there." She blushed prettily.

"Sure you didn't." Hermione scowled, practically throwing the key at her. "Why do we need them?" she turned back to Skeeter.

"Can everybody show me theirs?" each member of the group removed a key from pockets etc. after a few seconds and held them up to show Skeeter. "Good good!" she grinned, and with a flick of her wand, each person's key was suddenly suspended on a chain around their neck. "It is impossible to remove or destroy the chains." Skeeter began. "They've all been charmed – so don't try." After a moment, she clapped her hands together. "Can we get a picture like this?" she turned to Bozo, and before the group could react, a photograph had been taken accompanied with a flash of light.

"Why. Do. We. Need. The. Damn. Keys." Hermione repeated.

"Temper temper, Granger." Draco smirked.

"Stop." She hissed, then after a moment: "Please."

"Oh, I bet that's what Weasley begged when you incessantly babbled around him." He laughed, narrowing his eyes, provoking her.

"That's it." Hermione snarled, pointing her wand at his tie. "Incendio!"

A jet of flame swept out of her wand, and a second later the tie burst into flames. With a shriek Draco ripped it off and stamped on it to put out the fire.

"You witch. That could have seriously hurt me!"

"You were asking for it." She hissed, unmoved.

"Go stuff yourself, Granger."

"Go die, Malfoy."

He smirked, and spoke slowly. "I wouldn't be surprised if it was you who killed me. We wizards have heard a lot about you supposedly bumping off…opposition." He glanced at Valerie.

"ENOUGH!" Augusta yelled from the back of the room, before Hermione could say anything. She shot a disapproving glare at Skeeter, who was looking at the notebook her quill was scribbling away at.

Skeeter swallowed. "Let's move on!" she grinned brightly, ignoring the tension in the room. "The keys are for you to leave if you must – they are all like a modified portkey, if you like, and you must clasp yours with both hands and say "reverto". This will take both you and your partner away from the Orb, so think twice before doing it. Once you leave, you cannot return."

A few seconds passed in suitably "sombre" silence, before Skeeter clapped her hands again.

"And now, for the partnering!" with a dramatic wave of her wand she unveiled a huge goblet – practically an exact copy of the Goblet of Fire. The woman obviously had gained some "inspiration" from the Triwizard Tournament – and what with Skeeter's references to the event earlier and the sudden mutterings between contestants as they looked at the impressive object, Hermione suddenly felt as though she was back in her fourth year.

Skeeter muttered something, and bewitched cerise flames suddenly roared to life within the goblet. Nobody noticed that as she muttered, she slightly pointed her wand towards Hermione, then Draco, and as she did, the flames leapt a little higher. She turned to face the group quickly. "Five different coloured jets of fire will jump out of the goblet in a moment, and each will split into two." She smiled in what was supposed to be a reassuring manner. "They won't hurt you, so don't be afraid." She continued. "This means that there will be ten jets in pairs of colours, and each jet will find its way to a key hanging around your neck, charming it to that colour. You must then find your partner, who will have their own key in the same colour as yours. Simple! You'll be paired up for the competition!"

Just as she finished, as she said they would, five flames suddenly leapt into the air: blue, green, red, purple and orange. As the group gasped in awe, they split into two, and suddenly the room was a mass of swirling colour and childish shrieks of delight as a flame headed towards each person. Even Bozo was shocked out of his daze and had the intuition to snap as many photographs as he could.

A second later, it was over, and everybody glanced down at their keys as Skeeter observed. Oliver Wood finally broke the silence, calling out –

"Mine's purple! Who's got purple?"

"I have!" McGonagall cried out, striding forward and tactfully ignoring Oliver's smothered groan.

"I am green!"

"Blue!"

"Orange!"

"Also green!"

"Orange too!"

Following a few yells, most of the group finally stood in pairs – some happy, some less so. Purple were Oliver and McGonagall, blue were Augusta and Will, green were Valerie and Viktor, and orange were Padma and Parvati.

"You are absolutely kidding me." Draco snarled, as he stood alone, staring at Hermione.

Her eyes widened. "I'm red. You can't be red. You can't - "

He held up his key. "Red." He spat.

Hermione spun around to face Skeeter pleadingly. "Please, anyone but him."

Skeeter merely smiled. "Coincidental, no?"

It took her a moment, but Hermione realised that the situation was all too convenient. "You. You did this."

"No, my dear." Skeeter patted her cheek condescendingly. "You saw the goblet decide."

"Rubbish."

"You can't change it."

Hermione turned to Draco.

"Face it, Granger. I'm stuck with you and there's nothing you can do about it."

I'm going to presume that you're not surprised with that pairing at all. I mean, honestly - what did you expect? :P The next couple of chapters are still an introduction, really, to the story...so sorry - the fun stuff starts from about chapter five. In other words, stay tuned!

Okey dokey. As usual: thoughts? Good? Bad? Awful? Please do take the time to review. I think that if we got another ten, I'd do something crazy like walk around naked for a day. That's how much it would mean to me :P

For all you reviewers, you can have Draco for a day. Do whatever you want with him. If he complains, you can borrown my whip. *Evil grin*

Tris xx