Chapter 3 – And the nightmare begins: part 1

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Harry looked over his shoulder to make sure that the rest of the group was still following him, and tried not to get irked by Ginny's constant huffs of irritation as she strode ahead.

"Ginny," he paused, "love, there's really no need for you to go that fast. You're meant to rest."

"I'm pregnant, not an invalid." She snapped, "And I'm not even showing yet." She grabbed his arm and began to pull him forward impatiently. "If you don't hurry up, we'll be late, so move it for the love of Merlin!"

Obviously the hormones were getting to her.

"Look." Harry tried to pacify her. "I can't help it that Neville and Luna were held up – and Ron was hungry. You know what he's like when he's hungry."

"He's always hungry."

"Darling." Harry tried the suck up approach. "We can't all be as perfect as you."

"Flattery will get you nowhere Harry. We've been married for a while now." She sounded far from impressed.

"You know that they'll wait for us before starting! They'll hold the entire bloody stadium if they have to!"

"Why?" she spun around. "Because you're the great Harry Potter?"

"Well - "

"Harry. I do love you, but please, someday, get your head out of your arse."

She hurried ahead, leaving her red-faced and spluttering husband behind her. Ron came up to him, and patted his shoulder.

"She in a mood?" he asked, sympathetically.

"Oh yeah." Harry groaned.

"Want some of my sandwich? It'll help."

Harry shook his head in disbelief. "No, Ron. I really don't."

He ran ahead to catch up with his wife.

ooooo

Some fifteen minutes after they'd reached the apparition point, the Orb's stadium finally came into view, and there was blatant promotion of Skeeter and the Prophet pretty much everywhere. Neville had separated from the group to get hold of a newspaper, but came running back seconds later, forcing the rest of the group to follow him.

"What is it Neville?" Ginny hissed, clearly irritated.

"Look over there!" Neville pointed.

"NO!" Harry said.

Luna merely smiled. "Is that - "

"Yes! Zabini!"

"I haven't seen him since - "

"Guys, why don't we just walk away?" Harry pleaded.

"Why? Because last time we saw him at a convention he hit on you?" Ginny snorted.

"Okay." Harry faced his wife. "You. Are. Mean."

Ginny merely laughed. "I know. Let's go ahead and see what he's saying to that girl."

The group sidled forward, trying to remain unnoticed, just managing to catch certain phrases from Blaise's conversation. It seemed that the girl he was with thought he was interested in her – when in fact, they knew that he didn't quite swing that way.

"He actually fell for it?"

"Yes, but I mean…it was difficult."

"You are so clever."

"Well - "

"And will he be in the Orb today?"

"Oh yes. And it's all because of me. Revenge is sweet."

The girl giggled sickeningly. "Wow. Who would have thought that Draco Malfoy of all people would be spending five weeks in an enclosure, for the entertainment of "common people"?"

Blaise chuckled. "When you say it like that, it sounds even better."

Ginny, Harry, Neville, Luna and Ron all stood in dumbfounded shock.

"Oh dear." Harry stuttered.

"Hermione is going to KILL us!" Ron howled.

"No wait – she won't see us for five weeks. She might be okay after that." Neville tried.

Ginny turned to Neville, refraining from slapping him. "WE ARE TALKING ABOUT DRACO MALFOY."

Neville swallowed. "Okay. We're stuffed." He looked down at the newspaper in his hands and gasped as he read the article.

"What is it?" Luna asked.

"Skeeter says that – oh, Merlin. We're really in for it now."

"WHAT?" Harry and Ginny bellowed in unison.

"She talks about the obvious "romantic tension" between the new partners for the Orb - "

"No." Ginny shook her head. "I refuse to believe it."

"Draco Malfoy and Hermione Granger." Neville finished.

"Okay. We are so dead."

ooooo

Hermione looked around her. It was hard to imagine that she was being watched by thousands of people as she turned…and she'd stay in the enclosure for more than a month. It didn't feel as though she were trapped – although that would be due to the sheer size of it. When she felt ready, she grabbed her portkey – and found herself in a room. Alone. With Draco.

"Granger." He drawled.

"Shut up." She hissed.

"I didn't say anything."

"You said "Granger"."

"Stop being insufferable."

"You stop being an arsehole."

"Working with you will be difficult if you're going to be so high and mighty." He growled. "I don't want to be here any more than you do, but because I am, I am going to win. And you will make sure of that."

"We are going to win." She corrected. "And why are you here if you don't want to be?"

"None of your business."

"Children, children, no fighting!" Skeeter apparated beside them with a "pop" and shook her finger.

"We're not children." Draco snapped.

"Of course." Skeeter nodded. "Now, I'll explain the first challenge to you quickly. You'll begin when that door," she pointed across the room, "opens."

"Okay."

"You are in a room."

"Correct."

Skeeter smiled, annoyed. "But you can be seen by everybody in the stadium. When the door opens, you'll find yourself in another room, where there will be some sort of challenge for you. Each time you complete a challenge, a door will be opened to another room, leading into a centre space." She nodded. "All the other pairs have exactly the same challenges as you in their own rooms, and theirs will also lead into the same centre chamber. Once you reach the chamber, you must work out what you have to do to escape – and the first pair to do so will gain the most number of points. The last pair will immediately be taken away from the stadium." She looked at Draco and Hermione. "Do you understand?"

They both nodded.

"Good! Good luck!"

Just before she apparated away, a slip of paper fell onto the floor from her hand– it looked like a note of some sort, in slanted writing. Hermione picked it up.

They'll never guess to use the mandrakes.

"What?" she muttered, but on second thought, instead of dropping the slip, she pushed it into her pocket. Just then, the door swung open to reveal the room beyond them.

"Come on, Granger." Draco turned to face her. "Let's win this damn challenge."

ooooo

They found themselves in –

Pretty much Hell.

No, really.

The room – if that's what you could call it – was literally an inferno. The heat was scorching, and they were stood on a tiny platform; across the other side of the room, was the door leading away. The floor was non-existent – instead, there was a gaping chasm, and far below, leaping flames and what looked disturbingly like lava.

"This is crazy." Hermione shook her head.

"Bloody hell." Was Draco's reply. "How do we out of here?"

Hermione's eyes widened "We can use our wands to levitate each other across to the other platform!" she practically yelled.

"Okay." Draco nodded, trying not to look excited. "I'll do you first." He took out his wand, and after a few seconds of trying, stared at it in confusion.

"Come on!" Hermione urged. "We need to go!"

"It's – it's not working."

"What?" she grabbed her own wand, and pointed at him. "Why won't it cast the stupid spell?"

"Let me try again. Wingardium leviosa." Draco enunciated, slower this time – to no avail.

"God, it's a simple spell; what's wrong with us?" Hermione muttered. It took her a moment before she slapped her palm to her forehead in realisation.

"What? What is it Granger?"

"I'm so stupid!" she cried. "The stadium – or this part of it – must have anti-magic wards or prevention of some sort! Otherwise it would be too easy for us to get through the challenges."

"A warning would have been nice." Draco muttered.

Just as he spoke, some objects began to appear in the room, and after a few seconds they realised that they were pieces of rock suspended above the fire below, leading across the chasm to the platform and door on the other side.

"Stepping stones." Hermione whispered.

"Damn." Draco ran his fingers through his hair. "I'll go first." He swallowed hard, trying not to think about what would happen if he fell, and stepped onto the first stone –

Only to leap back a second later, yelling in pain as a sort of sizzling sound filled the air.

"WHAT THE HELL?" he roared, clutching his foot.

"What?" Hermione urged.

"The bloody stone burned me!"

"Oh Godric – are you okay?"

"WHAT DO YOU THINK?" he snapped.

"Well." She sniffed. "If you're going to be so rude, you can sort yourself out." She turned away, and bent down to inspect the first stone in front of her. After a couple of seconds, she gave out a little cry and grabbed Draco's arm to look.

"What, Granger?" he winced.

"There! There's writing on the stone!"

"Where?"

"Just there!" she pointed to the middle.

He squinted. "It says – "Mary had a little lamb". What the hell?"

"It's a muggle nursery rhyme!"

"Eh?"

"Nursery rhyme – you know. Like a song, for young children."

"And this is supposed to help us – how, exactly?" he sneered.

"Go ask your mother." She snapped, sighing after a second. "I'm going to try going across."

"Don't say I didn't warn you."

Hermione stepped onto the first stone, singing "Mary had a little lamb" under her breath as she did without realising, and waited for a moment. Nothing happened.

"See?" she called out. "I'm fine - AAAAH!" But just as she stopped humming, the sizzling sound was heard once more, and she let out a little yelp and began hopping from foot to foot.

"WHY WASN'T I BURNED BEFORE?" she screeched, before giving up and jumping back to the relative safety of the platform.

"Granger." Draco's eyes widened. "When you were singing – was that the muggle nursery rhyme – whatever it was?"

"Yes…"

"Don't you see?" he shouted. "You have to sing the nursery rhyme that's written on each stone as you step on it!" Then he realised what exactly he'd just said. "Great." He couldn't help but allow himself to sneer. "And you're supposed to be smart."

"Zip it." She shook her head. "But how are you supposed to know what each nursery rhyme is? You were brought up in the Wizarding World."

"I won't need to." He crossed his arms. "There's no way I'm doing this."

"Oh for the love of Merlin, Malfoy, you were the one lecturing me about "winning" and all that rubbish. You are going to do this, whether you like it or not. Now, I'll go first, and pause on each stone so you can hear what the nursery rhyme sounds like before moving on. It'll be confusing – but we'll just have to deal with it. Okay?"

"My father will hear about this."

"Your father my arse." She jumped onto the first stone. "Mary had a little lamb, little lamb - "

"Oh sweet Salazar, you sound like a dying cat." He snorted.

Hermione couldn't stop singing, but simply jumped onto the next stone and began singing "Twinkle twinkle little star", smirking over her shoulder as to say "your turn now."

And so, followed an agonising few minutes the two enemies jumping over stones above boiling lava and singing nursery rhymes. It would have almost been comical if it wasn't so dangerous, and when they finally reached the other side, they were both so out of breath that the simply pushed open the door without speaking and practically ran into the next room to escape the heat.

They could have hoped that their next challenge would be any better – but that, of course, was unlikely.

I'm so excited - only one more chapter to go until the madness begins! We've got proposals, pink pantaloons, and kissing in the jungle coming up. So yes. I'm excited. If you've got time, please do drop me a little review...it's always appreciated. Thank you!

Love you all,

Tris xx