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‘Harry.’ Hermione’s greeting cut through the silence like one of the special Japanese kitchen knives Uncle Vernon had gifted Aunt Petunia over the summer.
A faint smile tugged at Harry’s lips. ‘Hey, Hermione.’
Hermione’s bushy hair, worried lip, and disproportionate teeth made a beeline for Harry at remarkable speed.
She looks just the same. He recalled his piggish cousin explaining to his lackey, Piers Polkiss, that girls suddenly turned into beautiful women in their teens and his smile stretched a little further. It had sounded rather like Dudley expected it to happen overnight like some odd, human caterpillar. No doubt his understanding was based off an extremely limited experience of girls and one too many adult magazines. Dudley would be baffled, by his logic, she ought to have become a beautiful butterfly by now. Harry pictured his cousin’s gaping mouth, piggy eyes, and extra chins with a chuckle. She wouldn’t be Hermione without those little things, just like Ron wouldn’t be himself without his freckles, and Harry wouldn’t be Harry without his glasses.
Hermione’s hand floated back and forth in front of his face. ‘How has your summer been? Have you started studying? What are your classes? Have you dropped divination yet?’ Her questions rushed at him at Firebolt speed, devolving into a swift, swirling slur.
Harry blinked. ‘It was okay, actually.’ He struggled to remember the other questions, but couldn’t recall picking them out of the sudden barrage of words.
Perhaps I’ve spent a little too long by myself this summer. Still, better than being Aunt Petunia’s garden-slave.
‘And your classes? Divination?’ Hermione folded her arms, edging a step closed.
He took a couple of steps back. ‘Runes, arithmancy, and yes, I dropped divination.’
She opened her mouth. ‘What—’
‘Trelawny was starting to run out of original predictions for my death.’
Best to keep my summer studying to myself. I’m not prepared for a Hermione tirade right now.
‘Harry! Don’t you know you can’t take fourth year runes or arithmancy without knowing the third year course?’ Hermione shook her head and gnawed her lip. ‘You really should’ve checked, now you’ll have to study to catch up or join the third years. You should’ve studied in the summer.’
‘I’m sure I’ll find a way,’ Harry replied.
Focus and intent. That’s the way. He smiled. It’s a miracle I managed any magic before. I barely had any idea what I was doing.
Hermione gnawed at her lip. ‘Well, I can help you a bit. I know all the stuff you’ll need to know and I’m comfortably far enough ahead to spare some time.’ She glanced around. ‘Where are the Weasleys?’
‘Attempting to pack, I think.’ Harry caught her eye and grinned.
She sighed. ‘Ron…’
‘Harrikins!’ One of the twins thundered down the stairs.
The entire Weasley family appeared around him, chattering away.
Loud. Harry eyed the elbows and hands brushing against him and hunched in on himself, drawing a deep breath in and closing his eyes. Is it me, or did they get louder over the summer?
‘Is everyone here?’ Mrs Weasley bustled around, pausing before a bleary-eyed, dishevelled Ron. ‘Honestly, Ronald.’ She straightened his collar and sighed. ‘Percy was ready before you and he’s not even interested in Quidditch.’
‘Time to go.’ Mr Weasley shuffled out of the huddle and yawned. ‘Don’t want to be late.’
The group surged forward in a whirl of motion and a blur of noise, swirling around Harry until they were seated again.
‘Bulgaria will win,’ Ron declared. ‘Krum’s brilliant.’
‘We disagree, Ronnikins. Far be it from us to dispute the talent of the mighty Krum—’
‘—but our money is on the Irish.’
‘Technically, George, our money is on the Irish and Krum,’ the other twin said.
‘Very true, George, very true. Ireland to win, but Krum to catch the snitch.’
Apparently they’re both George today.
‘I still think Bulgaria will win it,’ Ron said. ‘Krum will get the snitch long before the Irish can score that many points.’
‘Stop fighting,’ Ginny hissed. ‘The teams are coming out.’
The Bulgarian cheerleaders strode out onto the field like they’d stepped straight from one of the American high school drama shows Dudley gawped at in his room when he thought his parents weren’t watching.
A hush fell over the crowd.
The cheerleaders twirled into dance, spinning in the stunned silence and beneath the weight of thousands of stares, a blurred swirl of silver and pale skin.
Harry stared. Those cheerleaders don’t move like this. They don’t have silver hair that makes you want to run your hands through it, lips that look soft and sweet as sugar, or eyes as bright as stars.
He leant forward. ‘If I stood up, would they see me?’ he murmured. ‘Would they notice?’
They won’t see me. His thoughts came in a smooth, light voice, welling up in the back of his head like cold, dark water. They never do. No matter how much you wish for it.
The distance yawned open between his seat and the silver-haired girls dancing. A gentle fist tugged his heart down into a cold hollow place. Harry leant back from the edge and hunched into his seat.
The cheerleaders’ dance stilled, the noise of the crowd swelled, and two sets of players burst into the stadium.
The Quidditch World Cup final commenced in a blur of motion and Harry lifted his omnioculars out of his lap, the green and gold blurs sharpening into a trio of Irish chasers. Harry focused on the distant figure of Krum as the Bulgarian seeker drifted apart from everything below, free as a bird.
A small smile crept onto Harry’s lips.
Krum swivelled and plummeted out of sight. The crowd roared and something caught Harry on the cheekbone. His glasses slipped from his nose and the omnioculars sailed into the rows below.
Where did my glasses go?
He peered under his chair and caught a glimpse of reflected light at the very back. Harry stretched an arm under, but the glint of light hovered just beyond his fingertips. He tugged his wand from his pocket and hooked them into reach. A swathe of scratches covered the lenses.
Inevitably. He closed his eyes, imagining smooth, unblemished glass and repaired them with a tap of his finger. Guess it was a good thing I slept on them. Even if I had to spend three days trying to do it without a wand. Harry slipped his wand into his sleeve and shot a glance at Hermione.
Her eyes were fixed on the game, her lips pressed into a thin, white line.
Good. If she’d seen, I’d not see her until she’d figured it out.
He tracked her glare to the referee, who’d stopped to dance and flex his muscles in front of the Bulgarian cheerleaders.
He’s a terrible dancer. Harry laughed. He’s going to be very embarrassed when he snaps out of it.
‘They’re veela,’ Hermione whispered. ‘There’s half a shelf on them in the school library that’s all stupid drawings, but I did come across a reference in a potions book about amortentia.’
He raised an eyebrow. ‘Isn’t that a love potion, Hermione?’
Hermione turned scarlet and Ginny flushed as red as her hair. ‘Harry, be serious. The book said veela aren’t fully human and can use their magic to charm anyone who finds them attractive. They’re trying to cheat by influencing the referee!’
Harry threw another, longer glance in the direction of the Bulgarian team’s cheerleaders. A faint thrill shot through him, but he took a deep breath and forced it down. ‘Interesting. I’m still curious why you were reading about amortentia, though?’
Hermione huffed and turned away to speak to Ginny.
He smiled. For someone who likes to know everything about what I’m up to, she doesn’t like to share half as much.
Harry leant back in his seat again and pictured a small circle of blank ink on a white page until the crowd noise and flashes of motion drifted into the background and his heartbeat slowed.
A massive roar rose from the crowd, shattering his focus. Ron surged to his feet, his elbow missing Harry’s glasses by half an inch.
What? Harry stumbled to his feet.
Viktor Krum hovered over the stadium, his strong jaw and brows set in a determined frown and one hand raised above his head. Harry fancied he could just make out the twitching wings of the snitch within his grasp.
He looks quite pissed for someone who just caught the snitch. Harry glanced at the scoreboard. Oh, they still lost.
The veela cheerleaders danced on with triumphant smiles. Ludo Bagman shouted the result over the crowd and their celebrations froze. Feathers sprouted along their arms, their eyes widened and turned dark, lips and chins elongated into curved, sharp beaks.
Not completely human at all.
‘Time to head back to the tent, Arthur,’ Mrs Weasley said.
Her husband nodded, one eye still on the veela.
Blue flames appeared in the hands of some of the cheerleaders and a heated scuffle broke out between the other match officials and the enthralled referee.
They staggered down steep steps.
‘I’m sure there weren’t this many steps on the way up,’ Harry muttered.
Hermione turned, the glint of knowledge in her eye. ‘It’s a very clever space manipulation spell. You put your feet on a step and the space is stretched upwards so you actually go up much farther than you think. It’s like a tiny magical escalator for each step.’
‘Means an awful lot of different sets of steps for different levels though,’ Ron groused.
‘It’s brilliant, Ron.’ Hermione’s tone sharpened. ‘It’s really clever. I was reading about these kind of space manipulations over the summer and they’re fascinating…’
Lecture time. Harry concealed a sigh beneath his breath and let a flood of arithmancy and runes wash over him. Still, some of it makes sense now, so at least my summer study has been useful for something.
Hermione’s barrage continued until they found themselves back at the Weasleys’ tent.
‘So you do need to breathe,’ Harry quipped into the brief silence. ‘I was beginning to wonder.’
Hermione’s lips crooked. ‘This tent is another fascinating use of spatial expansion, Harry. Kind of like what you see in Doctor Who.’
‘In what?’ Ron squinted at Hermione and Harry in turn. ‘Is this another weird muggle thing?’
‘Look at all this, Harrikins.’ The twins waved fistfuls of gold under Harry’s nose as they passed. ‘Bagman bet against our prediction, gave us good odds too.’
‘It ought to be enough now, Fred,’ the twin wearing the jumper emblazoned with the letter G crowed.
‘Indeed it should, George.’ His twin shovelled handfuls of gold from their pockets into their trunks. ‘Best get it out of sight before mum comes and sees we’ve been gambling, though.’
Fireworks exploded and screeched above the tents as the Irish celebrations began.
It’s too loud again. Harry slipped past Ron and Hermione’s squabble, sidestepped Percy’s sermon on the shortcomings of the absent Bertha Jorkins and settled down on the cot.
Sleep came to tug at him, drawing him down from scattered thoughts and bursting fireworks into the dark.
Something shook at his arm and he jolted upright with a cold rush of adrenaline.
‘Harry,’ Mr Weasley snapped, grim-faced. ‘We need to leave now. Get Ron and Hermione and get out of the camp. Stay together.’
He fumbled for his glasses and his wand, stumbling to the entrance. Ron and Hermione’s pale faces peered out into the camp from a thin slit at the door.
‘Come on, Harry,’ Hermione whispered, tugging at his arm. ‘We need to get out of here.’
His skin prickled beneath her fingers, a twist of unease settling in his stomach. He frowned and pulled his arm away.
Screams echoed from close by.
‘Let’s go,’ Ron mumbled. ‘Quick.’
They fled from the tent toward the woods, caught in a tight, torrent of panicked people. Smoke hung over burning tents in the camps’ centre; it drifted over them on a strong breeze, thick and sour enough to choke Harry’s breath. He ducked down and scuttled through the crowd toward a glimpse of green trees.
Flashes of light threw eerie shadows against the veil of smoke and the dull echo of explosions rang over the roar of the flames.
‘Harry!’ Hermione’s shouts pierced the smog. ‘Where are you?!’
Something cracked into the side of his head and everything went dark in a flash of white sparks.
Warmth seeped into his cheek; it swelled from warmth to heat, growing hotter and hotter against his skin.
A warm stickiness cracked and split on the skin of his face and his glasses slipped down his nose.
Harry hauled himself to his feet and clapped his glasses back into place. A thick, strong tang of smoke coated his mouth, clinging like tar. Flames engulfed the line of tents a few metres from his face and a roiling mass of pitch-black smoke hung beyond them like dense autumn fog.
He staggered toward the trees, peering through the whirling grey. I hope everyone’s okay.
Thick, soft, warm grey ashes carpeted the ground and swirled out of the sky like snow. What on earth caused this? A dragon? He peered around into the still grey. As long as it’s not Voldemort or dementors again. I’d rather it was a dragon than them, dragons are fine so long as you leave their eggs be, and I’m not Hagrid.
Harry strode through soft silence. A distant world stretched away into the smoke, muffled as if he’d stuck his fingers in his ears and hot embers seared his feet through the soles of his shoes. The charred remnants of furniture — or worse — crunched beneath his heels, echoing across the ash like thunder claps.
Bright purple light seared his eyes and something hissed past his face. Harry twisted about and snatched his wand from his sleeve.
Two pale purple spells streaked toward him.
He threw himself to one side and rolled in the ash, catching a glimpse of a thin, almost skeletal wizard draped in black robes.
‘Lacero,’ the robed wizard croaked.
Another purple curse flashed at him.
Harry dived behind a mound of ash and the curse sailed away into the smoke.
‘I must remain unseen and behave,’ the wizard muttered, his wand snapping up and unleashing another trio of curses.
They tore through the ash, grazing his left elbow in a flash of fire.
‘Expelliarmus!’ Harry’s spell ricocheted off a glowing white barrier of magic into the ash and sputtered out.
‘Stay unseen.’ The wizard’s wand hand trembled and he dug the fingers of his free hand into his temples so hard his knuckles turned white and blood trickled down his face. ‘No.’ The skeletal wizard’s voice shifted hoarse and sharp. ‘The Dark Lord will reward me beyond all others when I manage something great.’
Of course it was Voldemort somehow. There better not be more dementors, too.
‘Expelliarmus.’ Harry thrust his wand out.
The spell dissipated on the same shield in a faint wash of red.
His opponent cackled. ‘Crucio,’ he crooned.
A red curse tore past Harry’s ear.
‘I’m free! Free!’ His cackle warbled like a cracking radio. ‘When I take you to the Dark Lord I will be his most trusted servant! Loftier than Lucius! Greater than Goyle! Better than Bellatrix!’
A second red curse hissed past. The third caught him on the arm. White-hot fire wracked Harry’s body and he collapsed into the hot embers, curling up around the pain.
‘I am his most loyal follower.’ The mad wizard raised his wand again, its tip glowing crimson.
No. Harry’s gaze caught on the tip of the wand like a fish on a hook. I don’t want to feel that again.
The tattered capes of the dementors fluttered through his thoughts, Voldemort’s red eyes gleamed amongst them, framed by chalk-white skin and bathed in the crimson glow of the Philosopher’s Stone, the shadow of the basilisk loomed over him like a cloud across the face of the sun, and Pettigrew snivelled and scuttled away into the grass in the cold light of a full moon.
No more hoping. A shard of ice tightened somewhere near his heart, his magic snagged on it, caught like a sleeve on the thorns of Petunia’s roses. Wishes are made.
Harry slashed his wand at the cackling Death Eater.
The ash swirled against the wind.
A vast, ebony basilisk lunged from the smoke; it smashed into the Death Eater’s chest, hammering him into the ground and vanishing in an explosion of hot smoke.
A deep, numb ache seized hold of Harry and he tottered and swayed, clutching his wand with sweat-slickened fingers.
The mad wizard lay still as stone beneath a settling veil of grey ash.
Harry edged closer, holding his wand out in trembling fingers, snatching shallow gasps.
Bright, gleaming points of bone poked from black tatters. A gaping spread of red gore and glistening blue guts pulsed with fading crimson spurts and a thick, foul reek filled Harry’s nose.
He gagged, pressing his face into the crook of his elbow and squeezing his eyes shut. He’s dead. Gone. Harry stared at the wand in his hand, watched its tip tremble with every throb of his hammering heart. And I did that.
Smoke swirled round him and the ash floated down, covering the wizard’s corpse in a thin, pale sheet.
Harry stumbled a few paces back until the stench faded and slumped to the ground. I did that. Quirrell’s burning face twisted and melted in his mind’s eye, and Harry’s stomach bubbled and surged. Just like then.
The ash buried his legs, soft and warm as a blanket.
He wrapped his arms ‘round his knees and buried his face in them, letting the world drift into the distance. I think I’ll just stay here for a bit.