Light, warm rain turned heavy and cold as October crept by; it drummed on the Forbidden Forest’s canopy as it faded orange, brown, and red, pattering through autumn morning mist into the Black Lake.
If it weren’t so miserable, it’d still feel like September. Harry dragged his gaze away from the window and back into the Great Hall.
‘Still not going to enter, Harry?’ Seamus asked.
‘My desire for eternal glory died permanently at about age eleven.’ He stretched up to pat the top of Hermione’s research bundle. ‘There’s a really big pile of old newspapers that says yours probably isn’t going to make it through the tournament.’
‘Nah, mate. They’ll definitely have made it more safe this time. Dean’s going to enter too, now.’
‘Have you been at some other school the last few years?’ Harry quipped. ‘A troll, a cerberus, a werewolf, a baby dragon, a basilisk…’
‘And a vampire.’ Ron poked his head up over a mountain of eggs and bacon. ‘Can’t forget Snape.’
Dean nodded. ‘Worst of the lot. His potions class is probably the final task.’
You wouldn’t be saying that if you’d seen the basilisk.
‘The other schools are coming today,’ Seamus crowed. ‘Nearly time!’
Harry sighed and returned to A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration, raising his book over Katie Bell’s best attempts to spill pumpkin juice over everything. He vanished the trail of juice edging toward his lap, then tucked his wand back up his sleeve.
Katie flushed. ‘Thanks Harry.’
She leant across. ‘Why’re you reading OWL books?’
‘Someone challenged me to make my own spell.’ Harry caught Hermione’s eye as she looked up. ‘Transfiguration. And supposedly, I’ve a bit of a gift that I’ve been wasting.’
‘What sort of spell?’
He lowered his book. ‘Something based on the Bird Conjuring Spell. Butterflies.’
‘How girly of you.’
‘Sporty tom-boy said what?’
Katie laughed. ‘Can’t dispute that.’
Slytherin did. Harry stifled a wince at the recollection of the portrait’s apoplexy. Even knowing a swarm of butterflies makes an almost impervious shield to the Killing Curse, Cruciatus Curse, or any dark curses that cause no physical damage, he was still upset it wasn’t snakes.
Hermione crossed her arms. ‘Show us, then.’
‘Please,’ Katie muttered.
‘Papilionis.’ Harry drew a narrow vee in the air with the tip of his wand.
A single, grey, rather lopsided butterfly lurched in a spiral around his head.
Not quite what I was hoping for. Not even the right colour.
The tragic creature corkscrewed across the table, avoided Ron’s fork by a whisker, and collapsed in front of Hermione. She poked it with her wand and the butterfly burst into a wisp of black smoke.
Harry frowned and scratched his head. Something isn’t quite right.
Hermione shot him a smug look.
Harry ignored her. She’s just mad because I won’t tell her where I spend my time. And that I don’t need her help all the time anymore.
‘Papilionis.’ He forced more magic into the spell.
Two black butterflies darted across the table into Katie’s face. She shrieked and batted them away.
They were a little better formed. Harry watched Katie set his conjurations alight. The wings were the right shape and they were the right colour.
‘Only really special wizards make their own spells before they take their OWLs, Harry.’ Hermione offered him a smile half between encouraging and satisfied. ‘Even modifying them is meant to be really tricky.’
Your half-sincere condescension is really starting to annoy me. Harry took a deep breath. At least when the champions are chosen for this tournament Hermione can have her I told you so moment and stop being so pissy with everyone.
‘Aren’t Beauxbaton and Durmstrang’s students meant to be arriving today,’ Alicia asked.
‘I think so,’ Angelina said. ‘I don’t know how they’re arriving, though.’
Startled exclamations burst from near the window.
‘What’s that?’ Dean peered past Harry’s shoulder.
‘It’s a bird,’ someone said.
‘No, it’s a plane,’ a student cried.
A few sniggers echoed round the hall and more than a few blank looks rose from those raised in the magical world.
‘It’s Beauxbatons’ flying carriage,’ a seventh year Ravenclaw announced in a very Hermione-ish manner. ‘It’s pulled by Abraxan horses.’
The coach was a pale, pastel blue and covered in ornate gold decoration. Huge shining wheels spun in the wind. The entire affair, both winged horses and carriage, disappeared behind the central tower.
Harry returned to his book. At least it means everyone will be talking about something slightly different.
Professor Dumbledore and the majority of the Hogwarts staff strode down the hall, trailed by what appeared to be the remainder of the student body.
‘Something’s happening to the lake,’ a first year squeaked.
Half the students thundered from one side of the room to the other.
‘It’s bubbling,’ someone shouted.
‘There’s a ship!’
‘It must be Durmstrang,’ the same seventh year Ravenclaw announced.
‘Do they know about the giant squid?’ a girl asked.
Harry bit back a laugh. That could be a nasty surprise.
‘I heard Durmstrang is in the Czech Republic,’ Ron said.
‘The Czech Republic is a land-locked country, Ron,’ Hermione replied. ‘Travelling by ship would be very impractical.’
‘Me mam said something about Scandinavia,’ Seamus said.
‘If everyone could find a seat on their house tables.’ Dumbledore held his wand against his throat to magnify his voice over the hubbub. ‘Let’s give a good impression to our guests, shall we?’
Everyone scrambled back to the tables and Harry found himself squished between Katie and a sixth year boy. Harry tucked his elbows in as far as possible and tried not to think about the warmth of the two of them, but each time he made some space to breathe, they seemed to seep into it.
It’s not going to be for long. He took several deep breaths and pictured the circle of dark ink on white parchment, letting himself sink into the blackness of it. They’re just close to you. They won’t bite.
Katie craned her neck round Harry, stretching so far she was all but lying over his lap. He leant as far back as he could without falling off the bench.
She giggled. ‘Sorry, Harry. Didn’t mean to be so forward.’
He dragged as much of a smile as he could manage onto his face. Katie’s brow creased. Harry plastered a new smile on top of the first. A bright, easy, spread of teeth that welled up from the back of his mind like water from a spring.
Her cheeks blossomed pink. ‘At least it’s the sporty tom-boy lying all over you. If I were Lavender, you’d smell like apple blossom or something equally girly for the rest of the day.’
‘I suppose it could be worse.’
‘It made you smile.’ She squirmed. ‘It’s a nice smile. Never seen you smile like that before.’
Because it’s not my smile. A cold fist closed round Harry’s spine and the expression slipped off his lips. The rest of the face he’d half-recalled it from seeped from his memory. High cheekbones, smooth, combed hair, and mahogany eyes with just a hint of hunger. It’s Riddle’s smile. Bloody hell.
The Durmstrang students strode into the Great Hall draped in fur-cloaks and with knee-high leather boots. Their headmaster, a silver-haired, sour-faced man with a short, pointed goatee came last, his arm draped about the broad shoulders of his final student.
‘That’s Viktor Krum,’ Ron hissed.
A murmur ripped through the hall. The Bulgarian seeker’s eyes remained fixed on Professor Dumbledore.
‘Igor.’ Professor Dumbledore spread his arms
‘Dumbledore.’ Durmstrang’s headmaster responded with a sharp, curt nod. ‘Madame Maxime is on her way. She stopped to give more precise instructions to your gamekeeper about her Abraxans.’
Professor Dumbledore let his arms drop as the Durmstrang students followed Krum to the Slytherin table.
Whispers filled the hall.
Harry returned to the pages of his transfiguration book. Maybe the reason it’s not working is something to do with the fact I’m conjuring out of nothing instead of using an elemental medium like I did for the basilisk.
Silence descended over the Great Hall.
‘That girl is not normal,’ Katie muttered.
A group of French witches strolled past glass-eyed Hogwarts students. Harry caught a glimpse of platinum hair at the very end of the Ravenclaw table as the witches found some space. A two person gap opened around the silver-haired witch and she stared up at the ceiling as if nothing below it interested her in the slightest.
A large bowl of fish stew appeared on the table.
Harry jerked his book up just in time to avoid decorating its spine with the largest prawns he’d ever seen. They look quite tasty, actually. He tried to free his arms, but Katie and the sixth year boy had monopolised all the space. I guess I’ll wait, then.
Harry turned the page and tuned out the clatter of cutlery, plates, and goblets rose up around him. Katie chattered away about quidditch on his right with Angelina and Alicia. He poked her goblet of pumpkin juice out of harm’s way with the corner of his book.
The table turned quiet and still.
‘Do you still want the bouillabaisse?’ A soft, French-accented voice drifted over his shoulder.
Harry caught a flash of platinum hair out the corner of his eye. Presumably Bouillabaisse is the thing with the giant prawns.
‘All yours.’ He leant out the way of Katie, who’d two hands on the dish.
She swung the bowl past Harry’s nose and into a pair of small, fair-skinned hands.
‘Bizarre,’ the soft voice murmured. ‘Merci.’ Quiet footsteps padded away.
Harry glanced up and met Katie’s stare. ‘What?’
‘You’re not acting like all those idiots.’ She gestured at the pair of fifth boys across from them who were staring after the French girl.
Harry blinked. ‘Am I meant to be?’
Katie beamed. ‘It’s a good thing, don’t worry.’
‘If you say so.’ He drew and raised his wand. ‘Papilionis.’
A swarm of imperfect butterflies erupted from his wand tip and scattered across the table. Alicia shrieked and Ron hunched over his lunch like a vulture over a carcass.
‘Sorry.’ Harry banished them into black smoke. ‘I wasn’t expecting so many.’
‘No more insects,’ Katie growled.
I’ll have to ask Slytherin why it’s not working. He grimaced. Another argument about butterflies beckons.
‘Now our guests have arrived, it is time we come to the main attraction of the year.’ Professor Dumbledore approached the lectern at the head of the hall and the food vanished. ‘It is time for the Triwizard Tournament to begin. However, first we must cover some of the rules.’
An ancient, rough-hewn goblet appeared at the dais’ edge. Blue flames danced above the cup and an eldritch glow bled from it into the air.
The whole hall stared.
Harry watched the azure fire flicker in Ron’s eyes.
‘First of all, it should be made very clear that nobody below the age of seventeen is allowed to enter.’ Professor Dumbledore paused as a loud groan rippled round the hall. ‘To ensure no mishaps occur, I have taken the liberty of drawing an age line around the goblet. Aside from that, the tournament will proceed as it did before it was cancelled. Anyone wishing to be chosen as champion may enter their name into the goblet over the next two days and the names of the champions will be announced by it soon afterward.’
The entire table scrambled for parchment, ink, and quills as if the first few to enter might have some advantage. Ron launched himself into an expletive-punctuated tirade Mrs Weasley herself would’ve been proud of.
So loud. Harry pulled his book back out of the way. It might be best if I went to the chamber.
Slytherin’s portrait stared up at Harry from where he’d leant it against one of the columns as Harry explained his problem. ‘They’re such feminine insects. Can’t you use dragonflies, or bats, or anything more respectable?’
‘Butterflies are simple and their wings cover a lot of area,’ Harry said. ‘Now are you going to help or sulk?’
The portrait crossed its arms. ‘Salazar Slytherin does not sulk.’
Of course he doesn’t.
‘What are you visualising?’ Salazar asked.
‘Butterflies, swirling around me in a sort of demi-sphere.’
‘How are you picturing them forming?’
‘I wasn’t really,’ Harry replied. ‘It never mattered for the bird-conjuring spell.’
‘But I’d wager you only ever conjured one bird. A single bird you can probably get away with, but for lots, you have to focus on them being created from the air beforehand. It’s harder to conjure from such an insubstantial thing.’
Harry imagined the butterflies curling together as if from smoke. ‘Papilionis.’
A cloud of wings and legs engulfed him, tickling every inch of skin.
‘That’s pretty good,’ Salazar said. ‘Practice directing them as a shield and you could use them to deflect some types of curses as you wanted, or even transfigure them and use them as weapons.’
Transfiguring them sounds like a good idea.
‘You’ve spent a lot of time down here over the last month.’ Salazar’s brows drew together. ‘And that’s excluding the use of the time-turner.’
‘My friends are all obsessed with the Triwizard Tournament.’ Harry shrugged. ‘I don’t particularly enjoy talking about it constantly and I do need to get much better for the next time something goes wrong.’
‘Don’t forget your friends. You’ll need them, especially with your record of ending up entangled in anything remotely dangerous.’
‘I haven’t forgotten them, but it’s hard to be with them for all my free time when most of them don’t do anything I find interesting. The only one who does share interests resents having any real competition.’
‘Choose better friends, then,’ Salazar said.
‘There are no better friends.’
Salazar shrugged, bouncing his snake on his shoulders. It let out an irritated hiss. ‘If you say so,’ he said
Who would be better? Malfoy? Zacharias Smith?
‘Papilionis.’ Harry conjured a cloud of black butterflies, directing the swarm to swirl around him fast enough he could see through the blur of wings. He transfigured one of the butterflies into a gleaming, steel spike and with a flick of his wand, sent it flying out of the shield.
It hissed across the chamber and thunked into the stone wall a few inches above the Slytherin’s picture.
‘Be careful,’ Salazar exploded. ‘I do not need one of those impaled through my canvas. Sometimes you’re worse than Godric!’
Harry attempted it several more times using sponge balls. Eventually, he got the hang of directing his projectiles where he wanted them.
‘My Chamber of Secrets looks like a childrens’ playground,’ Salazar griped.
Harry gave the giant corpse of the basilisk a pointed look. ‘I suspect it wouldn’t meet health and safety requirements.’ He vanished the mess he had made.
‘It’s a surprisingly useful spell,’ Salazar said. ‘Despite the ridiculous butterflies.’
Hermione would huff if she saw it was working already. Harry heaved the portrait back over the bridge and replaced it above the entrance, slipped the time-turner onto its hook on the desk.
‘Godric used to steal that and move my things around,’ Salazar murmured. ‘He thought it was hilarious, until Rowena found out and yelled at him for messing with time over something so petty.’
‘You miss them.’
‘I’d miss anyone after half a millennium with no company but a mad serpent and a delusional child. Even Godric’s childish japes, Helga’s mothering, or Rowena’s lectures.’ Slytherin stared into the floor. ‘I think when you’ve redeemed the title of Heir of Slytherin and no longer need my advice, I’d quite like to be moved somewhere else in the castle. Maybe you’ll find a portrait of my old friends in the Room of Requirement.’
‘I’ll search for it,’ Harry promised.
‘You should go back to your tower and see your friends. Heir of Slytherin or not, you’ll need them.’
Harry nodded and headed back up the stairs.
A cluster of fourth years slumped in the sofas round the fire.
‘It’s rather empty in here.’ Harry crossed to join them. ‘Where’s everyone else?’
Ron’s face twisted into a scowl. ‘Still by the goblet in the hall. The younger years are in lessons.’
‘Not happy about the age rules, I take it.’
‘Bloody pissed off is more like it.’
‘Don’t take it too hard,’ Harry said.
‘It was my chance, Harry.’ Ron sighed. ‘You wouldn’t understand, you’ve always been noticed and famous and had everything. I was going to be noticed, too. I wouldn’t just be another Weasley, or Harry Potter’s friend, or something like that. I don’t want the whole limelight or anything, just a glimmer for myself.’
It’s not worth wishing for. Harry buried a flicker of distaste. And even if it was, wishes are made, they don’t happen just because you hope.
‘Honestly, Ron, I’d happily give you the entire thing.’
‘It’s easy to say that from where you’re standing, mate,’ Dean said. ‘I’m just another muggle-born student that half the wizarding world doesn’t think should be here. You’ve been a hero from birth.’
‘I didn’t want to be.’
‘We know. You never go chasing things like this or even use your fame at all,’ Seamus replied. ‘It’s just a little annoying to be in your shadow sometimes.’
‘Well we’ll be in the shadow of the Hogwarts champion together,’ Harry said. ‘I’ve no desire to enter my name and I couldn’t anyway.’
‘Fred and George tried to cheat past the age line earlier,’ Hermione announced. ‘It didn’t work, but I’ve seen loads of younger students trying everything they can to get in.’
Dean scoffed. ‘I’d take my hat off to anyone who manages to slip past an age line created by Dumbledore.’
I’ve no idea how the ward works, but I doubt anyone’s going to get past it.
‘Maybe next time,’ Harry said. ‘You’d have a better shot at winning then.’
‘It was held every five years back when it was running,’ Seamus said.
‘This was our only shot,’ Dean added.
‘I’m going upstairs.’ Ron shoved himself out of his chair and slouched off.
Seamus and Dean shared a glance and trailed after him.
‘Did you try and put your name in?’ Hermione asked.
‘No,’ Harry said. ‘I’ve been trying to perfect my butterfly summoning spell.’
‘That’s really advanced transfiguration, Harry.’ Hermione patted him on the arm. ‘You shouldn’t be trying it for another year at least, really. I’m only starting to read about it now and probably won’t be able to do it until Christmas or the Spring. I’m really impressed you managed to conjure anything at all.’
Harry tried to muster a smile, managing to borrow Riddle’s bright, insincere cheer. ‘Thanks, Hermione.’