Hundreds of owls swooped into the Great Hall, a mid-air ocean of wings and letters. A few appreciative murmurs sounded from the Ravenclaw and Slytherin tables, where our foreign guests had sat down for breakfast. Most of the Hogwarts students barely noticed their descent, well used to the daily spectacle.
A small, tawny owl landed in front of Hermione and held out the latest edition of the Prophet in a delicate claw. Hermione handed it a knut. The creature hooted approvingly but continued to loiter, eying our plates.
I turned to Ron and explained, “It wants your bacon.”
“It’s my bacon,” he said mulishly. “There’s a whole plate right over there. Why doesn’t it take some from that?”
“It probably enjoys eating it from your hand. Or maybe it just likes stealing,” I said.
He glared at the bird, which merely ruffled its feathers in response. I added, “I don’t know why you’re making such a big deal of this.”
Ron turned his glare on me. “Why don’t you ever give up your bacon?”
“Don’t blame your selfishness on me,” I said.
“Just give it the bacon, Ronald,” Hermione said absentmindedly as she opened up her newspaper. Scowling, Ron gave up the bacon. When he reached out to grab more from the central platter, it disappeared.
Sometimes I love this castle.
“Anything interesting in the news today?” I asked.
“You really should get a subscription of your own,” Hermione sniffed.
“Everyone knows the Daily Prophet is full of rubbish.”
“It’s very important to keep informed,” she said.
I shrugged. “I have people for that.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “You mean me?”
“Well, yes, mostly you at the moment,” I admitted.
Back when I was a dark lord, I used to have a whole group of Death Eaters performing that task. I also had a group that dealt with public relations. My decision to put Bellatrix in the latter group probably explains why I was considered a dark lord and not a slightly over-zealous politician.
Hermione’s hands clenched the paper as her eyes darted from side to side. Suddenly, she slammed it against the table and hissed, “This is complete rubbish.”
“Yes, I just told you that,” I said.
“No, not the whole paper. Just this article. It’s about you, and it’s just so completely outlandish that I don’t even know where to begin in refuting it. I…here.”
She shoved it at me, and I began to read.
Boy-Who-Lived Rescues Reporter from Sirius Black
By Rita Skeeter
After thirteen years of silence, the Boy-Who-Lived has reentered the public sphere with a bang. Only fourteen years old, young Harry Potter is determined to win the Triwizard Tournament for Hogwarts. I had the privilege of sitting down with him yesterday for an exclusive interview.
Though three years younger than the other champions (described in detail on page three), Harry has no lack of confidence, or – it seems – skill.
“Oh, I’m definitely winning,” he told me with a charming grin. “I wouldn’t have entered otherwise…I have extensive experience with these sorts of things. I’ve successfully fought a deranged DADA Professor, lured Hagrid’s monster out of its hiding place, and even faced a werewolf…I know well over two hundred spells, and I’m a runes prodigy.”
Any of this reporter’s doubts were erased as the Boy-Who-Lived demonstrated several spells she remembers from her DADA NEWT.
“You sound like a young Lockhart,” I commented.
At this, Harry’s eyes filled with tears. “We can all hope to be as amazing as Lockhart.”
Soon, our conversation turned to Harry’s unusual entrance into the tournament. You see, dear readers, Harry never should have been allowed to enter at all, but the protections set by Albus Dumbledore were no match for youthful ingenuity.
_“Oh, he tried to keep me out.” _
The boy laughed mischievously and refused to say any more, only adding, “I’m a very typical Gryffindor, you know. The Hat didn’t even consider anyplace else for me. Not for a single moment.”
I was fortunate enough to see Harry’s boasted skills in action when a great beast suddenly leapt from the grass, landing upon the boy and pinning him to the floor. Enormous fangs poised to rip at his throat, but Harry blasted the monstrous creature away with a powerful spell.
The beast landed hard against the grass, suddenly transforming into none other than Sirius Black. At first, panic shone in Harry’s green eyes – understandable since I, Rita Skeeter, nearly fainted upon Black’s arrival. Within moments, however, Harry’s face turned resolute and a rainbow of hexes and jinxes flew at the startled convict.
Black fled, unable to cast a single spell (For more information on the battle between You-Know-Who’s right-hand man and the Boy-Who-Lived, please turn to page two).
While this reporter has no doubt in the abilities of Harry Potter, my wiser readers must wonder about Albus Dumbledore. Why was Sirius Black able to sneak into Hogwarts three times under Dumbledore’s watch? How did a student, no matter his talent, outwit the old man’s defenses? How did he allow Hagrid, a half-giant with a felonious past, to spend fifty years working in the halls he once terrorized, resulting in the death of Gilderoy Lockhart?
Can we trust him with our children?
I looked up in confusion at Hermione, who was busy stabbing a piece of omelet with her fork. I should emphasize the use of the word “stab” in this sentence…There was a dent left in the plate. “I don’t understand why you’re so upset. It’s all true.”
Hermione raised an eyebrow. “You were attacked by Sirius Black?”
“Yes,” I said.
“And you didn’t tell anyone.”
“I’m not sure why I would bother. It’s not like he came back or anything,” I said, “and, frankly, I found him far less powerful than everyone seems to imply.”
“That’s probly ‘cause he doesn’t have a wand,” Ron said.
“And so long as he doesn’t steal one from someone incompetent, we’ll all be safe.” I glanced down the table at Longbottom. It would only be prudent to steal his wand before someone else did.
“You should have at least told a teacher,” Hermione muttered. She snatched back the paper, skimming it. “Two hundred spells?”
I shrugged. “I could show you them, but most require a live target.”
She frowned deeper. “The Hat didn’t consider putting you anywhere but Gryffindor? Alright, I know that one’s a lie.”
“No it isn’t,” I said.
“You were under for five minutes.”
“It wanted to talk to me. I’m very famous, you know,” I said, raising my chin haughtily.
“Mate, you’re starting to sound like a Slytherin again,” Ron advised.
I lowered my chin and tried to look very Gryffindor by waving my arms around like an idiot. “Okay, fine, it didn’t know where to put me because I so perfectly encapsulated the values of all four houses. I was very cunning, astoundingly brave, and the most intelligent person he’d ever sorted.”
Ron said, “You didn’t mention loyalty.”
“Oh, right, he also thought that I would fit well in Hufflepuff since I would look even more impressive when surrounded by their bumbling. I refused that placement outright, of course.”
“I don’t believe you,” Hermione said. This is exactly the sort of honesty that makes Gryffindors so easy to manipulate. Their obsession with “feelings” and “relationships” were also helpful on that front.
“You’re my best friend, Hermione. Would I lie to my best friend?”
She rolled her eyes, though an amused smile pulled at her lips, and Ron yelped, “I thought I was your best friend!”
I ignored him. “Come to think of it, Skeeter did lie about one thing. She claimed that I cried over Lockhart. That’s completely ludicrous, and I resent her attempts to sabotage my place in the tournament by making me seem weak.”
“Crying when someone dies doesn’t make you weak,” Hermione said, looking troubled. “It just makes you human.”
“Yes, and I think we’ve all established that I’m better than that,” I said.
Somehow, that led to another lecture on emotional neglect.
I stormed towards the castle, Hermione and Ron at my heels like proper minions. “This is so unfair. How could I possibly have the worst score? I’m the only one who killed his dragon!”
“You weren’t supposed to kill the dragon, Harry,” Hermione said.
I waved my hand dismissively. “That wasn’t in the rules…The judges should all be sacked. They’re clearly biased. Except for Dumbledore, but he’s supposed to be biased for me, so we should get rid of him, as well.”
“You broke all the eggs, too,” Ron said.
“That also wasn’t in the rules, and that was the dragon’s fault. It was her body that crushed them.”
Hermione pinched the stem of her nose. “Clearly murdering an endangered species isn’t a good enough reason to dock points.”
“Not when they put one between me and eternal glory,” I said.
“You were invisible the whole time!” Hermione cried. “That’s hardly glorious, and it didn’t do a very good job of entertaining the crowd.”
“That’s what the explosions were for,” I insisted.
“They were pretty cool,” Ron said, earning a smack on the arm from Hermione.
I said, “Exactly. If I wasn’t trying to be impressive, I would have banished it or something.”
Ron asked, “You can do that?”
“Yes, it’s very simple,” I said dismissively. “If I’d realized dragon slaying was suddenly frowned upon, I would have just sent it home.”
Meanwhile, at Privet Drive
A chill raced down Petunia Dursley’s spine. She felt oddly certain that she had only narrowly avoided horrible disaster. It was, she decided, probably Harry’s fault.
Hermione stalked down the hall, the metaphorical storm cloud above her head nearly made reality as the air crackled with electricity from her accidental magic. Sparks attacked our surrounding classmates. A tiny lightning bolt leapt three feet and stung my hand. Although, considering Hermione’s magical prowess and fury towards me at that moment, that one might have been intentional magic.
Hermione entered Myrtle’s loo, growling when I didn’t hesitate to follow. She then whirled around, wand out, and glared at me.
I should have known it was a trap. No one ever visits Myrtle.
Hermione snapped, “Stop following me, Harry.”
“Not until you tell me who’s taking you to the Yule Ball,” I said.
“What does it even matter?” she cried.
I sighed heavily. “You know I hate it when other people keep secrets.”
She rolled her eyes and lowered her wand. “You’ll find out in a few weeks like everyone else.”
“But you’re my best friend. If I don’t know your secrets, I’m already failing.”
Hermione simply stared at me, refusing to back down. Now it was my turn to become exasperated. I asked, “Who could possibly be so terrible that you wouldn’t even tell us about him?”
“He isn’t terrible.”
“Obviously you wouldn’t think that. He’s taking you to a ball. But you clearly think that we’ll disapprove.” – My eyes widened in realization – “It’s Malfoy, isn’t it?”
She gaped in unrestrained shock at being found out. “What?”
“Yes, yes, it all makes sense now,” I muttered. “The clear tension between you two, Ron’s bizarre hatred of Malfoy, your incorrigible flirting last year…”
“He called me a Mudblood, and I hit him,” she said, enunciating each word as if I was an idiot.
I nodded. “Yes, exactly. Well, I suppose you could do worse. He’s rich, and it’s not like he’s a Hufflepuff or anything.”
“I am not dating Draco Malfoy.”
I chuckled. “Now, now, there’s no need to be coy. This illicit romance is almost inspir–”
“Viktor Krum,” she said.
“I’m going to the ball with Viktor Krum” – Hermione frowned – “We weren’t going to tell anyone because his fans can get very possessive. Besides, you and Ron were being such gits about it that I just didn’t want to.”
“The Durmstrang champion?” I said.
“And seeker for the Bulgarian National Quidditch Team,” she said with a touch of pride.
I laughed as I finally understood Hermione’s earlier hesitance to admit her date. “Oh, I see. How very Grindelwald of you.”
She pouted, no doubt displeased that I’d caught on so quickly. “What do you mean?”
“Don’t play dumb, Hermione. I know you’ve read everything.”
“I have no idea what you’re talking about,” she said.
I smirked. “Seducing foreign wizards to steal their Dark Magic, of course.”
“I’m not doing that,” she said, draping herself with moral outrage as if it were a fur coat.
“You’re seriously trying to tell me that you just accidentally started dating the champion of Durmstrang, a school renowned for its Dark Arts?” I said.
“Yes” – Hermione sniffed and tilted her chin up arrogantly – “He’s very sweet, and he _asked _me to the Yule Ball, for your information.”
It seemed that I had overestimated Hermione. I had thought her the cunning, ruthless witch that we all knew she would one day become. But she was still only fourteen and naïve in some matters. I almost felt bad having to kill what little remained of her innocence. “I hate to tell you this, but he’s just using you to steal Hogwarts’ secrets.”
Hermione glared at me, wand once again raised. “EXCUSE ME?!”
“I don’t know why else he would be dating the fourth year bookworm.”
I’m not sure what hex she threw at me then, but – by the time I’d deflected it – Hermione had left the girls’ loo.
I wrote our latest Potions essay, relying solely on my previous knowledge. I could have used a book, but Snape would just give me a T, anyway. He always did. Beside me, Ron sprawled on the couch. His head rested against the stuffed back, and he stared listlessly at the ceiling. “Do you wanna play chess?”
“No,” I said.
“You’re just sore ‘cause I beat you back in First Year.”
“We’ve been over this. I let you win,” I said coolly.
Ron snorted. “Right, sure, why don’t you beat me now, then?”
“It would be too easy.”
“Yeah, easy for me,” he muttered.
I ignored Ron’s continued insolence. The Gryffindor common room was crowded tonight, primarily with Weasleys. Ginevra had nabbed a place by the fire and was comforting an upset Longbottom while the twins had gathered a new crowd of curious onlookers, no doubt soon to be guinea pigs.
Hermione was in the corner. Halfway through an Arithmancy assignment, she nibbled her quill thoughtfully. She occasionally glanced in our direction but made no move to approach us. Apparently I had hurt her feelings or something. Ron was similarly shunned for his continued insistence that Hermione’s date was imaginary.
I smirked a bit at his clueless insensitivity. Ron truly was an idiot.
But such cheerful thoughts didn’t last long as I finished my essay and found myself with no one to discuss it with. Ron glanced over hopefully. “Chess?”
I missed Hermione.
The thought was somewhat disturbing. I had never hesitated to dispose of an unruly minion before, and Hermione didn’t even know any Dark Magic. But it seemed that I had become used to her presence.
There was only one way to deal with the situation. It would be uncomfortable, but I had spent several years suffering Bellatrix’s affections. I could survive this.
I stood, walked across the room, and spoke to the startled girl in front of me.
“Ginevra, it seems that I am once again in need of your services,” I said.
She beamed. “Really?”
“Temporarily, of course,” I clarified. “We find ourselves lacking a substitute Hermione. I presume you read?”
Her silly grin still in place, Ginevra raised her eyebrows but did not deign to answer further. It seemed that she was already getting into character. I said, “Good. You’ll need to do more of it. I expect you to finish the school library as soon as possible.”
“Alright,” Ginevra said.
I nodded approvingly. “Come along.”
As she followed me, Ginevra said to Longbottom, “I’m sure you’ll find your wand someplace, Neville.”
Ron didn’t even look up at our arrival, instead staring morosely at his chessboard
“Play chess with him,” I ordered.
Ron scowled, grumbling, “What’s she doing here?”
“I’m your new Hermione!” Ginevra chirped.
“I don’t want a new Hermione,” Ron said.
I rolled my eyes. “Well, it’s not like I’m going to help you with your homework.”
Ginevra Weasley was no Hermione Granger. Oh, she did her best – practically living in the library and dragging Ron (and often Longbottom) with her. Yet she lacked that terrifying, unswerving focus that was so quintessentially Hermione.
Ron’s head thumped down on the library table. “I just don’t get it. This DADA essay is bloody impossible.”
“I’m a year younger than you, and I’m doing alright,” Ginevra said.
“I’m confused,” Longbottom said. “Why is Moody teaching the same class to everybody? I mean, it’s tough enough for us. The First Years must be really confused…”
Ginevra laughed, ignoring her barely-begun essay. “Well, yeah, but you’ve got to admit they’ll be the coolest kids ever. I mean, they’re only eleven and already learning how to” – her voice grew gruff in imitation of the ex-auror “‘identify their enemies and maintain constant vigilance.’”
“I dunno why he’s always on about that,” Ron said, “The war’s been over for ten years now. Moody’s even more paranoid than Harry.”
“I like it. It’s funny,” Ginevra chirped.
Ron shrugged. “I guess.”
“I just can’t believe he showed us the…the Unforgivables.” Longbottom shivered, glancing around anxiously as if the very name would get him thrown in Azkaban.
“That was probably a bad idea,” Ginevra said, “especially with what happened in Ravenclaw last week.”
“Huh?” Ron said. Longbottom looked similarly confused, as he often does.
Ginevra’s eyes widened. “You seriously didn’t hear? Everyone in Ravenclaw was talking about it.”
“Why would I talk to Ravenclaws?” Ron asked.
“Aren’t they in your classes and stuff?”
“Well, anyway they were playing a game of Truth or Dare” – she clarified in response to the boys’ baffled faces – “It’s some Muggle thing. But the important part is that they started using the Imperius to make people do the dares.”
“Yikes,” Longbottom muttered.
“People are saying Moody might even be fired over it,” Ginevra said.
“I certainly hope so,” I declared. Ron’s face turned white, Ginevra jumped up from her seat, and Longbottom’s chair fell backwards as he let out a strangled squeak.
“H-Harry?” Ginevra asked.
“Yes?” I said.
Ron’s face slowly returned to its usual color. “Why’re you under the cloak again?”
“I think Moody is trying to kill me,” I said.
He’d suggested I use a broomstick in the First Task. Like anyone could outfly a dragon, let alone me. Further, he was always skulking about. Watching.
“…Okay,” Ron said slowly, casting a doubtful glance in my general direction.
Ginevra beamed. “Let me know if he tries anything, and I’ll help.”
I nodded, realized they couldn’t see me, and then realized that I didn’t actually care.
Ginevra peered at the fallen Longbottom and asked, “Are you alright, Neville?”
“I…I think so?” He scrambled to his feet, swaying a bit.
“Got any injuries, Longbottom?” a gruff voice barked from across the room.
“Uh, n-no sir,” Longbottom stuttered.
“Good” – Moody’s eyes turned to the place where I sat under my invisibility cloak – “He faints, you get him to Pomfrey, Potter.”
Dear Merlin, he could see through the cloak. I groaned, shoving away Longbottom’s textbook so that I could slump against the newly-opened table space. Ron flinched. “Do you always have to do that when you’re invisible?”
“Ron, stop complaining. I don’t need your negativity further sullying this already horrible year.”
“Your year’s been bad?” Ginevra asked.
I pulled off the now-useless cloak. “Absolutely terrible. Oh, I thought for sure it would be great to enter the Triwizard Tournament, but it’s brought nothing but trouble. The judges are all unfair, Hermione has sold our secrets to Durmstrang, Moody is trying to kill me, Ron can’t get a date to the Yule Ball because he’s a werewolf…”
“I’m not a werewolf,” Ron growled.
“Denial is unattractive, Ron,” I said. “If you would just admit it, at least you could nab one of the creature lovers.”
“I’m not going to pretend to be a werewolf to get a girlfriend,” Ron said.
Ginevra grinned mischievously and said, “I know someone who needs a date to the ball.”
After the requisite Champions’ dance, I retreated to a more strategic position: A table by the door. There, no one could “accidently” drop a love potion in my drink. I still had to guard it against Ginevra, but that was a definite improvement over the last ball I’d attended.
While I hardly cared for these things, Ron was downright miserable.
“I can’t believe you set me up with Loony Lovegood,” Ron groaned.
Ginevra elbowed him. “It’s not like you were going with anyone else. And she’s right there, so you shouldn’t say things like that.”
“She’s Lovegood. She won’t notice,” Ron said.
“She’s not deaf,” Ginevra snapped. “She’s just, erm…Luna.”
Luna – a humming girl in a tentacle dress and Butterbeer cork necklace – seemed quite enraptured by the ceiling. I followed her gaze and then squinted my eyes to look for invisible attackers. Perhaps the Death Eaters had managed to successfully take the initiative twice in one year. I was ready to draw my wand and start casting when I was startled by a sudden movement behind me.
I turned around to find Hermione settling at the table with us, the Durmstrang champion standing awkwardly behind her chair. She said, “Hi, Harry.”
“Good to have you back with us,” I said, glancing towards Luna, who had turned her attention to the dance floor.
Ginevra said, “I’m confused. Aren’t you guys not speaking?”
Hermione primly set a napkin in her lap as Krum sat in the chair beside her. “Yes, well, I was going to wait until Harry apologized, but then I realized that he would never actually do that. So I’ve just given up.”
I patted her hand and graciously said, “Apology accepted Hermione.”
She rolled her eyes. “Well, thank Merlin for that.”
I turned to Ginevra. “It appears that we no longer need your help. You may go.”
“But I’m your date!” she cried.
I paused for a moment. “Hm. You do have a point. I suppose you can stay for the evening, then. But no longer than that.”
“How did you two end up going together, anyway?” Hermione asked. “You aren’t exactly close.”
“She was the only one who asked me, if you can believe that.” I shook my head at my bad luck. Hermione just seemed perplexed.
“Harry, you do realize that_ you_ were supposed to ask a girl out, right?”
“That makes absolutely no sense. I’m clearly the desirable one. Why should I have to demean myself?”
Luna hummed quite loudly and murmured, “The Nargles are everywhere tonight. Too many mistletoes, I suppose.”
I asked, “Nargles?”
“Strange little creatures,” she told me. “Invisible and always taking things that don’t belong to them. They’re quite rude, come to think of it.”
Invisible, easily harvested, and capable of carrying human items…I leaned forward eagerly. “Can they be weaponized?”
“I don’t think so. They don’t listen very well to instruction.”
I was thinking more the Imperius, although I suppose that wouldn’t occur to most thirteen-year-old girls. Not everyone is Hermione. Hermione herself looked quite flustered. “I don’t think I’ve ever heard of those before. Have you, Viktor?”
“They don’t exist,” Ron interrupted. “Luna’s crazy.”
“Luna isn’t crazy!” Ginevra exclaimed.
I set a hand upon her shoulder. “Oh, she’s definitely crazy, but that doesn’t mean we should respect her any less. She is the third type of Ravenclaw, after all.”
“Third type of Ravenclaw? Vot is that?” Krum asked.
“You see, each of the Hogwarts houses has three main personality types. In Ravenclaw, there are the clever students, the ones who want to appear clever, and those who have stared too deeply into the heart of magic and gone mad because of it. Like Professor Trelawney, or Ravenclaw herself.”
“You can’t seriously be saying that she’s some sort of magical oracle?” Hermione said.
“Oh, but I am. Tell me, Luna, what does magic truly look like?”
“Very blue,” she told me.
I nodded. “Fascinating.”
“So, what about the other houses, then?” Ron asked.
“The Hufflepuffs are made up of those students whose only talent is being hardworking, those who have absolutely no talent and end there up there by default, and those who surround themselves with Hufflepuffs to look better in comparison. Like Hufflepuff herself.
“Then, there are the Slytherins. The first two groups are Purebloods with no redeeming qualities and half-bloods who wish they were Purebloods and otherwise have no redeeming qualities. The third type is made up of children who were raised in the Muggle world and like snakes and don’t know any better. So then they have to claw their way to the top, but no one is really their friend because they are terrifying.”
I was breathing rather heavily at that point, and Krum seemed unsettled.
“…Like Slytherin himself?” Ron said.
“No, Ron. That would be stupid. Slytherin was obviously a Ravenclaw,” I said. I have no clue where he gets these ideas.
“You did not mention the Gryffindors,” Krum pointed out.
“Ooh! I know this one,” Ginevra squealed. “The Gryffindors are stupidly brave people, people who just like showing off, and the secretly evil students who no one will ever suspect because they’re Gryffindors.”
“Like Sirius Black?” Ron guessed.
I nodded vigorously. “Yes! That’s right, Ron. In fact, he’s probably the only example, but Sirius Black is heinous enough to deserve a category all his own. Everyone knows that Gryffindors are instinctively good. Isn’t that right, Hermione?”
She didn’t agree with me, choosing instead to bury her face in her hands.
Viktor Krum chuckled. “Your friends are very strange, yes?”
Hermione took Viktor by the arm to lead him to the dance floor and presumably far away from us. “You have absolutely no idea.”< Previous Next >