(All characters and locations within belong to J.K. Rowling unless otherwise stated.)
“Old as I am, I often look back on my childhood and revel in amusement over the mistakes I made. The things I could have done or said better. It is all one really can do in the end. Remind yourself that once upon a time you were young and did not know any better and be glad those times happened, because if they had not, you still would not know any better.”
General (ret.) Jigme Dorji Wengshuk
The next few weeks passed with little incident. Hermione kept everyone busy with working on S.P.E.W, although Ronnie and Marcus were fortunate enough to miss the bulk of having to deal with Hermione’s enthusiasm. They had started work on organizing the football teams. It had been decided that the teams would be open to both boys and girls, as with Quidditch.
Hermione meanwhile had wasted little time in throwing herself into S.P.E.W. full-time. She would corner anyone and everyone to join, to the extent that many people started buying the badges from her just to get her to leave them alone. Harriet was fairly sure that this was not the “right way” that Erica had meant, but there didn’t seem to be any talking Hermione out of it.
The only real issue for Harriet was Defence Against the Dark Arts. Professor Moody announced during their third week of classes that he was going to be putting each of them under the Imperius Curse in order to demonstrate the effects of being under the curse, and to figure out who could fight the curse off.
“But—but you said it’s illegal, Professor,” Hermione said as Professor Moody cleared a space in the middle of the room with his wand.
She sounded deeply uneasy. Harriet felt much the same. Judging by the looks on the faces of everyone else, she and Hermione were hardly alone.
“You said that to use it on another human being—”
“Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like,” Professor Moody replied, fixing Hermione with the unblinking stare of his magical eye. “And the Imperius Curse is the one curse of the three that can be used on another human without immediate harm, yet is the most pervasive of the curses and the one you’re the most likely to have to deal with. If you’d rather learn the hard way—when someone’s putting it on you so they can control you completely—fine by me. You’re excused for the day. Off you go.” Professor Moody pointed one of his gnarled hands at the door.
“Well she asked a legitimate question,” Marcus said coming to Hermione’s defence. “It is illegal.”
Professor Moody stumped over towards Marcus. Marcus swallowed and slid down a little in his chair as Professor Moody loomed over him.
“Van Der Lakk… you’re the one who witnessed the murder of that scum, Karkaroff, right?”
Marcus swallowed and slowly nodded.
“You know how I lost my leg, boy?”
Marcus slowly shook his head.
“Lost to Death Eaters in the last war. You think I gouged out my own eye to put this one in as a fashion statement? You know why I only drink from my own hip-flask? I’ve seen the horrors of the Dark Arts, boy. And so have you. Fortunately for you, it was used on someone else instead.”
Marcus nodded slowly. Professor Moody turned to address the class again. Hermione grimaced while the rest of the class was looking at Professor Moody with a mixture of anger, awe, and apprehension. Harriet wasn’t sure how she felt. She supposed deep down that Professor Moody had a point, but she didn’t think that excused his being so rude about it. Even if they didn’t seem to like each other, that was something she would have expected Professor Snape to do, rather than someone who had been Daniel’s mentor at the Auror office. Harriet made a mental note to write to Daniel about him as soon as class was over.
One by one, Professor Moody called them forward. Harriet watched with a mixture of awe and shock at what unfolded. Dean Thomas hopped around the room like a kangaroo while singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville did some spectacular gymnastics that he certainly couldn’t have done on his own. AJ spun around the room on her tip-toes like a ballerina.
Finally, it was Harriet’s turn. Harriet slowly stepped into the middle of the cleared room. Professor Moody aimed his wand at her and said, “Imperio.”
Bliss. Pure, unadulterated bliss swept over Harriet’s mind. She felt as though she was floating on a cloud, not a single care in the entire world. She could see everyone looking at her but it didn’t matter.
Jump onto the desk.
Harriet heard Professor Moody’s voice echoing around in her head.
Jump onto the desk… jump onto the desk…
There was another voice in Harriet’s head now. It sounded familiar.
Stupid idea, really.
Jump onto the desk.
No, I don’t think I will, thanks.
Jump onto the desk.
No, I don’t really want to.
Harriet gave an exclamation of pain. She had tried to jump and yet tried to stop herself from jumping at the same time. Instead of jumping onto the desk, she fell onto her knees on the hard stone floor, scraping them painfully.
“Now that’s more like it!” Professor Moody growled and he sounded quite satisfied.
Harriet groaned sitting on the floor looking at her bloodied knees and wincing. Kieran came over, kneeling as best he could to inspect them.
“Look at that, you lot! Potter fought! She fought it and she damn near beat it! Well done, Potter! Very well done indeed! Let’s try that again, Potter. The rest of you, pay attention and watch her eyes. That’s where you’ll see it. Excellent, Potter. Yes, Daniel and Lupin told me you were talented but throwing off the Imperius Curse at your age; excellent indeed. They’ll have a hard time controlling you!”
Harriet flushed brightly as Kieran got up and helped Harriet to her feet as well.
“Actually, Professor, Harriet should really get these patched up,” Kieran said indicating Harriet’s knees.
“Ah, yes,” Professor Moody said. “Quite right, O’Brien. Right then, Potter, off to the Hospital Wing with you. We’ll try again next class and I promise next time won’t risk much injury.”
Harriet headed off to the Hospital Wing by herself. She was limping a bit trying to process all that had happened. With classes in session, the halls were ominously quiet.
Heh, what I wouldn’t have given for moments like this last year, Harriet thought, recalling how awkward it had always felt with Aurochius following her around everywhere she went. However, she immediately felt guilty about it, knowing how kind and understanding Aurochius had tried to be about being her bodyguard and reminded herself to say hello to him over the weekend.
The sound of voices made her pause. Harriet looked around and realized they were coming from a side corridor up ahead. She slowly moved towards it and peered around the corner.
Draco Malfoy was sitting on a bench, his face in his hands. Sitting with him was Kenley, her lips twisted with concern. Harriet ducked out of sight but couldn’t help but listen in.
“What am I supposed to do? They’re my friends, they’ve always been my friends,” Draco said, his voice muffled as he spoke into his palms.
“Yeah, awesome friends there,” Kenley replied.
“Oh lay off of me for once, will you?” Draco snapped.
Harriet heard the sound of feet moving and guessed that Draco had gotten to his feet. By the sound of it he was pacing in frustration.
“You know for someone who’s so afraid of losing friends, lashing out at the one person trying to be there for you is probably not a very good idea.”
The feet stopped and there was an awkward silence. “Sorry…” Draco said.
Harriet furrowed her brow. He sounded like he really meant it.
“It’s just…” Draco said fumbling around for words. “I just don’t know what to do. Everyone expects something from me… I’m supposed to uphold the house’s reputation, then my friends attack other Slytherins. Whose side am I supposed to take?! I tried to curse him, I didn’t even think about it, I just did it! Professor Snape tells me I did the right thing. Moody turns me into a—” Draco cursed badly “—ferret for it. Then Dad! Dad wants me to get with Potter… right like that’s ever gonna happen because they all expect me to just keep being this hateful git because of everything I’ve had to do to try and keep the friends I already have!”
Draco resumed pacing. Harriet grimaced peeking around the corner again.
“Well, you know she probably would see you differently if you actually tried,” Kenley said. “And I told you stop calling her ‘Potter’. If you want this to work calling her by her last name isn’t going to help,” Kenley said.
“I have tried! I took a freaking Bludger for her! I tried to get my dad to stop them taking that mad hippogriff’s head! I don’t know how to do anything else or be anything else!” Draco was pulling on his hair now.
“Whoa, okay just calm down,” Kenley said.
She got to her feet and put a hand on Draco’s shoulder. Draco froze and Harriet expected him to shrug it off but she was surprised as Draco instead dropped his hands from his hair which now stood one end.
“Everyone expects something from me. No… they all expect me to be something… And every time I try and be whoever they want me to be I fail. Mum and Dad expect me to bring the family honour. Professor Snape expects me to be the best student in the school. My friends expect me to hate everybody. Potter expects me to be just like them too.”
Kenley sighed. “Because you’re always trying to be someone you’re not.”
“Well who the hell am I then?!” Draco said finally tugging his shoulder out of Kenley’s grasp. “Sorry—I just—I know you’re trying to help and I see your points… I just…”
Draco gave a deep sigh, full of despair. “Can I just be alone for a while?”
Harriet blinked, her mouth hanging open. Draco hadn’t asked angrily. It wasn’t a demand. Kenley contemplated him, clearly torn.
“Will you be alright?” she asked.
Draco nodded, not looking at her. “Yeah, I just… I need to think.”
Kenley bit her lip and shifted from foot to foot. Harriet ducked out of sight and looked for somewhere to hide, sure that Kenley was going to come her way but instead she heard Kenley’s footsteps receding, going in the opposite direction. Harriet peeked back around the corner again. Kenley was indeed walking away. Draco was still sitting on the bench but he wasn’t staring into space or burying his face in his hands anymore. Instead he was watching Kenley walking away, watching the whole time until she turned a corner out of sight.
Harriet jumped and spun around. Marcus was walking up to her down the hallway. Harriet looked back down the side corridor. Draco was gone. Harriet furrowed her brow. Where had he gone?
“What’s up?” Marcus asked as he neared.
“Nothing,” Harriet lied quickly. “What about you? Class isn’t over yet is it?”
Marcus’ went as red as the stripes on his tie, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly. “No… Moody tried putting the curse on me and well, I guess I tried to throw it off with one of my flame charms without thinking…”
Harriet gave Marcus a sympathetic look.
“Did he kick you out or something?”
Marcus looked away. “No… I just… left…”
“Sorry…” Harriet said.
“How do you do it?” Marcus asked.
“Put up with it. What they put you through?”
Harriet shifted uncomfortably. He was talking about the Dursleys.
“I haven’t seen her in years… seeing the boggart of her last year was the first I’ve seen her since Dad and I left Australia, and she still makes me go to pieces… how do you get by?”
Harriet thought. She’d never really considered it before.
“I… I don’t know. I guess I just… always knew there was something else out there, that somehow I’d escape. That it wouldn’t last forever?”
Marcus sighed. “Wish it was that easy for me…”
Harriet gave him a sympathetic look. “Want to get something from the Hospital Wing with me?”
“Nah,” Marcus muttered. “I just… think I wanna be alone.”
Without another word, Marcus headed off down the same corridor Draco and Kenley had been in, leaving Harriet alone once more with her very confused thoughts and very sore knees.
* * * *
It was the 21st of October. The Gryffindors were all smarting from burns and scratches having just had another stimulating Care of Magical Creatures lesson with the Blast-Ended Skrewts, which continued to grow larger and larger despite no one being quite sure what they ate. They had all entered the school to the find a crowd gathered around the announcement which had been posted on a large sign at the foot of the marble staircase.
Scott hurried over towards them, grinning excitedly. “It’s the announcement about when the schools are going to turn up for the tournament, look!”
As they were near the back, Harriet couldn’t see over the crowd. Ronnie, as the tallest, went on tip toe and read aloud.
The delegations from Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, Four Nations, and Mount Phoenix will be arriving at 6 o’clock on Friday 28th of October. Lessons will end half an hour early. Students will return their bags and books to their dormitories and assemble in front of the castle to greet our guests before the Welcoming Feast.
“Only a week away!” Ernie Macmillan said, having listened in. “I’ll have to tell Cedric! See you lot!”
“I’m a bit more thrilled for the fact that means Snape won’t get to poison us after all,” Marcus grumbled as Ernie hurried away.
“Not wrong,” Ronnie agreed.
“Cedric must be entering,” Kieran said. “Wonder who else?”
“Hope it’s a Gryffindor,” Ronnie said as they also headed off, climbing the stairs towards Gryffindor Tower. “Instead of pretty-boy Diggory.”
“Pretty-boy?” Hermione snorted.
Ronnie rolled her eyes. “Well, he is. Always walking around with that big dumb smile on his face and girls following him around everywhere.”
“Oh you just don’t like him because he beat Gryffindor at Quidditch.”
“Hmph,” Ronnie snorted. “Not much of a win if you ask me…”
“He apologised for that!” Harriet said. “And he’s a prefect and he’s captain of the Hufflepuff team and he gets really good marks and he’s really nice. You remember how cool he was when Isabella brought us into the Hufflepuff common room our second year?”
Harriet paused realising everyone had stopped and was looking at her with wide-eyes. She was almost out of breath. She felt her cheeks get very red very quickly.
Ronnie’s look of shock quickly dissolved into laughter. “You fancy him!” Ronnie declared, howling.
“Oh shut up!” Harriet snapped.
“Of course she fancies him,” Hermione said, her tone somewhere between sympathy for Harriet and disgust at Ronnie’s teasing. “She’s fancied him for ages, Ronnie.”
“Oh you’re so lucky Wood never found out,” Ronnie carried on. “He’d have died on the spot!” Ronnie puffed up her chest and poorly imitated Wood’s voice. “Betrayal! Dishonour!”
“Okay, okay,” Scott said in a quelling voice.
“What’s the fuss?” Dora asked, joining them from another corridor. “You lot see the announcement?”
For some reason, the sight of Dora made Ronnie’s grin grow even wider.
“Yes, we saw,” Scott said, giving Ronnie a scathing look.
“Harriet’s got a cruu-ush, Harriet’s got a cruu-ush,” Ronnie sing-songed.
“Oh…?” Dora asked. She sounded apprehensive.
“Mmmhmmm,” Ronnie grinned. She looked happier than Harriet had seen her in ages.
“Um, who?” Dora asked. She sounded as though she was trying much too hard to be casual.
“She digs Diiiiiiggory,” Ronnie teased.
“Oh leave her alone, would you?” Marcus snapped now.
“Okay, okay, okay,” Ronnie said. “Sorry, I won’t mention it again, I promise.”
They continued on down the hall in silence, and not quite together. Harriet, Hermione, Marcus, and Scott were in the main group. Kieran and Dora seemed to be hanging back. Harriet kept stealing glances back at them. Dora was looking at the floor as they walked. Kieran kept stealing glances at Dora. Once or twice Harriet noted him open his mouth to say something but decided against it.
Ronnie meanwhile was walking a little ways ahead of them. Her head was held jauntily high and her shoulders were held back. She looked for all the world like she’d just been given the best Christmas present of her life.
* * * *
Ronnie was good to her word and didn’t mention Harriet’s crush on Cedric again. Dora had grown distant, and was spending more and more time with her other Slytherin friends as the week wore on. Harriet meanwhile had no idea what to do or say to her. She thought about asking Sirius, or writing to Daniel and Remus, but she didn’t know what to say to any of them either.
Matters weren’t helped by the fact a tidal wave of tension grew and continued to build inside the school as the arrivals drew near. Whispers and rumours bristled throughout the school over who would enter, who would be picked, what the students from the other schools would be like, and so on and so on.
Argus Filch, the caretaker, was even nastier than usual in the lead-up to the twenty-eighth. The entire castle had undergone a thorough scrub-down, and was cleaner than Harriet had ever seen it. Filch spent the whole week lurking by the front doors, waiting to swoop down on any student foolish enough to forget to wipe their shoes before entering the castle.
Even the professors had become edgy. Professor McGonagall told Neville off in their last Transfiguration lesson for still being unable to perform a Switching Spell. The night before the arrivals, she also made a rare appearance in the common room to brief them all how they were to behave during the arrival.
“You are all to be on your best behaviour. There will be no horseplay in line. You will stand straight, hands at your sides, and smile your brightest.”
“Yes, cuz that won’t look forced at all,” George muttered under his breath. Erica elbowed him gently in the ribs.
“Your uniforms are to look their best. Shirts tucked in, everyone. Ties on straight. Robes on right. Shoes tied. Shirt cuffs done properly. Hats on straight—” Professor McGonagall raised her voice over the groans at this. No one liked wearing the hats. “—Gentleman, your trouser legs will be straight and check all hems. Ladies, I expect all your socks to be of proper height and straight as well.”
“Ugh, the way she goes on,” Ronnie muttered after Professor McGonagall left. “You’d think we were all savages.”
“Yes, because you’re the total picture of decorum, aren’t you?” Hermione said looking up from her Ancient Runes textbook to observe Ronnie ignoring her homework and attempting to balance an Exploding Snap card on her nose instead.
“We have all weekend,” Ronnie said, putting down the card.
“Yes, and no amount of excitement over meeting students from other schools is going to get in the way of working on it over the weekend, either?”
Ronnie grumbled and pulled her Muggle Studies textbook over and started reading.
“How are the other students going to get here, you reckon?” Seamus Finnigan asked from the other table. “Portkey you think?”
“Dunno,” Dean replied. “Probably.”
“Think they’ll apparate?” Ronnie asked, clearly glad of another distraction.
“Doubtful,” Hermione said.
“Why’s that? All the contestants have to be of age, don’t they?”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Because it’s impossible to apparate into, or disapparate out of the Hogwarts grounds.”
“Well, they could apparate into Hogsmeade,” Kieran said, reasonably.
“Hmmm, that’s true,” Hermione said. “But we have to meet them at the entrance to the school, not the grounds… also, apparating is difficult to do for distances over three hundred miles, and Four Nations is thousands of miles away, so it would still take them a while if Apparating.”
“What do you think the tasks are going to be?” Ronnie asked, looking keen to further the conversation. “We’ve done plenty of dangerous stuff before though, I bet we could do them even if we’re not of age.”
“Fat chance,” Fred said, walking over.
Harriet looked around and saw George and Erica cuddled together on one of the couches talking quietly and giving each other light kisses every few words. On most any other circumstance, Harriet would have found it a bit revolting, but now as she watched, she felt an odd mix of giddiness and envy well up inside her.
Ronnie’s irritable voice called Harriet’s attention back to the group. “Says you,” Ronnie snapped.
“Yeah, says me,” Fred said. “It’s a lot different doing things in front of a giant crowd while being judged on it.”
Kieran now gave a rare eye-roll. “Yeah, somehow I think I’ll take that over dealing with a horde of acromantula again any day.”
“Agreed,” Harriet said. “Or fighting a basilisk.”
Harriet shivered before changing the subject. “Who does the judging?”
“Well, traditionally the three heads of school are on the panel, though this year I’m going to assume it will be all five of them.”
“Yeah, that doesn’t sound like it’d be open to bias at all,” Fred muttered, taking a seat with them. “Though, I suppose it would balance out. Everyone will rate other schools’ champions poorly and their own highly. Wonder what made them decide that.”
“It was instituted after the Tournament of 1792 when all three Heads were injured by a cockatrice that went on a rampage. Honestly, didn’t anyone read anything in Hogwarts: A History besides the section on the Chamber of Secrets?”
“No,” every student within earshot said.
“Although, that’s not exactly what one could call an accurate title, is it? A Revised History of Hogwarts: A Very Selective and Biased Account which Glosses over the Nastier Aspects of the School would be more appropriate.”
“What the devil are you on about?” Fred asked.
“House elves!” Hermione said, giving Fred a cold look. While George had bought one of the S.P.E.W. badges (Harriet suspected Erica’s involvement there), Fred had flatly refused.
Fred rolled his eyes and leaned forward. “Hermione? Have you ever actually met any of the Hogwarts’ house elves? Ever been down in the kitchens?”
“No, of course not,” Hermione said. “I hardly think we students are allowed.”
Harriet suddenly felt herself become very interested in some carved initials in the table-top.
“Well, I have. Loads of times,” Fred said. “And I’ve met them, and they’re happy. They think they have the best job in the world!”
“That’s because they’re uneducated and brainwashed!” Hermione snapped.
Harriet, Kieran, Marcus, and Ronnie all sighed.
* * * *
Harriet shivered slightly in the evening chill. It was nearly six o’clock, and it was already mostly dark. The moon was half full as it hung just over the top of the trees of the Forbidden Forest. The only sounds Harriet could hear was the hushed conversation and the distant rustling of the trees swaying in the light breeze.
Harriet smiled and gave a little wave to Aurochius who was standing guard at the doors. He smiled and returned it, but then paused and held a hand up. Harriet figured he was trying to block out the light of the moon as he looked at something.
“Aha!” said Professor Dumbledore, cheerfully. “Unless I am much mistaken, the delegation from Beauxbatons approaches!”
The students all began to look around excitedly.
“There!” shouted a Ravenclaw sixth-year, pointing over the tops of the trees just to the right of the moon.
Harriet squinted and sure enough, a large black shape was steadily growing.
“It’s a dragon!” squeaked a little first year Slytherin girl.
“Don’t be stupid,” Dennis Creevey chided. “It’s a flying house!”
Dennis was closer, but not quite right either. The object finally got close enough that it was lit up by the lights of the school and revealed to be not a dragon, nor a house, but a house-sized, horse-drawn carriage. The horses that were pulling the carriage were the most astonishing part, Harriet thought. Twelve of them, each was the size of an elephant, palominos with great, broad wings.
The horses and carriage finally landed, coming in so fast and hard they shook the ground as they hit. The horses pulled the carriage up to the castle and Harriet could make them out fully in the light from the open Entrance Hall. Their eyes were a burning red, and their manes were shimmering as though made of golden floss.
“Heh, get a load of those mares, buddy,” Jackson Lee said nearby. Harriet looked around to see him standing with Epeius. “If you were feeling really ambitious…”
There was a very pregnant pause before Epeius grumbled. “…I think I will stick to unicorns, thanks…”
Harriet giggled and looked back to the carriage which had just stopped in front of the school. The carriage itself was a pleasant, pale blue. There was a large door with a coat of arms upon it; two crossed, golden wands, each emitting three stars. The door opened and a boy, wearing robes the same colour as the carriage, as well as a pale-blue blazer with a white button up shirt with matching blue tie underneath and blue slacks, stepped out.
The boy fumbled with something on the floor of the carriage and folded out a large, golden set of steps. He leapt back a couple of paces, standing straight and serious. It was then that a foot and shining, black high-heeled pump emerged from the door. Harriet felt her jaw drop. The shoe was so large Harriet was sure a small child could have ridden in it like a sled.
If the foot was large, it was nothing to the woman it was attached to. Many people around her gasped. The only person Harriet had ever seen of this size was Hagrid, though this woman looked as though she was slightly taller, even without the twelve-inch heels and more slender of build. She had shoulder length brown hair, and an austere face that put Harriet in mind of an enormous Professor McGonagall.
She was olive-skinned and dark, bright eyes that also reminded Harriet of Hagrid. She was wearing black, satin robes that shone in the light from the Entrance Hall. She also wore several necklaces and rings of opals.
Her stern face melted into a warm smile as Professor Dumbledore stepped out onto the front step of the Entrance Hall. Professor Dumbledore began to clap and the students all began to applaud too. The woman walked towards Professor Dumbledore and extended one opal covered hand towards him. Professor Dumbledore barely had to bend over to kiss it.
“My dear Madame Maxime,” Professor Dumbledore said courteously. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”
“Dumbly-dorr,” Madame Maxime replied. “I ‘ope I find you well?”
Harriet just fought back a little snort. She looked around and caught Dora’s eye. Dora had still been a bit cold to Harriet over the past week, but Harriet couldn’t help it. Dora flushed and Harriet could tell they were both thinking the same thing. Madame Maxime’s voice sounded almost the same as Dora’s father’s. Harriet gave Dora a little smile and for the first time in a week, Dora returned it.
“Oh I am on excellent form, if I do say so, and thank you,” Professor Dumbledore said.
“My pupils,” Madame Maxime said.
She stepped aside and gestured behind her. It was then that Harriet noted there was about a dozen boys and girls in their late teens standing behind her. The boys were all dressed as the boy who had lowered the steps from the carriage had been. The girls on the other hand were wearing pale blue jackets, shirts and ties, but wore skirts instead of trousers. The skirts came down to just past their knees and they wore dark hose instead of socks and heeled, oxford shoes.
Unconsciously, Harriet found herself scanning the group for Camille, though she quickly reminded herself that as Camille was the same age as her and her friends, she was unlikely to be in the group.
Harriet did note that all the students were shivering to varying degrees. All of their uniforms, she noted, seemed to be made of silk, as were their robes, and none wore cloaks. She did note that one or two were wearing thick scarves, and all of them were looking up at Hogwarts apprehensively.
“’Ave ze ozers arrived?” Madame Maxime asked.
“Alas you are the first, my dear lady, and right on time as usual. Would you like to stay and greet the rest, or would you prefer to step inside and warm up a trifle?”
“Warm up, I think,” Madame Maxime said. “But ze ‘orses—”
“Our Care of Magical Creatures professor will be delighted to take care of them,” Professor Dumbledore said, “although at the moment he is indisposed, dealing with a slight situation that has arisen with some of his—er—other charges.”
“Skrewts,” Ronnie hissed, with a mixture of exasperation and amusement.
“Well, my steeds require—er—rather forceful ‘andling,” Madame Maxime said, her tone full of doubt. “Zey are very strong…”
“I assure you that Hagrid will be up to the job,” Professor Dumbledore said, chortling.
“Very well, would you please tell zis Monsieur ‘Agrid zat ze ‘orses only drink single-malt whisky?”
“It will be attended to,” Professor Dumbledore said, bowing.
“Come,” Madame Maxime said to her students and swept up the stairs into the castle.
“How big d’you reckon the other schools’ horses will be?” Seamus hissed to Dean.
“Dunno,” Dean replied. “But if they’re any bigger than these even Hagrid’s gonna have a hard time of it.”
“Do you think the Skrewts escaped?” Parvati asked. She sounded as though she did not know whether to be hopeful, or terrified.
“Oh I hope not,” Hermione said. “Imagine that lot loose in the grounds…”
The group fell silent as Professor McGonagall cast her eyes over them. They waited, everyone glancing around the sky expectantly. The only sounds that passed over the crowd was the occasional sneeze or cough, and the stamping and snorting of the enormous Beauxbatons horses.
“Anyone hear that?” Ronnie asked, looking around.
Harriet heard it now too. A loud and eerie sucking noise was slowly filling the night. It sounded like a giant tub being emptied of water.
“The lake!” Lee Jordan yelled out, pointing down at it. “Look at the lake!”
The entire crowd all turned and looked down at the lake with interest. From their position, the lake was fully in view, but now instead of being glassy smooth as it had when they came out to greet the schools, it was frothing in the middle and casting great waves that were washing up on the shore. Then, the bubbles turned into a whirlpool.
“Yes, it seems Durmstrang is the second to arrive,” Professor Dumbledore said cheerfully.
There were gasps and cries of shock when out of the whirlpool, a long, black pole began rising up. Then came rigging.
“It’s a mast!” Harriet declared.
The ship rose magnificently from the whirlpool which stopped the moment it reached the surface. To Harriet, the ship looked more like a wreck than a real ship. The sails were all pulled in giving it a skeletal appearance, and the dimly lit portholes looked to Harriet like many winking little eyes looking up at them. In spite of herself, Harriet imagined the ship at the centre of a deep mystery, wanting to investigate if it was a real ship or a ghost ship, or perhaps a real ship disguised as a ghost ship by pirates wishing to strike further fear into the hearts of their targets.
The ship floated silently towards the short, turning sideways slowly. When it was close enough, Harriet could see little figures climbing about the riggings and running along the deck. She could also hear a loud woman’s voice, as though speaking through a bull horn, giving orders. There was the splash of an anchor hitting the water and the ship finally came to a stop. A long plank slid out and dropped onto the bank.
Finally a line of people began disembarking down the plank. Harriet blinked. All of them seemed to be built along the lines of Crabbe and Goyle, with big broad shoulders and very little neck. However, when they got near enough, Harriet could see that they were all wearing thick cloaks with large, fur-lined collars.
As they ascended the hill, the Durmstrang students began removing their cloaks as if too hot. Underneath, Harriet saw that the boys and the girls both appeared to be wearing the same style of uniform. They wore blood-red jackets with golden military style buttons and black slacks.
“Oh come on, they get to wear pants!” AJ groaned nearby.
The woman leading them was a stark contrast to Madame Maxime. She looked much younger, perhaps in her mid to late thirties. Her dark hair was done up into a bun rather like Professor McGonagall’s. In the dim light, Harriet could not tell if the hair colour was dark red or brown.
Harriet noted that she was also quite tall, though nowhere nearly as tall as Madame Maxime had been. She was not wearing a dress, or if she was it was covered by her robes and cloak. She only wore a simple golden chain necklace for jewellery and was looking at the opulent Beauxbatons carriage with marked distaste.
“Ah, greetings Professor Ilves,” Professor Dumbledore said in greeting. “I do hope your journey was pleasant?”
Professor Ilves held out a hand to Professor Dumbledore and he bent over it and kissed the top as he had with Madame Maxime. Harriet noted that Professor Ilves pulled her hand away rather quicker than Madame Maxime had. Harriet got the impression she was not at all comfortable with the pomp and circumstance of the occasion.
“Is good to see you, Professor Dumbledore,” Professor Ilves replied Harriet was struck by how clearly she spoke, an accent just detectable under the surface. “I see you have rolled out ze red carpet for us, jah?”
“Yes indeed,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Some occasions do call for a bit of revelry and fun don’t you think?”
“Perhaps so,” Professor Ilves said, raising her eyes to the castle. “Well, it looks quite comfortable. Vould you mind if my students stepped inside? Ve have had a rash of head-colds sveep through ze school and some of our of-age students have also come down with it.”
“Not at all, dear lady, not at all.”
“Eeskujulik,” Professor Ilves said. “Come along, everyone.”
The students followed Professor Ilves as she ascended the steps. She paused on the threshold, giving Aurochius and Limius calculating looks. The minotaurs both gave her little nods and she stepped inside. Harriet wasn’t sure if they had been giving looks of recognition, or sizing each other up.
As the students passed Ronnie suddenly gripped Harriet’s arm hard and pointed at one of the students. Harriet followed her finger and saw him. He was average height with thick black hair and eyebrows. He had a prominent curved nose and Harriet felt her own jaw drop in recognizing who it was. It was Viktor Krum.
“Omigosh, it’s Krum, Viktor Krum!”
Krum paused for a brief moment and Harriet wondered if he’d heard Ronnie. A wave of murmuring began to grow, sweeping over the students. Krum gave a little shudder, sneezed into his sleeve, scowled and headed into the castle.
“I didn’t know he was still at school!” Ronnie said. “I mean I knew he was young, but not that young!”
“Well, we know that they’re not all arriving by flying carriage now,” Lee Jordan said. “Wonder how the other two schools are going to get here then?”
“No idea,” Fred said, though he sounded eager.
They were waiting for another few minutes when Harriet started to feel it. A low rumbling through the ground. Harriet noted that everyone else was looking down too.
“No…” Epeius said quietly. “It can’t be…”
“What?” Jackson asked him.
“It’s…” Epeius turned around looking towards the lake.
“What, another boat?” Fred asked, noticing.
“No…” Epeius said. He was breathing quickly, his large chest expanding and contracting rapidly with excitement.
There was a mist at the far end of the lake. It was growing closer and closer and Harriet noted that now the trembling in the ground had stopped. There was a strange rushing noise, a deep growing roar.
“Ah, unless I am much mistaken, the delegation from Mount Phoenix approaches,” Professor Dumbledore said over the murmuring students.
“What the devil… there’s something in the mist,” George said. “What…”
“No, there’s a bunch of things in it,” Erica said, squinting. Her eyes went wide and she turned smiling at Epeius. “Oh wow!”
There was a dark mass in the mist that Harriet could see now. It was moving across the water at alarming speed. Suddenly the mass parted moving around the ship and rocketed up the hill towards them. A haze of dirt and mist passed over the gathered students. As it cleared, Harriet heard lots of snorts and nickering and stamping hooves.
The haze cleared and Harriet’s jaw fell open again. All around them was nearly two-dozen horses hooked up to chariots. Each chariot had two people on it. From the foremost chariot, a man hopped off and strode up to Professor Dumbledore. He was wearing a full white toga with orange trim and heavy black boots.
The man himself had skin as dark as Professor Stratton’s. His teeth were bright white and he beamed around cheerfully at the students as he strode towards Professor Dumbledore. As he stepped into the light of the Entrance Hall Harriet saw that he had a dark goatee, while his head glinted, shaved bald.
“Greetings Albus! Greetings!” the man said holding out a hand.
Professor Dumbledore beamed and took it, shaking heartily. “It is a pleasure as always, Aelius. I see your school’s herd is in as fine form as ever.”
The Mount Phoenix Headmaster beamed brighter taking in all the gathered Hogwarts students.
“Professor Cato,” he said addressing them all. “It is a pleasure to meet you all.”
He turned and smiled at his students who had all dismounted their chariots. They were all wearing full white togas much as Professor Cato was, with varying coloured trim. There didn’t seem to be any rhyme or reason to the colours that Harriet could see. The students looked like a kaleidoscope as they approached.
Though that wasn’t all, Harriet also noted that all of them looked rather wet and were giving Professor Cato slightly disgruntled looks as they drew their wands and passed them over their togas, drying them out. The horses too were shaking their great heads and necks trying to shake the water out of their manes.
Professor Cato turned back to his students and waved them forward. He smiled at Professor Dumbledore once more.
“Everyone else inside already?” he asked.
“All have arrived but Four Nations thus far,” Professor Dumbledore replied. “But you and your students may step inside and dry off.”
As they passed, Harriet paused and furrowed her brow. All of the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had looked of age, as did the bulk of Mount Phoenix’s students. However, there was one boy amongst the group of students who was clearly much younger. He was black as well, and didn’t look to be any older than Harriet and her friends. He had short, straight hair and was looking up at the castle with his mouth hanging open as he headed up the steps.
“He seems a cheery bloke,” a nearby sixth year girl said.
“Well, he would,” Hermione said in an undertone. “I read that Mount Phoenix has been trying to get into the tournament ever since it was created, but they’re always snubbed. So he’s pretty much made history getting Mount Phoenix into the Triwizard Tournament for the first time since the year twelve-hundred ninety-four. I imagine he’s quite pleased with himself, indeed.”
“Bet you didn’t think you’d see any of them again, eh?” Jackson said.
Harriet looked around. Epeius tail was swishing and his ears flipping around as he took in the horses. Suddenly Harriet understood. The horses pulling the chariots were other Areions.
“They’re proper Areions then?” Harriet asked Hermione.
“Well, in a manner of speaking. Domesticated Areions have been around for ages, it’s only wild American ones like Epeius that were supposed to be extinct.”
“Blimey,” Ronnie said. “He’s a bit on the scrawny side isn’t he? Now you get a proper comparison.”
If tactless as ever, Ronnie had a point. Epeius was much smaller than the Areions pulling the chariots.
“So any lookers in that lot?” Jackson asked nudging Epeius.
Epeius snorted. “Well… not bad…” he turned his long face to Jackson and his eyes narrowed. “Must you always tease me about that?”
Jackson stifled a laugh. “Sorry, sorry.”
“I mean, did I keep giving you grief for the way you gawked at Harriet the first time you saw her—” Epeius chided.
Harriet felt herself go red.
“—Or how hard you tried to not look at Rachel whenever you all went swimming to—”
“Okay, okay!” Jackson hissed. “Point made!”
The Mount Phoenix Areions trotted away, their heads held jauntily high.
“Seem a rather stuck-up bunch, don’t they?” Tori said. “For horses, anyway.”
The students all quieted down once more though the excitement was palpable in the air.
“Wait,” Harriet said and leaned over towards Jackson and Epeius. “I didn’t know you could run on water?”
“Oh yes,” Epeius said. “It’s no good being able to run as fast as we can if you have to stop to avoid every water obstruction, is it?”
“Why did you run around the lake last year instead of on it?” Lavender asked. “That would have been so thrilling and romantic.”
“Well, none of you looked like you needed showers,” Epeius replied. “It’s why we don’t often do it unless we have to. Running over any sizeable body of water tends to get you soaking wet. I think that’s why those Areions were a bit prickly.”
“And here they come!” Professor Dumbledore said and pointed upwards, calling everyone’s attention to the sky which was now fully dark.
Harriet squinted but she didn’t have to for long. A long, slender, dark shape was winding its way through the air towards them, and emitted a great jet of fire from its front.
“IT’S A DRAGON NOW!” the same first year girl who had panicked over the Beauxbatons carriage cried.
Harriet’s eyes went wide. It was a dragon, diving down upon them and billowing fire.
“Bliiiiimey,” Ronnie moaned. “Never seen one that big before! That’s got to be a hundred feet!”
Ronnie’s enthusiasm was not shared by the rest of the students. Some students even turned and ran towards the door to escape.
There was an ear-splitting bang and everyone froze. Professor Dumbledore was holding his wand in the air and looking over the students with a serious and disapproving expression. His expression lightened and he lowered his wand, raising the other towards the oncoming dragon.
“Behold,” Professor Dumbledore said. “How things are not always what they appear.”
Harriet looked back up at the dragon. It swooped low and circled the grounds. It was bright red with large scales and a shimmering, golden belly. It looked like it was straight out of an old Chinese painting. It was then that Harriet noticed it. The legs seemed much too rigid, the mouth wasn’t moving and the eyes were blank, staring and lifeless. Additionally, the body was not moving smoothly like a snake. Instead there were obvious joints along the body, more like a train. It wasn’t a real dragon after all.
The dragon alighted on the ground finally. It hissed and smoke billowed from the open mouth and nostrils. Harriet gasped as a door opened halfway along the dragon and it lowered onto its golden belly.
“Wicked,” Ronnie grinned.
A figure stepped out of the door onto the ground. Harriet recognized him at once. Short, balding with white hair and long flowing beard that did little to hide his portly belly. It was General Wengshuk.
A stream of students followed him from the dragon. They fanned out into a wide line and began walking towards the school, everyone keeping pace walking side by side. Wengshuk smiled merrily as Professor Dumbledore strode towards them, clasping hands with the much shorter man.
“Ahhhh, Jigme it is so wonderful to see you again so soon,” Professor Dumbledore said. “Pleasant journey, I trust?”
“Ah yes, quite relaxing,” Wengshuk said in his gravely but cheerful voice.
Harriet, who had met Wengshuk before, was taking in the students instead. Unlike the other schools, the Four Nations students did not seem to have any set uniform. They all were wearing green robes, but underneath they were all wearing normal Muggle dress clothes.
“They don’t have uniforms at Four Nations,” Hermione said. “So many cultures mix there they’ve never been able to agree on one, so they just wear robes and muggle clothes.”
“Oh, come on!” AJ moaned.
There was indeed a great many races amongst the students, Harriet noted. The majority looked to be Japanese and Chinese, though there were others she could identify. There was a handful of Koreans, and some she thought were Indonesian.
“Well now,” Professor Dumbledore said smiling around at the students. “With that, everyone has arrived. Let us now retire into the castle for our most excellent feast and get to know our guests in more detail.”
The Four Nations students went first. Harriet watched them all with interest. They were pointing out different parts of the castle and speaking to each other rapidly in other languages. One boy hung back, gawping slightly as he took in the castle. He was Japanese, wearing a sky-blue suit. On closer inspection, Harriet noted that the suit looked a bit worn and old. The hems of his trousers were frayed here and there.
The boy jumped realizing he was being left behind. He hurried to try and catch up with the others when his foot caught on the edge of his robes and he stumbled, barely avoiding landing face-first in the dirt. He pushed himself back up looking around at everyone, blushing furiously before hurrying up the steps and into the school.
“Wow,” Ronnie said, shaking her head in disbelief. “I dunno who’s gonna get picked for champions but I’ll tell you this, there’s no way he’ll be one.”