Harry landed easily on his Firebolt and hopped off, shaking sweat and dirt from his head and grinning triumphantly.
As his teammates landed around him, he tossed the snitch from his left hand to his right and threw a line drive into George Weasley’s stomach.
George caught it, but with a small ‘oomph’. Satisfied, Harry turned to saunter away but was thrown to the ground by both Fred and George.
“Nice job hero,” said George, rubbing Harry’s cheek in the dirt. Harry tried to punch behind him, but to no avail.
“Hey, I caught it, didn’t I?” He grunted, swinging wildly.
“Yeah, he meant it,” said Fred, pulling a punch to Harry’s ribs, “Play like that tomorrow and Slytherin’s done for.”
“They’re done for anyway,” said Harry roughly, scrambling up and throwing Fred and George in the dirt. They landed half on Michelle, who frowned and shoved them away.
Wood walked up between the twins carrying the Quidditch chest, which George tossed the snitch into as he passed.
“Truce, huh?” said Wood with a smirk.
“Yeah, truce,” grinned George happily.
All seven of the team members were covered with sweat and grime; hair matted down on their heads, and were happier than ever.
Wood beamed confidently at them as they headed back toward the school.
“Well, there’s half an hour until dinner, plenty of time for you blokes to shower…”
“Who needs to shower?” said Marcus grinning as he slapped Wood on the shoulder.
Michelle pinched her nose and sneered at him. “You do! And so do I for that matter…”
“That’s the smell of success,” Marcus grinned at her and ran ahead to the school.
“Well you’d better shower Harry,” said Wood grinning, “…don’t think Hermione would enjoy the ‘smell of success.”
Harry shook his hair out again, wiping it back from his forehead and ignored Wood. Wood grinned even wider.
Fred and George came up behind Harry and both whacked him on the back of the head. Harry punched at them testily, missing them both.
“Gonna see her tonight Harry?”
“Better smell good… she might not want to kiss ya.”
Harry growled and sighed loudly. “Does everyone know!?”
Wood looked over to Harry with a worldly grin. “Yep… heard Colin’s gonna publish it in the paper.”
Harry knew Wood was only joking, but sighed wearily anyway. Nothing was ever a secret at Hogwarts.
Once inside, Harry made his way towards Gryffindor to grab some clean clothes for the shower, and began to think back to his and Wood’s conversation about Voldemort. If he was indeed on the move again, why weren’t the papers reporting it? He and Ron both received the Daily Prophet, but pretty much all that had been reported lately was the loss of team members from the “Knights” and rumors of possible replacements.
Harry thought back to a large article he had read about the excellent players from Durmsdrang in Bulgaria and Beauxbatons in France, both schools for witchcraft and wizardry, and both holding excellent candidates for their own major league teams. Harry had a hard time believing that he might be chosen for the Knights when the world was full of players like Victor Krum. He shuddered at that name as he remembered Hermione’s brief involvement with the Bulgarian. He remembered how he had felt every time he saw them together and wondered now at how stupid he was for not understanding his own feelings.
Harry cleared his head once again and thought again about his conversation with Wood. They had both determined that if there really were any danger, Harry would certainly know about it, via his scar. And if Dumbledore knew about any danger, he would have already lectured Harry and lectured the teachers to keep an eye out.
But the Headmaster had seemed pretty serene lately, and hadn’t had much weighing heavily on his mind, it seemed. Unless he was just too distracted with the goings on at the school and of course getting everything ready for the huge tournament and the three recruiters to notice much else.
Harry had a hard time believing this, and settled himself to believing that it was all a rumor.
Harry reached the common room and spoke to the fat lady. She complied and he stepped inside.
He saw Ron and Hermione look up from a game of wizard chess they were playing to wince at his appearance.
“You are going to shower, right?” said Ron sneering.
“Just have,” replied Harry sarcastically.
“Tough practice?” Hermione smiled at him, “You look really gross…”
“Don’t you want to hug me?” said Harry walking towards her with wide arms, “I just came back to get you so we could go to dinner together…”
Ron laughed as Hermione shot up from the couch and moved to the back of it.
“Dinner isn’t for another thirty minutes and don’t come near me until you’re clean!”
Harry raced around the couch as Hermione raced the other way. “I thought you liked me!” he said feigning left and right.
“Go take a shower, you’re nasty!”
“You told me I was sweet!” As he began to move again, Ron stuck out his leg and Harry stumbled over it, nearly falling.
Harry glared at Ron tersely. “Well that was uncalled for.”
“You stink… Go wash.” Ron turned his gaze back to the game as it was his move.
Harry grinned. “I’m going. I was just having a bit of fun,”
Hermione walked tentatively back around the couch and plopped back down beside Ron, giving Harry a wary glance. “Not funny.”
Harry smirked at her and glanced at his watch… five thirty.
“Oh well, I’d better hurry… I’ll meet you guys in the Hall.” He headed towards the steps taking two at a time. “Oh, Hermione, use your knights more.”
“No help!” yelled Ron over his shoulder at him. He turned back to Hermione and moved a piece. “Not that it’ll make much difference… check.”
After Hermione lost, she and Ron began to head towards the Great Hall. The thought of the time that she and Harry would be spending after dinner made her shiver anxiously, a small smile lighting on her face. Ron glanced sideways at her and smirked knowingly.
“What’re you grinnin’ about then?”
Hermione’s eyes widened and she stared at the floor, blushing.
“Nothing…Really,” she managed to stammer.
Ron nodded falsely. “Right.”
Upon reaching the Great Hall, Ron and Hermione were surprised at how busy and crowded it seemed. Hogwarts was already home to about three hundred students, ten professors, house and ground keepers and twenty some odd ghosts, so it was bursting at the seems tonight with the added guests.
Several clusters of reporters were readying equipment and up at the front of the hall where the professors sat, Cornbluth, Versval, and Starven were conversing quite contentedly with Professor Dumbledore, Professor McGonnagol and Cornelius Fudge, the head of the Ministry of Magic.
Of course the students brought the hall bursting to its seems already, and with the added bodies and noise, it seemed like barely controlled madness.
“Wow,” commented Ron as he and Hermione headed towards their usual spots at the middle of the large Gryffindor table, “They must be really serious about the match tomorrow. Look at all the press!”
“I guess so,” Hermione replied, “The ‘Knights” lost two or three really good players this year so they’re really looking at Hogwarts for replacements. I think Harry has a really good chance, don’t you?”
“Better than Malfoy,” Ron sneered as they passed Slytherin’s table. Malfoy returned the look generously. “I’m not sure that’s what Harry wants to do with his life though, are you?”
Hermione sighed as they reached their table and plopped down beside Ron. “I dunno… He’s always too worried about Voldemort to plan too far ahead… Sometimes I think he feels like ultimately he’s alone. I think he thinks it’s up to him to finally finish him off.”
“Well it is, isn’t it…” stated Ron, picking up a large chicken leg and chewing thoughtfully.
Hermione stared slack-jawed at Ron, with wide almost betrayed eyes.
“Ron Weasley! We’ve both always been there to help Harry! I thought you said you’d never abandon him, especially when it comes to Voldemort!… We’re talking about his life!” Hermione was almost in tears.
Ron dropped the chicken and turned to her. “‘Mione, calm down will you? Of course I’ll always be there for Harry, right down to the end. But you know as well as I do that the ultimate end will be between Voldemort and Harry. Harry’s the only one who will really ever be able to kill him. Don’t you see that?”
Hermione swallowed harshly. “Because of the scar…” she replied quietly.
Ron studied her silently for a moment. “Yeah… because of the scar. Harry’s mum, and Voldemort for that matter, gave Harry something that night.” Ron paused. “‘Mione no one else has it.”
Hermione rested her head on her hands and rubbed her forehead. She guessed that she had always known that, but she had just as frequently shoved it from her thoughts. She couldn’t bear to think of Harry facing Voldemort alone. But in the end, that was how it was going to be. It terrified her to think of losing him after six years, and with the rumor that she and Ron had heard today that Voldemort was on the move again, Hermione wasn’t sure how many peaceful times they still had left.
Harry chose that moment in her reverie to plop down opposite Ron and she with a carefree grin.
“Wow, it’s crowded tonight, huh?” he said reaching for chicken and potatoes. He had a bite halfway to his mouth before he caught Hermione and Ron’s expressions and lowered his fork.
“What is it…”
Hermione looked up at him, her eyes brimming with tears as Ron continued to eat silently. Quietly she tried to blink them away and face Harry with a brave smile.
“It’s nothing. Just something I have to force myself to deal with.”
“Well what is it?” said Harry, drawing his brows together with concern, “Maybe I can help you.”
Hermione closed her eyes and smiled tightly. At that moment she felt decades older than her sixteen years. “Actually Harry, you’re the one person that can’t help me with this.”
She took in the clean wet hair laying in mats across his forehead and his smooth boyish face. His green eyes sought hers for an answer, but she didn’t have on to give. The thought of one day losing him was almost more than she could bear. Not trusting herself to say anymore, she kept silent and started eating.
“Caught Wood tonight before you got back to the common room,” Ron spoke up, avoiding Harry’s eyes, “I wanted to ask him about Gryffindor’s chances.”
“Oh yeah?” said Harry brightly, “What’d he say?”
“Well, we didn’t get around to talking about it,” answered Ron quietly, “…He told me about the rumor… about Voldemort.”
Hermione visibly shuddered.
Harry looked at the two of them and sighed. “Is that what this is about?”
Hermione looked at him with something that resembled fear and
Harry shook his head. “That’s all it is you know… a rumor. Even Dumbledore doesn’t seem to sense a threat.”
“He’s not always right, Harry,” said Hermione.
“He’s rarely wrong either,” said Harry confidently, “And you’re forgetting; as long as I’m close to Dumbledore, I’m safe. And I have no reason to go off school grounds. So, the end… ok?”
Ron and Hermione looked at him doubtfully.
“C’mon, lets cheer up,” Harry jovially began again, “Let’s just concentrate on the match tomorrow. Look how excited everyone is!”
The pitch in the hall had just about reached a barely controlled roar. The reporters, now with cameras and floating microphones in place, were filming short beginnings for their shoots; panning the hall and focusing a lot on Dumbledore and the three recruiters.
Cornelius Fudge, the head of the Ministry of Magic, was now briefing the recruiters on the proper way for them to choose their candidates, after the upcoming game.
Dumbledore stood, his head knocking lightly against one of the floating candles. He brushed it away absently and called for attention.
“Everyone quiet please,” he said, patting the air, “Quiet now.”
A sea of faces, young and older all turned their attention to the white, long-haired older man up front. It was clear that the respect he was given was mutual by all.
“It is time now that we understand the rules of tomorrow’s match; what time it starts and how the choosing will be done afterward. Please all give your attention to Mr. Cornelius Fudge, the head of the Ministry of Magic.” Dumbledore re-seated himself and polite applause followed.
Fudge, a shorter wizard of around fifty, with a bulbous, veinish nose, balding head and protruding stomach stood importantly, trying his best to appear tall and formidable, although his tone was jovial. “The match tomorrow will be held at three o’clock, at which time we will introduce to all, and to our guests, our distinguished recruiters from the ‘Knights’, Mr. Versval, Mr. Starven and Mr. Cornbluth.” Fudge gestured generously at the three wizards seated to his right. They nodded to the crowd, who began to cheer. The choosing of the candidates was the second most exciting thing about the match, besides the game itself.
Fudge patted the air gently. “Now save that for tomorrow!” he smiled, “If you want a good seat, you may want to arrive at the field an hour early, reserving the seats up front and middle for Professor Dumbledore, our other esteemed Hogwarts teachers…and of course, myself.” Fudge’s head raised ever so slightly in acknowledgement of his own importance.
Severus Snape, to Fudge’s left, sneered and rolled his eyes. He hated pompousness, and particularly disliked Fudge.
“Now let’s have a nice clean game tomorrow, all you Quidditch players! Play your best and your hardest, and you may find yourselves singled out as candidates for the ‘Knights’!” Fudge grinned proudly as cheering erupted once again.
Snape noticed Fudge edging his way into the camera’s view and sneered again, most noticeably this time. Dumbledore noticed, and patted his arm with an understanding smile. Snape grunted and turned away.
Across from Ron and Hermione, Harry had a surprisingly similar look cross his face as he twirled his finger in the air.
“Whoopee,” he stated flatly, turning back to his dinner.
Ron’s jaw dropped in astonishment. “Harry are you daft!? You’re not excited about the game tomorrow?”
“It’s just another game, Ron,” and then more quietly, “Besides, I’m much more excited about tonight.” His steady gaze flickered to Hermione for a brief moment and she felt her cheeks begin to burn. She widened her eyes at him and flicked a gaze at Ron and back at him.
Harry shook his head and gave her a ‘he didn’t notice face. Sure enough, Ron was too absorbed in his own thoughts to notice the small moment of indiscretion.
“Harry, you make me crazy,” he said, digging into his mashed potatoes much harder than needed. “I would give my right arm to be in your position. You act like it’s nothing important!”
“You’ll be a beater on the team next year, right behind Fred and George, Ron. The only reason you’re not on this year is because we were already full; everyone knows it.”
“Yeah, but you’re the one getting looked at for the ‘Knights’!”
“And next year it’ll be you,” said Hermione reasonably, patting his arm. “Just because you’re not on the team now doesn’t mean you won’t be. You watch. Next year we three will be sitting here congratulating you.”
“Yeah, next year,” said Ron sullenly, “I guess I envy you Harry… You seem to always get a go at everything.”
At that moment, Dumbledore stood again, and once again commanded the attention of the crowd. The headmaster and the professors looked decidedly more tense than a few minutes ago, all looking stern and tight-lipped. Even the recruiters looked particularly uncomfortable.
“Attention again please,” began Dumbledore in his trademark scratchy voice. “It is difficult at this happy, exciting time to bring you all bad news, but regrettably, it must be done…” he breathed in heavily, and continued. “I’m sure it has come to all of your attentions by now that a certain rumor has been circulating about the resurgence of he-who-must-not-be-named… I must warn you now that reports have been confirmed that there has been some definite movement in the dark world…”
A low, shocked mumbling began that started to rise in pitch as adults and students all across the hall began talking nervously to each other.
“Please wait a moment, please,” began Dumbledore again, “Now this was not meant to incite panic. It is to serve as a warning. While I cannot disclose now the nature of the reports, the other professors and I, with the strong suggestion of Professor McGonnagol,” Dumbledore nodded toward Minerva, who shifted slightly in her seat, uncomfortable with the attention, “will be up late tonight making sure that the grounds are safe and secure. Everyone that will be coming in to watch the game will be searched, and if found to be suspicious, will be questioned.
Now, I must stress again, mainly for our guests as this is a known rule at Hogwarts; the Forbidden Forest is strictly prohibited. All of Hogwarts will be safe, but only as far as the grounds stretch, and they end there. So please help each other, and your visiting family members and friends to remember to stay within the parameters of the school. Thank you.” A decidedly more heavy-hearted Dumbledore once again took his seat.
Slowly the rumble of voices began to take over the Great Hall once more.
Ron turned back to look at Harry, who had suddenly lost his appetite. Hermione looked almost sick.
Harry’s jaw clenched and unclenched reflexively and he glanced up at Ron with a false smile. “Still want to be me?… I’ll trade.”
“Harry…” Hermione breathed, clenching his hand tightly.
Ron just shook his head numbly and grabbed Harry’s arm with reassurance.
Dinner ended on a decidedly less carefree note. The reporters began to either portkey home, or find fireplaces to use floo powder. The teachers, recruiters, and Cornelius Fudge all followed Dumbledore towards his large office for a meeting, and the students headed for their common rooms, or wherever else they intended to go, since it was not yet curfew.
Harry and Hermione bid farewell to Ron, and Harry suggested to her that they go out for a walk. He took her hand and led her towards the large double doors that led outside.
Hermione balked at the doors.
“Harry, we only have an hour and a half until curfew… maybe we shouldn’t…”
“Shouldn’t what?” said Harry with a grin that aggravated the heck out of her.
“Go outside!” said Hermione in exasperation, “You heard Dumbledore…”
“And if we stay on Hogwarts grounds, we’re safe,” he replied, pulling her along. He opened on of the great doors and he and Hermione stepped out into the unusually warm night.
Once again, Hermione stopped. “Harry, Professor McGonnagol needs to secure the grounds, and who knows what might be waiting until she does…”
Harry sighed and gently clamped a hand over her mouth. “We’re not going far… just for a walk by the lake, and I’ve got my wand, in case. Besides I’ve got something for you,” he said, inches from her face. He grinned at her again in that aggravating way that made her heart do flips. She almost felt annoyed at herself for it, but found herself smiling in response. She sighed.
“Harry, how do you do that to me?”
“What?” He looked genuinely confused, and grinned lopsidedly again. She rolled her eyes, walking with him towards the lake.
Harry stopped and grabbed her hands, pulling her to him. “Oh… well I guess it’s just my charm.” He wiggled his eyebrows at her and laughed at the expression on her face.
“Please,” said Hermione, trying not to smile, “You’re not as charming as you think.” Secretly, she thought otherwise.
“Well, it worked for you,” said Harry. He laughed, side-stepping a punch from a slack-jawed Hermione that came close to hitting it’s mark.
“Harry, you stuck-up prat!”
“I’m just kidding…”
Hermione looked unconvinced and Harry laughed at her. “I’m joking! Really.”
They reached the lake and Harry put his arms around her, drawing her to him. “Honestly, I feel really lucky. I can’t imagine why you picked me.”
Hermione gaped up at him. “More like you picked me! Harry you could’ve had your choice of anyone. I know several girls who have severe crushes on you.” She laid her head on his chest and looked out at the diamond-crusted water beside them, glittering from the light of the moon.
“Doesn’t matter,” said Harry, resting his chin on the top of her head, “I got the one I wanted.”
He sighed contentedly and pulled her even tighter to him. He never thought he’d have someone to care for him in this way. He’d always grown up believing that he wasn’t worth it. Hermione, just by being with him, was showing him that he might be a person of worth after all. And not just because of who he was on the outside; the boy-who-lived; but on the inside. She knew everything about him, his personality, faults, certain weaknesses, and she accepted him anyway… far more than he had ever expected anyone too.
Abruptly, Harry realized he’d forgotten his surprise.
“Oh, um… walk with me this way…”
Hermione looked up at him with a curious smile and let herself be led around the next bend of the lake.
There, on a particularly flat, grassy area lay a blanket, with a bottle of what looked like butterbeer, two mugs, and a small wrapped box. Hermione’s eyes widened in surprise.
“When did you do this!?”
“Well, it took me a while to get to dinner, didn’t you notice?” said Harry smiling. The lighted look on Hermione’s face made his heart sing. He led her over to the blanket, and they sat beside each other.
Harry poured each of them a mug of the sweet, creamy drink and they drank in silence, stealing glances at each other over the mugs.
For a while, all seemed well, but it became increasingly clear to Harry that Hermione had something on her mind, and had ever since dinner. He waited until she was ready to speak.
Hermione finally looked up at him with large eyes and seemed to be forming the right words to say.
Harry put his drink down and grabbed her hand. “You can tell me anything, you know.”
Hermione bit the inside of her lip and nodded at him. Finally, she looked down, feeling almost ashamed of herself. “I’m scared.”
Harry hadn’t expected that. He found himself almost at a loss for words. “Of what?… Of me?” He searched her face.
“No! Of course not,” said Hermione quickly. She sighed heavily and finally lifted her eyes to look at him. “I’m scared of the future… of what’s going to happen with you and Voldemort.”
Harry blinked a little and drew in a breath. “Hermione…”
But the words she had struggled against forming for so long were finally out, and she couldn’t stop the rest. As she spoke, she tried to will away the lump that was forming in her throat, but was almost helpless to stop it, or the tears that began rolling down her cheeks.
“No Harry, I mean it. He’s always after you… You know as well as I do that he’s not gonna stop until one of you is dead!” She felt her breath hitching and tried to control it, to no avail. “I don’t know what to do… I sound selfish even to myself, but I can’t bear the thought of losing you. I don’t know what I would do…Wh.. what would I do?” She asked the question of herself as if Harry wasn’t there. There had been no answer before, and there wasn’t one now. She pressed her lips together, ashamed at her own weakness and turned her face away from him.
Harry closed his eyes for a moment. Somehow, he knew this would come. He had always felt that he had no right to ask anyone to be involved with him; to face what he had to face every minute of his life. Whether it be a friend, or more than that, it would never be fair to them, or to him. This was the life that had chosen him.
He had struggled with his feelings for Hermione for so long that, when he found out that she felt the same, he almost couldn’t help himself. And now, since they had been friends for so long before this, everything was moving at a very quick rate. He looked up at her face and knew what he had to do. He raked a hand through his hair. He knew his next words would be the hardest he’d ever said. His chin fell down to his chest in defeat for a moment, but then he raised his gaze to her, trying his hardest to breath normally.
“If this is too hard, I understand… You don’t have to explain anything to me. We… we’ll always be friends… Always.”
At that, Hermione was shocked into soberness. She grabbed both of Harry’s hands and pulled him closer to her.
“No Harry! I didn’t mean that! How could you th…I couldn’t go back now even if I wanted to…and I don’t…ever.” She was desperate for him to understand, and to know how she felt about him.
Harry looked up at her face, surprised. But his happiness was quickly overshadowed. He then looked at her a little sternly, with fear mixed into his gaze.
“Then can you face the fact that one day, I might not come back?” He swallowed, and heard his voice choke on his own words. “Because I have to… every day. And if you’re with me, you will too.”
Abruptly, he realized how different he must sound from a normal boy pushing seventeen; how much older and more world-weary he felt. Why he was chosen to carry such a heavy burden was beyond him, but mostly he hated now it affected those who chose to be near him. Ron, the teachers at Hogwarts, even his godfather, Sirius was constantly on the alert for him. But Hermione… she was altogether different. She was the first person that he had deeper feelings for; and the first in a long time that had deeper feelings for him. It scared him to think of what that might bring.
Hermione, instead of being nervous and having a change of heart after Harry’s speech, visibly relaxed and gazed at him tenderly.
“Harry,” she began softly, “I am scared, everyday… but what you don’t realize is that even if we did go back to being just friends, nothing would change. I’d still feel the same way. I’ve cared about you since the first day I met you on the train… I’m not gonna leave you. I’m gonna be right by you through everything. So will Ron…but especially me. I guess I just wanted you to understand me. And you should know something else too, because I know you. You’re worth every minute of it to me.”
Harry was astonished. He had fully expected Hermione to tell him that it was too hard and leave.
He put his hands on either side of her face and shook his head in amazement, pulling her in for a soft kiss. It wasn’t an ordinary kiss for either one. It was a kiss full of promise… for love and support, and for sticking by each other, no matter what. They had made an unspoken pact that night; whatever happened, Voldemort had two to face. For both, the promise stretched on even further than that… for the future… and it looked bright as the sun at that moment.
When they finally broke apart, somewhat breathless and beaming happily at each other, Harry reached behind him and handed Hermione the small box.
“Harry, it’s a little soon, isn’t it!?” Hermione feigned shock and then grinned.
Harry smirked at her and pinched her arm playfully. “Open it.”
He watched a little nervously as she unwrapped the package as if the box itself was precious.
Inside was a small silver necklace with a heart-shaped pendant. Within the heart lay a red, almost incandescent stone, giving off an unusual glow.
“Harry,” Hermione breathed, eyes wide, “I can’t believe you…”
“In a good way?” said Harry with a crooked smile.
“Of course.” Hermione beamed at him, and Harry took the necklace from her, motioning for her to turn around. She did, and lifted her hair so that he could clasp it on her.
When he finished, he grabbed her from behind and pulled her back close to him. He closed his eyes and caught the faint smell of her hair; strawberry shampoo; same since their first year.
Breathing contentedly, Hermione rested the back of her head against his shoulder, and Harry leaned back, resting his weight, and hers, on his elbows. The sky was cloudless, and full of stars. And the water reflected the moon as if it held a large lump of gold in its center. The night couldn’t have been more perfect if Harry had planned it himself.
“So, you wanna know why the stone glows?” said Harry from above her.
“Why…” asked Hermione, twisting around to look at him.
Harry laid back on the blanket, resting his head on his hand. Hermione followed, laying her head on his other shoulder as his arm came up around her.
“It only glows when I’m thinking of you,” he answered.
“It’s just an enchantment,” said Harry lazily, gazing back up at the sky, “I got it at Hogsmeade a while back. I’ve wanted to give it to you for a long time.”
Something in the way Hermione’s face lit up at that moment, and the soft expression on her face as she looked at him made Harry feel like he was finally home. It hit him how odd that seemed, but as Hermione laid back down with him on the blanket, and snuggled closely to him, he understood.
Dumbledore entered his office, followed by an entourage of teachers, recruiters, and one very unhappy and quite shaken Cornelius Fudge. Everyone found a place either to sit or stand, and Dumbledore headed around his desk to sit in his favorite chair.
“Now, Dumbledore… What’s this all about?” began Fudge nervously as he played with the buttons on his robe, “Why am I just now hearing of this?”
“We’re all just now hearing of this, Fudge,” said Professor Snape irritably.
“As the head of the Minister of Magic, I am privy to information sometimes long before anyone else,” began Fudge again haughtily, “I don’t understand why…”
“Please…” said Dumbledore quietly, “Cornelius, the rumor has been going on for some time now, but just tonight, via one of the reporters, it has been confirmed.” By way of explanation, he continued. “Apparently they are kept in constant contact with their various stations, and her assistant received an owl just after I introduced you. She informed me then.”
“But Albus,” began McGonnagol, “how do they know that the rumor is true? What proof do they have?”
The headmaster sighed, rubbing his temples gently. His expression was grave. “With one of the worst signs we could have been given…the remains of Stuart Kavan.”
The teachers and Fudge, who all understood this, seemed to gasp simultaneously and began to fire questions and comments all at once, oblivious to the very confused recruiters, who stood in the background, trying to take it all in.
“Remains…do you mean a body?”
“Has it been positively identified?”
“How old was the body? Did he die young as we thought?”
“Of course, it has to be Voldemort.. no one else would be so vile…”
“Where was it foun’, Perfessor?” this was Hagrid, and Dumbledore thought the question to be a good place to start.
“One at a time please,” said Dumbledore, “and Hagrid brings up an excellent question… The remains were found inside Knockturn alley near the entrance to one of the shops. One of the more questionable ones, I might add. Apparently the owner of the bones wanted it to appear to the shop keeper as if he were merely trying to rid himself of some unwanted item, but of course he knew there would be an inquiry and medi-wizard exam of who the bones belonged to…and as news leaked out of the dead person’s name, well…there are few people who would understand the significance; those being Stuart’s parents, who died a few years ago, and of course…Hogwarts.”
Dumbledore took a few minutes to let this new information sink in.
“And the bones?” said McGonnagol, “Were they of a young man, or older?”
Dumbledore sighed heavily. “He was fifteen when he died, Minerva… the reports confirm it.”
The teachers gasped anew and spoke to one another in hushed tones.
“He kept them…” said Professor Flitwick breathlessly, “As a trophy, until now…Until he needed them to send a message…”
“It would appear that way,” said Dumbledore.
“Vile creature…vile…and the one he’s after now…”
“Harry,” mumbled Professor McGonnagol with a hand over her mouth. She dropped her hand rapidly. “Albus, he can’t know of this… He doesn’t need to know the details. It’s enough for him to know that he’s in danger…”
“No worries, Minerva,” said Dumbledore, “He’ll not know. We’ll simply make sure that the security in and around Hogwarts is stepped up to it’s highest. Argus,” He addressed the caretaker, Filch, “I’ll need you to keep specific watch on the corridors at night; no students wandering after seven o’clock. If any are caught, make sure they know that the consequences will be grave.” Filch nodded and looked in his arms at Mrs. Norris, as if making sure she understood as well.
“Minerva…you, I and Professor Snape will go immediately after this meeting to begin charming the school grounds. Anyone not coming through the portkeys, or through any of the floo networks will not be able to enter. Professor Sprout, I would like you to make a list of new rules that you and I will set up to take around to all of the house prefects, and make sure they read them to all of the students.”
Finally, one of the recruiters spoke up. “So the game will go on tomorrow, as planned…” said Starven.
“Yes, the game will go on…” replied Dumbledore, amid immediate protests from some of the teachers, “Wait, please,” he held up a hand, “This killing took place some time ago. I think it is safe to assume that it was simply sent as a warning. Yes, Voldemort is sending us a message that he will be trying something, but I feel that it is a distraction…something to set us on the wrong track. And in the mean time, life must go on as normal. If we shut down Hogwarts and all of it’s activities every time there is a threat, then Voldemort has already won. He will always be a threat, until the day he is ultimately destroyed. Until then, we will go on about our business as usual, for there is no other way to be. We will just be extremely careful. Again, no one will enter tomorrow without being questioned…if anyone seems even remotely suspicious, I may even authorize the use of veritaserum. Madame Pomfrey?”
Pomfrey nodded, understanding Dumbledore’s question before he even asked it. “We have plenty in stock… and I will be more than happy to use it if necessary.”
Dumbledore nodded. “I will ask that all teachers place yourselves around the portkeys and floo networks to meet our guests, and to check them out. You should have plenty of time before the game to do so, as they will be arriving some two hours before time. We have a list of who replied to our invitation; if anyone tries to enter that is not found on the list, they will be turned back. Now, the best thing we can do is not panic, especially for the students. Our precautions will have to be enough, until we are proven otherwise.”
“Headmaster, we don’t know the story about young Kavan…” spoke up Mr. Cornbluth, “Perhaps you could enlighten us.”
Dumbledore nodded and told the story from beginning to end, including the part about the body never being found… of course until now.
The three recruiters looked graver and graver with each word until the story was finished.
“And why was the public kept in the dark?” asked Versval.
“They were told that a young boy went missing that year, and that it was thought to be the work of the new dark lord that had been asserting his power and drawing followers. The name of the boy and where the incident happened were to be known only to the Hogwarts teachers, and to Stuart’s parents. There was no need for anyone else to know, save that the Forbidden Forest, from then on was not only discouraged to be explored, but prohibited,” finished Dumbledore.
The teachers, all satisfied with answers, and given specific tasks to undertake, understood and agreed. The last one to comment was Snape.
“Headmaster… I hope, in all sincerity, that this does not end up another fiasco like with Professor Quirrell.”
“I don’t think so, Severus. All guests will be searched and questioned. I think that will be enough for now.”
Regrettably, the headmaster wouldn’t know how wrong he was until it was too late.