The Many Faces of Harry Potter 32

“The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 32”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Thirty-two: Christmas and New Year's

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Adira, and Zoey, and now #Iliana (bold, italic, underlined, and now between hashtags/pound signs because some people's computers don't do the B.I.U.).# , {Tier}, ~Chandra,~ and %Mother% if I get around to it in this chapter.

Note 4: I could wish J. K. Rowling would put the rights to Harry Potter in my Yule stocking this year, but the chances of that are so slim, we'd probably see Tronald Dump turn into a decent human being long before that ever happened.

*FAYANORA*

“The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 32”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Thirty-two: Christmas and New Year's

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there. But some canon scenes are just too good to change much.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Adira, and Zoey, and now #Iliana (bold, italic, underlined, and now between hashtags/pound signs because some people's computers don't do the B.I.U.).# , {Tier}, ~Chandra,~ and %Mother% if I get around to it in this chapter.

Note 4: I could wish J. K. Rowling would put the rights to Harry Potter in my Yule stocking this year, but the chances of that are so slim, we'd probably see Tronald Dump turn into a decent human being long before that ever happened.

*FAYANORA*

Adira hadn't noticed it the night before, since she'd mostly been in the kitchen with Sirius and Remus, but the next day she noticed that the whole house was decorated to the nines in tinsel and baubles. A massive tree sat in one corner of the drawing room, bedecked with so many ornaments and other decorations that she wasn't sure what color the tree itself was.

Hanging from the fireplace was three massive stockings, all stuffed to overflowing with gifts. They were labeled 'Moony,' 'Padfoot,' and 'Pup.'

Seeing all the presents under the tree, as well, she felt such an explosion of joy from Zoey that she shrunk and wavered like a bad hologram. She felt Al and Iliana as well, and the wavering intensified. And then--

Sirius awoke with a start to the sound of a very loud BOOM and leaped out of bed and ran downstairs, Remus hot on his heels. The two men skidded to a halt in the drawing room, taking in the sight before them.

It looked like there had been an explosion at a tinsel factory, with tinsel of many different colors strewn every which way. Confetti fell from the ceiling, and they also noticed that all the transfigured clothes Zoey had made for the ball, sans Ron's and Remus's and that of the twins, had been strewn about as well. In the middle of the festive devastation lay Zoey, who wasn't moving.

Sirius bent over to check if Zoey was still alive, Remus anxiously awaiting the answer.

“She's alive. Out cold.”

“Oh thank Heavens.”

Remus looked around the room as Sirius went to retrieve his wand to wake up Zoey with it. He saw dozens of books had been part of the explosion as well, and worse, there were several fountain pens embedded in the walls.

Finally, Sirius was there to wake her up.“Rennervate.”

Zoey blinked awake, very confused, and looked up at Sirius.

“What happened?”

“We were hoping you could tell us,” he said, indicating the mess.

She looked around at the mess with wide eyes.

“Er... that's my fault. Too much stuff being held Inside at once, I think. And then when we all got overexcited for Christmas, it must've been the straw that broke the camel's back.”

“I should think so. You're not a human trunk, Zoey.”

“By the way, if everything Inside you has come out, where's the Philosopher's Stone?” Sirius asked.

Zoey's expression went distant as she checked. When she came back, she said, “It's still in there. It's not like this other stuff. All of this other stuff is at least partly real. The Philosopher's Stone is entirely made of magic. It can only come out by me choosing to give it up. Huh... kinda like a Fidelius Charm secret, that way.”

“Ah, well that's a relief.”

“Er... I'll clean the mess, shall I?” Zoey said, after looking around a bit.

“On Christmas? Naw, I can do it,” Sirius said, using his wand to clean up the mess and organize the books into piles.

“You surprise me all the time, Padfoot,” Remus said. “I didn't know you even knew that spell, much less how to do it so well.”

“I've had lots of time living by myself to practice,” he said.

“Still haven't got a job?” she asked. “I know you don't need one for the money, but you need something to do with yourself. Maybe private security or something, if not an auror.”

“You should be an auror, Padfoot. Mad-Eye would be disappointed to know all that training is going to waste.”

“Well... maybe. I'll help get Addy through this Tournament first, then maybe look into it.”

“Good. It's not good for you to be cooped up in here by yourself all the time.”

“You think I stay in here all the time, Moony? HA! What a laugh. No, I still go out to eat at least once a week, and sometimes I go for a ride on my motorbike. And I go to Muggle London sometimes and people-watch or have a chat with people, or to a Muggle pub. Hey, did you know the Muggles have been building a tunnel under the English Channel? They're saying it's going to open next year. Then we could take a train from Britain to France, maybe go on a trip around the mainland.”

“A tunnel under the water? Did you really think we'd fall for that one, Padfoot?”

“No I'm not joking, they really are building a tunnel under the channel. They're already calling it the Chunnel. I've seen it on the Muggle news, they've got these great big machines with enormous drills on the end, boring through the rock.”

“He could be joking, I guess,” said Zoey, “But it does sound like somethin' the Muggles could and would do. I mean, I'm pretty sure that Britain was connected to the mainland back during the Ice Age, then the glaciers melted and made the channel. So it could be shallow enough to make a tunnel underneath it.”

“If you don't believe me, Moony, you can go to one of these Muggle pubs and look on the telly. In fact, I wonder if we could get a telly in here?”

“I doubt it, Padfoot, with all the wards you have on this place. Too much magic. Not nearly as bad as Hogwarts, since Hogwarts is on a ley line or two, but bad enough to interfere with the reception. But I'll take you up on going to a Muggle pub sometime, ask around about this Chunnel. Dumbledore's convinced Voldemort is gearing up for a comeback, so having a non-magical way out of the country is always useful information if you're telling the truth.”

Sirius sighed. “The curse of being an incorrigible prankster is people don't believe me when I tell them something incredible but true.”

“The Boy Who Cried Wolf,” Zoey said.

They all laughed at that.

“Anyway, we should have breakfast before presents. You can get into your stocking, pup, if you really can't wait.”

“Goody!”

She ran to the stocking and grabbed it, dumping the contents out on the floor and digging excitedly through them. There were fruits, and magical candies from Honeyduke's, and a chocolate orange, as well as some striped socks for Zoey, some Zonko's products, and wizarding crackers. She pulled on one, making it go off with a bang. It left behind some living toy soldiers in a box. Other crackers produced an American style 10-gallon hat, some live white mice (one of which got snatched up and swallowed by Aqua the grass snake), pink cowboy boots, a tiny little miniature piano that produced the same loud, rich sound as a Grand Piano, and rounded sunglasses with daisy-petal shaped petals around them that had flashing lights in multiple colors.

Zoey sat in front of the tiny piano with her knees up by her chin while wearing the hat, the sunglasses, and the boots, and said, “Look at me! I'm Beethoven from the Peanuts cartoon!”

Remus, who had a little more experience with Muggles, chuckled at this as he watched her bang out a discordant tune on the piano, the music filling the whole house. Sirius just looked confused.

She spent the time until breakfast trying to play 'Twinkle Twinkle Little Star' on the piano. Then she rushed over at the smell of cooking bacon. Before long, she was eating scrambled eggs, bacon, and toast.

“Nothing's burnt!” she pointed out excitedly. “And nothing's raw, either! It's all delicious!”

“Yes, like I said, I've had a lot of time to myself. Gotta keep busy.”

“He can be taught!” Remus said with a grin, between bites.

“Hush, you, or I'll fill your bed with dead fish.”

“Do that, Padfoot, and I'll have you fixed.”

“As the Americans say, 'If it ain't broke, don't fix it.'”

“Good thing I'm not broke anymore,” Remus said. “Of course, I'm not exactly wealthy, either. Teachers don't earn much money to begin with, and I've been saving most of what I've been earning in a savings account at Gringott's.”

“Whyzat?” asked Zoey.

“I don't want to trouble you,” he said, suddenly embarrassed.

“Out with it, Moony,” Sirius said, suddenly living up to his name.

Remus sighed. “Well if you must know, it's a sort of insurance. I've been doing it since I first got the Defense position.”

“Insurance? What do you mean, insurance?”

“The Ministry knows what I am, and there's some anti-werewolf legislation being debated in the Wizengamot, which was introduced by some horrible woman named Umbridge. If it passes, I won't be able to work at Hogwarts anymore.”

“Oh no! That's horrible!” Zoey said.

Sirius, for his part, had choked on his food, and spent a couple minutes recovering. Finally, though, he managed to speak.

“Damn! I'll have to take my family's seat on the Wizengamot, then. I was hoping I wouldn't have to, because I hate politics. Also, I'll have to face Narcissa and her husband to get it back from them.”

“Your seat on the Wizengamot is held by a Death Eater family and you didn't claim it sooner?” Zoey asked, horrified.

“I really hate politics. Also, to be honest, I forgot about it until now.”

“Al wants to know if we have a seat on the Wizengamot.”

“Hmm... I don't know if the Potter family had a Wizengamot seat or not. I'll have to ask. I think so, but I'm not sure.”

“They do, Padfoot. James certainly talked about it enough. He wasn't much for politics either, but he was proud that his family had such high connections. But I don't know its current status.”

“Something else to do, then,” Zoey said. “Let me know ASAP, okay Sirius?”

“Sure thing. I'll start asking after the holidays.”

“Cool. Thanks!”

After breakfast, they opened presents. It was a mixed lot. Zoey and company got some books, more clothes, the usual package of sweets and sweaters from the Weasleys, some sweets from Remus and Sirius, a set of Gobstones, and a small pouch that fit on a necklace but was magically bigger on the inside with a stretchable lip that could fit some really ridiculously large things in it. Zoey immediately went over to the pile of books that had exploded out of her earlier and put them into the pouch, giggling every time the pouch stretched to swallow it. No matter how much was added to it, its weight remained the same. They also got a gift from Dobby, who had sent them by school owl along with a note he'd clearly dictated to someone else, explaining that they were socks he'd knitted himself. The left sock was bright red and had a pattern of broomsticks upon it; the right sock was green with a pattern of Snitches. They added Dobby to the thank-you note list, and later that day quickly sent Dobby a return gift of a mismatched pair of socks they were fairly sure wouldn't disappear in a few weeks, at least not by any failing transformations, anyway.

But by far the best gift was a magical two-way mirror from Sirius, that he and James used to use at Hogwarts to communicate during separate detentions.

“I hope you lot appreciate this, and keep it safe. I went back to my parents' old house with a few old friends from the auror guard and some of their friends and fought off all kinds of nasty things to find it. Also, they're a little hard to come by. I could afford a new set, but they're expensive, and since I already had a set - and it had sentimental value - I figured it was worth the effort to retrieve them.”

“Cool,” Zoey said in awe, taking it in her hand. “Thanks!”

“You're welcome. Now for how it works. I've got the other one. Just say my name around yours, preferably in the same room, and I'll hear you and be able to respond if I can. And see where I've got mine?”

He pulled on a chain around his neck, to which his mirror was attached.

“Cool!”

“Don't worry too hard about breaking yours, they're charmed unbreakable. It would take a mighty powerful spell to break one, like an Unforgivable, or basilisk venom. I think the only other way to break one would be if the other one was already broken or dead for some reason. They're paired, including the runes, so if for some reason the runes on one of them fail, the runes on the other will fail as well. But the runes are pretty potent, and strengthen each other, so I don't think it very likely yours will ever break. The high quality is why they're so hard to find, and why they're so expensive.”

“It's a little heavy for a necklace, though, isn't it?”

“Featherlight charm on mine. It's one of the charms I'm good at. I've got it just heavy enough to notice if I were to lose it, and light enough it isn't uncomfortable.”

“Thanks again!”

“You're welcome. And you should put it in your pouch, at least for now.”

“Will do,” she said, shoving it into the deceptively small-looking pouch.

After that, she spent the rest of the day sans meals trying to teach herself the Peanuts theme song on her tiny piano.

~

Remus normally slept at Hogwarts, but since he'd been invited to spend Christmas Eve and Christmas night at the house Sirius shared with the Potter collective, he was sleeping in one of the guest bedrooms. Or more accurately, he'd been trying to sleep, and not having a lot of luck. He'd been asleep only an hour or two when a noise from Sirius's bedroom had woken him and sent him running to see what the matter was. He looked into the partly-open door of his friend's bedroom and seen Sirius in the midst of a post-Azkaban nightmare, rolling around moaning, and kicking at his covers while looking like he was trying to ward off something looming over him. Not knowing what to do, Remus froze in place and tried to think. After a minute or two of frantic thought, he realized Adira and the others might have experience with this, since they'd spent more time living here than he had.

But if he did that, he realized, he'd be waking both of them up, and he didn't want to do that unless he had to. So instead, he racked his brain for anything they might've told him in any of their talks with him that might indicate what to do.

Finally, though, he decided to just try talking Sirius awake.

“Sirius. Sirius! You're having a nightmare! It's not real! Wake up!”

It took a couple more tries of this before it worked, Sirius bolting upright out of his nightmare.

“Moony? What's wrong?”

“You were having a nightmare, Padfoot old friend.”

“Oh. Yeah. Thanks, Moony.”

“I'm glad to be able to help. Did I do it right?”

“Yes. I dunno if Addy ever told you or not, but just so you know, touching me awake is a bad idea. Your instincts are still good, Moony, when you don't over-think things.”

“Thanks, Padfoot. Do you need anything?”

“No thanks, I'll be fine. I'll just curl up as a dog in the doggie bed at the foot of Addy's bed. I do that even when she's not here. Go back to bed, Moony.”

“That I will. Sweet dreams, Padfoot.”

“Thanks, I can use all the help I can get.”

Sirius turned into a dog, then, and padded his way to Addy's room and got comfortable in the dog bed, falling asleep quickly.

Before long, Lupin was peering in on the two of them from the open doorway. He couldn't see Zoey for all the blankets she had on over her, but he could see her form moving regularly up and down with her slow breathing. He watched for several minutes before quietly leaving.

As much as Lupin wanted to go back to sleep, though, finding Sirius in the midst of a nightmare had unsettled him, so he went to the kitchen to make himself a cup of herbal tea, some chamomile to ease his nerves. It took him almost an entire hour to feel well enough to go back up to his room and try for sleep again.

On his way back, he heard a sound from Addy's room: several bumps, a small squeak, and other small noises he couldn't identify, so he went back to investigate. He looked inside but saw nothing amiss; Sirius was still asleep in his dog form in the dog bed on the floor, and Zoey was still asleep. The only difference now was that he could see the back of her head, and the covers looked a little askew. Deciding she'd just knocked into the headboard in her sleep, he went back to bed and was soon asleep again.

~

When they woke up the morning after Christmas, it was as Adira. It was a bit off-putting to wake up with her glasses on her face already, but it was getting to be a semi-regular occurrence for her whenever they would switch to her in the night. Sighing, she got up and crossed the room to use the bathroom. As she did, she noticed Sirius was still sleeping as a dog in his doggy bed. She didn't want to wake him, so she took some clothes with her into the bathroom to change there.

At breakfast, Lupin told her about Sirius's nightmare the night before, and how he'd managed to stumble onto the right thing to do on his own, which made her smile.

Halfway through the meal, she yawned loudly. Lupin looked at her, concerned.

“That's at least the tenth time this morning you've yawned, possibly much more, since I don't know how many you did before I started to notice. Are you feeling alright?”

“Yeah, just a little tired is all. It's not a big deal, it happens sometimes.”

“How late were you up last night?” Sirius asked from the doorway, where he'd just come in.

She sighed. “Zoey conked out around 11 last night.”

“And when did you wake up?”

She sighed even louder. “At eight AM. Honestly, Sirius, I'm fine. Some nights we just don't sleep as well as others. Probably nightmares. From things other people said before I got my own dorm room, I gather I sometimes have nightmares without remembering I've had them in the morning. We do, I mean,” she said. “Ugh, tenses and pronouns and stuff like that are weird when you're not the only one in your head.”

“Ah, okay. Yes, that makes sense,” Sirius said. “I know I've been a little tired myself this morning, after the night I had last night. Thanks again for helping out, Moony.”

“No problem, Padfoot my friend.”

Addy finished up the last of her breakfast.

“Want third helpings?” Sirius offered.

“No thanks, I'm stuffed. Your cooking is getting pretty good, though, so it was tempting. Anyway, I'm gonna read,” she said, getting up and starting toward the door.

“Put your dishes in the sink before you go.”

“Yeah, yeah, I will,” she said lazily as she turned around to comply.

Adira spent most of the morning writing thank-you notes for people who had given her gifts, and sent one for Hermione off with Hedwig, and used Sirius's owl Pigwidgeon to send Ron his. Then she spent the rest of the day reading a novel in the drawing room, pausing only for meals and to send other thank-you notes off when one of the owls returned from previous trips. She was still reading after dinner when Sirius came in.

“Hey, Addy, how are you?”

“I'm good. And you?”

“I'm good, too. 'Lord of the Rings,' eh? I've heard of that before, but I don't think I've ever read it.”

“Yeah, it's pretty good. I almost didn't get past this one part in the first book, though. Tom Bombadill,” she said with a disgusted sigh. “Most pointless character in a book I've ever come across. Most annoying, too. And the poems in the book are annoying, too. Luckily there aren't too many of those, and mostly in the first half of the first book.”

“You don't like poetry?”

“I like some poetry. Short poems. Tolkein's poems are long, though. And difficult to read.”

“Ah. But otherwise a good book?”

“Excellent book, yes, aside from those small details.”

“Good to know. By the way, since we're talking about books, I can't find one of the books from our library. It was one of the books I rescued from my parents' place, and one of the few things worth keeping around.”

“Which book is missing?”

“One of Newt Scamander's more obscure books. Along with 'Fantastic Beasts and Where To Find Them,' he also wrote a whole series of books going into a lot of detail about various topics. I rescued the entire series from that old house, except for a pair that got eaten by doxies. Twelve books in all, out of a set of 14. The missing book was the size of a large dictionary and was all about the magical ecosystems on and around the grounds of Hogwarts.”

“Really? Sounds useful. If you find it, let me know; I want to read it.”

“Okay, as long as you let me know if you find it, too.”

“Of course,” she said.

“Good. I'll leave you to your reading, then.”

~

The rest of the holiday was spent doing mostly various activities together, the three of them. Sirius had convinced Lupin to stay for the rest of the holiday, and they spent the days either helping Adira with her dueling, going out for curries or pizza, trying to help Adira with the Animagus transformation (which was still giving her/them trouble), or visiting the malls in Muggle London. A few times they even went on motorbike rides together, with Adira in the sidecar as Lupin rode behind Sirius the first time. But Lupin didn't like that position, and ended up switching with Adira during the other trips. He barely fit, so it was pretty hilarious.

“You know, it's weird,” she said one of these times after they were parked, “but Hagrid says he rode this motorbike while carrying me on the night my parents died, but it's pretty much a normal sized bike, and he's enormous. Nearly twelve feet tall, and riding a bike made for someone half his size.”

Sirius barked several times with laughter, and Lupin began to chuckle a little before both men tried to hold their laughter in until they could get into the flat.

“Are you picturing an enormous Hagrid hunched over this comparatively tiny bike, too?” she asked with a wide grin.

“Yes, I am,” Sirius said, snorting with suppressed laughter. “I hadn't thought of it when I loaned it to him that night, because I was distraught and already planning to try to murder Peter in revenge, and I didn't see him get on it, but yeah, he's so large... and the bike is so... {snerk} tiny, compared to... {snort} compared to him...”

He couldn't contain his laughter again, and started to laugh so hard that he fell to the ground, clutching a stitch in his side. Remus and Adira were soon down on the ground, too, laughing til their faces turned red as tomatoes, and breathing became difficult.

When they finally got control of themselves, Adira spoke again.

“Oh my goodness, I don't know whether to tell Luna that or not. On the one hand, we like the sound of her laughter. On the other hand, she'd probably be in the hospital wing for a week-long laugh attack if we did.”

“Ah... ah yes. Well, now I'm thinking more clearly, he probably put an engorgement charm on it with that umbrella of his. By the way, that reminds me... from what you told me about your second year, that reminds me I need to look into getting Hagrid trained up so he can be a fully-qualified wizard. Voldemort ruined his life, but maybe we can recover some of that for him.”

“Oh yeah, that's a great idea! I'll remind you about it later. In fact,” she said, pulling out a small notebook from the pouch around her neck, “I'm gonna write myself a note about that so I don't forget.”

“Write one for me, too, if you don't mind tearing a page out of it. Ah, thanks,” he said, taking a page from her and putting it in a pocket of the Muggle-style jacket he was wearing.

They went the rest of the way to their 'flat' – which, being so obviously magical and big on the inside, always felt like a house to her – in the kind of silence that often followed an especially powerful bout of laughter. Sirius put his key in the lock, opened the door, and was just stepping inside when Adira spoke again.

“Hey, Sirius? Remus?”

“What, pup?” Sirius said, both men turning to look at her.

She mimed hunching over and grabbing a tiny handlebar with her arms, her elbows jutting out comically, and said, “Meep, meep! Vroom, vroom! Putt-putt-putt!”

The sound of their raucous laughter filled the corridors for nearly a quarter of an hour.

~

They'd thought, once, that their best Christmas ever had been their first one at Hogwarts, but naturally their first one with Sirius and Remus that year replaced it. They didn't even spend all their time at home, visiting the Weasleys several days out of the holidays via the Floo. They got to find out in person how the Weasleys had liked the gifts they'd gotten for them. Both Percy and Mr. Weasley had been especially impressed and fascinated by the matching locking briefcases they'd gotten for the two Ministry employees from a Muggle shop in London. They'd tried to refuse, of course, but Adira pointed out that she had more money than she needed, and it was Christmas, so they finally accepted the gifts. She'd had a similar problem with one of her gifts for Lupin, another briefcase, and she'd finally had to tell him it had only cost her the equivalent of 7 galleons before he'd accepted it. By comparison, the two Weasley men were a piece of cake to convince.

But of course, the holidays couldn't last forever. New Year's came and went, with the three of them making so much noise in the house that Aqua complained later to her that it had woken her out of a nap. Sirius even found that book he'd been looking for a couple days before the train, giving her the chance to make a copy for herself. And all too soon, Adira was packing up to head back to Hogwarts.

The train ride had been pretty quiet, all things considered. They were even blessed to not have to put up with Malfoy or his goons at all, aside from a near miss on the way to their compartment. They continued to be able to avoid him and his ilk as they took the carriages back up to the school and had dinner. Nothing unusual happened at all, unless you counted the fact she'd noticed a couple books she didn't recognize that had been in her pouch, which she discovered while transferring them to her trunk, but she brushed it off as having not paid enough attention to them before.

~

Hermione was no more surprised or bothered than Adira had been when Ron told her the next day about Hagrid being a half-giant, since he'd forgotten to mention it on the train with all the talk about the Yule Ball. He still looked a bit put out by their casual lack of concern about Hagrid being part giant, but otherwise didn't say anything else about it.

Even though they'd solved the egg clue, on this side of January first, Al and the others were feeling nervous. February was coming, and none of them fancied trying to figure out how to deal with the cold. Sure, there was the Warming Charm, but it didn't work as well in the water. They'd done tests in the tub during the holidays, and while breathing in the water was solved by Tier, the cold was still an issue. They'd have to re-cast the Warming Charm every few minutes, and since they couldn't afford the distraction that would be, they'd have to find some other way of keeping warm. A wet-suit would have been nice, if they'd remembered to buy one when in London. But they weren't sure Sirius would be up to finding one, especially since they wouldn't be there to get the right kind of sizing done. Their fluctuating size depending on who was Out meant they'd have to pick ahead of time which one of them would do it, most likely. And since those plans sometimes went right out the window, that wasn't something they could rely on.

Snow was still thick upon the grounds, and the greenhouse windows were covered in condensation so thick that they couldn’t see out of them in Herbology. Nobody was looking forward to Care of Magical Creatures much in this weather, especially Al.

When they arrived at Hagrid’s cabin, however, they found an elderly witch with closely cropped gray hair and a very prominent chin standing before his front door.

“Hurry up, now, the bell rang five minutes ago,” she barked at them as they struggled toward her through the snow.

“Who’re you?” said Ron, staring at her. “Where’s Hagrid?”

“My name is Professor Grubbly-Plank,” she said briskly. “I am your temporary Care of Magical Creatures teacher.”

“Where’s Hagrid?” Al repeated loudly.

“He is indisposed,” said Professor Grubbly-Plank shortly.

Soft and unpleasant laughter reached Al's ears. He turned; Draco Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherins were joining the class. All of them looked gleeful, and none of them looked surprised to see Professor Grubbly-Plank.

Al asked her what was wrong with Hagrid, and she brushed him off. So he focused on Hagrid's hut with his empathic sense. It was difficult, with all the interference from the rest of the class, but he thought he felt despondency and sorrow coming from the hut.

“Something's happened to Hagrid,” Al whispered at his friends. “I don't know what, but he feels sad about something.”

“Oh my goodness, I hope he's alright.”

“Yeah, me too,” Ron said, glancing over at the Slytherins.

“Worried about your big oaf of a friend, Potter?” Malfoy said.

Al whipped his head around toward Malfoy at these words and pulled a face at him that made the blond boy pause in fear a moment before regaining his nerve and continuing with false bravado.

Malfoy put his hand inside the pocket of his robes and pulled out a folded page of newsprint.

“There you go,” he said. “Hate to break it to you, Potter.”

He jumped back but still smirked as Al snatched the page, unfolded it, and read it, with Ron, Seamus, Dean, and Neville looking over his shoulder. It was an article topped with a picture of Hagrid looking extremely shifty.

It was standard Skeeter fare. She made Hagrid out to be a horrible monster who loved tormenting kids with dangerous beasts in his class. It told about the skrewts and that they were indeed an illegal hybrid, but failed to mention that they were dead now. It also failed to mention that Hagrid's classes were pretty much a normal person's idea of normal now, ever since the skrewts. Admittedly, who knew if that would last past Hagrid's mourning period, but still, it should have been mentioned.

And, of course, the article not only outed Hagrid as half giant (“how did she find out?”), but also figured out and revealed the name of his mother, a giantess named Fridwulfa, who at least had not been one of the giants working with Voldemort during the war, choosing instead to remain neutral. Skeeter also used the wrong name for them, calling them “Harry,” but that was barely worth noticing.

Al was so angry as he read, and as the Slytherins laughed, that he didn't notice his left arm coming up and pointing with three fingers at Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle. His head jerked around once he heard the screams, though.

“Whazahuh?” Al said, confused, as he took in the scene. Then, when he figured out what Chandra had done, he burst out laughing.

Chandra, in an uncharacteristic fit of pique, had used one of his experimental spells on them, causing Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle to become 'magnetically' attracted to each other, and Malfoy – the smallest of the three – was stuck between the other two, being squeezed til his whole head and neck were going red.

Of course, the whole class had gone mad at this, with half the students either laughing their arses off or looking torn between amusement and concern, and the other half in various states of outrage. Pansy Parkinson and Millicent Bulstrode were attempting to pull the three boys apart, but they couldn't get a good enough grip on them to really try, as even the boys' robes were affected by the spell. And of course Grubbly-Plank was trying to restore order and help, but the cage of fairies she'd been carrying over had fallen, and angry escaped fairies were buzzing loudly and flying at people's faces.

With another gesture from Al's left hand, the three stuck boys then started to fly straight into the air like someone had let go of a balloon underwater. They didn't go far, though, and stopped just out of reach of even the tallest person in class, having bobbed a little higher first.

Al didn't catch much of what happened after that, because he was too busy having fallen down onto the ground from laughing so hard. It wasn't until a very firm hand grabbed him by the arm and jerked him up that he stopped, immediately going into defense mode, his wand out.

“Don't you wield your wand at me, Mr. Potter!” snapped Professor McGonagall, who was looking furious.

“Er, sorry, Professor. I thought I was being attacked.” He immediately put his wand away.

“Explain yourself,” she snapped again, gesturing at the three boys still floating in the air out of reach.

Suppressing his laughter with difficulty, he explained that they'd been saying nasty things about Hagrid, and Chandra had acted without informing the rest of them.

“So, er... he's the only one who can undo it. Probably. I mean, Moody might be able to work it out, though, given enough time.”

“Mr. Rahasyamay, will you please undo these spells right now.” It was not a question, but a command.

Al felt his consciousness being pulled aside gently but firmly as Chandra took over without transforming.

“If the White Ferret and his twin dancing trolls all promise to apologize in front of the Great Hall for their unkind words, then I shall release them from these spells.”

Her line a thin mouth, McGonagall nonetheless looked up at the floating Slytherins, then back at Chandra and Al.

“They do not appear to be in any condition to speak right now, being too distressed. Please undo the spells now. Carefully,” she emphasized.

“While I would not be averse to complying for your sake, Tartan Grandmother, I do not, as such, have a counter to either of these spells. Truth be told, I have not even used that particular floating spell before, and I am unsure how I have done it.”

“You mean you've never used that spell before? Are you saying it's accidental magic? Are we going to have to call in the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad?”

“The first spell, of attraction, is not accidental. Wandless, yes, but not accidental. The second... I am unsure. I did do it on purpose, also without a wand, but since I am not sure what I did, I suppose it qualifies as accidental magic by certain definitions.”

“If that is the case, Mr. Rahasyamay, why did you say you would free them if they apologized?”

“Hmm... I do not know.”

McGonagall blinked at him. He placidly stared back. Then the professor pinched the bridge of her nose and sighed. She was also muttering to herself, part of which sounded to them like “...why I even took this job to begin with...” and then “...even James and Sirius weren't this much...”

“Dumbledore!” someone shouted.

Everyone who wasn't distracted catching fairies or trying to get Malfoy and his goons down turned to look. Sure enough, Dumbledore was walking across the grounds to investigate the trouble.

“Again, Mr. Rahasyamay? And in the same class, no less.”

“Yes. Sorry, Silver Grandfather.”

Dumbledore waved away their concern and looked closely at the three floating Slytherins. He used his wand to try to sort out what spell was used. He soon had them back on the ground, but they were still stuck to each other like rare-earth magnets.

“Fascinating variant of the levitation charm,” he said when he was done. “You and I should work out how to recreate it, as it could win you some spellcrafting awards, Mr. Rahasyamay. Sadly, though, I have no idea what to do about the other spell, just yet. That shall take a bit longer to work out.”

“How long, Professor?” asked a tearful Pansy Parkinson, her worry over Malfoy supplanting her dislike of Dumbledore.

“Several days, I believe. Twenty-four hours if I push myself, I think.”

“Perhaps I should try instead?” Chandra offered.

“You might as well. It is likely the fastest way.”

Chandra considered the three Slytherins thoughtfully. After a few moments, he stepped forward and touched them, feeling around as though looking for something.

“Aha,” he said at last, pulling on a suddenly-appearing sheet of shimmering orange light. He separated several other colors of sparkling light, pinning them down in various positions to keep them from snapping back in place. Then he pulled a yellow layer out and off the three boys like removing a piece of translucent cloth from them; it vanished once he let go of it. He did this again for a blue layer, then for a violet layer. Once the violet layer fell away, the orange layer popped like a soap bubble, and the three boys fell to the ground, freed.

“Mr. Rahasyamay,” Dumbledore said in a voice of forced calm, “I am very impressed by that. That was very advanced practical arithmancy you just performed, and you did it wandlessly. It is even more impressive that the spell did not explode when you did that.”

EXPLODE?!” Pansy shrieked in horror. “YOU ALMOST KILLED THEM?!”

“I was not aware of the danger, Sniveling Sycophant,” he said, addressing Pansy with a glower. “I was not even aware I could do that. None of us are taking Arithmancy, so far as I am aware.”

“You're quite right, Mr. Rahasyamay, we do not have any of you down for Arithmancy classes,” Dumbledore said.

Al turned to look at Professor McGonagall, having felt a mix of emotions from her that he was having trouble classifying, or even feeling clearly with all the empathic noise in the area at the moment. She was looking at them with a very thoughtful expression on her face, like they'd said something so fascinating that it made her get lost in thought. But he couldn't think why that would be, so he ignored it for now.

Dumbledore had Pansy and a couple other Slytherins take Malfoy and his two trained baboons down to the Hospital Wing to be checked over, then turned to Al.

“For your punishment, Mr. Rahasyamay, I will be giving you a detention this Wednesday at 7 o'clock, in my office. Do not be late.”

“Understood, Silver Grandfather.”

Nodding at them, Dumbledore turned and headed back up toward the castle. Professor McGonagall did a double-take in surprise and then followed the headmaster.

With Dumbledore and McGonagall gone, Al walked over to Lavender, Ron and Hermione trailing behind. She looked at him curiously at first, then with fear as she noticed his expression. She jumped back, holding her hands in front of herself placatingly.

“It wasn't me! I swear I didn't tell anyone! Not even my diary! I just wanted to forget about it, honestly!”

Al blinked, sensing her sincerity.

“I believe you,” he said.

“No really, I--- wait, you do?”

“Empath here. Unless you've somehow learned Mastery-level occlumency over the holidays, you're telling the truth, I can feel it.”

“What's occlumency?” she asked, confused.

“Never mind.”

The rest of the class was uneventful, after that. At lunch, they argued about how Skeeter had found out, wondering things like if she had an invisibility cloak.

“I'd say she's bugging the place,” Al said, “but she can't be; electronics go mad around here. Unless there are magical ways to do it? I could ask Sirius tonight on the mirror, I suppose.”

“Good thinking, Al,” said Hermione.

“Thanks. Also, we should go visit Hagrid after Divination. Tell him we want him back.”

“I agree,” Hermione said. “Especially as he's been a lot better since the skrewt incident.”

When the three of them got up later to go back to classes, they ran into Moody in the corridor. Luckily it was only figuratively running into him, as he probably would have hexed them into oblivion otherwise.

“Glad I found you, Potter,” Moody said. “If you'll come with me, Potter, we need to discuss those hexes of Chandra's earlier, and a stern talking-to about not using spells you don't know what they do wouldn't go amiss, either.”

“Er, now, Professor? I need to go to class.”

“I'll write your teacher a note for you. Come on, let's not take all day.”

Al sighed, and followed Moody.

“See you later, Al!” his friends called back.

Moody didn't take Al to his office, but pulled him into an unused classroom. Once he was sure the room was secure, Moody turned to Al to speak.

“This isn't really about those hexes, Potter. I reckon Dumbledore will set you straight on that later. What I really wanted was an excuse to hand you this,” he said, holding out a roll of parchment.

“What is it?” Al asked, not yet taking it.

“Just a piece of parchment with a list on it, Potter, but I'm glad to see you're remaining vigilant. Take it, it's for you.”

Al took it, unrolled it, and read it. It was a list of books to get from the library. There was also a signed permission slip from Moody on it.

“Some of these books are in the Restricted Section, hence the note. I transfigured my writing on the list itself to look more like yours, enough to pass a cursory inspection anyway. Did that so we could claim you already knew what to look for, instead of cheating by asking advice from a teacher. All you asked me for was the permission to get these books for the Tournament, understood? If anyone asks you how you knew what to get, tell them your godfather found the titles for you.”

“Er, okay. Thanks,” he said, reading the list to himself.

“Books about the science of otter fur? Dolphin anatomy?”

“Yes. Remember the talk I had with Iliana during the ball?”

“Yeah, I do. Ooh, books on mermaids, that makes sense. '101 Easy Underwater Defense Spells,' cool. 'Curses of the Water-Tribes of Malaysia'? What's that one about? I mean, water tribes of Malaysia, that's the part I don't get.”

“There's some tribes in Malaysia that spend most of their time underwater, diving up to 20 meters for food and other things, without the use of spells or equipment, called 'free-diving.' They can hold their breath for three minutes at a time. Their free-diving techniques would be too involved for you to learn yet, but luckily you don't need to. Anyway, some of those tribes have wizards and witches among them, and there's even a few all-wizarding tribes there, that's the people these curses come from.”

“Neat!”

“Now, these tribes don't consider the spells in this book to be dark, but European wizarding culture does, which is why the book is restricted. But it's useful magic to learn, even if a lot of it is pretty advanced. Though with your familiarity with wandless magic, I think you'll be able to manage more of these than most would. Bring the book to me when you get it, and I can point out the ones you should be able to learn before the Second Task.”

“Thank you, Professor.”

“Don't mention it. No really, literally don't mention it. Cheating may be a traditional part of the Tournament, but that doesn't protect you if you get caught.”

Al nodded. Then Moody told him to get to his next class soon, so he did, excited to get these books out. And there were even more than the ones he'd already read back to Moody.

~

That evening after dinner, Al, Ron, and Hermione left the castle once more and went down through the frozen grounds to Hagrid’s cabin. They knocked, and Fang’s booming barks answered.

“Hagrid, it’s us!” Al shouted, pounding on the door. “Open up!

Hagrid didn’t answer. They could hear Fang scratching at the door, whining, but it didn’t open. They hammered on it for ten more minutes; Ron even went and banged on one of the windows, but there was no response.

“What’s he avoiding us for?” Hermione said when they had finally given up and were walking back to the school. “He surely doesn’t think we’d care about him being half-giant?”

But it seemed that Hagrid did care. They didn’t see a sign of him all week. He didn’t appear at the staff table at mealtimes, they didn’t see him going about his gamekeeper duties on the grounds, and Professor Grubbly-Plank continued to take the Care of Magical Creatures classes.

Malfoy looked like he wanted to gloat whenever he saw them, but perhaps feared that Al or Chandra would take over and glue him to the ceiling by his underpants, so he said nothing.

Sirius hadn't had any ideas about how Skeeter could be getting into the school to dig up dirt on people, but he promised to look into it and get back to them if he found anything promising.

Dumbledore's detention turned out to be private instruction in wandless magic, which involved the headmaster handing them a large stack of books to read. They put some of the volumes back, having read them already or being in the middle of them. Some of the others weren't familiar, but gave them a strange sense of deja vu that intensified with every sentence they read, which was so distracting that they gave up and chose other volumes to read instead. They also took copious notes, since none of the books were to leave Dumbledore's office. At the end of the detention, Dumbledore told them to return next Wednesday at 7, but specified that only this first one was counting as a detention on their record.

Later on in the week, of course, was more Occlumency lessons with Dumbledore. They'd gotten worse over the holidays, having forgotten to practice, and saw flashes of several things; Zoey looking around at the results of her explosion over the holidays, fighting Quirrell, flying during Quidditch, an image of sneaking around the library at night in the invisibility cloak, and scenes from the Yule Ball, among others. Dumbledore set them extra homework on Occlumency and reminded them to practice as much as possible.

Dueling Club kept going, too, and Moody began teaching them about how to take advantage of your personal talents, which among other things included him saying that people who expected to be attacked a lot could carry magical artifacts to distract enemies with. He looked at them when he said this, but also glanced at a thoughtful-looking Javier.

Halfway through January, there was a Hogsmeade visit, and the three of them went as usual. After reading some of the books Moody suggested, they had started experimenting with various forms to try to manage in the cold water, but Tier's shape-shifting wasn't great at the kind of anatomy they needed. He couldn't get the blubber right on porpoise forms, his attempts at otter fur were a failure, and the closest he could get to an actual dolphin form bore more of a resemblance to prehistoric proto-whales than to modern cetaceans. These failures were making them nervous.

Iliana, Ron, and Hermione left the castle together on Saturday and set off through the cold, wet grounds toward the gates. As they passed the Durmstrang ship moored in the lake, they saw Viktor Krum emerge onto the deck, dressed in nothing but swimming trunks. He was very skinny indeed, but apparently a lot tougher than he looked, because he climbed up onto the side of the ship, stretched out his arms, and dived, right into the lake.

Iliana stared at this, mouth agape. Krum must have some way of keeping warm in the cold water, but even though she and Krum were somewhat friendly with each other, she wasn't sure Krum would want to share that information with them. If they got a chance, though, they decided it wouldn't hurt to ask.

Keeping her eyes peeled for Hagrid on their way to town, she was disappointed to not see the large man in any of the shops. So she suggested going to The Three Broomsticks.

The pub was as crowded as ever, but one quick look around at all the tables told Iliana that Hagrid wasn’t there. Heart sinking, she went up to the bar with Ron and Hermione, and ordered three butter-beers from Madam Rosmerta.

“Doesn’t he ever go into the office?” Hermione whispered suddenly. “Look!”

She pointed into the mirror behind the bar, and Iliana saw Ludo Bagman reflected there, sitting in a shadowy corner with a bunch of goblins. Bagman was talking very fast in a low voice to the goblins, all of whom had their arms crossed and were looking rather menacing.

Iliana giggled, a memory coming to them.

“What is it?” Ron asked.

“Do you know something?”

“Yes. Zoey intercepted one of Fred and George’s letters to Bagman, and--”

“Fred and George are writing Bagman? Why?”

“I was about to tell you when you interrupted,” she said icily.

“Sorry. Go on.”

“Anyway, it turns out Bagman paid them in leprechaun gold, which vanishes. They thought it was an innocent mistake at first, in their first, very polite letter, but he's been stonewalling them. I'd be willing to bet he's having a similar issue with the goblins.”

“Oh yeah, I think I heard something from Dad about people having a hard time getting money from Bagman. He's got a gambling problem, I guess.”

“Also,” Iliana continued, “Zoey wrote on the back of their letter, adding her voice to their plea for their money back.”

“He wouldn't even give them their original money back?”

“Exactly. From the letter she read, it wasn't the first time they'd asked for their original bet back.”

“Wow,” Ron said, shaking his head.

She watched Bagman in the mirror. He was looking strained again, quite as strained as he had that night in the forest before the Dark Mark had appeared. But just then Bagman glanced over at the bar, saw Iliana, and stood up.

“In a moment, in a moment!” Iliana heard him say brusquely to the goblins, and Bagman hurried through the pub toward her, his boyish grin back in place.

He paused a moment in front of them, thinking, before saying, a little uncertainly, “Iliana, is it?”

She nodded.

“Good, good. How are you? Been hoping to run into you! Everything going all right?”

She raised an eyebrow at him. “Fine, thanks.”

“Wonder if I could have a quick, private word, Iliana?” said Bagman eagerly. “You couldn’t give us a moment, you two, could you?”

“Er — okay,” said Ron, and he and Hermione went off to find a table.

Bagman led her along the bar to the end furthest from Madam Rosmerta.

“Well, I just thought I’d congratulate you again on your splendid performance against that dragon, Iliana. Quite superb.”

“Are you going to give Fred and George their money back?”

“Er, what?” he said, looking completely thrown off balance. “Oh, that. Well, bit of a cash flow issue at the moment, assets tied up in non-liquid form, you see. But I'm working on it, I'm working on it, no need to worry. It'll be taken care of soon enough. By the way, I wanted to talk to you, ask you how you're doing on that egg.”

“We have to go under the Black Lake in February.” Feeling an insistent feeling from Al, she added, “you're betting on us to win, aren't you?”

“What? I... well... that is--”

“It's okay. I don't think you should be doing that, as you seem to have no knack at all for figuring out the odds, so it's liable to blow up in your face, but since we really want to survive this thing...” she felt around the room with their empathic sense, to feel if anyone was eavesdropping, before continuing, “you wouldn't happen to know some way of keeping warm in cold water in February, would you? Aside from a Warming Charm, I mean. I'd have to reapply it every five minutes, at my skill level.”

Bagman scratched his chin, looking thoughtful. “Hmm... that hadn't occurred to me. We weren't expecting someone so young to be entered, after all. I don't have anything for you right now, I'm afraid, but I'll make some discreet inquiries for you, not to worry.” He winked at her.

Good, thought Al. Since cheating is a traditional part of the Tournament and all, why not? Thanks for that.

#No problem,# she thought-spoke to him.

Just then, out of the corner of her eye, she spotted a familiar face looking at her with concern. It was Lupin.

“Oh crud,” she muttered, turning back to Bagman.

“Cool,” she said, louder, to Bagman. “Oh, by the way, since I have you here, Mr. Bagman, have you made any progress in finding Bertha Jorkins?”

“No,” said Bagman, looking strained again. “I’ve got people looking, of course …” (About time, thought Iliana) “and it’s all very strange. She definitely arrived in Albania, because she met her second cousin there. And then she left the cousin’s house to go south and see an aunt … and she seems to have vanished without trace en route. Blowed if I can see where she’s got to … she doesn’t seem the type to elope, for instance … but still, I don't know...”

“Were you aware that Vol—er, You-Know-Who was last spotted in Albania. He was a ghostly wraith, but he could possess people and animals, and I had a vision of him over the summer, in which he was solid enough to use a wand.”

Bagman turned pale. “Oh now, Iliana, such an imagination on you,” he said with false confidence. “He's dead! People under the Imperius or other spells came out of it, and that only happens when someone dies.”

“It also happens when someone loses their body but remains earthbound. And I'm not talking about a ghost; we have reason to believe he's going to make a new body for himself. He's probably using Bertha to do precisely that, in fact.”

“I...” Bagman nervously steepled his fingers. “Er... well... um... that's, that's useful information, I shall look into it, Iliana. Now if you'll excuse me, I really must be going.”

Bagman turned around, and ran right into Fred and George.

“Hello, Mr. Bagman,” said Fred brightly. “Can we buy you a drink?”

“Er … no,” said Bagman, with a last scared glance at Iliana, “no, thank you, boys …”

Fred and George looked quite as disappointed with Bagman.

“Well, I must dash,” he said. “Nice seeing you all. Good luck, Iliana.”

He hurried out of the pub. The goblins all slid off their chairs and exited after him.

“It's no good,” Iliana told the twins, “he's not good for it. He's betting on me winning the Tournament to cover his gambling debts.”

They gawked at her. “You know? How do you know?”

Iliana sighed, and quickly told them about how Zoey had intercepted their owl, and what she'd added to the letter.

“I am both offended and impressed that you're guilty of mail tampering, Miss Zoey Potter,” Fred said in a faux-stern voice.

“Too bad it didn't at least pan out,” said George. “Oh well. I guess we'll just have to wait and see if you win the Tournament.”

“Speaking of that, you two wouldn't happen to know some way of keeping warm while under a freezing cold lake in the middle of February, would you?”

“Hmm... whadda ya reckon, George?”

“I dunno, it's nothing like anything we've been using. Off the top of my head, I can't think of anything. A potion might work, if you can find a warming potion, since they last a lot longer than charms or other wand-magic.”

“Oooh,” said Iliana, “that's a good thought. I'll have to look into that.”

“Great!” said Fred. “Glad we could help. Now please excuse us, Mistress Potter, but we must needs depart for Zonko's Joke Shop, anon.” They bowed to her with a flowery flourish, then left as she chuckled at their antics.

Once they left, Lupin stood up to meet her. She pretended she hadn't seen him, and sat down with Ron and Hermione. From the corner of her eye, she saw Lupin freeze, then change direction to the bathroom.

“What'd he want?” Ron asked her.

She inhaled quickly and began to tell them the whole thing, acutely aware of Hermione's disapproving glare.

“He shouldn't have done that! He's one of the judges! And you, letting him!”

“I want to survive this thing, Hermione! I'm with Al on this; we're at a disadvantage due to our age and skill level, Bagman even admitted they hadn't considered someone as young as me when they came up with the second task. Then there's the fact we didn't choose this. So we need every edge we can get!”

“Yeah, leave her alone, Hermione, she's just trying to survive.”

“But you've figured out the egg ages ago!”

“Yes, but we don't know how we're going to stay warm in that cold water. Warming charms only do so much, and it'd be distracting to recast one every few minutes.”

Hermione softened. “Why didn't you tell me that was the problem? There's nothing in the rules against Ron and me helping you.”

“I...” she paused, thinking. “I hadn't thought of that. I guess I got so caught up in everything I didn't think of that.”

“You're forgiven. Anyway, I hope Bagman's helping Cedric as much.”

“He's not. It's me he's betting on, remember.”

“Uh-oh,” said Ron, staring at the door.

Rita Skeeter had just entered. She was wearing banana-yellow robes today; her long nails were painted shocking pink, and she was accompanied by her paunchy photographer. She looked like a slutty banana. She bought drinks, and she and the photographer made their way through the crowds to a table nearby, Iliana, Ron, and Hermione glaring at her as she approached. She was talking fast and looking very satisfied about something.

“… didn’t seem very keen to talk to us, did he, Bozo? Now, why would that be, do you think? And what’s he doing with a pack of goblins in tow anyway? Showing them the sights … what nonsense … he was always a bad liar. Reckon something’s up? Think we should do a bit of digging? ‘Disgraced Ex-Head of Magical Games and Sports, Ludo Bagman …’ Snappy start to a sentence, Bozo — we just need to find a story to fit it —”

“Ah, Rita, showing all the journalistic integrity of the Daily Mail, I see,” Iliana quipped loudly.

A few people looked around. Rita Skeeter’s eyes widened behind her jeweled spectacles as she saw who had spoken.

“The Daily what now?”

The Daily Mail, it's a Muggle 'newspaper,' and I use the term very lightly. It's usually called a tabloid, but I don't know if wizards know that word or not. The 'reporters' for the Daily Mail make up fake stories all the time, and twist real stories around to be mostly lies. It's widely considered to be a rag not worth wiping your arse on. I've read it before, Rita, and you'd fit right in there.”

Rita's face was turning red. If looks could kill, Rita's expression would at least be giving Iliana a moderate flu.

“What are you implying, Missy?”

“I'm not implying anything. I'm outright saying that your brand of journalism is to make up things and then pick and choose what 'facts' fit your lies. And if The Daily Prophet – a name coincidentally similar to The Daily Mail – is willing to publish rubbish like that, then it's a rubbish paper. I'm saying you're a rubbish reporter who wouldn't know journalistic integrity or truth if it came up and tapdanced on your face. All you care about is what sells, no matter how much bologna is in it. You'll even ruin lives to get people reading your sordid garbage. First Hagrid, now Bagman, is it?”

Rita Skeeter raised her heavily penciled eyebrows.

“Our readers have a right to the truth, Potter. I am merely doing my —”

“Who cares if he’s half-giant?” Iliana shouted. “There’s nothing wrong with him! He's a dear, sweet man! He's a 12 foot tall teddy bear!”

The whole pub had gone very quiet. Madam Rosmerta was staring over from behind the bar, apparently oblivious to the fact that the flagon she was filling with mead was overflowing.

Rita Skeeter’s smile flickered very slightly, but she hitched it back almost at once; she snapped open her crocodile-skin handbag, pulled out her Quick-Quotes Quill, and said, “How about giving me an interview about the Hagrid you know, Harry? The man behind the muscles? Your unlikely friendship and the reasons behind it. Would you call him a father substitute?”

“My name is Iliana. There is nobody in our collective named Harry, and hasn't been since this summer.”

Hermione stood up very abruptly, her butterbeer clutched in her hand as though it were a grenade.

“You horrible woman,” she said, through gritted teeth, “you don’t care, do you, anything for a story, and anyone will do, won’t they? Even Ludo Bagman —”

“Sit down, you silly little girl, and don’t talk about things you don’t understand,” said Rita Skeeter coldly, her eyes hardening as they fell on Hermione. “I know things about Ludo Bagman that would make your hair curl … not that it needs it —” she added, eyeing Hermione’s bushy hair.

Iliana glared at Rita with such malice that it became palpable. Rita's face actually fell into fear when she saw it. Then Iliana's left hand shot up, pointed at Rita Skeeter, and the woman fell into the air and became glued to the ceiling. She seemed stuck there by powerful gravity, being squeezed into place, hardly able to breathe.

“Do not worry, Insignificant Maggot,” Chandra said with Iliana's voice, “this spell I have been practicing. It will wear off in twenty minutes. Have fun.”

Turning to Hermione, Iliana said, “Let's go, shall we?”

They nodded, and left with her.

“Well,” Ron said in a worried voice as they walked back up the street, “now Rita Skeeter will be after both of you. You may as well have declared war on her.”

“If it's war she wants, it's war she'll get,” Hermione said hotly.

“Amen to that,” agreed Iliana. “Mess with me, fine; I can handle it. Mess with my friends, and she'd better watch out, or being stuck to a ceiling will be the least of her worries.”

“You don’t want to go upsetting Rita Skeeter,” said Ron nervously. “I’m serious, Hermione, Iliana, she’ll dig up something on you —”

“My parents don’t read the Daily Prophet. She can’t scare me into hiding!” said Hermione, now striding along so fast that it was all Iliana and Ron could do to keep up with her.

“Yeah well Iliana doesn't even have parents, and look how much Skeeter's affected her life.”

Ignoring Ron, Hermione broke into a run, leading them all the way back up the road, through the gates flanked by winged boars, and up through the grounds to Hagrid’s cabin.

“He's still got his curtains drawn,” Iliana noted.

“Hagrid!” Hermione shouted, pounding on his front door. “Hagrid, that’s enough! We know you’re in there! Nobody cares if your mum was a giantess, Hagrid! You can’t let that foul Skeeter woman do this to you! Hagrid, get out here, you’re just being —”

The door opened. Hermione said, “About t — !” and then stopped, very suddenly, because she had found herself face-to-face, not with Hagrid, but with Albus Dumbledore.

“Good afternoon,” he said pleasantly, smiling down at them.

“We — er — we wanted to see Hagrid,” said Hermione in a rather small voice.

“Yes, I surmised as much,” said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. “Why don’t you come in?”

“Oh … um … okay,” said Hermione.

They went into Hagrid's hut. Fang launched himself at Iliana the moment they did, and she jumped right into the air in startled fright, finding herself laying down in a corner of the ceiling as though gravity had reversed. She carefully crawled back down to the ground and set her personal gravity back to normal, then looked around.

Hagrid was sitting at his table, where there were two large mugs of tea. He looked a real mess. His face was blotchy, his eyes swollen, and he had gone to the other extreme where his hair was concerned; far from trying to make it behave, it now looked like a wig of tangled wire.

“Hi, Hagrid,” Iliana said, hugging him. His mouth twitched at this, but he couldn't quite manage a smile.

“ ’Lo,” he said in a very hoarse voice.

Dumbledore got them some more tea with a twiddle of his wand before speaking.

“Did you by any chance hear what Miss Granger was shouting, Hagrid?”

Hermione went slightly pink, but Dumbledore smiled at her and continued, “Hermione, Iliana, and Ron still seem to want to know you, judging by the way they were attempting to break down the door.”

“Of course we still want to know you!” Iliana said, staring at Hagrid. “All of us do! You don’t think anything that Skeeter cow — sorry, Professor,” she added quickly, looking at Dumbledore.

But Dumbledore had fallen conveniently deaf, allowing her to go on.

“I just meant — Hagrid, how could you think we’d care what that — woman — wrote about you? We know you, we care about you, we love you, you big silly! Nothing she could say would change that.”

Two fat tears leaked out of Hagrid’s beetle-black eyes and fell slowly into his tangled beard.

“Living proof of what I’ve been telling you, Hagrid,” said Dumbledore. “I have shown you the letters from the countless parents who remember you from their own days here, telling me in no uncertain terms that if I sacked you, they would have something to say about it —”

“Not all of ’em,” said Hagrid hoarsely. “Not all of ’em wan’ me ter stay.”

“Really, Hagrid, if you are holding out for universal popularity, I’m afraid you will be in this cabin for a very long time,” said Dumbledore, now peering sternly over his half-moon spectacles. “Not a week has passed since I became headmaster of this school when I haven’t had at least one owl complaining about the way I run it. But what should I do? Barricade myself in my study and refuse to talk to anybody?”

“Yeh — yeh’re not half-giant!” said Hagrid croakily.

“Hagrid, look what my aunt and uncle are like! Look at the Dursleys! Worst anti-wizard racists in the country, I lived with them for a whole decade! And I turned out alright. I turned out weird, but alright. Heck, you could be the secret lovechild of a giantess and Voldemort himself and I wouldn't care!”

Hagrid jerked in surprise at the name so violently that he broke one of the legs of his chair. He stood up, and Dumbledore repaired it with his wand.

“D-don't say that name!”

“Iliana has an excellent point,” said Professor Dumbledore. “My own brother, Aberforth, was prosecuted for practicing inappropriate charms on a goat. It was all over the papers, but did Aberforth hide? No, he did not! He held his head high and went about his business as usual! Of course, I’m not entirely sure he can read, so that may not have been bravery.”

Iliana gave Dumbledore a sidelong look, as though about to ask a question, then seemed to think better of it.

“Come back and teach, Hagrid,” said Hermione quietly, “please come back, we really miss you.”

“Chandra just pinned Rita Skeeter to the ceiling with a Reverse Gravity Charm of his own design, Hagrid, in your defense. Well, and Hermione's defense, too,” Iliana said. “But we did it because she's the reason you're in here sulking, and we want you back.”

Hagrid gulped. More tears leaked out down his cheeks and into his tangled beard.

Dumbledore stood up. “I refuse to accept your resignation, Hagrid, and I expect you back at work on Monday,” he said. “You will join me for breakfast at eight-thirty in the Great Hall. No excuses. Good afternoon to you all.”

Dumbledore left, pausing to scratch Fang, and the three of them spent the next hour or two comforting Hagrid, getting him back to something close to his old self again. It seemed to work, as he showed them a picture of his long-dead dad, who looked tiny compared to an 11 year old Hagrid, who was already about 7 or 8 feet tall by then. He then went on to explain how Dumbledore stuck up for him after his dad died, back in his second year. How Dumbledore got him his job and his hut. And then he went on in annoyance about Madame Maxime, not that he acted like he knew they knew who he was talking about.

Finally, Hagrid asked, “How you doin' with yer egg, Iliana?”

“Well, Zoey accidentally figured out out at a party when a bunch of punch spilled into it. So we know we have to go into the Black Lake this February. We know how to breathe and we learned how to swim over the summer, but we don't know how we're going to keep warm down there. Hagrid, do you know any ways to keep warm under water in winter?”

Hagrid frowned. “Yeh know I can' tell yeh that, I'm a teacher! 'Gainst the rules, innit?”

“But we're not trying to win, Hagrid, we just want to survive. If we go into that water without some way of keeping warm, we'll either die or have to give up, which could end with the Cup killing us anyway. And Tier's shape-shifting is inadequate to the task.”

Hagrid looked at her sadly. “When yeh put it that way, I would. But I dunno. I never go in there. No need; the merpeople take care of it pretty well themselves.”

“Damn. Oh well. We'll think of something.”

In fact, thought Al, I did tell Cedric about the dragons. Maybe he'd be willing to return the favor.

#It's worth a try,# Iliana thought back.

Endnotes: If someone were to draw a picture of Hagrid dressed as a Shriner and riding a comically tiny motorcycle, and send it to me, I think I might have a Luna-style laugh attack or three. :D Also, if “Meep, meep! Vroom, vroom! Putt-putt-putt!” becomes a meme, that would make my year. :D (A girl can dream.)

If you've ever seen Steven Universe, and the scene where Yellow Diamond pulls this horrible face at being called “clod” by Peridot, that's the kind of face I was imagining Al making at Malfoy in this chapter.

You can thank White Squirrel's “The Arithmancer” and its sequel, “Lady Archimedes,” for the idea of the spell-layer peeling arithmancy that Chandra did in this chapter.

Also, the free-divers of Malaysia are real. They're called the Bajau people. Makes sense that in the Potterverse, there would be wizards among them.

The Lupin stuff in The Three Broomsticks was a set-up for a bad Latin joke that I decided not to go with. I was going to have Lupin corner them on a balcony in the castle and for Al to think "A fronte praecipitum, a tego Lupin." It's hilarious if you know what the meaning of the Latin phrase it's a pun of, but it'd just go over most people's heads.



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