Harry & Hermione
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chem prof - End Game
Chapter 10 - Changing Partners
Disclaimer and Acknowledgements
The Harry Potter universe and all the characters in it belong to J. K. Rowling. I get nothing out of this except enjoyment.
Thanks to Old Crow and Dee for prereading this chapter.
Chapter 10, Changing Partners
The following day was the first match for the prefect quidditch team. At first, no one noticed when Harry accompanied Parvati to the stadium and sat with her. After all, her sister and his girlfriend were playing in the match. As the match progressed, more and more of the surrounding spectators decided that there was something more interesting than a quidditch match going on in the stadium. All of a sudden there were two Gryffindors who were acting like a lot more than friends. By the end of the match, Parvati was practically sitting on his lap, and everyone was eagerly awaiting the confrontation between the jilted girlfriend and her evident replacement. But once again, they were to be frustrated. When the match ended, Harry gave Hermione a hug and congratulated her while Parvati did the same with Padma, then they switched. How on earth could they be so bloody civilized about this? Parvati and Hermione were acting like old friends, even though Parvati was hanging all over Harry, and he had his arm around her as they returned to the castle. Try as they might, the onlookers could detect no animosity from the Head Girl toward her former roommate. So it went down as just one more remarkable feature about Harry Potter, who apparently had the amazing ability to change girlfriends in a blink and still remain friends with the former one.
Dating Parvati turned out to be quite an adjustment for Harry. Knowing it was only for a short while, she wanted to get the most out of it and spend as much time with him as possible. He couldn't really blame her, but made it clear that he didn't really have a lot of extra time in his life. Her solution was to join his activities at every opportunity, in particular his workouts and training. Going running together didn't work out well at all, since she couldn't even come close to keeping up with him. He compromised on this by telling her that walking was also good exercise, so she happily joined him for a long walk every afternoon after classes.
Swimming together was an eye-opener in more ways than one. Parvati couldn't stop staring at his brief swimsuit, and her own choice of swimwear turned out to be even more distracting. She didn't have a swimsuit of her own, so she showed up the first time in a one-piece exercise outfit. Unfortunately, it was white, made of relatively thin material and turned out to be nearly transparent when wet. Harry ended up learning more about certain aspects of Parvati than he could possibly have imagined. Fortunately for his composure, she quickly decided it was more fun to watch him from outside the pool, so she climbed out and wrapped a towel around herself without really noticing how much she was revealing. From then on she just came and watched him swim without getting in the water herself.
Ginny was completely unsympathetic to Harry's plight when she learned of this experience, howling with laughter when he stammered out the story later. Hermione wasn't much better, but at least tried to cover her mirth before giving up and breaking into giggles. Ron and Neville just got glazed looks on their faces, Ron eventually being heard to mutter, "You lucky dog!" Ginny then magnanimously offered her old swimsuit (the one that 'pretty much covered up everything') for Parvati to use. Harry got her back by suggesting that Hermione had a nice string bikini that he might ask her to let Parvati wear while she was lounging at the side of the pool watching him, and she shut up rather quickly after that. Parvati's attempts at lifting weights with him went considerably better, although Harry still thought she did a lot more looking than lifting.
All in all, being with Parvati was something completely different for Harry, casual dating with a bit of hugging and snogging with no expectations and no thoughts of it becoming anything serious. Just a couple of teenagers having fun together. He wondered if that was what it was like for normal students.
The most difficult adjustment, though, was in his relationship with Hermione. He had to consciously remember not to hug her whenever he felt like it, and not hold her hand when they went anywhere together. And strangely enough, it seemed like Hermione had as much trouble remembering as he did. Usually she was the one who was good at remembering everything. Fortunately, Parvati was quite helpful at reminding him that he was supposed to be holding her hand, and giving her hugs whenever they parted.
The courtship of Hermione Granger, as Harry was later to term it, was a drama of its own. For the first week or two, the Hogwarts males held back before they could convince themselves that Harry wouldn't really have a problem with it. Also, they were all waiting to see if Ron would ask her out, but he had decided to get together with Hannah Abbott after the Halloween dance and was soon seen everywhere in the company of the blonde Hufflepuff. As a matter of fact, several new relationships sprouted up in the aftermath of the dance. Dean and Lavender were soon seen going at it hot and heavy in the Gryffindor common room and in the corridors, on occasion rivaling the show put on by Ron and Lavender the year before. Seamus was dating Padma, but like his fling with Parvati before the dance it was only a casual thing. Harry suspected that his Irish former roommate just wanted to be able to brag that he had dated twins. Of the seventh year Gryffindor boys, as it turned out, only Neville had the same girlfriend after the dance as he had the week prior.
And so it became open season on Hermione. Hufflepuff guys waited at the Great Hall offering to accompany her to her classes and carry her books. Her table at the library became standing room only for Ravenclaw males. Her presence was constantly in demand at the sixth and seventh year study rooms in the evenings. As it began to get out of hand Harry suggested, and Hermione readily agreed, that the Heads suite common room be off limits to suitors. There, thankfully, the two of them could relax together in some semblance of normalcy and spend time the way both of them most preferred, just being together and sharing things with each other. At those times just before bed, at least, they could return to the easy intimacy that had developed between them back during the summer.
At first Hermione was flattered and even overwhelmed at the attention, not really believing that it was happening to her. Unwilling to hurt anyone's feelings, she initially accepted the offers of assistance and requests for her presence with a shy smile and heartfelt thanks, which of course only encouraged the prospective beaus. Finally, after a few earnest advice sessions with Ginny, Lavender, and Parvati, she began to be more selective with her attention. Eventually the list of hopefuls was pared to Terry Boot, Anthony Goldstein, Ernie Macmillan, and Blaise Zabini. Reasoning that there was no need for her to make a choice and have an honest to goodness actual boyfriend right away, she continued to enjoy the company of all four.
After a few weeks Parvati reluctantly gave way to Padma, and now it was Harry's turn for the notoriety of having dated twins. He really didn't understand what all the fuss was about, since as far as he was concerned they were very different people. He certainly didn't appreciate all of the innuendo and suggestive questions about how the two compared (wink, wink). However, by the end of November Harry had made some important discoveries, or possibly realizations. He found that he was much more compatible with Padma than Parvati, and truly enjoyed being with her. She had a more serious approach to life than her twin, who was just too much into socializing for Harry's taste. Parvati wasn't so bad when it was just the two of them, but when she and Lavender were together it got to be a bit too much to take. On the other hand, Padma's intelligence and wit brought home to him just what kind of woman he preferred. Where dating Parvati had been just fluff and fun, he could see that a relationship with Padma would have the potential to get serious and become something much more. At least it would if he did not already have two women in his life.
That's right, he finally admitted to himself, two women. For it had now become obvious to Harry, perhaps because he was no longer acting like she was his girlfriend and realized that he missed it, that his feelings for his oldest female friend had gone far past what any stretch of the imagination could consider the bounds of friendship. Even though he still saw her every morning and evening, and spent more time with her than anyone else, he missed her, missed the more intimate aspect of their relationship that had once made him nervous to contemplate. He had developed those kinds of feelings for his best friend. And he had no idea what to do about it.
After all, he was still seeing Ginny, and most definitely had developed strong feelings for her. Loyalty to their relationship alone would keep him from pursuing anything with Hermione, but it was much more than loyalty. He was beginning to think in terms of spending the rest of his life with her, and amazingly that prospect didn't scare him the way it would most males his age. She was everything he could want in a girl, and was completely devoted to him. The problem was, he could also say the same thing about Hermione. Except for the physical part with Hermione, of which he had determinedly kept himself from even thinking about anything more than hugging and a few friendly kisses, he was just as comfortable with the idea of being with her on a long term basis. Again, he had no idea what to do about it, so he resolved to ignore it for as long as possible and hope that somehow his feelings would clarify themselves eventually.
He was pretty sure that Hermione had somewhat similar feelings for him. Looking back over the last few months, in hindsight that seemed to be pretty clear from certain looks and smiles that they had shared. The touching and hugging had gotten more intimate too. How often did your best friend sit on your lap, after all? And that kiss on her birthday should have been a real giveaway. But now that Hermione was in the process of dating other boys, there was even less likelihood of him acting on his feelings. He certainly wasn't about to mess that up for her.
To make matters worse, from Harry's point of view, the outer world was about to intrude yet again into his personal life. Rita Skeeter had informed him a while ago that he and Viktor were going to be on Witch Weekly's year end list of The Wizarding World's Most Eligible Bachelors. She had pointed out that there were going to have to be stories about him and he had reluctantly agreed to let her write one in order to get it as close to what they wanted the public to see as possible. At the end of November the day he was dreading came, as post owls swooped into the Great Hall delivering the long awaited listing to the hands of eager witches. Soon the air was full of delighted gasps, wishful sighs, and disappointed groans, and all eyes were on him as Parvati cheerfully passed him her copy, clearly pleased with its contents.
In addition to the main story, in which Viktor Krum was ranked third and Harry fifth, and which carried short sketches about each, there were companion articles with more in depth profiles. Rita had written the ones for Harry and Viktor. Viktor's article noted that the world's most famous seeker had given up the sport to join the fight against You Know Who in Britain and explained how the decision had been influenced by his friendship with Harry Potter. It described him as a private man who kept to himself, often appearing to outsiders as dark and brooding, but also powerful, idealistic, with a great deal of integrity, and very loyal. He would be quite the challenge for a witch who wanted to get close to him. Indeed, he had only been known to have one relationship, with Hogwarts student Hermione Granger three years ago when he was in Britain for the Tri Wizard Tournament. The article concluded that the witch that snagged him would have to be intelligent and willing to fight for what she wanted, but also very patient.
Of course Harry's article was the one everyone was most interested in.
Who Will Capture the Heart of the Boy Who Lived?
by Rita Skeeter
New to the Ten Most Eligible Bachelors list this year, but certainly not unfamiliar to the wizarding world, is Harry Potter. That's right, the Boy Who Lived has finally come of age. Good looking, wealthy, and just an all around nice guy, we expect him to be a fixture on our list for some time to come, or until some lucky witch snaps him up. And apparently, being a year older has meant more for Mr. Potter than just receiving an inheritance. According to the witches at Hogwarts, he has developed into a real treat for the eyes.
"He's always had those dreamy eyes, and that messy hair that makes you want to run your fingers through it, but we now he has a body to die for." "Those shoulders, mmm. And I'd love to get my hands on that chest." "I go to sleep at night dreaming about being held in those strong arms." These are just some of the comments from the lucky girls who get to see him every day at school.
And here's what the guys have to say. "There's no way we can compete with him. He could have just about any girl in the school he wanted." "My girlfriend would dump me in a minute if he looked at her the right way. But the thing of it is, Harry's such a nice guy you can't really be mad at him about it. He's one of the most helpful Head Boys we've had around here in years."
However, any witch who's interested in Mr. Potter has to be aware of the downside. The same thing that makes him so famous also makes him dangerous to be around. How many of us want a boyfriend who has a dark lord trying to kill him? More than once this summer he was the subject of a Death Eater attack. That would certainly put the damper on a romantic evening! Yes, it takes a brave witch indeed to be the girlfriend of Harry Potter.
Perhaps for that very reason, Mr. Potter has never been in a close relationship with any girl. He's dated his fair share while at Hogwarts, but none of them have endured, the longest so far lasting only two months. So ladies, he's definitely still up for grabs. Interested? Let's see what kind of witch most interests Mr. Potter. For starters, he has only dated Hogwarts students in his year or the year ahead or behind him. So if you're not at Hogwarts, perhaps you should put those love letters away.
His first serious relationship, first revealed by this reporter three years ago, was with Hermione Granger of Gryffindor house. That relationship ended when Miss Granger began dating Viktor Krum during the Tri Wizard Tournament (see accompanying article on Viktor Krum) but the two remained good friends. Later that year he briefly dated Parvati Patil, a fellow Gryffindor also in his year. The following year he had a relationship with Cho Chang of Ravenclaw. Coincidentally, Miss Chang had also previously dated a Tri Wizard champion, Cedric Diggory, whose tragic and untimely death has been previously related in an exclusive story by this reporter. Apparently, Tri Wizard champions seem to prefer the same sort of girl.
Last year Mr. Potter dated two different girls, Luna Lovegood of Ravenclaw and Ginevra Weasley of Gryffindor. Again, both relationships ended under friendly circumstances, and both girls are still good friends with Mr. Potter. That seems to be a recurring theme in Harry Potter's love life. Without exception, he has only dated girls who he has known for some time, and who are already friends, and he remains friends with them after they part company. This has been confirmed by every girl he has dated who is still a student at Hogwarts. That dreaded relationship-ending line, 'let's just be friends' really seems to apply in his case.
Mr. Potter has been more active in his dating life since he attained his majority. Already this year he has been involved with three different girls, Hermione Granger (again), Parvati Patil (again), and the girl he is currently seeing, Padma Patil of Ravenclaw. That's right, Harry Potter seems to be able to break every rule of dating. He dates his friends. He remains friends after the relationship ends. He repeats relationships. He even dates sisters. And somehow it all works for him.
The final tally? Three Gryffindors and three Ravenclaws. Apparently Mr. Potter prefers his women to be both courageous and intelligent. And according to the Hogwarts male population they have included some of the prettiest witches at the school.
So there you have it ladies. If you're a smart Gryffindor or a brave Ravenclaw, and if you're already good friends with Mr. Potter, you may have a chance with the Boy Who Lived. Just keep your wand handy for those pesky Death Eater attacks. The rest of you, better luck with the other wizards on our Ten Most Eligible Bachelors list.
Harry was sitting at one of the tables with Padma on one side and Hermione on the other. On the far side of Hermione was Terry Boot, her current suitor. As he read through the article, he found himself sinking lower and lower in his seat in embarrassment. Perhaps the floor would open up and he could escape down into the kitchen with the house elves. Unfortunately, some of his 'friends' had other ideas.
As if on cue, every Gryffindor seventh year male stood up and saluted him, and the entire Great Hall burst into laughter and applause. Then Ginny appeared, with Colin in tow.
"We've just got to get a picture, don't you think?" she exclaimed excitedly. Ignoring Harry's desperate headshake, Parvati clapped her hands excitedly and wholeheartedly agreed. A somewhat confused Luna was dragged over from another table, and Colin soon had the five girls arranged around Harry, who was still sitting at the table wondering how this was all happening to him. Padma and Parvati flanked him, both leaning toward him with their heads resting on his shoulders at chin height. Ginny and Hermione were above them, leaning in so their heads were almost touching his and a little above him, and Luna stood directly behind him so her head was above his. A few flashes of Colin's camera later, the photo that would forever after be known as Harry and His Honeys was created.
Then Parvati stood on a chair and called out to the onlookers. "Now let's fess up. Who provided all of these quotes?"
"Mine is the one that says he could have any girl he wanted," announced Justin Finch-Fletchley. "I don't think I'll get any argument there."
"I'm the one who said my girlfriend would dump me in a minute," admitted Seamus. "What?" he demanded as Harry looked at him in shock. "I dated Parvati for a week and the next thing I know she's with you. Then I tried Padma and two weeks later look who she's with." Once more laughter enveloped the Great Hall. "But really, I'm not mad about it," he laughed, joining with the rest of the merriment.
"OK, what about the girls?" Parvati queried, reclaiming control of the inquiry. "Who thinks he has dreamy eyes and wants to run their hands through his hair?"
"Me!" came shouts from several nearby tables. A short silence greeted this, then the laughter resumed. "OK," Parvati giggled, "We'll put that one down to the entire Hufflepuff house."
"Gryffindors too!" came a protest from another table. "And Ravenclaws!" a voice from yet another table chipped in.
"All right, all right, we all like his hair and eyes. But who gave the quote to Rita Skeeter? I'll admit to the one about his shoulders and chest. And it was as good as I thought it would be," she added wickedly.
"The hair and eyes one was from me," Ginny announced. To everyone's surprised looks she shrugged. "Hey, just because we're not going together any more doesn't make it any less true."
"All right now, last one, who goes to sleep dreaming about being held in his arms?" Fifty hands shot up amid whoops and whistles." Harry suddenly noticed that Hermione had gone very quiet, and very red, and had ducked her head so no one could see her face.
Hermione? He sent through their mental link. There was no response. Hermione was evidently embarrassed and didn't want him to know what she was thinking. He decided she must have been remembering about how he had held her during the night sometimes when he was comforting her last summer.
Once he figured that out he grinned and surreptitiously reached his hand under the table to give hers a squeeze and leaned closer to her. "I liked it too," he whispered to her. A second later she lifted her head and smiled shyly at him before darting her eyes away once more. Smiling, he gave her hand one more squeeze before returning his attention to the chaotic merriment in the Great Hall.
November wasn't all about romance. For one thing, Harry, Ron, and Ginny's quidditch team won another game. This time the opposing seeker knew what he was doing, so Harry couldn't pay as much attention to the rest of the game. When their team was ahead by 200 points, Ron started substituting again, and all three reserves got to play. Eventually, Harry ended it with a crowd pleasing low level twisting grab of the snitch, just ahead of his opponent.
For most of the school, however, November marked the month when one of Hagrid's dreams came true. He managed to bring a dragon into Care of Magical Creatures class. It wasn't a full size dragon, but it was still quite impressive. Charlie had used his contacts at the dragon preserve to arrange for them to have a juvenile Norwegian Ridgeback for two weeks.
The sixth and seventh years who had Care of Magical Creatures in the morning could talk of nothing else at lunch the day the dragon was unveiled.
"Could you believe that? I've never seen anything like it!"
"Sure you have. Don't you remember the tournament three years ago? Those were even bigger than this one."
"It was incredible the way Professor Weasley could control it! He said it was because he'd known it since it was just a month old."
"Hagrid's had his favorite animals before, but the way he was carrying on about that thing was ridiculous."
Just then Ron entered the Great Hall and made his way straight to Harry. "Harry," he whispered excitedly, almost before he sat down. "You're not going to believe this, mate. It's Norbert! Blimey, I can't believe how much he's grown in six years!"
"No way! Are you sure?"
Ron nodded, having already stuffed a roll into his mouth. After swallowing he elaborated. "Charlie told me. He's a little tamer than most of them since Charlie basically raised him from a baby. That's why they thought it was safe enough to bring him here." Harry waited while Ron took another bite and washed it down with some pumpkin juice. "You should see Hagrid, though. Goin on and on about his 'baby' coming back."
"Ron!" hissed Hermione from across the table. Ron suddenly clamped his mouth shut, realizing he'd said too much aloud. Padma was sitting on the other side of Harry, staring at them with a thoughtful expression. Then she gave him a smirk.
"Another one of you three's secret adventures, I take it?" Harry nodded with a guilty grin. She laughed and told them it was OK, she didn't need to know about it if they didn't want to tell her. After sharing a look with Hermione, and then getting a nod from Ron, Harry told her an abridged version of how Hagrid had received a dragon egg and hatched it in secret, and how the three of them had persuaded him to ship the young dragon off to Charlie's dragon preserve before it got too big. He left out the details of just exactly how he and Hermione had managed to accomplish that.
"Anyway," Ron went on after Harry had finished, "Hagrid was wondering if you two would like to see him." Harry could tell that seeing Norbert again was not high on Hermione's list of things she wanted to do that day, but he felt some sense of obligation to Hagrid and she reluctantly agreed to go with him. Padma indicated that she was perfectly fine with them going to visit a dragon without her, thank you very much.
Hagrid gave them one of his typically enthusiastic rib crushing greetings and took them out to the isolated area near the Forbidden Forest where Norbert was being kept. When they arrived Charlie was speaking soothingly to the young dragon, who seemed to be responding favorably. Hagrid explained that Charlie needed to calm Norbert down between classes, because the dragon got edgy when so many students clustered around him. Trying not to think of the possible bad consequences of an 'edgy' dragon, Harry stayed back a little and just watched for a bit.
Since merely staying alive had been his main priority when he faced the Hungarian Horntail during the Tri Wizard Tournament, he had not really taken the opportunity to carefully study a full-grown dragon before. It had a long serpentine body with large membranous wings that could be folded against its sides or unfurled to approximately the same length as its body, which looked to be somewhere between eighty and one hundred feet from nose to tail. It had a very large head, but aside from that it looked rather like a snake with wings. On an impulse Harry decided to try speaking to it in Parseltongue.
Norbet immediately straightened up from Charlie, rising almost forty feet into the air, and stared directly at Harry. Harry nervously fingered his wand, trying to remember what the best shield against fire was. It occurred to him that Hermione surely knew it, and since she was standing right next to him he was probably safe. Just as he relaxed a little Norbert responded.
"What human dares to speak in the noble tongue?"
Harry swallowed nervously and stepped closer. "Er, I'm Harry. Harry Potter."
Norbert bent forward, bringing his head closer to Harry. "I know you."
Harry found it hard to believe that Norbert remembered him. He had only been a few weeks old the last time Harry had seen him. "I …that is, my friend and I …" He began to gesture towards Hermione only to realize that she had his arm immobilized in a death grip. "We were the ones who carried you up to the top of the tower to send you to Charlie when you were little."
"Is that so? Then I am in your debt. I am sure that it would not have been pleasant growing up here in such a restricted space. It was much better being raised in the dragon lands with this kindly human." Harry merely nodded, confused. If Norbert didn't remember that, then how …?
"No, the reason I know you is that your name is legendary among the Dragon Kin." Now Harry was even more confused. Why would dragons care about the Boy Who Lived?
"Four dragons were taken from our lands several seasons ago and brought here to be used in some human contest. It angered the Kin greatly. But you alone fought with honor. You alone used the skills of the dragon in the contest – flying and cunning – instead of the human skills of magic. And you defeated the greatest of the Kin, but without causing injury to her or her eggs."
"Harry," hissed Hermione, pulling on his arm, which had gone nearly completely numb by now. "What are you talking about? It's almost time for the next class to start."
"I'll tell you later," he murmered back. "It's not anything bad, so don't worry." Directing his attention back to Norbert, he replied, "Thank you for the kind words. I am happy to know that the eggs were unharmed. And I am pleased that we were able to do you a service. But you don't need to be in my debt."
Norbert regarded Harry for a moment. "Nevertheless, I would like to do something for you in repayment. I assume that flying is something that you enjoy. Would you like to go flying with me?"
"Sure," Harry responded eagerly. Going flying with a dragon sounded like fun, if it wasn't going to try to kill him. "I'll need to get my broom."
"You misunderstand me. I would be pleased to give you and your mate a ride." At this Harry's eyes went wide and he turned excitedly to Hermione. But she did not seem to share his enthusiasm. She had been reaching out to sense his feelings since his last response to her, to reassure herself that whatever they were talking about wasn't too unpleasant, and she had a feeling of what had just been offered.
"Harry James Potter. Please don't tell me that you're about to ask me to ride a dragon with you." She winced a little inside as Harry's face fell.
"Come on, Hermione," he pleaded. "Look on the bright side. It has to be better than riding a thestral." Hermione tried to glare at him, but she couldn't maintain it against his pleading look. Her thoughts went back to the ride on Buckbeak and what it had meant to them both. Slowly a hesitant smile forced its way onto her face. Thinking she would probably regret this later, she gave him a reluctant nod.
Although the lunchtime conversation had been narrowly focused, it was nothing compared to the single mindedness of the evening's dominant topic.
Harry Potter and Hermione Granger had ridden a dragon!
The reactions were … let's just say Fred and George would have been greatly amused. Charlie looked like he was ready to drop to the ground and worship them. Hagrid was nearly in tears in happiness. Most of the students who didn't know them personally stared at them in slack jawed awe, mingled with fear. If the two Head Students could bend a dragon to their will, what could they not do? The teachers who were most familiar with them just shook their heads and tried to hide their grins. Those two had been doing the impossible for years, so why should they be surprised at this? The three muggleborn first year girls, Laura, Carolyn, and Kristin, who had given Hermione the Dragonriders of Pern book, ran to her squealing in delight. If they had not idolized Hermione prior to this, they certainly did now.
Harry and Hermione would have been much more uncomfortable about the whole thing were it not for their friends. To a person they were all impressed beyond imagining, but they also knew that Harry was uneasy with all of the attention, so they joked and kidded with them.
"Harry, you were only supposed to go look at the dragon, not ride it," teased Ron. Can't you get anything right?" If Ron was feeling jealous, he was hiding it well, Harry thought.
"Well, Ron, when an eighty foot dragon asks you if you want a ride, it's definitely an offer you can't refuse." That comment got a snort from Hermione, as well as chuckles from the other muggleborns. When their classmates cast inquiring glances in their directions, they merely shrugged. Movies were difficult enough to explain to wizards, much less movie quotes.
"Harry Potter, what do you think you were doing?" demanded Ginny, her eyes flashing dangerously. When Harry turned to face her nervously, she continued, "Riding that dragon without taking me or Ron with you." At this her face morphed into a smirk and she punched him playfully on the arm, and everyone laughed.
"Believe me, Ginny, I would much rather that you'd been up there than me," Hermione assured her. The two girls' eyes met briefly, Ginny wondering if Hermione really meant it and Hermione wondering if indeed she had and if Ginny suspected that her reply might not have been entirely truthful.
"Harry, I think we can make some money off of this," Seamus declared. "Next time, have Colin take your picture. Can you imagine the market for photos of the Boy Who Lived riding a dragon?"
"Better yet," Dean chimed in. "Sell the rides. Just think of the marketing possibilites. 'Ride a dragon with the Chosen One. One minute for one hundred Galleons. Personalized photo, ten Galleons extra.'"
"Admit it Potter," came the voice of Tracey Davis from the back of the group. You're just trying to pad the list of your accomplishments for when they finally get around to giving you your Order of Merlin."
Harry just couldn't stop laughing as the comments flew at him faster and faster. He was fully aware of what they were doing, and he was happier than ever that he had such a great group of friends.
The most eye-opening reaction though, was from Viktor Krum. Eventually the story got to him, probably through Mrs. Creevey Harry thought, and he called Harry on his mirror a few days later. One of their concerns about Voldemort's recruiting efforts was that he might enlist help from the dragons. With his ability to speak Parseltongue, a direct appeal from him might be able to sway a few. When he learned that the dragons respected Harry, he urged him to speak with Norbert again, and send a message with him back to the Dragon Kin requesting that they not side with the dark lord in this struggle. The next day, Harry snuck out to the forest to make the plea with Norbert, and the young dragon pledged to do whatever he could to persuade the other dragons to not fight against Harry Potter.
At the beginning of December Harry received an interesting request from Professor Flitwick. At the beginning and end of every school year all of the students were given power level tests. They cast spells at a special metering device that was designed to measure the students' magical power. The levels were set so that a first year student's levels would be in the teens, a second year's in the twenties, and so on. The average for a wizard after graduation from Hogwarts was about eighty, and for a mature adult wizard the norm was a level of one hundred.
Harry had generally averaged in the middle of his class on these tests, while Hermione had usually been near the top. The year of the Tri Wizard tournament had been when Harry had achieved his best scores, which his teachers attributed to all the extra practice he had put in on mastering difficult spells during the tournament. Magical conditioning was similar to physical conditioning; if you practiced it a lot you got better at it, and your power increased.
Flitwick had been amazed at the beginning of the school year at how much Harry's power level had increased over the summer. At the time of his test near the end of sixth year he had been in the mid sixties. At the beginning of this year he had increased to the low eighties. It was unheard of for students to increase in power that much over the summer, when they were usually relaxing and not practicing magic very much. But of course, Harry and Hermione had been working hard on their magic all summer long, and the effort had paid off. Hermione had also been in the low eighties at the beginning of the year, up from the low seventies at the end of the previous year. She and Harry were now the most powerful students in the school. Ron's scores had increased also, but not as much, and he was in the top ten.
During the current term, Harry and Hermione had continued to be at the top of their Transfiguration and Charms classes (the only ones Harry was taking, and the only ones Hermione was taking that required a wand) and both Flitwick and Tonks had noticed that their power seemed to still be increasing. The power tests confirmed their observations.
McGonagall and Remus joined them in the third floor training room for the tests, as did Professor Longbottom who had also noticed their power increase during her private training with them. Their occlumency shields were now impenetrable. Casting a Reducto, which he felt was his most powerful spell, Harry was amazed to see that his three scores were 98, 100 and 101, for an average of just under 100. Hermione's averaged 96, and after a playful pout that he had finally gone ahead of her, she hugged him in congratulations.
At Harry's puzzled look, McGonagall explained that he was probably just a late bloomer. She pointed out his size and that he had always been small for his age but was now close to average height. And of course, the heavy training that they had been doing was continuing to help. In September they had been working hard for just over two months. They now had another three months of the strenuous regimen under their belts. If they kept it up they could expect their levels to increase another ten to twenty points by the end of the school year.
"Let me try again," said Harry, pulling out another wand. Except for Hermione, the others were startled to see Harry use a wand that was not his own, but kept quiet. He launched the spell again and this time the meter read 60.
Harry knew an explanation was required. "This is my Mum's wand. Olivander told me it was good for charms, so I've been using it in Charms class sometimes. At first I couldn't make it do anything, but I've been getting better with it." Remus stared at the wand in Harry's hand, nodding. He had thought it looked familiar. Harry continued, "I thought it might be a good idea to have a second wand available during a battle." Everyone agreed. Only three people in the room knew about the connection between Harry and Voldemort's wands, but even so a backup wand was a good idea.
Then Remus had another suggestion. He had noted that Harry's power increased with the level of his emotions. That in itself was not that uncommon, but it seemed to be more pronounced in Harry's case. He suggested that he try again and put some strong feelings behind it. Harry holstered Lily's wand and drew out his own, and tried to imagine how angry he was when the Death Eaters attacked the Burrow. The meter stopped at 109.
"Now try once more," Remus instructed, glancing at Hermione. "Imagine Voldemort putting Ron or Hermione under the Cruciatus curse. The image of Hermione writhing in pain filled Harry with rage and he hurled a blast at the target. 120. Panting, he turned and locked eyes briefly with Hermione. Even without their mental link she knew that it had been she who fueled his power surge.
"Harry," Remus said calmly while Harry settled himself down. "I assume you understand why we are doing this." Harry nodded. He needed to become much more powerful in a very short time in order to stand a chance against Voldemort. "There's a potion," Remus continued, "that can boost your power for a short time."
Hermione's eyes suddenly went wide. "We're brewing that in Potions this term!"
Remus nodded. "We'll make sure we have plenty on hand. You should try it out a few times before you have to face him to make sure your body is used to it. You can't take it too often, though, because your body will begin to break down with frequent use. But it can boost your power by another twenty percent."
"Harry!" Hermione suddenly remembered something. "Try it with your ring." Harry nodded and slipped his ring on his finger. Out of the corner of his eye he saw Hermione shudder as her necklace responded and a smile flickered across his face.
'Focus, Harry.' He smiled again as he heard Hermione's voice chiding him in his mind. She was right, he didn't need the image of where that necklace was resting in his mind right now. Clearing his thoughts, he calmly fired another Reducto blast at the target. It exploded!
Stunned, Flitwick created another one with double the strength of the first. Harry tried again. This time the measuring device read 201. Then bedlam erupted.
"Mr. Potter!" McGonagall was the first one to control herself enough to formulate a question. What on earth did you just do? The only wizards I've known who could score higher than that were Albus Dumbledore and Tom Riddle."
"That ring just doubled your power level," Flitwick pronounced. "You cast that without an emotional boost, correct?" Harry could only nod, amazed at what had just happened.
"Filius!" Augusta Longbottom spoke for the first time. "That must be a Ring of Power!"
"It can't be," objected McGonagall. "There are only three of those in existence and no one has seen one for more than a hundred years. They were all thought to be lost."
"A Ring of Power?" blurted out Harry, catching Hermione's eyes again. He remembered how she had teased him about Tolkien's One Ring when she had first examined his ring during the summer. He could tell that she was just as surprised as he was. What do you know, he smiled to himself, something Hermione hasn't read about. He noticed her mouth twitch slightly and he knew that she suspected what thought had just gone through his mind. He tried to look innocent and her mouth twitched again.
"According to legend, there were three Rings of Power," explained Longbottom. "One created by Merlin, one by Salazar Slytherin, and one by Godric Gryffindor. As Minerva just said, none have been seen for many years."
"Where did you get that ring, Mr. Potter?" demanded McGonagall.
"I'm not sure. It was either in the Black family vault or the Potter family vault." Remus suddenly stiffened as he recalled the excursion on Harry's birthday when they had obtained the rings and necklaces.
"Probably the Potter vault," decided Longbottom as she carefully examined Harry's ring. "I believe that this is Gryffindor's ring. The Potter family is among the descendents of Godric Gryffindor. There's no telling how many centuries this ring has been sitting in that vault, passed down from generation to generation."
Hermione suddenly had a terrible thought. "What if Voldemort has one of the rings too? Maybe that's how he got so powerful."
A realization struck Harry. "He did." All heads immediately swung in his direction. "The horcrux that Professor Dumbledore destroyed. It was Slytherin's ring." Slowly everyone nodded as they sifted the information in their minds and came to the same conclusion.
"Albus wore the ring last year, but wasn't affected by it," Flitwick pointed out. "Its power must have been removed when he destroyed it. The backlash from its destruction must have been quite powerful, given that it permanently ravaged his hand."
As Harry thought about it a bit more he grimaced. It was a good thing that Dumbledore had found and destroyed the ring. Now Voldemort wouldn't be able to use it against him. He wondered if the reason Voldemort had hidden it away instead of wearing it was that he was so egotistical that he thought he was powerful enough and didn't need to wear Slytherin's ring, or that he didn't realize the true nature of the relic that he had stolen from his grandfather Gaunt. Either way, they were very fortunate.
Hermione wasn't finished with that line of thought just yet. "What about Merlin's ring? Could Voldmort have that one?"
"No," declared Flitwick. "Merlin's ring would not work for a dark wizard. Indeed, it could be deadly to him." Hermione finally relaxed, satisfied with that line of reasoning. Harry came up behind her and hugged her to himself, and she leaned gratefully back into his arms. It had been an eventful evening.
"Mr. Potter," Flitwick said as everyone seemed to decide the evening's activities were over. You should put that ring on once a week or so to get your magic used to it. Unlike the potion we discussed earlier, your body can benefit from brief exposures. It is something like the exercising you are doing in this room. Over the long term it can make you stronger." Harry smiled as the thought occurred to him that his body wasn't the only one that would need to get used to him wearing the ring. A quick elbow to his ribs let him know that Hermione had deduced this thought as well.
"Professor Longbottom?" Hermione asked as one more thought came to her as they were leaving. "Why didn't Ravenclaw or Hufflepuff have rings?" Hermione, of course, was an equal rights witch.
"According to legend they had necklaces instead of rings. These necklaces were powerful as well, but were focused on defensive magic. You must remember, my dear, that society was different one thousand years ago. One story holds that Helga Hufflepuff's necklace was somehow linked to Gryffindor's ring so that she could transfer power to him in an emergency.
Harry and Hermione stopped abruptly. 'Ohhhh', each one's voice sounded in the other's head simultaneously. Then each one threw a hand to their mouths, mirroring one another, while their other hands automatically clasped each other. Remus turned to give them a thoughtful look but said nothing. Harry and Hermione shared a long look as they followed the others out of the room, coming to a silent agreement to keep this last little bit of information to themselves.
By the time they got back to the Heads suite, Harry and Hermione were beside themselves with excitement. As soon as they were safely inside she whirled and grabbed him in a fierce embrace. They both knew exactly what the other was thinking. For the first time since Harry had heard the prophecy, they could see a possible way that he might actually be strong enough to defeat Voldemort. It was a long time before they calmed down enough to go to bed that night.
A/N The term 'Dragon Kin' as the way dragons refer to themselves comes from The Halfblood Chronicles by Mercedes Lackey. It was my kids' idea to use it.
The movie with the line regarding 'an offer you can't refuse' is The Godfather.
I will be out of town for a while, so next week's chapter will be delayed.