- Cho Chang/Harry Potter Hermione Granger/Viktor Krum Original Female Witch/Ron Weasley
- Harry Potter
- Action Suspense
- The Harry Potter at Hogwarts Years
- Philosopher's Stone Chamber of Secrets Prizoner of Azkaban Goblet of Fire
Published: 02/06/2003Updated: 02/18/2003Words: 264,404Chapters: 34Hits: 87,813
Harry Potter and the Flying Squad
- Story Summary:
- Fifth year in Hogwarts. Even before terms start, Harry is involved in the defence against an evil attack from the Dark Forces, something which ``later will be called 'The Hogwarts Express Accident' ...``In Hogwarts, many things are different - most of all, the joining of all four``Quidditch teams in the 'Flying Squad', for patrol and exploration services.``For Harry, this looks like a path toward Cho Chang, except that - well, ``maybe this should really be left to the story itself ...``At any rate, expect Giants, Goblins, and house-elves to play their roles in ``this fic - as well as some new characters.
Chapter 08 - Invitations
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry's shift with his first team partner ends, however first there is an invitation in the Slytherin tower for Harry and another one in the Gryffindor tower for Bob.
- Author's Note:
- If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:
08 - Invitations
The air between Hermione and the other two was still chilly when they met for their first milestone. Before the meeting, Harry had warned Ron.
"For once, keep that big mouth of yours shut. If your remarks are the reason for the next crash, you might find yourself suddenly working alone."
"Blackmailing is addictive, isn't it?" had been Ron's reply. But he had agreed.
They talked formally and politely, with lots of could you's and Please and thank you's. Nonetheless, and to everybody's surprise, the milestone was a full success.
Harry as well as Ron had worked like crazy to get their papers finished, and to be ready for a presentation. The hope for using the spector had turned out vain; it was unclear whether access wouldn't be allowed or if McGonagall had just forgotten. After the icy period had started, Harry hadn't felt like discussing the issue with Hermione, so he hadn't pressed it with McGonagall either.
As a consequence, they performed the review in the traditional way, using the hall, more than once being forced to get rid of some spectator.
By the time they reached the end, Hermione's tight lips had relaxed a bit. "We're on schedule," she stated, "all of us ... Good."
Harry felt tense. This was exactly the situation in which Ron used to give some stupid remark, and it would blow the project to pieces.
It didn't come.
After a moment, Hermione's expression told him that she, too, had been waiting for it.
"There's just a minor problem," she continued eventually. "We need a meeting room. The library's out of question because we can't speak there, and this place here has too many ears for my taste."
"Well," said Ron, "I had an idea. But ..." He didn't finish.
"What's the problem?" asked Hermione. "Lost your speech?"
"No, quite the opposite, I'm saving most of it currently."
Ron controlled himself. "There's a room that would suit us, but I'm not sure whether I should suggest it. You might find that it has the wrong connotation."
"What are you talking ab- " Hermione stopped herself; obviously she'd caught the meaning.
For a moment, she seemed not to know what to do with her face. That was followed by some twisting around her lips.
To his regret, Harry saw her steadying again.
"Might this room be used for different purposes in the evening?"
"About once a week, yes."
The frequency of their dance lessons had dropped to that level and was likely to sink still lower; Fleur was more and more involved in evening meetings.
Harry admired how Ron had sent the message to Hermione, who of late had taken pains not to meet them in the evenings.
"I see." Sending messages was addictive too.
They waited. Eventually Hermione spoke.
"Okay. I shouldn't overreact about such subordinate details, as long as they are of no consequence."
Harry suppressed a grin. They were still walking on thin ice; the pressure Hermione had put on herself, with a schedule of seven O.W.L.s, was doing nothing good for her temper. He recalled her edginess for the most part of a year when she had done a similar tour de force two years ago.
Ron was about to say something, then thought better of it.
Hermione took her parchments and left.
Harry waited until she was out of earshot, then said, "Well, better than nothing. That's as close to a nice word from her as we might come these days."
"Ohhh, we shouldn't overreact about such dumb-ordinate seatails, as long as ..."
Harry's howling laughter made it impossible for Ron to finish. They were lucky Hermione had left the hall already.
"Satisfied with my performance?" asked Ron.
"Yes," answered Harry, "I'm proud of you."
"After such high praise from both sides, I need fresh air," snorted Ron and left.
Harry sighed. Recently, his friend was as testy as a bear with a pimple on its back. He wondered why.
They were all working hard, but it had to be something else that was annoying Ron - probably the Flying Squad. Harry avoided talking much about it, but there was no way stopping Fred and George, who liked to entertain half of the Gryffindor table with their stories.
In an attempt to balance things out, Ron had talked to McGonagall to get permission to visit Charlie and the dragons' nests. She hadn't even laughed at him.
* * *
Early the next morning, Harry had his last patrol with Bob. He still didn't know how the Gryffindors would be paired next, Hufflepuff or Ravenclaw.
During their flights, he and Bob had established a good relationship. Bob was a quiet guy, unlike everything Harry would have expected from a Slytherin.
At some point, Harry had said, "It's strange how I never noticed you all this time."
Bob had answered, "Not at all. You were more than busy paying attention to Draco, and I had no intention of being found near him."
There was little doubt that Bob was interested in details about Harry's adventures, but he never asked directly. It had made Harry feel free to tell some story or another.
One day, they talked about the Triwizard Tournament, about the trial in the lake in particular, and Bob said, "I recall the teachers discussing about your points, how that guy, what's his name - yes, Karkaroff, tried to put you down ... Anyway, you got rewarded by that French girl. And now she's here all the time."
Harry stiffened for a moment, but there was no sign that Bob had been trying to indicate anything. As if in apology for his suspicion, he asked, "Want to hear how it was down there?"
Just for a split second, Bob gave him a surprised look, which he dropped immediately. His extreme self-control fit more to the Slytherin pattern.
Then he answered carefully, "I'd feel privileged. But before you start, I want to offer you a deal. I'll show you some unknown territory, and you'll let me share that privilege with some friends of mine."
It took Harry a second or two before fully realizing what the offer meant - an invitation in Slytherin Tower.
He swallowed. "Yes, I'd like to meet those friends."
After a moment, he added, "Actually, I have a surprise in stock. I'll tell you also why that territory isn't totally unknown to me."
The evening turned out remarkable. The first minutes felt awkward; they were filled with small talk from both sides. Then Bob took the initiative by pointing out how Madam Hooch's decision was going to open new horizons for all of them. After these words, people speculated whether this had really been her own decision or one of Dumbledore's clever moves.
Then Harry told them how he and Ron had once made a visit to their tower, using the Polyjuice Potion. The Slytherins listened with interest, but apparently the subject of Draco Malfoy was too sensitive to be discussed further.
Finally, Harry told the story of his underwater adventure, stressing how stupid he'd felt learning that there had been no risk for the underwater hostages. This time, his audience felt more relaxed, and the evening ended in comfortable chatter.
When he left, Bob said, "I'll take you down the hall. I don't want to spoil the evening just because somebody has a fit finding you here."
Seeing Harry's look, he added, "Some people still have trouble getting used to the new situation. Being in the Flying Squad is a big advantage."
Harry answered, "You're right. Some people in Gryffindor would have a heart attack if they found me here."
* * *
The morning air was cold. Harry met Bob outside. Today, they would take the usual route in reverse, dragons' nests first, Giants' camp last.
Harry was in the lead. After their initial difficulties with the different broomsticks, they'd learned to keep the formation. That was important because, at least in theory, the front man took the higher risk.
They'd also learned that reality might be totally different and therefore the leader had to look back every now and then.
After an uneventful patrol, they arrived at Hogwarts where they touched down and dismounted.
Bob said, "That's been our last flight, Harry. It was a pleasure to team with you."
"Thank you, Bob. You know, I've learned a lot from you."
"About flying? Certainly not."
Harry grinned, grew serious again. "No - about Slytherins."
Bob's eyes sparkled very briefly.
"I've learned something more," added Harry, waiting.
"Which is?" Bob's face was expressionless.
"Never to play poker against you - I'd lose my last Sickle."
Bob laughed. "You'd find yourself in company." He paused, then said, "I wonder what will be the next pairing?" The new assignments would be published this evening.
"Me too," said Harry thoughtfully, being reminded that his chances of meeting Cho next were fifty-fifty. Then an idea struck him.
"Listen, what do you think about hearing it from our captain?"
"You mean - "
"Yes, I still owe you an invitation. That's the opportunity."
Bob started to grin. "Yeah, that sounds wonderful. I'd like to hear the comments of your teammates about mine."
Harry laughed. "Well, you know, I should warn you. The Weasley twins are really merciless."
"That's okay; they have to live up to their reputation."
They agreed to meet in the hall, then went inside to have breakfast.
Harry had intended to announce his guest immediately. However, reaching the table, he only saw sleepy, sullen faces. So he decided to wait until later, when this sensitive news would find a friendlier atmosphere.
* * *
Their first class was Astronomy. Professor Sinistra had finished with planets and the solar system; the new subject was other stars.
She spoke about light years, raising protest when she explained that a light year was a distance, not a measurement of time. Her statement about the speed of light being a limit which couldn't be surpassed launched another protest.
"And what about apparition?" asked a student. "You travel from here to there in the blink of an eye."
The teacher pointed out that no distance on earth was long enough to withhold the light even a tenth of a second.
"Imagine you could appear on the moon," she said. "It would take a wizard about one second."
There was a discussion while Harry thought about his feelings when travelling with a portkey. Finally, they agreed to accept light years as a measure of distance without going further into the depths of physics, especially since the new subject was focused on stellar constellations.
Professor Sinistra presented the diagram of a constellation, promising they would use the spector once the basics of astro navigation were settled.
Harry felt very pleased to hear this constallation was called Centaurus, named after an ancient guy by the name of Chiron. But disappointment followed immediately - these stars weren't visible in the northern hemisphere.
He raised his arm. "Professor, what's the sense in presenting a constellation we can't see?"
Sinistra pointed to the brightest star on top.
"That's the reason," she said. "Alpha Centauri. It's also called Proxima Centauri because this is the star closest to Earth ... about four light years."
Another arm came up. "What about the others?"
The answer baffled the class. They learned that the other stars in Centaurus were up to six hundred light years away.
Ron's arm shot into the air. "Professor, this constellation is nonsense. Those stars don't really belong together."
"An excellent observation, Mr Weasley - five points for Gryffindor. But still, our earth-bound perspective is the basis of star catalogues."
Then Sinistra explained how stars in a constellation were named with Greek letters like Alpha, Beta, Gamma, and so forth, in descending order of brightness.
After class, Ron said to Harry, "I still don't know what all that has to do with magic, but who cares. It's so neat, letters and numbers ... Much better than those crazy planet orbits of last year. I guess I've found my fourth O.W.L."
"Astronomy??" Harry didn't trust his ears.
"What's wrong with it? Hermione does Arithmancy about magic numbers; I'm doing Astronomy about non-magic numbers."
Harry felt a nasty sting in his stomach. He was trailing behind!
Hermione had announced seven O.W.L.s and had rattled off their titles. Ron had talked about four, now he had them together. He, Harry, didn't even know how many he would do, not to mention their titles.
Giants and the Patronus were all he had, his tinkering with the idea of a Transportation O.W.L. had suffered a severe blow from that light speed stuff. He didn't want to be caught in a discussion about advanced physics; until before, the topic had looked so easy to survey.
With another sting, he remembered his intention to write a list of his goals. The ink on that list had still to dry.
The next class, Potions, did nothing to improve Harry's mood; however it wasn't Snape he could blame.
After finishing with the fright killer, and after an extraordinary test with Neville Longbottom, who had stood his ground against a Snape playing his old self, the teacher had started another task for a brew which would make people feel happy.
Now he asked who felt ready to test it.
Harry elbowed Ron. "Give it a try."
"Because you sound totally out of sorts these days," slipped through Harry's mouth. It proved no good.
Ron exploded. "Mind your own business," he hissed. "That's all I need, a Veela-drunken hop-dancer telling me Be happy. Thanks - "
Snape's voice interrupted him. "Mr Weasley," said the teacher with amusement, "you sound so upset. That would make you a perfect candidate. What do you think?"
"I'm not upset," yelled Ron, "and I'm not going to drink that stuff."
Some time earlier, his behaviour would have brought him a detention at the least. Today, Snape remained totally relaxed.
"What a pity." The teacher held up a small bottle. "This is the antidote - our candidate will be cured at the end of the test. Ten points for trying - who's interested?"
Arms shot in the air. Of course, Snape chose a Slytherin student.
Harry hadn't volunteered; he felt frightened at the image of him spilling out his inner-most secrets.
For the rest of the lesson, silence hung between him and Ron.
Hermione, who had followed their argument without saying anything, didn't break the silence either.
* * *
At lunch, Harry informed the Gryffindors that he had invited a Slytherin guest for the evening. He explained who it was, and what Bob would expect from the conversation.
After some reluctance, Angelina agreed, and Fred and George promised not to disappoint their guest. But the agreement wasn't general.
"Making new friends?" asked Ron with a cold voice. "Good luck - Slytherin is the proper place to look, as the Sorting Hat told you long ago."
Hermione's eyes went wide at this remark.
Harry bit his lips. "Bob and I, that's a good relationship. I'm very careful with the word 'friend' - and my friends are very careful with their words about other people, houses or races ... Usually."
Rod said nothing. He just dropped his fork and left.
Hermione looked at Harry. "I'm sorry," she said. "I don't think he really meant it."
"I know," said Harry miserably. "It's about Quidditch - I mean the Flying Squad. Since Lee has been elected instead of him, mentioning it is all that's needed to make him skyrocket."
Realizing that this was the first conversation with Hermione since a while, he asked, "Will you join us?"
Hermione hesitated. "Why did you invite him?"
"I had been invited to Slytherin Tower."
It surprised her.
"This is my last opportunity to return the favour," explained Harry, "in this turn, I mean. He's totally different from what I'd have expected - that is, for a Slytherin." He told Hermione how he and Bob had met.
"Okay, Harry." She smiled. "Might nobody say I couldn't set aside a Friday evening for my friends."
Harry was grateful. At present, two out of three seemed the best he could achieve.
* * *
The afternoon was torture. History with Professor Binns stretched to one long fight against sleep, lost several times. Hermione had placed herself between Harry and Ron, alternately stabbing them in the back before their sleeping became obvious.
History was followed by Divination, forcing Harry and Ron to work as a team.
Professor Trelawney presented little pieces of wood, not much longer than matchsticks, called them 'I Ching', and could find no end to their origin and tradition. It was a Chinese system.
Harry would have been attracted more, with respect to a Chinese name that kept nesting in his mind, except that after Ron had uttered, "Chinese - how interesting," he didn't dare to show any excitement.
The theory was followed by practical tests. One of them had to ask a question and draw six pieces of wood, the other had to look up the resulting pattern in the book.
The descriptions used a strange symbolic language full of serpents, buffalos, and dragons, but Ron as well as Harry suppressed the funny remarks that came to mind.
Professor Trelawney had warned them. The question had to be serious; otherwise the answer would be confusing. Needless to say, neither Harry nor Ron were ready to ask a serious question in such an atmosphere. It was a total waste.
Supper wasn't too enjoyable either. The most remarkable difference from lunch was that Ron excused himself before leaving soon.
The other students kept asking questions about the evening guest. When they heard that Harry had already been invited to the Slytherins, he had to answer more questions about that evening, Slytherin Tower, and the conversation.
The Gryffindors seemed determined to present themselves at least as well as their former enemies. Suddenly, Harry looked forward to the evening with much more enthusiasm.
He met Bob in the Great Hall and guided him upstairs.
"Who wants to enter?" asked the Fat Lady.
Harry gave the password.
"In with you, my dear," she said, "and with this handsome young man." She was delighted when Bob replied with a slight bow, right arm crossing his chest.
They entered the Gryffindor common room and found the others waiting for them.
"Hello, folks," said Harry, "this is Bob ... Bob, meet our team - I guess you know all of them."
Angelina stood up. "Hi, Bob ... Welcome to Gryffindor Tower."
They shook hands, examining each other, obviously well pleased.
Bob did the rounds with the other girls, earning interested looks, even from Hermione. Before he could come further, the Weasley twins had reached him.
"Bob," shouted Fred, "without knowing you too well, you're the most significant improvement the Slytherin team has had in a long time."
George came forward. "Never mind, Bob - Fred doesn't mean that personally."
Bob laughed. "I've been forewarned. But Harry promised me you wouldn't shoot Bludgers at me."
George turned to Harry. "After all we've done for you? Just wait for the next Quidditch match."
Fred added, with some disdain, "In the meantime, we could use Ron."
At Bob's questioning look, he explained, "Ron preferred not to join us. But that's nothing to do with Slytherin, he hasn't yet gotten over the fact that it's Lee who inherited Oliver's job."
"Oh, I see ... Tell him, if there's anyone who can share his feelings, it's me."
The conversation turned to Quidditch, and teams, and how long it would take until Hogwarts would hold the next Quidditch tournament.
Fred took the opportunity to point to the Gryffindor trophy cabinet, in which the Quidditch Cup had the most prominent place. "Don't worry, Bob," he said, "rest assured that in the meantime, the cup is in worthy hands." Looking concerned, he added, "Far be it from me to rub salt into wounds - "
George confirmed, "True. Usually that's my job. He's the one to cut them open."
Bob hit back. "You were just lucky. Now you've met my teammates, and everybody can hear it's only nervousness that makes you talk that way."
The remark had the desired effect. The Gryffindors started to comment on their Squad partners for the past month, entertaining Bob with a mix of exaggeration and understatement.
Angelina asked Bob, "And how was your time with our Seeker?"
"I guess my visit here is the best answer to that question."
Looking at the three girls, Bob added, "I'd team up with Harry again any time, as long as we can't play against each other, but I really should ask Madam Hooch whether Seekers wouldn't do better with Chasers."
The compliment was rewarded with applause from the male students and with pleased looks from the girls.
Katie said, "That's a very interesting idea, although maybe Harry wouldn't agree."
Harry did his best to join in the laughter without going pink.
Angelina said, "That reminds me, it's time to find out about our next pairing," and left.
Harry listened to the speculations. He became aware that if it wasn't him who would fly with Cho, then it would be Bob.
Angelina came back, meeting expectant looks.
"Guests first," she said. "Bob, your next partner is as fresh in the job as Lee and you - it's Patrick."
Patrick O'Reilly was the Hufflepuff seeker.
"We team with Ravenclaw," announced Angelina to the others.
Harry exhaled deeply.
Tomorrow, he would meet Cho to talk about the schedule and to sign for the patrols. Then he would fly with her, and at one of these occasions, he had to ask her to the ball. The thought was no less than frightening.
Looking up, he saw Hermione watching.
She asked, "Satisfied with the draw?"
"Sure, why not?" Harry shrugged casually. "Anyway, a month from now Bob and I will swap team partners."
"Yes," said Hermione, "of course. How could I forget?"
Bob rose to say goodbye. He explained that he wanted to check with his own team, thanked them for the hospitality, then did the rounds again, collecting greetings for his teammates.
"Bob," said Fred, "it was a pleasure. Now that we know each other, I'll never be able to send a Bludger toward you."
Bob grinned, unbelieving.
"No, really," confirmed George, "we'll just use the club."
Chuckling, Harry and Bob went downstairs, where they shook hands.
"Harry, I'll see you around. Thanks for a great evening. Are the twins always like that?"
"No, although they don't need much preparation. But they can complement each other without thinking."
"Yeah, I know - It's terrific in a match. But still" - Bob grinned - "your Chasers are more impressive. Socially, I mean."
* * *
Harry was late for breakfast next morning. Entering the hall, he saw Ron and Hermione talking. By the time he reached the table, they'd stopped.
Ron looked calmer, slightly self-conscious. Obviously, Hermione had told him about the previous evening.
Ron didn't speak, and Harry didn't feel like being the first. It wasn't pride so much as the thought of the conversation lying ahead. He was still eating when first Ron, then Hermione left the table.
"Good luck with your schedule," said Hermione, not waiting for Harry's answer.
Looking over to the Ravenclaw table, Harry saw Cho talking with that other girl, Almyra. He couldn't understand a word, they kept their voices low, but it looked like an argument.
Finally, Almyra shook her head, stood up, and came to Harry's place. Watching her, he saw that Cho was leaving the hall.
He gulped down a bite. "Hi, Almyra."
"Cho asked me to tell you - er, she'll meet you in front of Madam Hooch's office."
"Sure, okay." Harry was bewildered. "Something wrong?"
"No," replied Almyra with some irritation, "she just didn't want to come over. Sometimes she's got a bee up - " She interrupted herself. "Never mind."
Then she chuckled. "Please don't mention it to her, but she's still a bit embarrased about her last remark."
Harry could remember the remark's every syllable. "Oh, that ... But I didn't mind, really."
"Maybe not." Almyra gave him a quick grin. "But she does. Anyway, don't tell her about this conversation. See you." With these words, Almyra left.
Harry no longer felt he had the patience to finish his breakfast. He quickly emptied his cup and went to Madam Hooch's office.
The door was open, Squad members passing by.
And there was Cho - standing close to the door, looking at some parchment in her hand.
"Hi, Cho. Sorry being late."
She looked at him, then back at the parchment. "I've booked us for late flights as much as possible - breakfast isn't my time of day." Her face came up again. "I hope that's okay with you."
"Yeah, certainly." Harry cleared his throat. "I mean, same with me."
He tried desperately to find something more intelligent to say. "Do you enjoy the Squad?"
"Short of Quidditch, yes."
Cho started to walk along the floor. Harry kept at her side, asking himself whether he was the only one wishing the floor might be twice as long.
"And you?" asked Cho after a moment. "Found any Dementors lately?"
Harry giggled. "No, Bob and I had a quiet time. I wasn't even able to meet Hagrid at the Giants' camp."
Glancing at her, he saw a shade of displeasure on her face. Just in time, and only thanks to Almyra's remarks, he could imagine why. Cho seemed annoyed about her own question.
She tried another. "I heard you and Bob got along pretty well?"
"Yes. He changed my opinion about Slytherins quite a bit. We even exchanged visits. It was fun."
Startled, Harry noticed how his remark held an implication that hadn't even crossed his mind. He hurried to wipe it off. "You know, with all those bad feelings between Gryffindor and Slytherin, and now that things have changed so much ... And we've got rid of the Malfoy gang ..." His voice trailed off.
"You mean - there's no need for us to do the same?"
His mind was working overtime. "Er - there aren't bad feelings between Ravenclaw and Gryffindor."
"No, not between the houses."
Harry looked in alarm, unable to respond.
"By the way," said Cho, "before I forget, our first patrol is tomorrow after supper ... Can we meet in the Entrance Hall?"
"Okay. See you. Bye."
Watching Cho leave, Harry felt a large chunk of desperation growing inside.
* * *
He had planned using the day for his O.W.L. work, but his black mood prevented him from doing anything useful. Without much spirit, he scanned some books, unable to find anything that would catch his mind.
The thought of writing a list of goals was ridiculous; right now, it would be considerably shorter than before. With some effort, he tried to create an outline of what his third O.W.L. about flying broomsticks might contain, drifting off to an image of Cho and him, fifty yards apart in the air as well as on the ground.
During the meals, Harry tried to appear neutral, but still had the nasty feeling that he wasn't very successful.
Several times, Hermione looked at him as if she wanted to ask a question.
He quickly looked at his dish at these moments. He also avoided glancing over to the Ravenclaw table, and left as soon as possible.
Another dance lesson was scheduled for that evening, the first after the air had cooled between him and Ron. Coming to his dormitory, Harry found a note that said, Please give my excuses to Fleur. Ron
At least one problem was solved.
When he arrived at the room, he found Fleur waiting. Myrtle wasn't there yet.
Fleur looked up, her smile turning to surprise, then sympathy. "'arry, what's with you? Where's Ron?"
"Hi, Fleur. Ron won't come today. He asked me to excuse him."
"So it will be just the two of us today."
"Yes." Harry grimaced. "Or maybe not even that. We might as well cancel it."
Fleur looked concerned, then she came over to him. He was dimly aware she was using her Veela power.
"Tell me, 'arry, what 'appened to you?"
He related the conversation with Cho, beginning with the scene at the breakfast table and ending with the prospect of tomorrow's flight.
"There's no need for me to ask her to the ball," he ended, "I know the answer. It's no, or something worse."
Fleur took his hand. "You'll never find out, 'arry, unless you ask 'er. If she says yes, you'll go to the ball with her."
Harry shook his head.
"If she says no, perhaps she means no, or perhaps she means yes."
Harry looked up. "Fleur, that's nonsense. Cho has no trouble expressing what she means."
Fleur laughed cheerfully. "But yes, I know - I used the meals to watch her a little."
"What do you think?" In spite of his misery, Harry looked expectantly.
"She ..." Fleur paused, then spoke again. "She's certainly a determined girl. But she's still a girl. If a girl says no, it can 'ave many meanings. The least you'll get is an answer; then you'll know more."
She gripped his shoulder. "Promise me that you'll ask 'er! Tomorrow."
"Yes, my friend." Fleur stood up. "I, your dance teacher, order you. 'ave you 'eard?"
"And now let's dance. Remember, I enjoy dancing."
* * *
Sunday was cool and windy. It hadn't rained for a while; the air would be filled with dust.
Harry spent most of the day in the library, checking for literature about transportation. He didn't find much about chimney travelling, probably owing to the fact that most wizards considered it as obvious.
Apparition was represented better. Scanning around, Harry tried to find a book which discussed the controversary between apparition and the speed of light, without success. This could mean that the issue was not relevant and that the dispute in Astronomy had been caused by simple lack of knowledge, or that he hadn't checked the proper places.
Best represented were flying carpets, probably because that technique wasn't common here. Harry made a list of the books he'd found; he would have to discuss the issue with McGonagall before investing time in something that might prove useless.
Lunch was a silent meal, which was common these days, until Ron suddenly asked Harry, "How was yesterday's lesson?"
"Nothing unusual, and nothing new. Actually, it was more conversation than dancing."
"A propos conversation. I'd like to talk with you after lunch. About - "
"Sorry - I'm scheduled for a patrol in a few minutes. Later in the evening would be okay."
Ron's lips tightened. "Maybe then."
Hermione said, "If you pass the Giants' camp, could you try to talk to Hagrid? We should visit the camp to get first-hand information for our Giants O.W.L."
"Sure," answered Harry, "except that it's difficult to meet him. So far, I haven't been lucky."
As an afterthought, he added, "I won't stay long. If a patrol isn't back in time and late for more than fifteen minutes, the others would raise hell."
Hermione was grinning. "And you're not alone. If you can find him, tell Hagrid to meet us here. We haven't talked since we got back to Hogwarts."
"Okay ... See you."
Harry went to catch his Firebolt. In the Entrance Hall, he looked around. Cho wasn't there yet.
He had time to prepare remarks, only to dismiss them immediately and without exception. 'Hi, Cho. Before we take off, would you like to go to the ball with me?' The answer would be enough to pull his Firebolt down to the ground. 'Cho, an idea crossed my mind. Why don't we go to the ball together?' They would never take off, due to a bad case of helpless laughter. He saw no way to address the issue in any reasonable style.
Somebody blocked his view. It was Cho.
"Oh ... Hi, Cho."
"Hi. Let's move."
She marched ahead. Harry followed.
They mounted their broomsticks and rose. Cho flew head, Harry tail. Her old Comet wasn't anywhere up to his Firebolt, and he - used to balancing out against Bob's Nimbus Two-Thousand and One - had trouble adjusting. For a spectator, it would have looked as if he was trying to approach her, then lose spirit and fall behind, only to try it again. Harry felt ridiculous.
Cho in front of him moved gracefully, correcting against the gusty wind with the slightest bend of her body. He admired her style, recalling the only match they'd played against each other.
The Giants' camp appeared below, the first turning point. Coming closer, Harry saw huge figures, then a smaller one. It had to be Hagrid.
He pushed the Firebolt, quickly closing the distance to Cho. Passing her, he shouted, "Wait a minute!" then swerved down to examine the face. Yes, it was Hagrid, watching the two broomsticks.
Harry dodged to the ground, stalled, and jumped off in a single fluid motion.
"Harry! Good ter see yeh!"
They hugged each other, Harry's ribs cracking dangerously.
Hagrid's face looked tired behind the broad smile. "Whassa matter, Harry?" He looked up. "That yer partner? Nice li'l bird."
Cho had followed and stood some yards away, looking mad. She had heard Hagrid's remark.
Harry turned quickly. "We don't have time to talk now, Hagrid, but we have to talk. It's about Giants. You know, we do an O.W.L. about them. All three of us together, Ron and Hermione and I. Can we meet at Hogwarts?"
Hagrid looked pleased at the news, then nodded. "No sweat, Harry. I'll be roun' prob'ly nes' Saterday. 'bout high time we had some tea tegeth'r."
"Okay." Harry stabbed Hagrid a last time. "Watch your little bones. Bye!"
He moved over to Cho. "Sorry - I forgot to mention it. Shall we move again?"
Her voice was strangled. "Do you expect me to chirp goodbye?"
About to grin, Harry thought better of it. "Please - Hagrid's a friend, I don't have that many. We haven't seen each other since - you know, on the train."
Cho mounted her broomstick, still furious. "Flutter up, partner. It's your turn to lead. If it so happens my little wings can't follow, too bad."
With surprise, Harry realized - it was possible to be angry at Cho. Perhaps her reaction to Hagrid's remark had worked this particular miracle.
Without a word, he mounted his broomstick and jumped up.
Once in the air, he held onto the Firebolt using only his knees, spreading his arms to both sides. Playing lark, he flew half arcs to left and right, using the surplus power of his broomstick to keep the pace.
Now that the wind came from behind, his cloak catched air when he changed direction. Harry suspected that he looked more like a scarecrow at these moments, but he didn't care.
At one point, it sounded as if the wind was carrying a giggle, yet he wasn't sure.
After a while, he steadied down to a normal flight.
They reached the dragons' nests. The animals were lying curled up, preparing for the night, faint clouds of smoke emitting their nostrils.
Charlie wasn't there. The other wizard waved at them.
Harry waved back. Checking around, he saw Cho doing the same.
Passing the Forbidden Forest, Harry used every break in the trees to push the Firebolt, dive down, stalled in mid-air, and return to patrol height. Such manoeuvers were his specialty, and the Firebolt the finest instrument to play with.
Of course, he was showing off, but then - wasn't it the purpose of the Squad to check and explore?
Glancing backwards every now and then, he saw that Cho was holding her course steady, too far behind for him to recognize her expression.
Hogwarts came into view.
Harry pushed the Firebolt, climbing up. With a side turn forward, he brought the broomstick into diving angle. Still pacing up, he rushed down and stalled at the stairs to the Entrance Hall, coming to a halt only inches above the ground. He dismounted.
Cho had arrived. She climbed from her Comet. "Did you have fun?"
"Yes," beamed Harry.
"Great." Then she confessed, "I had, too - watching from behind."
Harry lurched at the opportunity. "Er - Cho, could we talk for a minute?"
She shook her head. "Sorry, not today. We have to sign in, Almyra's waiting for me, I have to dust off myself - and this patrol caused me to skip my dessert at supper, so I'm just not in the mood ... Maybe next time."
Harry had listened anxiously. Fleur's words rang in his hears, about a No that could mean anything. Cho hadn't said she didn't want to talk with him.
An idea formed in his mind. Without hesitation, he used it.
"Tell you what. Sign us in and warn Almyra that you need a few more minutes. By the time you're back, I'll have a surprise for you."
Seeing her expression, he added, "A nice one, I mean."
Cho examined Harry's pleading face. "All right, I'll do it. It was curiosity that killed the cat, wasn't it? That'll be something new - a nice surprise."
She went upstairs.
Harry gave her a head start, then raced into the building and down to the kitchens.
He opened the door and met surprised looks from the house elves inside, their cleaning up almost finished. Smiles appeared when they recognized him.
"Good evening, all of you. Is Dobby here?"
Heads were shaking. "No, Master Harry."
He looked around. "Could you do me a favour? I need a nice dessert."
There was a moment of thinking before several elves headed for cupboards and cabinets. A small eternity passed, then suddenly he had a parcel in his hands.
Looking in, he saw a chocolate eclair.
"Thank you, you've saved me! Bye." He sprinted upstairs.
Nobody was waiting for him.
Had she been there and left? Panting, Harry tried to calculate how long it took to reach Madam Hooch's office, from there to Ravenclaw Tower, from there back ... How long had he been with the elves?
A figure crossed the Entrance Hall - Cho.
She reached him. "Here I am. Where's the surprise?"
Harry offered the parcel. "That's for you ... As a recoupment."
Cho took it, weighing it. She opened the package and looked in. Her eyes widened.
"That's ... I can't believe it." She looked up. "Harry, you've hit my weak spot ... Where did you get it, at this time?"
"I've got some little friends."
"Not too many, as I remember, but you've placed them very efficiently."
She took the eclair and started to eat.
"Let's go for a walk - I'm not going to meet classmates here with this in my hand. We'll see what'll be left for Almyra." She held the parcel to Harry. "What about you?"
"No thanks. My supply is - er, good enough."
They started to walk toward the lake.
"I don't know whether it's allowed," said Cho, "but then, who cares? Some people just aren't made for rules, what, Harry?"
Harry had a quick grin, then went serious. "Cho, I'd like to ask you a question."
"Now that really takes me by surprise. Ask."
"Could you consider ... I thought ..." Harry choked. "Do you want to go to the ball with me?"
Cho had stopped walking. "What? Which ... For heaven's sake, Harry, are you talking about the Christmas ball?"
"Why are you asking me now? That ball hasn't even officially been announced yet!"
Harry inhaled. If he was going to fall hard, at least he was still in mid-air; she hadn't refused immediately.
"Yes, I know, but - er, I wanted to make sure that at least I'm not too late asking you."
Cho laughed, stopping abruptly.
Harry was aware of her thought. It had been Cedric, being quicker a year before.
"You did it ... You're the first to ask me."
Harry waited for her to continue.
"But I wonder why you don't ask Ginny. She would be happy to accept your invitation - especially such an early one."
Harry felt as if he'd been exposed to blows. "I know," he said carefully, "and if you don't want to go with me, I might ask her in time. But - but I'd rather ..."
Cho waited a moment for him to finish. When he didn't, she sent her next blow. "Are you developing a taste for girls older than you?"
Harry said nothing, not knowing which answer was worse, yes or no.
"If so, what about our Liaison Officer from Beauxbatons? Wouldn't she be the most obvious choice?"
With shock, Harry realized that more people than just Ron and Hermione had registered Fleur's attitude toward him. Of course - Fleur had accepted to do the dance lessons secretly, but she simply refused to hide her feelings. So Harry got her natural attention, for example in the Great Hall.
Too weak to blush, he said, "Fleur teaches me how to dance, that's all. I - I didn't want to appear as clumsy as the last time, so I asked her ... Then Ron found out, and then Fleur taught both of us."
Cho had stopped eating, otherwise Harry's confession might have sent a bite the wrong way.
She examined him, a new look in her face. "I see," she said thougtfully. "This evening's full of surprises."
It seemed as if now Cho had trouble speaking.
"Listen, Harry," she said after a moment, "I don't know yet what to answer. A year ago, it would have been a pleasure - although then" - a quick grin crossed her face - "you certainly weren't a dancer."
The grin faded. "But things have happened since then. If I say yes, I don't know whether I'd be doing you a favour."
Looking in his face, she added, "Aside from that, I'm not sure whether I want to do you a favour."
Fleur had been right. At least he would find out the reason for Cho refusing to go with him to the ball.
Before he could answer, Cho had come to a decision.
"You protected me in the train," she said. "For that, I owe you one. But there are a few things I need to clear out. Before I give you my answer, I want to know exactly what happened in the tournament last year."
Her voice was gaining speed. "All I know for sure is, Cedric died and you came back with his body. Sorry, Harry, but that's been on my mind since then."
Harry felt slightly better. So that was the barrier which had built up, keeping Cho at such a distance.
The thought of feeling again the horrible events wasn't enjoyable, but he had found time enough to live with the memories. That was because he knew the details, in contrast to Cho.
Walking along the water, Harry told her about the third task in the maze, how he and Cedric had mastered the Blast-Ended Skrewt, how they had separated again, how Cedric was cursed by Viktor Krum, being cursed himself, until Harry could find a way through the hedges, how they had separated again, until the final fight with the giant spider had brought them together once more. He told her about Cedric refusing to touch the trophy first.
When he recalled his suggestion to take the trophy simultaneously, Harry had trouble controlling his voice.
After a moment, he finished his report in a flat tone, suppressing any emotion, like a battle report. "Both of us took our wands out. Then that figure turned, and a voice said, 'Kill the spare.' The figure shouted the Killing Curse, and it hit Cedric ... He fell and was dead."
He continued with the figure binding him, performing the ceremony that brought Voldemort back, and how Voldemort had summoned the Death Eaters and then tortured him. He told her how he could break the Imperius Curse, how the wizard duel had taken place and how the two wands had performed their combat. Then the shadows of Voldemort's latest victims had materialized, Cedric first, Harry's parents next, and then Cedric had asked him to bring his body back.
He finished, "When the arc broke and the four shadows went round Voldemort, I ran back, got somehow past the Death Eaters, reached Cedric - I mean, his body - summoned the cup, and came back."
At some point during Harry's report, Cho had started crying silently. Tears were streaking down her face, not even him saying Voldemort's name breaking the emotion.
After he had finished, she looked up, and Harry found there were more ways to fall in trance than from a quarter-Veela.
"Thank you, Harry ... I didn't know ... Yes, I can imagine how you two ... Cedric had told me how you two helped each other ... Harry" - she took his hands - "I didn't think you were the one who killed Cedric, but - all the time I sensed some feeling of guilt in you." She pressed his hands harder. "Now I know where it comes from - you offered to take the cup at the same time as Cedric, and ... that's why. ... Please, Harry, don't feel guilty, you're not."
Harry didn't know what to say. He didn't know whether he could ever look away from Cho's face, in which the dust and the tears had made an interesting pattern.
Then Cho got on tiptoe and, close to his ear as if surrounded by people, she whispered, "Right now I don't feel like dancing, but - er, if you still want to give me a try, I'd say yes."