- 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 19 - Exam Patrol
- Chapter Summary:
- Harry on squad patrol with Cho - only this is no regular patrol, this is hix exam he must pass to resume squad service. He is armed with help from everybody, but he has to face a determined opposition - with Dumbledore on top ...
- Author's Note:
- If this fic is truly English, then it's thanks to the efforts of two people:
19 - Exam Patrol
It was patrol time plus ten seconds. The weather was calm, with a slow breeze, not too cold, the sun hidden behind hazy clouds. That was good - they wouldn't be blinded by sunrays, no matter what course they were flew.
Harry and Cho crossed the lake, not too high, keeping to normal patrol speed. The water surface was flat, calm as the weather but dark. This was no area in which Harry expected an attack; hiding in the water seemed so much more complicated than someplace else. And besides, what would the merpeople think?
Or had they been hired? But then, how could they attack him? The first reasonable place would be over there where the other lakeside was coming clo -
A fiery spurt flashed across the water, hitting the shielded head of his Steel Wing, and splashed off.
Harry pushed, trying to gain height.
Another flash was a miss, but just barely. Another one came almost as close. His left leg felt numb below the knee; Someone was shooting a rapid fire of stunning spells.
The next flash was again a hit, but Harry had directed the Steel Wing toward the spot where the flashes were erupting, so the hit bounced off from the protecting shield. Lying flat on his broomstick, he moved slowly and carefully ... God bless the curse-deflecting front shield, but how to escape? As soon as he exposed a part of his body, it would be a matter of seconds before he was hit.
Using quick, short movements, Harry manoeuvered in a semi-circle, losing height for better protection. Anxious not to expose his legs again, he tried to bypass the origin of those flashes ... The progress was frustratingly slow; he was going to remain the focus for quite a while. Another hit was reflected off his front shield, and when his eyes could see again, there was something black - no, not coming toward him, approaching that spot - it whooshed past - a blow!
The flashes had stopped.
Flying in a wide arc, Cho reached him and shouted, "Dust bomb! Now he's sleeping."
Harry gave her a thumbs up. "Could you see him?"
"Looked like Flitwick, but I'm not sure."
That tiny wizard, fainting at the first opportunity? Then what could they expect from people like Snape?
"Cho!" Harry gestured toward his left leg. "They got my leg. Can you ...?"
Cho came closer and pointed her wand. "ENERVATE!"
Harry's leg felt normal again. One done ... How many more to go?
* * *
They passed the lakeside. A double ambush, thought Harry, hundred yards apart - that would have plucked him out of the sky while the students back at Hogwarts still could watch. Why hadn't it been a double?
Simple: they had something better.
His eyes scanned the ground, left to right, back, left to right ... From experience, they knew that it worked better this way than in a continuous scan. The short moment of mind-relaxing, when the head moved back to the other side, was essential in holding the level of attention. Nothing on the ground, time for -
The shout had sounded choked, and pained. He wheeled around.
Cho, sitting crookedly on her broomstick, her left arm holding the right, was pointing at ... a Bludger!
The thing came wheezing in an arc, awfully fast but still there was time enough to scan the air - where was the second? ... Was there a second?
The Bludger closed in.
Harry shot upward and let the Bludger hiss through under his feet.
Turning, he watched it go in another arc ... Would be Cho again, which gave him time to scan, a spot over there, growing, couldn't be the second Bludger, too big for that ... A broomstick rider! But he could see no pale spot where the face should be - was the rider hooded?
Whoever it was was coming toward Harry fast.
Harry accelerated as hard as possible, was kicked by the Giant-like force, held by the belt, and pulled forward while speeding up incredibly fast, somehow he had to look back without losing speed and direction ... Flat on the Steel Wing, he bent forward, diving, his head down; glancing along his body, he saw the other rider, still closing in but slowly.
One more push, with the Steel Wing straight again, would take him out of reach ... And then?
The rider would turn and attack Cho, or hunt them all along the patrol. So he had to be stopped, by - yes, that would do!
Harry straigthened the Steel Wing, slowed a bit, and waited a few seconds. Then he jerked his body upward, then backward.
The Steel Wing went up like a prancing horse, only much faster, driving a loop. Harry was pressed into the saddle; he felt his view darkening ... hold on, keep conscious ... This manoeuver had to be carried out fast ... He reached the top, felt his vision brightening again, and he flew down, around, the figure ahead hadn't followed, couldn't follow, had no Steel Wing. It twisted, desperate to see Harry how. Harry broke out of the arc and dived, hand on his wand, get the sling ready, Steel Wing straight ... speed okay ... At the last possible moment, he braked.
The figure was slumping; in a second, it would fall -
"Hands on your broomstick!"
The hands were on the handles again but still unsteady. Harry flew yards away, ready to grab the unknown rider by his cloak.
"Slow down! Head to the ground!"
At a slower speed, they reached the ground.
"Dismount! And now give me your wand!"
Harry's wand was ready, pointing at the figure, but of course there was no resistance; the wand came out and almost dropped to the ground, then it was in Harry's hand.
He stepped back and looked around; was there another Bludger?
At some distance, up in the air, Cho held her position, occasionally outflying a Bludger that came buzzing by about twice a minute.
Harry turned back to the motionless figure in front of him. "Recorrigo!"
The figure awoke.
"Who are you?"
The right hand grabbed the hood and pulled it up. Madam Hooch!
She didn't smile. "All right, Mr Potter - I'm out of the game. Can I have my wand?"
Harry eyed her suspiciously. "What means out of the game - er, Professor?"
"I won't do anything else against you." She stretched out her hand. "My wand, please."
When Harry gave it to her, she didn't thank him, didn't look friendly at all - well, who would like being put under the Imperius curse ...
He asked, "What about that Bludger?"
Madam Hooch's lips were thin. "That's your problem. Remember, I'm out of the game."
Bloody witch ... Harry jumped up without another word and pushed, not as hard as before. He reached Cho within seconds.
Cho's eyes didn't leave the Bludger. Her left arm was on the handle, the right arm limp at her side.
"Are you hurt?"
"My right arm, I can't use it. And you?"
The Bludger was there, Cho ducked, then found time to look at Harry. "Where's the other guy?"
"On the ground, neutralized ... It was Hooch."
Cho grinned. "Did she like it?"
"She didn't look that way - but what's more important, that Bludger isn't stopped yet." In a few seconds, they would have to dodge it again.
"Sorry," panted Cho, "I forgot my club."
Club ... Maybe on the ... no - something better! Harry had an idea.
"Cho, speed up! Lleyrin has a club!"
Could a Steel Wing outperform a Bludger? Yes it could, except that it was better to stay below maximum speed, as they found out while dodging the relentless attacks of that stupid ball.
Close to the Giants' camp, Harry left Cho alone with the Bludger and pushed forward. When he reached the camp, he swerved down to Lleyrin's hut, stopped, but kept the Steel Wing in the air; it seemed a useful tool when talking with a Giant.
Harry heard steps - the Giant chief was there!
The door opened and revealed the huge figure in the frame. Lleyrin, seeing him, stepped out.
"Harry - you called me."
"Lleyrin, we need your help." Harry pointed toward Cho, who was approaching fast. "A ball's chasing us ... you have a quarterstaff - "
Lleyrin turned and reached inside, didn't even disappear in the hut, and then he had the long piece of wood in his hands. He walked to a spot with more space around, the quarterstaff ready, its club end in the air.
Cho had watched him. Now she pushed, slowed, then looked around. When the Bludger came back around in another arc, she pushed again, reached Lleyrin, stopped, and then backed away.
The Bludger closed in.
Lleyrin's quarterstaff moved at half height. The club end went up, slowly first, then it whipped through the air with a loud clank, and the Bludger was hit backward and downward. It hit the ground but rebounded instantly.
With a jump, Lleyrin reached it and grabbed it before the Bludger had found time to gain speed again. The Giant returned to his hut, a twitching Bludger in one big hand. "Harry, can you tell me how to calm that ball?"
"No, Lleyrin. It must be jinxed, but even a normal Bludger needs a box to be put into."
Lleyrin disappeared behind his hut. Harry heard some sounds, another clank, and then Lleyrin appeared again, hands empty.
Cho came back.
Lleyrin looked at her. "Cho Chang, you were the little cute one for me, until Harry gave me your name."
"Lleyrin ... Thank you for your help." Despite her words, Cho's face showed pain.
The Giant chief noticed her expression. "You are hurt. Come in for more help."
Both Harry and Cho dismounted and followed Lleyrin into the hut.
Inside, Lleyrin turned and said, "Watch your arm," then he picked up Cho by the hips and put her on the table. A second later, Harry was moved the same way.
"Let me see your arm," said the Giant.
Harry helped Cho with her coat and with the sleeves. Cho's teeth were clenched; at one moment her breath came in a hiss, then the arm was free. It looked swollen and had a dark bruise just above the elbow.
"Let me feel it," said Lleyrin. His fingers touched her arm, probed, pressed gently, raising a small groan from an otherwise quiet Cho.
"The arm isn't broken," he explained. "Cho Chang, do you have the time to cure it?"
"So I thought. It'll take me a moment to prepare what we need." Lleyrin turned to his cabinet. "Harry, do you want to tell me what you and Cho Chang are doing?"
Harry explained the purpose of their patrol exam, and how they had come across a set of Steel Wings. Meanwhile, Lleyrin busied himself with some dried plant, then a powder, before he added water and started preparing a liniment.
When Harry had finished, Lleyrin smiled. "So you have found your solution, Harry."
"Yes, Lleyrin - provided we pass the exam."
While stirring the semi-liquid mass, the Giant said casually, "Harry, I wasn't entirely honest with you. The story of Bodragh no Wonders has of course an end."
Harry stared at him. He felt tricked again, particularly as Lleyrin appeared to have no intention of saying another word.
"Lleyrin, will you tell me the end of the story?"
The Giant looked at him. "Yes, Harry - after your patrol."
After another moment, Lleyrin pulled something out of a drawer. Harry recognized it instantly; it was Ron's present, the flask with the dragon blood. Holding Cho's arm with one hand, the Giant poured some of the dark fluid onto the bruise, then spread it carefully with his thumb.
After a moment, Cho's face relaxed.
Now Lleyrin took a piece of a fabric that looked like linen but was obviously smoother. He put the liniment onto it, then fixed it around Cho's arm. He didn't ask Harry for help on the finer details, but he didn't need it.
This done, he said, "Cho Chang, try moving your arm."
Cho moved her arm, apparently tried to bend it. The arm came up a bit, then dropped down again.
"It's better," she said. "Actually, it's a lot better than a minute ago, but that's all I can manage."
Lleyrin had watched the movements. "If you want, Cho Chang, I can make it move. It will be painful for about twenty seconds, or I can make you faint first, so you won't feel pain."
"Twenty seconds? Do it, Lleyrin."
The Giant nodded. "Harry, hold Cho's other arm."
Harry took Cho's left hand in his own. His right hand held her upper arm.
Lleyrin's hands took Cho's right arm. "What needs to be done is to move it up and down ..." Still at his first words, he had started to bend Cho's arm rapidly.
Cho gasped. Harry felt her grip tighten in his hand and saw that her face was going white, her eyes were closed, there was air hissing between clenched teeth ... Then she relaxed.
Lleyrin continued to move and bend her arm, slower now, still for a minute. Then, apparently after sensing her own muscles taking over, he let go.
"Cho Chang, now you can do your patrol."
"Thank you, Lleyrin." Cho's voice sounded shaky.
Lleyrin had another powder, which he poured into a cup, small for a Giant, but still big for humans. He added some water, then came to Harry.
"Harry, this is a potion the Giants sometimes use for dangerous tasks. It stimulates clear thinking and suppresses pain. When the effect is gone, you will feel as if you've worked two days in a row. Cho Chang can't have it - it doesn't go well with her cure."
Suppresses pain? Harry took it and drank. The taste was bitter but otherwise nondescript.
"You'll feel the effect in less than a minute."
Two hands took Harry and put him on the ground. A moment later, Cho was moved the same way.
Lleyrin said, "We'll see each other again, Harry and Cho Chang. I owe you the end of a story - both of you." The door closed.
They mounted their Steel Wings. Cho was moving almost normally.
"How's your arm?" asked Harry.
"Better by the second. How's your brain?"
Suddenly, Harry remembered Fleur's scarf in his pockets. Why hadn't he thought of it during Cho's treatment? Clear thinking ... Was this the first effect, to realize how stupid one could be?
"So I was the little cute one, eh?" Cho stared at him. "No longer. Why doesn't he call you Harry Potter?"
"Because I'm incomplete."
"Clever people, those Giants ... Let's go."
* * *
The blood was singing in Harry's veins. He felt brilliant, sharp, strong, he could hear the faintest sound in the distance, see the dullest shade of colour on the ground or in the sky. His vision was focused to all sides at once, so the slightest movement would catch his attention.
Trees were followed by bushes, then by a street ahead with a figure on it, walking, almost in their direction. The form seemed too huge for a human, so it had to be a Giant, however it seemed quite small for a Giant, and somehow familiar - it looked like Hagrid!.
What was Hagrid doing there? Was he walking back to the camp? If so, where did he come from?
The figure had noticed them and waved.
What side was Hagrid on? Certainly not with the others, it couldn't be ... Could it? Had Hagrid positioned himself to meet them on their route? If so, he'd chosen the best place - a clear view wide around, easily detectable, everything right ... Come to think of it, somehow that was atypical for Hagrid.
Harry dived down. Almost to the ground, a memory resurfaced in his mind, something someone had said, about ... Hermione had said it.
Harry's hand reached in his coat, found his wand, and had it ready, had it up when the Steel Wing came to a stop right in front of the huge shape.
"Harry - bin hopin' ter see yer."
Hagrid's left arm was up for a greeting, the right hand at his pocket -
Hagrid froze. "Hey, what's wrong with yer?"
Would Hagrid have reacted the same? Harry's wand pointed at the figure, his other arm gestured, giving Cho the sign to close in.
"Hagrid, just for the ease of mind: what did we eat on that island where you picked me up for Hogwarts?"
"Wha - gallopin' gargoyles, Harry, what kind of question's that?" Hagrid hadn't moved.
Harry hadn't either. "Just tell me, Hagrid."
"Yer serious? A meal years ago? ... Dunno, might'a bin sausages."
Had been, but ... Something more specific. "And what did you take away from my uncle?"
Hagrid's expression showed utter disbelief. "Harry - what ... Yer! I took yer 'way from that pig-headed Muggle!"
True, except that it was the wrong answer. "Hagrid, one last question."
Hagrid's face expressed the hope that the weird examination might be over soon.
Relief was spreading on Hagrid's face. "Which one, Harry? I know some of them - "
"CHO! IT'S MCGONAGALL!" shouted Harry, his eyes not leaving the figure. Calmer, he said to the false Hagrid, "Move slowly, Prof, you won't like it otherwise. Where's your wand?"
The Hagrid figure held its arms to both sides. Suddenly it started shrinking. The colours changed, the hair, the features - Professor McGonagall appeared before Harry's eyes.
In the first split second, he'd nearly shot a stunning spell. Now he watched her arms, watched also whether she would shrink even more - into a cat, trying to escape.
McGonagall stood quietly. "That's it, Mr Potter, Miss Chang. I'm out of the game." Her arms slowly folded over her chest, the slightest touch of a smile in her face. "You can continue your patrol."
Harry's wand didn't move. "Cho, take off. I'll count to ten."
He heard a rush of air behind him. For ten more seconds, his stare was fixed on McGonagall, who didn't move, didn't speak, didn't change her expression.
"See you, Prof." He was up, quickly gaining height.
* * *
When he reached the height at which Cho was waiting for him, he looked around. Cho's arm went up and came forward, showing a fist. Harry stored his wand and accelerated to take the head position.
Three done ... How many more to go?
Harry's senses were vibrating; the kick from the encounter with the Animagus witch, in combination with Lleyrin's drink, seemed almost too much to bear.
Back to the scanning routine: left, right, and back. There were fewer trees than before, plain ground with nowhere to hide. Soon, they were going to reach the first tree groups, which then would grow together, finally forming the Forbidden Forest.
They'd passed west of Hogsmeade. Somewhere ahead a spot came into view. It was shapeless, just a different colour than the surrounding. Harry's eyes focused on it, then he felt a buzz in his Steel Wing. Surprised, he looked down at the broomstick.
The luminiscense was glowing.
He aimed the Steel Wing to one side, then to the other. Was there a change in intensity? If so, what did it mean? Assuming the impact was stronger when hitting the Steel Wing from the side, the source of the invisible cursing had to be somewhere ahead.
He signaled Cho to come closer. Waiting for her, he continued to aim his Steel Wing to both sides.
"Harry, what's wrong?"
"My Steel Wing's under attack. What about yours?"
"Nothing on mine. What's the effect?"
"Nothing I can feel, just the attack warner. I guess it's ahead of us. See that spot over there? I'll take a closer look - don't worry when I'm reeling or rolling, that'll be just pretending."
Moving awkwardly, Harry flew forward, yawing back and forth to check the attack warner in different angles toward the suspected origin. Now the difference in intensity grew visibly, but even so, all the Steel Wing's reeling was only the result of his own careful feigning. Nothing in his control felt wrong. A short push of acceleration to check told him that his power control was also immaculate.
Nearer to the spot, Harry thought he could see some sort of garment, lying flat on the ground, clearly visible from far off.
Why so blatant? Why catch a patrol's eye from a far distance? If his suspicions were correct, if the attacker was an invisible wizard trying to put the Steel Wing under his control, then why -
Because it was a trap!
Harry accelerated upward.
At the same instant, a wave of pain hit him. His body twisted, a white-hot burning in his head scaled down his vision to a narrow spot - in a few seconds, he would lose control completely; only the Giants' dope kept the little remnants of his mind in order.
Could he escape? That would take too long, he wasn't going to make it, any moment now, he would ... His vision was darkening; reflexively, he swung around and pointed the Steel Wing toward the spot, and immediately felt some light coming back. That was the only solution - Viktor's game, pushing, gaining the speed that was necessary for it ...
His mind isolated the pain, forced his body flat on the Steel Wing, pushing, pushing, hand into the coat, there it was, which end, here, where's the belt, WHERE'S THE ... here, point, scratch, arm out, a white-glowing iron, not now, just a ... aaand ... go!
Sidefall upward outward a blow in his head lights going out a blow in his ears would the belt ... still light, steady, more light, only sky - STEADY YOUR COURSE, body forward, every inch a torture, ground coming into view ... Straight now, fading - had he fainted? No he wasn't, the pain was fading, he slowed, turning around, the pain wasn't as bad as before ... Where was that spot? There.
His body was trembling uncontrollably. At low speed, Harry flew back to the spot.
There was something glittering on the garment. It formed a circle in which a section seemed missing. In the center of that section was a shape, lying on the garment in fetal position ... Only now Harry saw that the eye-catcher was a quilt.
Cho had arrived. "Are you okay?"
No I'm not. "In a minute ..."
"Was it the Cruciatus?"
Registering his nod, Cho examined the shape, careful not to come closer to the glitter. "Who is it?"
"Who's left?" Thinking still felt difficult to Harry. "Must be Snape."
The thought woke some spirit in him. He dismounted and walked a few steps, with his arms moving and knees bending. He felt thoroughly beaten, but he was the one standing upright!
Cho asked, "Can we leave him like that?"
"We're not going to touch him," said Harry. "There's no time yet for sleep. When we find someone, we'll tell him to check here."
If they were to find someone, it would be another wizard who had to be fought down first ... Four done, and the dust bombs were gone. From now on, it would be wands-only. Or running for hide.
"From here," said Cho, "I'm head. Ready?"
He nodded, then walked back to his waiting Steel Wing.
Cho took off, keeping her position until he'd mounted his broomstick, then she flew forward.
* * *
Harry no longer felt brilliant. The pain was gone, but his body felt as bad as on the day when he'd moved furniture, working for some pieces and a lift. Lleyrin's drink was still running through his mind; otherwise, the effect had faded. Another attack of that kind would do him in.
Was it fair, that system? Had this patrol been a normal one, they'd have stopped and returned after the first attack, Flitwick's storm of stunning spells.
The sky was darkening, showing the first signs of dusk coming soon. Their patrol had already lasted longer than two normal ones. And one attack was still to be expected: from Dumbledore.
What would he try? Without surprise, Harry registered inside himself the bad feeling that it would be the end of their patrol. He could think about the outcome without a sense of desperation. Maybe he was too tired, or maybe it was because they'd already won four duels. There was a limit to everything.
Anyway, two thirds of the patrol lay behind them. Ahead, Harry could see the dragons' camp and light in the window of Charlie's hut. No hidden corner lay between their current position and the camp, so Dumbledore would be somewhere in the Forbidden Forest, or above, or between forest and school. How likely was another air attack? Not much, not against a Steel Wing.
Cho dived down and stopped. She dismounted, then walked to the hut. Harry could hear her calling.
A shadow appeared by the window and opened it. A flash hit Cho.
She twisted crookedly, her arms came up to her head, then she fell to her knees ...
Reflexively, still before he'd resumed thinking, Harry had started to push. He pushed harder, flat on the broomstick, his mind racing with the Steel Wing. There wasn't much room behind the hut, not enough to turn a loop, and anyway he didn't plan it that way.
The picture zoomed in at incredible speed: the light through the window, Cho kneeling, the curse now broken. Harry's hand was in his coat, had the firecracker, no fairy dust this time, fairy dust was out, for compensation, he didn't need to be out of the way, didn't need exact timing, what he needed was a bang, a deafening bang ... He'd reached the window and threw the piece.
The instant the firecracker was sent flying, he braked at full force.
A loud explosion - in the hut, it had doubled and tripled.
The Steel Wing stopped, just a little delay but enough to carry him ten, twelve yards past the hut. He dismounted, arm already in his garments. There it was - thin, silky, spreading over him, covering him: the Invisibility Cloak.
His wand ready, he sneaked, careful now, careful, no dry branches, no loud step, noise was more important than time ... how good that the dragon guards had cleared the ground and hardened the soil ... Not too close around the corner ... Slowly ... tiptoe ... Harry heard a voice.
He reached the corner; he saw Cho first, the wizard next, bending over her - Drilencu! The teacher's left arm was at her shoulder, his right arm held the wand, head turning -
The wand slipped from Drilencu's grip and flew through the air to Harry. He took it, threw off his Invisibility Cloak, and stored the wand in the place of his own.
"Mr Potter, with an Invisibility Cloak! I didn't know that. Anyway - "
In Harry's mind was white hot rage. "You crucioed her!"
"Sorry, but that's - "
"YOU CRUCIOED HER!" Harry moved closer. "You're sorry? You'll be really sorry in a second, I'll give you a taste of your own medicine ..." His wand was pointing at Drilencu; he registered Drilencu's face hardening, the teacher's gaze on Harry's wand -
"HARRY! HE'S A TEACHER!"
So what. In a moment, he would be a dancing teacher ...
Cho was still kneeling; apparently she had trouble getting up. She stared at him, eyes wide open, arms up, as though she were trying to protect Drilencu ... The moment broke.
Harry moved another step. "You're lucky, Professor." The words were spat out. "But I'll remember that. I'll make you remember it too - some day."
"Mr Potter - my role's that of a Death Eater. You knew what to expect."
"I did ... got it already, from Snape." Harry's eyes met Drilencu's. "Hitting me, that's one thing, I'm on exam. But you hit her, and that I'll never forget."
Cho came up, groaning.
Harry waited for her to leave Drilencu's reach. He himself wouldn't come within wrangling distance of that gorilla on legs, definitely not.
"Anyway," said Drilencu, "I'm out of the game. Mr Potter, can I have my wand?"
Drilencu's eyes widened, then narrowed. "Mr Potter, this - "
Harry interrupted him. "I don't trust you. Back at school - not here."
It was as if a blow had hit Drilencu's face. He paled, reddened, then took a step.
Harry's wand came up and stopped him.
After a second, Drilencu turned and walked into the hut. The door banged closed.
"Cho?" He glanced at her only for an instant, then his eyes were back at the hut.
"I'm okay ... No I'm not, but let's get away from here."
He waited until Cho was in the air. Watching the hut, he retreated to the spot where he'd dropped his cloak. He crushed it into a ball and put it into the coat. Repeatedly glancing backwards, he reached his Steel Wing, mounted, and jumped.
* * *
He followed Cho more closely than before. It was almost dark; the forest under them looked black, although not menacing. The Forbidden Forest held no risk for them today, dangerous were only places with their own people, the ever-caring teachers of Hogwarts.
One of them wouldn't be too caring in the near future, not after the insult of returning to the school without his wand. He, Harry, would make sure to pass the news around.
He tried to imagine how the next Defence Against the Dark Arts classes would be, but couldn't. He tried to find an idea of how to pay Drilencu back, and found none. He would ask Ron, or the twins ... He wouldn't ask Cho, she really might stop him.
So he concentrated on the flight again. Wouldn't it be the greatest joke of all if suddenly a real Death Eater appeared, recognizable only by its unkown face? Provided they came that close. Come to think of it, the face might not be unknown at all; he'd seen them, and would remember.
A bank of faint mist came into view. It was lying just over the tree tops ahead.
Cho didn't change course: the mist wasn't that dense, and returning straight back to Hogwarts was all that mattered now.
As he reached the first whirls, Harry could still see Cho deeper inside the mist. He saw her bending forward, diving, and with undiminished speed crash into a tree.
Almost at the same instant, his stomach revolted as the world turned upside down. The sky yawned under his feet, and the trees hung above his head.
He stopped reflexively.
This trick ... It was the trick from the maze in the Triwizard Tournament - no, not quite the same, he could feel himself sitting upright, only the world had turned, gravity pulling him into the sky's last daylight.
He inched carefully forward. Then he saw Cho - above him! She was hanging in a tree, motionless, it seemed, held by her belt as much as by the branches around. Her Steel Wing had stopped but was holding its position.
Harry's mind whirled. Cho wasn't above him, he knew it; she'd crashed into a tree, yes, and that's why she hung in that tree, except the tree stood above him.
Inching closer, he reached the tree, still beyond grabbing range. What was right, up or down? Lifting up in the tiniest steps, Harry stretched his hand and felt the tree top hanging down into the sky below. So it was really Cho what he saw, not a mirror image. He had to take her out of that tree.
Gently pressing against the branches, he moved his Steel Wing toward the trunk.
Lifting Cho was impossible. Then what? If he could pull her Steel Wing out of the tree, the broomstick would carry her and the belt would hold her to the next opening where they could reach the ground.
His arm outstretched, he stopped just in time. If he touched the Steel Wing, it would buck and probably break his arm. How to ... An idea crossed his mind.
He dug Fleur's shawl out and wound it around his hand. Carefully, he touched Cho's Steel Wing at its side, shrinking back at the same instant.
The broomstick twisted a bit, by far not as hard as the reaction at Viktor's test had been.
Viktor ... of course!
Harry reached under his coat, found the rope, threw one end over the cross-bar of Cho's Steel Wing, then tried to grab it from the underside. He failed once, again, then caught it immediately under the main bar. This had caused him to briefly touch the broomstick, resulting in another jerk but no blow in his arm.
Seconds later, with the rope through its own ring, the Steel Wing was tied to the leash.
He unwrapped his hand, then he took the rope around his wrist and pulled. A slight movement was the only effect. He was too weak, so his own Steel Wing had to do the work. He fixed the free end through his safety belt ring, then checked the knot.
Inching backward and downward into the sky, he pulled again. Pushing harder, he felt how Cho's Steel Wing was getting free, with Cho dangling at her belt. He went a bit farther down into the sky, all manoeuvers slow and careful.
Cho was free, hanging in the air at an angle somewhere between upright and lying.
Harry gained a bit more speed. He had to reach an opening quickly, and his reflexes had sufficiently gotten used to the inverse world. Seconds later, he felt another twisting in his stomach, then the world appeared normal again.
Glancing back, he saw a Steel Wing following like a dog, carrying Cho who seemed to move slightly. Accelerating more, Harry looked around for an opening in the trees. He found one to the left of their course. Moments later, their convoy arrived there.
He descended slowly. Immediately above ground, he saw Cho's arms move, breaking her slow fall. She was on the ground first, then he'd followed.
He dismounted, walked to her Steel Wing and, hand protected again by the Veela shawl, deactivated it. A hit on the button opened Cho's belt. He knelt at her side.
"Cho, Cho - how are you?"
"Dunno ... what happened? I can't remember. I feel dizzy, and - I'm going to be sick." An instant later, Cho was vomiting.
Harry guided her some yards away, where Cho slumped down.
"My head's hurting like hell. Harry, tell me, what happened?"
"You crashed into a tree, in that trick cloud which turned everything upside down. Don't you remember?"
"No. What do you mean, upside down? ... Ouch." Cho held her hand in front of her eyes, with something dark at her fingers.
Harry took his wand, said, "Lumos," and stuck it into the soft ground. Then he examined Cho's head.
She had a cut that was bleeding, a few bruises - nothing serious on the surface, only the disquieting lack of memory.
"Not ... it hurts." Cho's voice sounded weak. "And I'm so cold."
"Wait a second," said Harry, "I have something." He took Fleur's shawl and draped it around Cho's neck. "Here - that'll warm you, and it'll ease the pain."
"Hold me, Harry."
He sat down at her side, took her in his arm. "Okay, let's have a rest. You know, we're through - that cloud, that was Dumbledore's trick."
Cho wasn't interested in patrols and tricks. "It really works," she said suddenly, "the pain's not too bad. I'm still dizzy, but not the same way as a minute ago, it's something else ... Feels good."
This alarmed Harry; the head injury had to be worse than he'd thought.
Cho's arm came around his head, her head followed; next second, her body came around, lying in his lap. She smiled up at him. "Harry - kiss me."
Oh, no - the Veela shawl! Without it, Cho was head-sick, with it, she was lovesick.
"Please, Harry ..." Her arm tried to pull his head down.
There was a stomping, then branches were crashing.
Harry jerked his head up. His hand seized for his wand, then a shadow was hanging almost over him that made him relax. A Centaur.
Blinded by his own light, he couldn't recognize the face. Gently, he put Cho down to get up.
"Harry Potter, why are you coming here?"
The voice ... "Is that you, Firenze?"
"Yes, who else would talk with you?"
His eyes adjusting, Harry could see the light hair. "We had an accident," he explained. "Cho here - she's injured."
"The forest isn't a good place for humans, least of all for yourself." Firenze's head pointed in the direction where Hogwarts had to be. "There you'll find one of your own people, not too far away."
"Is he old? Silvery hair and long beard?"
Firenze nodded. "Yes. He'll help you. Go now, I'll show you the way."
So the cloud hadn't been Dumbledore's only trick. The Headmaster was waiting for them. So close to Hogwarts ... and with Cho injured ... No, thought Harry, not yet.
"Firenze, please, we need your help. Can you guide us around this man? Can you - can you take her on your back? She's too weak."
Firenze's hooves stomped the ground. "Harry Potter, you're straining my patience beyond tolerance. My brothers already think I'm crazy - "
Cho came up. "Harry, who - oooh, that's your Centaur ... He's so beautiful."
The situation was getting out of Hand. "Cho," said Harry, "this is Firenze. Firenze, this is Cho Chang."
Cho was on her feet, but unsteady. "Firenze, I have a picture of you ..." She staggered toward the Centaur. "Firenze ... fiery Firenze, fair-haired fairy horse ..." She giggled.
Firenze looked at her, then at Harry, who hastened to explain. "It's the shawl to ease her pain ... a Veela shawl."
The Centaur made a gesture. "Cho Chang's charming chatter." His front legs bent, then he lowered himself. "Heave her hips, Harry."
Harry moved Cho onto the Centaur's back. With her hands in his mane, she put her head close to his neck.
Harry took his wand, hand through the sling, ran to their broomsticks, grabbed Cho's, now only dead weight, and mounted his own.
Firenze was already trotting forward, getting faster. Harry followed, keeping the pace he couldn't have mastered on his feet.
Firenze followed paths, crossed under trees, avoiding underbrush. Harry heard Cho murmuring, laughing, seemingly happy with her ride. The Centaur was pretty fast; within minutes, they reached what first looked like another opening before Harry recognized it as the exit. They could see the lights from the school buildings.
Firenze stopped and knelt down. Harry ran over, took Cho, and moved her off the back. "Thank you, Firenze. Without you ..."
Firenze no longer looked angry. "You are in luck, Harry Potter." With a jump, he was gone.
Harry took Cho's hand. "Come, Cho, one last ride, and we're back - "
A voice said, "The patrol ends here, Harry."
He wheeled around, arm coming up, registered Dumbledore's figure, the Headmaster's wand ready, heard him shouting, "EXPELLIARMUS!"
Harry's arm jerked up, his grip already broken, then he felt a sharp pulling, much sharper than during the tests with Hermione; the sling was tensing, stretching - and relaxing. His hand caught the wand which now was pointed at Dumbledore.
Dumbledore's wand twisted, then steadied.
"Allow me to keep my wand, Harry." Dumbledore smiled. "It's a different technique from yours - imagine, the Headmaster disarmed by a student. That wouldn't do."
Harry slackened, shrunk. So close ...
"Anyway - as a real Death Eater, I would be defeated now. So I guess, I'm out of the game, Harry, what do you think?"
He stared, unable to speak.
Dumbledore came over. "Harry, Cho - you've won. Mount your Steel Wings and finish the exam." His hand was pointing toward the buildings.
"Yes, Professor Dumbledore," murmured Harry. He tried to store his wand, but found the slot blocked. "Professor, here - can you take it? I think it's better you'll give it back."
Dumbledore inspected the wand. "Drilencu?"
The smile deepened. "I'm not sure whether he'll like it more from me than from you. Didn't he declare himself out?"
"Yes, he did," admitted Harry.
Dumbledore examined him for another moment, then, without asking further, he took Drilencu's wand. Next second, he'd disappeared.
Harry turned back to Cho. She stood waiting, passively, caught in her Veela dream. Would she be able to fly the short distance? He decided to take the shawl off, better a safe flight with a headache than some weird actions.
Cho didn't like it. "No ... that isn't nice, Harry."
After a few seconds, something like clarity appeared in her eyes. Then she registered the lights from the school buildings. "Oh - Hogwarts."
"Yes," said Harry. "C'mon, in a moment we're there. Keep it slow." He watched Cho mounting and hooking her belt, then he followed.
They reached the entrance: nobody outside.
Cho moved slowly, like under a shock. He put his arm around her shoulder. They walked the stairs up to the Entrance Hall.
Opening the door, he recognized three figures sitting inside: Ron, framed by Hermione at one side and Almyra at the other. They sent a glance, then their heads snapped up, followed by their bodies.
Ron reached him two steps ahead of the girls. "Harry, Cho - you did it, yeah, you did it!" He was jumping, dancing. "You beat them, wow - one after the other ... We saw them coming in, their looks ... Boy oh boy, you should've seen Drilencu, his face - Harry, what did you do to him?"
Ron stopped. "And then - you didn't come back, and Dumbledore wasn't back, and we thought ..." Concern grew in his face. "Tell me, Harry - please tell me that you've won!"
Harry felt too tired for a grin. "Yes."
"YIPEEEE ..." Ron's howling echoed from the walls.
Hermione was beaming, jumping.
Almyra couldn't join in; looking at Cho's face had reduced her grin to relief, mixed with anxiousness.
Harry dropped the broomstick. "Almyra, please help me to take her to Madam Pomfrey. She's injured."
At once, Almyra was at Cho's other side. "Cho, Cho - what happend to you?"
Some spirit reappeared in Cho's face. "You won't believe it, Al. I got everything, from Bludgers to Cruciatus, and came through - and then, after nothing could beat us, I did it by myself."
"What?" Looking desperate, Almyra glanced at Harry.
"She crashed into a tree - Dumbledore's trick."
Ron could be calmed down enough to feel responsible for the signing-in and the broomsticks. Hermione would have liked to accompany them to Madam Pomfrey's rooms but then decided to help Ron.
Harry and Almyra escorted Cho upstairs. Cho didn't resist, her last energy having been wasted on her remark.
Madam Pomfrey examined the patient, not too worried. She listened to Harry's explanation, made a face, then let him show the wonder cure he'd used to tranquilize Cho.
She took the shawl, held it at her cheeks. Took it off quickly, handed it back. "Well, Mr Potter, you did what you could, but now let me take care of her in a more professional way."
A moment later, Harry was motioned out of the room.
He trotted down, empty and disoriented. There were sounds from the Great Hall - of course, supper time. Was he hungry? He didn't know. Something to drink, yes. He opened the door.
Heads turned, then the hall was in uproar, yelling, shouting, whistling, trampling; it started from the Squad members and spread along the tables.
Harry made a few steps, feeling stunned, then some Gryffindor Squad members on his side of the table hurried to guide him. He sat down, glancing mindlessly at the table, at the dishes.
Somebody put a cup in his hand - Hermione.
He took it, drank, held it. Hermione filled it again, he drank, held it. Hermione filled it. He drank half of it.
Hermione looked anxious. "Harry, are you okay?"
"So-so ... I got a drink from Lleyrin, some power stuff. And now I'm paying for it." The cup was empty again.
The other students were storming him with questions. He tried to answer, but couldn't find words. More questions. Suddenly, he felt as if he would break into tears any second.
Pleadingly, he looked at Hermione, who said, "Ron, tell them - not now."
Ron shouted, "Hey - leave him. Press conference's tomorrow at breakfast."
The pressure stopped. Harry drank more, tried to eat, managed a few bites, then looked around. There came Almyra.
He stood up, watched by many eyes, and trotted to the Ravenclaw table. Heads were turning, faces studying him, girls' voices whispering. He couldn't care less.
"How is she?"
"She'll be okay, Harry. It's a concussion, not too serious. Tomorrow at lunch she'll be back."
"Can I see her?"
"She's sleeping now."
He nodded. "Can I see her?"
Almyra's head, about to shake, stopped. She stood up. "Come, Harry."
They went upstairs. Almyra was talking with Madam Pomfrey, Harry heard something like "... minute, not more." then they were inside.
Cho was lying in a bed, sleeping. The cut and the bruises were already gone, her face looked clean, calm, beautiful. Cho in a night dress ... The little cute one who'd bombed Flitwick into dreams ... Almyra's hand pulled him away, so he followed.
He remembered dimly that Almyra guided him to Gryffindor Tower, made him sit down, and was back some time later with Ron and Hermione. They led him upstairs; Ron guided him into their dormitory and helped him undress.
"Fanks," said Harry's mouth.