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Suddenly the butterflies had come back in full force - they'd done that as soon as she left Teddy, actually. Victoire tried to ignore them. This couldn’t be any more dangerous than when she’d climbed the east wall of the castle with Dominique, could it? And at least she couldn’t get detention for this.
 

Everyone was shouting, and there seemed to be so many people in the stands - she couldn't resist trying to pick out Dominique or Louis or any of her cousins, but she couldn't see them anywhere.
 
Victoire realised she'd lost her concentration and snapped her gaze back to the arena, half-expecting to see a Hungarian Horntail coming charging at her. It didn't look much like it had when she'd peeked out before Oksana had gone on. For one thing, there'd been trees as opposed to still gently smouldering stumps - at least she could see that whatever she was meant to capture wasn't there yet, but it would have been nice if Oksana hadn't gone and destroyed all the cover.

 

A small blackish bubble popped up from under the lake and bounced over the wall, coming to a stop on the edge of the water. Small - well, at least it wasn't a dragon. It was probably going to be really fast or on fire or something though, Victoire thought gloomily.

 

The bubble popped, leaving seven goblin-sized, goblin-shaped creatures standing clustered together where it had been.

 

Alternatively, there were going to be a whole lot of them.

 

What were they? Not actual goblins, that would be illegal...nothing Victoire had experience with, at least. She moved forwards away from the wall, cautiously, and a few stones came loose under her boots and rattled as they slid across the bare rock. The seven goblin-things' heads snapped up and towards her. For a second, it almost felt like they were taking aim - and then the pack split up, three blurs heading towards what shelter the tree trunks had to offer and four towards the scree at the base of the cliffs. Crap, they were fast!

 

Victoire lashed out towards the trees on instinct - "Reducto!" - and they exploded into splinters. That wiped out their cover, and Victoire could see one of them moving behind the stumps -



"Stupefy!"

 

The red flash missed and cratered the ground, and before Victoire could try again one of the goblin-things leapt at her from behind. She dived sideways but slipped on the loose ground and tumbled down a slope in a shower of scree. On the bright side, the goblin-thing seemed to be fast but not very nimble - it overshot and kept going before skidding around in a wide circle like an old Comet 320. Victoire scrabbled to her feet and got her back against a spur of rock, trying to figure out their weak spot - lack of maneuvreability was all she had so far, but if she could aim right they might turn out to be crap at dodging as well - she'd only been looking out to either side, not above her. One of the goblin-things leapt onto her head.

 

Victoire screamed and grabbed at it on instinct before she even thought to reach for her wand, as it yanked out fistfuls of her hair and clawed at her face. "Stupefy!"

 

She only realized a second later that if she'd missed she would have Stupefied herself in her own face. Luckily, she hadn't, and the goblin-thing went limp and dropped to the ground. Another of the little bastards immediately dashed up, grabbed it by the feet and catapulted itself at her swinging its unconscious friend like a Beater's bat. At least Victoire was ready for that one.

 

"Stupefy!" The second one dropped, too. Victoire left them there and scrambled back up the slope - from higher vantage point she might be able to see them, though the disadvantage was they would be able to see her. All thought of strategic advantages, however, flew right out of her head as she straightened up at the top - wand raised warily - and saw with the little bastards had been doing.

 

Obviously, the two down below had just been stalling her. The other five had been collecting weaponry.

 

The five of them were all gathered by the remnants of the trees. Three of them were holding long sticks - well, long in comparison to whatever the little sods were - which they'd lit from the still-smouldering trees. The other two had collected up piles of loose stones, presumably to chuck at her head. Bugger that. If they were going to stand close together and make themselves a huge target like that, she was bloody well going to hex them, even if she didn't know any spells that worked on a group. Plus, if she could get the little bastards with the rocks to throw them –

 

"Stupefy!" she shouted, aiming for the ones with a torch. "Stupefy!" Both the ones she'd aimed at zipped away to her right, though one zipped in the wrong direction and almost smacked face-first into a rock. The other one dashed off to her left - her right side had better terrain, though, the one on the left would have to get across the lake inlet - they were trying to surround her? Victoire didn't have time to stop them, though, because the two with the rocks had scooped up double handfuls and were flinging them haphazardly at her - they wouldn't do damage like that, it had to be just a diversion. Bugger that.

 

"Protego specula!"

 

The gravel kerranged off the magical shield and reflected straight back at the two little bastards, though Victoire doubted it could do any significant damage (which might technically be a good thing, since she wasn't supposed to injure the animals too badly, but Victoire did have a sudden near-irresistable desire to put her boot through their skulls. She whirled around, running to her right back towards the Champions' tent, hopefully she could get out of the other three's circle that way - bloody hell, she hadn't expected to get anything that good at teamwork - hang on. The little bastards didn't talk. They didn't even chitter, which would have been what Victoire would have expected from looking at them. How were they organizing themselves if they didn't communicate?

 

... they were a hive mind.

 

It was a mad idea, but they were supposed to be facing 'strange and exotic' creatures, and it wasn't as if group-mind entities were unheard-of...Victoire just didn't know anything about fighting them. Still, if that was true then she had an idea.

 

She dived behind a boulder and moved until she was sure one of the little sods at least could see her, then took a deep breath and tapped herself on the knee with her own wand. "Geminio mendacia!" Nothing seemed to happen, but Victoire shifted back barely a centimetre and left behind a perfect static illusion of her own body behind her. Perfect. She muttered the incantation for the Disillusionment Charm and felt the familiar sensation of warm water running down from her head which meant it had worked. Now she should be harder to spot, so unless they turned out to rely mostly on their sense of smell or something –

 

She straightened up, eased out from behind the boulder, slipped on a patch of moss and, though she managed to catch herself, the noise of it rang through the arena and the little bastards' heads all snapped up at once, fixed on her.

 

Or unless she buggered it up by falling over or something, well done, Victoire. Fine, bugger that. Get close, cast a Confundus, and then even if she was wrong about the hive mind one of the little sods would still be walking around running into things which would be bloody wonderful and soothing.

 

She broke into a run, dashing across the arena directly towards one of the little bastards with a torch, still Disillusioned but it could obviously hear her coming; two of the other little sods started to close in on her. Victoire was not in the mood for that.

 

"Confundus!"

 

The spell hit the little bastard square in the gut and it doubled over, wheezing, which was wonderful and Victoire wanted to cherish that memory forever. The two running towards her slowed and stared blankly at the torches they were holding as if they'd forgotten what they were for.

 

Holy crap, her plan had actually worked. That made a nice change.

 

"Stupefy," Victoire said, and one of them keeled over just like Teddy did after a good night out. The other one went down just as easily.

 

After that, it was practically a cakewalk. Victoire tracked down the other two without much trouble and Stupefied one - the other attempted to flee, ran straight into a boulder, and knocked itself out. Hah. She collected all the unconscious little bastards up with a flick of her wand, muttered "Incarcerous" and coils of rope appeared out of thin air and wound around the heap of goblin-things until they looked like a very irritating ball of string.

 

Still, it would have been nice to finish on a dramatic moment; the cheering started off very erratic and hesitant before the rest of Hogwarts picked it up. Victoire stuck her wand back in her robes and trudged over to stand under the judges' box and wait for her marks. The headteachers, Uncle Percy and Finley were all conferring quietly, but there was an interesting spell Victoire's uncle George had taught her to deal with that: "Subausculta!"

 

She cupped her hands casually in front of her and listened to the tinny voices echoing out from between her palms. First, Professor Kohut:

"...have the least idea what the abaasy actually were-"

 

Abaasy, huh?  Victoire added that to her list of species she never wanted to keep as pets, below 'hydra' but above 'Hairy MacBoon'.

 

Professor McGonagall: "Some would say that that makes her discovery of the correct method in dealing with them more remarkable." Victoire loved Professor McGonagall. She really did. She was the most brilliant teacher in the whole of the universe.

 

"But she was trés slow about it," Madame Maxime pointed out. "And ze slipping-"



Victoire winced.

 

Professor McGonagall cut the debate short by getting to her feet and sending an 8 out of her wand. Madame Maxime, next in line, gave her a six. Kohut was a little better - she got a seven from him. Seven from Uncle Percy as well - did he think she'd done badly or was he marking her down so he wouldn't look like a favouritist? Hard to tell with Uncle Perce. Eight from Finwick - Victoire totted that up and came up with thirty-six. Was that better or worse than the Durmstrang champion had got? She couldn't tell from Professor Kohut's face.

 

Still, it was done and she didn't have any injuries worse than scrapes and grazes, that was something to be grateful for. Victoire headed for the exit, where she could see Teddy - his hair back to brilliant bubblegum pink - waiting for her and brandishing her bottle of Butterbeer.

 





Al leant back with a sigh of relief as Victoire left the arena. Not that he'd been seriously worried. Victoire was tough, she could cook edible food and duel and everything, there was no way a bunch of really short goblin-looking things would have beaten her. His dad wouldn't have been worried about her.

It was just a relief to see she'd done well, was all.
 
"So...so far, we're winning," Faith said.

"Oh, hurrah," said Grimalkin. He was leaning against Avery, and Lia was leaning against him. It was kind of like prefect dominoes.

"This is boring. Tell us if anyone starts to die," Lia said, closed her eyes and apparently went to sleep. Kitty looked a bit worried about all the dying.

"I don't think anyone will get seriously hurt," Al told her. "It's very secure."

"...suddenly I want Potter's cousin to die just so I can see the look on his face," Lia said. "Does that make me a terrible person?"

"Yes," Grimalkin said.

"Oh good," Lia said, and shifted so her head was resting a bit more comfortably on Grimalkin's shoulder. Several weeks ago, Al would have found that exchange very worrying and debated for hours in his head over whether they were actually serious.

"Are you all ri-" Al started to say to Kitty, but broke off mid-sentence as he saw a familiar bubblegum pink head advancing up the risers towards him. "That's weird...I think it's my godbrother Teddy!"

"Your what?"

"He's my dad's godson," Al explained, kneeling up on the seats to see better. "And I'm my dad's actual son, so logically he's my godbrother. My sister worked it out." Where was Teddy going? James was all the way over with the Gryffindors - "Teddy!" Al shouted down, and waved his arms. Teddy waved back and continued climbing leisurely towards the little knot of Slytherins while Al hopped up and down and yelled at him to climb faster.

When Teddy finally got up to where they were sitting he raised one hand in lazy acknowledgement and then Al tackle-hugged him in the gut.

"Ow, Al, quit it," Teddy said mildly, gesturing to Faith to budge up and sitting down between her and Kitty, with Al tucked into his side. "Hey, Benj-"

One corner of Avery's mouth twitched a fraction of an inch downwards for a fraction of a second.

"-don't mind me sitting here, no hard feelings, right? Don't wanna butt in on your territory, you know."

Avery kept reading and didn't look up. Teddy apparently took that as consent, though Al wasn't sure why Teddy would have needed it.

"Hey, Al. How're you?"

 

"I'm fine!" Al said, beaming. "How are you?"

 

"I'm miserable," Teddy said, breathing a great sigh of misery. "Ask me why I'm miserable."

 

"Why are you miserable, Teddy?"

 

"Vicky has been stolen from me," Teddy explained. "Cruelly swept out of my arms by Madam Zeller and abducted to the healers' tent before my very eyes. I barely got to give her her Butterbeer." He produced another one from his robes, twisted the top off, and took a swig. "Now mildly-alcoholic beverages are my only solace. Al, don't suppose you want some?"

 

Al shook his head.

 

"Oh good," Teddy said, taking another mouthful. "Who are these people, then? Friends of yours?" He waved a hand at Kitty, Faith and Score. 

Al introduced Kitty and Faith, but when he got to Score he hesitated - he had this vague idea that it might be bad to tell Teddy his name.

 

"I'm Score Malfoy," Score said levelly, looking dead at him.

 

"Cool, nice to meet you all," Teddy said, and drained his Butterbeer. Oh. Well, that hadn't been too bad. Still, Al wanted to get off that subject just to be on the safe side.

"Shouldn't you be at work?" he asked.

"I told them I had leprosy. Pretty sure they bought it." Teddy gazed soulfully out across the arena and said "I would gladly contract leprosy a thousand times for a chance to see my Vicky. Pretty sure of that."

"...I don't think Victoire would want to see you if you had leprosy," Al pointed out, trying to break it to him gently. "She'd probably write you really nice letters, though."


"Think you might be right, Al," Teddy said. "How do you think she did, anyway?"

"The falling down was funny," Lia said dreamily, head still pillowed on Grimalkin's shoulder. "I wish she'd done more of that."

"Right, cool," Teddy said, and then ignored them. "I think she did well - I dunno what they were, doubt she did either, but she figured out their weak point pretty quick." He grinned proudly.

 

"Avery," Grimalkin said, in a tone of scientific curiosity, "what would you have done?" Teddy leant back to look up at them upside-down.

 

"Recalled that abaasy have iron teeth, used the Magnetizing Charm on a convenient boulder and then the Incarcerating Charm on the resultant mess," Avery said absently.

 

There was a long, thoughtful pause, then Teddy said, "Benj, what are you reading?"

 

Avery flipped the book up to show him the cover. Journal of British Studies in Herbology, volume 178.

 

"Damn, I was hoping it would be a bestiary," Teddy said, and added in an aside to Al, "Does the omniscience ever get bor-"

The whistle blew again before he could finish the sentence.

"Beauxbatons!" Lia announced exultantly. "Please God, make something terrible happen to this one and I will be good... reasonably good ... as good as possible for the rest of my life."

Anthoine Aquestre advanced cautiously towards the centre of the arena, blanching as something massive erupted from the lake water - not a bubble like the last two but a structure of black opaque hexagonal panes, like some sort of crystal.

"Oooo," said Lia.

The crystal shattered, every individual pane breaking apart and falling to the ground, and revealed - a lizard, Al thought first, seeing the scaly skin and the long whiplike tail. But then whatever spells had been restraining the creature came apart and what he had thought was just one large head split apart and became nine small ones on the ends of nine long thin necks, jaws almost unhinging to show jagged razor-sharp teeth. It was a hydra.

"Oh hell yes," Lia said.





It was a hydra. It was a God-damned Hydra. Anthoine was actually stuck in an amphitheatre with a hydra and expected to capture it. How in the name of God could he be expected to capture a hydra? Capture a hydra without being injured, even, which was next to impossible -



He was going to be  eaten. There was no other possible outcome. He would be killed and horribly devoured to pieces.



The hydra started to heave its massive bulk up the slope towards him, every head hissing and swaying on the end of its neck, poisonous purple gases spilling from its mouths like water, and Anthoine realised he had just been standing and staring blankly at the thing and attempting to come to terms with his inevitable death for several seconds.



Enough of that. Since he was going to die, he planned to die a Frenchman, fighting to the last.



What would work on a hydra? Stunning Spells would just bounce off. It was strong enough to be able to tear through metal chains. If he only had to immobilize it for a second as opposed to indefinitely, that might just be possible -



He retreated cautiously as the hydra advanced, belching out clouds of poisonous fog that settled slowly to the ground around it. At least he didn't have to fight it in a cave, because then he would be absolutely doomed. How could he incapacitate it without Stupefy or the Incarcerating Spell? He thought he had a basic idea...



He edged forward, wand up, and the hydra hissed and stamped in response. The ground shook.



"Consopio, consopio," he muttered, waving his wand in slow, graceful arcs. "Consopio, consopio, consopio-" He had to be at least twenty feet away for this spell to work right, which wasn't very good, but he thought if he kept his guard up he would be all right. This spell worked better if you could make it sound 'lullaby-like' as well, the Charms mistress had said. Maybe Anthoine should try singing? Then he could capture the hydra while it was distracted by screaming in agony.

 

The charm seemed to be working: the hydra's heads were dipping towards the ground. Anthoine sidled closer, still murmuring the incantation. It couldn't be that easy, could it? The hydra settled its body closer to the ground, and one of its heads actually settled on the bare rock and lay there unmoving.

 

That looked good, then. Would just putting it to sleep be enough to count as capturing it? Anthoine sidled a little closer, and then realised that suddenly the hydra didn't seem as asleep as it had a second ago, and he'd just got within its range. One of the heads was lashing out even as he dived back, but he was too slow and its jaws closed on his leg.

Anthoine screamed as the hydra dragged him forwards, for a second too shocked even to cast a spell, but as the hydra started to haul him up off the ground he flailed at it with his wand and shouted “Relashio!”

 

The hydra’s jaws sprang open and Anthoine fell to the rock below. As the hydra hissed in irritation and darted in for another strike, Anthoine jabbed his wand at it and gasped “Brumenoire!”

 

A black cloud billowed from his wand and gathered around the hydra’s heads as Anthoine scrabbled back. There was blood pouring from the gashes in his leg, and it had already soaked all the way through his robes.

 

The hydra lashed out again, stabbing out with its heads at the area where he’d been and advancing slowly, heads swinging from side to side. Anthoine tried to get up, but his injured leg wouldn’t take his weight and he screamed as it folded up under him and pitched him into the ground again, and then screamed again as one of the hydra’s heads stabbed into the ground next to him. He rolled to one side as fast as he could and waved his wand wildly in the other direction, and the loose gravel on the ground shifted noisily. The hydra lashed out at that instead and Anthoine took the opportunity to cast a nonverbal Silencing Charm on the terrain around him and crawl out of range. The gashes in his leg were starting to burn – hydras didn’t have poisonous saliva as well as blood and breath, did they? It was searching for him even if it couldn’t see him, all nine heads spread out, questing, low to the ground. Anthoine huddled down behind a boulder and did the best he could to fix his leg up, which wasn’t very much. He could stop most of the bleeding, at least, and numb it a little.

 

Anthoine peeked up from behind the boulder – the hydra was advancing towards the edge of the arena, so the noise of the crowd must be confusing it now that it couldn’t see him. God damn it, outsmarted by a lizard – Anthoine climbed painfully to his feet and limped towards the slope down to the shingle beach by the inlet, away from the hydra. Even with the painkilling charms, every step sent pain slicing up right through the top of his skull, and when he’d got to the top of the slope he slipped and half-skidded, half-tumbled down it, mostly on his arse. He sprawled at the bottom, staring up at the sky and wondering if the hydra had managed to hear that.

 

The hydra appeared on one of the cliffs by the inlet, and though its heads were still shrouded in black smoke he thought they were turned towards him. That was a yes, then.

 

Anthoine crawled towards the water – almost his entire leg had gone numb now, and he didn’t know whether that was his own healing spells or hydra poison or if, looking on the bright side, he had managed to go to sleep lying on it in the last half-hour or so.

 

Once he’d got to the water, Anthoine pulled himself up to sitting, propped up on one arm, picked up a few pebbles from the beach and chucked them as far across the inlet as he could. The hydra seemed to hear that, at least, because it half-turned towards the sound. Anthoine threw a few more and scooped up water in his cupped hands to pour over his wound. He couldn’t feel the water falling on his leg.

 

The hydra started cautiously down the slope, testing the ground carefully with each foot before it trusted any weight to it.

 

Accio hillside,” Anthoine said, and an entire layer of earth and rock sprang off the side of the hill towards him, bowling the hydra over and rolling it over and over down the hill. Anthoine cut the spell off before the hillside could actually hit him, then threw rocks at the hydra and laughed as it ended up sprawled nearly upside-down at the bottom.

 

Finite Incantatem!” The cloud of black smoke dissipated and all nine of the hydra’s heads actually shrank back against its body, startled by the daylight. Anthoine threw a rock at it to get its attention, and every head snapped around to stare at him across the water.

 

“Eat me!” Anthoine shouted at it. “I’m injured and delicious! Eat meeeee!” Since he was trying to sound as scared and weak as he could, and most hydras were lacking in the knowledge of French, he didn’t think there was much of a risk of it being alarmed by what he was saying.

“I’m French! French people are naturally more delicious than any other nationality! It's the garlic!” he called across to it. The hydra hissed and hauled itself gracelessly to its feet, heads swaying drunkenly but all nine gazes fixed on him. Anthoine threw another pebble at it.

The hydra took one careful step into the water, and then another. How deep was it? If it was less than five feet all the way across, Anthoine would be in a very great deal of trouble. But why would the organizers have passed up a perfectly good chance to drown them like that?


"Glacio!"



The inlet froze over. First the surface, spreading silently from the tip of his wand like a ripple, and then the water below until save for its heads, the hydra was completely encased in ice.



Oh excellent, for once a plan had worked.



 The ice broke off from the beach with a crack, floating like an iceberg, and yawed to one side so that water ran in a fine sheet over the top. The hydra slammed one of its heads into the ice with a loud thud, but didn't seem to have damaged it at all. The head itself swayed drunkenly for a bit, then fell down and lay stretched out on the ice. Would Anthoine lose marks for self-inflicted damage?



He retrieved his wand, dripping water, from the ice-block, and pointed it straight at the hydra, which shrieked and stretched out its heads towards him, snapping their jaws.



"Euvasi!"



The water rose up, dashing the iceberg against the arena wall and crashing over it. The original ice split apart with a crack, but Anthoine had been ready for that. With another "Glacio!" it all froze solid, trapping the hydra against the arena wall, seven of its heads frozen in the ice and two outside, with their necks twisted at odd angles to reach the air. They snapped at him sluggishly.



Did that count enough as having captured it?



The whistle blew. That seemed to be a yes.



Anthoine tried to push himself to his feet, but his injured leg gave out and he fell back down on his face. That wouldn't do. He got his uninjured knee under him ready to try again, and then one of the animal handlers barked something at him in English, pushed him over and knelt down to examine his leg. The other three had gone over to check on the hydra.

Personally, Anthoine hoped it died of hypothermia.






"Is he all right?" Kitty asked fearfully. She'd scrambled back up the rows of seats when the hydra had caught the Beauxbatons champion by the leg: Avery had caught her, and now she was sitting huddled against his side with her face buried in his robes and his arm around her shoulders.

"He's fine," Avery assured her. "The animal handlers should be more than capable of mending hydra bites, and in any case he'll be taken to the medics' tent as soon as he's received his marks." Kitty relaxed slightly and peeked out at the arena.

"He really is fine, Kitty," Al promised, and glanced at Teddy, who was staring white-faced down at the arena.

"Except that his intestines are all over the floor," Faith said cheerfully. Kitty shrieked. Faith laughed like a drain.

"That's a lie! His intestines aren't anywhere near the floor! Kitty, his intestines are fine too," Al said. "Are you all right, Teddy?"

Teddy came out of his trance with a jerk. "I'm fine, shrimp! ...though to be honest, pretty sure I wouldn't have wanted Vicky to go up against that thing."

Anthoine Aquestre was being helped across the arena to see the judges by the handler who'd been healing him. He still looked to be in a pretty bad way, though. The judges didn't seem particularly bothered by that - Professor McGonagall was first, and she gave him a seven.

"Higher than I expected," Grimalkin observed.

"Here are seven points, for being the only one to get seriously injured!" Lia said.

Madame Maxime gave him nine, though whether that was respect for his perseverance or favouritism Al couldn't tell. Six points from Professor Kohut, seven from Uncle Percy and eight from Finwick - thirty-seven, then, one point ahead of Victoire and six ahead of Oksana Zelenko. Anthoine limped out of the arena as soon as he'd got his marks, headed for the healers' tent.

"I'm going to see how Victoire's doing. They should let me see her now," Teddy said, and stood up. "Al, you coming with me?"

"Yeah!" Al said, added a hurried "Bye, everyone, see you all at lunch," and clattered down the risers with Teddy holding on to his hand. That was a bit embarassing - Al was eleven, he could walk down stairs by himself - but most people in Al's family thought Al was a bit thick, and Al had kind of helped them to think that, so it was his own fault really.



"Al," Teddy said as they reached ground level, so nonchalantly Al was instantly suspicious, "now we're more in private - are you all right? Really?"



"Yes," Al said promptly. "I like my house, I like my housemates, I like my dormitory, I like my lessons, I like the food. It's all very nice."



"Even Rookwood and Grimalkin? Because when I was at Hogwarts my house had a pool going on when they would snap and try to kill us all."

"They're actually quite nice," Al said, and then because Teddy looked disbelieving, "...to us, anyway." Lia and Grimalkin regularly trying to kill the Hufflepuffs would be really not helpful to his plan. He didn't think they could literally be doing that, though.



"Huh. If you say so, shrimp," Teddy said. "And another thing..." He looked very serious for a second. "You don't have to worry about telling me your housemates' names because of my parents."



"Oh. Sorry," Al said, and ducked his head. He'd made Teddy be serious. Teddy hated doing that. Maybe Al should have just straight-out lied... but then Score would have corrected him anyway and Teddy would have known he was lying. Maybe he should have just not started introducing Score at all...but then Score would have felt all excluded and Al didn't want that. Al chewed miserably on his lower lip. Getting on with people was really complicated sometimes.



Teddy ruffled his hair. "Don't worry about it, Al. You'll be careful with the Malfoy kid, though, right?"



Al promised that he was indeed being very careful with the Malfoy kid.



"Cool," Teddy said. "Not that we don't trust you, Al, but people can be kind of deceitful, yeah? None of us want you getting hurt."



"Deceitful people? I don't think anyone in my house is like that," Al lied, to be reassuring.

"Well, yeah, Al, but the thing about deceit is people aren't supposed to know you're doing it," Teddy said, pulling Al after him through the crowds, towards a long tent set up a little way from the seating. They got in without much trouble, though that was probably because Victoire could see them from her bed and was yelling "Teddy! Al! Over here!" There were other people standing around her bed too, though - Professor McGonagall for one, and Uncle Percy, but Al didn't recognize the others.

"Vicky! Dearest! Light of my life!" Teddy greeted her. "I brought Al, because he's quite cute and I thought he might cheer you up. Did you like your Butterbeer?"

Victoire waved the empty bottle at him instead of replying.



"So who is this?" a woman Al didn't know asked, popping up behind Teddy. She was wearing brilliantly pink robes and holding a bright green quill poised over a scroll, and her hair was dyed bright yellow. It kind of hurt to look at her.



"Teddy Lupin," Teddy said. "Nice to-"



"Shove off, you old bat," Victoire said sharply. "Teddy, she's a harpy, don't talk to her." That wasn't like Victoire. What was going on?



"That's a bit rude," Al pointed out.



"So how do you think your cousin did?" the blonde woman asked Al.



"I think she did great!" Al said cheerfully, with a big sunny grin. "And she nearly won, too-"



"Al, this is Rita Skeeter," Victoire said flatly.



There was a long, horrified pause.



"That cow who's been telling everyone you're the next great Dark Lord," Victoire added, apparently mistaking the horror for confusion.



"So how does that make you feel?" Rita Skeeter asked Al. He just stared at her. She didn't look mad at him, or like she hated him, or like anything that would have made her want to say horrible things about him in the papers. She just looked at him through her huge jewelled glasses with a sort of sympathetic interest and made a curious "Hmmm?" sound when he didn't say anything.



"Miss Skeeter," Professor McGonagall said coldly, appearing out of nowhere. "I believe you were asked not to bother the Champions after the task?"



"Freedom of the press, Minerva," Rita Skeeter pointed out, apparently quite unabashed, but she slid her scroll and quill back into her enormous crocodile-skin handbag anyway. "I think I've got all I need here, anyway. I do hope I'll see you around," she added over her shoulder as she left, though Al couldn't tell whether she was talking to him or Victoire.



"Poisonous old-" Victoire said, and then called Rita Skeeter something that made Teddy pull a face and cover Al's ears. "Sorry, Professor McGonagall."



"You are not required to apologize for being correct, Miss Weasley," Professor McGonagall said. "Do you intend to stay for long, Mr Lupin and Mr Potter? I am assured all three Champions will be free to leave momentarily."



"I - actually, I have to go right now, sorry," Al said, and dashed for the exit. Professor McGonagall had talked as if Rita Skeeter wasn't supposed to be around Hogwarts. And if she couldn't get onto the Hogwarts grounds much, maybe she'd want to meet whoever was giving her information while she had an excuse to be around?



When Al got out of the tent, already pulling the package his dad had sent him out of his bag and tearing off the wrapping, he could see Rita Skeeter walking sedately towards the Hogwarts gate along with the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, and he quickly hid behind the tent out of sight of the Hogwarts students walking back up to the castle so he could wrap the Invisibility Cloak around himself. He was pretty sure he could get around under the Cloak undetected, because his dad had given him lessons in doing just that (and in doing it while his mum and dad were fighting evil people and the house was on fire and he was hanging onto Lily, just in case the situation ever came up).



Al cut straight across the lawns towards the path to the gates. He could still see Rita Skeeter very clearly - brilliant pink robes weren't very stealthy. That was why it specifically said in the Aurors' Handbook never to wear them. He followed her down the path, walking on the lawn, until he lost sight of her as she went through the gates and vanished behind the wall, turning down into Hogsmeade. There wasn't a trip to Hogsmeade scheduled that day, though, so did that mean she wasn't meeting anyone? Unless they had an Invisibility Cloak as well and were sneaking out to meet her, but how many Invisibility Cloaks could there actually be?



The Durmstrang and Beauxbatons students were walking in large groups, so Al had to wait for one to go through before he could nip through after them and look quickly down the path after Rita Skeeter. He couldn't see her anywhere, and he could see down to the roofs of Hogsmeade quite easily from there - there were trees on the right-hand side of the path where she could have ducked out of sight, but he crept into there a little way and couldn't see any bright pink robes anywhere.



She must have Disapparated as soon as she got out of the Anti-Apparition charms, then. Al turned back towards Hogwarts, feeling disappointed that he hadn't found out who she'd been talking to. Still. At least she couldn't be making any more trouble for him that way.

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