John hated Gryffindors.
Well, not all Gryffindors. He had quite a few Gryffindor friends who he respected and looked up to, including Maren Elizabeth, whom he had grown up with since birth. They were basically siblings. Before either of them got the letter, Maren and John were inseparable. He didn't know what he would have done if only one of them received the letter; John didn't like to think about it. Even after the Sorting Ceremony, the two were close as ever. Daniela Morales was a mysterious but quirky friend that he loved to hang out with. Sarah Hart was also a Gryffindor. For the two years they'd been together, they even loved each other for a while. Until sixth year, Sarah had begun to drift away from him. If John was being completely honest, he preferred it this way. To add, he would also admit to growing tired of their relationship anyway. They broke up in the couple of months leading to the end of the school year. And he guessed he had been to the Gryffindor common room, met some of the people, and they were all nice. Ok, so John didn't hate all Gryffindors.
He just hated one.
And it was quite easy to see him from his seat at the end of the Hufflepuff long table.
"How was your summer?" Sam asks, his mouth full of treacle tart. John looks away from the Gryffindor table and rests his hand on his palm, raising his eyebrows bemusedly at his best friend.
"Brilliant. What about you?"
Sam shovels more treacle tart into his mouth. "Mokaph. Mph dad wumpts tho-"
"Why don't you slow down a bit so we can understand what the hell you're saying?" Six pipes up from the other side of Sam. She slides into the seat next to him and mimics John by resting her head on her hand. She smirks, which transforms into a misty smile as she tucks a piece of Sam's hair lovingly behind his ear. Sam blushed, but not as noticeably this time.
Ever since the Battle of Hogwarts, the four House tables remained, but students were allowed to sit wherever they wanted. It was a rule meant to unite Hogwarts students and eliminate any inter-House rivalry.
So much for that.
John stares bitterly across the Hall to the back of the head of, as childish as it sounds, his archenemy. His long black hair tickles his shoulders as he laughs at something one of his friends said. John can't see the front of his face, but if he could, he knows how his mouth would be twisted into his signature smirk. One that was often directed at John. So often that John knew that expression better than the back of his hand. Every one of his friends knows that he isn't being childish at all. Anyone who thought so in the beginning would reconsider as soon as they saw the two of them in the same room.
What a pair; John Smith and Stanley Worthington.
"Treacle tart was- is- Harry Potter's favorite dessert. And I don't blame him, the stuff isn't bad," Sam replies. Six presses a kiss to his cheek.
John laughs. Before he could reply, the desserts disappear across the hall and the plates and goblets cleaned themselves The room slowly grows silent and all eyes draw to Headmistress McGonagall as she rises. She silences the entire Great Hall with a single gesture. She always had that strong and powerful aura that John admired. Never mean, but no one was ever out of line around her.
"Welcome students, to another year at Hogwarts!" She pauses for applause. Some overexcited people banged their goblets against the table. John rolls his eyes. Gaining control again, McGonagall begins to speak. "To old students, welcome back! To new students, we welcome you! To start, basic rules and changes must be covered! Hogsmeade is off-limits to first and second years. Third years, a permission slip is required. The Forbidden Forest is also off-limits after curfew..."
John starts to tune her out. He begins to dawn upon the realization that his last Hogwarts year was coming to a close. What had he done is all his years at Hogwarts? Not much. Sure, he had made some friends, even got a girlfriend for two years. Not like that ended well. Most people who knew the story felt sorry for him, but John didn't mind. He still unbelievably didn't know what he wanted to after he left Hogwarts. He got good grades, and he could cast spells exceptionally; his friends told him he was incredible at casting (he always humbly disagreed). Sam kept suggesting he be an Auror, but John wasn't all for the idea. Most of the Gryffindors were signing up to Aurors, so first of all the line for qualifications was going to be insane. Second of all, he would have to dedicate a huge chunk of his time to the job. But it wasn't like he would have a wife waiting for him at home.
"...And that brings me to me to my last announcement. This year, after careful consideration, Hogwarts is going to hold a very important event." John perked up. He didn't need Sam elbowing him in the ribs to catch his attention. All in his seven years, there had never been an announcement like this. John reads Professor McGonagall's face; from her expression he can tell she's reluctant to share because she most likely disagrees with it.
That made it even more exciting.
"The Ministry of Magic, who recently has gained a new leader, decided this event was appropriate for Hogwarts this year." John sees a spark of warm reminiscence in the Professor's face. "And so it will be. This year, Hogwarts will host the Triwizard Tournament-"
The reaction is incredible. Seventh years almost left their chairs in excitement. Sixth years and under yelled in outrage. John couldn't blame them. When else would they get the chance to compete in such a competition?
"SILENCE!" Professor McGonagall yells. She doesn't even need a Silencing Charm. "This is not to be taken lightly. You all know the rules; only seventeen and over may enter, and do not enter your name if you have even the slightest doubt about competing. As once said, these competitions are not for the faint-hearted." Another pensive expression.
Twisting around in his seat, John scans the tables until he landed on the person he was looking for. Worthington is sitting up straighter, with a devilish gleam in his eyes. John knows he is going to enter and do whatever it takes to win.
"Stop being so obsessed," Sam whispers, grabbing John's sleeve and facing him back towards him.
"Obsessed? Me?" John scoffs, feeling his face turn red. He tries to cover it up by facing the front again and pretending to listen to the Headmistress intently.
Six raised her eyebrows. The corners of Sam's mouth perked up into a smug grin. Some of the people around them began to eavesdrop.
"I hate you both." Worthington seemed to have caught on to the conversation. He turns his head slightly to wink at John, then wiggles his fingers. John blushes hard with embarrassment and rage, then turns back to face Professor McGonagall. "Shut up," he whispers under his breath at Sam and Six, who are giggling behind him.
"The Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students will be arriving on the first of October, followed by the Goblet going up on the thirtieth. I suggest you all prepare yourselves for an eventful year." She sighs. "I want Hogwarts to make a good impression this year. Now, off to bed. Goodnight!"
The scraping of chairs and growing rumble of student conversation drummed in John's ears. He got up along with Sam. He waited for Six and Sam to say, well, express their goodbyes before Six walked off in a different direction. John waved as she left.
Sam reappeared, flushed and grinning, and started off with John towards the kitchens. They detoured past the crowd of frightened-looking first years off through their usual route of shortcuts and secret passageways. If there was one thing John and his group of friends had mastered, it was maneuvering through Hogwarts.
In no time, Sam was pulling out his wand and tapping the second barrel from the bottom, in the middle of the first row. Access into the Hufflepuff common room was the easiest out of all four Houses, and John used to feel like he was placed in the dumbest House. Later, he came to love all of the Houses equally.
John and Sam climb into the cozy Hufflepuff common room. Sam takes his usual spot in his favorite armchair, and John leans against the legs of it. They managed to make it to the common room before anyone else did, so it was empty and peaceful.
"You going to enter?" Sam asked, grinning.
"Are you?" John replied with his eyebrows raised.
"You joking? I'd have no chance, even if it was against just Hogwarts first years. Remember that time I got my ass handed to me by Ella?" John laughs.
"That doesn't count, Ella has beaten everyone at one point. That girl's a powerhouse."
"Whatever. You're avoiding the question." Sam nudges John in the ribs with his foot. John hits him back.
"I'm not obviously not going to enter. People would see me as just another dead student," John says without thinking. He then reconsiders his words and shakes his head. "Sorry. You know what I mean."
"No way! I bet you're ten times better than Cedric Diggory, and you definitely don't have to compete against the Chosen One. Plus, I think you have better looks than Cedric, dead or alive."
John snorts. "What's that got to do with anything?"
"Nothing." They fall quiet for a few moments. A couple other Hufflepuffs file in from the feast, most of them heading to their dorms immediately. Bertrand however stops by and talks a while with John and Sam. He was a quiet but kind person, and really quite smart when you got to know him. He currently wouldn't stop talking about his new boyfriend, Nigel, from Gryffindor. John and Sam would exchange glances and smiles every time Bertrand mentioned him; he would get all bouncy and excited. Usually his face would flush or light up. They liked seeing him like that.
After Bertrand headed off to the sixth year dorms, John gets up and stretches. It draws in a few not-so-subtle gazes from nearby girls and some boys. John suddenly felt self-conscious. Sam yawned and rose as well.
"Let's go before the first years get here, yeah?" Sam says, a yawn cutting its way into the middle of his sentence.
"Yes please," John responds gratefully.
The two make their sluggish way up towards the seventh year dorms. John keeps inside his head as usual as Sam goes on about his summer as well as the Triwizard Tournament. John finds it difficult to think about anything else than the Triwizard Tournament when Sam strings out long rants about who will enter; what will happen, or if he could at least put his name in just to impress Maren.
John remains overthinking until he notices he's lying in bed. He blinks a few times and registers Sam is still talking in a low voice.
"...I mean... if you think about it, we're bloody lucky. Of all years the Triwizard Tournament had to happen, not to mention at Hogwarts when it hasn't even been that long since the last one, it had to be this year. That's got to mean something. This has got to be the best year ever or..." Sam trails off.
John drifts off, staring at the curtains of his four-poster. "Yeah... lucky..." he mumbles before passing out.
Sam grabbed John's arm and shook it roughly.
"John, stop! You're making it snow!" John blinked a few times to see his class very disgruntled and shivering. Some of them were looking at him, some were avoiding eye contact. All of them had small piles of white in their hair, desk, or robe. Sure enough, John looked up and there was a light snowfall raining from the ceiling. He didn't even notice he had his wand out, pointed up.
"Sorry," John mumbled, hastily stuffing his wand away by instinct, only to take it out after to undo the charm.
Everyone else in the class was supposed to be working on Concealment Charms, but John had mastered those ages ago. In class, he would usually practice very advanced charms given to him by Professor Flitwick, while students around him stared enviously. Even then, sometimes he would get bored and doze off, like he did today.
John looked around to Sam, who had gone back to practicing. His eyes were focused on his textbook in front of him, wand outstretched. He muttered the incantation once, and nothing happened. Sam grunted in frustration and flourished his wand a little, repeating the spell. The textbook bounced twice and turned blue. John laughed.
"Shut up," Sam grumbled, face pink. "How the hell do you-" Sam stopped before he finished his sentence.
It was common knowledge that John was uncannily good at spells, charms specifically. Some people would go as far to call him out for being too much like Hermione Granger, but John never really was a huge nerd when it came to memorizing for tests and quizzes. If it wasn't for Sam, he would have probably failed their History O.W.L. Sam tested easily and John could cast spells. They balanced each other out. Both of them learned pretty early on that John would never know how he does all the spells he does. He just can.
Professor Flitwick had required the students to use one of their own textbooks to practice on, so if any student managed to conceal their object, they would have to also lift the same spell in order to get it back. John already helped a flustered Bertrand retrieve his textbook after he concealed it and was unable to undo the spell. Flitwick stopped by their table and threatened to take points off unless John was able to explain to Bertrand in order for him to cast the spell himself. Obviously, John couldn't it figure out, despite concealing and retrieving the book multiple times with ease. Professor Flitwick eventually sighed and shook his head before walking away, forgetting all about the points. John went back to casting random spells on different objects in the room in order to ease his boredom. At one point, John casted a patronus. He watched as the glowing form of a lean grey wolf leaped about the classroom, hiding behind desks and under seats.
At the end of class, Flitwick stopped John before he walked out the door.
"Mr. Smith, please," he squeaked right before John stepped a foot across the threshold. John stepped away and turned around, waiting for the class to leave and for Flitwick to speak. Sam dwindled slightly on the doorstep before stepping out. John knew he would be waiting outside the door for him.
"Yes, Professor?" John asked.
"Sit," he said, gesturing to the normal sized chair (compared to his heightened one) in front of his desk. John sat. Professor Flitwick leaned back, studying John before he spoke again, "Have you entered the Triwizard Tournament, yet?"
"No, sir," John replied, shaking his head.
"Would you consider it? You are, by far, the best and most talented students I have had in all of my years of teaching."
"Thank you sir, but I don't think I will enter."
John was silent. He couldn't think of any reason except for he had no interest in it whatsoever, but he didn't want to disappoint.
"That's a shame," Professor Flitwick said, reading John's mind. "It would be nice to see some House representation after..." he drifted off. For a second, John forgot that he was, in fact, teaching the whole time through the last Triwizard Tournament. He started biting his lip, feeling uncomfortable.
"Anyway, I should let you go. Wouldn't want you to be late to the feast, now, would we?"
John stood up and made his way out. He had his hand on the doorknob when the little charms teacher spoke one last time, "Consider, won't you?"
John said nothing.
"What was that all about?" Sam asked as soon as John shut the door behind him.
John hoisted his bag a bit higher on his shoulder as they started walking. "Nothing, really. Just Flitwick trying to convince me to enter the Triwizard Tournament."
"What? Are you kidding? If that doesn't tell you to enter, I don't know what will!"
John sighed exasperatedly. "I don't want to enter, Sam. That's the point."
Sam scoffed, unbelieving.
"Don't believe me, fine." John shrugged. "I'm not going to enter."
"Suit yourself," Sam replied. "Hufflepuff could have used the glory."
"That's exactly what Flitwick said." They were climbing the final set of stairs that led to the ground floor, which led to the Great Hall.
"He's not wrong."
John didn't answer. The rest of their walk was passed in silence.
Finally settled in their seats, John and Sam scanned the Great Hall to see the few other stragglers come in and take their places. Maren Elizabeth slipped from her spot next to Daniela over to sit next to Sam. He wrapped and arm around her waist. Daniela got up almost as swiftly to sidle in beside John, rolling her eyes at the couple.
One thing to mention: the Beauxbaton and Durmstrang students had arrived the day before, and they were now spread out on expanded House tables.
Headmistress McGonagall made her way up to the podium and held her hands up. The chatter died down as all eyes focused on her. "Good evening, students, teachers, and guests!" Her eyes hovered over the Beauxbatons and Durmstrangs. "I hope all of you had a good day today, because tonight's special event will only be more exciting." Loud whispers filled the Hall as friends gossiped with each other, some across tables. "But first! Let us enjoy this feast!" The professor clapped her hands and the golden platters were filled immediately with the usual round of feast items, but in addition to the new array of foreign dishes which John assumed was for the new students.
They dug in. Sam pulled his plate closer and piled heaps of whatever he laid his eyes on. Sam was the type of person who would forget to eat constantly but pig out from time to time. It was a weird balance, but everyone accepted it. John had an uneasy stomach, so he took as little as possible. Daniela gave him a concerned look but didn't say anything, which John was glad for. He ate slowly and leaned in on the conversation that was building around his spot.
One girl with dirty blonde hair pulled up into a braid that went straight down the center of her head was speaking in hushed tone, even though the Great Hall was bursting with noise. "I bet it'll be a Ravenclaw."
"What? No way! There's not a single person in Ravenclaw that would have the guts to enter," her friend added. He took a monstrous bite out of a lamb chop, chewed twice before swallowing.
"What about that Ella girl? She scares the shit outta me sometimes, I bet she'd make it," said the brunette sitting on the right of the blonde.
"She's not a seventh year, Trinity," the girl with the braid replied, rolling her eyes. John noticed the three of them had yellow and black ties.
"Whatever. For the sake of our own shitty House history, I hope it's a Hufflepuff."
"Hey Jaz, did you enter?" the brown-haired guy asked, nudging the girl with the blonde braid.
"Yeah I did," Jaz said. The guy whooped and high-fived her.
John felt an elbow at his side. He turned his head and Daniela whispered in his ear. Apparently she was listening the whole time as well.
"How is that Jaz girl a Hufflepuff? She looks like she should be in my house," she muttered under her breath. With Daniela's tight rows of braids and badass stare, she was not unlike Jaz. John shrugged.
"Some people put on a big show but deep down they are huge cinnamon rolls." It was the best John could come up with. Daniela snorted.
"Wow that reminds me of someone I know." She smirked.
The rest of the conversation was cut off when the desserts appeared. Per usual, Sam snagged almost the entire plate of treacle tart, and John pushed his plate away. He was feeling nauseous and still had no clue why. He scanned the Hall and found two men dressed in navy blue robes wheel up an ancient looking cart. It was carved with intricate designs and symbols that John couldn't recognize. Soon, many people spotted it and the volume level decreased to hushed whispers. Now people weren't as keen on desert anymore.
John, Daniela, Maren, and Sam (who had abandoned his plate of tart) leaned back in their seats and craned their necks to get a better view of the cart being wheeled up all the way to the front by the Headmistress podium. John looked around and saw that many people had forgotten about dessert to stare up at the obvious Goblet of Fire hiding in a case. McGonagall took a few minutes, but eventually stood up once she realized no one was eating anymore. The plates and goblets were cleared spotless immediately, and the Hogwarts Headmistress walked up to the front of the four tables, along with the head of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang. John recognized the larger-then-average woman in a grey silk dress standing to the right of McGonagall as Madame Maxime. He wondered if she and Hagrid were still in touch. The gruff-looking man to the left of Professor McGonagall was unrecognizable, but he had a sour scowl on his face, probably from being surrounded by two other women.
She didn't even have to raise her voice. The Great Hall was heavy with silence, all students eager to hear the results.
"I have only one warning to students; if you are selected for the Triwizard Tournament, there is no turning back. There will be no exceptions." She gave her signature stare from under her spectacles to just about everyone in the room, lingering in the place where the Gryffindors sat. "Without further ado, let us announce the champions!"
With the Hall deadly quiet, she walked up to the casket and pulled out her wand. She drew a steady invisible line downwards as the casket melted away to reveal the Goblet of Fire. The Great Hall drew in a collective breath.
The entrancing, blue flames cracked and hissed, as if it had been waiting to be revealed. Suddenly, the flames expanded and transformed into a blinding red. Professor McGonagall held out her hand and snatched a seared piece of paper out of the air before it hit the ground. She held it up to the light to read it.
"The Durmstrang champion is- Raya Marinov!"
A defeaning roar from the far end of the Great Hall. A girl with a short black braid and a thick leather coat stood up from the end of the table. Her friends, mostly male, were slapping her on the back and shoulders in excitement. She smiled, but it was proud, like she knew she was going to get chosen anyways.
"Congratulations. Down the hall, please, and to your right," the headmistress said. Raya walked confidently past the three teachers and nodded her head in acknowledgement. The noise died down again.
The Goblet of Fire hissed once more and its red flames spat out another square of paper. This time, Professor McGonagall read off the name quicker, almost as if she was baiting for the end.
"The Beauxbatons champion is- Joel Boivin!"
Not as loud of a cheer this time. The guy who had appeared to be chosen looked dumbstruck, as if he never expected he'd actually win. His friends gave him noises of encouragement and pushed him out of his seat towards the front. He was surprisingly graceful as he walked up past the three professors. Joel only stopped to shake Madame Maxime's hand gratefully. Soon he had disappeared down the hall.
Time for the Hogwarts champion. John bit his lip nervously, although he had no reason to. He didn't enter, and he wasn't concerned really for anyone else to win. Why was he so hung up? He felt Daniela grip his hand and Sam cling on to the back of his robe. Out of the corner of his eye, he saw Jaz and her friends doing similar things. He leaned over and whispered to Jaz, "I really hope you win."
She stared at him with a look of surprise but answered, "Thanks."
For the final time, the Goblet of Fire fizzled and ejected a piece of paper, larger than the others. It took longer, as though the Goblet itself was unsure of its choice.
"And the Hogwarts Champion is- Stanley Worthington!"
Jaz and Maren swore. Sam groaned. Daniela rolled her eyes.
John didn't know how to feel. He was mostly stunned. What the hell is wrong with me? he thought. I should be angry, pissed off at this. Or at least happy or something. Not fucking stupefied.
All other thoughts John might have had were then blocked out by the eruption of noise that came from the Gryffindor table which Stanley sat. He bitterly turned to look as Stanley rose from his seat with a cocky, wide grin plastered on his face. His friends were ecstatic: punching him, yelling, and banging their goblets on the table. Stanley almost strutted to the front of the Hall until he caught McGonagall's eye. He quickly changed his posture so he walked the rest of the way in a much more respectful manner.
John's eyes glazed over the head table where the teachers sat. He accidentally caught Professor Flitwick's stare; it was gloomy and almost disappointed. Guilt stabbed him in that stomach and he turned away.
John scanned the room to see very mixed reactions. The Gryffindors (with the exception of Maren) were all on their feet in excitement. As far as the other Houses went, John could see a fair few people clapping respectfully but most students were sitting with a dazed expression, waiting for the announcement to return to their dormitories. He turned back to the front to realize Professor McGonagall had already finished talking and students were leaving their seats.
Someone snapped in front of John's face and he flinched. "Hey. Earth to John Smith."
Daniela was stood up beside him, raising an eyebrow. "Sorry, what?" John replied.
"I was just trying to get you to respond. You are out of it today, man. Something wrong?"
John rubbed his eyes tiredly and stood up with the help of Daniela. "Hope not."
"Not convincing, but I'll take it. 'Night," she said, already starting towards the sea of red and gold.
John turned around to see that Sam was nowhere to be found. He did a 180 and a couple quick searches with his eyes but he only managed to get in people's way. One Beauxbatons girl eyed daggers at him when he accidentally bumped into her.
Taking the fastest and most secluded route, John fast-walked all the way back to the common room. When he got there, he made his way straight to the boys' dormitories and collapsed on his honey colored four-poster. The room was empty, so he didn't bother drawing the curtains to change into his pajamas. Burying his face into the pillow, he ran his fingers through his hair desperately.
Many different emotions were coursing through John's veins at the moment, and the worst part was he couldn't pin down any of them.
Thinking he would just take a quick shower before the others got there, John grabbed a towel and closed the door to the bathroom. He twisted the knob to all the way hot and stepped in the shower. Hogwarts showers were controlled with some kind of spell that didn't let the water go too hot or too cold, but John wished that this once it could heat up just a little more. Wiping the steam off the mirror, John stared at his reflection. As tired as he felt, he appeared normal. His dirty blonde hair was sticking up because of the water. Some pieces were falling back into his eyes; it was almost time to cut it.
The slamming of the door sounded through the bathroom walls, signaling the arrival of one of his roommates. John hesitantly took his towel to dry off his hair best he could, then changed back into his pajamas. When he opened the door, he could feel the steam seeping into the cold room. There was no one in any of the beds, so John assumed someone opened the door to grab something and leave. He grabbed his wand from his robe pocket and dried the towel and his hair with it.
Exhausted, John laid down again and began to doze off. He was jolted awake immediately to the sound of loud rapping on the window. Groaning, he dragged himself out from under the covers to go over and unlock the latch. There sat Ella's Eagle Owl, looking very unhappy to be sending mail instead of hunting. She waited patiently though, as John carefully untied and slipped the note attached to her leg. It was small, and written hastily.
John fished a quill and a bottle of ink from his bag and wrote down a simple answer on the same piece of paper:
Yes please. Same place same time.
"Here we are," John said, as he rolled up the paper and used a spell to secure it back onto the sender; he was much too tired to try to tie it on himself. She hooted, ruffled her feathers and nipped his finger affectionately before taking off into the night sky.
Finally, finally, John wrapped himself in the comforter and drifted off to an uneasy sleep.
When John arose, he found Sam's bed untouched. Biting his lip, he dressed quickly and glided down the stairs only to see that Sam was passed out on one of the armchairs, still in his robes from yesterday. He also saw Maren at the entrance of the common room, pausing at his stare. John walked quietly over.
"What-?" he started.
Six cut him off. "Before you say anything, yeah, I fell asleep here." Pausing, she added, "Don't look at me like that. It was a... weird night, you know?"
"You and me both," John agreed. He glanced sideways at the sleeping Sam. "Should we..?"
"Nah. He was up pretty late last night, let him sleep." John nodded and watched her step through the round common room door and close it as quietly as she could. He registered that he was already dressed, so he might as well follow her out to breakfast. Closing the door behind him, John turned around and saw that Maren was nowhere to be found. Shrugging, John walked unaccompanied to the Great Hall.
Since John didn't have Sam with him, he was forced to scan the Great Hall for other possible places to sit. Then his eyes landed on Marina. She looked as though she was just getting settled and appeared to have lost the company of her boyfriend, Naveen, who was almost always by her side. John wandered over and took the seat on her left.
Marina acknowledged him as he sat down with a smile. "Hey," she greeted.
"Hi." John pulled a plate closer to him and piled two pieces of toast and an apple on it. He didn't eat much last night.
"Well? How are you? I feel like we haven't talked in ages. How was your summer?"
"Eh, the usual," John answered with a knowing grin. His summers were never uneventful, and Marina knew that.
With a collection of loud screeches and rustling feathers, the morning post arrived and thus frightening quite a few foreigners and first years. A medium-sized, slim snowy owl with shockingly pure white feathers fluttered gracefully next to Marina's plate and held out its leg. Attached was a neat little envelope with a perfect seal and a little heart inked into the front.
Marina detached the letter from the owl's leg with nimble fingers. "Thanks, Hector," she whispered softly to the owl, stroking the top of his head. Hector cooed happily and stole a crumb of John's toast before spreading his wings and soaring off towards the Owlery.
John bit down on his apple while Marina carefully broke the seal of the envelope and pulled out a folded piece of parchment. When she dropped it open, John saw out of the corner of his eye it was covered in curly writing and the bottom there was a small drawing.
"Who's that from?" John asked.
"Naveen." Marina blushed and grinned when she started to read the letter. "He's missing a week of school because of his trip to India, but he's been sending me letters non stop about everything he's doing. Sometimes he draws pictures." She leaned over and showed him the image in ink at the bottom of the paper. It was a scene with pointed, snow-capped mountains in the background and a row of huts or houses in the front. In the middle is a small figure with curly hair and a smiley face. Naveen clearly wasn't an artist, but the thought was endearing. And before Marina could pull the letter away, John spotted a P.S. note at the bottom:
P.S. Again, sorry I couldn't make the picture move. No one seems to know what spell it takes, and I've asked almost everyone here.
"Cute," John said with a chuckle.
Marina sighed and fiddled with her blue and silver striped tie. "Isn't it?" she said with a lovestruck smile.
Before John could say anything else, Sam stumbled into the Great Hall with a harsh bed head and sleep lines on one half of his face form where he was pressed into the couch. He soon spotted John and Marina, and began his concerning journey to their spot at the end of the Ravenclaw long table. When he sat, he looked too dizzy to eat, so he simply lost himself in one of the tapestries behind Marina's seat. It took John to snap in front of him twice before he blinked himself out of his trance.
"Oh, sorry. Hi," he murmured.
Marina rolled her eyes. "Rough night, was it?"
Sam glanced at her and squinted, as though trying to remember his whereabouts the night before. "I... I think so. Wait- how do you- how can you tell?" Sam asked concernedly.
Marina gestured to his entire face and hair. Sam tinged pink and desperately tried to flatten his hair and hide his face.
John snorted. "There's no hope."
Marina smiled and slid out of her seat, stooping down to gather up her bag. She threw the bag over her shoulder and pulled her hair up into a ponytail. When she reached for a hair tie on her wrist, she swore.
"Damn, I forgot it again. John, could you-?"
"Yeah, yeah," John interrupted. He pulled out his wand and flicked it into a small circle, causing a small ring of elastic to form in midair. Marina caught it and tied up her hair.
"Thanks. I have to go now or I'll be late. See you two later!"
Sam raised his eyebrows. "Go? Go where?"
"Class," Marina replied exasperatedly.
"But it's half past seven."
"Exactly. This year I'm taking an earlier period. Anatomy, remember? I have to study in order to become a Healer."
John sighed. "How do you have your life all sorted out, Marina? Where can I join?"
Marina laughed. "See you later."
John grumbled and turned towards his plate of crumbs. Sam raised an eyebrow at him.
"Nothing." Sam stared at him as though trying to get his point across through eye contact.
"Clearly its's something. You're making that face again."
"Fine, fine, fine. All I'm saying is... well-"
"I take it back. I don't want to hear it."
"-You should consider-"
"-Being an Auror," Sam finished. John groaned and stood up quickly, leaving the rest of his apple on the table to be forgotten.
"See you in Charms," Sam called out before he could get out of earshot. John was walking brisk and hard, though he had no clue where he was going. He still had about an hour before his first class started. He came to a halt in front of the shifting staircase that eventually lead to the Gryffindor common room. He spun on his heel and aimed for the front doors, deciding he needed a breath of fresh air. The bewitched ceiling was far from enough from distracting him.
As he stepped out on to the wet, frigid grass, John breathed out and saw his breath leaving a hot, visible mist in the air that quickly dissipated. He wrapped his robe tighter around himself, not wanting to walk back to the common room just to grab his coat. His feet involuntarily carried him to a secluded spot by one of the trees on the edge of the Black Lake. It was a go to spot for him when he was in the need for solitude- so pretty much most time out of the year.
Though when he arrived, he was surprised to see he was not alone.
The soles of John's shoes were sliding inconveniently down the slope of wet grass, as he tried to slide down the hill as gracefully as possible. Once he reached the bottom, he spotted his unique spot by the tree taken. The petite girl with long auburn waves pulled back into a long french braid had her knees propped up close to her chest and her back leaned casually on one of the drier patches of the tree bark. She turned her head to look at John as though she had already been expecting him.
"Ella," John said.
"That's me," Ella replied with a teasing but warm smile. John wandered over and looked down at his soaked shoes and lower robe. He drew out his wand and brandished it at himself, quickly drying and warming his clothes and sneakers. He then performed the same action to a medium-sized patch of grass beside Ella, and sat down.
"How have you been?" John asked.
Ella frowned and shrugged. "If we're not counting last night or summer vacation at all, I'd say pretty good."
John rolled his eyes. "So you heard last night- hell, you probably already knew..."
"Yes. I knew." While John was particularly apt at spells and charms, Ella had an uncanny knack for Divination; specifically predicting the future and Occlumency.
Ella caught eye contact with John. "Jealous?"
John coughed. "No- no of course not. I didn't enter."
Ella giggled. "Yeah, I got that. You're more worried about him than anything."
"No- I'm not- why would I be-" John growled, then slumped his shoulders in defeat. "Ok, fine. What should I do? Also, it would be nice if you could refrain from reading my mind for a hot second."
"I didn't read your mind at all, but thanks for confirming my theory. And winning the bet I had with Daniela."
"You- what? You two made a bet? On what?"
Ella plucked a pebble from the grass and tossed it into the lake. It left a small pool of ripples that expanded when a grindylow darted to the surface to snatch it and swim back into the depths of the icy water. "Daniela told me last night you spaced out a got all dizzy after his name was called, so we bet on whether you were jealous or worried about him."
John groaned. "Look. I know I shouldn't be worried because we don't get along, or whatever, or maybe I should be and I would have felt the same way if it was any Hogwarts student, but I don't know. I can't figure anything out right now, my stomach feels like a whirlpool but instead of one direction it's four different currents all fighting for the right of way and- don't give me that look!" Ella grinned.
She threw a different pebble, and this one skipped three times before sinking. She turned to face John and crossed her legs. "If you're so worried, why don't you offer him help?"
"What? I can't do that, he would hate me even more than he does already. I would hate myself more."
Ella raised her eyebrows. "You would hate yourself for helping someone?"
"Not him. Never him."
"What in the hell do you have against Stanley Worthington?"
"I just- can't stand him, okay Ella?"
"Would you listen to yourself, John? You sound like a toddler. If it means clearing your conscience, offer him help. If he refuses, so what? You tried. Or you can do that mom thing you do where you persistently force help on him until he gives in."
"'Mom thing'?" John asked exasperatedly.
"You know what I mean." Ella plucked a blade of grass up from the soft earth and twirled it between her thumb and forefinger until it took flight, spinning gracefully, sending minuscule halos of wind before it touched lightly on the surface of the dark water.
The blonde boy sighed heavily and ripped a handful of green up from the side of his bag and tossed it. The tiny blades scattered about a foot from his hand and tumbled to the ground, lifeless.
"Who knows? He was chosen, so obviously the Goblet thinks he can handle himself. Maybe he won't need anything."
A week later, the first task had been announced.
In an effort to make things as private as possible, Headmistress McGonagall organized a meeting between only the champions, the two other heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, along with two Ministry officials who were staying at Hogwarts to oversee the Tournament. Of course, however much she tried, students always were more than one step ahead of her. With the expanding line of trick products from Weasley's Wizard Wheezes, the teachers were in no power to try to ban the items from school grounds. The word got out of the First Task and spread like wildfire, ironic considering the Black Lake's surface had already frozen over and it was only early November.
The First Task was a race. No one knew where it was taking place quite yet, since Professor McGonagall seemed to have enough after the champions leaked the Task. John knew as much as anyone; not much. During passing periods in the common room, Sam would spew out theories of how the First Task would be set up. Realistically, John knew from history classes and tabloids that the race would most likely contain magical barriers between champions and force obstacles every which way. In other words, the champions had to be well-prepared.
John attempted to move on and stay his mind from the Triwizard Tournament, though he wouldn't admit to anyone that he was itching to do anything. It was known for John to get fidgety when he wasn't looking for trouble. He tried focusing on schoolwork, and particularly on what he wanted to pursue after he finished school. John was one of the very few seventh years who hadn't decided. Multiple occasions he found himself being pulled out of classes or hallways by Professor McGonagall or Professor Flitwick, both of whom would sit him down to talk about his future. Honestly, he didn't understand at the time why they cared so much, and refused to believe it when they said to have faith in his potential, more than many other students they had seen by far. Other than the meetings, John's schoolwork load wasn't enough to keep him occupied. In his generous free time, John would find Ella by the spot by the lake and they would talk, or when she had studying for O.W.L.s, he would take his broom out on the grounds for an hour or two, or study random subjects and spells. John wanted to at least be well-rounded once he decided on his career.
Also, John didn't care at all to admit he was paying attention to Stanley Worthington closely. Since the announcement of the First Task, he had been keeping to himself a great deal more. Stanley was seen gradually sulking more and more, the bags under his eyes growing more visible each day. On one occasion, John had accidentally bumped into him in one of the corridors. Usually, Stanley would pause to flash a sneer and make a snarky comment but instead he muttered, "Sorry," and kept walking. Blinking rapidly, John managed to run into two more students after standing stock-still in the hallway, processing what had happened. The week drawing up to the First Task, John cared to stare down the Gryffindor table at his usual spot to find an empty seat.
John sat in the library, his potions textbook laid out in front of him as the words swirled and flew right past his head. He blinked rapidly, trying to focus. He realized he had gone through two pages without registering a single word. John flipped backwards to restart.
The sun blared brightly though the window, beating down on the musty room in waves. One ray caught John's eye spot on and John covered his face with his hand, wincing. Feeling shivers run through his muscles, the blonde wrapped himself tighter in his robes. John drew in a shaky and icy breath that seared through his lungs. John squinted outside, seeing the sun shine brightly accompanied by a clear, baby-blue sky. Huh.
John stood to draw the curtains, but as soon as he turned around he was faced by Stanley Worthington. They were almost nose to nose. Startled, John stumbled backward onto the desk, feeling his ink bottle spill. The chill of the ink hit his hand and traveled to the rest of his arm, reaching his back and neck. His head suddenly felt a dull ache. John wanted to feel for if the ink bottle really traveled up his arm, but he couldn't draw his gaze away from Stanley.
"Hey," John said, his voice ringing in his ears. Stanley didn't reply; just stood frozen, eyes fixed on him. "Hey," John repeated, louder. No response. John finally shook his head and edged around him to go pull the curtain. Before he could reach the window however, he felt a calloused hand reach for his wrist. John whipped around to see Stanley holding his wrist in a vice grip. John could have sworn his grip was light and warm in the first moment he made contact, but it soon turned to ice. Looking up, John was met with the taller boy's black irises. Something had shifted in them though; they were no longer the mischievous ebony color that John knew so well but a cold, empty coal. John moved to free his wrist and the grip grew tighter, cutting into the nerves of his arm. Gasping, John pried at Stanley's fingers.
When he touched the other boy's hand, it shifted in color from the warm, tanned tone to a deathly pale sunken shade. Horrified, John stared back up into what used to be the face of his school archenemy. His face was morphing; his long black hair receding into his skull, his skin sinking down to reveal harsh cheekbones, and his skin fading into a sickly white. Worse, he had now stretched taller and thinner, looming against the ceiling like a dementor with legs. The creature smiled, revealing rows of sharp, serrated teeth. John felt the ice crawl to his heart...
John lurched forward with a silent cry. He was on the floor beside his four-poster; apparently he had fallen out while he was sleeping. The blonde hissed as he rubbed the back of his head, certain that a bruise was beginning to form. He sighed, dropping his head and scanning the room. The window was beginning to frost, and John shivered, realizing then just how cold he was. Apart from his own uneven, heavy breathing, no one else in the dormitory seemed to be stirring. Typical. John's housemates were usually pretty heavy sleepers.
Pulling on the wooden frame of his bed, John slowly steadied himself back on his feet. He rubbed his hands up and down the sides of his arms to warm up, but to no avail. Looking longingly at the warm yellow sheets of his bed, John knew in the back of his mind he wouldn't be able to sleep. A quick walk would clear his head, John convinced himself. Hurrying to snatch his day robes and swing them over his pajamas, John rushed out of the dormitory, quick as to not linger enough so he would change his mind.
John padded lightly down the stairs, pausing at the end to duck down and peer over the wall. The common room was void of life, save for the crackling of the fireplace that flickered on. He strode silently across the room to the common room entrance. Before unlocking the door, he pointed his wand tip at the center of the door.
"Homenum Revelio," he muttered, then waited, ears perked for any signs that someone might be lurking behind the barrels on the other side of the wall. After a minute of darkness, John pulled the handle of the door with a click, and the door swung open to reveal an empty, dark corridor.
John drew in a deep breath, releasing a light cloud of steam from his nostrils. God, the castle was cold at night. One would think they would use spells on the castle to keep the hallways warm at night, but apparently not. At least, not at night when students were expected to stay in their rooms.
John tried not to psych himself out, keeping the grip on his wand loose and casual as possible. He still felt the speed of his beating heart threatening to escape the confinement of his rib cage and wake up the entire castle. Closing his eyes, John focused on heightening his other senses to guide him through the halls. With his eyes closed, he could now pin down the distant low rumbling of the shifting staircases in the distance, the cold, worn, roughness of his wand and the dusty scent with a trace of magic lingering in the air. John could always either smell or feel the heavy concentration of charms on the castle and people carrying their own essence of magic. He knew that Harry Potter must have found that sense comforting at times, because of the number of interviews where he admitted the fact that Hogwarts was a better home than any.
With John's wandering train of thought, he could now slow down his heart rate. He now no longer made tall, pale monsters in the shadows of the tapestries and corners when he opened his eyes.
John came to a halt. His feet and his journey to calm his mind and heart had carried him somewhere around the third floor. He blinked twice to rid his sight of the black spots that had crowded his vision. As soon as they faded he looked up and right, finding the statue of the one-eyed witch eerily standing, stock-still. John swept his eyes up and down the corridor, finding no signs of movement. Odd. He expected Filch to be wandering and muttering to himself up and down at least one of these corridors. Although, the Squib was getting quite old, and John had a feeling his nighttime wanderings had decreased in the past years he had been at Hogwarts. The school had been pining to find someone to fill in Filch's place once he had passed, though no one had volunteered eagerly. John always assumed after Filch died he would come back as a spirit to haunt the castle and continue his job into at least the next couple centuries.
The adrenaline rush of his nightmare had long worn off, and John was beginning to lose feeling in his face and toes. He cast a nonverbal spell to heat up his robes before spinning on his heel and briskly walking back in the direction he came.
With his eyes now open and his four other senses well adapted to the halls, John made good time on his way back to the kitchens. He was forced to duck into an abandoned classroom once on his way back after he picked up Peeves loudly humming to himself the tune to a Muggle pop song. After that, John felt sure that he would easily make his way back to the common room without further incident. Until he didn't.
Before John turned the corner leading to the first floor corridor when the hairs on the back of his neck stood up, but not from the cold. He froze, sensing another human presence in his close vicinity. John held his breath to check if it was his own breathing that was throwing him off. Unfortunately with the silence magnified, John heard twice as clearly a second pair of light but heavy footsteps paired with quieted breathing, not unlike how John's shallow breath was to not wake anyone or anything.
John had no clue as to who was on a midnight walk as well, but he wasn't about to find out. With bated breath, John inched backwards with his arm out feeling the cold stone of the wall, groping for a sudden transition to wood. Once his near-numb fingers brushed against the metal handle of a door John didn't recognize, he tightened his grip. In a single fluid motion, John muttered under his breath another revealing charm and when the room was found to be empty, he twisted the doorknob as soundless as possible and slipped behind the wood with his front still facing the edge of the corridor. He then closed it with a minuscule click.
John released the tiny breath he was holding, relieving a bit of pressure from his tightened lungs. He leaned up against the wall beside the door and slid down to a crouch. Not wanting to let his guard down, John stayed vigilant enough to listen for any approaching noises. Just when he thought he was safe, the door swung open.
It wasn't that John gasped at the sudden movement, but it was more the surprise of who backed in the room slowly and tensely, wand outstretched and fingers tightly gripped on the doorknob. John simply couldn't help but do a sharp intake of breath that was louder than he expected.
"Wothington?" he gasped.
The tall, dark haired boy whipped his head around wildly and dived next to John, pressing his hand over his mouth while shushing him. With his free hand, he cast a silencing charm as well as a spell that quickly shut the door. John wasn't paying attention at the moment, since the only sensation he could focus on was the feeling of his classmate's racing pulse through his calloused but gentle hand forced on his lips.
Thankfully for John, Stanley didn't remove his hand until the both of them were sure the presence outside the door had taken the noises as the fault of one of the castle paintings, and wandered off.
The Gryffindor collapsed in a heap, leaning against the wall for support even though he wasn't even on his feet. John noticed his shoulders were still quite tense and his skin had lost more color since he last saw him. Stanley's hair was disheveled and rough-looking, though at least his eyes were a tired, fading ebony rather than pits of coal.
"What the hell are you doing here?" they snapped at each other in unison.
"I asked first," Stanley added.
John barked out a dry laugh. He caught sight of the exhausted shaking of Stanley's fingers and felt a pang of pity. "I'm walking to relieve stress. What are you doing?"
"I guess the same." Stanley's eyes drooped and he leaned his head back, letting his skull hit the solid stone. John flinched. He had never seen someone so pathetic.
"Hey. What's up with you lately?"
"Nothing," Stanley retorted sharply. The Hufflepuff could not only sense the huge lie but also the lack of spark in Stanley's words; an emptiness there that wasn't before.
"Come on, really."
"Why do you care?"
"I'm a Hufflepuff, it's my job to care."
Stanley rolled his eyes. "Okay, mom."
"Fine, I'll go back to bed. Have fun on your walk." John moved to stand and had one hand on the doorknob when, as he expected, Stanley croaked out, "Wait."
So he did. John hesitantly sat down next to the door across from the taller boy. This was probably the closest the two had ever been without one of them throwing a punch. The thing was, Stanely usually brought the inner Gryffindor out of John whenever they were together and John was about to see the little Hufflepuff persona Stanley had been hiding all this time.
"It's the First Task. It's killing me. Everyone says I'll be fine because the Goblet picked me for a reason and all, but still can't shake the thought that it might have been... a mistake, or..." The dark haired boy trailed off. He blinked rapidly and shook his head. "Why the fuck am I telling you all this?
John shrugged. He opened his mouth to give him his automated response of reassuring advice, but closed it. The blonde boy bit his lip in consideration of his next idea of his response- luckily, Stanley's eyes were glazed over and drooping, so he didn't notice the younger boy's internal struggle. John finally gave up trying to hold himself back. He was a Hufflepuff after all, and he shouldn't feel guilty about wanting to help someone regardless of who it is.
"Dyouwantelp?" John stumbled over his words due to the speed that the question burst out of his mouth. Stanley raised an eyebrow.
John tried again, growing redder in the darkness. Why? "Do you... want help?"
The Gryffindor boy's lips parted in a minuscule 'o' shape in surprise. John could feel the heat in his cheeks setting his face on fire. Good thing it was well past midnight, and this classroom didn't have too many windows.
"Yeah, actually," Stanley whispered, and John's breath hitched and his heart fluttered. John still couldn't understand why. His first thought was the adrenaline finally kicking into his system to warm his numb limbs. He then cleared his throat to speak up. "I'd like that."
John shifted his eyes away from his classmate to huff a quick breath of warm steam into his palms as though he was chilly. Really though, he felt as though he had the Cruciatus curse placed on him, without the burning pain but rather the racing heartbeat and fiery skin.
Not wanting to ruin anything by staying longer, John scrambled to his feet and pulled his robe tighter. Stanley shakily leaned one shivering arm against the stone wall to help himself up, and John couldn't help but feel pity once again. He knew the taller boy wanted to appear anything but weak, and yet it had gotten to the point where he couldn't control it. John offered a hand and Stanley gratefully took it. They hung on the weight of each other momentarily so Stanley could easily stand.
John rocked backwards and forwards on his heels awkwardly, bunching his fists up in his pockets. "So.. when are you free?"
"I don't have a seventh, so in the evening I guess."
"Yeah, I can do that. Where, uh.. do you want to meet?"
Stanley pursed his lips. "Do you think you could ask a teacher to borrow a classroom? You're more of a teacher's pet than I am."
Stanley chuckled. "Unless you want to freeze your ass off in the Quidditch field right at sundown."
"Sounds great. See you on Friday." The older boy laughed again and John's toes tingled.
"Okay, then. Friday it is."
The two boys sheepishly shuffled their feet in an awkward circle trying to figure out who would exit first. John ended up lunging for the door handle a little too enthusiastically and pulling the door open. He sped away, cheeks still on fire. The Hufflepuff and the Gryffindor walked in separate directions, each victim to their own confused and rushing brains in the hushed castle halls.
John's brain was kicking him for what had just happened. Why the hell did he just agree to meet up with his archenemy? John shook his head rapidly attempting to drown out his thoughts. He forced himself into thinking it was about time the both of them got over the whole enemy-thing. Though something told John that it was far from over, and apparently age and levels of maturity was not going to get in the way. He knew from the bottom of his stomach that he couldn't live with himself if he hadn't done something to involve himself in the Triwizard Tournament anyways. The blonde was much to fidgety and anxious for trouble that he was almost glad that his involvement existed, however small. At least, for now.
John crept easily back into the common room into his dorm room. Though his thoughts were still whirring, he managed to settle into his sheets just as the sun's first ray peaked over the frozen horizon. Little did he know one of his dorm mates was wide awake at the time he departed and returned, sat listening to John shifting in his bed tirelessly.