Content Harry Potter Original Young Justice
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Author Notes:

A/N: I do not own Harry Potter. Nor any of the Marvel Comics Characters mentioned herein. But, you knew that.

"Oh my," Padma whispered when Harry entered the pitch. She clutched Hermione's hand even tighter. "He looks so small compared to the others."

"He's got a plan," Hermione insisted, wishing she sounded more confident.

"Did he tell you what it was?" Padma asked.

"No," the bushy haired girl admitted. "The smart-alecky idiot just said that I couldn't get into trouble for something I didn't know about when I asked. But, he has a plan. He always has a plan."

"I do hope he doesn't hurt the poor Horntail," Luna Lovegood said from Hermione's left. "Harry is usually so nice, but at the end of the day, he's still a boy, and boys tend to be a bit stupid when they're showing off."

"What?" Padma asked. "Who is Harry showing off for?"

"Well, you, of course," the odd third year said matter of factly. "And also for Hermione, and Susan, and Hannah, and Tracey, and the French girl, and even me a little bit. It's a puberty thing. He's planning on showing that he's the Alpha male by defeating the most dangerous of the Dragons without getting hurt."

"You seem awfully certain of that, Luna," Hermione said, grateful for the distraction the younger girl offered.

"Boys are not as mysterious as most girls make them out to be," Luna shrugged. "For the poor dragon's sake, I hope Harry wins quickly."

"What makes you say that?" Padma asked, unable to take her eyes off her boyfriend as he now approached the dragon.

"Well, if Harry ends up in danger," Luna said, pointing down the stands to where Neville stood in the stands near the area where the champions would emerge once they had their prizes, "the poor mother dragon will end up having to face a very angry alchemist, and that just wouldn't be fair. Oh, look, he's started."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Barty Crouch Jr. narrowed his eyes from his vantage point in the stands. How did the Potter boy end up facing the Horntail?

This was most specifically not the plan. His Master would be most displeased if the child ended up so badly hurt he could not complete the tasks, or worse, dead. The Potter boy was his Master's most favored subject for fueling his rebirth. Any of the Champions would do, but the Dark Lord wanted Potter.

If only the boy had not rebuffed his every attempt to offer advice… He raised his flask to his lips for a quick sip. Only long exposure to the vile brew allowed Crouch to keep any indication of distaste from appearing on his face.

What was the boy doing? He had not even drawn his wand?

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Harry made his way to the spot marked off as his starting point, trying to ignore the hundreds of faces staring down at him from stands.

The Horntail, at the other end of the enclosure, crouched low over her clutch of eggs, her wings half-furled, her evil, yellow eyes upon him, a monstrous, scaly, black lizard, thrashing her spiked tail, leaving yard-long gouge marks in the hard ground. The crowd was making a great deal of noise, but whether friendly or not, Harry did not know or care.

A mental command caused his armor, no longer a techsuit, but actual armor to power up its primary systems. Without the helmet activated, a thin filament extended from the armor's collar to project the heads up display directly into his eyes. All systems reported optimal functionality. Other than his enhanced wand, his magical weapons were not ready yet, but the more conventional Starktech offensive suite was his to command.

It was time to do what he had to do… to focus his mind, entirely and absolutely, upon the thing that was his first, but not only, choice for dealing with the dragon. It was time to find out if all those phone calls to the Golden Dragon in New York were worth the effort

If nothing else, he had made Foom laugh. How many people could say that?

From a pocket, he withdrew the scroll Foom had sent him. If this worked, he was going to owe the world's only Buddhist Dragon Chef the biggest tip ever.

Sliding his thumb over the seal, the scroll unrolled.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Minerva McGonagall stood with her fellow teachers outside Poppy Pomfrey's medical tent. Having had Harry Stark in her classes for three full years, she knew he was capable of surprising them all.

"What is that idiot boy doing?"

"He appears to be unfurling some sort of banner, Alastor," Filius said quietly. "I'm not sure why he would be doing that, though."

"Why the bloody fucking hell would he be waving a damned flag at a dragon?" the scarred man demanded. "He doesn't even have his wand drawn."

"Alastor!" Minerva scolded, "Language!"

Minerva would never admit to wondering the same thing, in much the same language.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

The golden banner fluttered in the wind, the red lettering showing clearly, even up into the stands. Not that it made that much difference to the vast majority of the audience.

龍王保護

"Oh, my," Cho said from three seats in front of Padma.

"No way," Su Li agreed from behind Hermione.

"Well, that is a risky way to go about it," Luna mused.

"What?" Padma demanded. "What does it mean?"

"It roughly translates to Dragon Protection," Su explained.

"The banner is saying that Harry is under the protection of the King of the Dragons," Luna interjected. "If the Horntail believes it, Harry's task is over. If not, then it will only be over when one of them are dead. Dragons hate it when someone falsely claim's Foom's protection."

"How do you know that?" Su demanded.

"Page 208 of Quibbler Publishing's The Big Book of Dragon Lore ," Luna explained happily. "Edited and published by my Daddy. It's an international best seller."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

The Horntail blinked owlishly at Foom's banner. Taking that as a good sign, Harry swallowed and cautiously planted the banner's staff into the ground before walking toward the nest and the huge dragon standing astride it. Once he reached the nest, the Horntail, never taking her eyes off Harry, slowly backed off.

Looking into the nest, he found six large eggs, the color and consistency of concrete, and a single golden egg, his goal.

"The gold one doesn't belong," Harry said slowly, enunciating each word carefully. The Horntail gave no indication that she understood him, which was more than a little disconcerting. At this range if she used her fire breath on him, there would be no time to raise the helmet. "I explained the situation to Foom, he gave me his blessings. I'll not bother your eggs, but remove the false egg." Carefully, slowly, he knelt down, lifted the golden egg, and then stood up again, holding his prize out for the dragon to inspect.

The nesting mother sniffed loudly at the metallic egg, her long, forked, tongue flicking out to taste it. Once she seemed to be satisfied, she nodded once. Harry slowly backed away from the nest, maintaining eye contact the whole time.

Upon reaching the banner, he reactivated the seals on Foom's banner, and pocketed the scroll. He then turned and walked to the finishing point where the Hogswarts professors waited.

It was only then Harry realized that the entire stadium had gone silent, and Flitwick, McGonagall and Moody were all standing behind the finishing point, staring at him, their mouths open in shock.

"What?" He asked.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Thirty minutes later the four champions were still waiting.

"I do not understand," Fleur said, "None of the other scores took so long to post."

Cedric nodded. "I think mine was the longest, and rightfully so," he reached up to scratch his left arm, but thought better of it when he encountered the burn balm his entire left side was slathered in. "Taking half an hour to post Harry's score is just patently unfair."

"From the looks of things," Harry said gesturing toward the Judges' station, "there is something of a spirited discussion about my technique. Do you think it would help or hurt if I were to tell them I don't care about their points?"

"You should care," Fleur disagreed. "Confusing the dragon with a flag the way you did was ingenious."

"Oh, there was no confusion," Harry pointed out. "The Horntail recognized Foom's Banner. If I had tried to fake it, it would have been a fight to the death."

"Foom?" Cedric asked.

"Fin Fang Foom, the King of all Dragons," Harry explained.

"Dragons have a king?" Fleur asked.

"Well, that's the human term," Harry admitted. "Foom is their supreme unquestioned leader. Humanity doesn't really have an equivalent."

"But…" Fleur hesitated, "dragons are unthinking beasts."

"Beast and creature are unfortunate terms to throw around," Harry cautioned. "There are those who would classify Veela as creatures for example. Dragons have their own ways about them. Their ways are simply alien to us. My friend Franklin and I have spent quite a few afternoons in Foom's restaurant, if there weren't any customers, he would tell us stories of how dragon's used to live before people were everywhere."

The Hufflepuff and the French girl exchanged a look of concern. Had the pressures of the tournament gotten to the youngest competitor? "Foom's Restaurant?" Cedric asked gently.

Harry nodded, smiling. "Yeah, I know, it sounds crazy. Foom is immortal, and he's gotten tired of fighting all the time. A while back, he converted to Buddhism, and he's become a chef. Nevertheless, he can still be conned into telling some kids his stories on a slow day. And he makes the most killer pork fried rice in the city."

"Harry?" Viktor asked. "Do you have a moment?"

"Sure, Viktor," Harry said as he stood up. "What's up?"

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Krum led Harry to a secluded back corner of the fenced off Champions' waiting area where a nondescript man waited.

"Harry, this is my Godfather," Viktor said simply, in way of introduction. "He has asked to speak with you."

"Thank you, Viktor," the man said, the dismissal clear in his voice.

Harry noticed that Krum wanted to protest, but did not. What was it about this… featureless man that had the professional athlete so cowed? "How can I help you, sir?" Harry asked.

The man smiled… he did smile, didn't he? It was so hard to tell. "I wanted to compliment you on using the Protection of Foom in the challenge. When Victor approached me for ideas about the best ways to face the dragon, reaching out to Foom never occurred to me."

Harry gave up on discerning the man's features, concentrating instead on his clothing. Grey robes of no notable style. He could not make out the fabric or any stitching. "Desperate times called for desperate measures, sir," Harry admitted. "When I spoke with him, Foom couldn't guarantee that a European Dragon would even recognize his banner, but short of doing something that might end up hurting a nesting mother, I thought it was worth the risk."

"You seem distracted," the man noted.

"I'm sorry, sir," Harry answered honestly. "I'm finding you to be hard to look at. It is as if your features are… Are you under some sort of glamor, sir?"

Krum's Godfather threw his head back and laughed, yet even this did not appear to attract any attention from anyone else in the champion's enclosure. "Well done, Mr. Stark. It's rare that anyone ever says anything. I don't know if that's because they do not notice, of if they are too frightened to mention it."

The glamor shimmered for a moment then was gone; a gunmetal grey armored mask and a green cloak replaced the indistinct features and grey robes.

Harry's eyes went wide in horror, and he took an involuntary step backward, stopping only when his spine pressed up against the fence.

"Shit!"

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"Language, Mr. Stark," the Tyrant of Latveria scolded gently. "I'm sure your father taught you better than that."

"Wha…" Harry swallowed hard, trying, and failing, to calm himself. Doom was so utterly out of his league it was not funny. "What do you want?"

"Mr. Stark," Doom laughed. "If I wished you harm, you would be harmed. You would not have been able to stop me, not with your magic, not with your amusing armor, not even with whatever it is you've done to your wand to so increase its ability to channel magic. I am here to ask you a simple question."

A glimmer of hope blossomed in Harry's mind. He pushed it away and stayed on guard. "Ask."

"Did you connive to be part of this contest?"

"What?" Harry asked incredulously. That was quite literally the last thing he expected to hear from Viktor Von Doom. "No. Hell no. Dad spent a fortune trying to get me out of it. There is a terrorist group called the Death Eaters, they followed the Maniac who killed my birth parents. I believe I was entered into this tournament as part of a plot to somehow bring their leader back."

Doom nodded. "I had heard rumors to that effect."

"Is Viktor really your Godson?" Harry asked in spite of himself.

"And my namesake," Doom agreed. "Not something I advertise. I would be most unhappy if that were to become public knowledge. That said, Viktor is a proud young man, you will not hold back against him. You will compete against him with everything you have. Should you fail to do so, I would likely become quite unhappy with you."

The glamor reasserted itself around the armored man as he turned and walked away.

Once Doom was out of sight, Harry leaned back against the fence behind him, his hands on his knees and looked down to inspect his uniform. Then he started silently thanking God that he had not lost control of his bladder in front of Dr. Doom.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"Igor," the nondescript man called from the edges of the ongoing argument between the Judges.

Karkaroff looked down from his ongoing exchange with Olympe Maxime, only to stiffen when he saw who was calling his name.

"I must go," the Durmstang Headmaster said, "A member of my board wants to speak with me, no doubt to lodge his concerns about this travesty."

Without waiting acknowledgement, Karkaroff exited the Judges' area and followed the grey man to a private area.

"Yes, My Lord?" He asked.

"What is the hold up with the Stark boy's scores, Igor?" Doom asked quietly. "Should I assume that you are being you?"

"This is a contest of magical skill and knowledge," Karkaroff said. "All the boy did was wave a flag."

"A flag with the power to cow a fully grown dragon…" Doom pointed out. "Unlike you, he was aware of this. That sounds like magical knowledge to me, and if I believe that, so do you. Do you understand me Igor?"

"But… Viktor…" the Headmaster stuttered.

"Viktor is more than capable of winning or losing on his own without your assistance," Doom said dismissively. "You will score all of the events fairly, or you will answer to me. For this first task, Durmstang awards young Mr. Stark full marks."

"Full marks?" Igor echoed.

"I am not in the habit of repeating myself, Igor," Doom said quietly. "Never question me again."

"Yes, My Lord," Karkaroff whispered.

"And Igor, if you receive any indication that your former master is returning, any indication at all, you will let me know."

"Of course Master," Karkaroff nodded, unable to resist grasping his left forearm.

"There is an obvious plot involving the Stark boy and this contest," Doom said. "There is a chance that Viktor might be pulled into the plot. I will not tolerate this."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"I cannot believe you," Hermione scolded. "Trying to get by a dragon by waving a flag at it."

"Okay," Harry said, holding Padma's hand as they made their way to dinner. "Two things. First, it was a banner, not a flag, there is a difference, and secondly, it worked. You will notice that of the four Champions, I am the one uninjured. No broken bones, no burns, I didn't even rip my tournament uniform. Crazy plans that work aren't crazy. That has to count for something."

"I just wish you'd told us what you were doing," Padma said.

"I thought about it," Harry admitted. "But crazy plans are crazy before they work, and you two were already worried. I didn't see any reason to add a whole lot of crazy to your worries."

"Where did you even come up with that banner idea from?" Hermione demanded. "I've been through every book on Dragon Lore in the library and there is nothing on anything like that in any of them." She intentionally did not mention the Big Book of Dragon Lore she had ordered from Quibbler publishing via Luna while they had been waiting for Harry's scores to post.

"Oh, I got it from Fin Fang Foom," Harry said casually.

"Who?" Padma asked.

"The King of the Dragons," Harry explained. "Well, not king really, that's a human term. Foom is their undisputed ruler, I'm not sure if he has a title."

"Are you claiming to know the Supreme Dragon?" Hermione asked; a touch of hysteria showing in her voice.

"Well, yeah," Harry nodded. "I tried to introduce you when you were in New York, but you were too busy playing footsie with Frank and watching his dad blow stuff up to want to go for Chinese food…"

"The chef of the restaurant on the ground floor of the Baxter Building?" Hermione gasped. "You were serious?"

"Of course I was serious," Harry said, clearly confused. "How could claiming that a dragon had converted to Buddhism and become a chef even be a joke, anyhow?"

The trio had reached the entrance to the Great Hall, Harry stood to the side so that the girls could enter.

"Harry?"

The trio turned to find Viktor Krum standing in a darkened corner. "Might I have a word?"

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Harry followed Viktor into the same room where the Champions first been assembled back on Halloween, closing the door behind him.

"I am sorry," the professional Seeker said, looking down at his feet. "I know my Godfather can be… intimidating. I would have warned you, but he insisted on seeing you immediately… and he is not only my Godfather, he is also my King. He must be obeyed."

"I'd wondered about that," Harry nodded. "Not really Bulgarian then?"

"On my mother's side, yes," Krum admitted. "Dual citizenship, you see. Latveria is pariah state, many athletes use dual citizenship in order to play in the world. So, you are not angry about me surprising you with… Doom?"

"Well," Harry said as he sat on one of the tables, "at first I was going to track you down and scream 'What the Hell?' at you for a couple of hours, but after I calmed down, I figured out that to you, he wasn't Dr. Doom, he was your Godfather. I didn't even think about him being your king on top of that."

"When my Godfather told me who you were, it took me several moments of reflection to realize that you see your father as your father, not as the criminal terrorist Ironman."

Harry blinked at that. He had not realized that Doom knew that his Dad and Ironman was the same guy. Though, it wasn't really surprising that someone with Doom's assets would know. "Perspective, I guess. Are we okay?"

"Yes," the larger teen agreed with a lopsided smile. "Someday I would like to visit New York and meet the King of the Dragons who chooses to live as a man, and to have a friend to do the introductions would be convenient. Besides, Krum will be winning the tournament."

"Well," Harry grinned, "As the current first place, I'll wish you luck then, though I wouldn't count Fleur and Cedric out of the competition. Want to go grab some dinner?"

"In a moment, I have favor to ask," Krum became interested in his shoes again. "Your friend, the girl with the large hair… He-rom-noy? No, is wrong. I do not know how to pronounce her name."

"Hermione?" Harry asked.

"Her-mi-oh-ne," Krum repeated, obviously attempting to get the pronunciation of the unfamiliar name down. "Could you introduce us?"

"Why?" Harry asked.

"I am… Celebrity," Krum said cautiously. "Many fans at Durmstang, and even at Hogwarts and Beauxbatons. Everywhere I go, women and girls follow me. I have studied English, for year to prepare for this tournament, I speak well, but reading for classes is still hard. When I ask for help, I get… mobbed."

Krum paused for a moment before continuing. "You are as famous as I, and attract almost as much attention, but your friends do not care, Her-mi-oh-ne especially is not impressed by your fame, and she does not care about Quidditch, I was hoping she would help me with studies."

Harry regarded his competitor for a moment. "I know a few boys in Ravenclaw who don't care about Quidditch who could help you with the books; would you like to meet them as well?"

He could not help but smile at Krum's silence. "Okay, you dog, so it's more than studying you're interested in. Isn't Hermione a bit young for you?"

"No!" Krum protested just a bit too loudly. "I worry about that, so I ask. She turned 15 in September. I turned 17 in August. Only 2 years between us."

Harry paused for a moment, wondering if he should mention Hermione's budding romance with Franklin. Then he remembered the summer before when he had suggested, asked, pleaded and ultimately begged Franklin to take Parvati out so that he and Padma could manage some alone time, only to be laughed at. Moreover, Hermione had been spectacularly slow on the uptake when he and Padma had tried to have dates on both of the Hogsmeade weekends so far this year.

Harry decided it would be funnier to watch the fireworks that occurred when the son of Reed Richards and the Godson of Viktor Von Doom ended up competing for the attentions of the same young woman safely from the sidelines. Still…

"You know she is Mundane…, I mean, Muggleborn, right?" Harry asked.

"Means nothing," Krum said with a shrug.

"You're sure?" Harry pressed. "I mean Durmstang is famous for its Purebloods only policy…"

"Stupid rule," Viktor said, waving his hand dismissively. "My Godfather knows more magic than any of the staff, and cannot use a wand. Some look done their noses at him, but only in silence, for they fear his power. Her-mi-oh-ne is smart, pretty, and does not care about the nonsense of your life. I hope she does not care about the nonsense of mine."

"Okay," Harry laughed. That had been the best answer he could hope for. "Let's head to dinner, sit with us, and I'll introduce you around to everyone."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

After dinner on November the 28th, Tracey hesitated outside the unused classroom that their group had been using for their OWL project. She was early, as was her habit, but was now reconsidering her choice. Harry was almost always early as well, but she had not been alone with him since she had ended their relationship and perhaps their friendship.

She steeled herself and opened the door.

And of course he was there, fussing with an array of silver panels and attachments. He looked up from his task and smiled. "Hi Tracey."

"Hello, Harry," she said. "Have you got it working?"

"After a fashion," he admitted with a grin. "It's one of the things we need to talk about tonight."

"Hermione and I haven't made much progress in getting the memory to work," she noted. Tracey crossed the room to look at the example he had set up on the table.

"Yeah," Harry nodded, "I read the summary you wrote up. There must be a reason that the runic arrays break down after 80 read cycles. We'll figure it out. Zabini's report on the long-term storage suggests that they're not doing well either. We'll need to discuss all of that."

"So, the only thing that works is the processor that you and Padma put together, and the display that Greengrass and Bulstrode are adapting from the Ravenclaw Reader?"

"Hardly," Harry laughed. "The plans called for an 8 bit processor for the prototype. This four bit beast is the best we've managed to get working."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"Thank you all for coming," Harry said once the last of the group arrived. "And I'm sorry it's taken me so long to call the first meeting for the year, but this stupid Tournament had taken up so much of my time."

"I was starting to get worried," Kevin Entwhistle snarked. "Our grades are on the line in this too, you know."

"As usual, your altruism knows no bounds, Kevin," Stark deadpanned right back. "Okay, this is what we've got;" he said, activating the prototype in front of him. The display crackled into life to show 'HELLO WORLD'.

"So, our status at this point in 4th year," Harry sighed. "Our best functional prototype processor maxes out at four bits. Not sure why, Padma and I worked on it over the summer and every time we tried to take it to 8 bit, we had a cascade failure in the output registers. We're missing something important, that much is clear."

"Daphne and Millie's work on adapting the Ravenclaw Reader's display to our needs is the bright point of out status report. It appears to be working without any issues at all. Thank you ladies. Hopefully the work you did on the display registers will be useful on the other problems we're having."

"Both the Long Term Storage and Random Access Memory are disasters," Harry continued. "The RAM appears to work fine for the first 80 read cycles, and then the runic patterns actually break down."

"Break down?" Su Li asked.

"The etchings in the aluminum,"

"Aluminium," Hermione corrected.

"Yes, aluminium, thank you Hermione," Harry sighed, "the etchings in the aluminium over heat and slag. The runes are for all practical purposes erased from the substrate. It's a mess, and we're going to have to fall back to the beginning to fix it."

"And finally the long term storage is working fine as long as it is powered. The array loses its data either upon power down or upon reapplication of power, Blaise's group hasn't figured out which yet."

Silence filled the room for several moments.

"That's where we are on the project," Harry continued. "To add to all of this, with the stupid Tournament, I'm going to be too busy to be much help this year. So, I've got a suggestion for the group."

"What is it, Harry?" Daphne asked, "I know the professors said that a failed project with good methodology could pass, but I really don't want to test that theory."

"And I agree with you," Harry nodded. "When we started this I told you we would have a backup project in case we had bitten off more than we could chew, and with our rampaging string of failure, it's starting to look like we might have. With what we've got right now, the functioning four bit processor and working display, we could rework it to deliver the calculator."

"So, we give up on the computer?" Kevin asked.

"No, not at all, we've still got most of two years after all, but having the Calculator as a finished product will take the pressure off."

"That's a good idea," Su Li nodded. "Are you going to have time to continue being the team leader with the tournament?"

"No, I don't think I am," Harry admitted. "I'm sorry, but I'm going to have to step down. Out of everyone in the group, I would nominate Tracey to take over for me; I think she's got the best overview of the project."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Millie Bulstrode's attention wandered as the group got into some of the more esoteric possibilities for resolving the failure of their individual projects. Millie could research with the best of them, but the endless rehashing of details that they had gone over before bored her almost to tears.

Looking about the room, she spotted Stark's book bag within reach against the wall, and next to it lay the Golden Egg from the first task.

She looked up to the front of the room where Stark, Patil, and her cousin were deep in conversation about the long-term storage problems. She shrugged to herself and reached down to pick up the Egg.

The damned thing was heavy! Millie turned the massive construct over in her hands. Like so many highly enchanted artifacts, she could feel the magic in the Egg almost vibrating underneath the textured surface. But, what did it do?

Examining the surface of the Egg, Millie discovered that almost the entire surface engraved with fine grooves and patterns. Nothing that appeared to be any recognizable lettering. It was odd. And somehow… familiar. Peering closer at the surface of the Egg, she was surprised to find an almost unnoticeable seam.

Almost as if it were…

Millie blinked. She knew what this was. The magic the beneath the surface was a distraction. The real secret was the Egg itself. Placing the Egg down on the tabletop in front of her, she moved both her hands over the form searching for a familiar form.

On her third pass, she found it. Millie set her right thumb onto a slightly raised feature and pressed. Her efforts were rewarded with a metallic click that echoed off the stonewalls, silencing all the ongoing conversations.

Stark had looked up and met her eyes in surprise at the sound, "Millie?" he asked, "what are you doing?"

"Sorry," she said, starting to return the Egg to where she found it. "I got bored and…"

"No!" Stark exclaimed as he rushed to her side. "Don't stop. Show me what you did and tell me how you knew to do it. I've been futzing around with this stupid thing for a week and haven't gotten any reaction out of it at all. I thought I was going to have to X-ray it or ask for help from someone with intangibility. How did you make it click?"

"I haven't finished it yet," Millie said, her hands moving over the Egg's surface, finding the next segment and pulling until she was rewarded with another click. "I think it's like a Muggle Puzzle Box. My Da collects them. You have to move sections in a specific order to open it."

"Show me," Stark asked.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Cedric checked the room number on the note he had found under his plate at dinner, and nervously entered the classroom to find a smiling Fleur Delacour waiting for him.

"Good, you have come," she said. "I was worried no one would."

"Not just me then," Cedric asked, not sure if the news had him feeling disappointed or relieved.

The French woman blinked at him before throwing her head back and letting loose with a most undignified throaty laugh. "You thought…" she gasped once she had control of herself again. "You thought that I wanted…"

"It's not that funny," the Hufflepuff protested. "A lad can dream can't he?"

"What is funny?" Viktor Krum asked as he entered the room.

"Just a cultural misunderstanding," Fleur assured the Quidditch Phenom while winking at Cedric. "Now we just need to wait for Harry. Before the First Task, he suggested that we work together to pool our resources prior to the tasks, and we all rejected the idea. I am here to suggest that we might have made a mistake."

"Yeah," Cedric nodded. "I haven't gotten the Egg open either."

"There is more to my changing my mind than that," Fleur protested, "but no, I have not opened it to discover the clues."

"Nor have I" Krum admitted. "My Headmaster wants to tell me what to do, but the oaths he took are preventing it. The man has no honor."

"I've tried every unlocking charm I could find," Fleur sighed.

"I've tried submerging my Egg in water, hot and cold, fresh and salt," Cedric said. "Nothing. I tried extreme heat, extreme cold, bright lights, utter darkness, standard unlocking charms, Gaelic unlocking charms, Chinese unlocking charms I got from my girlfriend, nothing has worked."

"I also froze it, and applied heat to it, and then I got frustrated and threw mine against the wall of one of the class rooms I was using," Krum supplied. It chipped the stone wall and not a mark on the Egg."

The door opened. "Hey everyone," Harry said as he came in. "What's up?"

"We want to talk about the alliance you suggested," Cedric said, while the other two students nodded.

"Cool," Harry said happily. "Just because we're competing, I don't think we need to be adversarial, you know?"

"Is everyone agreed?" Fleur asked.

"Yes," Viktor agreed, while Cedric nodded.

"Good," the young French woman said, producing her Golden Egg from a bag at her feet. "Our first project needs to be to discover how to open our eggs."

"That, I've got covered," Harry said, dropping his book bag on the floor and approaching the older girl and her Egg. He removed it from her hands. "There are enchantments on it, but it's basically a Mundane Puzzle Box," Harry explained as his hands moved over the engraved surface of the Egg without looking, until he located the raised feature he needed and pushed it in with his left thumb until an audible click echoed throughout the room. "That unlocks it, then you rotate it ninety degrees, find the newly raised cylinder, pull it out half an inch," another click. "Then at the top, rotate it 45 degrees clockwise looking down, and the Egg opens."

The youngest champion levered the top half of the Egg open on invisible hinges following the third click. "It looks like you've got the same things in your Egg that are in mine."

"How did you know to do that?" Fleur gasped.

"In all honesty," Harry grinned, "I didn't. I took the silly thing to a study group I'm in and while I was working on something else, one of my classmates figured it out. Her father collects puzzle boxes, and she thought the seams on the Egg looks similar and started playing with it. She said it is a simple puzzle as those things go. I'd about given up."

"We should all go get our Eggs," Cedric said. "Then compare the contents and try to figure out what we're going to have to do."

"Yes," Viktor agreed. "We do this now."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

In the far back corner of the Library, at the table Hermione Granger had claimed as her own three years before, a session of seventh year Arithmancy revision was interrupted when Viktor Krum spread the maps and notes obtained from his golden Egg on the table.

"An obstacle course?" Hermione asked dubiously. "That doesn't sound very… magical."

Viktor put way his notes for the arithmancy assignment before looking up to meet the younger girl's eyes. "The obstacles will be magical, of course," he laughed quietly. "We are to retrieve something… or perhaps, someone, the clues are not clear, from the center of the course, and take them to a randomly selected end point."

"It just sounds so… dull," she noted, "compared to facing a dragon I mean."

"I thought so too, until I looked at the drawings they gave us as clues," Krum explained. "There will be four approaches, each very different, and we will not know which we will run until just before we start. According to the notes, the judges are expecting the winning time for the task to be somewhere around two hours."

"Two hours?" Hermione gasped.

"Obviously, all competitors will run their courses at the same time," Viktor explained. "Each will face one set of obstacles on the way to the center, and another set on the way out."

"Are you sure you should be telling me this?" Hermione asked. "Harry is my friend after all."

The Durmstang Champion chuckled deeply, "Harry knows, all the competitors know, we planned our strategies together. We even have bet for who will win." He winked at his study partner. "Smart money is on Cedric. Since we cannot fly, Harry, Fleur and I think his build gives him advantage. Cedric disagrees; he says Fleur's heritage gives her the advantage over most of the terrains. Winner of second task gets 30 galleons."

"Thirty?" Hermione asked. "But there are four of you."

"Her-mi-oh-ne," the Seeker said in a scolding tone, "Why would winner pay himself?"

"Oh, right," the girls said, a bit disappointed to have made such a silly mistake. This is why she was caught by surprise when Viktor took her hand in his.

"Her-mi-oh-ne, I have question to ask."

She looked up in surprise. "What is it Viktor?"

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Later that night Harry, Padma and Hermione were relaxing in the Ravenclaw common room, together on the well-worn sofa that the three of them had claimed as their own their first year.

"Viktor asked me to the Ball." Hermione said quietly.

"He did?" Padma asked.

"The Ball?" Harry asked, sitting up suddenly. "Oh hell."

"Language Harry," Hermione scolded absentmindedly.

"It occurs to me that I've never asked you to the Ball, have I?" Harry asked.

"No, you have not," Padma confirmed. "Parvati has been after me to double with her with a couple of Gryffies."

"How much groveling is this going to take?" Harry asked. "My only excuse is we've never had a dance before and I was worried about not getting killed by the dragon."

"Oh, woe is me," Hermione snarked, "I had to wave a flag at a dragon. How long are you going to try to milk that excuse, Harry?"

"As long as it works," Harry replied honestly.

"Just so you know, Hermione has been teaching me about Muggle dates," Padma said. "So, I know what you're supposed to do."

"Muggle dates?" Harry asked turning to his bushy haired friend. "What do you know about dating?"

"I've reviewed the reference material," Hermione sniffed.

"Reference material?" Harry repeated. "What do you mean by 'reference material'?"

"Movies," Padma explained. "We've seen so many wonderful movies about how Muggles date. It's confusing, but always ends so wonderfully."

"Wonderful," Harry sighed. His relationship was going to be judged in comparison to Romantic Comedies.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"Professor McGonagall?"

Minerva McGonagall paused on her way out of the Great Hall with Pomona Sprout. "Yes, Miss Granger?"

"I was wondering if we were allowed to attend the Yule Ball with someone who isn't a Hogwarts Student," the Ravenclaw asked. "I asked Professor Flitwick, but he said that he was unaware of any policy on the subject and that I should approach you."

Minerva and Pomona shared a glance and the two witches both suppressed smiles. The relationship that had blossomed between Miss Granger and Durmstang's Viktor Krum had been the talk of the staff room ever since Irma Pince had first reported it.

"That would be fine, Miss Granger," Minerva said with a nod. "You would hardly be the only Hogwarts student to have a date from another school."

"So, no special permissions are required?" The girl asked. "No forms to fill out?"

"Of course not," Pomona laughed.

"Thank you, Professors."

"Ah, to be young again," Pomona sighed as she watched the young girl walk away.

"Youth has its perks," Minerva agreed, "but it also has its disadvantages, Severus volunteered to do the 'safety' patrols of the gardens for the night of the Ball."

"Severus? Please," Pomona scoffed as the pair resumed their journey. "Severus is all bark. We had old McGinnis if you recall, that old biddy could detect anyone having fun within a 500-yard radius. She caught you a few times as I recall."

"And you a few times more, Pomona," Minerva sniffed.

The pair checked that no one was around them before they both began to laugh.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"Mr. Stark is here, Headmaster," Fitwick said as he led his Ravenclaw into the Headmaster's office, while wondering just what the old man wanted this time.

"Ah, Harry," the old man said. "So good to see you again."

"Yes sir?" Stark asked. "You'll forgive me sir, but could we hurry this up? Potions starts in fifteen minutes and Professor Snape is something less than forgiving of those who show up to his class late, excused or not."

"Of course, Harry," Albus smiled through his beard. "I was just concerned when I saw your name on the list of students leaving Hogwarts for the Yule Holidays"

The boy waited patiently for the Headmaster to explain his concern. Filius could not help but smile. The number of people who could get under the Headmaster's skin were few, but Harry Stark was one of them.

"You do intend to leave Hogwarts for the Yule Holidays, don't you, Harry?" Albus finally asked when the silence got too much for him.

"Yes sir, I do." The young man stood up, "will that be all?"

"Harry, you have to be at the Yule Ball," Dumbledore explained.

"Excuse me, sir, but I do not," Stark disagreed. "I have to compete in the Tasks. I have to do my level best to win. The magical contract that I gave you every chance to keep me out of made no mention of any dances, cotillions, or balls, as such; I do not have to attend. I have arranged, along with the bulk of my classmates, to leave the castle upon the completion of classes today."

"But tradition requires…"

"Headmaster," Stark sighed, "this is the first occurrence of the Triwizard Tournament in 177 years. Any 'traditions' associated with the old tournament are as dead as the people who last performed them."

"The other Champions are remaining in the castle in preparation for their duties during the Yule Ball," Albus said.

Stark smiled. "Both Miss Delacour and Mr. Krum have already left to spend some time with their families before the Ball. Cedric is planning to leave the same time I am. Once again, you show that you only pay any attention to my plans and none at all to anyone else's."

"Harry…" Albus seemed to search for the words before choosing to plead, "Please stay?"

"Headmaster, the Ball is Sunday at 7pm. I fully intend to be here, not because of any silly tradition, but because my girlfriend wants to attend."

Filius shook his head. Whenever these two came together, it seemed that they would come into conflict. The half goblin was not sure if it was due to Albus' insistence of being in control of Harry Stark's life or Harry's Stark's insistence that no one controlled him.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Discontinuity

Suddenly Franklin Richards was somewhere else. He knew that he should know where he was, but he did not. Nothing made sense. Panic gripped him, and bile rose in his throat. Fighting against vomiting, Franklin fell backwards onto the ground, into snow. He crabbed in whatever direction was behind him, wanting nothing more than to be away .

Harry's face came into his field of vision.

"Frank, what's wrong?" He asked.

"Gotta…" Franklin said, trying and failing to fight against the panic, "gotta get away. Gotta leave!" He gathered his power and pushed. He could feel his Dad's inhibitor tech start to heat up as it fought against him, the terror made him push harder.

"FRANK!" Harry tackled him, holding him down. "It's the ward, it's repelling you."

Franklin heard his friend hiss in pain as Harry came into contact with the inhibitor where it had burned through his shirt, but couldn't bring himself to care as he fought to get away.

"My fault," Harry snarled, as he held on to Franklin tighter. "I never thought about how the repelling ward might affect you. It's trying to make you leave, it's supposed to be a gentle push, but I never thought about what it might be like if you just show up in the middle of the field. Look for it, Frank. You're the Master of Time, Space and Dimension, remember? Find the ward and make it stop affecting you."

Make it stop. At some level, Franklin thought that was a very good idea. He focused on his mind as Professor Xavier had taught him, and looked within himself. His Astral form came into being on his Mindscape, and that that was where he found it. A force that was pushing on his consciousness. His Astral form visualized this force as a pulsing blue fog.

Harry was right. He was the Master of Time, Space, and Dimension. This 'blue fog' was not going to control him.

Franklin refocused his concentration on the fog. His father's inhibitor tech was dedicated on protecting the physical world from his power. Here on his Mindscape, it has no power at all. His power grasped the fog, lifting it off the surface of his Mindscape.

Immediately, the panic faded, but the embarrassment and anger that Franklin Richards felt did not. He used his power over his Mindscape to shape and compress the fog. More flooded in to replace what he had control over, so he took that too. Took it all. Compressing it smaller and smaller,

Finally, the sum total of the blue fog was compressed into a sphere the size of his fist. Franklin examined it for a heartbeat, analyzing what it was, and what it did. With a thought, he cancelled the fog's ability to affect him, and banished the sphere from his mind.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Harry was still on top of him, holding him down. "Frank?"

"Get off me, Lard Ass," Franklin said, "I've got a girlfriend waiting for me, and I don't need you ruining my reputation with your PDAs."

Harry stood up before offering his hand to assist Franklin to his feet. "You okay?"

"That sucked in all kinda ways," Franklin admitted.

"Okay, just a second," Harry said, removing his phone from a pocket. "Nathan?" He said after hitting a speed-dial button. "Yeah, we arrived, sorry it took so long to let you know, had a problem when we arrived but everything is okay now."

Harry listened on the phone for a few moments. "Thanks again Nathan. We'll call when we need a pickup."

Harry shut down his phone and turned back to Franklin, "I'm really sorry, Frank. The Mundane repelling ward is supposed to be a light suggestion of reasons to go away. It never occurred to me to wonder what would happen if I brought you into the center of the ward scheme."

"I'd say that it was all alright, but," Franklin looked down at his filthy, burned, tuxedo, and then to Harry's, "We're a mess."

"That, at least," Harry laughed, "I can fix."

Franklin watched as his best friend produced his magic wand, waved it at him, and chanted, "Repairo!"

In his life, Franklin had seen many things that to him were everyday occurrences, but which never failed to amaze most of his friends. One of his uncles could light himself on fire and fly. The other was a walking pile of orange boulders. His father could stretch his body in ways that no one else in the world could imitate, and his mother could be invisible. The building he lived in had been thrown into orbit at least twice in his lifetime and he and Harry had run with the Power Pack.

None of that prepared him for seeing his charred tuxedo reassemble and clean itself as Harry waved his stick at it. Watching Harry repeat the process on himself did not dilute the experience in the slightest.

"Can Hermione do that too?" he asked when he was turning to examine himself.

"And a whole lot more," Harry sighed. "And she'll tell you all about it."

"Good," Franklin nodded.

" All about it ," Harry repeated. "I love the girl, but she does go on. Just a second."

Harry dug into his ever-present shoulder bag and withdrew a bolt of black cloth. "You'll need this," he draped the fabric across Franklin's shoulders, and clipped it into place with a golden chain.

"An opera cape?" Franklin asked, lifting the silk cape up so that he could examine it. "I've never seen one of these things outside of a movie."

"And now, you own one. Merry Christmas. It will help you pass for the local fashions," Harry explained as he pulled his own cape on. "Hermione says she asked if she could bring you to the ball, but I'm betting that they aren't expecting you to be a Mundane."

"A Mundane?" Franklin asked. "Me?"

Harry shrugged. "Close enough. Come on,"

The pair started toward the castle. "You know, I should probably ask, did you turn off the Mundane repelling ward for you, or for everyone?"

"I… I don't know," Franklin admitted. "If I killed it outright, is it going to cause a problem?"

"Hell," Harry smiled, "I don't know. I guess we'll find out."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

The Entrance Hall looked strange, full of people wearing different colors rather than the usual mass of black. Padma was waiting for Harry at the foot of the stairs. She looked very pretty indeed, in robes of pastel blue, with her long dark plait braided with gold while golden bracelets glimmering at her wrists.

"Wow," he said appreciatively.

"Thank you, sir," she said with a giggle. "It's good to see you again, Franklin, Hermione will be down in a moment, she stopped to help one of the other girls with a wardrobe problem and asked that I meet you."

"You look lovely, Padma," Franklin said, taking her hand. "Do we look all right?"

Padma smiled, "I think the two of you look extremely handsome," she laughed. "For actual fashion advice, you'd have to speak with Parvati, but I think Hermione will be extremely pleased to see you."

"Just Hermione will be pleased to see us?" Harry asked with a grin.

"Prat," Padma laughed, swatting Harry's arm, before looping hers around it. "I'm very happy to see you. But I'm not going to show you how much here in front of everyone."

"Curses," Harry frowned, "foiled again."

Padma leaned in to whisper in his ear. "I love the gloves and the necklace, but you spent too much money."

"No such thing," he disagreed. "Happy Christmas."

"I'd have worn the necklace, but it wouldn't have gone with these robes," she continued.

"Not that this isn't sickening or anything," Franklin interrupted, "but should we be concerned that Hermione isn't here yet?"

Harry turned to offer some snark when he caught sight of a young woman in blue robes descending the stairs.

It was Hermione.

But she didn’t look like Hermione at all. She had done something with her hair; it was no longer bushy but sleek and shiny, and twisted up into an elegant knot at the back of her head. She was wearing robes made of a floaty, periwinkle-blue material, and she was holding herself differently, somehow… or perhaps it was just that she did not have a fully loaded book bag over her right shoulder.

She was also smiling… somewhat nervously, he thought, but not at Padma, and most certainly not at him.

"Hi, Harry!" she said as she approached. "Hello Franklin."

Franklin stared up at Hermione in disbelief, his mouth hanging open. Harry nudged his best friend to get his attention and then covertly shoved him toward the girl on the stairs.

Franklin stumbled forward before catching himself. "HI!" he said much too loudly, "YOU LOOK REALLY NICE."

"Real smooth, Romeo," Harry said softly, earning himself a smack on the arm from Padma.

"Thank you, Franklin," Hermione said, as she continued down the stairs. "I was worried you wouldn't make it."

"He tried to bolt," Harry said helpfully, "But I tackled him and made him stick around."

"Dude," Franklin hissed, turning to face his best friend, "shut up!"

"Be nice, Harry," Padma scolded.

"I learned a long time ago to never believe anything Harry has to say, Franklin," Hermione said, entwining her arm around his. "I'm not about to start now.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Professor McGonagall’s voice called, "Champions over here, please!"

Padma smiled and checked her outfit before smiling at Harry.

"See you guys inside after dinner," Harry nodded. "We classy folks in the spotlight have to avoid being seen mixing with the hoi polloi, don't you know?"

"I am going to hurt you, so very much," Hermione sighed.

"And I'll hold you down while she does it," Franklin agreed.

Harry and Padma strolled through, the crowd which parted to let them through. Professor McGonagall, wearing dress robes of red tartan and had them to wait on one side of the doors while everyone else went inside; they were to enter the Great Hall in procession once the rest of the students had sat down.

Fleur and Roger Davies joined them at the door; Davies appeared so stunned by his good fortune in having Fleur for a partner that he could hardly take his eyes off her. Cedric and Cho took ups position on the other side of the doorway, with the Hufflepuff nodding to his competitors. It was when Krum finally arrived, that Professor McGonagall showed some surprise when she saw who the Qudditch Professional was escorting to the Ball, but she did not say anything.

Once everyone else settled in the Great Hall, Professor McGonagall had the champions and their partners to line up in pairs to follow her inside. They did so, and the assembled students in the Great Hall stood and applauded as they entered and started walking up toward a large round table at the top of the Hall, where the judges were waiting. The walls of the Hall were decorated in sparkling silver frost, with hundreds of garlands of mistletoe and ivy crossing the starry black ceiling. The House tables had gone; replaced by a hundred smaller, lantern-lit tables, each seating perhaps a dozen people.

Padma seemed to be concentrating on not tripping over her own feet.

"You've walked on this floor hundreds of times," Harry whispered.

"I'm so nervous," she replied. "Everyone is looking at us."

"Never let them see you sweat," Harry chuckled. "They all want to be you or envy me and want to be with you. Chin up, walk proud. You're the reason they're all here tonight."

"Yeah, right," Padma sniffed, though in all honesty, his words had made her feel better.

"The only reason I'm here is because you want to be," Harry confided. "If you hadn't wanted to come, I'd have stayed home."

"What about Franklin?" She asked, her fears forgotten.

"He's a big boy," Harry pointed out. "He could have gotten here on his own if he wanted."

Dumbledore smiled happily as the champions approached the Main table, his expression mirrored by Karkaroff as he watched Krum and his date draw nearer. Ludo Bagman, dressed in bright purple robes with large yellow stars, was clapping as enthusiastically as any of the students. Madame Maxime, who had changed her usual uniform for a flowing gown of lavender silk, was applauding them politely, and Mr. Crouch wearing brand-new, navy-blue dress robes and an expression of boredom offered little more than a golf clap.

Taking their seats the champions found that there was, as yet, no food on the golden plates, but small menus were lying in front of each of them. Harry picked his up uncertainly and looked around… there were no waiters. Dumbledore, however, looked carefully down at his own menu, and then speaking very clearly to his plate, said, "Pork chops!"

And pork chops appeared. Getting the idea, the rest of the table placed their orders with their plates too. Harry glanced over to discover that Padma appeared to be quite delighted by this new method of dining, an attitude he quite agreed with as he cut into his prime rib.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"But…" Lisa Turpin seemed to be searching for the words, "you're a Muggle ?"

"Guilty," Franklin admitted, looking up from his pork chops. "I couldn't do your kind of magic if my life depended on it. I know some card tricks if it helps."

"But you can't be here if you're a Muggle," Lisa's date, Terry Boot insisted. "The castle's wards won't allow it."

"They were rough," Franklin nodded. "But I powered through. It's just a matter of will power, you know." Being an Omega level Psi didn't hurt either, but Franklin wasn't going to mention that. These people had some odd prejudices against those they considered 'Muggles', which oddly echoed the thoughts he often heard coming from those who thought they had no problem with Mutants but didn't want their sister marrying one.

"Well, I'm happy you made it," Hermione said. "I've been looking forward to you coming since Harry said he'd get you here if you wanted to come."

"Oh, yeah, good old Harry," Franklin nodded. "What did he get you for Christmas anyway? He's been hinting about something ever since he got back."

Hermione blushed. "We'll talk about it later," she said.

"That bad?" Franklin asked. "He's been laughing at me a lot about it. Sort of like I did when I got that Harry Potter doll from Parvati."

"But come on," Lisa interrupted again. "You're a Muggle, the Wards wouldn't let you see the place much less come in for a Ball."

"Lisa," Neville Longbottom asked from across the table, "has anyone ever suggested that you might have a one track mind that has a problem accepting the obvious?"

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Once Dinner was finished, the lights in the Great Hall brightened and the four champions and their partners made their way to the center of the room. Once they were in place, the band began to play a slow, mournful tune that struck Harry to be something of a waltz. The four couples stared nervously at each other for several seconds.

"Shall we dance?" Harry asked with a smile.

Padma giggled for a moment before moving into his arms. "I suppose we should."

Harry carefully guided Padma through the first few steps until she found his rhythm. Cedric and Cho were the next couple to start to dance, followed by Viktor and his date. Finally Fleur had to manhandle a befuddled Roger into a semblance of a dance.

"You dance nicely," Padma whispered as they moved about the floor. "I was worried. Hermione bet me that you wouldn't know how to waltz."

"Hermione underestimates me," Harry laughed. "She failed to take into account the number of society events I got dragged to every year, or the number of surrogate mothers I had, all of whom were looking to civilize me. It never worked, but I learned to dance."

"You expect me to believe your father 'dragged' you to society parties?" Padma asked.

"Dad's exact words were 'if I've gotta go, you've gotta go.'" Harry explained. "It was really my own fault; I shouldn't have laughed at Dad for having to wear his tux. Next thing I knew, I had my own penguin suit."

Other couples were starting to join them on the dance floor. Students, teachers, even Ministry people. "Professor Flitwick said that they're only going to play three waltzes, then popular music for the rest of the night," Padma explained.

"Doesn't matter," Harry said, as he guided them to avoid other dancers on the floor. "As long as we have fun."

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"Cutting in loser," Harry said, tapping Franklin on the shoulder, "Go dance with Padma. I took her breath away, so she could probably use the laughs."

"You are about two seconds away from losing the ability to pronounce the letter 'P', Harry" Franklin threatened.

"Like I'd miss it," Harry snarked. "Go dazzle 'adma, Frank."

"Hi," Harry said as he spun his friend onto the dance floor. "How you doing tonight?"

"You know," Hermione said, "I'd almost forgotten that I was angry with you. Thank you for reminding me."

"Angry with me?" Harry asked innocently. "What did I do?"

"Your so-called Christmas present," she sniffed. "You gave me an anatomically correct Franklin doll."

"No, no no, I most certainly did not," Harry protested. "I gave you an authentic Franklin Richards Action Figure. It's an actual, honest to god, numbered, collector's item, part of the Fantastic Four collection. As far as its anatomy goes, it never occurred to me to pull it's trousers down Ms. Pervert."

"You didn't know?" Hermione asked.

"Lord, no," Harry laughed. "I'll admit to it being something of a joke and a way of paying Frank back for getting Parvati to send him one of those damned Harry Potter dolls, but I had no idea it was packing. How anatomically correct is it?"

"I'm not answering that," she said with finality.

"Have you told Frank yet?"

"No," Hermione admitted. "He knows you gave me something that you thought was funny, but I haven' t told him what it is."

"Yet," Harry nodded as the song ended.

"Yet," Hermione agreed.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"I've got to sit down," Hermione laughed as she snagged a glass of punch off the drinks table.

"After only an hour of dancing?" Franklin laughed, grabbing his own drink. "No stamina, we'll have to work on that."

"We will, will we?" Hermione asked her eyes dancing in the light, leading him back to the table.

"Well, yeah," Franklin nodded, holding her chair for her before taking his own. "You've got to be tough if you're going to keep up with a New Yorker."

"I'll keep that in mind," she said looking at him over the glass.

"I don't believe you Granger," a new voice broke in. "It's bad enough you're here, but you've brought a filthy Muggle to Hogwarts?"

Franklin looked up at the new speaker. A large older boy with something of an attitude.

"Who I date is none of your business Derrick," Hermione responded firmly, though Franklin could pick up more than a little fear behind her words.

"I'm making it my business, Granger," the large kid said, leaning over the table in a threatening manner. "You're not so bad, really. You've not like most of the Mudbloods, you've actually made the effort, you've managed to fit in. But then you had to spoil it with him ."

Several of this guy's friends gathered behind him. Franklin recognized this for what it was a classic bully confrontation. Why did these schmucks always bring an audience? He reached out with his Psionics to learn what he could.

Quinton Derrick, 17, youngest son of three. Lousy grades, no prospects and he knew it. Went out with his father and… Oh, no. Just no. A lesson had to be taught, and it had to be taught now.

"Stark and Longbottom aren't here to back you up now, Granger," the jerk was continuing, "maybe it's time to show you how to behave like a proper witch."

"How small is your dick, anyway?" Franklin asked in a conversational manner.

"What?" the bully all but screamed, turning his attention toward him.

"Well, if that's your idea of a pickup line, you can't have that much experience," Franklin pointed out. He stood up and extended his hand. "Franklin Richards."

Derrick just looked at Franklin as if he had grown a second head.

"This is the part where you say 'Quinton Derrick' and shake my hand. It's just good manners."

"Why would I shake a filthy Muggle's hand?" Derrick sneered before realization crossed his features. "How did you know my name?"

"Well, it would prove you're not frightened of nasty, dirty, little me," Franklin said with a small grin. He had each of Derrick's friends positions and intentions mapped out in his mind. They had actually thought he would just sit there and allow them to frighten Hermione and abuse him. "Not that I blame you, I mean, you having such a tiny dick and all, and I'm a filthy animal from New York City. But really, I insist. Shake my hand. I hate to hurt people I haven't observed the basic niceties with."

With that, Derrick's wand came out, followed by those of his followers, six in all. Franklin dipped into each of their minds the way he had been taught by Emma Frost at Xavier's school. They all depended on spoken spells to cast? He quietly removed each of the follower's ability to speak. None of them noticed.

"You're going to regret ever coming to Hogwarts, Muggle," Derrick snarled.

"Cool, a stick," Franklin said, ripping the wand from the older boy's hands with a telekinetic grab, "can I look at it? Thanks."

Franklin sat down again, turning the wand over in his hands. "Nice. What kind of wood is this?"

"How…" Derrick swallowed loudly, "how did you do that? No Muggle can do that."

"You're wrong, Derrick," Franklin said with a shake of his head. "Many Muggles can do that and a lot more. I know one that would have popped three ten-inch knives out of each his hands and carved up the table and you for being as disrespectful to a young lady as you were. He'd have let you keep your wand just for the fun of making you eat it."

Franklin smiled at that thought. "Me, I'm just your garden variety Psionic. You know, telepath, telekinetic, master of time, space and dimension. I know what you're thinking, I know what you and your father do on your little excursions, and I know that you'll never be able to do that again. If you try, you'll find a whole world of pain, and I know what you and your buddies had planned for me. But now, those plans have changed."

With a thought, Franklin took control of Derrick's body. "Now, pay attention Derrick, I'm going to explain how life works, since obviously no one ever did that for you. You're going to walk away, while you still can." The meat-puppet named Quinton Derrick extended his hand and Franklin returned the wand. Against his will, the 7th year raised the wand to point it at his own face and opened his mouth.

"If I were to tell you to, you would cast the worst spell you know into your own face," Franklin said quietly. "Threaten Hermione again and I might just do that. Now, she'd be disappointed in me for doing that, but I know what you had planned, you and all your little friends. Are you wondering why they haven't come to help you?"

Derrick suddenly found he could control his neck, and given the opportunity, he looked to his friends, finding them holding their wands but unable to speak. Utter terror gripped him as he realized just how badly he had underestimated the young Muggle.

"Well done, Derrick," Franklin said. "I always like to see it when someone learns something new. You cannot frighten me, you cannot attack me, and you cannot teach Hermione how to be a 'proper witch'. Do we understand each other?"

The 17 year old nodded energetically.

"And thus endeth the lesson," Franklin said, releasing his control of the larger boy's body. "Oh by the way Derrick? You should spread the word, if I hear about you or any of your friends bothering Hermione or any other young lady of any kind, anywhere, Harry Stark and Neville Longbottom will be the very last people in the world you will need to worry about. I will be paying attention. Do we understand each other?"

"Yes," the larger boy nodded.

"Good man," Franklin said, cancelling the speech block on Derrick's friends. "You should probably go now."

Franklin watched the group of older boys run away before turning to Hermione. She had an undecipherable expression on her face.

One of the rules he set for himself as a Psi was to never read someone unnecessarily and her surface thoughts were a roiling confused knot of noise. Had he screwed up?

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Hermione sat with her hands in her lap, fighting against the panic that threatened to consume her. To think the night had started so wonderfully. Dinner, the dancing, then that horrible troll Derrick had ruined everything by coming over and be nasty to her.

But Franklin had defended her… perhaps a touch more… frighteningly than she would have liked, but he had defended her.

So, of course, Snape had swooped out of nowhere, the way he always did when one of his Slytherins started something they couldn't finish, spoiling her night, and predicting her expulsion.

The Headmaster sat behind his desk, looking more disappointed than angry.

"Miss Granger, what made you think that you could bring a Muggle to Hogwarts?" He asked quietly.

"I asked permission," Hermione responded.

"The girl is lying," Snape snapped.

"I'm not," Hermione protested. "I asked Professor McGonagall," she looked to the Deputy Headmistress, "tell them."

"You most certainly did not," Minerva McGonagall said. "You asked about attending with Viktor Krum."

"Excuse me?" Franklin asked in a helpful tone.

"Viktor?" Hermione asked. "I was never going to attend the Ball with Viktor. I mean he asked me, but…"

"Quit your lying, you insufferable know it all," Snape said.

" Excuse me ," Franklin tried again, this time with a bit more force to his tone.

"I'm not lying," Hermione said, on the verge of tears, "I'm not!"

"Severus!" Minerva scolded, "You will conduct yourself appropriately."

"I'm afraid the punishments will be severe," Dumbledore sighed.

~ EXCUSE ME ~

Franklin's voice echoed in all of their minds.

Instantly the attention of everyone in the room focused on the blond boy from New York City, the three adults had their wands out and pointed at him.

"Hi," Franklin said with a wide smile. "I'm Franklin Richards, poor, pathetic, insignificant, Muggle to even the lightest among you, filthy animal not to be trusting not to make a mess indoors to the rest."

"Might I ask how you managed to speak in our minds?" Dumbledore asked, his wand not wavering from the boy's face.

"Well, truth be told, on top of being a pathetically inadequate Muggle, I'm also a Mutant," the boy explained. "A Psionic to be exact. Telepath, Telekinetic, like that. Now, while you've all been screaming at poor Hermione and calling her a liar, I've figured out what happened, so, why don't we all put down our pointy sticks and try to conduct ourselves like adults for a few minutes while I explain it to you?"

"You expect us to believe this nonsense?" Snape snarled.

"Severus Tobias Snape, born January 9th 1960," Franklin sighed, "That makes you thirty five in fifteen days. You hated your father for his cruelty, spent half your time loving your mother for her kindness and the other half hating her for her weakness, the only woman you've ever loved is…"

"ENOUGH!" Snape screamed.

"Fine," Franklin's voice was cold, "then stop behaving like a child and put your stick away before I get angry. Trust me when I say you wouldn't like me when I'm angry. I dislike having weapons pointed at me."

The three adults put away their wands and continued to stare at the young man.

The issue boils down to misunderstandings and false expectations," Franklin explained. "You'll have to forgive me Professor McGonagall, but you're remembering Hermione asking you about the Ball incorrectly. Here's what happened:"

Hermione knew that Franklin's powers were not magical, but still the fact that he made no gestures and spoke no incantations surprised her before a scene of the Entry Hall outside the Great Hall formed in the middle of the Headmaster's office.

"Professor McGonagall?" a translucent Hermione in her school robes asked.

A similarly translucent Minerva McGonagall paused on her way out of the Great Hall with Pomona Sprout. "Yes, Miss Granger?"

"I was wondering if we were allowed to attend the Yule Ball with someone who isn't a Hogwarts Student," the other Hermione asked. "I asked Professor Flitwick, but he said that he was unaware of any policy on the subject and that I should approach you."

The two teachers shared a glance. "That would be fine, Miss Granger," Minerva said with a nod. "You would hardly be the only Hogwarts student to have a date from another school."

"So, no special permissions are required?" The girl asked. "No forms to fill out?"

"Of course not," Pomona laughed.

"Thank you, Professors."

"Ah, to be young again," Pomona sighed as she watched the young girl walk away.

"Youth has its perks," Minerva agreed, "but it also has its disadvantages, Severus volunteered to do the 'safety' patrols of the gardens for the night of the Ball."

"Severus? Please," Pomona scoffed as the pair resumed their journey. "Severus is all bark. We had old McGinnis if you recall, that old biddy could detect anyone having fun within a 500-yard radius. She caught you a few times as I recall."

"And you a few times more, Pomona," Minerva sniffed.

The pair checked that no one was around them before they both began to laugh.

"You will notice that no mention of any 'Victor', whoever he may be, was made," Franklin pointed out.

"That is obviously the girl's version of events, edited to protect her," Snape sneered.

"Why are you so invested in tearing her down?" Franklin asked. "For the record, that was Professor McGonagall's memory, unfiltered through her expectations, and obviously so, otherwise how could it have continued after Hermione had left?"

"So, your… assault on Quinton Derrick was based upon what he was thinking?" Dumbledore asked.

"Assault?" Franklin asked. "What assault would that be? I never touched him."

"Young Mr. Derrick is currently in the Hospital Wing claiming you took control of his body," Dumbledore pointed out.

"True enough, as far as it goes," Franklin pointed out. "I certainly never touched him, he outweighs me by at least a hundred pounds, and he's magical while I'm but a poor pathetic Muggle. I can show you my memories of the event if you like."

"I rather suspect that would be unlikely to be productive," Dumbledore sighed.

"Well then, how about memories of Mr. Derrick's plans for Hermione and myself? Oh, and his adventures with his father?" Franklin asked as the three adults stiffened.

"Franklin?" Hermione asked.

"That's not for you to see," Franklin whispered. "That jerkwad's mind is a sewer, but don't worry, he's permanently terrified of Muggles and Muggleborn magic users for the rest of his life. Just a little gift I left him."

The professors relaxed, with Dumbledore and McGonagall showing expressions of revulsion.

~You knew,~ Franklin sent into Snape's mind, eyeing the Potion's Master like he was an unpleasant something found under a rock. ~None of that was surprising to you in the slightest.~

"Get out of my mind," Snape growled.

"Mr. Richards…" the Headmaster began, "it would probably be best if you never returned to Hogwarts."

"I wasn't really planning on it," Franklin admitted. "After the Ball."

~I'll be watching you, old man,~ he sent to Snape's mind. ~If anything happens to Hermione, you'll pay. ~

"From the New World?" Snape sneered.

"The extent of my reach would surprise you," Franklin laughed aloud.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

"So, you two are spending the night?" Harry asked two hours later as he led the way to the exit to the Hogwarts grounds.

"Hermione, Parvati and I are flooing home tomorrow and Hermione's parents are coming by in the afternoon to pick her up," Padma explained.

"We'd offer you a lift," Franklin said, "but our ride is a direct return to our point of origin."

"You had better not made the quinjet's crew sit out in the cold all this time," Hermione scolded. "It is Christmas, after all."

"Oh, we didn't fly," Harry laughed as they got to the door where the Headmaster and his Deputy waited. "We found another way."

"I'm afraid that you won't be able to leave the castle tonight, Mr. Stark," the Headmaster said.

"Excuse me?"

"The rules are clear," Dumbledore explained. "No Hogwarts students are allowed out on the grounds after 10pm."

"Even the Durmstang and Beauxbaton students are being escorted by their staff representatives," McGonagall pointed out.

"Odd that this was never mentioned," Harry sighed.

"The rules are not suspended over the holidays, Mr. Stark," McGonagall sniffed.

"Yeah, I guess it's good that we don't really need to leave the castle to leave the castle," Harry nodded, pulling his phone from a pocket and dialing. "Nathan?" he said once the phone connected. "Bodyslide by two. Goodnight ladies, call you tomorrow."

The assembled magic users watched in open-mouthed amazement when the two young men appeared to slide away to nowhere.

… -===ooo000ooo===-…

Padma and Hermione arrived at the Ravenclaw Dorms to find most of the upper form girls waiting for them.

"There you are," Cho said unnecessarily. "We've been waiting for you."

"What?" Hermione asked.

"Why?" Padma asked.

"Your Muggle boyfriend," Penny Clearwater said quietly. "He did something that terrified the most virulent bloodpurists in Slytherin. What did he do? And how did he manage it without anyone else noticing?"

Padma and Hermione shared a look, as Hermione tried to think of some way to explain how someone as nice as Franklin could also be so terrifying.

-===ooo000ooo===-…

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