Home after the World Cup was pretty dull. My dad spent all his time first sorting things out after the attacks, then trying to get Mad-Eye Moody, who I already knew would be my new Defence teacher, off charges of illegal rubbish-dumping or cursing dustbins or something. Meanwhile, Mother ran about burning dinner and racing off to "Institute meetings" - as if she'd touch the Witches' Institute1 with a dragon prod. Ludo Bagman, on the other hand, could touch her with whatever he liked. A handy thing, having the potential power to blackmail a Quidditch star. I never told Dad that I hadn't won our Wasps season tickets with the Prophet's Rearranging Crossword. If he'd had the brains of a Horklump, he might have known I couldn't do it to save my life. On the other hand, if he'd had the brains of a Horklump he might have noticed that his wife spent an awful lot of time in meetings of a group she wasn't really suitable to join. Never mind making jam - I had plenty of evidence she could burn salads.
I was quite happy to get on the train back to Hogwarts, except for one thing - OWL results. Most of us hadn't seen each other since Results Day(2) and it's bad luck to open your letter in public, so everyone wanted to know now exactly where they stood in the year and who'd be in their classes. Unfortunately, mine weren't anything to shout about. Lurking quietly behind the scenes when there's no danger afoot and letting others hog the limelight don't come naturally to me.
Instead, I spent the trip Prefecting as obnoxiously as I knew how, which was excessive even then. Nothing to compare to that complete berk Percy Weasley, but enough to have the lower years in fits at the number of detentions they racked up. Pity nobody told them you can't get detention on the train, but they'd never go and ask Snape or McGonagall why they didn't end up disembowelling toads or doing lines. I was quite happy to let the little bastards think the staff merciful. After all, Snape's reputation even with most of the Slytherins needed all the help it could get.
On my rounds, I happened to take a look into the guard's van, which never actually had a guard in it but was usually full of people hiding from exes, vengeful boyfriends, bad-tempered elder siblings and so on. This time, though, the Weasley twins were in there, holding a large sack upside-down and shaking it vigorously, looking incredibly annoyed and upset that there was nothing coming out. I could hear them muttering, something like "must have made a mistake," "doesn't know his arse from his elbow," and "bloody Wasps, all cheats."
I considered marching in and giving them a piece of my mind about attempted theft (at a guess), being where they shouldn"t be and insulting my Quidditch team, but this was Fred and George Weasley, not some idiot second-years. They knew exactly what power I had (and hadn't), were horribly inventive in their revenge and had been inured to all manner of insults by years of exposure to their dear Howler of a mother. I left well enough alone and went to get changed.
Half an hour later, dripping wet, I was dodging water bombs in the Entrance Hall and admiring the effect Peeves' work had on some Slytherin girls' robes. One of them, a short plump one with a turned-up nose and sopping wet black hair, looked particularly appetising and I made a mental note of it when a tetchy blonde girl called her Pansy(3).
The Welcome Feast was ... interesting. I hadn't known about the Triwizard Tournament in advance - Dad had been so busy at the Ministry that he hadn't had the energy to be smug about his Department's great accomplishments in importing horrible creatures to attack (as far as he knew) innocent students. Dumbledore was more off-the-wall than ever - I think the old man must have been losing it even then, from what I hear - but Moody more than made up for it. Half the school was too gobsmacked to do anything, the other half (including me) wanted to hide behind the nearest large and solid object. Even if I'd never found out anything more about him after that night, Mad-Eye would still be right up there with Bellatrix Lestrange(4), McGonagall and Monsieur le Sous-Ministre du bloody Interieur Delacour in my personal demonology of Terrifying Characters.
Anyhow, Dumbledore dropped his bomb on us, to the general astonishment of all present. I was glad some of the other Ministry brats looked as shocked as I did - the Weasleys looked about ready to explode.
Whilst I was still digesting the phrase "death toll grew too high," that prize cretin Ostmann immediately turned to me and said, "Well, Ced, I take it you're entering. Wouldn't be like our Captain to miss something this big. Think about it, Cedric Diggory of Hufflepuff House, Hogwarts, Triwizard Champion. Nobody would be calling us duffers then."
The first part would have been exactly like me, because "Cedric Diggory etcetera, corpse," sounded more likely. I couldn't exactly admit in front of the whole school that I was shitting myself at the thought. My glorious reputation could take a lot of kicking, but not that much. Maybe Potter's could have survived, but I doubt it. Even Dumbledore would have got some funny looks.
I agreed with all the fervour I could manage that it was a great idea and I'd enter at the first opportunity, whilst privately resolving to do nothing of the sort. My birthday was still two months away; after that it would surely be possible to enter in secret, so I could always say I'd done that. Nobody would have to know, and I could cheer on our poor doomed idiot from a seat safely near the back. It didn't seem like any of our dimwits had a prayer against Durmstrang anyway - in a fair contest, I still don't think anyone could have stopped Krum.
My loud assurances did attract some attention as we started to file out of the Hall. The lower Hufflepuff years were delighted to hear such glorious posturing - most young 'Puffs felt a bit short-changed at winding up in such a dull and traditionally useless house. A brand new first-year called Minstip or Monshawl or something(5) said it was the bravest thing ever and I ought to be in Gryffindor, which got her glares from nearly everyone around. Gryffindor wasn't the most popular house then, except with Dumbledore.
Much more to the point, Cho Chang, my opposite number on the Ravenclaw Quidditch team and even now one of the three most alluring women I've ever known, looked at me in as meltingly admiring a manner as I could wish for. I cheered up a bit. Maybe this damn Tournament - which was going to prevent another assault on the Quidditch Cup as well - had its compensations. Despite myself, I almost regretted that all our beautiful witches' attentions would be wasted on some bone-headed glory hound. Probably, knowing my luck, that ape Warrington.
I turned to Rupert Summers, the best of our Chasers at the time and a useful if not overly bright guy to have on your side, and said, "You know, I think a bit of inter-house Quidditch practice might be in order. Keep the Seekers in trim for next year." I put just enough leer into the last part that any sensible person would have known precisely what I was driving at
"Why? Last thing we need is the Pet, the Krait, and the Golden Bitch6 getting even more advantages over us. No offence, mate, but the team needs all the help it can get." Like I said, Rupert was a few Chasers short of a full team.
"Potter and Malfoy's invitations will be conveniently dropped by the owl. I'll be happy to take Cho Chang for a ride on my broomstick" - sweet Merlin, those were prophetic words, if you like - "but I don't really think she could learn too much about strategy from that." Even he couldn't misinterpret that.
With a look of dawning comprehension followed by deep admiration, he mentioned that he'd be having a shot at the Tournament himself. 'Tap' Fawcett (oh, the famous Ravenclaw wit) piped up that she'd have a go too, if he was doing it, and what a pity they "couldn't do it together." I don't know what sort of sheltered upbringing the poor twat had, but he just agreed quite calmly and went off to give the password to our new nuggets.
I dumped my Prefect's duties on my colleague, Mildred Allen - possibly the ugliest creature in the school and yes, I have seen the house-elves - and hurried up to the Eyrie, Ravenclaw's common room in West Tower. I expected to be spending a lot of time there if Cho's look was anything to go by, so having the password would be a great help. I found out, by the simple method of standing behind a statue of Lakshmibai the Lascivious and listening to what was said round the corner, that Ravenclaw didn't use a single password like the other houses. They used quotes instead - the tapestry (of Paracelsus) gave you the first half and you had to complete it. The first one was easy to remember; "He who knows nothing," and the response was "loves nothing." Obviously Paracelsus liked quoting himself, and it was a very Ravenclaw saying in the first place.
Cho had already gone past into the common room, leading a load of bespectacled midgets who were presumably the new Ravenclaws. Lucky bastard at the front had a perfect view of her arse, but the little squit probably didn't appreciate it. Peeves, on the other hand, appreciated finding a sixth-year hidden behind a statue very much indeed. Fresh from water-bombing people in the Entrance Hall, he was evidently a bit fed up and attacked me with his last four bombs. Although Peeves' aim was incredibly bad, he still managed to get one hit, which was one more than enough. I was quietly using a Drying Charm on my robes when Flitwick came along asking what I was doing. I pretended not to get it and said I'd been ambushed by Peeves. Fortunately, the daft little goblin took that at face value, dried me and left me in peace to head back to the Cellar and sort myself out.
1 The Witches' Institute was a social organisation of middle-class country witches, known for activities such as cookery, swapping domestic charms and bringing complaints against youths on excessively fast broomsticks.
2 Results Day was traditionally a gala day at Hogwarts on the first Thursday in August. Speeches were given, prizes awarded and the OWL and NEWT results presented. The more superstitious students considered opening one's results at the school bad luck. After numerous protests from certain staff that they wanted to be left alone over the holidays, and in view of the Headmaster's many commitments, the practice was abandoned in 1994.
3 Obviously Pansy Parkinson, head of Arcturus Information Services. Her role in the Second War was unclear, but she emerged with a great deal of credit and the personal gratitude of Sir Harry Potter, Earl of Blackpool, Lord Roxbury, OM1st & Bar, GCB, OM, Hon. Pres. DFDL, etc. She is still alive at time of going to press, but has declined to comment.
4 It is unclear how Cedric met Bellatrix Lestrange. She was in Azkaban at the time of Lord Voldemort's resurrection. Perhaps he met her on his travels; her husband's family was at the forefront of the wizarding colonial movement and Lestranges may be found across much of the world. As two of the Lestranges are dead and Rabastan will never leave St. Mungo's, the point is now somewhat moot.
5 Probably Minshaw, niece of the great Falmouth Falcons Seeker of the 1980s and 1990s, Hufflepuff 1994-2001. Her family had been Slytherin since time immemorial, so the comment was probably not a compliment.
6Both Potter and Krum are occasionally referred to throughout the Papers as 'pets' of their respective Headmasters. The other two names almost certainly reference Draco Malfoy and Cho Chang, Seekers for Slytherin and Ravenclaw respectively.