It was breakfast time, but Hermione wasn’t eating. She held my golden egg in her hands, staring down at it with pinched lips. “I can’t believe you’re just ignoring this. I mean, really, Harry, this is a very dangerous competition. You can’t just throw away opportunities to prepare yourself.”
“I don’t need the help, and I’ve always despised riddles,” I said.
“It probably isn’t even that hard!” Hermione cried. “I could solve it for you, and Viktor’s already figured it out. I could ask him –”
“No, Hermione. That would be cheating.”
“You cheat all the time,” Hermione said.
“That’s true,” I admitted. “But I cheat in ways that require skill and dedication. Asking a competitor is just pathetic.”
“It’s not like he’s a Slytherin or anything.” Ron glared at the green table, as he often does.
I could tell that Hermione hadn’t entirely given up by the way she frowned down at the egg, not even noticing when Ron stole her biscuit. She absentmindedly paid an owl for the day’s Prophet, and the owl stole Ron’s newly-acquired biscuit. Ron was shouting at it when one of our classmates – Lavender Brown – leaned over.
“I hate to be the bearer of bad news,” the blonde crooned in a way that said quite the opposite, “but you might want to read that paper.”
Startled, Hermione opened it and let out an indignant squawk. “What is wrong with that Skeeter woman?!”
“What did she do?” Ron asked.
“She wrote about me, and she’s talking like I’m some sort of” – Hermione wrinkled her nose – “seductress.”
She cleared her throat, quoting, “The rather plain girl has been working her way through Hogwarts’ most eligible bachelors. First, she led on likely Triwizard Tournament winner Harry Potter. Then, she had an infamous tryst with Draco Malfoy” – Ron choked on his mouthful of food – “Now, she’s moved on to seventeen-year-old Bulgarian National Quidditch Team seeker, Viktor Krum. With two Triwizard competitors under Miss Granger’s thumb, this reporter has to ask: Could a certain veela be the next champion charmed?”
“That…that…” Hermione’s fingers were white as she clutched the golden egg. “I won’t let her get away with this.”
With a fervent gleam in her eye, Hermione stormed from the hall, not even noticing that she still held my prize from the First Task. I almost felt sorry for Skeeter. She had no idea who she’d trifled with when she’d revealed Hermione’s latest scheme.
“You alright, mate?” Ron asked, nervously peering into the black depths of the lake as we waited for the Second Task to begin.
“Absolutely fine,” I declared.
“You can be, um, underwater? Without dying?”
“I’m Harry Potter,” I said flatly, “and you’re starting to sound like Hermione.”
Ron shuddered at the comparison. “Right. Sorry, mate. It’s just that I’ve heard drowning really sucks, and Hermione is…wherever she is.”
Hermione had disappeared, no doubt busy plotting against her newest enemy. There hadn’t been time to find a substitute, so it seemed that Ron was attempting to fulfill both roles. This would have been admirable if he wasn’t failing so spectacularly.
I surveyed the area. Spectators milled about the lake, sometimes poking a foot in only to hastily withdraw it once they felt the frigid water. The Weasley children had consumed a large portion of the stands, as per usual, and Ron headed towards them.
Moody was stalking about, glaring at everyone who looked slightly suspicious. This list included Karkaroff, Severus, and me. Draco Malfoy practically fell into the lake in an attempt avoid him. The boy had been suprisingly timid since his return from Christmas break. Clearly, his confidence was shaken by Hermione’s rejection.
The current object of her affections waved me over from his place at the starting line. Krum asked, “Do you know vhere Er-my-o-knee is?”
I shrugged. “Probably in the library plotting against Skeeter. It’s the sort of thing she does.”
Krum nodded, chuckling. “You did not find the clue?”
“I didn’t need to,” I said. “It’s just water.”
One of the judges – a pompous ministry worker whose name I hadn’t bothered learning – cleared his throat. “Everyone is ready to start, then?”
Krum nodded, but Delacour and I merely shot the judge disdainful looks.
The judge looked nervous. “Alright. The Second Task will start on my whistle. The champions have precisely an hour to recover what’s been taken from them. The task begins in 3…2…1.”
He blew a whistle, and I immediately whirled around to face Delacour. I shouted, “Silencio!”
She was sputtering soundlessly when I left. It was possible she would manage to overpower my spell and regain her voice, provided she knew the countercharm. But Beauxbatons had a poor reputation for nonverbal magic, and a slight delay would give me a head start in the race.
I jumped over the lake, casting the Ebublio Jinx at my chest. A large bubble full of air surrounded me, as I sunk into the lake. I cast the Aqua Eructo Charm, causing a jet of water to shoot from my wand. This propelled me forward, deep into the water and towards the merpeople’s song.
I continued like that for some time. The Ebublio bubble protected me from the freezing lake water and various nuisances, such as Grindylows. As time passed, however, it grew thinner and more fragile.
Eventually, I realized that I was being followed. A glance backwards revealed an enormous shark coming after me. It was clearly charmed to attack competitors. A severing charm sent it hurtling towards the bottom of the lake, clouds of red floating in its wake.
Not long afterwards, I encountered the first roughly-hewn, dilapidated homes of the merpeople village. The hideous creatures peered out at me from their glassless windows, their grey-skinned faces framed by seaweed-like hair. I never tried to recruit the mermen in my previous life, primarily because they creep me out.
In the town square, a whole crowd of them were gathered. They continued to sing, yellow eyes watching as I ended the Ebublio bubble and replaced it with a Bubblehead Charm. A great, stone statue of a merman towered at their center, three girls tied to his tail – Hermione, Ginevra, and a young blonde.
I paused before them, considering the situation. Clearly, there was one hostage for each competitor. But who was mine?
If I had to choose one to save, it would undoubtedly be Hermione. Yet she had gone to the Yule Ball with Krum, just as Ginevra had with me.
The hostage wasn’t based upon one’s Yule date, however, because I was fairly certain that Delacour had not gone with a little girl. Beyond that, it was entirely possible I had interacted with the child before and simply didn’t remember.
I refused to lose points for rescuing the wrong person. Hermione or Ginevra were both perfectly reasonable options, and the little girl wasn’t out of the question, either. At that point, it was just easier to take them all.
I threw a blasting curse at the base of the statue’s tail. Suddenly, the merpeople stopped singing. They raised their spears and approached me. I was surrounded.
“While that does explain Mr. Krum’s unfortunate injury and your decision to take all three hostages – destroying a merperson relic in the process – I’m afraid I still don’t understand what you did afterwards,” Dumbledore said, looking very tired.
This was a small improvement over the rest of the judges, who appeared livid.
“It was a perfectly logical decision,” I insisted. “The mermen were using their environmental advantage against me. So I took it from them.”
“You banished all the water in the lake. You truly don’t consider that excessive?” Dumbledore asked.
“Not at all. Besides, I figured the spectators would have a better time if they could actually watch the task. Really, I was doing you all a favor.”
Dumbledore said, “But the merpeople are unable to survive on air for more than a few minutes. You greatly endangered their lives, my boy.”
I raised an eyebrow. “They greatly endangered mine first when they attacked me with spears, and, really, a few less mermen is hardly a problem. They kill more students than the moving staircase…and we all know what I did to the moving staircase.”
The denizens of Hogwarts simultaneously shivered, though the foreigners seemed rather perplexed. Karkaroff scowled. “Viktor Krum also had gills at the time, and he was already injured by your attack.”
“And my Fleur was fifty feet in ze air when ze water disappeared!” Madame Maxime said, “and zat is after ze ‘orrible boy cast a Silencing Spell on ‘er.”
“There weren’t any rules that said I couldn’t attack the competition. Honestly, I thought that was the entire point,” I said.
“It was a race, not a duel,” Karkaroff said.
“Yes, exactly, and I won,” I said. “In fact, I’m the only one who brought his hostage back at all…whichever one she was.”
“Ginevra Weasley,” Dumbledore said.
I shook my head, dismayed by their ridiculous expectations. “How was I supposed to guess that? We aren’t even friends.”
Some distance across the grounds, a still-dripping Ginevra said, “We will be!”
I shivered. This was beginning to remind me uncomfortably of the Bellatrix situation. “And I’m not sure why you think it’s my responsibility to protect everyone. It’s your competition. You should have expected I would do something like this.”
Moody grunted, “That’s why I put up the splash guard.”
“See, why can’t you all be like Moody?” I asked. We all turned our attention towards the ex-auror, who was currently shimmering with no less than twenty protective charms.
Dumbledore sighed. “Could you return the lake water, now that the task is over?”
“I would do that,” I said, “except that I’m not entirely sure where I sent it.”
Meanwhile, at Privet Drive
Petunia Dursley stood knee-deep in the flooded street, staring blankly at what was once her house. The front door had floated to the very end of her waterlogged lawn. Every window was broken, and what little she could see of her immaculate carpets and organized kitchen was entirely ruined. She didn’t dare to think of what had happened to the garden.
As she picked up a floating photograph of baby Dudley, Petunia wondered – for a moment – where her life had gone so wrong. But the answer was obvious:
The moment she accepted Harry Potter into her life. This was all his fault. Things usually were.
With a firm set to her mouth and her spindly fingers curled into a fist, Petunia trudged towards her home in the hope that some of her previous life was still salvageable.
They were, she decided, moving.
“Holy harpies! Have you seen this?” Ginevra Weasley cried, ruining a perfectly peaceful breakfast.
Ron’s head jerked up, and he asked, “Muh? Wha’s it?”
“You’re talking with your mouth full again, Ronald,” Hermione chided. She hadn’t even stirred at Ginevra’s exclamation, idly reading a book on Charms.
Ginevra waved the morning Prophet at us so that it rustled a bit. “They printed a retraction! I didn’t even know they could do that.”
“It must have been a grievous error to prompt them to admit a mistake. They’ve probably offended hundreds of wizards, or perhaps a truly powerful group,” I said thoughtfully. “What was the article about? The Wizengamot? Dumbledore? The Dark Lord?”
“Um, it was about Hermione, actually,” Ginevra said. “Skeeter says that she trusted the wrong source, Hermione actually wasn’t dating everyone in school, and Skeeter felt ‘compelled to correct this mistake due to her journalistic integrity.’”
I slowly turned to face Hermione, who had returned to her book with a pleased smirk on her face. “Hermione…what did you do?”
“Who says I did anything?” Hermione sniffed. “Maybe Rita Skeeter just realized that she made a mistake –”
Even Ron snorted in response to that. “Yeah, right. I’m with Harry: You did something.”
“It’s pretty obvious,” Ginevra agreed.
Giggling, Hermione glanced around nervously but nodded. “Well, alright. We probably shouldn’t talk about this here, though. It’s rather public.”
“Behaving like a Slytherin, ‘Mione,” Ron said.
“Don’t care, Ronald,” she said in a sing-song voice. She was positively giddy. I was beginning to feel legitimately concerned for Rita Skeeter.
Hermione stood. “Shall we go, then?”
I shook my head. “No need. Muffliato.”
The surrounding conversations turned to an insect-like buzzing. Hermione sat back down and asked, “Ooh, is that an anti-eavesdropping charm? I’ve read about those.”
“I’m well aware that you’ve read about everything, and, yes, it is an anti- eavesdropping spell. The only people who can understand our conversation now are the three of us.”
My point was punctuated by a sudden and loud buzzing from across the table as Ginevra realized that she was not included in the charm. Ron edged away from his rapidly-reddening sister. “So how’d you do it?”
Hermione said, “I was out on the grounds, practicing an animagus detection charm. It seemed like a good idea after the attack from Sirius Black that Harry never told me about” – she glared at me before resuming – “Imagine my surprise when it came back positive. Apparently, Rita Skeeter has been skulking around as a beetle. So I caught her in my hand – ”
“You squished her, didn’t you?” I asked. Suddenly, everything was very clear to me: The retraction, Skeeter’s claims of journalistic integrity, Hermione’s inexplicable good mood…
She sputtered. “W-what? But…Harry, she just published an article.”
“Polyjuice potion. It would allow you to impersonate her for long enough to get the article through, and it would also keep anyone from knowing she was missing, obscuring her time of death. Since she died in her animagus form, there isn’t a corpse. It’s the perfect crime.”
“I would never –”
“It’s not like you haven’t done something like this before,” I said. “Don’t you remember Second Year? I shudder to think what would have happened if we hadn’t stopped you.”
Hermione growled low in her throat. “You are just horrible sometimes!”
“I’m not the one who killed a reporter,” I said.
“Uh, I don’t think she killed anyone,” Ron said. “Right, Hermione?”
“Obviously,” she huffed. “I’m just threatening to report that she’s an illegal animagus. I also kept her in a bottle for a while.”
I frowned. “For how long?”
“A couple of days,” Hermione said.
“Did you feed her?” I asked.
Hermione paled. “It didn’t really occur to me.”
“You gave her water at least…” I said.
I shook my head, caught between admiration and shock. “And now you’re blackmailing her? I don’t know why you didn’t just kill her quickly. It would have been kinder.”
I have a great distaste for most forms of torture. My only exception to this is Crucio, which is much cleaner and does not have as many long-lasting side effects. Well, unless the victims are driven insane. I rarely kept prisoners long enough to reach that point, however, and opted to kill as often as possible. Further, I sought to never leave a child orphaned for more than a few minutes.
And people said I was immoral!
Ron said, “That doesn’t seem fair. It’s not like she meant to hurt her.”
“Intention is irrelevant. Besides,” I said, “who knows when Skeeter will try to retaliate. She could be here right now. Listening.”
We fell into a wary, thoughtful silence. The only sound was the persistent buzzing of Ginevra Weasley.
“I feel a sense of impending doom,” I declared.
“Isn’t that how you always feel?” Ron asked.
“This is stronger than usual.”
I glanced around the area surrounding Dumbledore’s enormous maze with a thoughtful air. Moody limped outside, glaring at anyone who dared to look at him for more than a moment. I turned my attention swiftly away.
Ginevra hovered nearby. She had ingratiated herself with a group of younger Hufflepuffs, but she was clearly paying more attention to Ron and I than her companions.
Dumbledore, Karkaroff, and Madame Maxime were arguing about something at the judge’s table. Hermione stood nearby, spoke a few words, and then fled their continued shouting. For a moment, I wondered if she and Dumbledore were collaborating on an insidious plan. But, no, that was ridiculous. Hermione would never share her power with Dumbledore.
Delacour was chattering in animated French with her family. Krum, though surrounded by his own family, seemed distracted. His eyes darted around uneasily and his mouth was set in a firm line.
Hermione, hurrying back from the judge’s table, said, “Maybe you wouldn’t be so nervous if you’d actually prepared for the task.”
I scoffed. “I’m not nervous, Hermione. I’m suspicious.”
“Paranoid,” Ron muttered.
I turned to Hermione. “Right, speaking of Moody, I want you to watch him. I think he might try something today.”
Hermione rolled her eyes. “Harry, Moody isn’t going to –”
“For Merlin’s sake, Hermione! For once in your life, try to save a friend instead of killing him,” I snapped.
Her lips twisted in an ugly manner, but the girl begrudgingly turned her attention towards Moody. I cleared my throat and spoke to Ron. “And you should watch Krum. He seems suspicious.”
“Harry!” Hermione cried.
“I knew you wouldn’t be objective about this. That’s why I’ve entrusted the task to Ron.”
Ron grinned, looking pleased with himself.
Ginevra sidled a little closer to us. “I can watch Fleur.”
I waved her off. “Do whatever you like.”
While Ginevra busied herself with her useless idea, I would observe the most likely candidate: Dumbledore. I glared at him as he sat perfectly calm amid his fellow judges’ bickering, smug beneath his white beard and floral robes. Despicable.
“What were you doing over there, anyway?” Ron asked Hermione.
“Oh, um…” Hermione suddenly fell into a coughing fit, and I edged away from her. I had no intention of catching some sort of Muggle disease.
She cleared her throat and spoke primly. “Sorry about that. I must have gotten a bit of a cold during the last task.”
“But it’s been four months,” Ron said. Even without moving my gaze from Dumbledore, I could picture the wrinkling of his Weasley face.
“Certain viruses are able to incubate for long periods, and my immune system was heavily compromised. I just went over to ask Dumbledore about the Ancient Runes curriculum. I was confused about…the order in which certain runes are taught, but he explained it to me.”
“That’s nice, Hermione,” I said absentmindedly. Dumbledore’s skeletal hand gripped his wand, and he rose smoothly. Moody had migrated to his side – something I would have been aware of earlier if Hermione had been taking her sentry duties seriously.
Dumbledore pointed his wand towards himself, and I suppressed my disappointment when he only cast a Sonorous Charm. His voice echoed across the grounds, drawing everyone’s attention. “Much as it pains me to further delay this exciting event. We have decided upon a few rules for the task.”
Curious whispering swept the crowd. Dumbledore peered down at a roll of parchment. “First, there will be no intentionally damaging the maze through means including – but not limited to – flooding it, setting it on fire, tearing it apart with wind or explosive magic, dismantling the runes that constructed it, or the use of fiendfyre.”
“Oh come on, like anyone would seriously use fiendfyre,” one of the older Hogwarts students grumbled.
Karkaroff glared darkly in my direction. “It needed to be said.”
“Nor can anyone remove the maze from school grounds.”
“Not even temporarily?” I asked.
“No, Mr. Potter,” Dumbledore said with a merry twinkle of his eyes. “Second, any deaths that occur (whether of humans or creatures) will be examined and may lead to the loss of the championship. Further, no one is permitted to sabotage their fellow champions prior to entering the maze.”
“Ooh, Fleur looks mad,” Ginevra said.
Fleur did, indeed, look mad. Her clenched jaw seemed to harden her cheekbones, and a red line flushed across her face. With a string of French curses, she slashed her wand downwards.
My feeling of impending doom fell to its normal level. Krum also seemed to relax. He waved happily at Hermione.
Dumbledore said, “Third, no champion may bring a magical artifact, aside from their wand, inside the maze.”
I shoved my invisibility cloak at Ron, scowling.
“Fourth, no one is allowed to summon the Cup.”
Well, there went Plan A.
I suspect Dumbledore realized that, as well. Why else would he be so sickeningly cheerful? “Finally, no champion may enlist the aid of any other human or magical creature, such as a house-elf.”
Oh, that was why.
I whirled around to glare at Hermione. “Oh, come on! That isn’t even fair.”
“Neither is using slave labor to cheat,” she said.
“It wasn’t cheating until he said it was.”
“It was morally!”
“Don’t pretend to care about morals now” – I ran a hand through my hair – “What am I supposed to do? Dumbledore just got rid of all my good plans.”
“Why don’t you just go and do the maze the way it’s supposed to be done?” Ron said.
“Ron, that’s ridiculous. I’m not some sort of Gryffin…on second thought, that’s genius.”
“It is?” Ron said, undermining his short burst of intelligence.
“I’ve been acting too much like a Slytherin lately,” I said. “Yes, it’s ensured my success. But what sort of victory will it be when everyone decides I’m evil and refuses to hire me in a teaching position? No, I will win this like a Gryffindor.”
On fire for the third time in the past half-hour, I reflected that acting like a Gryffindor was a terrible idea. I should have known this earlier, of course, because it was Ron’s.
I cast Aguamenti to put out the fire, but my impressive power made the jet of water significantly larger than I intended.
Wet and miserable, I trudged through the maze. It was at that point that I saw the sphinx. I groaned. Great, more riddles. I was beginning to wonder if the tournament was designed by a Ravenclaw.
The sphinx turned her almond-shaped eyes to me, looking far too pleased with herself considering she was almost certainly going to die at my hand.
She said, “You are very near your goal. The quickest way is past me.”
I pointed my wand at the creature. “If you value your life, I would suggest you move.”
The sphinx chuckled gruffly. “If you value yours, I would suggest you not attack me. Solve my riddle and –”
“Wait a second,” I said. “What if I tell you a riddle, and – if you can’t solve it – you let me pass?”
The sphinx cocked her head curiously. “I accept your challenge, though I warn you; there is no such thing as a riddle I cannot solve. And, when I solve it, you shall have to find another path.”
“It’s a good thing you won’t, then. I can’t afford to waste time.” This was primarily because the judges refused to let me enter the maze first even though I clearly won every task.
I nodded, taking a few moments to fix it in my head. Smirking, I began.
“Born in a garden, I live in a house.
Sleeping with lions, I’m more of a mouse.
When death comes to collect me
A hungry grim is all I see.”
The sphinx was thoughtful for a few minutes, finally saying, “The answer is man.”
“Wrong,” I said. The answer was: Ron’s dead rat. Or, alternatively, whatever I decided it was because I’m not going to play fair when my victory is at stake.
The sphinx’s mouth fell open, reminding me of Hermione. “But that’s impossible! The answer is clearly man.”
“No, it isn’t.”
“Then what is the answer?”
I sighed heavily. “Look, if I had gotten it wrong, would you have told me the answer? No, because that would only disrespect my intelligence.”
The sphinx attacked me then. This is exactly the reason everyone dislikes magical creatures. They go back on their deals and are just generally unreasonable.
I followed Delacour’s screams. This wasn’t out of any foolish, Gryffindor chivalry. It was simply the intelligent thing to do.
The maze had been suspiciously easy. Oh, sure, it was filled with all sorts of monsters and traps, but this was designed by Dumbledore. Where were the deadly creatures?
The answer was obvious: They were surrounding the Cup.
Ergo, whatever was killing Delacour was almost certainly at the center of the maze. Also, she was currently beating me, which was absolutely not okay.
I was fortunate. Delacour was only a few turns away, and a hasty point-me spell guided me to her. When I arrived, however, I paused in surprise.
The girl was not being ravaged by a dragon or clubbed by a mountain troll. She was suffering under the Cruciatius, and the one casting it was none other than Viktor Krum.
Delacour let out a final shriek and fell unconscious, unable to take the pain any longer. Rage filled my chest, and my hands shook as they clenched my wand. How dare he…How dare he…
I spat, “Hermione taught you this. Didn’t she?”
How dare he take advantage of Hermione’s insidious genius! Only I’m allowed to do that.
Krum turned towards me, his eyes devoid of emotion. It seemed that I had been right all along. Krum appeared to be a likable, perfectly ordinary student – like me – but he was nothing more than a cold, calculating schemer.
More importantly, he was a cold, calculating schemer who was trying to steal _my _victory and Hogwarts secrets. And that was simply unacceptable.
I quirked an eyebrow. “No answer? Coward. Have you no – Stupefy!”
Krum fell to the ground, body frozen. He’d never even lifted his wand.
“Well, that was depressingly easy,” I muttered, already wandering off to find the Cup.
After a few more minor skirmishes with the wildlife, I found it. The Triwizard Cup gleamed in the center of the maze. I took a moment to straighten my robes and smooth down my hair so that I would look properly impressive when I emerged victoriously outside of Hogwarts. After a moment’s thought, I rumpled my clothes and tousled my hair again. That way I would look more heroic.
Grinning, I grabbed my trophy and felt the familiar tug of a portkey at my navel. As the world began to twist and stretch me like taffy, I was struck by a sudden thought:
Was the Triwizard Cup supposed to do that?
A/N: I made a separate email account to catch all of the alerts I get when y’all fav, follow, or review (I am, indeed, WATCHING you all). I then forgot about that account for two weeks. In two weeks, I received four hundred and fourteen emails, among them somewhere between thirty and fifty reviews for this and other stories.
I tend to edit in short bursts of two or three chapters, when time allows, and would usually wait a little longer before posting an update. But I am more than a little emotional over the response this story has received (both here, and back…is home the right word?…back home at SpaceBattles). Let’s celebrate. :)< Previous Next >