Disclaimer: JK Rowling owns Harry Potter.
It was about one minute after he'd loaned Professor Moody the Marauder's Map that Harry Potter started wondering if that was the thing he would sorely miss. After all, a replacement Firebolt wouldn't be cheap, but he probably had the galleons. The Map, on the other hand, was one of the few things he had from his parents. In fact, what else did he own that couldn't be replaced? His wand, but he'd need that for the task. His photo album, but most of those pictures probably had copies. His invisibility cloak, that almost no one knew about—Dumbledore did, though, he reminded himself, and he was one of the judges. Actually, that was probably on top of the list—but then why didn't Moody take it instead? Oh well—one more thing to ask Hermione and Ron in the morning.
Harry stopped dead in his tracks. They wouldn't…would they? If there was even a chance…
He ran all the way back to Gryffindor Tower.
He practically dove through the portrait hole and thanked Merlin when he saw Hermione reading a book by the fire.
"Hermione, I need a way to breathe underwater," he said breathlessly, running up to her.
"I just figured out what the Second Task is about, and—"
"What! You said you'd already worked out that egg clue!" she said indignantly.
"Please, Hermione, I need your help!" he shouted.
Hermione looked up with concern and saw the fear in Harry's eyes. She wasn't sure she'd ever seen her friend look that scared, and that was saying something. She stood up and grabbed him reassuringly by the shoulders. "Harry, what's wrong?" she said. "What's the clue?"
There was just over a month until the Second Task. The next day, they filled Ron in and started poring over any book in the library that looked the slightest bit useful. Hermione was sceptical that Professor Dumbledore would let any harm come to the hostages, if that's what the task was, but Harry was quick to point out that Dumbledore was also supposed to make sure no one under seventeen entered in the Tournament in the first place, and in spite of their assurances, both Hermione and Ron looked a little worried themselves.
The trio grew much more worried as the task approached, as they combed through hundreds of books and came up empty, even in the Restricted Section. They started second-guessing everything. They reanalysed every word of the clue. Hermione even found a Mermish dictionary to check if something was lost in translation. It just didn't make sense that the Tournament organisers would set such an impossible task, or for that matter, that something as useful as breathing underwater wasn't written about anywhere. Harry started to wonder if the other champions had somehow checked out all the relevant books to slow him down. Still, though they searched lunchtimes, evenings, and whole weekends, with Harry increasingly losing sleep over the whole thing, they found nothing.
Harry tried his best to convince himself that he was wrong about the hostage thing, but that fell apart when Fred and George showed up in the library the night before the task, saying they'd been sent to collect Ron and Hermione for Professor McGonagall. Both of them.
"Is this about the Tournament?" Harry demanded.
"Dunno. She wouldn't say," said Fred.
"Just said we had to get "em," George finished.
"But both of them?"
"That's what she said," Fred confirmed.
"Well, I'm not letting you take them," Harry said, training his wand on them.
The Weasley Twins weren't sure they'd ever seen the Boy-Who-Lived looking outright murderous before, but after seeing him beat that dragon back in November, it was a frightening sight. "Whoa, there, Harry," George said. "You know if we don't bring them, McGonagall'll just have to come down and get them in person."
"Let her. I'd like to talk to her in person, anyway."
"Harry, no," Hermione chastised him.
"Hermione, I'm not letting them take you."
"Harry, you can't win this. Not against all the professors, if it comes to it. We'll tell McGonagall what the problem is. I'm sure she'll listen to reason."
"She's right, mate," Ron offered. "I don't like it either, but you can't afford to get hurt or in trouble right now. Just…don't freak out too much, okay? I keep telling you we're gonna be fine."
"Please don't do anything stupid, Harry," Hermione said. "We'll see you tomorrow."
They turned and walked away with Fred and George, who were obviously itching to hear what had Harry Potter on the verge of hexing them.
"G-goodbye…" Harry called after them, praying that he'd see his friends again.
He gave up looking in the library after that. If a month's searching hadn't got him the answer, a few more hours weren't likely to help. He just needed to think. How could he rescue hostages from the bottom of the lake without actually going into the lake? Summoning? No, Dumbledore would have thought of that. He needed some other way. Something to help him take control. He trudged up to Gryffindor Tower, hoping he could manage to get some sleep. As he was drifting off, a plan started to form in his mind. It was desperate, it could get him in a lot of trouble, and there was a good chance it wouldn't work, but it was all he could think of, and he wouldn't be able to live with himself if he didn't do everything he could.
Ron and Hermione found themselves sitting down between Cho Chang and a tiny, silver-haired French girl who looked bewildered by the whole situation and probably spoke only a little English. The way Professor Dumbledore was casually explaining the arrangements for the second task to the four of them was very off-putting.
"Professor, the one hour thing—that's not real, is it?" asked Ron nervously.
"No, Mr. Weasley," Dumbledore said lightly, "the clue is only meant to motivate the champions to their goal. You will each be placed in an enchanted sleep for the task, and you will be revived safe and sound once you are back above the water, regardless of how your champion performs."
"But Professor," Hermione asked, "can you really force us to do this? I mean, we were never entered in the Tournament."
"The rules do give the Tournament organisers broad leeway in designing the tasks, Miss Granger. In any case, there should be no concern, since I will be personally guaranteeing your safety."
"Like you were supposed to guarantee no one under seventeen could put their name in the Goblet?" Ron said, to Hermione's surprise. Even months after he'd accepted it, it made her smile a little to see him defending Harry like that.
"That was an unfortunate error, but I have added additional security precautions since," replied Dumbledore. "The four of you will be in no danger."
"Professor, I don't like this," Hermione insisted. "What about Harry's safety? Harry's convinced that the one hour limit is a real threat. He thinks we'll die if we aren't rescued. We haven't found any way for him to breathe underwater, and I'm not sure he can even swim. I just know he's going to do something desperate and maybe die."
Dumbledore's face fell a little at that pronouncement, but his hands were tied by the rules. He had no choice but to press on: "The merpeople and the giant squid will both come to the aid of any champion who is in danger. I assure you that the judges all reviewed the safety procedures carefully before approving the Tournament in the first place."
"Honestly, Albus, I'm a little worried myself," Professor McGonagall cut in. "I'm not sure that clue was a very good idea from the start."
"That was Mr. Bagman's call, Minerva," Dumbledore said. "Whether it was wise or not, we must press on with the arrangements…"
The next thing any of the four hostages remembered was awaking in the dangerously cold water of the Black Lake.
At nine thirty in the morning, Harry stood on the shore of the Black Lake, carefully surveying the crowd. As he suspected, Ron and Hermione were nowhere to be seen.
"Harry, have you seen Cho?" Cedric asked beside him.
"No," he answered grimly.
"You are good friends vith Hermy-own-ninny, da?" Krum stumbled over Hermione's name. "Do you know vere she is?"
"Where do you think?" Harry nodded toward the water.
"What?" he demanded.
"No, they wouldn't!" Cedric said.
"If zey have taken Gabrielle…" Fleur said in horror.
But they were interrupted by Ludo Bagman who was cheerily lining up the champions at intervals of about ten feet. None of them really heard what he was rambling on about, and the other three champions looked like it was all they could do to keep from jumping in the water right now. But Harry did notice when Bagman came up to him and whispered, "Alright, Harry? Know what you're going to do?" He looked a little concerned, possibly because Harry was the only one not wearing a swimsuit.
"Yeah," Harry growled. "I know exactly what I'm going to do."
Bagman grinned and returned to the judges' table to announce the start of the task. The other three champions quickly jumped into the water. Harry, on the other hand, had a different plan in mind. He walked over and stood beside the judges' table, right at the edge of the grass. There, he made a show of taking off his robes, revealing his everyday clothes underneath them, while he glared at Bagman's stupid grin as the idiot started explaining who the hostages were and why they had been chosen.
The timing was actually quite good, since just as he had finished, he froze, and that grin was wiped clean off his face as he found the steak knife that Harry had nicked from breakfast pressed against his throat.
A loud gasp went up from the crowd. The other judges looked horrified, and Bagman was making a funny whining noise. Dumbledore started to rise and shouted a socked, "Mr. Potter!"
"Get back!" Harry yelled. He wrenched Bagman up out of his seat and dragged him a few steps back, using the larger man as a shield. "All of you get back!" he patted Bagman down and found his wand, holding both it and his own holly wand in his right hand, ready to curse anyone who ventured too close, while keeping the knife against Bagman's neck with his left.
"What the blazes do you think you are doing, boy?" Karkaroff demanded. He had already drawn his wand on general and had curses ready to fly, but Dumbledore waved him back.
"What I'm supposed to be doing," Harry yelled back, "rescuing my hostages."
"By threatening the judges?!" Karkaroff roared.
"It's called a prisoner exchange. Bring up Ron and Hermione, and I'll let this idiot go."
"Harry…" Bagman whimpered, sounding hurt.
"Enough of zis nonsense!" Madame Maxime said, moving toward them.
"Stay back!" Harry pointed his two wands at the half-giantess. He pressed his knife into Bagman's neck hard enough to draw a couple drops of blood.
"Igor, Olympe, please let me talk to the boy," Dumbledore said gently. "Harry, you do not want to do this. We both know this isn't who you are."
"It is when you try to kill my friends, Professor. This is the only way I've got."
Dumbledore drew back slightly, but unfortunately, Percy Weasley chose that moment to jump in: "Mr. Potter, don't be foolish. You can't win the task this way. Besides, Miss Granger isn't even your hostage."
"So? She's my friend, too. I could never live with myself if something happened to her. And for that matter, I'm not too keen on putting Cho and this Gabrielle person at risk either. And if Ron's mine, Percy, why the hell aren't you out here with me trying to save your brother's life?"
"Really, Mr. Potter, this is completely uncalled for."
"Uncalled for? You uncaring, pompous, insensitive, straight-laced…Furnunculus!"
Percy Weasley's eyes widened as the Boil Hex raced toward him, too shocked to move at the fact that Harry Potter would dare to hex a Ministry official. Overpowered as it was by emotion and the two wands Harry was holding, the spell left him on the ground, bleeding and writhing in pain. The shouts of horror from the crowd grew louder.
All three heads had their wands out, now, but Harry just made another little scratch on Bagman's neck and trained his wands on them. With Harry using Bagman as a shield, only Dumbledore might be able to resolve the situation with magic, and he still seemed inclined to talk it out. "Harry, I assure you your friends are perfectly safe," the old headmaster said gently.
Harry stopped and finally started to relax, if only a little. "What…? But the clue said…"
"The clue was only meant to motivate you. I have personally made sure they are in no danger. Any hostages whom the champions do not reach at the end of the hour will be delivered safely to the surface by the merpeople. So you see, there is no need for your actions."
"But I—you—Motivate me?" Harry bellowed, oblivious to Bagman's continued whining. "It's been driving me mad! I've been scouring the library looking for a way to breathe underwater for weeks, and I've found nothing! I thought my friends were going to die because of me, when I'm not even supposed to be in this damn tournament in the first place. I don't know how the others are doing it. I'd say they cheated, but I don't think Cedric would—"
"Really!" Madam Maxime protested. "Eet is not zat 'ard. A simple Bubble-Head Charm would—"
"I've never even heard of a Bubble-Head Charm," Harry interrupted. "If it's so simple, why isn't it in any of the hundreds of books on water magic?"
Dumbledore held up his hands. Karkaroff was still glaring with his wand trained on Harry. "The Bubble-Head Charm is normally used to provide clean air when there is poison or some other hazard in the air," the old man explained. "It is not normally listed in conjunction with water. It was meant to be a test of creativity and ingenuity. In any case, I give you my word that there is no danger, so could you please let poor Mr. Bagman go?"
"Hang on. Just one question first," Harry said. "I want to know whose bright idea that clue was in the first place."
All three heads looked pointedly at Bagman, whose whimpering jumped a couple of pitches higher.
"Augh!" Harry dropped his knife hand and gave the larger man a kick in the arse, pushing him away. "You want to explain that one?"
The blond man nervously turned around and said, "It was just to play up the drama of the Tournament…"
Harry glared at him. He knew he ought to let it go at this point, but he really wanted the man to feel some of the pain he had felt for the past month. "Eat slugs, Bagman!" he growled.
With Harry having two more years of experience since Ron tried to cast that hex on Malfoy, not to mention a working wand, Bagman was soon belching slugs all over the beach.
"I forfeit the task," Harry shouted, finally throwing back Bagman's wand. "I can barely swim, and I can't breathe underwater, so I have no way to even try it, and maybe you'll all believe me that I didn't enter myself, now." He sat down on the beach and crossed his arms.
"Well?" Karkaroff demanded to Dumbledore. "Are you just going to let him get away with this?"
The old man turned to the Durmstrang headmaster. "I'm afraid the Mr. Potter is rather correct, Igor. Imagine how we must have appeared to him, seeming to threaten the lives of his friends—who were innocent bystanders whether he entered the Tournament of his own free will or not—and setting an impossible task for him to save them. We must have seemed quite the villains in this situation. Is it any wonder he attempted something desperate? No, I think we shall call this an unfortunate misunderstanding."
The other judges didn't seem too satisfied with this, especially with Percy and Bagman still being treated by Madam Pomfrey, but they acquiesced to Dumbledore's wishes. Harry, for his part, continued to sit, watching the lake, praying that Dumbledore was right that his friends were in no danger, and fantasising about how he would go down fighting if he wasn't.
About thirty minutes later, there was a disturbance in the lake. A long, pink tentacle rose up to the surface, carefully gripping a witch with long, silver hair, who was struggling with all her might against it, despite the fact that she was badly scratched up, bleeding, and looked to be on the verge of passing out. Something must have really done a number on Fleur for the giant squid to have to forcibly return her to the surface.
The French witch was deposited gently on the beach, sobbing and babbling hysterically in French, "Non! Pas elle! Pas Gabrielle! Laissez-la partir!" Madam Maxime rushed over to try to comfort her, but then Fleur began looking around. She saw Bagman and Percy both lying injured, and then she turned her head, and Harry's cold eyes locked with hers. Whatever dark thoughts were running through her head must have intensified, for the look in her eyes became, if it were possible, even more murderous than Harry's was not long ago. She staggered to her feet, and then, something very unexpected happened.
There was a hissing sound as all the water soaking Fleur steamed off of her, starting from her hands. Feathers erupted from her skin. Her fingers elongated into wicked talons, and her face into a sharp beak. Balls of fire appeared in her hands, and she let out and ear-piercing screech.
Madam Maxime drew back in horror. Fleur had transformed to full bird-like form, something that wasn't even supposed to be possible for quarter-blooded Veela. She barely had time to duck as a fireball flew straight at her face. Within seconds, all of the judges found themselves showered by fireballs. She was probably shouting demands, but no one could understand her screaming. When the only response was spells being shot back at her, Fleur lunged for the cowardly Karkaroff, tackling him to the ground before he could react and savagely clawing his face, chest, and arms until Dumbledore managed to stun her.
"I told you we should not 'ave used zat clue, Monsieur Bagman," Madame Maxime said as she patted out the flames on her dress. Bagman was unable to speak on account of the fact that he was still coughing up slugs. Now unconscious, Fleur's face shifted back to her normal beautiful features. Maxime gently picked her up and carried her over to the grass while she waited for Madam Pomfrey to tend to a very bloody Karkaroff. "Do you zink we should wake 'er?" she said softly.
"It would probably be best to keep her stunned until her sister is here to greet her," Dumbledore replied.
"And keep her away from Karkaroff," Madam Pomfrey said in annoyance. "He's lucky she didn't rip out something important."
When she finished attending to the Durmstrang Headmaster, she went over to Fleur, who was shivering badly by now, and carefully tipped a Pepper-Up Potion into her mouth. "I'd like to lodge a complaint about making the champions jump in the lake in the middle of February," she said.
"I would like to lodge complaints about many zings," Madame Maxime added, glaring at the other judges.
Harry tuned out the discussion and continued watching the lake. The hour ran out with no sign of anyone else coming to the surface, and he became even more tense. One minute later, though, Cedric and Cho popped through the surface. Cho was panting for breath, and both looked like they were freezing, but they otherwise seemed none the worse for wear. Indeed, the judges' table itself looked like a war zone by comparison.
"Harry? What happened?" Cedric said as he saw Harry sulking by the lakeside.
"Ask Bagman," Harry spat.
He kept waiting, and about ten minutes later, Krum and Hermione broke through the surface. For a second, it looked to him like Krum had a shark's head, but it quickly shifted back to normal. Then, even as they were swimming to shore, four merpeople broke through the surface, carrying Ron and a little girl along, and Harry finally relaxed for the first time in weeks. Ron and Gabrielle both looked very annoyed that the merpeople were singing their screeching song alongside them. Maybe it was the stress, but Harry had a feeling they were mocking him. He might have decked one of them if they got too close if he wasn't more worried about his friends.
When he couldn't help himself anymore, he waded into the freezing water until he was waist-deep and threw his arms around his bushy-haired friend. "Hermione, thank Merlin you're alright!" he said as he fought to keep from crying into her shoulder.
A dark look crossed Krum's face. "Hermy-own-ninny," he said, "is dere someting between you and Harry?"
Harry was holding her too tight to speak, but the question was answered well enough when Harry broke away and hugged Ron just as hard.
"Whoa, mate, are you okay?" Ron said worriedly when Harry came to his senses and nearly collapsed. The one thing he hadn't expected was for him to have to help Harry out of the lake.
"Harry, you aren't even wet," Hermione observed as Madam Pomfrey rushed over to wrap them all in blankets. "Didn't you go into the lake? Did you find a spell? You didn't do anything stupid, did you?"
"I, um, I kind of held a knife to Bagman's throat," Harry said, hanging his head.
"What!" Ron and Hermione screamed.
"What was I supposed to do? I thought you were gonna die down there. And I never did find a way to breathe underwater. It turned out the answer was something called a Bubble-Head Charm, but it's not normally used for that."
"Oh, Harry…" said Hermione.
"I told you you shouldn'ta taken that song thing seriously," Ron said.
"Fleur did, too!" Harry defended himself. "She nearly killed Karkaroff when she thought she'd failed."
As if on cue, they were interrupted by loud French shouting as Fleur was Rennervated. "Gabrielle! Tu es vivant! Tu es vivant! Oh, les grindylows, ils m'ont attaqué! Je ponce…Je ponce…"
Harry turned back to his friends. "I thought you were gonna die because I couldn't find one bloody spell," he said, shaking. "I didn't know what else to do."
"Well, you're a good friend, Harry," Ron admitted, "even if you can be a little thick sometimes."
"Heh, look who's talking," he shot back.
By now, Krum was trying to help Hermione warm up. "I vas vorried about you, too, Hermy-own-ninny," he said softly. "Dat clue vas rather frightening."
"Yeah, same here," Cedric said, approaching the other champions. "I wanted to get Ron for you "cause I saw you didn't go in the lake, but the merpeople wouldn't let me."
Harry smiled a little, "Thanks, Cedric. So all four of us bought it?" He glanced at Ron again.
"Well, we at least weren't convinced it was a fake," Cedric confirmed.
Ron looked about to apologise again, but Harry had bigger fish to fry, so to speak. He pointed his wand at his own throat, hoping this would work, and incanted, "Sonorus."
"Hello? Hello? Can you all hear me?" his voice boomed out over the lake. "In case it wasn't clear, I want to point out that the champions were led to believe that our hostages would die if we did not retrieve them in time. That's what the golden eggs told us. Why should we have had any reason not to believe it? After all, everyone keeps going on about how dangerous this tournament is, and the First Task was bloody dragons, for Merlin's sake. But even besides that, it still can't have been too safe for them being brought up by the champions through the lake. You all saw what happened to Fleur on the way down. Let's ignore the fact that I didn't even enter my own name in this Tournament. Fleur, Cedric, and Viktor all entered themselves knowing the risks, but if they knew you were going to put their friends and families at risk, too, I wonder if you'd have had any takers at all."
At that, Cedric stepped forward and stood by Harry's side. "Yeah, I really have to agree with Harry, here," he called out. "Taking hostages at all was not appropriate."
"Oui, you 'ad no right to take my sister!" Fleur said as she staggered to her feet, Gabrielle clinging to her chest.
"I begin to think Harry has right idea," Krum added. "Ve compete only ourselves. Dis vas completely unacceptable. You vill be hearing from my legal team on behalf of all four of us."
Harry cancelled his charm and turned around. "Thanks, Viktor, I owe you one."
"Do not mention it. Ve vere all forced into dis together."
By now, the crowd was solidly on the champions' side, and calls for…interesting point distributions were increasing. Many people were glaring at the judges' table, where Karkaroff and Percy were still lying on the ground, and Dumbledore and Maxime were conversing with Bagman—when he wasn't spitting slugs into a bucket.
"Well then…" Dumbledore spoke up uneasily when they reached a decision. "As we have seen, all four of the champions showed…great ingenuity…and dedication to their loved ones…in their own ways…However, a majority of the judges have agreed—those being the three who are conscious right now—that there were such serious flaws in the design of the task that it cannot be scored fairly. Therefore, we have decided to throw out the results of the Second Task entirely. The scores will stand the same as they were after the First Task."
A loud groan went up from the crowd. Even with Harry's and Fleur's showings, they had still stood outside all morning in February spending most of that time just staring at the lake. They could only hope that the Third Task was more sensible—and that the Tournament wasn't sued out of existence by then.