Disclaimer: Standard stuff (I don't own anything, I won't be making profit, any resemblance to previously published content is purely coincidental, JK Rowling is the coolest, etc.). If I make any legal errors regarding copyrighted material, inform me and I will correct them immediately.
A/N: This is one of those fun little "just for the heck of it" fics where one mechanic is exploited so heavily (net-gain positive feedback loop) that it pretty much breaks the entire story. Expect extreme munchkinry.
A/N 2: This story was edited almost immediately after I originally posted it, but I never actually uploaded the edited version. I was rereading it (because I'm a narcissist), and realized my error; I've now uploaded the edited version (as of 4/5/2015).
Always Read the Fine Print
"Professor Moody?" Harry asked, poking his head into the ex-Auror's office. He knew Moody was in there, thanks to the Marauder's Map; however, he didn't see Barty Crouch anywhere. Maybe he had just ducked out or something. "May I come in?"
"Aye, Potter, make yourself at home," came the gruff reply. Harry managed to stifle his snort of amusement at the one-eyed, peg-legged professor saying "aye," but that didn't stop his mind from conjuring an image of a swashbuckling Captain Moody swinging a cutlass and casting curses from the bow of a pirate ship, with a triangular hat on his head and a foul-mouthed parrot on his shoulder. He shook his head clear of the image, remembering his purpose, and entered the room.
"Well, out with it, Potter!" Moody pressed, as Harry failed to immediately state the reason for his visit. "I'm a busy man! Trying to figure out who entered you into that tournament is not an easy task!"
"I know, sir, and thank you," Harry said gratefully, before continuing. "Sir...last night, you said that I was in a binding magical contract. I was hoping you could tell me a little bit more about what exactly that means."
"Ah, I guess Binns still teaches that only in N.E.W.T. classes, eh?" Moody began, nodding to himself. "Well, the details are fairly complex—oaths and contracts have to be very specific about their terms and what happens if the those terms are broken, but the bottom line is that they depend on the magic inherent in a given being's True Name."
"True Name, sir?" Harry asked. "I've never heard anything like that mentioned before."
"Well, it usually only matters for contracts, oaths, and pretty esoteric rituals," Moody clarified. "The lower years at Hogwarts are more about the basics of spellcasting, and only the sixth and seventh years really deal with the advanced stuff. Basically, for a magical contract to be binding, it has to be tied to a being's True Name—if a person writes or states their own name as they know themselves, then that's their True Name. It's almost impossible for someone to say or write the True Name of someone else, exactly as that person would—you either need to be a perfect mimic, way better than a boggart, or you need to know that person so closely that you know them as well as they know themselves. A spouse or best friend might be capable of doing it, after several decades of constant companionship."
"But I didn't enter my name into the Goblet, and I haven't been that close with anyone for that long!" Harry objected. Clearly, there was something going on here; whatever it was, he was sure he wasn't going to like it.
"True, but think, Potter," Moody said, leaning forward. His ruined face cast eerie half-shadows in the flickering light of the candles. "Who, at some point in your young life, would have been placed to know your Name, without any help from you? Who might have written it down, and at that moment, it was absolutely True?"
"You're talking about my parents!" Harry exclaimed. "Do you mean that someone stole my birth certificate and put it in the Goblet?"
"Excellent, Potter!" Moody growled approvingly. "Not exactly right, but you're on the right track. No, your birth certificate is kept locked in a secure vault at Gringotts for just that reason. You might not know this, but a lot of witches and wizards during the last war pre-paid the Hogwarts tuition for their children, just in case the worst happened. That way, at least their children would have an education, you see. When they did that, they signed their childrens' name in a register kept here at Hogwarts. You were young enough—in fact, it was right after they signed the birth certificate, right there in the delivery room—that your parents could still write your True Name. Even if it isn't exactly who you are now, it still was you at one point, and it still had enough power to bind you to the terms of the Triwizard Tournament...especially since the register was signed in your blood, and that hasn't changed at all. Parents who signed that register were trusting the Headmaster to protect it...unfortunately, it looks like that trust may have been misplaced."
"So the terms of the Triwizard Tournament—"
"Put it this way, Potter," Moody interrupted, seeing where Harry was going with the question. "If you don't compete, or if you die during the competition, you forfeit your magic to the Goblet of Fire."
"Forfeit my magic...so that means the Goblet gets stronger, right?" Harry asked, as the seed of an idea—an insane idea, an absurd idea, but an idea nonetheless—began growing in his mind. "My magic would literally transfer to it?"
"Precisely, Potter," Moody replied. "In fact, if you were a Ravenclaw and I thought you'd care, I'd blather on about how it's the only perfect-efficiency power transfer method for magical energy, even better than anything you could come up with using runes and arithmancy. Not that that helps you in your current situation, of course. As far as the tournament goes, I suggest that you compete. You should be fine, as long as you maintain..."
"Constant vigilance!" Harry completed, managing a half-hearted grin. Moody laughed, slapped Harry on the shoulder and bid him a good night. Harry departed, deep in thought.
Harry did not return to the Gryffindor dorms until very late that night, having spent hours combing through the library's section on wizarding law, covered by his invisibility cloak. He snuck out several post-war issues of the Daily Prophet, along with over a dozen legal texts—of course, based on what he had learned from Moody, he definitely did not sign his name on the loan register—and made his way back to his dorm, where he stowed the books beneath his bed. Tomorrow, the work would begin in earnest.
"Dragons!" Harry whispered, numb with shock and fear. He would need a huge amount of power (that night, it had taken well over a dozen experienced wizards to knock out the Horntail with stunning hexes), and fast; this meant moving up the timetable, if he was going to have enough time to practice. Even then, it would likely be a close thing. He would have to launch his plan immediately—Moody had suggested that he find a way "to get what he needed," not-so-subtly hinting at Harry's Firebolt. Harry, not being quite mad enough to try to out-fly a dragon on a broomstick, decided to take a more straightforward path: he would simply become powerful enough that the dragon ceased to be a threat.
That night, Harry watched as over two dozen owls winged their way out of the owlery. Thankfully, they were nocturnal, and more than happy to have something to do this late at night. If all went as planned, the majority of the wallet-sized parcels would reach their destinations a few hours after dawn, right as their intended recipients were eating breakfast.
Lucius Malfoy was no fool. When the owl presented him with a type-printed note requesting his signature to confirm receipt of the wrapped parcel, he cast every single detection charm that he knew, some of which he had learned from the Dark Lord himself. Finally satisfied that he would not be cursed in any way by the parcel or the note, he signed his name on the dotted line with a flourish and handed the note back to the owl, who gripped it delicately in its claws. The owl hooted, bobbed its head respectfully, and returned to the skies.
As the owl winged away, Lucius turned back to the parcel. He unwrapped the paper and opened the small cardboard box delicately, just in case his charms had failed to detect something, and sneered in irritation when he saw that the box was empty. Bloody fools went to the trouble of including a receipt, but didn't remember to put anything in the box! Annoyed, he stood and strode from the room. He was a busy man, after all; the elves could dispose of the trash.
Harry grinned as he received another receipt, and ignored the strange looks he was getting from everyone else at the lunch table. That completed the set; even Lucius Malfoy had provided his signature! Harry had used old issues of the Daily Prophet to compile a list of witches and wizards who had escaped justice for their actions in the war by claiming to have been under the Imperius Curse (read: bribed their way out of trouble). He had sent empty parcels to everyone on the list except those already incarcerated in Azkaban; according to Sirius, prisoners were not allowed to receive mail. Harry would have dearly loved to include Peter Pettigrew, but he still needed Pettigrew to clear Sirius, and he didn't want to spook the rat by sending him mail. Snape (Harry had quickly found out that Snape had been a Death Eater during the war, and only Dumbledore's intervention had saved him from Azkaban) and Karkaroff were spared simply because they were at Hogwarts, and Harry didn't want to raise anyone's suspicions.
The parcels themselves were meaningless; they had just been necessary to entice the targets to sign their receipts. Each receipt had a thick black line for the signature; however, typed in black ink within that line (in tiny font, of course) was a very short, very simple, magically-binding contract clause. It stated:
The above signed hereby forfeits all magic, in full, in perpetuity, irrevocably, and with immediate effect, to the undersigned.
Harry departed from the Great Hall to the nearest empty classroom, immediately withdrew a ball-point pen, sat down at a desk, and signed his name beneath the line on the first receipt. Right when Harry lifted the pen from the note, he gasped aloud as his body was suddenly flooded with energy. Harry rode out the wave of power and sat, eyes closed, as he relished the sensation. He felt so...powerful.
Still tingling nearly thirty seconds later, Harry proceeded to sign the remainder of the receipts. Avery, the Carrows, Crabbe, Gibbon, Goyle, Greyback (Harry was a bit surprised that the beast was even human enough to write his name), Jugson, Macnair, Malfoy, Nott, Rowle, Selwyn, Travers, Yaxley...the list spanned over two dozen people, all of whom had been cleared of any and all wrongdoing during the war "by reason of duress under the Imperius Curse." One by one, with a few minutes, Harry systematically stripped each of them of their magic, taking it for himself. By the time Harry finished, his body was practically buzzing with energy.
"This might take some practice," he murmured, as an errant twitch of his wand vaporized half the desks in the room. Somehow, though, he figured he could get used to it.
Harry stared at the Hungarian Horntail.
The Hungarian Horntail stared right back at Harry.
The crowd gradually quieted, watching the intense staring match between a small teenager and a huge dragon.
Harry took several slow, deliberate steps to his right, until he was behind a large boulder, out of the dragon's line of sight. With a discrete wave of his wand, he transfigured a nearby rock into an exact duplicate of himself, fully clothed, wearing glasses, and holding a stick.
The crowd gaped in wonder, and Professor McGonagall gasped in shock. Harry Potter had generally been a fairly good student in her class, but to casually perform nonverbal post-NEWT-level transfiguration as a fourth year...it simply beggared belief. The wonder did not stop there, though.
With a poke from his wand, accompanied this time by a single spoken word, the teenager sent his doppelganger striding out from behind the boulder. This time, it was Professor Flitwick who was pleasantly surprised; anima was an animation charm that typically controlled one specific action. Here, however, a fourteen-year-oldwas using a single anima to seamlessly control the entirety of what appeared to be a fully-articulated model of a human body...a third-year spell, used to create a post-NEWT-level effect.
From the dragon's perspective, it would appear as though Harry had simply come out from cover, moving at the speed he had been; in fact, it even looked like he had not broken his stride.
While Not-Harry circled slowly to the right, Harry raised his wand once more, and tapped the tip against the top of his head. Instantly, he completely disappeared from view, leaving nothing behind—not even the ripples in the air typical of an underpowered disillusionment charm—to betray his presence. Another few flicks of his wand, and he was both silenced and scent-free. The air-freshening charm was fairly simple, as was the silencing charm, but the disillusionment charm was devilishly difficult to perform, and he was doing it flawlessly, all while maintaining perfect control over the transfigured doppelganger. The crowd buzzed intently, and the judges were whispering to each other. Ludo Bagman was, perhaps thankfully, shocked into silence.
With Not-Harry keeping the dragon's attention by stalking around the enclosure just out of firebreath range, Harry simply circled around in the other direction. Maintaining the transfiguration and all of the charms was extremely power-intensive, but Harry had plenty of power to spare. He walked past the dragon—keeping well clear of its mace-like spiked tail—and picked up the golden egg. Less than a minute later, he returned to the enclosure entrance and removed the charms from himself.
"A-hem," he coughed, drawing the crowd's attention. He held up the egg in one hand, and pointed at it with his other.
"I'm done now, judges," he called. Harry waved his wand, and Not-Harry turned back into a rock, to the dragon's surprise. Without bothering to stick around for his scores, Harry tapped his wand on his head, re-disillusioning himself, and walked back to the castle.
After his perfect success (as the judges had all—in some cases, grudgingly—given him top marks) in the first task, all talk of Harry having cheated his way into the Triwizard Tournament disappeared. Many students—including Ron—apologized for their lack of faith and their insults, but Harry was not so quick to forgive. It had all reminded him too much of second year, when the entire school shunned him, believing the ridiculous rumor that he was a nascent Dark Lord. Harry enacted a policy of cool cordiality toward those who had been most outspoken against him, and reserved a particularly cold shoulder for Ron; after all, Ron was supposed to have been his best mate, so his betrayal was both more painful and less forgivable.
All in all, though, Harry's life generally improved; his marks in class skyrocketed (as he could now cast virtually any spell with ease—he had always been one of the most powerful students in his year, but adding the power of over two dozen fully-grown wizards put him in another league entirely), people bothered him much less (save for Malfoy, who continued to require the occasional jinx or hex), and the Daily Prophet stopped slandering him. In fact, the only irritant was, surprisingly, his other best friend.
Hermione Granger was not a stupid girl, and she had been close enough to Harry for a long enough time to know that he hadn't simply been "hiding his true potential" (as was the prevailing theory). Fearful that Harry—in his desperation to survive the tournament—may have turned to some terrible dark ritual to gain power, she took it upon herself to continually nag, cajole, and even spy on him. Harry drew the line when she confronted him after seeing him return all the books he had taken out of the library. Convinced that the dusty old tomes were filled with forbidden dark arts lore (though why she thought such knowledge would be in the legal reference section of the Hogwarts library was unclear), she practically tackled him before summoning Madame Pince to look at the texts.
Madame Pince, of course, immediately informed Hermione that the books were all on wizarding contract law, and promptly assigned Harry a detention for not properly signing them out in the first place. Hermione fled in tears, feeling that Harry was still at fault for lying to her, even if she didn't know what exactly he was lying about; Harry was mostly just confused and annoyed by the whole episode. Having grown up in a cupboard, the subtleties of female insanity were far beyond his ability to comprehend. He chalked it up to Hermione's overwhelming need to know every detail of his life, which he found a bit insulting—after all, he was not her property, and some things were just not her business. The two did not speak again until the second task.
Harry had managed to pass through the first task almost effortlessly without showing off the full extent of his power; the rest of the magical community simply thought that he was an excellent student. In fact, though, Harry had simply brute-forced his way through the complex transfiguration spell, as well as the animation and disillusionment charms, lacking the skill or theoretical background to perform those spells with the efficiency required of a normal wizard (that is, one who didn't have a vast reservoir of magical power from which to draw).
The second task, however, looked as though it would require him to show off even more of his strength. Lacking any cunning plan to avoid showing his power, and unwilling to risk the life of his hostage, Harry resolved to take the simplest, most direct route to the bottom of the lake—if that meant performing magic that would be obviously well beyond the capabilities of any normal wizard, then so be it. To do this, he doubted that he really needed any more power—in truth, at this point, it was unlikely that he could undertake any task and come up short on magical energy—but he had come up with a truly excellent scam, beyond worthy of the Marauders...and that pretty much meant that he had to give it a shot. Right?
In his initial, frantic rampage through the Hogwarts library just after speaking to Moody about contracts, Harry had vaguely noticed some information that was tangentially related to the subject at hand. At the time, he had passed up the opportunity to investigate further, preferring (and rightfully so) to remain focused on his more immediate concerns. Now that the tournament was effectively in the bag—at risk of becoming overconfident in his power, Harry was seriously beginning to think that the only way he could lose would be if he actually tried to—he had the leisure time necessary to indulge his curiosity. What he found left him practically giddy with anticipation.
It turned out that Magical Britain held a number of clever ways to get people to sign or state their True Names. Of particular note to Harry (hitting the sweet spot for being generally permanent, highly-trafficked, and low-security) were two Ministry-operated institutions: St. Mungo's Hospital and the Ministry of Magic itself. At St. Mungo's, there was a patient intake register that incoming patients and visitors signed with a blood quill—in fact, this register performed several functions, including tying the patients into the wards and allowing the healers to get an instant diagnosis of any curses or illnesses that might show up in a patient's bloodstream. At the Ministry, the visitor's entrance required visitors to state their full names, for the purposes of receiving a visitor's badge.
Harry visited the Ministry of Magic first, knowing that it was by far the easier nut to crack; it would help that he would be entirely unobserved while he was in the phone booth that doubled as the visitor's entrance. He simply walked to Hogsmeade under his invisibility cloak, used the Floo (under a powerful Notice-Me-Not Charm) from the Three Broomsticks to the Leaky Cauldron, and walked through Diagon Alley to the Ministry of Magic. Since he didn't actually know how to get to the visitor's entrance from outside the Ministry complex, he just walked to the nearest map, which displayed a helpful "You Are Here" star, along with a short description of the different areas of interest...including where the visitor's entrance was located in London.
Only a few minutes later, Harry was in the phone booth. He didn't bother dialing the passcode (he didn't actually need to get back inside the Ministry, after all), and stuck a very special disc made from tungsten-steel alloy—chosen for its durability; Harry had long since passed the power threshold for permanent transfiguration, so he "procured" it with a flick of his wand—to the underside of the phone with an irreversible sticking charm, and then covered it with a Fidelius Charm. It would have been a very difficult, if not impossible, series of spells for the average wizard to perform due to the extraordinary power requirements, but now that Harry had extraordinary amounts of power, it wasn't a problem. The disc had a contract and Harry's signature engraved into its surface, with a specially-prepared voice recording charm layered into the alloy. That way, when people stated their names to receive their badges, the contract would activate.
To avoid detection, the contract only demanded one twentieth of each person's magic, and would take effect at midnight—that way, even if someone noticed that they were slightly weaker, they probably wouldn't think to connect it to the trip to the Ministry they had made earlier that day. Even better was the idea that Harry had gotten from Moody, who had told Harry that the Goblet of Fire claimed the magic of any champion who died in the tournament. Applying this idea to his new scheme was as simple as adding a clause that required the signee to forfeit all of their remaining magic to Harry upon their death.
St. Mungo's required more delicate timing and planning (since Harry would actually be copying the terms of the contract into the register by hand), but the combination of a powerful Notice-Me-Not Charm, an invisibility cloak, and a few well-placed Confundus Charms was sufficient to prevent him from being detected while he wrote out the contract clauses in the register. The terms and time delay were identical to the contract in place at the Ministry; the only difference was that it required a signature, rather than a voice recording—in fact, Harry expected St. Mungo's to be more "lucrative" than the Ministry, simply because a much higher percentage of people entering the hospital were likely to die and forfeit all of their magic to Harry. Finally, Harry cast the Fidelius Charm (only on the contract language within the register, rather than on the register as a whole) and hightailed it out of there. All told, executing the plan took less than an hour, and Harry went entirely unnoticed in the hustle and bustle of the morning rush hour.
On February 24th, Harry stood at the shore of the lake, focusing on exactly what he wanted, as the other three champions dove into the water.
"Point me, hostages!" Harry whispered, and his wand immediately spun in his palm to point directly to the center of the lake.
"Glacio!" he intoned, keeping his wand focused on the spot that the Point Me spell had indicated. Almost instantly, a circular tunnel of ice—with an opening nearly a dozen feet wide and with walls several feet thick—began to extend down from the surface of the lake. Within moments, the tunnel was complete (albeit filled with water), and dead-ended at the bottom of the lake, fully enclosing the hostages. A flick of Harry's wand and a murmured evanesco vanished the water within the tunnel; the daylight reflecting off of the perfectly-formed crystallized walls illuminated the hostages at the bottom.
Even the youngest students in the crowd realized that what Harry had just done had been theoretically straightforward, but—due the vast power requirements—practically impossible. Even Dumbledore, the vaunted defeater of the Dark Lord Grindelwald, knew that he would have been hard-pressed to match the feat even in his prime, let alone these diminished days...and yet Harry Potter, a mere child, hadn't even broken a sweat. What Dumbledore and the rest of the spectators did not realize was that Harry was actually only showing a fraction of his power. It turned out that he had underestimated the number of people who visited the Ministry of Magic and St. Mungo's; every day, hundreds of people tripped his trap. True, he only received a twentieth of each person's magical power, but with those numbers, he could have been much more conservative and still counted it a huge success. In the few short weeks since he enacted his most recent plan, Harry had stolen—or, as he preferred to think of it, "harvested"—vast amounts of magical energy, and it showed no signs of slowing down (though he knew that since each trap would only hit each person once, things would eventually level out, given Magical Britain's small population). In short, Harry was no longer just an above-average teenaged wizard. Not that he minded; trying to be normal had never really worked out for him, anyway.
Harry, oblivious to—or, more precisely, entirely uncaring of—the crowd's shock, transfigured a nearby rock into a large bobsleigh and set off down the tunnel. Always a fan of rocketing around on a broom, Harry quite enjoyed the short trip, and was rather reminded of Gringotts's "one speed only" roller-coaster carts. A quick arresto momentum kept Harry's bobsleigh from slamming into the hostages, who were all tied to a large stone mermaid statue.
"Harry?" Cho asked groggily. Apparently, the enchanted sleep wore off when the hostages were exposed to air—that meant that Harry now had to rescue all of them, rather than just his, as he had originally planned to dispel his ice tunnel once he was done with it. "Is that you? What's going on?"
"No time to talk, Cho," Harry replied, taking a moment to appreciate the sight of Cho Chang in cold, wet nightclothes before casting four rapid cutting charms to release the hostages. "Everyone get on the bobsleigh."
Once the bobsleigh was turned around (pointing back up the tunnel), and Cho, Hermione, Ron, and a small blond French girl were on board, Harry crowded into the back. Harry assumed that Ron was to be his hostage—probably Dumbledore's doing, to try to get them to make up—while the French girl was obviously Fleur's, Cho was Cedric's, and Hermione was Krum's. Ron at least had the courtesy to remain quiet, knowing by now that Harry would not appreciate his commentary. Hermione, though, did not share her counterpart's tact.
"Harry, what are you going to do now?" Hermione asked, sounding exasperated (and more than a bit snide, Harry thought). "Sleighs go downhill, not uphill. Honestly..."
"Hermione," Harry interrupted sharply, hoping to forestall a lecture on wizards and common sense. "Are you a witch or not? Honestly."
With that, he flicked his wand behind the sleigh and cast a banishing charm, taking care to make it powerful enough to push the sleigh along, but not so powerful that the passengers would be knocked off. Less than a minute later, the bobsleigh had ascended to the top of the tunnel and skidded to a stop on the rocky shore. Taking one last look at Hermione and Cho (after all, he was a teenaged boy and they were still wet, cold, and covered only by their nightclothes), Harry promptly disillusioned himself and walked back to the castle.
As expected, Harry once again received top marks from each judge for his (by all accounts) "incredible" performance in the second task. The unfortunate result of showing such power during the task, though, was that several of his professors (almost certainly at the headmaster's behest) began to subtly but constantly try to wheedle information out of him.
Their primary and most obvious interest was in how Harry's spellcasting had improved so quickly (expressed most often as "I can't believe you were able to hide your potential for so long" or "when did you say you learned that?"), but they were also clearly interested in virtually every aspect of his life. It quickly grew tiresome, but Harry had no recourse but to grin and bear it. Surprisingly, though, the one professor he expected to cause him the most problems, actually ended up causing the fewest. Snape (presumably wary of Harry's apparent power and conscious of Harry's deeply-rooted hatred for him) began acting carefully neutral toward Harry, who—not wanting their dynamic to return to its status quo ante bellum—made no effort to antagonize the potions master, creating a very Cold War-esque sort of detente.
Thus, in the aftermath of the second task, Harry generally satisfied himself with showing up to class only long enough to perform whatever the day's task was (always on the first try, to Hermione's obvious annoyance) and then immediately leave to go fly on his broom, blow things up (which he passed off as "Triwizard Tournament spellcasting practice," but in truth, like the Weasley twins and the Marauders before them, he just really enjoyed blowing things up), or rummage through the library for interesting tidbits of information.
Unfortunately, these pleasant diversions were insufficient to stave off an increasingly persistent sense of stagnation. Harry's "revenues" of magic from the Ministry and St. Mungo's had stabilized and leveled off to a steady trickle by mid-March. He didn't really have any new ideas for how to increase "production," and he figured that at this point, it wasn't really worth his time to lay more single-building traps. He needed something big.
At dinner one night, however, the answer suddenly hit him like a blunt ax to the neck. As Harry poked at his treacle tart (which was normally his favorite dessert, but he wasn't really feeling it that night), Nearly Headless Nick floated through a tiny first year, making her shriek in surprise and spill her pumpkin juice all over her friend.
Harry somehow instantly recalled some figure he had heard that summer on the television news (from upstairs in his tiny room), that the world population was soon going to hit a big milestone number: six billion people. Six billion living people, at this moment. Each of those six billion people had vast family trees, stretching back beyond recorded history. Someone had even done that math, and the newscaster had glibly pointed out that "the human condition had a mortality rate of over ninety percent." It would be safe to assume that the same was true for wizards. That meant that nine out of ten wizards who had ever lived, were no longer living. It was a simple mathematical fact.
...so where did their magic go?
Harry didn't know yet, but he was going to find out. And when he did, he would be a god.
Predictably, Harry's (admittedly Voldemort-like) quest for godhood did not start off very well. He spent week after week blitzing his way through the Hogwarts library, but his search hit one dead end (both literally and figuratively) after another. Basically, there was nothing beyond rank speculation about what happened to a person's magic after they died (assuming that nobody like Harry had already conned them out of it). Did it just...float around? Reabsorb into some vast, primordial wellspring? Become one with the Force?
Frustrated, Harry thought back to his previous scheme, which would reallocate (to Harry) the entirety of each target's magic upon their death. That method worked, because each target committed their magic while they were still alive (and able to make such commitments). But if they were already dead, how could he get an entity to "sign over" their magic to him? What he needed was some way to contact the dead, and extract their oath to relinquish all of their magic. But where to start? The answer to that question, at least, was simple; Harry needed to look no further than the entities which had sparked the idea in the first place: ghosts. Conveniently, Hogwarts was practically brimming with them.
"Lemon drop?" the headmaster asked genially, gesturing to the bowl of pale yellow candy sitting on his massive desk. "They're quite good; in fact, this may be the best batch yet."
"I'm fine, thanks," Harry replied quickly, remembering the last time he had taken Dumbledore up on his offer of lemon drops; they had been so sickeningly sweet that he could practically feel his teeth rotting before he had even left the office.
"Suit yourself," Dumbledore said with a shrug, and continued to munch on the candy. After several minutes of this—during which the headmaster noisily consumed half the bowl of candy, popping handful after handful of lemon drops into his mouth while twinkling his eyes and smiling benignly down at Harry like some sort of benevolent patriarch—Harry finally broke the silence.
"Professor, was there any particular reason you called on me?" Harry asked pointedly. "It's just that the third task is tomorrow, and I'd like to get enough rest."
Dumbledore crunched his way through one more handful of candy, licked his fingertips, and paused for a moment before he spoke, his eyes twinkling even harder than before.
"Well, my boy," Dumbledore began, ignoring the slight narrowing of Harry's eyes at the condescension. "That's one of the things I wanted to discuss with you."
"And the others? Sir?" Harry prompted.
"All in due time, my boy," Dumbledore said pleasantly.
Another long moment passed in silence before Harry, already tiring of all this...Dumbledoring, spoke again, with an irritated edge coloring his tone.
"Well, like I said, professor, I've got the third task tomorrow," Harry ground out. "So I would consider it a courtesy if you would actually get to the point. Sir."
Dumbledore's eyes—though still twinkling somewhat—darkened, and the aged headmaster appeared to grow taller, colder, and more powerful. Harry had last seen this version of Dumbledore when Lucius Malfoy stood in this office, with his customary arrogant sneer on his face, after the basilisk incident. Clearly, it was time for business.
"This morning, Professor McGonagall made an interesting discovery, Harry, as the Hogwarts rumor mill has undoubtedly reported," Dumbledore began, his tone at once deeper and harder than before. "She discovered that Professor Cuthbert Binns, who has taught History of Magic here at Hogwarts for over a century, was no longer at his post. Soon thereafter, it quickly became clear that all of the ghosts of Hogwarts are missing. Around noon, researchers at the Department of Mysteries noted that all of the ghosts in the whole of Britain have disappeared. The odds of all of them choosing to move on to the next great adventure, all at the same time...well, let's just say that it would be unlikely. Would you care to shed some light upon this matter?"
"Professor, I have no light to shed on that particular subject," Harry said lightly, meeting the piercing sapphire gaze with his own. It was a simple matter to satisfy the headmaster's legilimency probes with falsified memories of his own feeling of surprise when he "first heard" the rumors of the ghosts' disappearance. Occlumency came easy to Harry, now that he was able to dump more power into maintaining an illusion of a memory than any given invading legilimens could possibly put into any attempt to discern the truth. He could have kept the headmaster out entirely, but that would have exposed him as an occlumens, and he would never again have any hope of flying beneath Dumbledore's radar...which could make the next three years a bit awkward, to say the least.
Dumbledore did not stop his legilimency probe at just the issue of the ghosts, though. He practically rifled through Harry's mind, searching for any clue as to how Harry had apparently gained so much magical prowess so quickly. Ruthlessly suppressing his rage at the intrusion, Harry simply kept showing the memory of the moment his name came out of the Goblet of Fire, adding in a false burning sensation throughout his body. Harry's hope was that Dumbledore would conclude that the Goblet had backfired when forced to accept Harry as a champion, somehow imbuing him with some of the magical power that it had gained from dead and forfeiting champions over the centuries. As it happened, Harry had already looked into the possibility of harvesting that latent power, but quickly found that there would be no way, short of destroying the Cup entirely; it was on his to-do list, of course, but it would have to wait until the Cup went back into storage after the tournament. After a long moment of silence, Dumbledore was apparently satisfied, and withdrew from Harry's mind. He quickly ceased his not-very-subtle attempt at intimidation, and returned his countenance to its customary "kindly old grandfather" facade.
"Very well, my boy," the headmaster said with a sigh, as though Harry had somehow disappointed him by not having anything useful to report or confess. Harry could now see this for the sort of manipulation that had gotten him to run into danger in the past, and was not moved. "As you well know, if there is ever anything you would like to tell me, I am here. Good night, Harry."
"Thank you, sir," Harry said, standing to leave. As he reached the door, he turned around and addressed Dumbledore again. "Sir, you mentioned that you also wanted to talk about the third task?"
"Ah." Dumbledore was obviously surprised, and took a moment to catch up; clearly, in his attempts to spin his web, he had forgotten how he had brushed Harry off earlier. "I just wanted to wish you good luck, my boy."
After making his escape, Harry walked back down the stairs and returned to his dorm, stewing in his irritation at the headmaster. Thankfully, he was tired enough that he was able to fall asleep quickly. After all, consuming the magic of the spirits of the dead had been hard work.
Ludo Bagman's whistle blew, and Harry strode forward, displaying no outward signs of trepidation. The crowd stared, waiting for Harry's next big spectacle. However, Harry was sick of the attention—both positive and negative—that the Triwizard Tournament had drawn to him. So many people had made such a big bloody deal about it! The best way to show how little the whole thing interested him, he decided, was to make the task look as trivial as possible. To that end, he walked right into the maze...and then right through the first wall...and the second...
Less than six minutes later (based on Harry's fifty-four-point lead, as each point was worth six seconds), just as Bagman was preparing to blow the whistle again to send Krum into the maze, Harry appeared at the judge's table. The Triwizard Cup was nestled under his right arm, and his right hand held his wand; of more immediate interest, though, was the strange cloth bundle in his left hand.
"I won," Harry said (he was clearly heard by everyone present, as the crowd had silenced itself in anticipation of a victory speech) matter-of-factly, setting the Cup on the table. "And I even brought you all a few presents."
With that, Harry unceremoniously dumped a horrifyingly misshaped, scaly baby-looking creature out of the bundle and onto the table. Before anyone could react, he reached into his pocket and withdrew a rather weathered-looking gray rat, and then smacked it onto the table as well. A flick of his wand forced the rat into his true—albeit still unconscious—form.
"Meet Peter Pettigrew," Harry deadpanned, as the judges jumped back from the short, balding man that had suddenly appeared practically on top of them. "Notice that he is very much alive. Observe the Dark Mark tattooed on his left arm."
The crowd's anticipatory silence turned to shocked silence.
"But wait!" Harry said cheerfully. "There's more! This creepy little baby-thing is actually Lord Voldemort's homunculus. He's also still alive...kind of. He won't be around for much longer, though, because I sort of broke him."
The silence deepened, and several of the more excitable spectators (including Molly Weasley) fainted. Dumbledore's mouth opened and closed over and over again, but no sounds came out.
"Oh, and Minister?" Harry called to Fudge—who was still sputtering in disbelief—as he began walking back toward the school. "I'll take the thousand galleons. You can keep the eternal glory, so long as Sirius Black is cleared of all charges in time for the morning edition of the Daily Prophet."
Silence reigned for several more moments as the witches and wizards present tried to process all of the new information. By the time Harry made it to the school, absolute pandemonium had broken out.
The next morning, a vast swarm of owls heralded the arrival of the Daily Prophet. As Harry had predicted, the Minister—in an effort to curry favor with the Boy-Who-Lived—had pulled out all the stops. An on-the-spot interrogation of Riddle and Wormtail by Aurors had resulted in a glut of testimony that would doubtless see many of the supposedly-Imperiused Death Eaters (most of whom were curiously devoid of all magic, having hidden their sudden case of squibness from the community by retreating to their manors for the last several months) thrown in Azkaban, as well as the recapture of Barty Crouch, Junior, who had been masquerading as Alastor Moody all year in order to lead Harry to the graveyard. Tom "Lord Voldemort" Riddle (also without magic, though the paper mistakenly attributed that curiousity to the fact that he currently inhabited a homunculus form), of course, was summarily executed by Dementor's Kiss, followed by the incineration of his homunculus; not that it really mattered, as the homunculus was rapidly breaking down anyway, since it didn't have Riddle's magic holding it together anymore. Fudge's coup de grace, of course, was taking credit for "overturning a longstanding miscarriage of justice," exonerating Sirius Black of all charges and laying the blame squarely at the feet of his long-deceased predecessor, Millicent Bagnold, and the more-recently deceased Barty Crouch, Senior.
The political machinations mattered little to Harry. He was effectively above politics, having enough raw power to remain untouchable and neutral (until, inevitably, someone would forget, and try to draw him in...and then he'd have to remind the British magical community to leave him alone). For now, though, Harry was simply satisfied that Sirius was free and that he had apparently vindicated himself in the collective eyes of Hogwarts, which—for all its unfriendliness to him this past year—he still viewed as his first true home.
Predictably, though, there were those who were not satisfied. First and foremost among them was, of course, Albus Dumbledore, who summoned Harry to his office after lunch that afternoon. Having seen this coming a mile away, Harry had hidden a massively powerful portkey—capable of breaching any ward that Dumbledore could erect, and set to activate the instant Harry fell unconscious—in his pocket, just in case Dumbledore tried anything underhanded to coerce Harry into telling him the details of what had transpired in the maze and graveyard, or worse, tried to force Harry back to Privet Drive for the holidays.
His precaution, however, proved largely unwarranted. Dumbledore, sensing that the balance of power (both politically and magically) in magical Britain was now heavily slanted in Harry's favor, merely congratulated the teenager on his success against Riddle, and asked Harry what he planned on doing next.
"Well, I've still officially got three years of school left," Harry said with a shrug. "Though Hogwarts has not been particularly kind to me this past year. I was thinking I might take my OWLS this summer at the Ministry. If they go well, I might also try to take my NEWTS."
"And after that?" Dumbledore pressed, leaning forward slightly. On the one hand, he no longer needed to groom Harry to defeat Riddle; on the other hand, he wanted to keep an eye on the boy, in case he should begin to go dark. Plus, if Harry gave any interview that referenced wanting to leave Hogwarts because of mistreatment at the hands of the students and staff, it would be a huge black mark on Dumbledore's reputation.
Harry shrugged again. "Well, as I understand it, I'm fairly rich, and so is my godfather. I assume I'll do whatever and go wherever Sirius thinks is best for me. Personally, I've got my hopes set on a vacation to the French Riviera; I hear the women sunbathe topless there."
Outwardly, Dumbledore chuckled genially, like an aged mentor indulging the fancies of youth, while inwardly, he cursed vehemently. Clearly, Harry had no interest in sharing his actual plans. Worse, if Harry truly did leave his immediate future up to the whims of Sirius Black (a distinct possibility, given the orphan's hunger for parental guidance and approval), there was absolutely no way to predict what might happen. The pair could just as easily shag their way through half the witches in France, as they could—with Black's insanity (and wealth) at the helm of Potter's power (and wealth)—topple the government of magical Britain. There was just no telling.
"Well, professor," Harry said, smiling innocently (though he could practically smell Dumbledore's frustration, and both wizards knew it). "I think it's time for me to get going. As you know, I was exempted from the end-of-term exams, so I'm leaving school early this year. Don't worry, though; I've already told my head of house and signed all the proper forms."
With that, Harry stood, turned, and opened Dumbledore's office door (which Dumbledore had surreptitiously sealed with his most powerful locking charms as soon as Harry entered the room). The door closed behind Harry, just as Dumbledore reached it; he hoped to catch up to Harry and ask the boy once more what his real plans were. However, when he flung the door open, he saw no trace of Harry Potter.
"What do you think, Harry?" Sirius asked, grinning. If he were in his animagus form right now, he would be wagging his tail and drooling at the same time. It had taken surprisingly little effort to set this up; getting to the French Riviera was one thing, but he would have thought that the Delacours would have put up a little bit of a fight.
Harry managed to snap his mouth shut with an audible click, but he was still unable to tear his eyes away from the glorious sight arrayed before his eyes.
"And Harry, you remember Fleur, right? Say hello!"
Harry Potter was a powerful wizard. But there were some forms of power that would always hold sway over him, and he was suddenly totally okay with that.
This was never really a serious story, so I figured I'd cut Harry a break and end it on a high note. ;)
I've taken another break from Harry Potter and the Labyrinth, mostly because I've got some serious writer's block, despite being halfway through writing Chapter 5. I figured I'd put out another one-shot, which will hopefully help get the creative juices flowing again. Also, my girlfriend is traveling for a week, so I have nothing better to do with my time.
The True Name thing was inspired heavily by Jim Butcher's fantastic Dresden Files series.
This one has been on my mind ever since I read Goblet of Fire; Harry was locked into competing by a magically-binding contract...knowing that a person could be entered into such a contract unwillingly and unknowingly, why didn't he find out more details on such contracts? It always seemed obvious to me that they could be used offensively. To the D&D player in me—yeah, in case you haven't figured it out from the whole "Harry Potter fanfiction" thing, I'm a nerd—it seemed that Rowling had left an unconstrained mechanic in her universe, which pretty much required that I exploit it for all it's worth. Thus, Harry Potter engages in some much-needed, long-awaited munchkinry.
Tell me what you think! And try not to be too harsh; I know it isn't my best work, and it was written off-the-cuff, pretty much just for the heck of it, in just a few hours.