A/N: I've been sitting on a mostly finished draft of this for a while, but I finally decided to finish it off tonight. I originally thought this would be a one-shot, but as I approached the ending I realized I couldn't tell this whole story in one chapter, so expect a few more chapters after this. I hope you guys enjoy it; please feel free to let me know what you think.
Harry swam through the water of the Black Lake with urgency. He figured he was making good time - the Gillyweed Dobby had given him had caused him to develop webbed hands and feet, which allowed him to swim faster than humanly possible - but the clock was still ticking, and there was no time to lose. Harry dove deeper and deeper, the water growing ever colder and the light ever dimmer, but there was still no sign of the merpeople. They would be at the bottom, Harry figured, which was further away than he had thought. Finally, after another minute or two of diving, Harry saw the rocky bottom of the lake. He had to be close now - the hostages couldn't be too far away from the platform where the champions had started, or it would be impossible for any of them to return within the hour.
There they were! Harry heard a snatch of song to his left, through a tall patch of seaweed.
"While you're searching ponder this, we've taken what you'll sorely miss."
Harry followed the source of the sound, pushing through the tangled seaweed, which had, rather annoyingly, decided to start wrapping itself around his legs.
"An hour long you'll have to look, to recover what we've took."
Less than that, now, Harry thought grimly as he pulled his left leg out of a tightening loop of seaweed. It must be enchanted; it was too focused on ensnaring him for its movement to simply be because of the current.
"Past an hour the prospect's black, too late, it's gone, it won't come back."
Harry was fairly confident that the hostages would be safe, even if their respective champion didn't rescue them in time. After all, Dumbledore had arranged for all of this, and surely he wouldn't put student's lives at risk. Then again, he'd had no problems with letting Harry face the Horntail. And this was a tournament that people had died in before, and Harry didn't find Mr. Crouch's assurances of "new safety measures" too comforting. Harry figured that the people who had died had all been champions, not innocent bystanders, but it was impossible to say for sure.
Harry redoubled his efforts, ripping his other leg free and quickly swimming out of the bewitched plant's reach. He could see the merpeople now, gathered in a sort of clearing just up ahead of where he was. They were surrounding four bodies that floated just above the lake bottom, their feet tied with more strands of that blasted seaweed. Harry swam up to them, giving a quick nod to the merpeople, scanning their faces to see which was his.
The first hostage he didn't recognize; she had long, silvery hair, and seemed quite young, not more than ten or eleven. She was probably related to Fleur, Harry decided, but that didn't matter. She definitely wasn't his to rescue.
The second hostage was Hermione. Harry quickly reached for his wand, hoping he wasn't too late.
"Relashio!" he tried to say, but all that came out of his mouth was a burst of bubbles, and the seaweed was unaffected. Magic clearly wouldn't work. He swam quickly down to the floor of the lake, grabbed the sharpest rock he could find, and used it to slice through Hermione's restraints.
He grabbed her hand as soon as she was free, carrying her towards the surface of the lake as rapidly as he could. He looked down at the other hostages as he swam, feeling somewhat guilty about leaving them behind, but he wasn't sure if he could carry more than one, and he had to make sure Hermione was safe. He honestly hadn't even looked at the others once he had seen her, and so he was surprised to see that Cho and Ron were the last two hostages. Cho made sense; she'd be Cedric's hostage, of course, but who was supposed to rescue Ron? If Harry was rescuing Hermione, and Cedric would be there for Cho, and the silvery-haired girl was Fleur's, then that left Krum for Ron, which couldn't possibly be right. But there was no time to wonder about that now; Harry could feel the gills at his neck slowly starting to shrivel up, and he had to make it back before they closed completely.
There was a sudden rush of water around Harry, and he shrunk back as a massive shark swam up beside him. It wasn't entirely a shark, Harry realized. It had human hands, one of which was firmly grasping Ron's, and its face still looked quite a bit like Krum's. It wasn't a complete Transfiguration, but it was still quite impressive.
It occurred to Harry as he saw Krum that they must have switched hostages. It made no sense for Krum to have rescued Ron, and of course now it was obvious that Hermione was his hostage, given the events of the Yule Ball. Ron being Harry's hostage was logical too, as they were best friends.
The four of them broke the surface of the water simultaneously, to a loud cheer from the crowd. Ron and Hermione woke a second later, both looking very confused. Ron quickly let go of Krum's hand, although Harry would notice that he refused to wash it for almost a week afterwards. It was Krum, whoever, who spoke first, as soon as his transformation back into a human was complete.
"Vot," he said, as they swam for the dock, "are you playing at? Vere you hoping to confuse me by stealing my hostage? I thought you believed in playing fair here at Hogvorts."
Harry quickly reassured Krum that he hadn't stolen his hostage deliberately, simply that he hadn't seen Ron, and thought that Hermione must have been his own hostage. It was the truth, although it didn't seem to appease Krum, who shook his head and muttered something in Bulgarian.
Hermione and Ron were both shivering, too cold to talk, and they scampered up onto the dock as soon as they arrived. Harry and Krum followed shortly after, the latter pausing only to shoot an angry glare at the former.
There was another loud cheer as Cedric and Cho surfaced, clinging tightly to each other. Harry turned away from the lake, accepting a towel offered by Madam Pomfrey, who turned her attention to Ron and Hermione.
Harry sat down on the dock, his feet dangling in the water, taking deep breaths to get his lungs working again. The Gillyweed had almost worn off before he had surfaced, and he was still out of breath. That wasn't the only thing bothering him, though. What had he been thinking at the bottom of the lake? Krum had good reason to be angry at him; it should have been obvious that Hermione wasn't Harry's hostage to rescue. If Harry had thought about it, he would have looked at the other hostages and seen Ron, and rescued him as he was supposed to have done. There really was no excuse, except that … Harry hadn't been thinking. As soon as he saw Hermione he had rushed to rescue her, and nothing else had registered in his mind.
The large clock behind Harry struck the hour, startling him. He turned just in time to see Fleur Delacour running towards him, speaking so quickly that he couldn't understand a word. Her hair was still dripping as she approached, and he had to fight down a blush when she crouched down beside him, putting a hand on his shoulder to steady herself.
"Sorry?" he said, his mind working sluggishly, as if he was in a slight haze.
" 'Ave you seen her?" she repeated, her accent thicker than usual. "Gabrielle, my little sister - you must 'ave seen her. Is she safe?"
"She was down there with the others," Harry confirmed. He suddenly felt very guilty for having left her there, especially given the merpeople's warning that past an hour the hostages wouldn't come back. But he hadn't known at the time that Fleur wasn't coming to rescue her sister - what had happened to Fleur, he wondered - and he was focused on Hermione.
"I'm sorry - I would have rescued her as well, except I thought you were still coming, and I didn't think I could carry someone else as well as Hermione."
The excuse sounded worse when he said it out loud. He should have at least tried to rescue her. He definitely would have, if he had known how much she meant to Fleur, and how worried Fleur would be when she found out that Gabrielle was still in the lake.
"It was ze grindylows," she said. "Zey got a hold of me, and I simply couldn't- oh!"
She cut off suddenly, jumping up and rushing to the other side of the dock. The merman chief had just surfaced there, and he had Gabrielle with him. There was a hasty sibling reunion, with much rapid-fire French, before Madam Pomfrey pushed her way to the younger sister, a pair of towels in hand.
Harry was relieved that she was safe- he would have felt responsible if something had happened to her. But why would it have been his fault? With Fleur gone, he felt a sudden clarity return to his mind, and now he realized how silly of him it would have been to try to have rescued somebody else's hostage as well as his own. It was a competition, after all, and besides, he couldn't have put Hermione at risk by trying to carry somebody else as well. But then why, just a second ago, had he felt so culpable? He smiled as he realized. He really would have to remember that Fleur was part-Veela, before he made an even more stupid mistake.
He looked back over the rest of the dock, searching for Ron and Hermione, who should have been sufficiently dried off by now for Madam Pomfrey to release them. He saw them standing and talking with the twins, and he made his way over to join them.
"Brilliant, Harry," the left-most twin said. Harry thought he was George, although it was impossible to tell.
"Awesome job," continued the other.
"Just one question though."
"Not that we're complaining, but-"
"Our dear brother is curious-"
"And we kind of are too-"
"Why you left him in the lake-"
"When he was yours to rescue."
Harry glanced over at Ron, who was staring at his right hand, the one that Viktor had been holding.
"To be honest, I never saw you, Ron. Didn't even realize you were there, I was in such a hurry."
Ron looked up.
"It's ok. I'll try not to take it too personally, but don't leave your best mate hanging next time, alright?"
"You'll notice he's not too upset," Hermione said, smiling. She seemed surprisingly happy for somebody who had just spent an hour sleeping under a lake. "He does have this obsession with Viktor, you know."
"You're not too bent out of shape yourself," the even redder-than-usual Weasley replied, glowering at her.
"I'm just glad Harry's ok… What did you use to be able to breathe, by the way? I didn't realize you had found a spell in time."
Harry was about to explain about Dobby and the Gillyweed when he was cut off by Dumbledore's magically amplified voice.
"As many of you are likely aware, two of our champions returned from the lake escorting a hostage that was not assigned to them. After consultation with the merchief, the judges have come to a conclusion regarding how these champions' scores will be affected."
Harry's heart sunk deep into his ribcage, feeling like it was pressing up against his stomach. He had rescued the wrong hostage, which was surely against one of the rules in the tournament's massive rulebook. Percy could probably even tell him which one, if Harry wanted to know. He was going to get a zero, maybe even be disqualified from the entire tournament. At least he wouldn't have to worry about the third task if they kicked him out, he thought hopefully, trying to find some kind of silver lining.
"But first, the scores for our other champions. Miss Delacour failed to retrieve a hostage, as she was overcome by a swarm of Grindylows. She did, however, demonstrate mastery of the Bubble-Head Charm, and so we award her twenty-five points."
There was a smattering of light applause for Fleur, who looked surprised at her score.
"I deserved zero," Harry heard her say under her breath.
"Mr. Diggory was the last of the other three champions to return, five minutes outside of the time limit. He also employed the Bubble-Head Charm, and we award him forty points."
Cedric received a large round of applause, especially from the Hufflepuffs, but he looked displeased with himself.
"And now for Mr. Krum. He returned with Mr. Weasley inside of the time limit, at the same time as Mr. Potter returned with Miss Granger. However, the merchief informed the judges that Mr. Krum would have returned sooner, if not for his confusion upon reaching the bottom of the lake and not seeing Miss Granger. He spent two further minutes searching for her before freeing Mr. Weasley. Since this confusion was not due to his error, we award him first place, and a score of forty-eight points."
The Durmstrang students let out a huge roar in support of Krum, who raised his fist in triumph.
"Finally, we have Mr. Potter. He returned at the same moment as Mr. Krum, and he did not delay at the bottom of the lake, immediately freeing Miss Granger. Most of the judges-"
Dumbledore glanced ever so quickly at Karkaroff.
"- felt that this should not affect his score, as the tournament rules do not specify which hostage each champion must rescue, nor do they outline any penalty for a champion who makes an.. unexpected decision. However, Mr. Potter's score is forty-five points."
Harry felt his heart lift as the spectators cheered, hope flowing back into his body. Forty-five.. that plus what he had in the first task, that would-
"You're in second, Harry!" Hermione yelled over the noise of the crowd, having already done the math.
Second… it was far, far better than Harry had dared to hope for, although he'd have to come from behind in the final task if he wanted to win. Thanks to Karkaroff, he was a full three points behind Krum.
As the applause died away, Krum walked up to Harry, a towel still draped around his shoulders and his face bearing his trademark scowl.
"I vould like a vord," he said.
He sounded less friendly than usual, but Harry supposed that was to be expected.
"About what?" Harry responded.
"I vould prefer if ve could discuss this alone," he said, putting his hand on Harry's shoulder and steering him quickly away from the crowd, towards the forest.
Harry looked back over his shoulder at Ron and Hermione; they were too far away to help already.
"Ve are just going to have a conversation, you and I," Krum said, not relaxing his grip on Harry's shoulder.
"Krum," Harry began, unnerved by the fact that they were now well out of sight of the dock, "if this is about the task-"
"The judges vere fair. I do not care about the task."
"Then why are you-"
"I haff heard much about you. You are not a cheater. So I vill ask you why, if not to cheat, you took a hostage that vos not yours."
Krum had released his grip on Harry, but he was standing no more than a foot away from him, and Harry was suddenly conscious of the fact that he was significantly shorter and lighter than the Bulgarian Seeker.
"It wasn't deliberate," Harry said, honestly. "When I saw Hermione I just assumed she was mine. I didn't even think about anything else. I didn't even realize that Ron was there until…"
Harry trailed off, seeing that Krum was no longer listening. He kicked the ground with his boot, once, twice, kicking up dirt against a nearby tree.
" …didn't even think," he muttered. He shook his head like a dog, his wet, dark hair falling heavily across his forehead. He looked nothing like the Quidditch hero, the incredible, confident Seeker who had almost snatched victory from the Irish. Harry took a small step back, truly scared for the first time.
"I am going to ask you this once," he said, finally looking up at Harry. "Vot is there between you and Herm-own-ninny?"
"Nothing," Harry said quickly, meeting his gaze. "Nothing, Viktor, honestly. We're good friends. That's it. When I saw her in the lake I panicked, because I didn't want her to be in danger, but my reaction would have been the same for Ron."
"If you had seen him," Krum said, his voice low. He sighed, pushing dirt around with his boot, filling in the hole he had made. For a while the only sound was the repetitive scrape of his boot against the ground.
Finally, after what seemed like an eternity, he spoke again.
"I vill take your vord for this."
"It's the truth."
Krum extended a hand, which Harry took, the former's handshake less firm than Harry had expected.
"Good luck with the tournament," he said. "May the best man vin."
And with that Krum was gone, a dark figure moving quickly through the forest back towards the lake.
Harry gave him a head start, still trying to process what had just happened.
There was only one interpretation of that conversation. Krum viewed him as a rival. Not just in the tournament, but… for Hermione. It was ridiculous, of course. Every word that Harry had said to Krum had been true. There was nothing between them.
Harry closed his eyes, letting the quietness of the forest wash over him, trying desperately to think.
What he had said had been true. But if that was the case, then why, when he thought about Hermione, when he remembered that moment when he saw her bound to the lake's rocky bottom, did a spear of something - fear, maybe, he didn't know what - pierce his heart? Why had he been so easily blinded to the presence of his other best friend, who had been floating not ten feet away from him? Would he really have reacted that way to seeing Ron there? After all, he had left Ron, hadn't he. He had seen Ron, albeit later, and he had focussed on getting Hermione to safety first.
He… he didn't know what to think, now. If he had reacted more strongly to the sight of Hermione in danger than that of Ron… he didn't know what that meant.
Sighing, Harry started to walk back through the forest, up towards the castle. No doubt there was a celebratory party awaiting him in Gryffindor Tower, one which he was already late for. He would have to deal with these thoughts later.