Chapter 84: The First Task I

"Welcome Hogwarts!" Lee Jordan's voice boomed through the arena. While Ludo Bagman had been the original choice for announcing, when he had done a runner, it had become abundantly obvious that they'd need to find a replacement. Given, Dumbledore had pointed out, that Hogwarts had someone who regularly announced sporting events anyway, was there really a need to go trying to find someone special? It hadn't gone over well, but there'd been only a little time to try and get a professional. In the meantime, Jordan was what they had. "Not welcoming the deceased losers in the Pit! Let's hear it for the official beginning of the Triwizard Tournament!" There was some polite clapping. "As you well know, the first event took place at the end of October, but the judges have yet to award points. In the meantime, we're going to watch some underprepared idiots, our own miss Girl-Tobi, and the badass Professor Potter face off against the poor opening challenge: nesting dragons!

"That's right, my fellow students," Jordan's voice sounded only partly excited. "We're going to watch them attempt to get a golden egg out of a nesting mother's clutch. By hook or by crook, they'll evade or negate dragonfire and some fearsome natural weapons to steal the most precious thing a mother has! First up is . . ." there was a pause as he checked the notes Percy Weasley had shoved into his hands a few minutes ago. "Miss Fleur Delacour against a Chinese Fireball!

"I'm sure you all know that Miss Delacour is a beautiful young woman, but she is so much more than that. She is, in fact . . ." another pause and some vaguely heard muttering. "A demihuman! The lovely lady is a quarter veela. For those of you who are interested in these things, I've been asked to do a bit of flavor commentary while the handlers get the dragon in position." Indeed, down below were a dozen witches and wizards busily using a mix of goading hexes and chains to get a huge, orange-red dragon into the middle of the arena while several more carted along the eggs. "The Chinese Fireball is not a native of the Far East. It was given that name when it was first discovered by a pair of witches in Kent! The name is a reference to the drooping whisker-like protrusions from its snout, something that was believed at the time to be a feature of men from China. Considering our own headmaster, I am proposing we call it the Hogwarts Fireball! It's even in our motto! What? Oh. Sorry, Professor!"

The moment of quiet was just long enough to notice before Lee Jordan spoke again. "And there she is, coming into the pit now. Miss Delacour is hot, hot, hot!" It was a literal statement. Her normally attractive features were somehow more so, while at the same time, slightly drawn back and sharp. It gave her a face that drew to mind a hunting bird. More to the point, she was on fire. Flames hissed from her mouth in white-hot streams and surrounded her arms, giving her whole body an obscuring heat-haze. "At the sound of the gong, she will have fifteen minutes to complete the task."

A gong sounded. It was mixed with a crack of superheating air, human ears unable to identify the amount of time between the start of the gong's sound and that belonging to the passage of a giant fireball that appeared as nothing more than a streak of blue-white in the air. The dragon's head vanished in that instant, replaced with a stump of a neck and the lingering scent of cooked flesh.

Fleur walked calmly to the center of the arena and picked up the golden egg.

"With what I'm sure is a new record," Jordan managed after a moment. "Miss Delacour completed the First Task in just twenty seconds! Let's hear from the judges!" From the bottom of the magical bunker shot numbers. In a curlicued purple was an '8', in pastel blue was a '10', in pitch black was a '4', in red was a '7', and moments later a piece of wood was lowered down on a chain bearing a '9'. "And Miss Delacour takes the lead with thirty-eight points! Let's see how her competition does!

"Up next is the handsome superstar: Victor Krum! Recently voted one of Europe's most desirable bachelors despite being in school—does anyone else find that creepy?—rumor has it he's off the market! The scion of the notorious Bulstrode family has been seen in close company with the quidditch star. He's facing a Ukrainian Ironbelly. These dragons are renowned for their magical resistance. Even amongst a species whose well known traits includes surviving the killing curse, these are specimens who are talked of as especially magic-resistant! See how the handlers are using only chains for this?" Admittedly, two of the trainers were using animated chains to keep the mother from wandering off towards her clutch, but it was still only chains. "Look at the flame it's breathing; I wonder whose is hotter, the dragon's or the French champion? I know who is prettier—sorry, Professor!"

Victor Krum walked out of the waiting tent looking unperturbed. It might be that his fellow champion had just killed a dragon in a gout of magical fire. It might be that he trusted in Professor Potter's work. It might even be that he was just a little crazy (anyone who flew like him probably was). Most likely, though, it was the fresh marks on his neck and chest. English girls, he was discovering, were rather more cosmopolitan in their views on gender-interactions. His father would definitely not have approved—would have boxed his ears and called Millie some rude names—but Krum could see the positives to it.

He looked at the dragon. He was fairly certain that the French witch had acted on a spur-of-the-moment need to vent; Krum had planned this out since he'd learned what the task was. Everyone thought flying was something spontaneous. It was. But they didn't realize that he spent hours practicing and thinking about how he could be just that little bit better. That had let him single-handedly carry his team to the World Cup. Next time he'd try getting some people who could do more than sit around like idiots while he did the work.

To tell the truth, he'd been expecting to be at least a little worried. Certainly, the dragon was big and scary and had lots of fire breathing and magical immunities, but it wasn't freaking him out at all. He could worry about that later. His wand came up and described a quick series of motions. He'd had to adjust the plan a little, of course, because Ironbellies were able to resist the spell he'd planned to use. But Millie had been kind enough to show him a technique that Professor Potter had developed. A meter-long steel spike appeared in the air and was promptly launched at the dragon.

One of the downsides to being so large was that small things were harder to track. To Krum, this was a gigantic piece of metal and hard to miss, for a dragon, though? It was going to find it difficult to see something like this. And, once it hit, it was having trouble seeing anything at all.

The dragon thrashed about madly, roaring and trying to get the spike out of its eye. In the process, it crushed the eggs beneath it, all the while making desperate sounds of pain. Krum considered whether he'd just wait it out or not. He didn't really feel like going any nearer that mess than he had to, but if the handlers didn't decide that qualified as unruly . . . the dragon keened and this time it was apparently the cue for the handlers to move in.

While the men and women were occupied trying to work out how to control a magically-resistant creature flailing about in pain, Krum decided that there were sufficient targets for the dragon and strolled over to the crushed remains of the eggs, collecting the metal one that had survived the encounter. It was a waste, he'd hoped it would punch through into the dragon's brain, but apparently dragon skulls were strong stuff. As it was, he felt mildly guilty that the creature hadn't had any choice in its involvement and that his actions had cost it an entire clutch of eggs. He hoped dragons weren't particularly aware, because he'd hate for it to truly grasp what it had lost. He was going to need a lot to drink tonight.

The judges conferred for long moments before assessing his performance. The purple score came out as '5', the pastel as a '4', the black as a '10', the red was a '6', and lowered down was a wooden '5'. Krum would have liked better scores, but his plan hadn't worked as he'd wanted. It was about what he'd expected, including his headmaster ignoring his fuck up. Well, the man had been a Death Eater; he probably wasn't too squeamish about the suffering of others.

"And Victor Krum gets a thirty from the judges!" came Lee Jordan's announcement for those in the audience who were unable to do basic arithmetic. "Hopefully they'll share their logic with us later, especially the headmaster of Durmstrang, whose score is so out of place among his peers that it might be considered biased—not that I'm accusing him, Professor! If I had to guess, it would be either the destruction of dragon eggs or pain and suffering. There goes Hogwarts's very own Charlie Weasley at the head of a squad, moving the dragon out of the arena. Whatever they've used to calm it, I'd like to have a few around for finals. I could make a fortune selling thembutthatwouldbedangerousandIwouldn'tdoit,Professor!" Jordan's pavlovian training had kicked in, as Professor McGonagall was simply sitting beside him, watching the event and apparently unaware that he kept stepping over the line. In her defense, she was remembering the time that she had somehow been talked by a certain student into allowing a young James Potter to announce the Gryff-Slytherin game. After that, there was hardly any way for Jordan to end up out of line.

"Next up is our esteemed guest-lecturer and most dangerous magical creature on the planet: Professor Potter!" There was a deafening level of cheering going on, made worse by the number of students who, in contravention of the rules, had decided to use magic to add to the volume or, in the case of the twins, add a full brass band fanfare to the mix. "That's right!" shouted Jordan over the din. "We've never seen Professor Potter actually try, so many of us are looking forwards to a firsthand view of his abilities. There's even a rumor of a betting pool on what he'll do, but I'm sure that's not true. In the meantime, they're bringing out the Hungarian Horntail. Widely renowned as just about the most viciously unfriendly being around, Professor Potter is facing off against it. Oh wow, that's the risk they take!" One of the dragon handlers had gotten too close to the Horntail and it had whipped its namesake through the air and cleaved the woman in half. The crowd reacted quickly, shields going up to rebuff the flying bits of handler. The dragon roared its victory over one of the little creatures.

"It looks like they've got it in position. Yes, there they go." The dragon handlers had locked down the chain attached to the dragon and proceeded to advance in the opposite direction with alacrity. "Now we wait on Professor Potter to astound us in some way."

X

X

The crowd went silent as Hari stepped out onto the field. The previous champions had put on interesting performances. The dragon was a gleaming beacon of magic to his eye. Regardless, it was a chance to find out if this had worked. He raised his thumb to his lips and let his incisor slice cleanly into it. That had been one of the biggest problems—he was really hard to cut now. A moment of focusing and he pressed the wound to the ground. Smoke engulfed the whole arena.

X

X

==OMAke==

Arnold Lewis stared at the little figurine on his desk. He had a dozen things he should be doing and he was instead staring at a thing made of twigs and string that had appeared the day before. Its intrinsic properties were harmless, yet somehow the thing had a disquieting aura that he found all too familiar. It was the same as the one that surrounded one of his most . . . unusual employees. There was a reason he kept her on assignment as much as he could, but she only really had a working relationship with Kirkbane, so the rest of the time, she was pretty much free to do as she liked in the confines of the Dawn headquarters.

Of course, headquarters was much larger than it had been when the Boss had opened it. What with one thing and another and his slowly growing library of files and the need for a couple of people to manage the stacks and his slowly increasing medical staff and Gormchief's assistant, not to mention a barracks for when agents were on call, he'd ended up quietly taking over a few of the neighboring offices.

The medical staff had come as something of a surprise, but he'd found that while there were only so many people who could afford to hire the Dawn to solve problems that needed a certain level of finality, the number of people who needed medical care that didn't ask questions and was willing to make housecalls was rather high. Sure, the money wasn't quite as good on a per-case basis, but there was lots of work and it wasn't like having a bunch of skilled people who knew how to handle the kinds of injuries the Dawn sometimes sustained on his payroll was a bad thing. Still, it meant that he had far more people working for him than he'd expected when he took the job.

And then there was this. He supposed he could ask Gormchief what the thing meant, but if he did, then he'd have to find out and he wasn't entirely sure he wanted to know. Right now, he was able to almost pretend that it didn't matter and wasn't worrying him. There was a real danger that defense would vanish if he took steps to remedy his ignorance. Besides, he couldn't think of an answer that he would like. But it was still unnerving. He didn't dare destroy it, just in case it meant that someone that even Gormchief considered to be dangerously outside the bounds of reason would be offended.

Which was why his morning was spectacularly unproductive.


(A/N John)

Well, it's been a little while again. I suppose it was inevitable that our renewed posting rate couldn't be maintained forever. It is what it is. Nevertheless, I hope that the insanity we are dreaming up will remain entertaining.

(A/N 2 John)

Sadly, our posting rate may remain low because opportunities to write are going to get fewer starting later this week. As crazy as it is, real life is going to come back and bite me. Nothing I can do about that.

(A/N 3 John)

Most of you probably have an idea of what is going to happen next. I promise that it's crazier than that. And it will get even more so.

(A/N 4 John)

Honestly, you can blame Spoon for some of the crazy that's coming up in the next chapter.

(A/N 5 John)

Also worth noting that I felt like Krum is the sanest of the lot. Sure, he practices dark magic, but that doesn't make him a sadist. Besides, he's standing next to Girl-Tobi, a demihuman who places a low value on human life, and Hari. Really. It's inevitable that he's the only one able to properly empathize.

(A/N 6 John)

For those of you who wanted to know why Fleur insisted on an earlier dragon instead of a different one, I hope this explained it. Just in case, here goes: she wasn't planning on having a complicated fight either way, she just wanted to kill something right then and there and knows there'd be trouble if she just murdered one of the other champions. It was a simple matter of expedience.