Disclaimer: I do not own anything related to Harry Potter. If I did I would be a far richer man. And I'd be a woman. I also don't own Bathsheda Babbling. However with what Shiva has morphed into I probably own her.
Reviews are of course appreciated but certainly not required.
AN: I'm dropping down to one chapter a week sadly. Moving and changing jobs will be taking up quite a bit of my time for a little while.
AN: There's a lot of French in this chapter since Fleur tends to slip when agitated and Gabi doesn't speak as much English. Each major one has a numbered footnote with the rough English translation if you want to scroll down and check them while reading.
AN: Ah and we finally get to one of the other major scenes that inspired this story. While the fins and rune offense have been added, the original idea was still largely similar to this finished version. I hope everyone enjoys reading about this Task as much as I did writing it!
Chapter 29: Lakes and Allegiances
"Back from trying to convince the world that you're richer than the goblins?" Narcissa asked with a derisive snort as Lucius Malfoy walked into the sitting room. He scowled at her comment and poured himself a drink.
"The Scandinavian representatives were easily dissuaded from causing problems. I didn't even have to use a tenth of the bribes typical with Fudge. It was almost laughable. The French though," Lucius' scowl deepened, "those cheese eater barbarians wouldn't know a smart deal if it slapped them in their face. We're just lucky their Champion wasn't the one injured. I may not have been able to save Fudge had that happened."
Narcissa laughed. "That idiot will destroy this country. He's already doing a bang up job at it."
"That 'idiot' is the best, cheapest, most malleable and highest placed asset this family has ever seen!" he retorted.
She snorted derisively showing just what she thought of that assertion. "And he will drag us all into the dirt with his blind insistence on protecting that…woman. This foolish Tournament doesn't even approach being subtle," Narcissa said glaring at Lucius. "Damaging the reputation of Harry Potter is one thing, a simple matter really, but actively attempting to end an ancient line is completely different. The Wizengamot will turn on him and you will be caught in the crossfire."
Lucius gestured dismissively at that. "Neither the Wizengamot nor the public will do such a thing. I may have lost Skeeter, the stupid careless woman…but I still control the Prophet. They will never print anything that disparages Fudge too much. Besides…since when have you cared about ending lines?"
Narcissa shook her head at both his arrogance and his ignorance. "I have always cared about ending lines, dear," Narcissa snapped scowling, the venom practically dripping from her tone. "Being a pureblood used to mean something in this country. We used to maintain the family grimoires, uphold ancient traditions both personal and national, and we could trace our ancestors back to the original settlers. Now all that 'Pureblood' means is destruction and corruption. It is not enough that you poison my son with your hatred and vitriol, but now you again poison the country."
Lucius' hand clenched around his glass as he sneered at Narcissa's arrogance. How dare she insinuate having any right over his child. "Draco has never been your son. He is my Heir!" Lucius growled. "I will continue to raise him in the proper beliefs, in the way I see fit and you will continue to remain quiet if you wish to maintain your lifestyle. You believe the same things I do surely? I fail to see why we keep having this argument."
Narcissa tossed her hands in the air. Had he been listening at all to anything she had just said? "We keep having this conversation because your tiny brain fails to see the difference between tradition and bigotry. I seek to honor the precepts upon which our society was constructed, that is all. A society which will stagnate and die without new blood now and then. You would understand that if you had ever bothered to study history."
Lucius glared at his wife for several moments. Slowly he put his cup down and said, "You would do well to be careful what you say, woman. The Dark Mark grows stronger by the day. It is only a matter of time before our old Master returns."
"He was never my master. I may have played the dutiful wife in public, but that madman would see everything I have ever believed in run into the ground if the whim hit him. All he ever cared for was power and you idiots follow him without a second thought as to how you're all just his tools," she said narrowing her eyes at him. "You are quickly falling into old patterns, Lucius, and the only thing that kept me silent all these years for has been torn away from me thanks to you."
Lucius stood and laughed derisively. "Watch yourself, Narcissa. It is foolish to agitate me. When the Dark Lord returns…I may not be able to protect you."
She laughed, as much to hide the shiver of dread that ran up her spine, as to spite him. "Oh? And you would give me to his court to entertain them with Draco watching then would you?"
"It would do him well to remember what happens to those who denounce the Master." Lucius swept from the room his cloak billowing behind.
Narcissa was left alone staring into the fire and contemplating whether this frustrating tightrope was worth walking anymore. Draco was all but lost to her – Lucius had seen to that quite thoroughly. The boy may still care for her but he did not listen to her or believe anything she said. And if the Dark Lord was truly about to return then yet more of the old families and knowledge would be lost in the fires of war. A war that was looking to be far more evenly matched than the first. She hadn't had any choice in sides the first time when Orion had signed off on this marriage. Yet compared to back then...there was a new Lord Black now. Perhaps one who just might be willing to help her if she took the first step?
Harry stared out at the Black Lake from his spot underneath his favorite tree. The giant squid had taken to tossing several rocks into the air in a passable imitation of juggling. A display which would have been far more entertaining and humorous had his mind not been consumed with worry about the Fourth Task tomorrow.
They had done everything they could to prepare. He had purchased flippers, practiced the aguamenti maxima charm, crafted an extra Breathkeeper, studied the map Myrtle provided, gotten the alohomora to work silently, tested unlocking items with his Lockpick tattoo, continually reapplied tracking charms to Hermione, Tonks and Shiva every two hours…Harry sighed heavily.
He heard soft footsteps approaching and caught a faint trace of the rosemary perfume that Daphne liked to wear. He'd noticed a bit better sense of smell since gaining control of Midnight and it helped to pick up on some people. "Worried?" the Slytherin girl asked, sitting down beside him and joining him in watching the giant squid.
Harry nodded glumly. "At least in the first three it was just me in danger. This one though…if I screw up then one of them could die…"
Daphne snorted and shook her head. "While that may be technically true, we both know it's not going to happen, Harry. You are far too stubborn to let one of the people you care about drown like that. Your luck may be awful, but as Neville loves to say, it's the 'worst good luck ever'. Something bad will almost certainly happen, but you will pull through the other side just as your hostage will."
"I hope so," he murmured.
Daphne turned to him in exasperation and glared. She reached out and lifted his chin in one hand to force him to stare into her eyes. "Harry Potter, stop moping and being despondent over something that hasn't even happened yet. You are a Gryffindor. You idiots charge forward like fools and one way or another things work out. This conduct is very unbecoming of a Slytherin Slayer."
Harry's mouth quirked up into a small smile. "I never liked that title you know?"
She shrugged philosophically. "Not my problem. We both earned it and you need to continue to live up to it. You're ready for tomorrow." She let his chin go and looked back at the giant squid. "Besides, you'll be in there with three other friends. Stop worrying, Harry. The more you freak yourself out, the worse it's going to be. Use your Occlumency and damp it down if you have to."
"You're right," he said nodding. "I need to be on my game tomorrow, but that won't happen if I can't eat or sleep. Thanks, Daph."
"You're welcome, Harry." Daphne lapsed into silence and they both continued to silently watch the large cephalopod play in the water nearby.
Later that night Harry was sitting on the couch in the Common Room with one arm around Hermione's shoulder and the other running his thumb over her hand which rested in his lap. "I don't want to leave this spot," he murmured.
Hermione chuckled and leaned up to peck his cheek. "Neither do I, Harry. I wish we had been able to spend the night in the Room, but it's better to let them take one of us instead of forcing them to use someone unknown by hiding in the Room."
"Doesn't make this any easier," he said with a sigh.
"I know, Harry." Hermione gently sat up straight and turned to face him. "Okay. It's late enough and we both need some sleep. You've already applied the tracking charm to Nym and Shiva earlier. Do mine now."
Sighing, Harry pulled out his wand and recast the tracking charm onto Hermione. "Tomorrow is going to suck."
"You'll be fine, Harry. And so will the rest of us." Hermione smiled and leaned in to kiss him. After a few moments she pulled back and smiled. "Get some sleep, Harry. I'll see you in the morning."
"Love you, Hermione."
"I love you too, Harry." They hugged and headed off up the stairs to their respective beds trying to avoid thinking of all the ways that the Task could go wrong.
Lavender and Parvati were still in the bathroom and Hermione had barely finished changing into her nightgown when Professor McGonagall came into the dorm room. "Miss Granger? I need to ask you to come with me."
Hermione drew her shoulders together and stood up straighter. "Very well, Professor. May I get changed back into my normal attire?"
"Whatever for?" McGonagall asked frowning in confusion. "This should just be a quick conversation with the Headmaster. I am not certain of the content, but surely considering the hour he won't be keeping you long."
"I'm to be Harry's hostage for the Task tomorrow, Professor," Hermione said as she shucked her gown and started to pull on her normal clothes again. "That seems fairly obvious. I would rather not be on display in front of the entire audience in my night things."
"Hostage?" McGonagall's frown deepened. "That's the first I've heard of this…"
Hermione laced up her shoes and stood. "Well, Professor, I guess you're not kept in the loop either anymore. Welcome to our world." She walked out ahead of McGonagall trying to hide her shaking hands. Her brusque tone and words didn't even register through the worry that was springing up inside. "Hello, George. Guess it's you and not Alicia then," she said as she stepped in the Common Room and saw the second red-headed twin. He nodded in reply and fell into line with her.
McGonagall's lips thinned into a line as she followed her favorite student and most annoying prankster out of the portrait hole. "If those fools endanger my lions when they aren't even entered…" she murmured under her breath as her eyes narrowed into slits. "You better know what you are doing, Albus."
When Harry made it down to breakfast he was on the verge of taking a calming potion. Seeing Tonks at the table he growled and sat beside her. "Dammit, I was hoping she was just late."
Tonks sighed and squeezed his knee. "Wotcher, Harry. So it's going to be Hermione then?"
"She never came down from the girls' dorm and Lavender said she hadn't seen her since last night," Harry said shoveling a piece of toast into his mouth.
"Tracking charm still active?"
Harry scowled. "Tried it as soon as she didn't show. Nothing."
Tonks sighed and shifted from squeezing his knee to giving him a brief hug. "She'll be fine, Harry. Our Wonder Boy doesn't fail. He may get beat up, but he hasn't failed us yet."
Harry shuddered and leaned into her embrace. "Please don't say stuff like that, Nym," he whispered barely loud enough for her to hear. "Don't tempt Fate like that."
"Champions!" Dumbledore said standing and smiling at the room regally. "Please start making your way down to the Black Lake. The Fourth Task will be beginning shortly." As he sat back down, loud murmurs and excited conversations broke out throughout the Great Hall. Everyone started to get their things together and begin to move down to the audience seating.
"Come on, Wonder Boy. Let's go get our girl back," Tonks said tugging Harry to his feet and marching him outside.
Fred and Viktor caught up as they passed out the doors. Fred frowned, none of usual levity present. "George was missing this morning. They are taking hostages instead of things."
Viktor nodded. "Yes. Millie vas to meet me this morning. She vas not present either."
"Hermione was taken last night too," Harry commented softly. "Anyone seen, Fleur?" Three head shakes met his question causing Harry's worry to start spiking again.
They were almost to the lake shore before the French Champion was sighted. Her hair was flying wildly behind her as she ran up to the group breathing heavily. " 'arry! She is gone! Zey have taken her! Ze enfoirés have taken her! Tonks, Fred, Viktor, have any of you seen her?!" (1)
"Who, Fleur?" Harry asked grabbing her shoulders and trying to ease her hysterics. "Who did they take for your hostage?"
"My sister!" Fleur cried. "Zey took my sister! Into ze lake with ze Mermen!"
Fred and Viktor frowned, but didn't seem to get the significance of Fleur's distress. Harry and Tonks on the other hand swore loudly and immediately started sprinting to the lake with Fleur shortly behind. They skidded to a stop in front of the dock where Bagman was standing and grinning at them. "Love the enthusiasm, but we still have a few – " he started to say before cutting of as a snarling half transformed Veela stood in front of him with two partially formed fireballs in hand.
"We'll start now, thank you," Harry said with ice in his voice and fire in his eyes.
"You don't even know what's involved," the Ministry official said frowning and holding up his hands slowly backing away from Fleur.
"Get to the Merpeople village. Unlock whatever is holding our hostage down. Rescue the hostage. Get back. All in under an hour," Fred said almost as coldly as Harry. "Not complicated. Start the stupid thing so we can get our people."
"Yes, well, you see we need to wait for all the audience members. The Task isn't supposed to officially start for another few minutes and – "
Viktor sneered at the man and lifted his wand to his throat to cast a quick sonorous. "Attention guests. This Task vill be starting early as these…people have abducted ones ve care for and ve vill not leave them beneath the vaves longer than necessary. Thank you for your understanding." Cancelling the charm he turned back to Bagman. "Start the Task."
Bagman swallowed and looked behind him. Umbridge smiled and stepped forward. "I'm sorry, but we must wait for the start. It is only fair to – " she abruptly cut off as five wands pointed towards her with glowing tips. Fleur had shifted almost entirely to her harpy form adding further to the threat.
Harry spoke very firmly and very slowly. "We will start immediately, Madame Umbridge. You are preventing us from rescuing hostages. We would all be perfectly justified in cutting you down and since this is an official Task we wouldn't even be prosecuted for it. Move aside."
Umbridge scowled and stepped back. Bagman quickly followed her as the three Headmasters finally came forward. "What is the meaning of this?" Dumbledore asked frowning at the Champions.
Tonks stepped in front of the group. "Get ready guys. I'll handle this. Headmasters, you have 30 seconds to start the Task because that's when the Champions are jumping in. One Veela in the water is bad enough, but having two down there…I question all of your sanity."
Maxime frowned. "What do you mean by zis?"
Tonks snarled. "What do I mean? You stupid, neglectful bitch! You – "
"Tonks, we're ready! Have them start the damn thing!" Harry shouted over his shoulder and tossing her his rune clusters and clothes. He was dressed in a simple wetsuit while Viktor and Fred only had swim trunks on. Fleur was in a one piece swim suit and all were standing near the edge of the dock.
Tonks nodded and turned to Bagman. "Start it."
The man gulped again and raised his wand before the Headmasters could say anything further. A cannon blast sounded and three of the Champions jumped into the water after casting their spells and – in Viktor's case – eating their gillyweed. Harry immediately summoned his rune stones back from Tonks. He looped the Breathkeeper around his neck and pulled out his extra version from the harness to put it in the knapsack around his waist. He fastened an activated Slow Burn onto his shoulder with a sticking charm to light the way, stuck an Extravagance Rune Show into another slot on his other shoulder and finally put a Fishing Line on the back of his hand. Finally summoning the fins he'd asked Sirius to buy the other day and strapping them on, Harry jumped into the lake.
Harry immediately started swimming down, following the directions Myrtle had helped them with. The first few minutes were easy since he just had to follow the rocky outcroppings along the bottom which were pretty distinctive. Once he passed those however he ran into the hardest part: a large sea bed of kelp that was more or less devoid of any markings whatsoever. If he lost his way at this part it would take a while to get back on track.
Harry was almost past the kelp bed when he saw several strands thrashing viciously. There was a Merman hovering over the violent segment of kelp with a hippocampus next to him. The Merman had a predatory grin on his face and was lovingly petting the sea horse. A feeling of dread crept up Harry's spine and he twisted to head into the kelp.
Fleur had been overjoyed when her family had managed to get time off to come and see the Fourth Task. It was the last one prior to the finale and while it might be a bit boring to the audience, knowing that her family was there to provide moral support was an incredible buoying sensation. Of course Harry's continual reassurances in the weeks leading up to it and been most wonderful as well. The young man was slowly opening up to her and was seeking more opportunities to be alone with her whether they were simply studying, training or relaxing. It gave her hope that maybe – by the end of the year – Harry would be willing to allow her into his growing family unit.
And then Gabrielle had come up missing the morning of.
Her parents hadn't noticed at first, merely assuming that Gabi had run off to pester Fleur like she usually did while visiting. Her absence had only been found as Fleur came to greet them both shortly before the Task was to begin and they inquired where Gabi was. It had only taken a moment before Fleur realized the organizers had decided to use her little sister as her hostage.
She had frantically rushed to find her fellow Champions, hoping that perhaps – just perhaps – she was wrong and Gabi was hanging off of her childhood hero. But no. One look at the small group walking towards the lake had dashed that false hope.
By the time she had entered the water she could barely think, sick with worry and fear that she had managed to draw her sister into this nightmare. She hadn't remembered to wait the five minutes Harry would need to get prepared and she had instead taken off immediately. Viktor and Fred had quickly outpaced her since swimming wasn't exactly something she did often, but that wasn't important. Getting to Gabrielle was important. If she was alone for the first part until Harry caught up then so be it.
That was when the grindylows struck. Fleur had been swimming above the kelp bed relatively low to try and save some time when she felt a small fist grab her ankle and drag her into the undersea forest. Fleur screamed in surprise letting loose a stream of bubbles through her Bubble-Head charm. Sweeping her wand down at the unseen assailant, Fleur let out a silent cutting curse. A low grunt of pain carried through the water as the hand let her go. Swimming up, Fleur tried to get back into clear water, but was immediately dragged back down by not one but five sets of hands on her this time. Fleur screamed again as several sets of teeth bit into her arms and legs.
She thrashed violently managing to throw off one of the attackers. That was when she saw the Merman watching her with a large grin from just above the kelp. He gestured and Fleur felt her limbs be pulled tight to either side. Her eyes widened as the Merman pulled the head of a hippocampus slightly to the side. Desperately she tried to cast several wide area spells but all fizzled – she had yet to practice any of them silently or wandless…
The Merman nodded in satisfaction and slapped the hippocampus on the rear. The beast surged and passed close enough to Fleur for her to be pulled slightly in its wake. Thinking for a moment that perhaps she had gotten lucky and the Merman had miss-aimed his mount she tried to draw a breath and come up with a plan on how to get herself out of this and save her sister.
That was when she noticed her Bubble-Head charm had been pierced.
Harry kicked past the Merman and his mount and into the thrashing kelp. His eyes widened as he saw Fleur held down by several grindylows, bleeding from multiple cuts and slashes. He had barely raised his hand when she suddenly gulped in a final shuddering breath and stilled before starting to drift freely in her assailants' arms with her eyes drooping closed. Harry snarled and stopped raising his wand. Instead he channeled as much magic the Boomstone tattoo on the back of his right hand as it would take.
As the localized silencing charm snapped into life around him, Harry saw the grindylows flee and caught a quick glimpse of the Merman holding his hands over his ears and falling into the kelp bed with the hippocampus motoring away as fast as its tail would take it. Letting the magic lapse, he grabbed Fleur and pulled out his spare Breathkeeper. Pressing it into her hand and wrapping her delicate fist around it he willed her to breathe. The stone wouldn't work unless she started breathing again.
Not seeing any movement Harry wrapped an arm around her waist and swam desperately for the surface. They were still close enough to the shore of the lake that they weren't too deep…but it still took far too long to reach the surface. Once their heads broke the water's surface, Harry twisted to face the dock and prayed his half-baked idea would work. Reaching out with the Fishing Line he latched onto the edge of the top and pulled.
Amazingly, his hasty plan actually did just what he'd hoped: he and Fleur shot towards the dock since it was anchored and he wasn't. His arm felt like it was going to be pulled out its socket, but he held on and he and his charge were against the dock edge in only a few seconds. Letting the rune fade back to inactivity, Harry hauled Fleur up onto the flat surface.
"Breathe, Fleur! Breathe!" Harry leaned down and started doing CPR. It was one of the things Tonks had started teaching them in the morning workout sessions and he prayed it would actually do something now. All he needed was one reflexive gasp and…Fleur coughed violently and a few meters above them, a shower of water rained onto their heads from thin air. "Yes!"
Fleur took another gasping breath causing a very small amount of water to again rain on them before her eyes fluttered open. Harry heard shouts coming closer, but he ignored them. "Fleur? Are you okay? Can you hear me?"
" 'arry?" she muttered weakly squinting up at him. "Ze Merman…Gabrielle! I have to – "
"You are not going back in there! You can barely move, you almost drowned and you don't have your wand!" Harry shouted. "Give me your key!" Fleur hesitated for a moment before weakly reaching over to pat a pouch on her leg. Harry immediately thrust his hand forward and pulled out the key she had received from the Third Task. He turned back to her and looked straight into her eyes saying, "I swear to you, Fleur, I will get your sister out."
The judges and Pomfrey reached them just Harry twisted and dove back into the water.
Harry kicked into the Merpeople village as his watch clicked over to show 50 minutes had gone by. He kept going at a frantic pace to make it to the platform in the center square before the time limit expired. As Harry swam up, he saw Hermione and the little girl he assumed to be Fleur's sister tied to the two rightmost pillars. Both girls' hair was drifting around their faces, the young Veela's golden hue making her look like an angel. The light stream of bubbles coming from their mouths let Harry know they were just enchanted asleep and not dying like Fleur had been. Arranged around the platform were nearly two dozen Mermen all bearing large, wicked looking tridents. The man directly in the center of the grouping glanced at a makeshift clock on the back of the stand and turned to glare hungrily at Gabrielle.
Harry scowled, but slowed as he saw the group hadn't yet done anything. He still had time. Fighting against everything telling him to get the little girl now, he turned away and swum up to Hermione. He wouldn't be able to free her and fight the Mermen off but if they didn't realize he was trying to save Gabrielle and Hermione he might be able to pull it off.
He came up next to the elegant chain holding Hermione to the rock pillar and stretched out with his left hand pressing the Lockpick tattoo to the padlock across her waist. He could feel the magic pull harder and start to shift the tumblers inside the large lock. A quick glance down at his watch had Harry's eyes widening. There was less than a minute left. Not enough time to let his rune do its work and get to Gabrielle before the Mermen moved in.
Scowling Harry threw caution to the wind and shifted behind Hermione. He took a deep breath, lined up on the chains and brought his arms together. The Lava Bomb roared to life as the rune clusters on each arm touched and a gout of lava spewed forth directly ahead of him. Yelling in pain as the water around his forearms flashed to steam, Harry twisted and the lava flow died. Hissing at the water rushing over the burns along his arms, he pulled Hermione free from the now destroyed chains and moved over to Gabrielle.
A dull chime sounded behind him as he slotted Fleur's key into the lock and twisted it off. Sounds of delight and frustration in equal measure shouted out from the circle of Mermen. Gabrielle's eyes fluttered open and she drew in a breath before coughing and clamping her mouth shut, her hands fluttering to her throat. Harry growled again. Of course the charm would wear off on her at exactly an hour! Thankfully he could feel Hermione still completely asleep in his arms. Harry reached for his spare Breathkeeper to give it to the little Veela only to close on an empty pouch.
His eyes widened in horror as he realized that he had already given it to Fleur and forgotten to grab it as he jumped back into the lake.
Gabrielle had been awake for only a few seconds and looked ready to panic. Harry was about to panic as well. The Breathkeeper wasn't designed to work with two people. With two sets of lungs each would only have half their volume replaced with air while the other half filled with whatever fluid they breathed in normally. He knew enough basic biology to know that having that much fluid in one's lungs might as well be a death sentence.
Gritting his teeth, Harry did the only thing he could do – he took one large final breath and tore the Breathkeeper from around his own neck and put it on Gabrielle's. Her eyes widened but she breathed in and then looked at him in shock, her mouth falling open. Harry tried to smile reassuringly though the lead Merman letting out a deep thundering call wiped the smile off his face. The Mermen surged forward with tridents held point first. Harry wrapped Gabrielle into his free arm and activated his Boomstone again. Most of the Mermen fell back, holding their ears and shaking.
Harry took the opportunity and started to kick towards the surface. Gabrielle clutching the rune stone around her neck with one hand and Harry around his waist with the other. Harry had his wand clenched in his right hand, but with Hermione held under his arm it was mostly useless. Gabrielle being awake and holding on at least gave him some limited range of movement with his left hand.
He was going to try and reach for the Breathkeeper to take a short gulp of air when another battle cry sounding from below him and he saw a Merman riding the back of a charging hippocampus lunge towards the group. He kept kicking towards the surface and twisted enough to be able to send a bludgeoner in the man's way through the Knockback runic tattoo on his left palm. The hippocampus shrieked and pulled away with the Merman hanging limply on its back.
Before Harry could try reaching for the breathing rune stone again more Mermen swept up from the depths. Harry's vision was starting to narrow as black bands cut off the edges of his vision. Still he ignored it and kept kicking to the surface and tossing bludgeoner after bludgeoner at the attackers. He felt Gabrielle holding tightly onto his waist and bury her head into his neck. His lungs burning, Harry tried a final burst from the Boomstone causing a few of the last attackers to peel off. He saw more coming but he could barely focus on them.
Just as he was felt he couldn't resist the urge to breathe in anymore, the small group broke through into clear air. Harry gasped for breath and felt Hermione stir from under his him. "Harry? Are we done?" Her voice took on a puzzled tone. "Hello. Who are you?"
"Je m'appelle Gabrielle. Je crois que Harry Potter vient de me sauver la vie. Peut-être aussi la votre," Gabrielle started to chatter in French while moving her grip to clutch Harry's neck and not shifting her head from its spot pressed into the crook of his neck and shoulder. (2)
"No time to chat," Harry wheezed out between desperate gasps for air. "Hermione hold on and hold your breath. Gabrielle, if you can understand me, make sure that rune stone is touching your skin until we stop moving. There's going to be a lot of water spraying into the air."
"What? What do you mean – aahh!" Hermione screamed as Harry reached out and pulled on the dock again with his Fishing Line. It wasn't a moment too soon as just when they started to speed away, three different tridents thrust through where they had just been floating.
Thankfully this time acting like a human water ski – while longer than the first time with Fleur – was a far shorter trip than back to the surface from the village. He only had to hold his breath for about thirty seconds before they reached the dock and he let the spell go. Fleur, Apolline and Sébastien were already on the side and reached down to help Gabrielle onto the platform while Harry and Hermione both gave the girl a boost from below. As soon as the younger girl was up, Viktor, Fred and George reached down and helped Hermione and Harry up.
"Gabrielle! Est-ce que tu es blessée? Est-ce que ça va? Pardonnes-moi, j'ai suis tombée dans une embuscade et je n'ai pas pu venir jusqu'à toi," Fleur exclaimed wrapping her arms around her sister and burying her head in the girl's wet hair. (3)
Gabrielle grinned broadly and gestured wildly around Fleur's death grip. "Je vais bien, Fleur, maman, papa. Harry Potter m'a sauvée! Il a combattu les hommes-poissons et les a repoussés avant de me donner ceci pour que puisse respirer sous l'eau! C'était incroyable! J'ai eu la peur de ma vie mais c'était incroyable! Il est aussi génial que tu l'avais dis, Fleur, et même encore plus que dans les histoires!" (4)
Hermione's eyes narrowed as she caught most of what the young Veela said. She peered first at Gabrielle then Fleur then Harry before turning to the approaching judges and snarling. If looks could kill there would likely be five piles of ashes.
Harry for his part had merely collapsed lying down on the dock and breathing heavily. Pomfrey was hovering over him and casting diagnostic charms. "Sorry, mate," Fred said softly. Viktor nodded his head. Both men were looking anywhere but at Harry. "We thought that you were hanging back with Fleur because she was a slower swimmer. We didn't realize there was a problem until we were already back and we didn't think we could make it down again in time to help…"
"Don't worry about it, Fred, Viktor. It's not your fault the Merpeople decided today was a perfect day for murder." His eyes widened and he sat bolt upright almost clocking Pomfrey on the head. "Shite I forgot!"
"Sit down, Mr. Potter!" the mediwitch huffed.
"One moment, Madame Pomfrey! Accio Fleur's wand!" he said channeled a large burst into his runic tattoo and focusing on the last spot he had seen it while it drifted into the kelp bed. Sure enough only a few seconds passed before the wand flew out of the water and into his hand. "Fleur, here. I think you dropped – "
Harry was abruptly cut off by a sobbing Veela jumping into his arms and kissing his cheeks. "Tu l'a sauvée! Je n'arrive pas à y croire mais tu l'as sauvée! Merci, Harry, du fond du cœur. Je te suis redevable à jamais!" Fleur clutched at him while Harry wrapped his arms around her and rubbed her back. (5)
"You're welcome, Fleur. I have pretty much no idea what you said, but I get the gist and you're welcome. Mr. and Mrs. Delacour," Harry said turning his head towards the French parents still holding onto their youngest daughter. "I think Gabrielle is fine. I gave her the Breathkeeper before she took anything more than a gasp so she shouldn't have breathed in much water at all. I kept the Merpeople away too so I don't think any of them got close enough to scratch or stab her. Fleur, are you okay?"
"Oui. Oui, I will be fine, 'arry. Zanks to you," she said quietly, her crying starting to slow.
"Honestly, Miss Delacour, I can't finish checking the boy over if you keep staying wrapped around him like that," Pomfrey said glaring at the Champion. "Move or I will make you move. I will not have this young man spend another night in my wing because I couldn't finish the charms."
Tonks chuckled from where she was leaning against of the wooden poles at the edge of the lake. "You should just engrave his name over that bed. He certainly winds up there often enough."
"Hey! It's not always my fault! I just have the worst good luck ever," Harry mumbled scowling.
"Eh, hem, I believe we need to distribute the scores still for this event," the Umbitch said with a wide smile. "Mr. Potter you might as well remain here. Again you did not manage to complete the Task so again you will be receiving – "
"I advise you to stop talking immediately, Madame," Sébastien Delacour said very quietly and very calmly. With extreme deliberateness he got to his feet and paced towards Umbridge who hastened to back up a step. Sébastien stopped and stared down at the toad woman. "I know that it was you who suggested this event. I also know that the entirety of this judging body," he swept a calm hand to encompass all five, "signed off on the hostages. While I would never expect Fleur to be excluded from a Task due to inherent racial tension…including my youngest in this without my or my wife's consent was very poor judgment. Rest assured I will be investigating this matter to the fullest. And if I find that any of you had any inkling about the continued tensions between Veela and Merpeople…you will find French prisons quite unaccommodating I'm sure. If you make it to them that is."
Umbridge sneered at the man and held her nose high. "Is that a threat?"
"Oh good, perhaps you aren't as stupid as you look," Apolline commented with a snort from her position on the dock.
Sébastien on the other hand simply inclined his head in a small nod. "It is certainly a threat. The Treaty of Athens is commonly taught in all major institutions. Having a Veela as a contestant should have ensured that appropriate safety measures were in place on this Task. That you not only ignored that but also included a second underage Veela without parental consent…Make no mistake, Madame Umbridge, I am making a threat." He scowled and his control slipped momentarily before he regained his poise. "Had Harry Potter not saved both of my daughters' lives I very much doubt you would be breathing right now either. As it is, I will see you and as many of the rest of you behind bars as is appropriate. If you have any sense at all you would be already running to your Minister and begging for his protection."
He turned back to Gabrielle and Fleur and sat beside his wife.
Bagman visibly gulped and tried for a smile that came across looking very faked and very forced. "Yes, well, shall we get to the scoring?"
The four Champions trooped into the grassy field near the docks several minutes later. Gabrielle refused to move too far away from Harry so she walked between him and Fleur and held both their hands grinning like a loon. If he hadn't seen her terrified in the water he'd think the younger girl was having the best day of her life.
Tonks and Hermione had moved to the side of the field and stood with the rest of his friends along with Apolline and Sébastien. Amusingly, The Umbitch had actually taken the elder Delacour's 'advice' and gone to speak with Fudge rather than participate in the judging. Percy was again taking her slot.
Krum and Fred both received 45 points for near perfect execution of the Task. Krum got an extra nod for thinking outside the box by using gillyweed though he also lost some points for having to wait an extra few minutes for it to wear off before he could climb out of the lake.
Fleur was called forward and Gabrielle rather reluctantly let go of Harry to stick with her sister. "Mlle Delacour," Dumbledore said standing. "The judges have discussed the situation after receiving a briefing on the events taking place during the Task. As you did not retrieve your hostage the Task was not adequately completed. However, we feel that the tension between your people and the Merpeople was severely underestimated resulting in a skewed level of prejudice and difficulty towards yourself. In light of this, we have agreed to award you 25 points."
Gabrielle snorted as she stepped back into line with Fleur. "Sévèrement sous-estimée, hmph. Sévèrement sous-estimée mon joli petit cul, oui." (6)
Fleur rolled her eyes good naturedly at her sister while Harry stepped forward. "Harry Potter," Dumbledore intoned, the twinkle in his eye nonexistent. "You returned outside the time limit for this Task which should again result in 0 points. However taking into account your…noble actions regarding the Beauxbatons Champion and her hostage we have agreed that such a score would be grossly unfair. Taking into account your obvious preparation, skill and quick thinking we have decided to award you a full 50 points."
A loud cheer rose from nearly everyone in attendance drowning out anything else Dumbledore had to say. Harry's eyes were huge as he stepped back into line. Gabrielle quickly hugged him and smiled up at him saying in English, "Congratulations, 'arry. Zat was a great score!"
"Thanks, Gabrielle," Harry replied.
"Gabi! It's Gabi, to you Monsieur Potter!" Gabrielle said with a laugh and let him go. Fleur simply raised her eyebrows at the two.
"Well, this concludes the Fourth Task in the Triwizard Tournament," Bagman said as the crowd finally the crowd calmed down enough for him to be heard. "Again we do apologize for the lack of visual aids as the early start prevented us from getting them into place. Rest assured, the Final Task will be quite the spectacle!" All four Champions and several of the audience members shivered at that. "The final event in this Tournament has the theme 'Face The World' and will be held at the end of June. I look forward to seeing everyone there and wish the Champions the best of luck!"
Newton and Paracela were already sitting in the chairs in front of her desk when Olympe returned to her office. Sweat beaded on her forehead as she sat down. She didn't even have a chance to start speaking before Newton held up a hand. After a moment he slowly lowered it and spoke in a very soft, exceedingly calm voice with no attempt made to hide the steel present. "Olympe. Please explain to us just how two Veela wound up in a lake full of Merpeople. One of them as a hostage, while underage and without parental consent."
Olympe considered lying for a moment. It might have worked too. She'd been told before that her giant heritage helped to mask some of the more characteristic tells if she was careful…Sighing she deflated. It wasn't worth trying to keep her job. The founders were only here to help and to protect the students. Something she had obviously failed at. "It happened because I did nothing to verify the circumstances or details."
"Each Headmaster gave their recommendations for suitable hostages to the group and Dumbledore assured us all that he would personally speak with them and ask for their assistance. My recommendation for Fleur was Hermione Granger as Harry Potter was already a contestant. It is blaringly obvious the girl cares for both of them far more than anyone she has ever met in this school. I had no idea he was going to ask little Gabrielle."
Newton and Paracela turned to look at each other. Paracela raised her eyebrows and cocked her head in an 'I told you so' expression while Newton just scowled and nodded. "Unfortunately we assumed that might be case," Paracela said. "Sébastien is on a warpath. He knows that as one of the Ministry leads on this, Umbridge had to personally sign off on it. Whether she's just an idiot or actively malicious doesn't much matter. By the time this term ends, she'll be destroyed politically and in one of our prisons. Bagman has been hit in the head by too many Bludgers to bother pursuing. And his name is never on any of the signature lines. Apparently someone drilled that into his head during his career."
"Dumbledore though…" Newton sighed. "As much as I'd like to think otherwise, I have a hard time imagining he didn't know about the Treaty of Athens."
Olympe let out a deep sigh and nodded. "I as well find that hard to believe. I ensured that the Giant Squid was to be close to the village in order to hopefully keep the Merpeople from getting bold prior to the end of the hour and it would have shadowed Fleur back to keep her from being attacked if she was late." The Headmistress laid her hands on the table and shook her head. "I never expected them to be so bold as to attack the girl prior to the time expiration."
"Technically they didn't," Paracela said scowling. "The grindylows attacked the Champion and the hippocampus was meant to scare her. He of course failed to recognize that his mount was just a little too close and that a spine punctured her breathing bubble." She snorted and swatted the air. "This is why I hate politics."
"I did speak with Sébastien, Apolline and Gabrielle shortly prior to returning here," Olympe ventured. "Gabrielle was approached and asked if she was willing to help her sister. No details were given. Sébastien and Apolline had not been approached since Fleur's initial selection. At that point they made a statement to the organizers that could loosely be considered blanket permission for anything involving their family. If one were to squint and twist their head just right.
"That would likely be why Sébastien is so confident he can nail Umbridge to the wall," Paracela nodded smiling. "The toad will be tossed to the wolves. It will save the others in Fudge's administration as well as the judges and organizers so he won't even try to protect her beyond a token protest."
Newton leaned back with a sigh and stared at the ceiling. "None of this solves the issue surrounding Dumbledore though. I've known the man for so many years…to willing put a 13 year old girl into such a potentially deadly situation…What could he have been thinking?"
"I warned you he was going to end up being the chessmaster here," Paracela snorted. "He's careful and willing to play the long game. I doubt we'll be able to find much of anything concrete."
"There must be a reason," Newton argued.
"His vaunted 'Greater Good' is the reason! He's lost his marbles, Nick, and I for one will not stand idly by while he drives more lives into the ground."
Olympe blinked between the two attempting to remain quiet and invisible as they glared at each other. Finally Newton sighed heavily and nodded. "A compromise then. We continue to investigate the finer points and should the root cause prove to be foolhardy we will pass the information along. If the main players neuter him, then we will jail him. I won't consign my old friend to the wolves just without knowing why he has faltered. He deserves better than that."
Paracela narrowed her eyes and lapsed into silence. After nearly a minute she gave a slow nod. "Agreed. We haven't survived this long by getting personally involved. However, your refusal to admit the man is losing grip isn't tenable. I propose we approach Fleur and Potter at minimum and inform them of our suspicions."
"The rune teacher as well, Bathsheda Babbling," Newton said. "She's the boy's guardian and is by all accounts a stable, well-reasoned individual. He may be emancipated, but he's not an adult yet so she deserves to know."
Olympe raised her hand to interject. "They may already suspect Dumbledore of being involved. From what I understand, he has crossed them in the past."
Paracela nodded. "All the same, we have learned to avoid assumptions regarding allies." Her visage hardened and she glared pointedly at the Headmistress. "I would hope that after today's events you have learned that lesson as well, Olympe." The Headmistress quickly nodded in agreement.
Harry ran a hand through his hair as he paced in front of the couch in the Room of Requirement. Fleur, Hermione and Tonks were all sitting on said couch looking on at him in various shades of amusement and exasperation. Harry had asked them all to meet him here as he snuck out of the party in the Gryffindor Common Room. He'd given it a good go, staying for almost an hour before giving up and asking Daphne, Luna and Tracey to provide a decent distraction.
"You really don't need to be so dramatic, Wonder Boy," Tonks commented with a light grin. She was leaning against the armrest with feet pulled up and crossed under her obviously trying not to laugh while following his pacing.
"Stop teasing him, Nym," Hermione scolded. Sighing, she turned to look at Harry and said softer, "Harry, I think we have a good idea why you asked us to come and talk. You can relax a little."
"At least sit down, 'arry," Fleur commented gesturing to an armchair behind him.
Harry stopped his pacing and shook his head. Flopping down on the chair he held his head in his hands. "You almost died, Fleur," he said quietly.
"But I didn't. Because you saved me, 'arry. Again," she said smiling.
"I watched you drown. I was right there next to you! If Nym hadn't taught us that CPR thing…" Fleur moved to get up and go to him but Hermione laid a hand on her arm and shook her head. "Being around me is dangerous," Harry suddenly said lifting his head up and staring hard at all three of them. "Every single year I or someone I care about has almost died. If you three stay with me, you're going to be a target."
Hermione smiled sadly. "Harry, we've known that for a while. And I want to be perfectly clear on several things. You don't have a monopoly on danger." Everyone turned to look at her with expressions of disbelief. She held up a finger. "Troll. There is no possible way you can claim credit for that thing walking into the same bathroom I was in. Voldemort would have been in the castle regardless and he would have used the same distraction regardless and you had no control over Ron saying what he said.
"Basilisk," she continued holding up a second finger. "If you think I wouldn't have been researching that monster without you around you're barmy. Again, not your fault I was hurt. Also not your fault that Lucius decided to give Tracey the diary. You didn't even know her or Daphne at that point.
"Luna," a third finger joined the others. "I love the former Ravenclaw, but you have been literally nothing but a godsend to her. Her life was miserable before you and I can't think of a single bad thing that has happened to her since you met her. The near rape would've happened with or without the push from the article in the Quibbler; those girls would've found some other reason to pick on her.
"Dementors. Yes, you helped shine the light that Sirius might be innocent. Yes, Nym used that light to start investigating. But, don't you dare try to take the blame for the Dementor attack at the end of the year. We had five adult witches and wizards with us that night.
"World Cup," Hermione grimaced as she said that one but quickly regained her stride. "Those…people would've tried to go after Fleur whether you had been there or not. They did go after Fleur before we got there.
"Finally, the Tournament. Harry, the Goblet also would've chosen her even if you had not been entered," Hermione sighed and leaned back. "While I will admit your involvement has likely ramped up the danger of each individual Task I would again point to the horrid history of death and permanent injury surrounding this. Today…today's issues were completely unrelated to you, Harry. What happened this afternoon was a remnant of an old war whose reason no one even remembers."
Harry gaped at his girlfriend. To hear it all laid out so logically rather took the wind out his sails and threw most of his arguments into the meat grinder. Closing his mouth and frowning, Harry considered what Hermione had said. After a few minutes he looked back up at the girls. "It's still dangerous to be with me. Especially if Voldemort comes back," he said sounding slightly confused.
Tonks took over. "Wonder Boy, life is dangerous. You're good luck. Weird good luck, but good luck."
"And I would like to see if zis Voldemort is fireproof," Fleur said with a small grin. "His name is quite amusing to ze French. I'd love to test how accurate it is."
Harry's confusion deepened. "You all really are still interested in dating me?"
"Harry, you have half the female population of the country interested in dating you," Tonks said rolling her eyes. "Hermione and I have won and we have no intention of letting you go. Considering Fleur is sitting here too I think she's got a shoe in for a spot as well and this girl is not one to give up."
Harry sighed and leaned back bonelessly into his seat. "I hate when people use logic on me. I can't claim to be a normal wizard when you use logic because things actually make sense and wizards don't seem to like that."
"Amen to that," Hermione muttered.
Harry squared his shoulders and turned to Fleur. "Fleur, are you still hoping for a Consort agreement with House Potter?"
Fleur quite nearly jumped up and pumped her hand in the air though somehow she managed to restrain herself to a very emphatic, "Oui."
"Hermione, are you still accepting of Fleur as a potential Consort to House Potter?" Harry asked turning to the brunette.
"I am," she said nodding.
"Nymphadora," neither Harry nor Tonks faltered at the dreaded name, "are you still accepting of Fleur as a potential Consort to House Potter?"
"I am," Tonks agreed her hair flashing through a quick rainbow before settling back into pink.
Harry stood and moved in front of Fleur taking her hand. "Okay," he muttered nodding to himself and taking a deep breath. "Okay. Fleur, I would very much like for you to join my growing family."
Grinning from ear to ear, Fleur nodded and pulled Harry down into a kiss.
Lots of French in this chapter. Rough translations for those interested are as follows. A great many thanks to MidnightFenrir who turned this into actual French dialogue! (Any mistakes are my own.)
(1) enfoirés = bastards
(2) Je m'appelle Gabrielle. Je crois que Harry Potter vient de me sauver la vie. Peut-être aussi la votre. = My name is Gabrielle. I think Harry Potter just saved my life. Maybe yours too.
(3) Gabrielle! Est-ce que tu es blessée? Est-ce que ça va? Pardonnes-moi, j'ai suis tombée dans une embuscade et je n'ai pas pu venir jusqu'à toi. = Gabrielle! Are you hurt? Are you okay? Forgive me, I was ambushed and I couldn't get to you!
(4) Je vais bien, Fleur, maman, papa. Harry Potter m'a sauvée! Il a combattu les hommes-poissons et les a repoussés avant de me donner ceci pour que puisse respirer sous l'eau! C'était incroyable! J'ai eu la peur de ma vie mais c'était incroyable! Il est aussi génial que tu l'avais dis, Fleur, et même encore plus que dans les histoires! = I'm fine, Fleur, mom, dad! Harry Potter just saved my life! He fought off the Mermen and he gave me this so I could breathe underwater! It was amazing! I was so scared but it was amazing! He's just as awesome as you said, Fleur, and even more awesome than the stories!
(5) Tu l'a sauvée! Je n'arrive pas à y croire mais tu l'as sauvée! Merci, Harry, du fond du cœur. Je te suis redevable à jamais. = You saved her! I can't believe you saved her. Thank you, Harry. I can never repay you for this.
(6) Sévèrement sous-estimée, hmph. Sévèrement sous-estimée mon joli petit cul, oui. = Severely underestimated, hmph. Severely underestimated my pretty little ass.
AN: Thanks to RhysThornbery for the continued beta assistance. The first segment with Narcissa was vastly improved thanks to him!
AN: Ah The Umbitch…she's finally succeeded in pushing people just a little bit too far…the beginning of the end for the toad. Plus clouds on the horizon for Dumbles!
AN: Note to divers. NEVER hold your breath while breathing at depth like Harry did. That's a quick way to cause a potentially fatal embolism. Granted the physics involved here are wonky, but in real life never ever do this! Never hold your breath while ascending!
Recommendation for this chapter: "The Cult of Dionysus" by Ynyr. The blood ward basically strangles Harry's wanded magic but he develops into a sort of inverse Veela to compensate. This is a Harry who instinctively attracts most females (witches in particular) and instinctively inspires hatred and annoyance in any male – something he can't control and creates a rather difficult life both in and out of school for him. Harry is sorted into Ravenclaw where he's basically taken under the wing of Su Li, Hermione and Padma. Tonks and Luna later join the official main harem. This story is one of the ones that inspired my takes on the Flamels actually as Perenelle and Nicholas have a bit of a bigger role in it. Also it has the Veela coming to worship Harry as the reincarnation of their god which was an interesting take. A very interesting story and a heck of a lot different from most of the ones I've read!
Second rec: "Unforgiveable?" by Evilyuriclone. A Harry/Hermione oneshot AU set after the war is over during their last year in Hogwarts. Ginny poisons Harry with too large a dose of love potion and Hermione declares a duel to avenge him while he teeters on death. Everyone is basically mourning Ginny throughout most of the story while she is struggling to understand exactly why they all think she's so horribly outclassed and about to die. Excellent writing and it's a true shame there's no prequel.
**Added Rune Stone Reference Table: Bold items are sold through Potter Runes
-Fishing Line: Alternate Use: if the hooked target is fully anchored then the rune stone is drawn to the target with speed proportional to how much magic is channeled through the rune (discovered 4th Year)