16 Third task
Two weeks before the set date, Harry requested a meeting with Dumbledore. "I want to discuss the third task and the security measures during it," he told the headmaster.
"Why should you be concerned about it? With Professor Moody in charge, I'm sure it will all be perfectly secure."
"The same Moody who was overcome by a lone death-eater and spent several months inside his own trunk? Sorry, I can't take it. I want to make sure that all champions finish the task alive and well." He wasn't affected by Dumbledore's disappointed expression. "What kind of obstacles are you going to use?"
"I can't disclose that information, as you're a champion," Dumbledore said.
"I didn't ask any specifics. Will there be creatures that can maim or kill? I can't allow that! Will there be anything else that can prove lethal, like devil's snare? This kind of obstacles is also out of the question." Harry sounded clear and precise.
"We intended to put some of Hagrid's creature's in there..."
"None that can maim or kill. I'm very concerned about this."
"Without these creatures, we'll have almost no obstacles," the headmaster complained.
"Too bad for you. I would have used some illusions or other magical traps that can mislead or delay the champions without causing any damage. Now, what happens when a winner reaches the center?"
"He should take the goblet, that is set as a portkey to take him out and land in front of the judges' table."
"That's nice. What about the ones still within the maze?"
Dumbledore's expression was answer enough. Nobody seemed to consider them. They might need to face some more obstacles and finally reach the empty pedestal in the center, with no easy way out, so it seemed. Harry shook his head in disappointment. "Each champion should be given a voice activated portkey to take him to safety if he encounters a danger he doesn't feel he could stand or is badly injured. That same portkey should be remotely activated to bring him out of the maze, once the winner is found."
Dumbledore sighed. There was nothing inappropriate in Potter's suggestions, and he should have thought of them himself, yet he hadn't. Was his age starting to show, or was it his too many roles? He wasn't sure he liked any of the possible answers. "I'm not sure the other judges would agree..."
"It's Hogwarts grounds, and it's your responsibility as its headmaster, to make sure no student is hurt, regardless of the tournament. You shall not allow any danger into the maze. I hope I've made myself clear enough."
Dumbledore nodded tiredly. "Very clear indeed, my Lord."
When returning to his apartment, Harry had another idea. "Can you prevent dangerous creatures or plants from being placed in or near the maze?" he asked Hogwarts.
'It can be done.'
"Then do it, so that no dangerous creature or plant would reach the maze either intentionally or by mistake. The maze should be as safe as possible, despite the obstacles."
'Done, my Lord. No dangerous creature can come even close to the maze, nor any dangerous plants.'
"Thank you, Hogwarts. You're very helpful."
'That's my duty to my Lord and Lady.'
They charged Hogwarts with their magic several times during the coming days, and then made sure that all wards were fully activated.
The day of the third task came. Soon after breakfast, the champions met their families. Harry didn't even think of this, as the only family he had, the way he felt, was Hermione. He was surprised when Dumbledore urged him to join the other champions in the ante-room, where he found Molly and Arthur Weasley, along with Bill. Not sure whom they were supposed to be waiting for, he looked around and noticed Lady Augusta Longbottom waiting there as well. He quickly made his way to her. He was sure that even Molly Weasley would not fault his action, as Augusta was older and of higher social status than any of the Weasley.
Augusta stood up from her chair and opened her arms for Harry, engulfing him in a short but warm hug. She then held him at arm length and looked him all over. "You look healthy and content, Lord Potter, and I have some news for you to make you even happier." Harry smiled and thanked her, but he couldn't really speak, as Molly stepped forward. "Dowager Lady Longbottom, I believe we all want to help Harry."
Without waiting, she turned on Harry and engulfed him in her tight, forceful hug, barely letting him breathe. Even before she let go, Harry felt something pressing at his leg. Looking down, he saw a large black dog looking straight at his face with an expression that could be a dog's smile. Harry bent down and gave the dog a big hug, gaining some face licking in return.
Arthur and Bill only gave Harry some manly hugs and patted his shoulder. "Why don't we go out and find some nice spot to where we could have a conversation? Today seems to be a lovely day," Harry suggested. They all agreed.
As they left the room, Hermione, who had stayed outside, joined the group, taking Harry's hand in hers. Augusta nodded and smiled at her, as did Arthur and Bill. Molly frowned first, but then sighed, as if defeated and nodded approvingly. The dog came closer to her and rubbed on her leg. Hermione bent down to stroke its fur, whispering, "Patience, Padfoot."
They found a nice spot near the lake. Harry transfigured some fallen branches into a padded chair for Lady Augusta to sit on, gaining an approving nod. The others chose to sit on the ground, protected only by some cushioning charms. Harry sat near Augusta, with Hermione at his side. Padfoot sat in front of them, resting his muzzle on Harry's knees, but only after giving Hermione a face lick.
"Lord Potter, let me first thank you for enlightening me about Neville's wand. After finding him the right wand, his performance in class got a significant boost. You also mentioned that Lord Black had never got a trial, and I took it upon myself to check this information. To my dismay, there's no record of him ever getting a trial. He was arrested and sent to Azkaban without interrogation nor trial. I spoke with Amelia Bones, head of the DMLE, and she promised to correct it, if only she can persuade the minister to revoke his order of 'kiss on sight,' which doesn't go with him getting a trial. Unfortunately, the man is very stubborn and it may take a while before she can change his mind."
Harry smiled, knowing what he had in store for marked death-eaters. "I believe it won't take too long, and thank you for helping an innocent man."
The dog stood up and moved to the old woman, resting his muzzle on her knees and looking straight in her eyes. She stroked its fur absentmindedly. "This dog looks like he wants to thank me as well," she remarked.
Molly could wait no longer with what she had in mind. "How did you two get married?"
Harry shrugged. "You know that we've been best friends since first year. When the Yule ball was announced, Hermione offered to help me with my dancing, and I asked her to be my date. Our dance lessons made us closer, and her parents also invited me to spend the holiday with them. While there, we got even closer. Some words we've said to each other were probably interpreted by Magic as wedding vows, and we found out about it when we returned to school. None of us had initially planned on getting married before finishing Hogwarts, you know."
Molly didn't seem satisfied. She was sure that he had skipped over some important details, but there was no proper way to address them. She just sighed and accepted the facts with a nod.
After a while, the Weasley parents left, intending to spend some time with their younger children. Bill left to search for the French champion, who seemed to attract him tremendously. Neville joined the Potters and his grandmother, the four spending a very pleasant morning together. Padfoot stayed with them as well.
The other guests started arriving a bit before dinner. They used apparition or portkeys to reach Hogwarts' gate and were then escorted by some house-elves to the quidditch stadium. It was during dinner when Harry felt the first person sent into a holding cell. A few minutes later, a large woman approached the head table. "Headmaster, my husband has just disappeared. As soon as we passed through the gate, he seemed to be whisked away. What's going on?"
Dumbledore seemed a bit worried. "Mrs. Bulstrode, I promise to investigate this as soon as I can, yet right now I have some more urgent tasks to complete. I suggest you go to your assigned place. Hopefully, your husband will join you soon."
The woman looked like she wanted to argue some more, but she knew that was the best she could get at the moment.
A few minutes later, Harry noticed Madam Bones coming in. She turned her gaze at him and nodded reassuringly before finding her niece at the Hufflepuff table. He knew that the aurors were on their way to the holding cells and would soon start interrogations. These would be over before the end of the third task, and the results were sure to shake the minister quite a bit, probably the whole magical community as well.
Just at the end of dinner, Narcissa Malfoy stepped in, rushing to the headmaster with the same complaint that a few other wives had already expressed. Dumbledore, although not quite surprised by her complaint, seemed deeply troubled. Harry assumed it was mainly due to something happening at Hogwarts without his knowledge. For someone like Dumbledore, this was highly disturbing. He still gave her the same answer he had given to the others, as he really could do nothing else.
Soon everybody was asked to go to the quidditch stadium. Hermione kissed Harry for good luck and joined Neville and Augusta on the bleachers. Harry joined the other champions near the maze. While waiting there, he felt another person being sent to the holding cells, this one due to being an animagus.
The third task proved quite easy, as the obstacles didn't pose any real problem and the mere knowledge that they were safe gave Harry an advantage. He reached the center first. 'Are the wards against portkeys still in place?' he asked Howarts.
'Certainly, my Lord,' he got the reply.
Harry grabbed the goblet and was immediately transferred to the front of the judges' table. A few seconds later, the other three champions were deposited by their portkeys near the hospital tent, a few yards farther.
Dumbledore seemed quite delighted to declare Harry, a Hogwarts student, as the winner, despite trying not to show it. "Congratulations, Mr. Potter. You won the prize for this tournament, bringing a lot of honour to your school. I invite the Minister of Magic to award you the prize."
Before the minister could stand up, an auror approached and whispered something in his ear. The minister paled. "We need a few minutes break to tackle something urgent. Please stay in your places until I return," he said, before following the auror into the castle.
Hermione could wait no longer. She rushed down and engulfed Harry in a tight hug, adding a few kisses as well, not paying any attention to the wolf-whistles from the audience. Once she let go, keeping only his hand in hers, Harry noticed that the French champion was also congratulated. The little blonde girl whom he identified as Fleur's sister was holding her hand, while a red-faced Bill was trying to start a conversation. Fleur seemed to like him. Cedric was now talking with both his parents and even Viktor was smiling, although a bit sadly, as he was talking with a younger boy who seemed to be his brother.
An auror came running. "Lord Potter, your presence is requested. Will you please follow me?"
Harry smiled and followed the auror back to the castle, hand in hand with his wife. Although he had never visited that part of the castle where the holding cells were, Hogwarts kept him informed and he could easily recognize the way. Madam Bones was waiting for him.
"Lord Potter, Lady, we've acted as you requested and I'm really glad we did, despite my initial scepticism. We first had three suspects, all bearing the dark mark. Some more were arriving as the time passed and we had our prize-suspect just before the task started – Peter Petigrew, long believed dead, appeared in a cell. They were all interrogated under Veritaserum, giving us some more names and confessing to a series of crimes, the least of which was bribery, including giving bribes to our own esteemed Minister." Harry could hear the contempt in her voice and could see the stunned figure of the Minister in a nearby cell.
"We still have quite a bit to do, finding the other Death Eaters and interrogating them, as well as cleansing the ministry of all bribe-happy employees, but we first need you to witness one action. Peter has confessed of preparing a ritual for resurrecting the Dark Lord, who's still waiting for him to return with you. I believe we should send you there, along with a contingent of aurors and to finish this threat once and for all."
"Why do you need me there?" he asked.
"One of the aurors will use Polyjuice to look like Peter and hold you, as if you are his prisoner, convincing the Dark Lord of Peter's success. With his guards down, he won't notice the other aurors until it's too late for him to do anything."
"You could use Polyjuice to disguise an auror to look like me," Harry said.
"I thought you'd like to see your enemy fall, but we could do it that way, if you prefer," Madam Bones admitted.
"Yes, I'd rather not take undue risks. I have a wife to be responsible for," he said seriously, gaining himself a peck on his cheek.
Amelia chose to be the one disguised as Harry. She sent one auror to guard the Potter couple and to inform the headmaster that the Minister would not be able to take part in the ceremony and it should proceed without his presence.
Harry enjoyed the rest of the evening. He didn't really need the prize money, but he kept it until he could decide what to do with it. Looking at the other champions, none seemed to really need it either. Krum was making fortunes, according to what he had read, playing Quidditch; Fleur came from an old and rich family, lacking nothing; even Cedric's family was well off, although not rich, as his mother was a well-paid enchantress, supplementing the not so big salary of her husband. The Gryffindor common room became host to an impromptu celebration that lasted until close to midnight, when Professor McGonagall put an end to it. Harry didn't mind the celebration. He had seen that same place full of suspicion and hatred directed at him not too long before, yet it was nice being accepted, if only temporarily.
They had just retired to their apartment when an eagle patronus appeared. "The being that has housed the Dark Lord has been destroyed, as well as its pet snake. It looks like he won't be returning this time, judging by the fury and despair of the sounds heard before its final demise."
Harry wasn't sure if it was really over. Even if the aurors managed to find and arrest all marked Death Eaters, wouldn't some unmarked, or devout sympathizers still be a threat? Wouldn't some other wizard try to become a new Dark Lord? Still, the immediate threat was over and the future looked much brighter. With Peter captured, Sirius would soon be free. And then, with Hermione at his side, nothing seemed too difficult. They would take hold of Hogwarts and make it a school to be proud of; they would graduate and then continue studying other matters; they would raise a family, as he had always wanted. He might even need to wed some more women, if Luna was right, but that was of no immediate concern. The future looked bright and promising, yet they had the rest of their lives to enjoy it. He just cuddled comfortably to his wife as they both drifted asleep.
I debated wit myself about the right point to end this story. I'd like to continue and not leave any loose ends, yet that may turn quite dull. Eventually, I decided to end this story here, with some optimism, yet nothing concrete. It seems appropriate, now that I look at the finished result, and I may adopt this attitude to some of my other stories that are as yet unfinished.
And, as usual, Please Review!