A.N.: Hello! These month has been really hard for me. As someone who works in the healthcare sector, my life is a mess right now. At least writing helps me relieve some stress, too bad punching people is frowned upon in my line of work. I don't know when the next update will be, but the chapter is almost done, I just need to get some free time.
Remember to stay at home, don't be paranoid, and take all the recommendations the WHO gives to heart.
Harry Potter watched absentmindedly as Luna played with the thestrals while Louie tried to snag their treats. The biting February cold gave away to a cool March, so it was not as unpleasant to be outside.
A foal gently head-butted his shoulder and Harry began petting it.
In the last weeks, Hogwarts was subjected to unprecedented changes. Beginning with the students and ending with the castle itself. Harry never expected all of his plans to begin moving so soon and he had to thank the late Albus Dumbledore for that.
The old headmaster didn't exactly leave a vacuum of power, but he left a whole generation faceless. For too long Dumbledore was considered the paragon of light and his mistakes were unable to erase his contributions to the Magical world. His death reminded the population nothing was set in stone. Apparently, it also motivated McGonagall to personally push for change at Hogwarts. Mister Fogs confided Harry how the new headmistress accepted all the proposed changes and urged the man to begin as soon as possible. So here they were.
The building and remodelling efforts began in February. Harry now thanked the small student body in Hogwarts because it was easier to block off different parts of the castle for maintenance and remodelling. Also, the wards were beginning to get installed and, in a few months, they would be activated. It would take long before everything was set, but it was moving faster than expected.
The students were also changing. Muggle and Magic Studies widened the students' perspectives on both worlds, Harry knew that this year's graduates would take the world by a storm. It was not much, but it was the begging. The world was slowly moving and the next few years would witness the evolution of the Wizarding World.
All of this should delight him, and it did, but Harry couldn't shake off the feeling that this was just the calm before the storm.
Not long ago, the Czar was replaced and the Czarina disappeared. While in any other circumstance Harry wouldn't care, the words of the Emperor still resounded on his mind. Voldemort managed to infiltrate the Czar's inner circle before he was replaced. There was also the Maxime issue with the copycat, along with the recent disappearance of Emmeline Vance and consequent murder of Dedalus Diggle. Vance was a desk Auror in charge of the administrative work of the department. She didn't come to work one day, disappearing without a trace. Diggle worked in the Protection of Magical Species Department, he stayed late at work and was found dead next morning. No clues were found.
There was something going on but not even Auror Moody was able to discover what. If that was not enough, there also was the Hogwarts enigma.
After the fairy room, the Court decided to visit the place in the castle with similar magical wavelength fluctuations than the Forbidden Forest. It was not a nice surprise.
To gain entrance to the place, the tattered parchment found in the previous room was needed. One of its symbols specifically. Afterwards, some kind of cursed ice that only melted with fiendfyre tried to freeze them off and a strange ghost almost managed to behead Adrian when he touched one of the five empty pedestals in the room. Now they needed to find the pieces that belonged to the pedestals so they could see what was hidden, or at least that is what the ghost said before kicking them out.
If that was not enough, there was also the founders' room.
Draco singlehandedly unlocked Rowena's room. The single clue that he had was: The reason to live. At first, the boy immersed himself in theory of magic and forced Theo and Blaise to read muggle philosophy, causing Cedric an existential crisis in the process. Then he found the answer – after almost giving himself a contusion while banging his head on a table.
Apparently, the answer was Helena, Rowena's daughter. Few were expecting the answer to be so sentimental.
The room contained manuscripts, dozens of them, and a single journal. It also contained the woman's last words to her daughter. After that, the Grey Lady disappeared from the castle.
George managed to open Salazar's room by sheer dumb luck. He was joking with Terrence about Slytherin being as soft as fresh fudge, casually mentioning that maybe the answer to his door was one of his descendants speaking Parseltongue and all the symbols were just decoration. After much prompting (read whining) on George's side, Harry simply said 'open' in Parseltongue. No one was expecting it to actually open.
Slytherin left behind a single map with directions towards a distant forest where he found his Basilisk and an unfinished wand. The people Harry sent only found a high-end muggle neighbourhood. It was sad for the man's last instructions to be useless. Considering no one in the Court knew anything beyond the basics about wandlore, Harry decided to leave the wand where it was found.
Now they only had two rooms left and a whole new mystery to solve. At least it added some spice to the school life.
"Harry!" That was the only warning that Luna gave him before a body crashed into him. The thestral thankfully stopped before following the girl's example.
"Come on, it's getting cold," he told a giggling Luna.
"I want tapioca pudding," the girl sighed as she waved goodbye to the horses, hugging a purring Louie to her chest.
"Let's get some pudding then. Want to eat in our room?"
"Nope, let's go to the great hall. Dinner will be soon either way."
The pair walked in companionable silence until they entered the great hall, where Louie decided he had enough of their company and ran towards the Gryffindor table, jumping on Granger's book and getting lightly scolded.
"Traitor," Harry muttered under his breath. At least now Justin would not fight with the cat for the food platters, it was something.
There were already people at their place, however, there was an unexpected addition. Counsellor Ciro was chatting animatedly with the members of the court. Harry and Luna exchanged looks but kept walking.
"That's amazing," Theo almost gushed.
"It's just a theory," the man said, smiling at the students.
"A really solid one, if you ask me," Terrence said, looking avidly over some notebook.
"Harry, you have to hear this!" Draco almost yelled and the rest of his group looked at the approaching duo.
"Good evening, counsellor," Harry greeted politely while Luna waved at the man.
"Just Ciro," the man said, smiling at him. Harry noticed that the man was unusually approachable and oozed friendliness, however, he knew a well-practised facade when he saw one. "We never had the chance to chat, Harry. So tell me, should I bet on you for the next task again?"
"Are teachers allowed to bet?" asked a curious Adrian.
"Of course they are, they just make sure not to be caught. If we talk about how ethical that is, then I have nothing to say. Besides I'm not a teacher," Ciro said, winking. Unfortunately, he focused on Harry again.
"Everything can happen," Harry said noncommittally.
"That's not important," Draco whined, interrupting whatever the counsellor was trying to say, much to Harry's relief. "Do you remember that many students had those learning thingies? Ciro has a really cool theory."
Harry looked at the man with curiosity. That was interesting.
"Nah, it's just an idea I had."
"Do tell, I actually like thinking."
The man chuckled, looking genuinely amused. "A fellow nerd. Ah, I'm assuming you know the basics behind the different learning disabilities." Harry nodded and the man's smile widened. "You see, there's a strange pattern that we noticed. Students with ADHD lean towards practical subjects. They tend to have heightened senses and excel in duelling, they also have the ability to hyperfocus and are incredibly creative. The students with dyslexia that we observed have a hard time with the theoretical part, but we noticed they tend to excel in runes and arithmancy. They have an easy time understanding runic languages thanks to their above average visual memory. The students with language processing disorder breeze through theory. Just like that, there are many curious phenomena, but as I said before, it's just a theory."
"Actually, it is really interesting," Harry said sincerely. "It may be a derived or ancestral trait, depending on how you see it."
Seeing his friend's confused expressions, he was about to explain but the counsellor beat him to it.
"He means that it may be all the interbreeding or perhaps evolution bettering the next generations."
"Magic improving the offspring," Harry sighed, remembering his friends' lack of knowledge and blatant disinterest in muggle science. "Where's Blaise?"
"With his girlfriend," Daphne said before Draco could, much to the blond's displeasure.
Before Draco could complain, the rest of the Court sat in the table, eyeing the counsellor with interest and making the man uncomfortable in the process.
"Well, we had a great chat, but duty calls." With a flourish, the man walked away.
"What was he doing here?" asked a curious Cedric.
"Came to chat," Theo said with a shrug.
While everyone began chatting, Fleur remained silent, frowning slightly at her plate.
"Everything fine?" Harry asked the girl in a muted tone.
"Yes, yes. It's just that... It's stupid."
That answer did nothing to appease him, obviously. "I don't think so."
Fleur bit her lip, but ended up sighing. "That man has a really strange aura, that's it. Nothing to worry about, really. I just feel a little uncomfortable."
"Then he won't be welcomed in the table," Harry said, smiling at the surprised girl. "To be honest, I don't like his beard."
"It clashes horribly with the shaved head," Fleur giggled.
"Why are we whispering?" Terrence asked out of the blue and Fleur's giggles turned into full-blown laughter.
Harry and Fleur shared a smile and refused to answer their questioning friends.
"I think today is a good day for Harry to talk with the Sorting hat," Luna said while munching on a bun.
"I will ask McGonagall then," Harry sighed, saying goodbye to his tranquil night.
"Nope, the Sorting hat is waiting for you in the Room of Requirement."
Harry raised an inquisitive eyebrow but Luna refused to elaborate her answer, ignoring everyone in favour of the food. So he decided to wait and see what happened.
That is how he ended up walking up alone to the seventh floor after dinner. Harry could faintly hear the echoes of Peeve's laughter and knew he would have to take a detour on his way back to help whatever students the damned poltergeist pranked. Why was the thing not banished yet?
Once Harry entered the room of requirement, he was greeted by the Sorting hat humming a merry song. It was on an old desk, the only furniture in the empty room.
"Oh, the King has arrived. Thou have questions, I know that. I look at thee and know the Hogwarts Mystery the King has found. And me! Thy faithful hat strives to serve!" it sang in its pleasant baritone voice, looking far too pleased with itself.
"So how did you know that?"
"Ah, the Lady is no longer silent, she now whispers to me." Perhaps Harry was better off not knowing.
"Tell me then what does the school hide?"
Much to Harry's confusion, the hat chuckled lightly. He had a really bad feeling about this.
"The Lady holds many secrets. As you know, this castle was born to be a safe haven for our people, however, it had a second purpose. Each of the founders hid their demons in these walls, but they were not the only ones. You see, Harry Potter, the magical world is a dangerous place. Human nature pushes mages to create the most heinous tools to harm their own. Those are the secrets the Lady hides. If you are a wise man, you will leave this room and forget about it."
Harry stared at the hat, his stoic mask in place. It sighed dramatically.
"Ah, I also forgot stupidity is part of human nature... Mmm, let's see, what should I tell you? There are many secrets that won't be revealed to you, so don't try to unveil them unless you want to lose the Lady's blessing. That said, there is a reason why this particular secret is being revealed to you, Harry Potter. It's your legacy... No surprise, eh? So boring."
As much as he wanted to scowl at the hat, Harry refused to give it the satisfaction.
"Right then, let's see. I'm assuming you know the tale of the Three Brothers, a classic. It was a tad embellished throughout the generations, but the roots remain unchanged. Mmm, something tells me you won't appreciate my version of the story."
"And that something is right," Harry deadpanned.
"Hmp, so impatient. Whatever. Ignotus, Cadmus, and Antioch – the Peverell brothers. None of them attended Hogwarts, but Ignotus had a somewhat scandalous liaison with Helga. Those three used really old magic to create what is known as the Deathly Hallows. I'm not exactly sure what happened, but one day Ignotus appeared inside the castle and took Helga away. She returned after two weeks and refused to leave her quarters. After that, she secretly created a room to hide a simple black stone. Curious, especially because she asked the other founders' help when she normally did everything herself.
"A year later, Ignotus returned. This time he carried a ring that Salazar decided to safeguard, despite of Ignotus' warnings. I heard the most curious conversation between those two and Helga. You see, Harry Potter, the magic the Peverell brothers used had a heavy price and they paid for it. I just know Antioch's wand was destroyed and, despite of all Ignotus' efforts, the stone was indestructible, so it was hidden here.
"Apparently, Ignotus fooled Cadmus to give him the stone after he discovered his brother brought back to life his beloved. So Ignotus crafted a ring and told Cadmus the stone was there when he changed it with a duplicate of his creation. Months later, Ignotus found his brother dead and, unfortunately, the dead woman didn't disappear. She was actually trying to use the ring for some ritual. In the end, Ignotus buried Cadmus and returned the woman where she belonged."
"So that stone is hidden here."
"Not exactly, but you have the gist."
"What about the thing hidden in the Forbidden Forest?"
"Part of the only mystery that is being revealed to you, Harry Potter," the hat said in a less playful tone. "Despite of what you may think, I don't hold the Lady's secret, I just know the few things she whispered to me throughout the years... Beware, dear child. The more you try to discover, the less your blessing will last. After all, not even the love of a mother is fully able to stop death."
After that, the hat went totally silent. Harry stared at it for a minute, hoping to earn more information, but nothing happened. With a sigh, he left the room.
That night, Harry spent long hours thinking. What should he do next, he had no idea. Should he try to solve the mystery or should he forget about it? Should he tell the others?
In the end, he decided to submit the decision to vote. Harry would tell his Court everything and they would decide the course of action. A big part of him hoped they decided to go ahead and discover the secrets Hogwarts hid.
It is strange how time goes by, Harry decided, one day you open your eyes and realize a month went by and you can barely remember what happened in that time. Of course, he could remember what he did, but days blended with each other so well he couldn't really recall the details. However, it was not important.
Once more Harry was in the now familiar waiting room of the stadium. Saturday eighteen of March, almost two months after the second task.
"...and Fleur's dad is helping my mum, but things are still pretty hard," Victor sighed while Cedric patted his shoulder gently. Harry decided to focus on the conversation.
"At least with all that is going on they can't bother your mother too much," Fleur said, her slightly furrowed brows giving away her worry.
Harry sighed. The situation in the Northern Union and all its countries had a turn for the worst. A month after being replaced, the Czar suffered a mysterious death while there were still no traces from the Czarina. If that was not enough, there were strange reports from the Dark Forests of Kosovo, about people entering and never coming back. Considering the place was a natural reserve for thousands of exotic plants, it was a matter of national and international concern.
There were also the disappearances and strangely convenient accidents. One of the Ministry's office workers was in the wrong time and place when an experimental potion blew off. One of the night cleaners enjoyed his weekend in a bar and drank too much, choking to death in his vomit. One of the desk Aurors got out of her office and never returned, no traces were left behind. If any other person was in charge of the security, then these might just be strange accidents, but Alastor Moody was in charge and he didn't believe in accidents.
Auror Moody found it strange how fast all those workers were replaced and currently had them under watch, but there were few people the man trusted. Especially after the incident. Alastor Moody's husband was targeted once again. Death Eaters broke into the house when the head of the DMLE was in the Ministry, the only reason why Edgar made it out alive is that Marcus' elf was having tea with him so Tubby was able to pop them out of the house. A stroke of good luck, especially once Aurors examined the house and discovered all the temporal containment wards surrounding it.
Now, Edgar was sent to a secret location and not even Auror Moody was allowed to know. In the end, Harry thought it was for the best because, otherwise, Death Eaters would explode that opening.
Then there was the incident in the hospital. Considering the place was being remodelled, the security was tight, that is how the werewolf guards found the infiltrate healers. There was no trace of the originals.
There were also a few attempts against Minister Bones. The first time her kitchen exploded and the woman's poor elf took the damage. Then, the lift she was in suddenly stopped working. Fortunately, Shacklebolt was also with her and they managed to get out. Later on, it was discovered the lift was filled with toxic fumes, both had to be treated at the hospital. The worst part was the blitzkrieg attack on Hogsmeade, a normal weekend that Susan Bones chose to visit the village and was almost kidnapped in the process. One particularly fast vampire managed to save the girl before the Death Eater that captured her could apparate.
Now Susan was confined to the castle, as every single student. It was not necessary to be a genius to know there were spies in the Ministry and Hogwarts, the hard part was knowing who. Auror Moody was already investigating the Ministry, but the process was slow. In the school was way harder. The wards would take months to be installed and that uneasy sensation the Court had ever since it was formed intensified.
Harry knew Hogwarts had been trying to warn them from the beginning and now they were paying for their carelessness. He asked the school elves to have an eye on every single inhabitant of the castle, but he knew he was missing something. A really big something.
"Harry!" Cedric almost yelled on his ear, making the youngest champion recoil and glare at the prefect.
"What," Harry almost barked, scowling deeply while protecting his sensitive ear.
"Bloody Merlin," Cedric hissed as his eyes widened, "are your ears still hurting. I'm sorry, I'm sorry! I really-"
Harry sighed. Ever since the second task, Cedric felt guilty over him getting injured, no matter how many times he tried to reassure the older man. Fleur hit Cedric in the head and Harry gave her a grateful look.
"Whatever," Fleur declared and Viktor tried to cover his smile at Cedric's betrayed expression. "That sweet man, Hendery, is coming to see you, right?"
"Come again," Harry told the girl, utterly confused. Who was Hendery?
"She means Rubeous Hagrid," Viktor added, "he was the one who showed my mum around after the second task."
Right, they told Harry about it. His Court was so worried that they refused to leave the castle and, apparently, Hagrid came to watch the second task. Harry only knew the man left him a short letter and a bag filled with rock cakes that did honour to their name. They were actually pretty useful for dodging practice.
"Ah, yes, he said he would be coming."
"I really hope he doesn't leave you more projectiles," Cedric muttered under his breath and Harry pretended not to notice Fleur and Viktor's enthusiastic nods.
"Okay, champions, this is how we will do this!" professor Kowalski announced in an unnecessarily loud voice, making the dozing Iwan squawk as he almost fell of the couch. "The commentator had personal problems and couldn't make it so Benedict is taking his place." Ah, Harry guessed that is why the professors basically abandoned them once they passed the usual checks. "Now, take a marble from this bag, come on and hurry up."
Knowing the woman's strange temper, the six champions immediately obeyed. Not even Valerie put up a fight.
"Excellent! Now, you will divide yourselves into two groups, according to the colour of the marble you got. The ones with the white marbles will be the first group to go." Kowalski retrieved a now familiar plain box and opened it, handing three crystals to the champions. "You know what to do."
Harry noted with distaste he was paired with Valerie and Iwan, while the boy wasn't a bad company, the girl was a nightmare to deal with. The first signal sounded.
As always, professor Kowalski guided them towards the arena. Just like the other times, the place was different. Now, a dense forest was the view that welcomed them.
"Always remember that sight is our weakest sense," the woman whispered to them and walked down the stairs.
The three champions were received by an ovation, a loud clap reverberated in the arena and the spectators went silent. Harry looked around, there was only forest and the entrance to the arena was no longer visible.
"Welcome to the Third Task of the Trischool Tournament!" Professor Munter announced, Harry tried to ignore his image on the gigantic projection mirrors. "I was informed the silencing barriers were lifted earlier than expected in order to allow the champions to concentrate. Now, allow me to explain the rules of this task.
"Your objective, champions, is to defeat the monster this forest hides in order to protect an innocent. There is an hour limit and you will be judged depending on the way in which you handle the obstacles in your path. Are you ready?"
Harry saw the giant projection mirrors counting backwards from five and the shrill signal resounded at last.
"We should team up-" Iwan began saying but Valerie ran away and Harry patted the disappointed boy's shoulder. "I guess it's no longer an option."
"It would be unfair," Harry agreed, "I go left and you go right?"
"Sure, good luck," Iwan sighed.
Harry smirked in returned and entered the forest. The first thing he noticed was the particular trees he was surrounded with – dancing sequoias, not the easiest plant to deal with. The things liked to push people with their branches and move around constantly so it would be hard to remember the path he took, but considering there were only trees and grass, it would be hard either way. There were not even pebbles in the ground to use and leave a path.
After a moment, Harry took out his wand and performed a four-point spell. At random, he chose south and began walking. After ten minutes or so of walking, Harry realized he was under an illusion, a physical one, considering his mental shields were still untouched. He didn't really know much about illusions and had no idea on how to disrupt them so he did the best next thing. Taking a deep breath, he concentrated his magic to disrupt the illusion and made some movements with his wand to mask it.
The forest was way darker than before and the air was humid. As Harry took some careful steps, he noticed how the earth softened and cast a durum charm to harden it and not sink, along with a lumos to light his path. The pitiful whimpers of some creature immediately captured Harry's attention and he approached the sound with careful steps and wand ready.
With a sigh, Harry noticed the creature was a puffskein. A no longer fluffy and very trapped in the mud puffskein. He really wanted to turn back.
In his humble opinion, puffskeins were creatures of the devil. Their creepy long tongue was enough to give Harry chills. However, he was being watched and couldn't leave the creature alone. With a sigh, he began casting detection charms on the creature and regretfully approached it once it came clean.
It bit his hand and Harry thanked the protection gloves he wore. How curious, he didn't know the things had teeth so sharp. Either way Harry freed the creature none too gently and cleaned it with a spell. The thing began purring. Great.
Harry kept walking, using the durum charm to keep his path steady. Once he noticed they were back on hard ground, he put the puffskein down and walked away. The thing was following him and Harry resisted the urge of kicking it away. Considering how strange the things were, it would probably enjoy it. So he kept walking until he reached a cave.
Any other day he would weigh his options before going in, but a tree took that option away when it pushed him inside with unnecessary strength. Harry glared back but the cave already closed and the tree was no longer visible, however, the place was illuminated by foxfire fungus the puffskein immediately began munching on.
The cave was not long, so he arrived at the end soon. On the plain wall, a message was written.
"Your sight deceives you. Your senses are clouded. A hundred and twenty breaths are all you have before you lose your mind. Now it's time to solve the puzzle you left behind."
Too late Harry noticed the glowing fungi were not foxfire, but stultus fungi – a particularly annoying breed. The fumes they released were enough to knock someone off in ten minutes or so, the problem was the hallucinogen qualities of it. Harry never imagined consuming his first type of legal drug this way. He immediately took out his handkerchief and wetted it with a charm, after placing it on his nose, he began thinking.
Perhaps the fumes were already affecting him but he had no idea of what the riddle meant. Harry began searching around the cave but only saw the glowing fungi and the puffskein feasting on them while still purring, or whatever sound the creatures made.
What puzzle did he leave behind?
Harry approached the entrance and only found a plain rock. He began examining every millimetre of the cave and still nothing. His head was beginning to ache and Harry glared at the loud puffskein. Great, now it was neon pink. The fumes were definitely getting to him.
With his headache worsening, Harry began firing spells at the walls, only for them to remain unaffected. His ears began ringing. The fungi were moving and the ugly blue puffskein approached him, thrilling softly.
The creature began walking and looked back, almost as if asking to be followed. Perhaps it was the effect of the fungi, but Harry had nothing to lose, so he followed the puffskein until it reached the wall and crossed it, as if there was nothing blocking its path. Yes, that was definitely his mind playing a trick. The creature appeared again and thrilled a bit louder than last time, crossing the wall again. Once more, it returned and repeated the action.
With wary steps, Harry touched the wall, it was solid.
"Your eyes deceive you. Your senses are clouded." Harry whispered to himself and took a decision.
The worse that could happen is his pride getting hurt, but he was already drugged for the world to see so he didn't particularly care. Harry closed his eyes tightly and walked towards the wall. He felt as if ice water was surrounding him for a second before the sensation disappeared. With deliberate slowness, he opened one eye.
Either his plan worked or the hallucinogen effects of the fungi fully affected him now because Harry could only see the forest surrounding him. The bright yellow puffskein thrilled again and began walking away. He was sixty percent certain he was still hallucinating. With a shrug, Harry kept walking.
Not a minute later, a small clearing received him. There was a little girl on the base of a tree, hugging her knees, as fat tears running down her face.
"Are you okay?" Harry asked, not sure if his brain was pranking him again and he was perhaps talking to a simple rock, but just in case he used a gentle tone.
"Shhh," the little girl urged, her eyes widened in panic. "It's close."
Harry frowned. The girl looked real, but so did that wall and he didn't really want to verify the girl's existence.
"Who is close?" he whispered, humouring the girl.
Soon enough, Harry heard heavy steps dragging on the ground and the little girl sprang to her feet.
"Come on, we have to leave," she whispered urgently, tugging on Harry's hand.
It felt wrong. He couldn't leave, he was competing... or maybe he was just hallucinating, in any case, he couldn't leave. There was something wrong, the little girl seemed annoyed by his lack of response and Harry decided to take a few steps away, not giving his back to the approaching beast or the girl.
A shrill scream left the little girl's throat, far too loud and high-pitched for anyone's peace of mind. The creature roared in a deep voice and Harry lowered his wand.
Yes, now he was definitely sure this was his mind's creation.
Large, hairy body, long fangs, and extremities far too long for the body – definitely ugly. The roaring creature was a Keiju. Harry was pretty familiar with them because they were in charge of guiding people through the Emperor's gardens, which resembled more intricate labyrinths than actual gardens. The girl hid behind a tree and the Keiju began whimpering, hiding behind its long arms.
With a sigh, Harry took out the chocolate bar Luna shoved in his pocket this morning and opened it, approaching the Keiju gently.
"Don't worry, I'm not going to hurt you. Here," he whispered gently and the creature looked at him, tilting its head. "Chocolate." With a sigh, Harry took a small bite and did his best to ignore the overly sugared thing that would sure give him cavities.
The Keiju immediately opened its palm and Harry deposited the treat there.
"Can you tell me where the exit is?"
As far as he was concerned, the moment he was drugged and his eardrums were abused by an annoying child, Harry didn't care if he was disqualified.
The Keiju roared once again – or was it its version of a scream – and hid behind Harry when the little girl appeared behind the tree.
"It's tricking you," the girl said in her annoying high-pitched voice.
Perhaps what Harry did next was not entirely ethical, but he was eighty percent sure he was hallucinating and, in case he wasn't, he was blaming the drugs. With a confused frown, he watched as the annoying child was replaced by a quite hideous and scaly orange monstrosity when he stunned her.
With a shrug, Harry began following the babbling Keiju that led him to the exit and gifted him a hair. He smiled at the creature that began walking away and descended the stairs.
For the third time, Harry was mobbed by a crowd of frantic healers. This time he didn't even fight as he was examined in a conveniently placed couch.
"Drink this, it will alleviate the fungi effects," a healer ordered.
Harry broke the security seal and drank the potion. It tasted to unseasoned mushrooms. Before he could give the healer a judging gaze, Harry caught a glimpse of someone being treated.
"Valerie couldn't finish an obstacle," professor Kowalski said, looking intently at the whispering healers.
"So how much time I was in there?"
"Twenty-seven minutes and forty-three seconds, to be precise."
That was definitely an answer Harry was not expecting, it felt way longer. The professor guessed what was going through his mind.
"The puffskein you saved was trained to guide the champions through the forest so it helped you to avoid many obstacles. Valerie was not so lucky, she entered the snallygasters cave and the proctors hiding in the forest had to intervene."
"Anything serious?" Harry asked, not really caring about the answer.
"Not really, just a nasty bite that needs some care."
Instead of answering, Harry looked at the projection mirror in the room. Iwan was valiantly trying to fight a gigantic rock runespoor. He noted with envy there were no hallucinogen fungi in Iwan's cave. It was definitely unfair for him to be the only one drugged.
Before souring his mood further, Harry decided to take a book and lose himself in the pages. His trance was broken when Iwan barged in the room, followed by healers, cursing harshly under his breath.
"So what happened to you?" Harry asked Iwan once the healers stopped molesting him. The boy was no longer wearing a jacket and there was a long stripe of fabric missing on his thigh.
"The Jorogumo almost turned me in its lunch," Iwan grumbled, thumbing the large rip on his trousers. Harry gave the boy a blank stare. "The ugly orange lizard that was wearing a dress."
"Ah, I didn't know its name. So how did you provoke it?"
"It was bullying the Keiju. They may be ugly but only a bastard would walk away so I intervened. The thing attacked me and I think the proctors were about to intervene when it knocked off the chocolate the Keiju was munching and you can imagine the rest."
Harry certainly could. While Keiju were generally friendly, no one messed with their food unless you wanted to unleash the beast. Now he pitied the ugly lizard.
"Yep, so I ran away while it was distracted. Did you manage to finish the task?"
"To be honest, I think I was disqualified." The only possible innocent Harry could think of was the puffskein and those creatures were evil, or at least their creepy long tongues were.
"Actually, you were the first champion to complete the task," professor Kowalski said, reminding Harry of her existence.
That was certainly a surprise. "The puffskein?"
"The Keiju, actually."
That was not the answer Harry was expecting. "Keiju are hardly defenceless victims," he deadpanned and Kowalski smirked in response.
"The objective was to protect an innocent, not to save a victim."
"Fair enough," Iwan sighed, unable to hide his disappointment.
"You also completed the task, Mister Bobkov. You protected the Keiju and took the wise decision to retreat once it lost control."
Harry could hear Iwan telling something to the professor, but his eyes were focused on the projection mirror. Ten people managed to subdue the rampaging Keiju, a bag full of treats was offered as a peace sign and they warily escorted it out of the arena while it babbled animatedly. Other two persons appeared and took the shaking lizard out of the arena. The lizard cuddled to the familiar man's chest, as if seeking comfort.
"Don't Jorogumos pray on humans?" asked Iwan, his expression being an amusing mix of horror, disgust, and fascination.
"They do enjoy the taste," the professor muttered, her eyebrows were furrowed and her mouth was slightly open.
Unlike them, Harry was just amused. While Hagrid looked different now – hair tied and trimmed beard – he still had the same affinity with other species. He seriously needed to chat with the man, while they exchanged a few letters throughout the years, they were all about work and Harry actually liked Hagrid.
Once everything was under control, professor Kowalski left the room and soon after the next three champions entered the arena. This was the first time Harry would see his friends competing so he put his book away and focused on the projection mirror. While what they said could not be heard, their actions were clearly captured by the crystals. Fleur, Cedric, and Viktor took the same path and it was obvious they would finish the challenge soon.
Fleur noticed something and whispered to Cedric while Viktor had his wand ready. The rose bush close to them suddenly began throwing thorns but Viktor erected a shield around them while the other two burned the bush. They kept walking.
The swamp they arrived to was different from the one Harry went through, it was green with life and the fresh water rippled gently. It was much nicer than the muddy hellhole he was forced through.
Viktor and Cedric chose a flat rock and enlarged it to fit the three of them, then they charmed it to hover over the water while Fleur was on guard. As they neared firm earth, they deviated and Harry soon understood why. They saw the puffskein trapped in what Harry suspected was devil's snare and tried to free it. While the boys kept the rock levitating, Fleur scared away the plant and caught the puffskein before it fell to the water. Then Harry winced.
Fleur was now missing her left glove. She used what Harry thought was a silencing spell on the creature, if their relieved expressions were anything to go by. The puffskein was destroying the glove, not minding the water, and swam back to the shade of a tree's branches where the devil snare was hiding and began munching on the innocent plant.
"Never touch a puffskein belly," Iwan muttered, looking sympathetic and showing off his left forearm when Harry looked at him. "Things like this happen." There were three long, almost faded scars from wrist to elbow.
It was further proof of puffskeins evil nature. At least Fleur was wearing some protection.
"In the task?" Harry asked, signalling Iwan's forearm.
"Ten years ago or so, my ugly sister got an equally ugly puffskein and I touched its belly once." Harry patted his fellow champion's knee sympathetically.
Someone sat loudly on the couch and Harry sighed. Valerie's expression looked sourer than usual and her pronounced scowl was enough to warn off people, once the glares were added, she looked even grumpier than usual. It was obvious Iwan was a better person than he was because he immediately engaged with the girl, ignoring her clipped and somewhat rude answers. For the sake of his sanity, Harry focused on the mirror once more.
His friends were now in a dark cave, Cedric was leading the group using a four-point charm while Fleur and Viktor had their wands ready. They reached a dead end and began talking. Viktor blasted the wall and sent another spell once it began to regenerate, the three of them run towards the other side and kept walking.
As Harry got bored, something finally happened. A drider blocked their path, looking amused at their plain expressions and raised wands. Looking at the creature Harry remembered why driders were not amongst his favourite creatures, beginning with them having eight legs. Who ever needed eight legs? The ashy blue skin colour did not really bother him and its dark hair looked particularly silky, this noteworthy individual's features were angular and aesthetically pleasing. Actually, its human-like torso was not terrible to look at, but then you had the legs. Those hairy long legs that belonged to spiders. Harry ignored the cold shiver that descended his spine and decided to look away.
His friends and the drider were talking and the first thing Harry noticed was how the drider's expression changed to a slack one while Fleur talked with it. Viktor and Cedric stunned it and Fleur approached it, grabbing its necklace in the process, the three of them ran away before it could wake up.
In the end, Harry finally understood why the necklace was needed. The small stone the necklace had as pendant was used to open a wall-like rock and finally get out of the cave. The part of the forest his friends arrived to was utterly unfamiliar to Harry.
Hedges twice Viktor's height surrounded them and the only option they had was going forward, that or blasting the plants, thing Fleur just did or at least tried to do. Harry narrowed his eyes but the crystals were unable to capture the possible runes that were inhibiting their magic, so he waited to see what happened next.
As expected, the three champions put their wands in their holders and began exploring the place. It was a maze, Harry noted, thanks to a crystal that focused on capturing the events from above. However, none of his friends was passive. Whenever they met a dead end – quite frequently – Cedric used what Harry suspected was augmentation magic to impulse Fleur and Viktor up before jumping to the other side. Considering how unusually strong Fleur was, she received Viktor when he jumped off the hedge. In the end, it was an unusual but quite effective method.
There were a few obstacles in their path (rock acromantulas, enchanted golems that resembled Minotaurs, and even the Hogwarts metal armours joined in), but between the three of them, they had little problem to get through, though the maze was way longer than it had the right to be.
Only thirteen minutes left.
Once they were out, Viktor was carrying a tired Cedric while Fleur took point. Then they reached a familiar clearing where a small girl was crying. Fleur's eyes narrowed and Harry knew it was over. However, unlike the last Jorogumo, this one was particularly violent and its lithe body granted it the speed advantage.
Fleur and Viktor took offensive positions while Cedric remained back, protecting the whimpering Keiju.
It was a bit ridiculous, Harry decided, having three capable mages protecting an overly large creature (that was more than capable of protecting itself but too cowardly to do so) from an ugly orange lizard wearing a frilly dress.
In the end, Viktor lost his patience and began firing spells left and right. One casually hit the lizard and it started floating. Perhaps the creature's screeches got too loud or something similar because Fleur cast an overpowered depulso and the lizard crashed against a dancing sequoia that managed to look offended.
While the two of them were busy, Cedric managed to calm the Keiju down by offering it a small chocolate bar he always carried with him.
They finished the task with only five minutes left.
Harry received his friends once they entered the room, not hiding his satisfaction when they were mobbed by the tetchy healers.
As the Court enjoyed the rest of their free Saturday in Hogsmeade, Harry was unable to shake off the feeling of something being out of place. Perhaps it had to do with how unusually sunny the day was or with how overly affectionate Luna was today. Though it maybe had to do with how unusual the Court's companions were for the evening. Luna's dad came to watch the task and was spending his evening with the group, just like Hagrid and Viktor's mother.
Viktor's mum was a strangely calm individual, soft-spoken with soft features and gentle demeanour. Honestly, Harry could totally see she was the woman that raised Viktor in their shared mannerisms and laidback attitude.
Contrasting totally with the almost ethereal woman, there was Hagrid. Tall, robust, and smiling Hagrid. Though the man looked different, better groomed and comfortable in his skin – he was the same man Harry remembers from the first time they met, sensitive, kind, and strangely naive. That and his extreme affinity with creatures.
"...an' I was trying' ter convince the aurors ter lemme help until Shacklebolt saw me. I helped him when he was jus' a small lad in Hogwarts so he wanted ter return the favour I think. So they took me ter the arena an' I gave the Keiju the bag of chocolate biscuits I baked for you, Harry." It was obvious the man was disappointed and Harry was too but tried to hide it, Hagrid's fantastic rock cakes were excellent projectiles. Now he would have to use regular rocks, what a shame. "...the poor thing was tremblin' so it tried to munch one of my fingers," Hagrid finished telling his story with a merry chuckle and Viktor's mum looked elated by it. Harry was glad to notice he was not the only one perturbed by that turn of events.
"Right," George said, stretching the word. "So why were the lizards wearing dresses."
"They looked funny, but why?" asked Fred.
"Ah, they usually wear the clothes of their old victims and the organizers thought it was better to dress them with something appropriate," Marcus told the others.
"You are the organizer," Daphne deadpanned, receiving a smile as response from the man.
"Yeh did great, Harry," Hagrid congratulated him, "y'all did... Well, not that Valerie gal but everyone else did."
"Thank you, Hagrid. I'm really sorry we couldn't meet last time."
"Yeh were in the hospital lad and I had much to do."
"Your friend gave me a tour," Viktor's mum told Harry, smiling gently.
"Yeah, an' with everythin' that happened next there was just no time, I tell yeh. At least I talked a bit with Poppy."
"You're friends with Madam Pomfrey?" asked a genuinely curious Draco.
"We go way back," Hagrid confirmed and began telling another of his stories as a dragon handler in the reserves and all the strange creatures he was raising.
Harry heard absently as Luna, her dad, and Hagrid began engaging in an intense conversation about different magical species. Little by little, his friends left in small groups to meet their respective friends and only he, Luna, Viktor, and Fleur remained.
Luna was leaning on Fleur's shoulder while the older girl stroked her hair. Uncle Xenophilius, as Luna's dad insisted to be called, was chatting with the other adults while Fleur and Viktor talked quietly as Harry sipped on his tea.
For some reason, the feeling of something being wrong did not disappear.
A deep grunt resounded in the room and Bellatrix sighed, this wasn't what she expected when she agreed to break the filthy half-blood.
"I guess our session ends for now," Bellatrix sighed, pouting prettily and receiving a bloody smile in return.
"Got tired already, child?"
Bellatrix clenched her teeth, knowing she couldn't physically break the half-blood the way she wanted to or all their plans would be in vain. This one was a particularly tough nut to crack, even harder than Longbottom. Such a shame, she could have so much fun...
The clatter of high heels resounded on the empty corridor and the room was opened. Barty entered while wiping his face furiously with a handkerchief.
"Oh, dear, you look hideous," the half-blood said and Barty scowled.
"You actually do," Bellatrix was forced to agree.
"Not my fault woman. I'm the one risking his skin, not you."
"Not that you are risking much..." the half-blood drawled. Bella nodded.
Barty sighed and threw off the handkerchief. "Come with me," he said, all humour was gone from his features.
They walked in silence until they reached the gardens, where Barty apparated them to some part of the woods.
"Things are moving along," he began saying, taking a seat on a nearby rock. "Soon everything will be in place."
"The only reason I'm allowing you to do this, Barty, is because of our cause." There was no expression in the woman's face.
"We both know you planned most of this... You also noticed, didn't you, Bella? This time things will be different and our Lord changed."
"We are taking the matters in our own hands," Bellatrix agreed, regaining her usual smile. "Remember that, if we're wrong, I'm killing you and then myself."
"It couldn't be any other way, we always did everything together," Barty agreed, placing a hand on her shoulder. "We will die together."
"We promised that so long ago," Bellatrix sighed, "you still were a snotty brat."
"The snotty brat that helped you kill Druella."
"You just watched."
"Details," Barty said with a shrug and then sighed. "I have to go back... All our people are in place, but we still need more time."
"He will act before we do, it will be the final test. We have some time."
"I know, but I'm worried. There are whispers, Bella. Creatures already chose a side and there is still that person-"
"It doesn't matter, we still have time," Bellatrix interrupted the agitated man.
She watched as Barty regained his composure, the man left after squeezing her shoulder and Bellatrix took a deep breath.
They still had time because they were now doing things their way.
A.N.: I changed the Peverell brothers timeline. By the way, who noticed my Rick Riordan inspiration?