The TriSchool Tournament
A/N: Here's a story I wish I had found when I read GoF or some of the GoF fanfiction. More and harder challenges; more contestants allowed to participate. A slightly different ending for Voldemort! So I decided to write it myself as a series of impressions and scenes. (GoF, and the Triwizard Tournament, still remains my favorite bit of canon. I automatically smile if I even think of the phrase, "blast-ended skrewt.")
Observant!Smart!Harry. On the outs with Ron, Hermione, Dumbledore, and Hogwarts in general. No pairings.
Harry Potter was not looking forward to his fourth year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry. He'd loved his first year – being introduced to magic, a fun castle, surprises around every corner, a puzzle or two to solve. But that changed when he pieced together that the Stone and Harry had been brought together in some kind of misguided training exercise by the Headmaster. Then Harry disliked his second year – being thought evil by a school full of people who couldn't past see their own noses. And then his third year just confirmed all his worst suspicions. He began to hate Hogwarts with a passion. Witches and wizards were worse than ditzy blonde Muggles. None of them had a lick of sense or more than two neurons to rub together. Sirius Black, escaped murderer, had proven innocent. No one had ever tried him before a court – or tried to explain why he would have been Voldemort's most feared supporter. Nothing these idiots did made sense. Snape had tried to have Sirius kissed by a Dementor. Snape had been nothing but a dark plague for Harry's entire Hogwarts 'experience.'
At least Sirius was free now. Free and hugging Harry Potter almost to tears. Harry wasn't embarrassed, even though Sirius was doing this on Platform 9 ¾ thirty minutes before Harry was to return to Hogwarts.
"This is it, Sirius. My last year at this place. I can't stand it. The staring, the whispers. The idolization one minute, the unmerited fear the next. I'm getting tutors over the summer and I'm getting my OWLs done with. Then we can discuss NEWTS, more tutors…"
"But it's Hogwarts, Harry…"
"It's not a good school. The teachers are either incompetent or they're blatantly unfair in a way that makes it a misery, even McGonagall can't stand up for what's right. It's not a safe place for me to stay as I've been attacked there by fellow students, by teachers, by magical beasts. Detentions at midnight for eleven-year-olds into the Forbidden Forest; do the people there even have brains? And my friends – they're just as fair weathered as anyone else I've met. I swear to you, Sirius, this is it…"
"We're going to have to have a long talk at some point. I need to know what's happened exactly to make you feel like that. Dumbledore…"
Harry just looked sour. "…was the man who didn't ensure you got a trial, Sirius, even though it was his main responsibility on the Wizengamot. He was the moron who condemned me to a life in Little Whinging. He's a Master Legilimens and couldn't figure out who was opening the Chamber of Secrets or that one of his teachers was possessed by Voldemort. He concocted some bizarre plan last year for Hermione and me to face an executioner, a hippogriff, a werewolf, Peter Pettigrew, and a hundred dementors – that was his choice rather than just insisting you actually receive a trial and vetoing the corruption that called for Buckbead's killing. The Wizengamot head carries a lot of personal power to counterbalance the Minister's, Sirius, he can suspend any governmental order for a year just by demanding it, and he's never used it to do anything useful that I can see. He's a frail, old man, Sirius, his judgment is beyond suspect, and he should have been pensioned off years ago."
Sirius frowned. "I'll be up for Quidditch weekends, Harry…"
Harry shook his head. "There is no inter-house Quidditch this year. But maybe you can come for the tasks of the TriSchool Tournament…"
"Right, right. I forgot. Definitely. From what the new Minister said, it sounds like it could be quite a sight."
"I might even toss my name in the hat just to ensure I get the full Hogwarts experience this year…"
Sirius smiled. He could tell this was Harry trying to humor him. Still, it made Sirius feel better about the whole thing.
"Last chance, kiddo. Sure you don't need a new 'pet' this year, say a massive Grim to scare that Divination professor with?"
"I got out of that class. Worthless, waste of time. Why do they even offer it? Sure, the woman made a true prophecy, in front of me even, but it's a gift, not a learned skill…"
"Yeah, I did the reading over the summer. It's just like learning a language. I started French is school…probably should finish that off sometime. Maybe we could find an apartment in Paris next summer? Learn by immersion?"
Sirius laughed at Harry's hopeful expression.
"Your mind is so scattered today, Harry. Crawl on the train and take a nap. And try not to snap at anyone. The year will be over before you know it… And we'll talk about everything."
"…the special treat is that Hogwarts will be hosting the first ever TriSchool Tournament. In the distant past, other tournaments chose a single representative, or champion, to represent a school. In this new format, many more students will be able to participate in seven very difficult, very dangerous tasks. Each of the first six tasks will be completed by twenty of our students – and an equal number from the other two schools, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang – and no student may compete in more than three of those challenges. The seventh and final challenge will be composed of the five top performers from the earlier events from each school. Hogwarts will utilize a neutral judge to determine the make-up of the first six teams… More information will be distributed by your Heads of House. So, tuck in!"
Hogwarts had almost tripled in size. It was to be house the entire student body for three magical schools for most of the year. Harry thought there was an upside there – maybe kids from France and Eastern Europe weren't as stupid as the ones from Britain. And maybe Harry could study Potions from a real teacher – or History – or… The list was actually quite long.
Harry watched when the seven flying carriages arrived. The Abraxans were quite fascinating beasts. Then he turned and observed the three Durmstrang ships arrive in the Black Lake. Harry was genuinely curious how these ships, even traveling underwater, could have arrived in a land-locked lake. Oh well. Magic.
The unexpected highlight of the evening was listening to and then observing the International Confederation of Warlock's procedures for security. Apparently, given the British Ministy's massive ineptitude providing security 1) for the World Cup and 2) for the late Minister Fudge who had been killed by his mistress' embittered husband, Rolando Umbridge, the ICW had imposed rigorous security procedures. Every adult in contact with the children was taken off into an anteroom to be questioned under veritaserum. Alastor Moody and Severus Snape came out only in chains. Turned out that 'Moody' was using Polyjuice and was actually an escaped Death Eater. Durmstrang lost four to the security protocol, including its Headmaster, Igor Karkaroff. Beauxbatons lost only its Charms instructor, who was actually an American felon hiding out in France.
Harry decided that he might possibly have a good year at Hogwarts now that Snape was gone. It was a good thing he had hung back to see what was what. He was one of the few students who saw these very interesting results.
Dumbledore was screaming himself hoarse when Harry finally left the surprisingly entertaining dinner. "But, Severus, you can't take Severus. I don't have anyone who can deal with those horrid little snakes. I don't want to deal with them and I can't just expel all those beasts because the school would go bankrupt…"
The old man was surely past retirement if he was showing his cards in such a way. The ICW staffers looked aghast at Dumbledore's begging – and his stated reason for begging. Harry knew the story would be out in the public domain tomorrow and in the papers the day after that.
All of the Hogwarts students were gathered in the Great Hall. The first task was the next day and tonight was the selection of the twenty participants. Harry had entered his name on a lark.
Minister of Magic Amos Diggory stood in front of the crowd to explain a few more of the details. "As you may know, our Department of International Magical Cooperation has secured the assistance of several foreign Ministries to design interesting and appropriately challenging events for us. Three officials from the Ministry who sponsored the event will judge that event: cumulative scores across all the events, and all the participants, determine the winning school. The first task has been designed by the Egyptian Ministry of Magic. It is designed to test magical knowledge, cursebreaking skills, and sheer inventiveness and cunning." He turned to look at a disgruntled Goblet of Fire, which suddenly began to belch out names. "Ah, here we are. Harry Potter, Cedric Diggory, Alicia Spinnet, Bluto Pendergast…"
When Harry woke up the next morning, he was very nervous. He had dropped his name into the goblet for an unknown challenge. And now he was competing against seventh years in a contest that required 'cursebreaking skills,' of which Harry had almost none. He'd learned some diagnostic skills over the summer from Sirius so they could both examine the wards at Number Four and 12 Grimmauld – that, unfortunately, was the limit of his knowledge.
So, he prepared to go and make a fool out of himself.
He took the portkey at seven in the morning to the old World Cup Stadium. The ICW had decided to make some decent use of the facility. As Harry was a competitor, he walked straight inside, not even noticing the sophisticated scans that ensured he wasn't under Polyjuice, the Imperius Curse, or a half dozen other bewitchments.
Other people who were coming for the task – other students and adult witches and wizards from around the world – had to go through more strenuous security.
The security wizards from the ICW had, it seemed, compiled special lists of people to go through quite strenuous interrogations. Lucius Malfoy, for one, found his name was on that list when he showed up to watch the spectacle.
"Mr. Malfoy, you'll need to step into that room there for a security screening. We can't let you into the stadium without one…"
"Why, I never," he scowled.
"Or you may leave and not attend the event. Your choice…"
"I will be lodging a complaint when I leave this place. Let's get this farce over with, you peasant."
Lucius found, much to his everlasting surprise, that the ICW security wizards were extremely prepared to question him. They never said the phrase "Death Eater," as Lucius had actually purchased a pardon and not legally claimed he was under the Imperius, but only old Bagnold knew that. No, the security wizards used veritaserum and got Lucius to admit to the use of Unforgivables on human beings, to bribery and corruption, and dozens of other crimes. He was stunned and carted away before he even regained the use of the slippery tongue. Just another one of the two dozen criminals swept up that day, Crabbe and Goyle, wizarding drug dealers, witches with second wands and no usage permits.
On the field, Harry enjoyed looking up into the stands. It wouldn't fill up by any means, but Harry could imagine that a few thousand people would show up. And that none of them would yell louder than Sirius Black.
Harry looked at the small cubicles that had been erected on the field. There seemed to be sixty of them. He walked past them and saw an identical table and then what seemed like a magically held together pile of garbage on each one. Of course, the 'postmodern' sculpture was somehow the challenge. He stepped close toward one and then he could feel the magic embedded inside the thing.
This was the object they had to analyze and break, then.
Harry could see why this was a dangerous challenge. Cursebreakers had a ten percent mortality rate in their first year on the job. The rate for experienced ones was three or four points per year. And cursebreaking wasn't taught at any of the three schools… So, that meant there was something else to the challenge, a trick or a twist or a back door.
If this challenge was possible for anyone to complete, it was possible for Harry to do it, too. He just had to resist the temptation to do something completely obvious – like go attacking at the most heavily defended part of the sculpture. Harry felt somewhat glad he didn't even know any ward or curse breaking battering spells. He wouldn't even be tempted to try the brute approach.
He'd have to work out something different.
"Ladies and gentlemen, welcome to the first task of the TriSchool Tournament. Our sixty competitors are on the field now waiting for their final instructions. The object each one has in front of him or her was designed by the Egyptian Ministry of Magic. Each device had a small blue door on it. Behind the door is a charmed piece of leather. Touching that leather ends the challenge for a contestant and guarantees at least forty points from the judges, plus the leather item contains a critical clue for the next challenge. The rules: contestants may only apply magic to their devices and may not, under any circumstances, attempt to touch them. Contestants have one hour to retrieve the leather item. Partial points are awarded to any contestant who makes a reasonable attempt to complete the challenge. All contestant areas are being recorded so that the judges can ensure proper credit. The performance area has been silenced so that the contestants will not be disturbed by the audience or anything they may shout out.
"Contestants, take a moment to breathe. And now we'll begin. GO!"
Harry moved slowly and surely to his little cubicle. He couldn't touch the enchanted object. But he could cast spells on it. So he did. He cast ward diagnostic charms at eight different parts of the sculpture. He carefully considered the information. The thing was cursed to electrocute any one interfering with the curses. It was warded against fire, explosions, locusts, and transfiguration. He cast the spell against the door. It was warded more strongly than anything else Harry had ever seen. It had all the standard ones, plus it was warded against vanishing, banishment, and a few dozen spells Harry couldn't recognize at all. He considered what he'd learned before casting the diagnostic against the table. It wasn't warded at all. Interesting.
Harry could cast on the table, then. He wondered if this was the trick. People would begin attacking the heavily fortified object and ignore its lowly pedestal.
He decided to begin some testing to see exactly what would happen if he worked on the table. "Wingardium Leviosa."
The table floated into the air before Harry gently brought it back down. Nice. If he could float it, then he could vanish it. And then send a blast of wind at the warded sculpture to knock it on its side. Perhaps the bottom of the sculpture, the part that had rested against the table, was less well defended than the more visible parts.
So he levitated the table several feet in the air, vanished it, and quickly cast an air gusting charm at the sculpture. It wobbled in midair and crashed into the ground. A thin bottom plank of wood popped off the sculpture and then a piece of leather seemed to shoot out of the hollow bottom.
Harry's superb reflexes had the leather in his fist before it even had time to teach the ground.
Harry smiled. He'd been so worried. And the whole thing had been set up as more of a logic challenge than a cursebreakers' gauntlet. Thankfully. He wondered if anyone figured it out faster than he had. He decided to sit down inside his cubicle and wait for the end of the challenge. Until the judges revealed the scores, Harry didn't want to let anyone know how easy it had been for him to complete the task.
He looked at the piece of leather. He could already feel the charms on it wearing off. It had actually been charmed to fly off at a rapid speed if the sealed chamber had been opened. Clever – a final confusion for the contestants.
That had been a lot of fun. He turned the piece of leather over in his hands and saw the written clue: "Bring string."
He snorted. Could the clue have been any stranger?
He sat and thought for the rest of the hour. Harry decided he didn't much care about History or Astronomy or Potions…but that he did care very much about the wanded subjects. If anything, they weren't touching on the things Harry wanted to know and were progressing along rather slowly. Maybe it was time to pull a Hermione and hole up in the library…
Harry woke from his meditative slumber just as the judges began to address the audience.
"What a rousing challenge. We have seen some incredible feats of magical ability today, plus some even more incredible displays of cunning and logic. In first place, with a remarkable time of seven minutes eighteen seconds, and a full fifty points, Harry Potter, Hogwarts. In second place, with a time of thirty eight minutes twenty two seconds, and forty five points, Viktor Krum, Durmstrang. In third place, with a time of forty-nine minutes even, with forty two points, Cedric Diggory, Hogwarts. In fourth place, with a time of fifty eight minutes, eight seconds, and forty one points, Fleur Delacour, Beauxbatons…"
Harry was honestly shocked. The thing hadn't been that challenging. Merlin, it was designed with a fairly obvious flaw to exploit and an impossible-to-crack frontal approach. It should have been obvious to search out a weakness. How had it taken the other contestants so long to figure it out? From what Harry heard only eight of sixty contestants managed to get the leather within the hour time limit: three of them from Hogwarts (congratulations Angelina Johnson!). And the partial points being handed out started at ten points and went down rapidly from there.
Harry sat on the field as they replayed his entire effort for the crowd. He heard the murmurs of interest while this happened. The other contestants looked horrified at how easy the whole thing had been for Harry. More than one suggested he'd cheated…
"How? By using my brain? They announced it was about 'sheer inventiveness and cunning' last night. Did you try using any?"
"Our next challenge has been created by the Greek Ministry of Magic. I think you'll all be quite amazed by what they've constructed," Amos Diggory said to the assembled Hogwarts crowd the night before the second task.
"The Greeks reminded me that they left a single clue inside the first task. I thank Harry, Cedric, and Angelina for sharing that clue with all of us. Otherwise, the Ministry officials said that this task is about bravery in the face of danger, calm thinking in the face of chaos, and logic and action melded into one." At grumbles over inscrutable clues, Minister Diggory raised his hand. "I know, I know. The Greeks were as oracular as their old Sybil the Soothsayer. And, there we are…the Goblet has selected Rodger Davies, Cedric Diggory, Cho Chang, Draco Malfoy, Fred Weasley…"
Harry thought it was fun, the next morning, to be in the stands watching the competition. Sirius was sitting next to him and was more excitable than a puppy.
"Ron still being an idiot?"
Harry just nodded. "He's sitting over with the Hufflepuffs just to avoid me today. He was so damned jealous that I was picked for the first challenge – then even worse when I won it. Hermione has seemed to side with him. Their loss…"
Sirius jabbered on for a while trying to perk up Harry after blundering into a sensitive topic.
"I don't know how your mind works, Harry, but what you did with the first challenge was incredible. They've been selling recordings just to demonstrate thinking under fire. It was brilliant…"
"Thanks, Sirius. You've said just that in your last five letters… Let's see what the new one is all about."
Sirius hugged him once again and then seemed to settle down a bit.
Suddenly a Greek-inflected accent filled the air. "Welcome to the second task. The Greek Ministry is proud to unveil this labyrinth in honor of the original. To speed up the challenge, we have created fifteen separate paths and fifteen entrances to be used simultaneously. Each contest will surrender his or her wand before entering…" Here the crowd and the field erupted into some shocks of surprise. Unarmed people going into a labyrinth? "…at the center of the labyrinth is a monster to be killed. Along the way are a number of magical traps and tricks and dead ends. A contestant receives full credit for bringing out the head of the monster within the one hour window. Contestants may only carry in the things they have on their persons now, save their wands. They may also find items of use and value inside the labyrinth if they look for them. The audience will be able to view any of the fifteen paths via magical screens. Good luck. The first flight of contestants may begin NOW!"
Harry and Sirius stared at the screens that suddenly appeared. Most of the contestants rocketed into the labyrinth while a few took a slower approach. Harry and Sirius watched while a few stopped inside the entrance to tie their strings to something. They had taken the first clue literally: "Bring string." They would, at least, be able to easily retrace their steps from the maze.
Harry followed Fleur from Beauxbatons as she made her way, poorly, through the maze. Right turn. Left. Nope. Now, right. Now the middle of three forks. Nope. The right fork. Nope. Okay, left fork. Uh oh, magical trap to circumvent. She found her arms and legs stuck together. Sirius was dying laughing. Eventually she wriggled her way forward. Right again. Good! Then middle fork. Nope. Left fork. Apparent dead end. But Harry thought he saw the wall flickering a bit. Fleur left and tried all the options again. Harry wasn't the only one screaming for her to go back and test the wall. Eventually she leaned against it in frustration and fell through. She had to circumnavigate a dozen more twists and turns before she came to an open chamber. And then…"Holy Merlin, that's a Minotaur." A mostly human form but with a bull's head. And it charged at Fleur.
She screamed and dodged. It tried to gore her again with its sharpened horns. She threw herself on the ground. They went round and round. Fleur was bloody, dirty, and unable to inflict the slightest damage on the monster. Then it gored her good in her shoulder. As it moved in for the kill, it seemed to freeze up and three Greek wizards poured into the room to begin healing Fleur.
No one in the first flight managed to last past twenty-five minutes or kill their monster. When the second flight went in, Harry was thinking about what he'd seen rather than what was now happening.
"I think I see the trick in here."
"What, Harry? There's no trick. It's impossible to kill that thing… Thank Merlin it's just a construct of some sort and those wizards can immobilize it when they want. I'd hate for Minotaurs to roam the earth…"
"Having seen it once, I think I could kill it, Sirius."
"No offense, Harry, but you'd be unarmed. It's not possible."
"Right, just like it's impossible to kill a sixty foot basilisk. No, I see the trick. It's doable but not very easy…"
"Okay, so what is the trick?"
"You can't kill it in the room at the end. You have to lure it back to the last magical trap. If you dodge it and it gets stuck in the trap, then you've basically won. It's got a sword or a really long dagger on its belt. You have to use its own weapon against it, Sirius…"
Sirius sat, unblinking and stunned. It made perfect sense. It wasn't easy, but it was doable. It required timing, and luck, and no small amount of skill.
"But it's really hard to think rationally when under attack which makes this a great task, a very difficult challenge."
After all sixty challengers had their opportunity, the judges announced what the entire audience already knew. No one managed to kill their Minotaur.
"With five slashes from a sharpened stone, the best performance, awarded twenty points, was from Cedric Diggory, Hogwarts…"
Sirius and Harry were getting up and preparing to leave the stadium when an unusual offer came over the broadcast system.
"Since we have sixty undamaged golem constructs, we'll open the challenge up to any member of audience. The rule about leaving your wand behind still applies."
So Harry and Sirius each found themselves entering the labyrinth a few minutes later. Harry had memorized the path and the traps he'd seen on the screen. He almost flew down the corridors. When he reached the final room, he stepped far enough inside to trigger the Minotaur and then flew out of the room with the massive construct behind him. He ran straight at a magic trap and only side stepped it at the last second. The Minotaur fell right into it. Harry pivoted, snatched the sword from the Minotaur's belt, and used eight rather ungraceful attempts to bloodlessly hack off the construct's head. He returned outside, the head held high. Sirius walked out of his labyrinth a few minutes later, looking a bit worse for the wear, also with a head.
Harry and Sirius threw their heads to the ground and laughed. They were the only challengers to accomplish the task. The Greek Ministry officials looked very pleased to see that someone had finally pulled off such a difficult challenge. They had been aiming for very challenging, not impossible, after all.
Harry officially became Ravenclaw-esque in the month between the second and third tasks. Ron refused to talk to Harry. Hermione was straddling the fence, only coming off it to lecture Harry about trying harder in Potions or Astronomy or History, the subjects he was intentionally failing.
Harry fled to the library or to the secret passage that had suffered a cave-in whenever the Gryffindors became too much. He was working his way through Transfiguration and Charms books at a rapid rate. He learned more good defensive techniques from them than from any DADA book he'd ever picked up. Harry could now summon books, stones, and other things to serve as shields – he was beginning to work on learning to do it silently.
Harry had to do something to keep his mind occupied. It wasn't like he was learning much in any classes save Charms and Herbology.
The fake Moody's replacement, in particular, was terrible. She was back in line with the first and second year teachers that Dumbledore had selected. This one had what she said was a heavy Estonian accent. She lectured for entire class periods and didn't answer questions as a policy. Not that anyone caught most of the lecture, as her accent was only outweighed by the rather monotone voice she shared in common with Binns the ghost. They might get to practice a new spell or two once per month. It was clearly inadequate instruction.
Remus had been an inspired and inspiring teacher. Was it really so hard to find qualified people like him? Or did Dumbledore have more people's lives to ruin, making him too busy to find an adequate teacher?
Harry was already teaching himself the material from every class. Why not self teach DADA?
The snow was thick outside the castle when all of Hogwarts gathered to hear about the third task. Minister Diggory looked more than a bit nervous.
"The German Ministry has prepared what sounds to be a most difficult task, ladies and gentlemen. They informed me that each challenger will face a trio of giants from Germany's famed Black Forest tomorrow. What they must do – or what restrictions they have upon themselves, I know not. They did, however, request that I mention the following information. It will only be possible for, at most, three contestants to achieve maximum points. And it is entirely possible that not every contestant will be able to compete tomorrow given the specific nature of the challenge. Cunning, stealth, and trickery are the orders of the day."
The Great Hall was silent. Three giants? One champion? Yikes. More than a few people were feeling nervous about having entered their names into the Goblet.
Harry didn't hear his name called so he was quite interested to see what the task would be. He and Sirius took the portkey the next morning and wound up in a set of stands carved from rock. They were obviously in the mountains ringing Hogwarts and Hogsmeade. Interesting.
"Guten morgen, ladies and gentlemen. The German Ministry of Magic is pleased to present the third task in the TriSchool Tournament. The challenge is offered in two parts: contestants earn twenty points for getting from the entrance of the pass to the exit; they earn an additional ten points for each giant killed before the contestant reaches the end of the pass. Contestants may use their wands and their minds to complete the challenge. We have brought eleven giants with us, so if they are all killed before all the contestants make it through the task, then some may not be able to compete."
Sirius spoke up first. "This sounds almost worst than the labyrinth, Harry. What are you thinking?"
"I'm thinking the first one who tries killing a giant with his wand will get clubbed."
"The labyrinth challenge came from mythology. It seems like this one did, too. The Odyssey? Didn't the protagonist have to escape from a cave full of giants or Cyclopes at one point?"
Sirius slowly nodded his head.
"If memory serves, that story had Odysseus tricking the giants and burning their eyes. But I've heard alternate versions of similar stories where the hero sets his captors to fighting with each other. That's what the successful person will do here, I think…"
"He'll get the giants to attack each other?"
The next few hours passed with a lot of shouting and heart-pounding suspense. More than a quarter of the contestants managed to cross the pass. Disillusionment charms, flying, floating, confounding charms, all of these and a lot more magic helped the contestants to travel safely through the pass. Three even managed to kill a giant – but none of them made it across the pass. The least injured one only spent a week in the Hospital Wing.
Harry was a bit ashamed of his fellow students' performance here. No one managed to get one giant fighting with another. Did no one pay attention in CoMC class? Giants were easily angered and didn't care who they fought. Once angered, they'd fight a basilisk if one was nearby. Logic and thinking weren't their strengths. A disillusioned contestant could easily make a giant angry by breaking its club or magically lobbing a boulder at its head or any of a dozen other ways. If one got a giant sufficiently riled up, it would do a lot of damage to the other two giants. And they would then move against each other.
Harry shook his head. Why could no one think? None of the Slytherins had even been cunning enough to give that a try – and there had been six entered into the event.
Christmas with Sirius was a wonderful thing. McGonagall and Dumbledore had told Harry several times he was required to stay at school for the holiday because of the Yule Ball tradition. Harry didn't care; he positively loathed Hogwarts, even if he was having a somewhat amusing time because of the TriSchool Tournament. More important than any Yule Ball, Sirius wanted to spend the holidays with his godson. So Harry went to 12 Grimmauld without a second thought.
"The ICW finally released lists of who they captured at the third task. It was longer than the lists from the first and second tasks. Merlin. You'd think criminals would stay away from the third task after what happened to their brethren at the first two, right?"
"You're assuming they act rationally, Sirius. I mean, who would let dozens of former killers walk free because they paid bribes to various Ministry officials? Oh, that's right, the Ministry of Magic." Harry shook his head. He really didn't want to be a part of the British Wizarding World any longer than he had to. "Malfoy, Crabbe, Goyle, McNair, Rookwood, and a few others are finally behind bars. And Crouch Jr. was Kissed. I wouldn't wish that on anyone, well, maybe for Wormtail."
Sirius growled. There had been no sign of the foul little rodent since he escaped from Hogwarts six months earlier.
"You still want to spend the summer in France, Harry?"
"If you want to. I wouldn't want to put you out if you have other plans…"
Sirius shook his head. "No, it sounds better than this place. Maybe I can get a demolition crew to destroy the inside and rebuild in the shell."
"Actually, that sounds like exactly what I want to do…"
Harry received some terribly shameful glares when he returned to Hogwarts shortly before classes were to resume. The teachers were obviously 'disappointed' in him. Why? He had plans and they could go hang themselves thinking that guilt would work on him. That first night back, Minister Diggory was back to explain the next task. This time the school was being informed a full week in advance. Must be a heavy duty challenge.
"The Irish Ministry has created a rather unique sounding challenge. One of their potions adepts was working on experimental potions when she stumbled across a rather unusual concoction. It acts like a boggart, but instead of you being confronted with your worst fear, you become your worst fear. They've named it the Jekyll and Hyde Potion. It lasts for only an hour and it is theoretically possible for you to fight through the effects, like ridding yourself of the Imperius Curse. Each contestant will consume the Potion. Full points to anyone who manages to break the enchantment before thirty minutes have passed. Partial points beyond that."
The Goblet churned and churned. Harry's name came out this time, along with nineteen others. Harry shivered a bit. This one didn't seem fun. Would Harry turn into a dementor? Into Voldemort? What would happen to him?
The week passed slowly. Harry couldn't exactly get anyone to cast the Imperius Curse on him, so he attempted to read up on its effects. He found a book on mental fortitude and meditation. He began attempting some of the exercises. He found it rather soothing. He found some references to the Arte of Occlumency. Sounded interesting; he'd have to look into it after all this TriSchool business was over.
Finally Saturday morning arrived and Harry was beyond nervous. He would be swallowing an experimental potion and then waging a mental battle with it. Not a great way to spend a weekend really… At least they had cast a warming charm over the whole floor of the World Cup Stadium.
He walked to a cubicle, familiar from the first task, and sat on a stool. He looked up and saw that they had brought in some fool or other to officiate. He looked like an overweight bee in Quidditch robes. Yellow and black robes. Ridiculous.
"Welcome, ladies and gentlemen. The Irish Ministry has asked me, Ludo Bagman, to announce this, the fourth task of the TriSchool Tournament. Today, we will man versus himself, a gritty battle of wills. Each of the contestants will take a potion to transform themselves into the very things they fear most. What will happen? What will they transform into? And who will be able to overcome their fears before time runs out?"
An auburn-haired witch presented Harry with a potion vial and told him to swallow it.
"Now, the contest has begun. The Malfoy heir seems to be…oh, he's turned into a clown, a Muggle clown, admittedly a scary looking one, but still a clown. No fewer than three contestants have turned into Hogwarts teachers, including one particularly stern looking Minerva McGonagall. Maybe that'll give her something to chew over if she had children that terrified. And Harry Potter…well, I've never seen something like it. He's turned into some kind of mist. Oh, by the way people in the stands are reacting, it's a dementor mist, like when they're breeding. The boy is afraid of only fear, what a wise thing. And then there's Andurus Bandicoot. He's turned into a massive slug. Viktor Krum has become…well, I'm not sure what it is. A burning book, perhaps? Does our Quidditch star have a secret passion for forbidden knowledge? And Citronelle Gascoine has become a…er, a fairy. Who in their right mind is afraid of fairies, I ask you…"
While Bagman prattled on, Harry felt the crushing fear of being surrounded on all sides by dementors. He saw Pettigrew escaping and running off to Voldemort. He saw his mother killed. He saw Dudley wailing on his skinny, undernourished body. He saw teachers ignore the blood on Harry's lip and face. He saw Quirrell give his body over to Voldemort. He saw a basilisk and a basilisk fang sticking out from his arm. He saw himself, crushed and bloody. He saw failure. Failure and weakness of every kind. He saw villainy of every type. He saw Dumbledore lying to him time and again. He saw McGonagall stick her head in the sand, as if she were an ostrich animagus. He saw Snape taunting, mocking, and being perfectly vile – while no one stopped him, while he had free reign. A little voice tried to stop the images: But Snape's in prison now. The images continued.
He saw fearful faces looking at him after Harry discovered he was a parselmouth. He saw Malfoy and his goons harassing some frightened first years. The voice came back: You're strong enough. Strong enough to stop all the bullies. There's enough happiness in you, enough good in you to end all of this. The images slowed.
Harry saw Voldemort. He saw Voldemort lift up a dark wand and shout the Killing Curse at his mother. But, this time, before it could hit, the image froze. It was replaced by an earlier memory – one Harry had never seen before – of Harry in his mother's arms listening to a story Lily read to him.
That is the truth. The fear you can put away so you can see the truth, Harry. Destroy the fear; banish it; never let it creep into your body again. It has no place here, there's no room in your mind for it, no need.
Harry seemed more aware of himself suddenly. He realized what he needed to do to get out of his situation. He wondered if the magic would respond. "Expecto Patronum," he shouted inside his black shroud of fear.
"…and it's quite amusing to see the oversized wolverine attacking that 'fearsome' Muggle clown. And… Sweet Merlin, what's going on with Potter's mist? A tremendous white light seemed to crack up the center of the mist. Now, rays of it are pouring forth. Now there's…is that a stag? What a rack of antlers on that thing! It's a Patronus, I'm sure of it. Harry Potter has managed to cast the Patronus Charm while trapped in his dementor mist. And that said mist seems to be clearing up…and Harry Potter is now visible. Remarkable, ladies and gentlemen. The most challenging of all possible fears has been overcome by Mr. Potter in twenty-six minutes. He's the first one to overcome the effects of the potion. Outstanding work, Mr. Potter."
Harry accepted a bar of chocolate and ate it quietly. But he didn't feel the usual chill or shakes from the Dementors. Had that crazy stunt finally helped cure him of his problems? It was possible, although Harry didn't intend to find out by visiting any Dementors in the near future.
Harry only got an interrogation from Hermione about what happened in that event. She never asked him how he felt.
"Tell me how you did that."
Over the course of a night in Gryffindor Tower, she must have said the phrase a dozen times. Could she not sense when she annoyed people? Was she really that blind, that socially inept?
Or did she just not care. Harry, after all, had let her get away with her favorite tricks for several years now. It seemed Hermione was just unwilling to recognize that the rules had changed.
"Hermione," Harry finally said. "It's been a very long day. I don't particularly care to relive all the unpleasant things that happened. Maybe we can talk about it later…"
"But I want to know."
"Hermione, I'm glad you're so curious. But I'm tired. Good night." That was as polite as Harry could pull off at the present moment.
"Harry, that's not fair."
He didn't say anything else to her as he walked up the stairs. Fair. What did Hermione know about fair?
The fifth challenge, presented by the Spanish Ministry, should have been massively entertaining. There was a dragon guarding a chest buried inside a mound of leprechaun gold. The instructions to the competitors were: "get the chest and its contents as they'll be needed for the sixth challenge." Competitors were instructed not to harm the dragon, as it was particularly resistant to magic of all kinds.
What could be better than this? A fierce dragon. Competitors sneaking around trying to get at a chest. Harry began analyzing the situation. Dragons were sensitive to smell, to movement, to sound – but couldn't see all that well. They could sense movement, but not what moved with any degree of accuracy. Hence it's main weapons of tail, claws, and fire – none of them needed to be terribly accurate to do a lot of damage.
Harry sat arguing with Sirius for a few minutes about how to approach the situation when the problem happened.
Simply put, the problem, from Harry's perspective, was that he was kidnapped from the stands by a rat that suddenly transformed into a human. The ICW had been checking every person entering the World Cup Stadium, but they hadn't erected anti-animagus wards. Peter Pettigrew grabbed Harry with one hand and fumbled for a moment getting out a portkey. Sirius had just enough time to get off a quick, ghastly spell.
"Ghass!" A greenish-brown bolt of energy impacted with Pettigrew's arm just as the portkey activated. Blood fell to the ground in front of Sirius even while Harry and the rat were gone.
When Harry thumped into the ground in what seemed a cemetery, Pettigrew's arm fell off and he collapsed to the ground in shock from the portkey travel combined with the rapid blood loss he was experiencing.
Harry stood up and surveyed the landscape. Definitely a cemetery. He spied something moving in the distance. Something small. He disillusioned himself and began walking toward the creature.
"Harry Potter," the disgusting sound made Harry wince. "I know my servant brought you to me. Show yourself, boy, so we can get started."
The creature was Voldemort. But he wasn't in a real body. He appeared more like an oversized slug or a very lumpy sort of baby. He was dragging himself across the lawn toward where Pettigrew lay dying. He was going for the dark wand Pettigrew had carried.
Harry quickly pulled out his own wand and summoned the vile wand that had killed his parents.
"Potter. Don't act the hero. I will have my will done today. I will have a new body. Your blood, my Muggle father's bones, and the whole of this disgusting rat – yes, quite a fine new body."
A ritual then. A vile ritual. Harry saw a bubbling cauldron near to an odd looking tomb. What would happen from an incomplete ritual? Would it kill Voldemort again? Would it do something worse than kill him? Or would it give him a new body of some sort?
Harry walked silently to the cauldron. It was filled with a rapidly boiling white concoction. Harry decided to spoil this cauldron – Snape had accused him of doing exactly that numerous times. Harry quietly hefted dirt into the cauldron and then some grass. He looked into the open grave to the side of the cauldron. There were human bones in there along with smaller ones. Rodent, perhaps? Harry reached in and pulled out the tiny bones. They went into the cauldron, too. Now the boiling white liquid turned a disgusting shade of green. Harry looked around for other things he could use to spoil the potion.
He found moss on a grave, some moldy paper and brittle flowers left on another, and some muggle coins on a third. All of them went into the cauldron. The liquid turned a violent orange.
Before he performed his final step, Harry thought long and hard. Rituals were intensely difficult, from the little he'd read in his Potions texts over the years. They required precision. Any foul up in the Potion or the ritual itself would cause a devastating failure.
So, Harry drew out his wand and cast again. "Accio Voldemort."
He released the spell just as the disgusting slug baby was over the top of the cauldron. Voldemort fell with a horrified scream straight into the cauldron. Then Harry did two more things.
"Foul beast, I order you back whence you came." It seemed the right thing to say in an exorcism or a banishment ritual. Then he cast "Colloportus" on the top of the cauldron.
Harry hoped it drowned. He hoped the spirit was never able to leave the cauldron.
He stumbled back toward the dead Pettigrew and grasped at the portkey. Harry and Pettigrew's body disappeared from the cemetery. He reappeared right in front of a frantic, screaming Sirius Black.
"Sirius. Sirius! It's okay. I'm okay. Nothing bad happened, okay."
Then Harry had to fend off an attack by an upset, overanxious godfather. Harry and Sirius – along with the body of Pettigrew – were rushed out of the stadium. The ICW guards wouldn't even let Dumbledore into where Harry was resting and then telling his tale.
The ICW guards eventually tracked down the destination of that portkey. They found some kind of revolting ritual site, just as Harry had described. But instead of a liquid inside the cauldron, they found a solid substance, fleshy, warm to the touch, a heart beat even. That disgusting flesh perfectly filled the entirety of the cauldron. It seemed alive somehow, but it didn't register as exactly human. It had no mouth. Because Harry had kept the word "Voldemort" out of his story – just explaining that Pettigrew had intended to use Harry in some kind of ritual, which Harry spoiled after Pettigrew died – no one ever knew what it was. Flesh that couldn't die, couldn't move, couldn't speak, couldn't eat, couldn't access magic. It was immortal and yet perfectly useless.
The Department of Mysteries would end up devoting three hundred years worth of study to the disgusting lump molded inside the cauldron. They would never come to any firm conclusions, other than that the thing should only be examined in a well ventilated space as it was quite foul-smelling.
Even with all the confusion going on with Harry, Sirius, and Pettigrew, the ICW managed to complete the running of the fifth task. Seven people managed to get the chest, four from Durmstrang (one was Viktor Krum), one from Beauxbatons, and two from Hogwarts (Cedric Diggory and Hellebore Winterbottom, a rather frosty seventh-year Slytherin).
After the fifth task, Hogwarts was in second place overall, even though Cedric Diggory, Harry Potter, and Rodger Davies held the top three individual spots. (Krum was fourth.) Davies, Diggory, and Krum had all competed in three events – only Harry had one more shot. So it was still possible for a good deal of change to still happen with the individual standings.
When the morning came to announce the sixth challenge taking place that very evening, Harry was curious and nervous. He'd seen the bizarre book inside the dragon's chest. It was all about bronze keys. Crazy judges and event designers.
Books and keys. Hmm.
"Gather round. Gather round, right?" Minister Diggory always sounded like he was herding small children. "The sixth task, well, I have no idea what to make of it. I think the postmodernists in the Italian Ministry just went nuts. Still, I owe all of you something of an explanation. At nine o'clock tonight the competitors will be locked into a special magical library that's been constructed on the grounds of the World Cup Stadium. They will have one hour to locate the single bronze key located in the library. There will be thousands of other keys, amethyst keys, onyx keys, silver, gold, steel, and ruby. Some will be in books; some in plain sight; some will be hidden behind bookshelves or under the stone flooring. But only the bronze key will open the door. There will be hundreds of clues written on the walls, as well, the Italians inform me. Once one key is discovered, another will be magically hidden in the library. The first one out gets full points; the second one forty-five; the third gets forty; and so on. There's nothing dangerous inside, they assure me, aside from the possibility of losing your mind in the puzzle."
Harry didn't care for this challenge. It sounded like something Hermione would love. He wasn't shocked when her name came out of the Goblet, but he was surprised when his did.
He spent the rest of the day ignoring his acquaintances. He spent it considering the little information he had. It sounded impossible. Thousands of keys inside a magically expanded library with an almost infinite number of hiding spots and all sixty competitors searching at the same time. It couldn't be done. But they'd been given a short, fixed amount of time to do it in. Therefore the event creators seemed to be suggesting that it was possible. There would have to be a trick involved, like in so many of the other events. Harry couldn't shake the feeling that he'd heard something about this story before, or something like it.
Harry devised a set of rules to follow…and as he was reviewing his rules a few minutes before the event started, he realized what the real event was. The library was what was known as a liar's lock. It was an old form of deception, a con game. A man would come across some wounded person. The wounded man would be clutching the spoils of a battle, but he'd be missing something needed to open the chest or casket or container. He'd politely offer to share the spoils with the newcomer, if the newcomer would kindly walk three miles back and look for the bronze key he'd dropped or that was on someone's corpse in the battlefield or that was in some other inconvenient place. So the dupe would leave his own belongings and trundle off to search for a bronze key. Eventually he'd find it and return to discover that his own belongings, the wounded man, and the man's chest were all gone. And all he had left was a bronze key to show for it. Less than worthless.
Harry smiled. He finally got the allusion. He had a decent idea of how to compete in the challenge. In fact, his set of rules changed a bit after he decided that he was facing a liar's lock.
--Something will attempt to lead you away from where the real key is. Sleight of hand is essential here. Don't fall for it.
--One or more of the rules are lies. One or more is absolutely the truth. The door I need to open will actually be locked, but it will be far easier to open than what they're telling me.
--Trust nothing. Nothing will be as it seems.
After the official rules were repeated for the spectators, Harry opened his door to the library. He closed it behind him and the door locked. Just to be sure, he attempted to open it. It was quite locked. Check.
He looked around the area he was in. It was poorly lit, except for the lights splashed on the walls that held various clues. He saw there was an onyx key on a nail right next to the door he'd just entered. He plucked a book off the shelf and saw another key glittering on a nail at the back of the bookshelf. Harry opened the book. It was filled with images of different bronze keys.
Harry looked up and began to read the clues. He heard other people in the distance. Obviously all the corridors in the library were connected together. If Harry figured out the trick, he'd have to be careful not to give it away.
One clue painted high on the wall said, "The green books hold nothing for you, but the red corridors ahead spell victory."
Another said, "Do not be tempted by the keys you can see. Victory comes with the undiscovered key."
A third said, "There are sixty one corridors in this library. The one without a contestant is the one you're seeking."
Harry stopped moving then. He read the next few clues without moving toward them. All the clues were leading Harry into the library proper. And away from this corridor and the door he'd need to be able to leave. Every single clue, without exception. This was part of the lie, then.
He plucked another book off the shelf. It too held only images of bronze keys.
And a third. And a fourth.
Harry smiled. The need for a bronze key was the major lie. Because this wasn't a con job – because the door would really open to a sort of treasure – the only key that wouldn't work was a bronze key. The library was filled with thousands of keys, keys that the contestants ignored because they weren't bronze. Everywhere the contestants turned the valid keys stared them in the face, but the contestants rejected them because of the initial lie. It was a good challenge. Harry waited until he was sure he was alone in his corridor. Then he silently moved back to the doorway and plucked the onyx key off the wall.
He touched the key to the door. The door popped open and Harry stepped out. He brought the onyx key with him as a souvenir. He shut the door behind him and smiled.
What a mind bending puzzle. It was simple now that he was done. But set in an elaborate environment, layered with fake rules, harnessed to a brief time limit, and then run at the same time for all sixty competitors, it had been enough to keep the truth murky. Adrenaline and fear could always obscure the truth.
Italian Ministry workers came over to congratulate Harry and to ask how he'd completed it so quickly.
"I've had every lie, cheat, or scheme tried on me at some time. It took me a while, gentlemen, but I remembered the liar's lock…"
The Italians looked impressed and not a touch angry.
Albus Dumbledore sat in his office waiting for Harry to show up. Dumbledore had been sure that Harry had received it this morning at breakfast. But the boy was already twenty minutes late. And this was the fourth meeting that Harry hadn't bothered to turn up at. Dumbledore needed to address the boy's grades with him.
Harry Potter was in very strong danger of failing out of Hogwarts. A ridiculous notion, but true none the less.
Dumbledore had sat with each of the concerned teachers. Binns said Harry didn't come for classes, tests, and didn't turn in papers. Sinistra said the boy showed for classes but didn't turn in any essays and barely exerted himself on tests. The things Snape had said for years couldn't be repeated in mixed company, period. The new Potions professor, McCordle, couldn't figure out Harry. He brewed perfectly well, but would usually toss in something to ruin the potion at the last second. And he never turned in any homework. He was mysteriously absent on test days, too.
Why was Harry doing so poorly in those classes when he was excelling so wonderfully in the Tournament and in all of his other classes. He had high 'E's or 'O's in everything else. What was the boy thinking? Didn't he know that he was likely not to be invited back to the best school of witchcraft and wizardry in the world?
And, on another issue, Mr. Filch reported that Harry never showed up for any assigned detentions. And Mr. Filch could never seem to spot the little hellion either.
Dumbledore sighed and shoved another lemon drop in his mouth. The boy would apparently have to learn the hard way. Dumbledore wouldn't always be around to bail him out.
If Harry failed, then he failed. Let Harry come crying. Yes, that was the right approach. He'd realize over the summer once he got his denial letter that he had to do better. Oh yes.
Harry, obviously, made the team of five for the final challenge. He was the only competitor from the three schools to achieve a perfect score – one hundred fifty points – and had been named the Overall Individual Champion. Hogwarts as a school was just barely behind Durmstrang now. It would all come down to what they were calling The Quest.
An old gentleman stepped up to the podium. "Ladies and gentlemen, I am Mr. Yerner Cracklepot, this year's elected head of the International Confederation of Warlocks. I welcome you the grounds of Hogwarts for our final competition in this TriSchool Tournament. The teams of five were selected by each school one week ago. They were given only basic instructions on what would be happening during this event designed by the Swiss Ministry of Magic. It is, simply, a quest. Each team must follow the instructions they receive and retrieve their Quest Object. Each school has different clues to follow, of course. They may all well face the same challenges, but in a different order from each other. The winning team will receive two hundred fifty points for its school. The two runners up receive nothing. It's do or die; all or nothing, ladies and gentlemen."
The Hogwarts Team was Harry and four seventh years Harry didn't know well. The only one who spoke to Harry much at all was Cedric Diggory. He was glad this was the last task – they'd certainly been fun to watch and participate in – but he couldn't care if Hogwarts actually won. There were only four weeks until the summer break. Then Harry would be done with Hogwarts for good. He made it a point to fail History, Potions, and Astronomy. It hadn't been hard to do for Potions, but Sinistra kept trying to 'give him the benefit of the doubt.' Harry figured it was Dumbledore's interference at play. That was when Harry stopped taking tests altogether in her class. On the other hand, of course, he had 'O's going in his other subjects, including Runes and CoMC. Three failing grades would be enough to ensure he wasn't invited to return for his fifth year. Not even the Board of Governors could change that rule after the fact.
McGonagall had been alternating between counseling him and yelling at him. "I can't understand for the life of you why this is happening, Mr. Potter. You're the top student in at least three subjects and at the very bottom in three. Why don't you do your Potions homework? Or show up to History? Professor Sinistra doesn't know what to do with you…And Professor Dumbledore has invited you to four meeting to discuss your abominable conduct this year. He tells me you haven't gone to any of them or any of your assigned detentions."
Flitwick has caught on to what Harry was doing. He privately congratulated the boy and mentioned that he would have been happier in Ravenclaw. (At that, Harry had to agree. Gryffindor just encouraged half-cocked plans and a lack of forethought.) He and Harry discussed Harry's plans for private tutoring. Professor Flitwick recommended a few people he knew in the business. Harry had always liked his diminutive Professor – and his conduct then just proved to him again why that was.
Hagrid continued inviting Harry over for tea and rock cakes. They never talked academics. It was always about Hagrid's creatures, such as the wounded Pegasus he was tending to, or how Harry's pickup games in Quidditch were going or other light, interesting filler. Harry would always be grateful to Hagrid for plucking him from the Dursleys on his eleventh birthday – and also resentful that Hagrid had originally prevented Sirius from taking custody of him all those years ago. It was a difficult relationship to manage, from Harry's viewpoint at least.
Dumbledore, though, was a different matter. There was nothing complicated about that. After Harry learned of Sirius's innocence and of Dumbledore's role in not getting Sirius a trial all those years ago, Harry refused to talk or even look at the man. He certainly wouldn't voluntarily walk into the man's office and be counseled by him. Instead, he just compiled a longer and longer list of things he'd never talk to Dumbledore about. He knew that the old man would never have satisfactory answers to share. It'd be the equivalent of asking a serial killer why he'd killed someone's daughter. The answer would never do, no matter how heart felt or how sincere (and Harry doubted Dumbledore could pull off either one) – the damage was done and irreversible. Dumbledore wasn't exactly a serial killer. He was worse: he robbed children of their childhoods, the innocent of their freedom, and the complacent of their lives. People believed so much in Dumbledore, they stopped believing in themselves and wouldn't even fight back during the first war with Voldemort. Dumbledore had allowed people to rely on him for so long because it made him feel good, now a few people were beginning to see the true cost of that decision making. It was staggering how many lives Dumbledore had a hand in ruining.
Harry saw his 'friends' sitting in one of the stands. They were just as bad, in their own ways. Harry spoke with Hermione and Ron less than a dozen times a week now. Harry had finally realized that his desperation for a normal life had led him to make ridiculous compromises. Hermione's take-charge attitude, and insistence on being right, rubbed everyone the wrong way; Harry had just bit down his objections for the past few years to ensure the peace. Really, Ron and Hermione fought too much as it was. Plus, Harry had finally seen some of Hermione's graded essays. She proclaimed herself a genius, but the essays were 'A' or 'EE' work. She wasn't the second coming of Merlin, as she seemed to indicate. She was, however, a gifted self promoter in the vein of Gilderoy Lockhart. After all, she certainly had liked the foppish wizard in their second year.
Ron's jealousy overwhelmed any of his positive characteristics. He'd turned on Harry a few times over the years, mostly for minor issues, but he really melted down this year. The worst of it had come after Harry had been selected by the Goblet of Fire for a third event. "Why do you get everything?" Ron had stated the question two dozen different ways, but that's what he meant. Ron himself had been lucky to get to participate in a single event. Not many fourth years got even one. But Ron didn't see anything except 'Harry's fame' getting him everything he wanted.
"Really, Ron, how does one bedazzle an enchanted cup with his fame? Tell me that." Ron, predictably, hadn't had an answer to that. Nor had he been angry that George got to participate in two events and Fred in one. Or Hermione in two. No, his anger was focused on Harry.
Ginny Weasley became impossible to deal with. Half the time she seemed to moon over Harry; the other half of the time she spent securing little boyfriends for herself. Poor Neville, she'd led him on for a good two months after the Yule Ball they'd attended together. She really had learned viciousness and cruelty from her older brother Percy. Harry didn't even care to spend time in the same common room as her. She used people in vile ways and was totally transparent when she was trying to be sneaky.
Neville, he would miss Neville. The boy was smarter than people thought; braver than he thought himself; and very loyal to those who seemed to deserve it. Maybe Harry should have wised up years earlier to the reasons Neville didn't care much for Hermione or Ron. Smart guy.
Harry realized he'd been zoning out. He started paying attention to the old man at the podium. He'd never heard the man's name before, his speech pattern seemed a bit off, and overall there was just something wrong about him.
"There is no time limit tonight. The first one to capture the Object wins. In one minute, every team may open their first envelope. It contains a clue to the first obstacle they must overcome."
Harry looked down at the envelope that had just appeared in his hand. As interested as he should be in the envelope, he was still considering that crazy old man Cracklepot. There was something there, something important.
Cedric snatched the envelope from Harry's hand since Harry seemed preoccupied. Harry frowned but didn't protest. He'd kicked the asses of everyone on the team and they resented it. Harry had at least managed to be friendly with the Eastern Europeans and the French. The Hogwarts contingent was stuck back in the mode of considering Harry an 'attention seeker.' Harry knew that Ron and Hermione had had more than a little bit to do with encouraging this gossip. Hermione had even been quoted in one of those vile Rita Skeeter articles.
The cannon sounded and Cedric set to ripping open the envelope. The French started running off toward the Owlery. The Durmstrang crew headed into Hogwarts and seemed to be heading for the dungeons. Harry realized that knowing where the opponents were and had been was almost as important as following one's own clues. The final object wouldn't be in a place where they had all gone before, Harry knew that much. It'd also have to be out in plain view of the audience allowing for a possibly dramatic finish between two or more of the teams. Thus, neither the Owlery nor Hogwarts' dungeons held the object.
"Inside the Forbidden Forest, there's a clearing…"
"I know of two," Harry said. "Does the clue give you any more detail?"
"No, just a clearing…"
Great, Harry thought. It's either wrestling with centaurs or killing off acromantulas. Harry shivered a bit.
"Let's start with the closer one," Harry said.
They ran into the Forest and arrived at a surprisingly full clearing. Centaurs. Armed centaurs, bows out and strung for combat. Firenze hadn't been so bad in first year, but the others Harry had come across seemed continually cold and angry. This particular group seemed rather warlike.
"Honored centaurs, teach us what we need to know in order to pass from your lands," Harry said. Hagrid had taught proper methods for addressing centaurs in last year's CoMC class.
"Youngling, there is a challenge you and yours must face before we can assist you."
Great, Harry thought. Centaur torment.
The great beast then proceeded to reel off a half dozen riddles about the planets and their alignments. The answers to the riddles would tell them who possessed the clue to their next destination.
"Worse than Sphinxes," Harry muttered. The only redeeming feature was that Cedric and one other were taking Astronomy NEWTs. Still, they spent twenty minutes going round and round debating the clues.
Finally Harry had enough. "It's gotta be the blond one in the second row," Harry said while the other were continuing to disagree about astronomy details.
"What? How do you know," Cedric asked.
"He keeps fidgeting, like he's nervous. I may not know the stars, boys, but I can read people. Even centaurs."
It took the others five more minutes – wasted minutes, Harry knew – to come to the same conclusion based on the riddles. From there it was off to a small marble pedestal that stood on the shore of the Black Lake.
"Nine Islands of Sin. Three of the Pure Faith. Sin brings pain and danger. Purity brings you closer to the clue. Collect the three boxes of purity for the proper direction…"
"Ah, no," Harry said. "Centaur rubbish, now this is from the merpeople. They want us to travel around to these islands and then we'll be stuck diving down to the bottom of the lake to chat with them, I know it."
Cedric and the other looked severely peeved at how quickly Harry was piecing things together. But Cedric still wouldn't cede leadership of the group. He was three years older after all. He knew better than the 'Boy-Who-Lived.'
It was Harry who got them started on their quest in the lake. He conjured an apple. "It's about the only thing I can conjure now. Any of you able to turn this into a boat?"
They'd gotten so embroiled in the details of which islands to search that none of them had thought about their lack of a sailing vessel.
An hour later, all of them had been lanced, bitten, burned, or otherwise felt the sting of pain. They finally had all three of the Hogwarts boxes. "It's just going to tell us to dive to the bottom, boys. Hop to it."
Cedric growled. He hoped to Merlin it wasn't exactly what Harry just said.
"Come seek us where our voices sound. We have something you'll dearly want."
Cedric was ready to scream. They'd just wasted an hour searching for these clues when Harry had been right the entire time.
Cedric brandished his wand and applied a Bubble-Head to Harry and then himself. He grabbed the smaller boy and threw him in the water. Then he jumped in behind him. Harry didn't bother swearing about being cold or about his clothes being wet. He was swimming straight down to the mer village.
He brandished the note, the merpeople laughed at it, then handed over the next clue. For the rest of the challenge, Harry refused to speak to them. Oh, he ran with them to the Owlery, where the clue pointed, but didn't warn them about what they were likely to find inside or that they could have just flown up the outside of the building with a Levitation Charm. Nor did he even follow behind them when they were told to go to the Hogwarts dungeons and brave a gauntlet of deadly potions and other enchantments.
Harry just left them to it. He saw the French were in the Forest. Durmstrang was on the water.
Interesting. The staging areas were all used it seemed, just the four areas. All of them had the contestants orbitting around this main seating area and the awards stage. Harry smiled. For all the stupid centaurs, and laughing merpeople, and those horrifying creatures in the Owlery, this was the place. The object was in front of him – all of everyone – the entire time. It…it even spoke to everyone gathered here.
Cracklepot, my arse, Harry thought.
He walked up to the podium as the Durmstrang crew made their way to another island – and caused another Blast-Ended Skrewt to attack – on the Black Lake.
Harry pointed his wand at 'Mr. Yerner Cracklepot' and said "Finite Incantatem."
The illusion fell away. In the man's absence was, in fact, a cracked pot. Harry snatched it before it could crash on the stage's wooden slats. He'd just won the TriSchool Tournament and none of his teammates were here. How would that make them look? Harry kept the satisfaction at bay. They'd been trained by Dumbledore to be average, to be morons. Harry really couldn't expect better out of them. Could he?
Durmstrang made it back to the shore looking for their "cracked pot" long before the rest of the Hogwarts crew emerged from the dungeons, looking considerably worse for the wear. They were scowling something fierce – and they only got worse once they realized that Harry had single handedly won the Tournament for Hogwarts an hour and a half earlier. All of their recent pain was for naught.
Harry's only comment after the photographs: "Boys, you need to learn to listen. You're not always the smartest people in the room, alright."
It was too much, Harry knew, to ask them to actually think. Harry had been puzzling over that Cracklepot person ever since the illusion had said his name. If Harry hadn't have been distracted by his teammate's idiocy, the whole final event would have been over in less than an hour. Harry knew better from the very beginning than to go into the Owlery or the dungeons. It was only the Forest and the Lake they had to bother with before Harry would have realized how small a "Questing" area it really was.
The first rule of questing had applied here, even if Harry only recognized it belatedly. He realized that the ending of a quest, almost by definition, had to be at the same place as the beginning of the quest.
Harry had given his formal letter of withdrawal to his Head of House before the final breakfast he'd ever have at Hogwarts. It was a huge black eye to the school. Harry had purposefully failed three classes, beaten decades old records for top performance in four others, gotten a solid 'O' in the other, and been named the Overall Individual Champion of the TriSchool Tournament – as a fourth-year student. He was making Hogwarts look bad, McGonagall shouted at him time and again.
"No, ma'am, you're all handling that fine by yourselves. You don't need my help to do that…"
She was about to assign detention, but realized he'd never complete it.
"No, let me tell you a couple of things, first. You don't listen well. Not to students at least: in my first year, you ignored warnings about the lax safety of the Philosopher's Stone. I have no idea whether you were in on Dumbledore's plans to train me up using little exercises like that, but I do know that you don't listen. You think you know everything. You think Dumbledore knows right from wrong. You are a fine teacher, ma'am, and I've learned a lot from you, but you interact poorly with people. You don't bully them the same way Snape did, but it has a similar effect. I'd suggest you retire and leave these stressful duties to someone younger and with a more even temperament. Take Dumbledore with you when you go. He should have been dispatched decades ago. I suspect he has full-blown dementia, to be honest. But, you won't bother to check. You'll just ignore me again, like you've always done. Have a great life, Professor. I don't expect I'll ever see you again."
Harry walked out of her room while she was still trying to assimilate her very thorough telling off. He walked down to the Great Hall. It really was a fascinating room.
Harry put fruit and a small pile of eggs on his plate. He spent most of the meal chatting with Neville about plants. Neville was excited to return home for the summer. He missed working in his own greenhouse.
Dumbledore tried using his 'sad paternal' stare at Harry during the meal. Harry didn't spare the man a moment's thought. Harry would turn up for the man's funeral in time, but only to ensure he was actually dead. Harry's upbringing had taught him kindness and compassion for those weaker than him (he loathed bullies), but also unyielding will and firmness and contempt in the face of lies, deceptions, and cruelty. It made him harder than any fourteen-year-old should be…but Dumbledore got what he paid for.
Harry skipped the train ride back by taking the thestral-drawn carriages to Hogsmeade and then portkeying home. Black Manor looked completely different inside. The demolition team had finished up months ago and now the finishing squad was putting on the last touches.
It was a marvel of a house. It would be Harry's home for at least the next three years. Harry was looking forward to it.
"Sirius, it's wonderful."
"I'm glad you like it, pup. It'll be finished in a few weeks, really and truly finished. I had an agent find us a place to use in Paris until then. Call it a reward, of sorts. Dumbledore's written more letters about you, not to mention what McGonagall's sent along, than I ever earned in my days as a Marauder. It was truly inspired using their own rules against them once you decided you weren't going back…"
"One can break rules for fun, or for profit. One can also use and follow rules for fun, or for profit. I mix and match to keep people guessing."
Sirius laughed for a solid minute.
"That you do, Harry. That you do. That said, I expect you to get an OWL in Potions, Astronomy, and History. I'm going to be a worst taskmaster than you've ever encountered, Harry…"
Harry laughed now. "Don't worry, Sirius. I read the history book, I know the stars, and I finally got around to teaching myself potions since Snape never bothered."
It was the start of a better life.