The Second Tournament
A/N: Harry didn't really have to fight with a fully grown Dark Lord in the first installment, so I decided to add a bit more onto this story. Enjoy! (Also includes my homages to the mystery/thriller genre and some of my favorite action film motifs: the heist scene and the 'botched ambush,' usually popular in spy movies.)
Here's the Second Tournament, set three years after the first one. Seven new tasks to enjoy. And an actual plotline. More Smart!Observant!Harry with hints of darkness.
Harry Potter loved his life. Currently, he was relaxing at a breakfast table in Trieste. He had nearly two more months to travel and study with his godfather before Sirius had to return to work and Harry head off to school. For the last three weeks, they had been studying with the top warding expert in Italy, a short wizard with more hair coming out of his ears and nose than resided on his head. But Olivetti had a brilliant mind.
The wizard had developed warding techniques – and schemes, but those he shared with no one, every warder worth his salt developed his own schemes – that put the Gringotts goblins to shame. Given his background, Harry was very interested in security of all kinds. Harry was a very diligent student, after all: he'd been learning from tutors and experts for the last three years. These people didn't bother with mollycoddling – they explained what they knew, collected their fees, and left. It was up to Harry to understand, to practice, to learn. It was his money and his life wasted if he didn't.
Harry slugged back the small cup of bitter coffee he'd ordered with breakfast. His body seemed to jolt into life with the warmth and caffeine now flowing through him. He'd enjoyed this summer with Sirius.
He'd enjoyed all of his time with Sirius – that summer after his last year at Hogwarts, they'd spent most of that in France, a bit in Paris but more roaming around the rest of the countryside. They'd taken last summer to explore the United States of America, stopping by various learning opportunities along the way. Who knew they had so many good dueling instructors in America? Harry had studied briefly with three of them. He'd quickly learned their individual styles and incorporated parts of their teachings into his own style. And, now, this summer was a kind of grand tour of Europe. Nonmagical sites and museums, magical teachers for various special topics. Harry was attending a Muggle University soon, but he wasn't going to become soft in his magical knowledge or skills.
Next stop was Rome and a week of food, touring, and visitations to the Vatican's Special Library of Antiquities.
Sirius stumbled out into the kitchen of their rented villa half an hour later. Harry was deeply engrossed in a handwritten book he'd copied (with permission) from his teacher, Olivetti. The volume was probably illegal to possess as it was a thorough breakdown of every ward and weakness that Gringotts Bank possessed. It was practically a manual for breaking into the place without detection and without significant risk. Harry considered everything he read and marveled as how simplistic the actual goblin protections actually were. Their biggest protection, it seemed, was simple fear. People feared goblins, feared the rumors over their sort of magic, feared the thousand years of established goblin reputation, and left it at that. Looking at the book, most witches and wizards would have been better off burying their treasures in their backyards. At least that held a measure of secrecy. If a determined, skilled wizard wanted to break into Gringotts, it wouldn't be hard. That half-wit Quirrell had done it before Harry's first year at Hogwarts; he'd only had Voldemort's spirit to coach him in the exercise.
"Pup? Sirius, drink your coffee. Maybe you'll remember I'm taller than you are now. Nutrient potions are my friend."
"Don't remind me, kiddo. You may be fully grown, but I can still toast your ass in a prank war."
"Very true, Sirius. Your mind is so damn illogical I can't figure out half the things you think up."
Sirius laughed at the backhanded compliment.
"Last day with Olivetti. What do you think he's cooked up," Sirius asked after he finally had some caffeine inside him.
Harry snorted. "He'll probably throw a portkey at us and drop us in the Gringotts in Sofia or Gdansk, tell us to rob the joint. That'd be his style, wouldn't it?"
"Then it would eventually turn out to be just a full-scale model he'd created one year because he was 'bored.'"
Harry nodded. Olivetti was a great and unorthodox teacher. Harry had come to like odd teachers, so long as they actually taught. The tutors Harry had worked with…well, they knew why they were there and who was paying them. They did their jobs.
Harry really did wonder what Olivetti had planned. Harry hoped it would be a dry run sort of exercise. After all, Harry was planning to break into the Vatican's Special Library of Antiquities in just a few days.
The Church couldn't, or wouldn't, admit publicly that its most secret library was a magical one, but that's exactly what they had put together over the centuries: a library filled with books on light magic, druidic practices, mostly forgotten runic structures, long extinct magical creatures. All magics and traditions that the Catholic Church had had some role in destroying. These books had originally been kept as the spoils of cruel victories over the centuries. The Vatican's Special Library held onto books they couldn't even begin to understand. Harry, of course, didn't have an appointment or even permission to use the library. No one ever received permission to visit the library unless he was a cardinal or higher in the church hierarchy. Instead of permission, magic would have to secure him the right to work inside the library, to copy out what he needed. That's why Harry – and Sirius, to a lesser extent – had spent so long honing their skills in warding and wardbreaking.
Very soon, Harry's skills would be put to the test.
The room fell into silence as Sirius began to eat. A barn owl swooped in through the window with a letter tied to his leg. That caught Harry's attention.
"You want to or should I, Sirius?"
Sirius cast three detection spells at the letter before Harry even finished asking. They'd become very cautious in the last years – of necessity. After Harry's departure from Hogwarts, the Daily Prophet had delighted in dragging his name through the mud for three weeks. He'd been called a 'coward,' a 'dark apprentice,' a 'traitor to the British way of life,' a 'stain on the name of Potter,' and an 'embarrassment to all things Light and Good.' More than a hundred resulting howlers later, Harry had been fed up. He turned the whole mess over to a squib lawyer who enjoyed taking wizards down a few pegs. Seven lawsuits later, Harry was able to make a substantial donation to the newly created Press Responsibilities Foundation, the new owner of the Daily Prophet. The old Death Eater-allied owner had been sued into poverty; the Ministry had been thoroughly eviscerated, too, for its back alley links to the paper. Rita Skeeter had been the first vulture fired. Still, letters arrived from time to time with portkeys attached, or dangerous curses, or disgusting potions soaked into the parchment.
It was always better to check before touching.
"It's clean," Sirius said. He'd cast all the standard spells and a few of the ones he'd cooked up with his friend Remus Lupin in the last few years. (Remus, of course, had been hired to oversee the Press Reponsibilities Foundation once he'd returned to Britain after a sort of forced self-exile.)
Harry untied the letter from the owl and fed the animal a few tidbits from Sirius' breakfast plate. The owl gratefully accepted the morsels and then flew off.
Harry flipped the letter over a few times. "It says it's from the International Confederation of Warlocks."
"Hold on, hold on. 'Dear Mr. Potter, As the Overall Individual Champion from the First TriSchool Tournament, I would like to invite you to serve as a judge for the Second TriSchool Tournament. Dates of the events are supplied below. Please send a return owl with your letter of interest or for more information. Regards, Kantor Streeler, Headmaster of Durmstrang School, Host of the Second TriSchool Tournament.'"
"That was unexpected…and abrupt," Sirius said.
"Rather like all the Eastern Europeans I know…"
Sirius began to laugh. "So, you interested in this?"
"Don't know. The first one was the best fun I had all year at Hogwarts. Maybe…oh, no, the dates don't really work very well. I'd have to miss half the events because of school. When I'm at St. John's, I'm living like a muggle. Sure, I'll have my wand strapped to my leg, but I'm not using magic unless it's a last resort. And I won't be taking a portkey to…well, wherever Durmstrang is during my school term."
"Fair enough. Write back and maybe you can judge just one event or the ones you'll be on break for, kiddo."
Harry smiled. It wasn't a half bad idea. Maybe he might run across some of the old Hogwarts crew. Might be interesting to see how the years had changed things? Could he be real friends with Hermione or Ron – or would they always fit into that elusive 'school friends' category. People he'd been forced to associate with out of chance and circumstance, but not out of shared interests and passions. Harry didn't know.
It had been ridiculously easy to enter the famed secret library of the Vatican. It was hidden deep underground, sure, but it wasn't warded or anything. And no ordinary locks could keep out wizards, not even electronic locks. And video cameras could be, apparently, confounded. Harry and Sirius came in late at night, performed a Fidelius Charm on the place, and then set to work. They had a week in Rome and they really only wanted to spend a few days at most on the library issue.
Harry set to creating magical copies of all the useful books, scrolls, and manuscripts. Sirius began casting spells of all sorts to determine if the Vatican had any magical protections on it at all. Sirius had to extend the magical detection charm to a radius of seven miles before he detected anything at all…
"That's really odd, Harry. Since they obviously know of the existence of witches and wizards, you'd think they'd have some magic protections in place."
Harry shrugged. "Intolerance can overwhelm logic any day of the week, Sirius."
Sirius frowned a bit.
They apparated in and out of the library whenever they needed to. They spent four four-hour sessions copying everything they needed. And when Harry and Sirius left for the last time, the removed the Fidelius. They left no sign at all that they had been inside the Vatican.
But the secret about what the Vatican held began to spread. Odd books thought lost long ago began to pop up in odd places. The British Library – Wizarding Section received quite a substantial crate. The books were obviously copies, or copies of copies, but they were genuine. Eight hundred years worth of precious, rare books thought destroyed. A papyrus scroll that the 'Church' had stolen from wizards in Egypt three hundred years ago. There were tons of odd things in the box. None of them would be released for public viewing for many years until they were all properly cataloged and duplicated. These 'originals' would be stored in temperature and humidity controlled vaults far below the main floor of the library. They were a secret for now.
Still, rumors broke out and people began to connect the dots.
"Velcome to ze Second TriSchool Tournament. Ve here at Durmstrang are most proud to play host to zis grand magical contest. Today, ze first task. Ze Goblin Nation and Gringotts Bank have sponsored a most tremendous event. Each of ze sixty contestants will be given a chance to penetrate a simulated Gringotts Bank – to rob it…"
Sirius snorted. "Trust Durmstrang to structure events around committing crimes, right, kiddo?"
"Pot. Kettle. Black. Sirius Black, seriously, your mouth will get you into trouble one of these days."
Sirius shut his mouth and the Headmaster of Durmstrang continued his opening remarks. Harry smiled inside. Trust Sirius to forget that they had just broken into the Vatican a few weeks earlier and copied an entire library's worth of books. Oh, and sent some to various wizarding libraries across the globe to get people talking about what the Vatican might have done. That was high-level pranking. Who knew exactly what kind of chaos it could unleash?
"…today's event will be judged by three senior goblins from Gringott's Bank. Each subsequent event will be judged by three members of the sponsoring organization save for the finale. Our final event in late May will be judged by three competitors in the First TriSchool Tournament: Viktor Krum, Fleur Delacour, and Harry Potter, the Overall Individual Champion. But, for today, let us watch as the contestants enter the field. The event is not timed, but more and more reinforcements will arrive the longer the contestants take to complete the task."
Harry smiled when he saw the empty stadium floor ripple from emptiness into a model bank in front of their eyes. It was an impressive piece of showmanship. The model looked like the exterior of a Gringotts, but Harry could quickly tell it was far more secure than the typical Gringotts was. (It also had sixty sets of doors carved into its front.) The wards here were fresh and well reinforced.
This knowledge gave Harry an unfair advantage in assessing this task, of course. Harry had learned aura reading and silent magical detection charms from a witch in Bucharest: a very useful skill. Had the goblins known what exactly Harry Potter was capable of doing, they would have summarily banned him from ever entering a Gringotts.
A cannon sounded and all the contestants opened their doors leading into darkened Gringotts corridors. Screens similar to what had been used in the first tournament popped up. Harry decided to follow Ginny Weasley into the bank.
She made it two steps into the building before some invisible force stopped her cold. Her wand was out in a second and she was casting. Harry recognized all of her basic ward diagnostic charms. She was making a good start on the challenge. Perhaps her older brother Bill had given her some lessons in cursebreaking over the holidays.
Five minutes later, she was still analyzing the wards. Harry quickly surveyed the other contestants. No one else had yet broken through. Sirius was muttering to himself. It sounded to Harry like his godfather was plotting out which ward busters he'd use and in what order.
Harry didn't think the challenge was fair at all. He knew for a fact that Gringotts didn't use these kinds of wards in their lobbies. Goblins were fierce creatures, but they were also lazy and given to flights of fancy. No goblin ever imagined that a 'dumb brute of a wizard' would ever dare to steal from his bank.
This challenge, ergh, it was making Harry a bit angry. It could certainly be an amusing challenge, but it wasn't an accurate portrayal of what breaking into Gringotts would actually be like…
Oh, that was interesting. It wasn't at all accurate, come to think about it. And Gringotts was sponsoring the event. Why were they presenting this image of their bank?
Harry tapped Sirius on the shoulder as the other man was watching contestants try to batter down the wards. Harry whispered, "It's a publicity stunt, Sirius. Tomorrow every newspaper in the world will carry this story. It'll prove how impregnable Gringotts is…they don't even use wards like those. They were cast by humans and Gringotts never uses humans to ward its own banks."
Harry nodded. His eyes flicked back to the viewers quickly. Something was happening in Ginny's versions of Gringotts.
The wards had come down. Maybe Harry had missed it, but Ginny hadn't been attacking them with anything strong enough to cause that to happen. Harry then glanced at the other viewers. All the contestants were now free to move forward. This had been planned. None of them had actually used the right sort of magic to make the wards fall, that was positively dishonest now – was the whole event scripted out like this? It seemed less like a challenge than a special sort of amusement park ride… The TriSchool was supposed to be a contest, not a staged amusement.
Harry muffled his anger and watched the screen. He watched Ginny carefully move through the dark corridor. She knew that something was odd about the situation…and that's when the club came down and nearly killed her.
She cast a bludgeoner at the troll's club before he could try to attack her a second time. The long, wooden shaft exploded, planting a number of wood shards right into the troll's thick skin. Good for her. (Harry found he could be more just with his former friends now that he had a lot of distance from them.)
Then she found herself clutched in the troll's hands. It looked like it was going to pound her into a marble wall. In the nick of time, she threw a stinging hex at the troll's eyes. It dropped her, howling all the while. The she summoned a set of brass scales from the side of the room. As it reached her, she ended the spell and then banished the heavy contraption at the troll's head. It missed a direct hit, but it did drive a cut straight through the troll's flesh. She tried again. Boom. It was down for the count.
Harry smiled. A good fight with a troll brought back some memories that weren't bad ones. Harry's wand stuck in a troll's nose. Ah, those were the innocent days, a misspent youth.
He quickly looked over the other monitors. A number of the contestants were down, with goblins and humans corralling the troll. Harry then watched as Ginny Weasley collected herself and continued down the dark corridor. Harry could tell there were wards ahead. But Ginny wasn't casting. And she walked right across them, triggering the wards. From just ahead of her position, loud clicks – and then a lot of clicking – filled the air. Two doors had opened and two acromantulas were now standing in front of Ginny, each deciding how to make the petite redhead into its next meal.
They weren't terribly large, not as big as Aragog had been, for sure. But there were two of them which would complicate matters. She tried a Fire spell. One of the beasts squealed in pain, but the other one leapt at Ginny. She tried to roll out of the way, but the beast managed to shove a leg down on Ginny's knee cap apparently wounding her, possibly breaking her knee. She wailed in pain before she shot a piercing curse at the spider's unprotected belly. Thick black ichor began spewing from its dying body. It seemed to cause Ginny even more pain once it touched her skin.
"That's horrible," Sirius said, watching the same screen. "She'll have to stop now."
Harry nodded. He looked away when he saw that Ginny was being tended to by a team of wizards.
He looked at the other screens. There were still four people in the running. All of them arrived at their vaults at approximately the same time. All four began launching spells against the vault doors.
"That's stupid," Harry muttered. "If it were me, I'd be casting some analysis spells. Sure it looks relatively undefended, but the goblins have stacked the deck…"
Sure enough, wards crackled to life in front of the doors. This Harry had expected. He knew that the primary Gringotts defenses were centered on the vaults – specifically on the vault doors. Attacking the doors, or any area close to the doors, was precisely what was needed to power up the defenses. The competitors had all behaved stupidly.
"Doesn't anyone learn not to attack something straight on? Can't anyone figure out weaknesses?"
Sirius shrugged. It was obviously one of Harry's more common complaints.
This was the part of the event Harry had been waiting for and it was surprisingly disappointing. Two of the competitors were now immobilized by the wards; one was so strongly confounded he believed that magical radishes were attacking him as he screamed; the fourth has stopped momentarily to figure out what he could do. He turned and cast a powerful bludgeoner against the wall several feet from the vault door. A massive gash appeared and pebbles and rock dust rained down everywhere. He kept on casting. Four hits, five hits, six hits. He was through. The hole wasn't big, but there was a hole. Then he peered inside the hole. He was searching out the small bag of gold he had to retrieve from the vault to receive full points for the event.
That was a mistake, it seemed. The vault door opened and seven armed goblin guards poured out. One of them slashed at the boy's hand so that he dropped his wand. That was it. The challenge was over.
"Totally unbelievable. Complete publicity stunt, I knew it, Sirius…"
"Maybe you shouldn't attend the rest of these, Harry. They are partially designed for entertainment value. And it's not as if the goblins would actually show people how easy it might be to break into Gringotts. Of course they made it more challenging for this public event…"
"But the real thing is plenty challenging to someone who isn't a trained curse- and wardbreaker. They have dragons in there – okay, they're a bit old and infirm, the ones I've seen near the Potter vault – but dragons are tough. And they don't have goblin guards inside the vaults…and they don't use acromantulas at all…and only a few branches use trolls inside the buildings…"
"Harry, pup, calm down. It's not real. They shouldn't have said it was. Take it in the spirit intended…"
"But… Aahh! Fine. I'll calm down. I wonder if it's too late to back out as a judge for the seventh event?"
"Oh, no, Harry…"
"What now, Sirius?"
"Reading the paper after the TriSchool yesterday…"
"And what accurate, but highly critical things did Remus permit them to print?"
Sirius laughed for a moment, but his face fell somber again. "Every contestant was injured in some way. Four contestants are still in comas. Seven had to have bones removed and regrown. Two-thirds seem to have some kind of severe laceration. Three have the symptoms of acromantula poisoning… It's a debacle. The paper is calling for the whole thing to be called off…"
"Good. They added in fake danger when the real stuff was just as interesting. Next Durmstrang'll set up contestants to wrestle nude with a Dementor, a Manticore, and a banshee."
"I heard a joke about a banshee and a Dementor, once, I think, kiddo…"
Harry wasn't paying attention to Sirius' attempts to distract him. "Who ever thought they could be trusted to run something like this properly, anyway?"
"Fine. Anything else of interest?"
"Yeah. Someone broke into Nurmengard and broke out Gellert Grindelwald…"
"Yeah, with all the attention on the first task, some dark wizards broke into the ICW prison in Germany."
"Why would someone want Grindelwald? Isn't he a hundred fifty years old? Not exactly a spring chicken."
"He still has a mind. May not be much of a fighter after nearly sixty years in a cell, but he can train other witches and wizards…"
Harry sighed. He had so looked forward to this Second TriSchool Tournament, but everything about it seemed wrong now.
"I don't suppose any of the magical governments know anything? The ICW?"
"If they do, they're not saying anything publicly. But I've heard rumors about a new Dark Lord calling himself Voss. He's out of Austria, I think."
Harry nodded. He'd seen some of the same reports. "Right, I remember. I think I read one item that said Voss claimed he was Grindelwald's grandson…"
"Oh," Sirius said. "That might explain the assault on the prison then."
Harry wasn't able to attend the second task. The public media's demands that the TriSchool Tournament be canceled died out after the ICW seemed unmovable on the topic. Even the Daily Prophet knew a losing proposition.
Harry's reason for not attending, at least the one he shared with his godfather, was that classes had just started at St. John's, Oxford, and Harry was beginning to meet and greet his fellow students. His animosity toward the new incarnation of the event went deeper, though. He wasn't sure he would have wanted to attend even had the dates worked out. There was something wrong with the Tournament. It was unlucky…or maybe even cursed in some fashion.
Nonetheless, he did receive a full report from Sirius, who certainly had attended.
"Harry, you missed a good one. As you guessed, Durmstrang set the rules for all the event sponsors to design by, so they're using a lot less logic challenges this time and more brute force and open warfare. Given the bloody nature of this bloody school, I guess it makes sense. They've never been accused to being subtle.
"This challenge was a bit like the giant challenge from the first TriSchool. One of those 'start at point A and get to point B' and 'don't trip over the monsters'. Except there were no giants this time. Nope: snakes! Lots and lots of snakes. You'd have probably gotten a headache from all the hissing going on, given your gift with the snake language. They'd created some kind of ancient Egyptian looking snake pit. I saw boomslang, runespoors, tons of non-magical snakes, even an occamy or four. No basilisks, thankfully.
"The funniest part was when the announcer – their bizarre Headmaster again – explained that the idea had been lifted from some Muggle movie. Kentucky Jones or something like it. Have you ever seen it? Oh well, the contest was brutal. Only eight of the sixty made it across, some of them were even bitten in the process. The occamy are quite vicious if provoked, as more than a few people discovered.
"Ron Weasley was bitten within the first two minutes, no points. He was barely off the starting podium. Neville Longbottom was one of the people who made it across – still, he had a bite or three – earned a full fifty points. A youngster named Colin Creevey managed to fend off an attack by an occamy – quite impressive – before he got bitten by a boomslang. Hogwarts overall is in second place right now. Surprisingly, Beauxbatons is winning. Apparently their Care of Magical Creatures teacher is a fanatic about snakes. Six of the eight to complete the task were from that school.
"The task was brutal by any measure, but it seemed in line with the previous Tournament. I'm not sure if your concern is merited, Harry. Obviously Durmstrang has given the whole thing a darker, rougher flavor. But I suspect it may not be the complete disaster you were expecting. Who knows, though, I'd probably have lost the entire Black fortune on a stupid wager if I didn't have you around to knock some sense into me from time to time. Keep your worrying on a low simmer, kiddo.
"I bought you a souvenir from one of the vendors. It's a runespoor 'plushie.' It made me smile. Some enterprising chaps went out as soon as the task was announced and began transfiguring things to sell. They had occamy and boomslang, too, but nothing is more impressive than a three-headed snake. Have a great day, Harry, and enjoy the Muggle life. See you for vacation soon enough!"
Harry shook his head at the report. He was glad he wasn't participating in this incarnation of the TriSchool Tournament. He thought Sirius was giving the Dumstrang designers a bit of an unfair 'pass' for creating something wrong or evil. Harry's concern was definitely on a full simmer. The way things looked now, the seventh task would have the contestants trying to kill a Kraken with their bare hands or some such rubbish. Harry much preferred the more intellectual tenor of the tasks from the First Tournament. Harry wouldn't have been able to get hundreds or thousands of snakes to kill each other, as he had decided he could have done to defeat the giants in the first task. This version of the challenge would have required Harry use a lot of wand work and slaughter a lot of snakes. For all the similarities Sirius drew between the snakes and the giants, Harry knew it was a vastly different challenge.
He walked over to his desk and tucked the letter into a specially locked drawer in his desk. He had magically expanded it and kept anything related to magic inside it: Sirius' letters, some of the books he'd liberated from the Vatican, a sack of gold galleons, and various other items Harry wanted to keep on hand.
He sighed and picked up his assigned reading for the week. He was reading Economics and Management at St. John's College, Oxford. Harry did, after all, have to learn to put the Potter Estate back in order. Muggles had much better ideas about things like that than wizards or goblins. Both of those classes seemed to prefer stashing gold in underground vaults. Hadn't anyone heard of compound interest or holding shares in publicly traded companies?
But the reading was more than a touch dry. He'd performed very well on his A-levels in four subjects. He knew he needed this particular course more than any other in the Muggle world, but he was regretting not studying something a bit more entertaining.
At least he only had Muggle schooling to finish. That was something.
Harry was actually a fully qualified wizard now. He'd passed ten OWL subjects when he was barely fifteen and ten NEWTs subjects when he was sixteen. He'd scored strongly on his Muggle O- and A-levels. He'd taken the O- levels on schedule and the A-levels a year ahead of schedule. He'd done well enough that he'd been admitted to St. John's a year earlier than normal (he was seventeen) based on his grade reports, interview, and application alone – even with his status as a home-schooled student. No wizard did any memory tricks to get Harry admitted.
He plopped down into his desk chair and tried to puzzle over the reading. Why did economists write in such a dry manner? It was interesting stuff they were discussing, but the encapsulation of their ideas into language was almost impossibly gritty in his mind. He couldn't easily digest this stuff.
Harry and Sirius arrived on a blustery morning in early December to the site of the third task. Sirius had spent almost a solid week talking Harry into attending. Harry finally gave in because his godfather could be the most annoying person in the world when he wanted to be. It was only a few hours of his life, right? Plus, now Harry had something on Sirius. That was how they played life.
Harry looked at the location and saw how prominent a place the lake had. It reminded him of paddling around on the Black Lake during the final task in his last year at Hogwarts. Why did they schedule a water task for the dead of winter? Cruel bastards.
They made it into the stands before Harry made his first unpleasant discovery of the morning.
"Malfoy! What's Lucius Malfoy doing here?"
"Parole. It was in the papers two weeks ago…"
"He raped and murdered for a lunatic and he only got three years in prison?"
"Minister Diggory put in a plea for clemency with the ICW officials…"
Harry hated politics. It turned even intelligent minds into simpering mush. Diggory had, by all accounts, once been a kind and decent fellow (better than his son Cedric at least). "How much of a bribe did Diggory take?"
"That was the first question I asked too."
"Snape's on parole, a couple others, too. The old Voldemort gang, apparently, what's left of it at least."
"Don't tell me Snape's back teaching at Hogwarts?"
"Not even Dumbledore would risk that given the man has spent three years in prison. Dumbledore's not a bright chap (book smarts count for little in my book, kiddo), but he's not completely stupid."
"Grindelwald's out of prison; these Death Eater morons, too, semi-legally. Someone's up to something."
Sirius just nodded. "It does look suspicious, I'll give you that."
Harry just frowned.
Sirius was quiet for a moment before he said, "Something high profile like this event just screams to be attacked."
Before he and Sirius could continue their conversation, the Durmstrang Headmaster began to speak from a small podium near to the lake. "Velcome to Bulgaria's Dead Lake, ze site of today's third task. Ze Society fur Darkness has created a most … challenging event. There are two hundred chests sunk in ze lake. Twenty of them contain statues. The first twenty contestants to bring statues to the lake shore win. There is no time limit. In addition to the lake's natural inhabitants, the Society fur Darkness has supplied a number of other amusing distractions…"
Harry's eyes were wide open. What kind of a place was Durmstrang – he still hadn't seen the school itself, as all the events had been held off the school ground but within a hundred miles of the place – where the Headmaster was such a cruel piece of work? And having something called the Society for Darkness sponsor the event? That seemed like an impending disaster.
Sirius was looking out at the Dead Lake. "Those aren't logs, Harry…"
Not logs? "You mean they filled the lake with Dugbogs? Damned things look like logs, but they have sharp claws and teeth. Utterly vicious."
Sirius looked a bit pale when he agreed.
"That lake is going to be red by the time we're done with this event, I think."
"I wonder why it's called the Dead Lake," Sirius asked.
"Probably filled with inferi…" Harry stopped speaking and felt some horror.
"Merlin, Harry, it probably is filled with inferi. How can you attack one underwater?"
"Where the hell did they come from in the first place, Sirius?"
"At some point someone from Durmstrang was probably involved."
Harry felt the chills of unease wash over him as he thought about what sixty students were about to face. It was beyond inhuman to send people into inferi-infested water. Who in their right mind approved this debacle?
The cannon sounded and the students walked into the lake before Harry could think about lodging a formal protest. Inferi were banned under ICW treaties and conventions; they couldn't be used in any ICW-sponsored contest or event.
Dozens of wizards on brooms zoomed out over the lake to keep an eye on the contestants. It was a dangerous challenge and they didn't want anyone to be irreparably harmed. Harry sighed and slumped back into the stone bench he had been allocated.
"This is going to be a disaster…"
Harry couldn't finish the thought before the first wizard dove toward the lake. When he flew off, he carried the semi-limp body of a student.
"It already is a disaster," Sirius finished the thought.
The pair watched as student after student was hauled from the lake. Blood poured from some of them. Others were obviously missing limbs. The flying wizards were performing emergency field healing.
"Can they regrow a hand?"
Sirius shrugged. Healing magic wasn't something he'd ever studied.
Harry and Sirius watched as another Hogwarts student was pulled from the Dead Lake when the second unpleasant surprise reared its head. Bright blasts of energy erupted from several places near the lake and viewing area. The Headmaster dove to the ground and only barely missed having a hole punched through his chest. Three of the flying witches and wizards were attacked as well – one was hit with something and fell into the lake.
It took Harry and Sirius only moments to stand and begin casting. This attack obviously wasn't part of the challenge, was it?
"Accio invisibility cloaks," Harry shouted.
"Finite," Sirius began shouting.
Two cloaks rippled through the air. Sirius kept trying to pinpoint where the other attackers were located. The still-disillusioned ones continued firing which helped Sirius and the few other competent witches and wizards in the audience to locate them.
Harry took down one of the ones who'd been wearing a cloak. He pivoted to cast again, only to see a spell headed straight for him or Sirius. He shot the most powerful, borderline countercurse he knew. It impacted with the spell and sent it careening back towards its original caster. Within moments, the attacker lay dead from his own redirected curse.
Slowly but surely the other attackers were located, robbed of their invisibility, and then cursed. Only when one attacker remained standing did the official guards for the event get their acts together and begin casting spells.
Harry and Sirius ran onto the grounds. Harry ran toward the lake to see if he could help the wizard who'd been knocked from his broom. He looked for anyone on the surface of the lake, but there were too many damned Dugbogs on the surface. Harry realized he didn't need to stand at the lake to help. He saw where the man's broom had landed and he summoned it.
Up in the air, he noticed all the other wizards on brooms had basically stopped doing their jobs. What a recipe for calamity. He saw two people floating on the surface of the lake. Harry didn't have time to waste. He summoned one, caught him, and put a levitation charm on him. Then he repeated the step. Why was no one else helping? Were the other wizards on brooms incapable of thinking in the midst of chaos? People could be dying.
Harry flew toward the ground, toward the medical pavilion, with his two 'patients.' "Help them," Harry shouted when his feet hit the dirt.
It took a few seconds before Harry saw anyone start moving his way. He'd never been so glad of assistance in his life.
The healers started in on the two people Harry had rescued from the lake. One was a Beauxbatons student; the other was the downed wizard. Both of them were predicted to survive.
Harry took back to the skies to search out anyone else. It seemed a few of the other wizards on brooms had gotten over their shock. They were actively searching for people at the surface of the lake too.
Harry was so scared for the people who had been hurt – and so angry this task was happening and that an attack on the event had nearly been successful – that he didn't come out of the air until the last child was out of the water. No one found a hidden statue.
There was a kelpie in the water – not as large as the Loch Ness monster, but close – and a juvenile, fifteen foot sea serpent. Harry got angrier as he listened to the reports of the students who were being tended by the medi-witches.
Sirius eventually bundled Harry up after his questioning by the local guards – who'd wanted to hold him for killing someone – and the ICW officials – who commended Harry on his quick thinking. Harry was already composing a most scathing letter over this whole misbegotten attempt to resurrect the TriSchool Tournament. Harry wanted the Durmstrang Headmaster fired for his role in this disgusting creation.
Harry was back into politics, back in the papers, back in the public eye. Like it or not, Harry Potter was back into his 'saving people thing.'
Harry boycotted the next event. Even Sirius did, although he thought long and hard about it. From what the newspaper accounts said, Beauxbatons and Hogwarts had difficult times finding twenty students of any age willing to participate in the next event.
One student, whose name Harry didn't recognize, had been quoted as saying, "None of us particularly want to have our bones ground to make some giant his bread. These tasks are getting worse; they're impossible; why did Headmaster Dumbledore agree to bring us here? I miss the castle. I miss a normal school year!"
The ICW stepped in enough to take over security as they had done for the first tournament years earlier. Of course, that was one step far too late. They had also launched an investigation into the event design – and overall event security. Harry knew that "investigations" were where true actions went to be buried. There'd be a commission of importantly named wizards formed, a report of some sort, probably issued just after the whole tournament was over, and then nothing would happen with the commission recommendations. Although politicians would point to it to say something had been done – as if paper and bureaucracy could kill a dark lord or stop an assassination attempt. Harry knew it was a roughly pointless political exercise.
Why did all politicians act the same everywhere? Commuting life sentences of former Death Eaters; refusing to take swift action on an imminent crisis; acting just like Britain's government had during Voldemort's first reign and his attempt to regain a body. Dark lord should be simple to handle: stop them early before they can amass a large support base and a wealth of resources. How come they always seemed to be given free reign?
Harry's written refusal to judge the seventh event had been interpreted by that insane Durmstrang Headmaster to be an invitation for negotiation. "No means no," was the entirety of Harry's last note. He even supplied the Daily Prophet with a copy of his first letter withdrawing his participation as a judge in the Tournament given the nature of the first three tasks. They published it with great fanfare on the third page of the paper, along with an editorial calling for Hogwarts to withdraw from this ill-begotten contest.
The problem was that, in the wizarding world, very few respected the word "no."
Harry Potter was back for his Hilary Term at St. John's before he finally saw an account of the fourth task. From the published description, it didn't sound too horrible. Sirius had sent along a clipping, as Harry didn't take the Prophet when he was in school, and it wasn't complimentary but it seemed a fair assessment.
"Fourth Challenge of the TriSchool Tournament Completed with Minimal Injuries
"Unlike the vastly controversial third task of the TriSchool Tournament that was attacked by dark wizards, the fourth task, held today inside Durmstrang Castle in the Czech Republic, was a more sedate, although still dangerous affair. Contestants were told to surrender their wands and then were each locked inside dungeon closets with a single cauldron and a selection of unlabeled potions ingredients. Each contestant was given one hour to escape from their holding cells using only their knowledge and the potion(s) they could brew in that time.
"Several contestants were injured when their cauldrons prematurely exploded. All of them are expected to fully heal. Miss Hermione Granger of Hogwarts was the overall event winner, with a time of forty-seven minutes, twelve seconds. She received forty-three points, the bulk of her deduction coming from the loss of most of her hair during the explosion she caused that blew away her dungeon cell's door. She hadn't shielded herself adequately from injury, the judges decided.
"The event was sponsored by the Worldwide Society of Potions Masters. Its current head, Vargos Thoth, was one of the three event judges. Following the event he said only, 'We designed an event appropriate for dunderheads. Most students can only manage to mangle potions, so we decided to reward incompetence by making the goal of the task a potion the dissolves wood, explodes, or otherwise does significant damage to a potions brewing room. We were not amused that so many contestants managed to escape, unscathed, from their brewing chambers.'"
Harry laughed at the Thoth man's quotation. He briefly wondered if Severus Snape had taken on a pseudonym as it rather sounded like what his old Potions teacher might have said.
In less pleasant news, Sirius also forwarded Harry yet another letter from Kantor Streeler, Durmstrang's Headmaster. "Dear Mr. Potter, To assuage your fears and concerns about the final task, I would be willing to give you and any other judge who requests it a guided tour of the seventh task on the day prior to the event. You may inspect it for safety and make your final decision at that time. I respect your right to withdraw from judging the competition if you can make an honest determination of its unsafe nature – but only if you make the determination based on actual facts. Cordially, Kantor Streeler."
Harry sighed. It was a halfway persuasive argument. But Harry felt something wrong in that Streeler person. It wasn't just that Streeler's school taught Dark Arts – and that Streeler himself had held the position of the Dark Arts Professor before his elevation to Headmaster – no, there was something else.
Most people thought Streeler had been one of the intended victims of the attack on the third task. But Harry wasn't convinced. Especially when the captured and the dead wizard turned out to be low-level thugs from the Austrian underworld. Not the Dark Lord Voss's people…but somehow related.
The current theory Sirius outlined in his letter was that the attackers had been subjected to the Imperius Curse and ordered onto suicide missions. There was no way four wizards could hope to attack and escape from a location with a thousand or more adult wizards in attendance. Even if only one or two percent of them fought back it was overwhelming odds (and, to the shame of most attendees, only nineteen of the thousand-plus attendees actually did anything during the confusing battle). Was this Voss' way of testing security? Sending expendable thugs in to see what the reaction was? It had given him a lot of information for very little cost to his side.
The more interesting question to Harry mind was, why would a dark wizard like Voss attempt to kill the Headmaster of a school like Durmstrang? Was it philosophical – or a political statement of power and will ("I can get anyone anywhere") – or had the Headmaster once been involved with Voss and turned traitor, like another Durmstrang headmaster from the past? Or was it just a misaimed shot? Even people under the Imperius Curse could fight the effect from moment to moment.
Harry wrote Sirius a three page letter and agreed to meet his godfather the next weekend in Oxford. He also promised he was still reading about – but not practicing – magic while he was in school. It was like a fourth subject as Harry was gearing up for his Prelimary Examination in Economics and Management. (It would cover his first year subjects of beginning economics, beginning management, and the fundamentals of statistics.) He had to pass his prelims, a painful university wide set of 'public examinations,' at the end of the year or he wouldn't be permitted to continue in his University studies. Do or die.
Harry began writing up his first essay due this week (two a week tutorials with their two a week essays wasn't as easy as it had sounded). He was doing a profile of a business for his management course, dissecting it into bits as his tutor had instructed him. It didn't hurt that the Potter Estate owned a small chunk of the business and Harry was using his University course to learn more and more about his own holdings.
When he finished writing the essay later that evening, Harry was rather impressed with the company. It was a diamond mining firm out of Australia, with a rather forceful marketing and sales arm. It was a surprisingly good investment and seemed, based on the Oxford prescribed analysis techniques, like it was well managed.
Sirius was going to be back in town tomorrow so Harry was in town doing some marketing. How his godfather could seem to eat his weight in food every day, Harry didn't know. It was the fourth week of January and the snow was dirty and gross under Harry's feet.
It sure kept Harry busy when Sirius would come for a visit on weekends. They'd explore the countryside together. They'd been to Stratford once and seen a Royal Shakespeare Theatre production. In a few weeks they were looking at a trip to the Cotswolds. Maybe another to the Lake District after that. Harry didn't think it strange that his godfather was also his best friend. They were both around the same mental age, even if Sirius was as old as his father and mother, had they survived.
Harry passed near Carfax in the center of Oxford when he noticed that he was being followed. Harry stretched out his magic and realized his pursuers were magical. Harry stopped to briefly admire a window display before he ducked into the mall on the pedestrian-only stretch of Oxford's main road. He immediately headed for the restroom. He stepped inside, tucked himself into a corner, and pulled his wand from its leg holster. He cast a powerful "Notice-Me-Not" charm. A few seconds later, two mulish-looking wizards entered the room and began looking around. One started kicking in the doors to the stalls. The other stood guard over the doorway.
"You sure the Potter kid came in here?"
A grunt was the only response. Harry waited for the pair to let their guard down before he struck. They were standing next to each other finally, whispering furiously at each other in a language Harry didn't understand. Harry cast a wide area stunning ward at the pair of them. They crashed into each other before falling to the floor in a heap.
Harry warded the doorway with a Muggle repelling charm before he turned to his would-be attackers. He quickly removed their three wands apiece from them, their portkeys, and a few devices Harry couldn't identify. They had been determined to do something to Harry. Kill him? Kidnap him? Drug him somehow?
Harry didn't know what their plan was, but he was determined to find out. He bound each one magically and erected several anti-transportation wards. He shot a truth telling compulsion at both men. Perhaps it would help with the interrogation Harry needed to do. Harry wanted answers.
He woke the shorter man. Harry's wand was at the neck of the man's partner. "One lie and I decapitate him, wizard. Then I begin removing your hands, arms, and legs until you tell me the truth. No lying to me!"
The man seemed groggy but nodded his head.
"My father was. My mother was from Bulgaria."
"Why are you here?"
"For you, Potter."
"To do what to me?"
"To take you alive to my master."
"Who is that?"
"The Dark Lord. Voss, the Dark Lord Voss."
Dark lords were a bit of a Potter/Black specialty. It was an informal designation dark wizards liked to take once they felt they merited the extreme level of attention it would bring. Most liked to mark their followers to reward them and to keep them tethered to their master. One couldn't easily reenter proper society if one was bearing a magical dark mark, bribery of government official excepted.
"Do you bear his mark?"
The man nodded. His head tipped down to his chest. Harry ripped the man's shirt open. There, carved into the man's skin, was an eagle with a wand in one claw and a severed head clutched in the other.
"All who follow Voss have similar marks?"
"I don't know."
Harry was amazed at how calm he felt even as he had just fought for his life and was now interrogating two wizards with far more experience than he possessed. He figured he'd collapse into a nervous wreck after this was all over; he hoped he would last until this was all over.
Harry stood up and returned to the other wizard. He pushed his wand into the man's neck and began to say the Cutting Curse.
"No, no, stop. I'll tell you. Everyone I know who works for Voss has this mark. But he may have others who work for him without it. Supporters who are not among his Dark Forces…"
"And what did this Voss plan for me?"
"I don't know. You were one of four targets today, I do know that. Two in England, one in France, one in Italy."
"Because all of the Aurors and guards are in Germany today for the TriSchool Tournament…"
Harry sighed. Of course. He'd freed Grindelwald during the first event. Attacked the third event. Now he was using the fifth event for a different sort of cover. This Voss person was surprisingly adept.
He'd caused havoc at that event and then all the security forces descended on the tournament for future events, leaving Europe surprisingly untended. It was a brilliant piece of strategy. Harry decided then that this Voss person was dangerous, not for the attempt on his life today, but for the plan he'd laid out – and made work – even under the noses of all the investigative forces in Europe. One with that kind of mind, a chess player's mind, was not to be readily dismissed. He was using human nature against his adversaries; attack a weakness, others move to defend it, leaving only greater weaknesses to exploit. Voss was a thinker.
"Where were you to take me?"
"The portkeys were set for someplace in Austria, one of the Dark Lord's safehouses, I think…"
"And who were the other targets?"
"I only know your name, Potter. The other teams were briefed directly by the Dark Lord. I heard the other locations from a piece of gossip before we all left. The Lord's portkey creator was talking about his early morning's work."
Harry sighed. With only that kind of information, Harry couldn't do anything to stop the other attacks.
"What does this Dark Lord look like?"
"I've never seen his face. He wears a cloak with special powers. His face is continually shadowed."
"How old is he?"
"I don't know."
"What do you know of him?"
"I came to serve him because my father was loyal to his grandfather. He recruited me away from my work at Gringotts in Athens via owl and a personal meeting in a house in Albania."
"What did you do for Gringotts?"
"I was a cursebreaker for many years before I started to train their new cursebreakers. Many ancient Greek sites are inaccessible because of the strong magics still in place on them…"
This wasn't good.
"What does your companion do?"
"He worked for many years as an Auror in Poland. He serves as the Dark Lord's security chief now."
No, definitely not good. The Dark Lord's supporters weren't stupid, wealthy pureblood dilettantes. They were men with training, men who could train up even green recruits. This was very bad. Harry had caught them only because he had more training than anyone knew about. He'd lured them into an ambush. But an average witch or wizard wouldn't have been able to pull this off.
"How did you know I was in Britain? In Oxford?"
Harry had kept that fact out of the media. The only witch or wizard who knew was Sirius Black.
"The Dark Lord had his supporters tag you with a tracer – a chemical, not a spell – at one of the TriSchool events…"
Shit. Harry had of course tested himself and Sirius for every kind of tracing spell. But neither had considered more non-magical methods. This meant it wasn't safe for Harry to be in Oxford any longer. He'd have to withdraw from school until he could make sure this Dark Lord wasn't going to be a further problem…
Harry couldn't endanger his fellow students. More wizards would come looking for Harry. Many people could perish. Harry wouldn't have that on his conscience.
Harry continued his questioning of the first wizard – and eventually the second one – for another thirty minutes. When he'd extracted all he could, Harry had to make a choice. He had a powerful cursebreaker and the Dark Lord's security chief in his control. If he released them to the British Aurors or even the ICW security team, what was to say they wouldn't escape or buy their way out of prison as Malfoy and Snape had?
Harry needed a permanent solution.
Harry chose what he hoped was the lesser of two evils. He wouldn't release these two foul beings to possibly kill, kidnap, and destroy ever again.
He levitated both of them into the handicapped stall. Harry drew his wand and placed two powerful piercing hexes into both of their heads. They slumped over, dying or dead. Harry had almost died as an infant in order to save the wizarding world; he had used his wits to interrupt what was likely a dark ritual to resurrect a dark lord three years ago; now he was willing to kill to keep his way of life intact and ensure the Muggles of Oxford never learned of magic.
"I would die for Sirius; I would kill for him or for myself."
Harry wasn't finished, however. To further disguise them, Harry sprayed them both with conjured kerosene. He set them both on fire. The piercing hexes would appear like bullet tracks; the fire would appear a method of hiding the identities of the dead men. It would work just fine for the Muggles who would discover them. It would also be horrifying enough to make the news; Harry would need a good explanation for withdrawing from St. John's.
Harry quickly broke all of the wards and charms he'd used to ensure uninterrupted time with his two would-be attackers. He left the pair for the Muggle police. It was unlikely they'd ever trace down Muggle identities for either man, not if they'd been of the pureblood supremacist sort. The Dark Lord would be left to wonder at their fate unless he had people monitoring the Muggle news.
Harry didn't really care. It wasn't like this Dark Lord could go complaining to the authorities about his missing henchmen.
When he returned to his room, he locked the conjured bag containing six wand, seven portkeys, and other miscellaneous items into his magical drawer. He pulled a mirror off a shelf and spoke the activating phrase. "I solemnly swear I am up to no good."
Then Harry spoke into the now magical mirror. "Sirius Black."
He kept this mirror as an emergency device. Strictly speaking the emergency had passed, but Harry was still shaken by what had happened, what he'd heard, and what he had done to solve the problem.
It was just a few moments before the mirror filled with Sirius Black's face. "I've been compromised, Sirius. Two wizards…oh, Merlin…"
"Pup, pup. Harry. What's going on?"
Harry's calm façade was rapidly cracking now that the adrenaline was tapering off. The full weight of what had happened was sitting on his mind, trying to break him into little pieces.
"It was horrible, Sirius. I was being followed, so I led them off and away from the Muggles…"
Harry waited until after lunch the next day before approaching the Economics Fellow for St. John's. He asked for an urgent appointment and it turned out the older man was free for half an hour after lunch.
"Sir, I have to make a confession. First, my real name isn't James Harriman Evans."
The old don leaned forward in his ancient chair. "What is it?"
Harry shook his head. "I can't say. It's a security issue. My family is quite well to do, but has been under death threats for a number of years now. We've been in hiding ever since my parents were murdered when I was an infant, sir. My present guardians thought it was only safe for me to come to university under a false name, sir, and now it looks like even that has failed…"
"That business at the shopping centre yesterday?"
Harry nodded hesitantly. "I got the phone call from my family's chief of security this morning. I'm to be ready to leave by eight o'clock this evening, sir."
The don looked positively shocked.
"You should come forward to the police, son, if you know anything…"
"I don't know who they are or what happened to them. I only know I was told to withdraw from school to return into hiding, sir."
The old man frowned. "You're a good student, er, James. I hate to see you disappear, for you not to complete your education. That essay you wrote analyzing the Australian diamond mine was extremely good. Your tutor, Wickham, he shared it with me. I'll even admit to learning something new from it…"
"Thank you, sir."
"I'll walk with you to the President's office and we can explain this. I'll smooth it over with the other Fellows, my lad. If your situation is resolved by next October, I'll have a place waiting for you here."
Harry wondered what he had done to inspire this kind of effort from the elderly man. He'd only had one term's set of tutorials with the man, although it sounded like he'd read some of Harry's essays for his other instructors.
"I'd appreciate that. I can be in touch via letter, I think."
"Fine, fine." The Oxford don stood up and ushered his soon-to-be-former student toward where the College President kept his office.
Sirius and Harry began dueling a few minutes after Harry returned to 12 Grimmauld Place. If a second dark lord was going to be attacking Harry, both Sirius and Harry wanted to be fully prepared.
The magic came fast and furious, excellent training it was but even better for taking Harry's mind off of what had happened. Harry was so focused on the spells he'd learned but not yet tried that he didn't have time to feel angry, or sad, or bitter. He just thought of magic. The magic danced inside him as he and Sirius dueled. In the end, Sirius won three matches, Harry eight, they came to a draw twice. A house elf had had to awaken both of them in both cases.
"I see you have kept up, Pup."
"I've tried. But it's better to practice than to read. At least for me. I never did all that well learning magic from a book, although the stuff we liberated from the Vatican has been very useful. Most of it would be completely unexpected, too, as the spells haven't been seen in hundreds of years…"
"Exactly, Harry. Exactly. When the time comes, and we both know it will, you'll be ready. We'll both be ready."
After Harry was thoroughly exhausted, he trundled up to his room. He noticed there were a few dozen letters on his desk, ones not important enough for Sirius to forward.
He flipped through them quickly. Ron Weasley, invitation to a Ministry Ball (already over), Ginny Weasley, Hermione Granger, invitation from someone Harry had never met who was having a birthday party in America, Colin Creevey and a packet of photographs of Harry (the kid was nice but he still creeped Harry out a bit), ICW paperwork for joining the cursebreakers' guild (why make it official what Harry could do?). Pleas for assistance; pleas for money or investment funds; pleas for licensing Harry's image for various products (no way, there would never be a Harry Potter Wizard's Hat); pleas for Harry to take up this cause or that one. Free the elves; fund a new wizarding public library; support the near-extinct golden snidget; support the parole of Clementine Verbena, wrongfully imprisoned for dragon breeding; vote for Amos Diggory, Minister of Magic; assist Madam Cecile Umbridge in recovering her mother's possessions from her dead father's estate, otherwise they'd be burned and precious family heirlooms would be lost forever.
Then a letter from Neville. This one Harry did read carefully, even though he was tired. Harry had kept up a correspondence with Neville over the years. He was a nice guy; still a bit shy, but nice. It sounded like he'd snuck out and bought himself a new wand finally after all the years of being forced to use his father's wand by his half-insane grandmother. Good for him. He also wrote he'd tried to meet up with Harry just after the first TriSchool event, but the crowds had prevented it before Harry had left.
Harry fell asleep long before he made his way through the rest of the stack. He'd save them for the morrow.
It was only the night before the sixth task of the TriSchool Tournament that Harry even heard what had been done to the poor contestants during the fifth task. After all, Harry had been more worried about saving his own skin on that particular day.
"I listened to the announcer on the Wizarding Wireless. It was scheduled to last for eight hours, Harry, eight. It sounded completely brutal. The contestants were led to a room in the Durmstrang castle and told to remove their robes, cloaks, shoes, socks, and anything other than a shirt and a pair of pants. They had to surrender their wands, as well. Then the event sponsor, some vile sounding person from the Durmstrang Alumni Association,
told them what they'd be doing. 'You vill be running from now until you pass out. Ze path will lead you through ze Tungsten Forest. Ze one vurthest along and still standing in eight hours vins. Do vatch out for ze nasty creatures in ze forest, jah?' I almost fell off the sofa when I heard that. Running barefoot through a magical forest in the depth of wintertime?"
"Did anyone get hurt?"
"The correct question was did anyone not get hurt? The winner was a little second year from Beauxbatons who managed to dodge everything that came after her in the forest. She was the only one left standing, from what the announcer said. It was truly vile…"
"Then why did you listen to it, Sirius?"
He paused for a moment trying to cook up a defense. Finally he shrugged. "No idea. It was so awful I just had to keep turning on the wireless every few hours to see what new atrocity had happened…"
Harry just nodded.
"No one died, at least. No one yet. But if this keeps up, someone or maybe even sixty people, will likely die. Why isn't anyone putting a stop to it?"
"If not you and I, Sirius, then who? No one else seems capable of even drawing their own wand in self defense. Why would they work to stop something so vastly entertaining?"
Harry was grumpy again, his words were taking on a bitter flavor, and Sirius felt more than a touch of shame at his minor complicity in the whole affair.
The next morning both of them were up early to at least hear what the sixth task would be. Harry had a quill and a roll of parchment in case he needed them. He figured he might need to dash off some letters to the British Ministry, the Daily Prophet, the ICW, and perhaps even his own family attorney to get some impending disaster averted. Harry hoped he hadn't waited too long to try harder to end this.
"Welcome, fair witches and gentlewizards, to our exclusive coverage of the sixth task of the TriSchool Tournament. Held on the grounds of the Bavarian Magical Preserve, this task seems sure to be the most difficult to date…"
Harry groaned and Sirius sighed at this pronouncement. As if running for hours, half-naked, in the freezing cold or swimming in inferi-infested waters wasn't hard enough.
"…the tournament host is mounting the podium. And here is Kantor Streeler, Durmstrang Headmaster. 'Good morning. Today our contestants will recreate an old task from a TriWizard Tournament of legend nearly three hundred years ago. Ze Magical Historian's Society is pleased to bring you 'Ze Cockatrice Chase.'"
Harry stopped listening at that point in the wireless broadcast. He only saw red.
What little Harry had heard of the old TriWizard Tournament had revolved around a disaster with a rampaging cockatrice. As Hagrid had never managed to procure one to show his classes – although he'd often moaned about how hard it was to find them even after the number of times he'd tried –, Harry had had to resort to the library to determine what they were. The answer was less than pretty. Half rooster, half snake or dragon. They were utterly unstoppable when enraged and they didn't possess pretty dispositions to start with.
Harry began filling the scrolls of parchment. He was concise and legalistic in his writing – unlike the rather bombastic, crude things Sirius was shouting at the Wireless – and he quickly wrote all the letters he needed to compose. Hedwig carried two of them; Sirius's owl carried the others.
Harry didn't mind throwing away what was left of his reputation on a matter like this one. Let people call him an alarmist so long as it ended up saving some lives.
Harry walked into the courtroom in Brussels. The final challenge was only three days away. It had taken more than a month to arrange for an 'emergency' injunction hearing before an ICW judge. What kind of emergency would wait for a month?
Dumbledore, Madame Maxime, and that Streeler fellow from Durmstrang were all there. Harry could identify a few Ministry types from Britain and there were a few others from other countries, too, it seemed. Harry and his attorney were the last to arrive of the parties named in the suit. Harry had refused to let Sirius attend because of his propensity to swear at public venues like this one. Harry wanted to win his injunction, not have himself and his godfather booted out of court before the proceedings began.
Harry took a seat and talked quietly with his lawyer.
Eventually a voluminous man in garish red robes entered the room and took a seat at the table in front of the room. And the hearing – er, negotiation – begun.
"Let's figure out what's going on here," the corpulent judge began.
The ICW lawyer who was supposed to defend the TriSchool Tournament did a very poor job of his defense.
Harry's lawyer, Procyon Cadwallader, began his portion of the hearing with a simple recitation of the facts.
"During the first challenge, all sixty students sustained injuries, forty-seven of them seriously enough to require overnight hospitalization, a handful were in hospital for two weeks or longer. The second challenge subjected fifty-seven students to at least one potentially fatal snake bite, only three competitors remained totally unbitten. The third challenge was not only attacked by dark wizards because of ridiculously lax security, but all sixty competitors were injured by Dugbogs or Inferi. A few were also further wounded by a kelpie and a sea serpent. Nine of them had to have at least one limb regrown. Two will be permanently blind in one eye. After the uproar over the disastrous third challenge, the fourth one was revised. Only a handful received injuries severe enough to merit hospitalization. Then came the fifth challenge. Every competitor needed to have at least eight square inches of skin removed and regrown due to severe frost bite. Twenty-three students lost consciousness for more than a day because of the severe conditions of the challenge. A full forty-two were attacked and injured by one or more monsters surrounding the Durmstrang forest. And, finally, we come to the sixth challenge. Three people are still in comas from cockatrice venom. Seventeen people had bones so crushed they had to be vanished and totally regrown. Might I remind everyone that only twenty two competitors faced the monster before it went on a rampage, as predicted by history. One hundred twenty-nine members of the audience were wounded, seven fatally, before ICW security wizards destroyed the animal. For the life of me, gentlewizards and witches, I can't even imagine why we're having this hearing at all. It's obvious that the TriSchool Tournament should be halted immediately. Furthermore, the entire committee headed by Durmstrang Headmaster Kantor Streeler should be suspended from their positions with the school until they can be adequately prosecuted for their negligence and their malicious intent in crafting such cruel, devilish tortures. Investigations should be launched into why Professors Dumbledore and Maxime have not withdrawn their schools from the competition, as it is entirely voluntary according to the set of rules drawn up before the First Tournament."
The fat judge smiled in an unctuous way. Harry had a very bad feeling about that man. Harry had been watching the disgusting piece of humanity while Cadwallader spoke. The man hadn't paid any attention. He'd been fussing with a sheet of paper on his table.
"I find that your client doesn't have standing to lodge this complaint, Mr. Cadwallader…"
Ah, yes, the judge was going to ignore the facts and concentrate on the minutiae. Was it any wonder most dark wizards began their reigns by killing all the lawyers and judges? If they infuriated Harry, then they certainly angered everyone else, Dark Lords included.
Harry listened as the fat waste of humanity proved how the most villainous like hide behind legal niceties. Harry was ready to pull out his wand and apply some judicious piercing hexes to most everyone in the room. He was a certified killer now, he admitted to himself. He'd discussed it with Sirius. Ending a few lives here – and spending the rest of his own in Nurmengard – wasn't the worst thing Harry could imagine.
But before Harry had more than considered the notion, the Durmstrang Headmaster rose from his seat.
"Honored magistrate, if I may, I do not want the Tournament continued on such a technicality. Mr. Potter's attorney has said unpleasant things about me today, but I would prefer to show the good side of Durmstrang rather than try to hide behind silly laws and loopholes. It is true that more students have faced injuries than we expected when we designed these events. It is true that our best attempts to keep the Tournament both challenging and reasonably safe have failed. But, I beg all of you, to come and inspect the seventh task before you pass a judgment on it. I offered this very proposition to Mr. Potter via letter some time ago. I offer it again. Make a reasoned, intelligent decision today. If Mr. Potter truly feels that the challenge is unsafe as designed, I am willing to listen to reason. I do not want to needlessly place students in danger…"
If Harry disliked the fat judge, he positively loathed this disgusting Headmaster. He had Albus Dumbledore's silver tongue combined with Lucius Malfoy's brand of lying and distortion. This man was beyond evil; every ounce of Harry's magic recognized it.
Harry recognized it was a very bad thing when the corpulent judge smiled. "Yes, yes, perhaps that is a better solution. I hate to dispatch such a public case for such a petty reason…"
The judge had obviously taken a bribe or three. He was now opening the way to this 'compromise' to avoid being caught out with his hand accepting a thick envelope. Harry wondered who had supplied the bribe. Wizarding mafia determined to see the seventh event played out for the betting opportunities? Durmstrang alumni? The Dark Lord Voss? Who knows what kind of mayhem a dark lord could exact when the world's aurors were assembled trying to keep children from being needlessly killed by an insanely designed tournament.
Harry realized his only remaining (legal) hope of ending the TriSchool Tournament was in visiting the site of the seventh challenge to view it for himself. He sighed.
"Fine, I would be glad to pass judgment on what they've created."
Harry leaned over to whisper in his attorney's ear. He wouldn't allow Cadwallader to attend this little stunt, as it was a magical challenge and his attorney was a squib and unable to defend himself in this kind of situation. "Get word back to Sirius about what's happened here. Make sure the appropriate people know I've gone back to Durmstrang to see whatever torture they've devised."
Harry looked up at the others after he saw his lawyer leave the room. "Are we leaving from here?"
The Headmaster smiled. "Judge, I assume you're joining us? Headmaster Dumbledore? Headmistress Maxime? Good, let's be off." He didn't even bother to acknowledge or invite the officials from the various Ministries. Some looked rather put out.
Harry touched the portkey that Streeler offered to each of them.
He promptly felt more than a bit nauseous when he landed with the others in a darkened corridor. He picked himself up off the stone floor. He felt tempted to offer his hand to the massive Olympe Maxime, but did not do so. It was her fault as much as Dumbledore's that this stupidity had been allowed to get so far along. The Tournament would already be over if either Hogwarts or Beauxbatons withdrew. Perhaps that was the reason it was still running – school pride, neither Head wanted to be the one to take the 'blame' for ending the contest. Rubbish.
Harry unleashed his magic and sensed that there were a number of very magical beings – not witches or wizards, however – nearby. He had a very bad feeling about this, but Harry also brought along a number of tricks and skills no one but Sirius knew about. And he also had a backup team in place, a team that was being warned right about now that it might be needed. (If the legal proceedings failed to end the Tournament, Harry was prepared to send in a team of mercenaries to destroy the challenge, whatever type of monster it might be.)
"The entrance to the seating area is just this way. Please follow along."
Harry began walking only to remember that Streeler's heavy Germanic accent had been along non-existent today. Why was that? Was he more polished in a stressful situation? Or was Streeler not Streeler today?
Harry was the last one through the doorway. He kept his eyes very clearly on this Streeler. How long had the man been in his presence? Less than an hour, for sure. He had seemed very eager to short circuit what could have been a lengthy hearing. The fat judge would have had to do a lot of fancy talking to avoid the merits of the case just to focus on the minutiae. Streeler ended that rather quickly.
Perhaps. Perhaps this Streeler wasn't Streeler. Had the Dark Lord Voss finally assassinated him – and gotten someone to take over his appearance and role inside Durmstrang?
"This eight room chamber is the final task. It was designed by the Cursebreaker's Society of Egypt to replicate one of their harder tomb experiences. It relies upon a combination of cursebreaking and creature handling. Contestants also have access to a number of clues in Egyptian hieroglyphics throughout the task. It's a rather well balanced task, if I do say so, requiring academic skills, language translation, bravery, fortitude, strong wand abilities, and other skills to compete in it."
"And what creatures are you using, Mr. Streeler," Harry asked.
The Headmaster nodded. "Look down and I will illuminate the rooms."
The first room seemed a water logged mess. Harry could make out a banshee and three auguries for a room full of rain and deadly wailing.
"This is to be tackled by a five person team from each school?"
The Headmaster nodded. Harry was fine with the first room. It had the potential for causing damage, but any fifth year should be trained up to deal with a banshee.
The second room became visible. Harry swallowed. "Bicorns? Flesh-eating bicorns?"
Even Dumbledore had the good sense to look a bit embarrassed. It usually took a team of ten to deal with a bicorn.
"Is this inappropriate? Our Care of Magical Creatures instructor teaches bicorns in the fourth year, as we have a number in our forest."
"Vastly inappropriate." The slippery Headmaster seemed to jot himself a note.
"The third room is much simpler. Can you tell what the challenge is?"
Harry looked closely at the illuminated space. It seemed empty. There were several suits of armor, a few oversized chairs… "Chameleons of some sort? Chameleon ghouls, perhaps."
The Headmaster nodded. Harry was fine with that. The fourth room was not fine, however.
"Two erumpents? I don't think so. They have explosive liquid in their horns. They could blow themselves up and a roomful of contestants and a fair bit of the audience…"
Harry finished his mini-rant when he noticed the others agreeing with him.
The fifth room was filled with flesh-eating slugs. Easy enough to kill with fire. The sixth room had a graphorn and two griffins. Dangerous and noble creatures. Harry sounded off about that, too.
"Griffins are far too endangered to destroy in something as petty as a tournament. Fine for the graphorns, but return the griffins to their sanctuary." Harry knew he sounded cold when he made the pronouncement, but he had certainly grown colder over the years. One couldn't remain pure as the driven snow with the kind of upbringing and life Harry Potter had experienced.
The Headmaster smiled. His teeth were yellow and eerie. "Fine, fine. The eighth room is quite simple. Just Devil's Snare obscuring the trophy that needs to be collected for the timer to stop. It'll be run three times of course so that each time may show their best time. The seventh room, well, the seventh room… it's the very best thing in the entire tournament…"
As he said that, Harry noticed the disgusting man touched a lump of stone that wasn't quite flush with the rest of the wall. Suddenly, Harry and the others, save the Durmstrang Headmaster, began to fall. Harry reached out and snagged the man's robes. That bastard was coming with – wherever they were all headed.
It turned out that they landed in the seventh room. Harry had drawn his wand in time to stun the treacherous Durmstrang headmaster. Now they had to face whatever was in the room. The lights slowly came up.
"A quintaped? Where did they steal one from? Deadly and endangered," muttered Madame Maxime.
Harry was more concerned with surviving the encounter than analyzing how it had come to be. For the creature attacked swiftly. In one move, three of its five legs struck out. One lanced straight through the stunned Streeler's throat. Another one stabbed into the fat judge's belly. A third one narrowly missed Madam Maxime after she threw herself backward.
Harry and Albus began casting. Harry was focused on its sharpened feet. Albus was aiming for its head and eyes. It was ten feet tall, a fully grown adult, and it seemed more vicious than the ones Harry had heard of from Hagrid and from his own reading.
Finally Madame Maxime recovered and began casting against the massive monster's torso. The whole room was covered in blood and gore by the time it stopped moving. Streeler was dead. Harry could care less about the corrupt judge.
"We need a solution fast. But, I do have to say this one time. Did no one else see that there was a problem here? Albus, you're an idiot for letting it get this far. And Madam Maxime, I've met you a handful of times, but you should have known better, too…. Okay, I'm better. We're in the present now. So how in the world do we get out of here?"
Albus pointed toward the room that Streeler said contained Devil's Snare.
"You sure? This lying sack could have told us another lie…"
"I'd rather try it than try to face off against two erumpents, Harry. Don't forget the graphorn and the griffins, too. And a bicorn."
Moving forward seemed the completely logical thing to do. Streeler had spent a lot of time explaining the rooms inside this chamber of horrors before he activated that disappearing floor.
"It's fine. Let's go forward…"
It seemed too logical. They were shown what was behind them; only told what was ahead of them. Forward seemed the best choice. But that was thinking too narrowly. In any situation, there were always more than two choices.
"Hold on," Harry said. "Let's not be too obvious about this. Streeler had been planning to lure at least me to this place for quite some time. He had a switch set up in that viewing room. This wasn't a spur of the moment thing. Let's try something less predictable. We could blast through a wall or through the ceiling. That viewing room was above us somewhere, we could levitate ourselves… No, Albus, stop, listen to me, you bastard. Don't touch the door…"
Everything went black. The light, Harry's level of consciousness, everything.
Harry woke up to the sounds of screaming. He turned his head, tried to clear the mental fog, and saw Lucius Malfoy, Severus Snape, and a few wizards Harry didn't recognize casting the Cruciatus Curse in turns on Madam Maxime.
They tired of their game a few moments later. Severus Snape cast the Killing Curse at her.
"Always was curious if giants and half-breeds like Hagrid had some immunity to the Unforgivables. Guess not."
Harry began analyzing the situation. He and Albus were still alive, but his former Headmaster was still apparently unconscious. There were at least seven wizards in this room. Who knew how many else outside here. The odds weren't great.
Harry concentrated and used a piece of magic he'd learned from the Vatican books. He activated a tracing object that he and Sirius had enchanted in the off chance Harry was ever successfully kidnapped. The object now came to life in 12 Grimmauld. It was powerful enough to tell Sirius precisely where Harry was, even through thick wards. Hopefully Sirius was paying attention to it; hopefully he'd dispatch the mercenaries he and Harry had put on retainer. This was going to be bloody.
Harry thrashed around a bit. He wanted the others to know he was awake. He wanted as many of the opponents to be in this room as possible. He needed to help clear the path for the mercenaries – and to prepare for his own special form of attack. Harry had one chance to aid the mercenaries who would be coming along soon.
The most valuable tome Harry had liberated from the Vatican was a miniscule thing, barely a dozen handwritten pages between two pieces of board. It contained only the instructions and theory for one spell, a very powerful, very ancient spell.
Harry had practiced casting it. He had achieved a partial effect four times in his life thus far. It was immensely draining. If it failed in the casting, it could also knock its caster unconscious for an hour or longer. It was uncommon magic to be used only in situations of uncommon danger.
Harry thrashed around a bit more. Eventually Snape came toward him. "Oh, Potter, you're finally awake. Too bad my Master has other plans for you. I'll be around to watch. Don't forget it, Potter, I'll be around to watch you die…"
Harry had come to term some weeks earlier with his decision to kill those two would-be kidnappers. His new philosophy, which he hoped to apply to Snape, was to never leave enemies in a position to hurt him ever again.
Either Harry or Snape would die this day. Malfoy, too. Everyone in this room.
That was when the door opened. A man in a strange cloak came in first. Harry couldn't see his face: it was either Voss or someone pretending to be him. Then a wizened old man was levitated behind while seated in a chair. He looked positively ancient and shriveled, but his head was held high and his eyes danced with the light in the room. Harry had a bad feeling about that wizard.
Harry began the internal chanting to activate his attack. He needed a minute or longer to do all the steps, to clear his mind, and then cast the spell wandlessly. It was immensely complicated. Harry needed more time than he apparently had. Harry knew that all the important people were in the room finally.
"The great Dumbledore," the cloaked man almost hissed. "How the mighty are brought down by arrogance. Gellert, would you like the honors?"
The cloaked man handed a wand to the ancient creature in the floating chair.
The green light hit Albus Dumbledore and extinguished his life.
"The man never learned to clean up his own messes. Sure, he defeated my grandfather in a great duel, but he left him alive. And now Dumbledore is dead by Grindelwald's own hand."
Harry was shocked out of his meditative trance. He had been no lover of Albus Dumbledore, but to die in such a fashion. It was horrible.
Harry began his mental chant again after he calmed himself. The cloaked man, obviously this Voss character, walked toward Dumbledore and relieved him of the odd looking wand the old wizard had used.
"I believe this belonged to you originally, grandfather."
"Thank you," the old sack of bones whispered as he accepted the wand. "Lumos."
A light greater than any Harry had seen flared from the wand. It was truly a powerful weapon.
Harry continued chanting. He was almost there.
"Harry Potter, I am so glad to meet you finally. I believe you ran into two of my men. I never did get an exact confirmation of what happened to them. I suspect I could convince you to share that information with me. But, more on that later. I want to tell you what will be happening to you. Fear makes everything better."
He pulled the hood from his head. Harry finished the chant in that instant. He hoped the revelation hadn't sufficiently broken his concentration. He could feel the magic working, but he could also feel a bit of pain creeping into his own mind and body. Had he gotten it right? Had he screwed up?
He didn't know.
But he did recognize this Dark Lord Voss. Harry had been suspicious of the man almost from the beginning, but he'd never put together the cruel Durmstrang Headmaster with this feared Austrian dark wizard. Why not? Heading a school, recruiting from the students, having a strong public face to hide his private acts and depravities – wasn't that one of the rumors of what Voldemort had once wanted to do?
"The quintaped killed you?"
Streeler just smiled.
"Is your name even Kantor Streeler?"
The evil man nodded. "It's how I was born. I was kept from my true heritage, my rightful birthname of Grindelwald, by my terrified father. My now late father. Streeler is the name of a deadly snake, but it nothing compared to the terror of the Grindelwald name. I thought it time to refresh everyone's memories. To bring the old ideas back into play. I've been planning this – and watching you, Harry Potter – since that first tournament, since Karkaroff and his simpering deputy Katarina were arrested. I was elevated into the Headmastership, a perfect place for my needs. I arranged to stage this next TriSchool Tournament just as soon as I had the information and the resources needed to free my grandfather and begin the rest of my plot. The events I staged enraged and confused people; they were perfect to camouflage the real things I was doing. Funny, wasn't it, that I used all the great hallmarks of a dark lord as clue in the challenges: treacherous goblin warriors, snakes of a dozen varieties, and Inferi. I thought that challenge a bit over the top, a bit obvious, that's why I had my men send in those thugs to make the story a bit more interesting, a bit more muddled. This ridiculous tournament has proven most useful to me and mine. Too bad you didn't cooperate two months ago or we'd already be into the Great New Age. Of course, I'd always recognized the possibility you might be a tricky customer, so I arranged months and months ago for you to be a 'judge' just so I could have a reason to bring you here to my chamber of horrors. Killing that parasite of a judge – and these idiot school Heads – was just an unexpected bonus."
Harry was glad that the man was ranting and not casting spells. The longer Harry could allow the man to talk, the more chance the spell would settle in unnoticed (Harry assumed it had worked to some extend as he was still conscious). And it left more time for the calvary, as it were, to arrive.
"As for you, Harry, you managed to cause the death of a most useful deputy of mine, Antonin Dolohov. I arranged his secret parole from Azkaban seven months ago. He'd been switching off with me to appear as 'Headmaster Streeler.' Polyjuice is so useful. So, now we come to your part in all this. I need you, Harry, for an important ritual to revitalize my grandfather. Your power and youth, the beauty of a stunning witch, the ferocity of an untamed centaur, and the loyalty of the most subservient house elf. Just like that ridiculous fountain in the British Ministry, isn't it? Who knew they had encoded the formula for a very dark ritual in their public statuary. Idiots!"
Harry knew the ritual. Was that the reason there were four missions a few months back? To find a centaur, a witch, and a house elf for this sacrifice? The Forbidden Forest? And a witch and elf from the Continent?
All Harry knew was that all of them were still alive. They had to be – the ritual demanded they all be killed at the same instant.
Harry suddenly had to suppress a smile. He could suddenly feel more witches and wizards nearby. He knew the mercenaries were on their way in. Wouldn't they find a surprise when they began casting inside this room? Wouldn't Streeler's followers be surprised as well?
"Malfoy, bring in the other 'volunteers.' My grandfather isn't getting any younger."
The right hand to two dark lords left the room.
"Streeler, I hope you've considered this already, but your grandfather will kill you once you give him back his youth. You know that, right?"
"Potter, you fool, my grandfather will serve as my right hand…"
"Because Grindelwald rose to power by joining and betraying at least three dark wizards that I know of. One in Rumania; one in Albania; one in the present Czech Republic."
"The boy lies," the talking skin whispered.
It was enough to put doubt and fear into the moron Streeler.
"I researched his history once I'd learned he'd been broken out of Nurmengard. Don't know much about your own history, do you, Streeler?"
"Call me Lord Voss, you child." He looked angry enough to punch or curse Harry, but he couldn't due to the requirements of the ritual.
Malfoy returned with the immobilized, levitated forms of a witch, a centaur, and a house elf. Malfoy set them down near Harry. This was now a tricky part. Harry was fairly sure – ninety percent or so – that these fools wouldn't be able to cast magic as long as Harry maintained consciousness. But they could still use other weapons or one of them could accidentally knock Harry unconscious.
Harry's master plan had always revolved around the mercenaries coming to save him. Great plan, huh? But once they arrived, the battle would be over. The magic nullification field Harry had brought into existence was powerful old magic. The book he'd read indicated it been developed for muggle kings of long ago to be able to meet safely with the witches and wizards of the realm. The court wizard would cast it, then bring in the supplicants. The king could sit easily, assured there could be no magical betrayal or assassination attempts.
On the plus side, Harry felt the invading force closing in on his position. If they carried the enchanted object he and Sirius had created, it would literally lead them to within four feel of Harry's current position. He closed his eyes and concentrated on strengthening the magic nullification field. If he could make it strong enough by sheer force of will, it could even cripple the wizards in this room by filling them full of pain, enough to drop them to their knees. Their own magical cores in the presence of an overwhelming magical nullification field would topple them.
As Harry meditated, Streeler assembled the ritual components. He placed his grandfather on a ritual table made of pure onyx. He opened a chest and withdrew four goblets, one for the blood of each sacrifice. Then he pulled out the four gleaming blades that would do the work.
He instructed Snape to place a small cauldron on top of the altar next to his grandfather. Snape set to brewing a simple concoction. Water, a few leaves, and a bezoar.
Harry worked through the strengthening procedure. Then he started it again. And again. He sped up. His mind flew through the magical words. He could feel the magic in the room thickening, turning into a kind of invisible netting. He kept up with the chanting. Streeler fell to the ground writhing in pain as he hefted the knife to cut the house elf's throat. The others in the room followed suit moments later. Harry saw none of it. He was deeply inside the trance, deep enough to almost become lost forever. Deep enough to surrender himself to an interior life.
It could have been minutes or hours until someone finally roused Harry from his trance. "You Harry?"
Harry didn't recognize the voice. He was terribly groggy. He blinked twice before he heard the question again.
"Yeah, yeah. I'm Harry."
"You want them bound?"
"I want them dead. I'll handle that part, I think."
Harry was suddenly freed from his bonds. He took a few minutes to collect himself. He felt weak. His magic felt weak. But he had enough for this.
He walked over to where Gellert Grindelwald lay on the ritual altar. Harry instructed one of the mercenaries to levitate Grindelwald back to his sometime floating chair. Harry pulled the odd looking wand out of Grindelwald's pocket, the one Dumbledore had always wielded in Harry's presence.
"I'll be finishing up Dumbledore's legend. He vanquished you once, now he's about to do it again, even though it cost him his life. Reducto!"
Harry walked over to Dumbledore and set the wand near his former Headmaster's right hand. He felt a bit sad, not over the man's death, but over the manner of it. Every great witch or wizard should have the right to perish in battle. Not as a captured and bound prisoner in a disgusting hovel of a room. Not without the recourse of fighting back. Harry granted Dumbledore the sort of death he himself would wish for.
Harry stalked across the room and plucked a wand from one of the wizards he didn't recognize. The piece of wood seemed to respond moderately to his magic. Harry turned to face Kantor Streeler. Harry woke him.
"I killed your grandfather, Kantor. I made sure that Dumbledore will forever have the credit for finishing him. How do you like that? I can rewrite history, too, you worthless excuse for a wizard. Lacero."
In turn, Harry visited every enemy witch or wizard. He used Lucius Malfoy's wand to behead Severus Snape. Harry did good work. Snape would never be known as Semi-Severed Snape even if he did become a ghost. Lucius Malfoy died when he fell and struck his head against the hard stone wall. The others received mortal wounds from magical and 'accidental' means.
When he finished up, it seemed a grand battle had been fought here. Dumbledore and the weakened Grindelwald had defeated each other, which incited a panic amongst the others. Spells flew, people dodged in the tiny space. And then the reinforcements came and didn't bother mending any of the fallen. They were interested in only the hostages. The enemy wizards bled out while the hostages were rescued.
It was a weak story, but it wouldn't be important compared to the embarrassment everyone was about to face. The TriSchool Tournament had been organized by a Dark Lord to aid his plans; Harry Potter and several others had been kidnapped with the aid and cooperation of a corrupt ICW judge; the ICW and the British Ministry had several times supported the Dark Lord, even granting him new followers after taking bribes; the heads of all three great schools in Europe were dead; Dumbledore himself had triggered a trap, against better advice, that lead to his and the others' capture. Dumbledore had gotten himself and Madame Maxime killed in a sense.
Harry took magically binding secrecy oaths from each of the mercenaries never to reveal what they'd seen. He ordered the lead mercenary to knock him into a magical coma and levitate him out of the room along with the other hostages. This was Harry's weak alibi. Kantor, after all, had apparently decided that Harry and others needed to be unconscious for the planned ritual to work. Harry, officially, hadn't seen a thing after he'd been knocked unconscious in the seventh chamber.
"I'm sorry that they stunned you when you insisted on coming, Sirius. But I wrote up the contract. You weren't allowed to join the team."
"I'm still mad about that, Harry."
"We're both safe, Sirius. We knew they'd keep coming, the kidnappers. The enchanted locator object worked well. The magic nullification worked to such an extent I was able to knock them out with the pain. I wasn't able to save Albus or Olympe, but I didn't get us caught either. Albus never would listen to what other people told him."
"That's right, Harry. Don't forget that."
Harry had insisted on getting out of St. Mungo's almost as soon as his magical coma faded. He hated that place. He hated all hospitals.
Now he was back with Sirius in 12 Grimmauld Place.
"It's fine. Fine, I tell you. I haven't been this happy – to have you back – since you convinced Minister Diggory to give me a trial after he stepped in for the late Minister Fudge. I'll never forget the looks on their faces when they heard my testimony under veritaserum or when you corroborated it. Remus, unfortunately, had to leave Britain for a while because of the uproar over his almost harming you and the others when he transformed into a werewolf, but he waited it out. And now you're here. You're safe again."
"And I have the summer off, Sirius. I'll send a letter to St. John's in a month or two and see if they'll still let me restart my course of study. If not, I'll go somewhere else."
"So, what should we do until then, Harry?"
"It's insane here. They're mourning Dumbledore. Hogwarts is a disaster, half full fo wounded children still recovering from the Tournament. A split board of governors trying to settle on a new Headmaster. They're even trying to make me out to be some sort of hero even though I was technically and officially in a coma. Plus, all hell has broken loose in the Ministry again. Diggory'll be out over paroling Malfoy and Snape. Not so smart to be seen in the pocket of those who immediately went and joined up with a new Dark Lord. It'll simmer down in a few months, I hope. Maybe." Harry sighed. "We need to leave. And we can't go back to Italy now that it has hundreds of wizards more or less laying siege to the Vatican. Let's go someplace far away. India? China? You pick this time, Sirius."
"Russia. Definitely Russia. They've got some old wizards in out of the way places that know things that would curl your hair, Pup. And we'll go visit them all. And we'll soak it all in. And the next person who screws with you…well, you melt his face off or you permanently transfigure him into a lump of manure. Something creative, Harry, something funny."
"I can do that, Sirius. I know I can do that."