A/N: I do not own Harry Potter. Nor any of the Marvel Comics Characters mentioned herein. But, you knew that.
Harry Potter and the Invincible Technomage
Chapter Twenty-Four - Year Four – Tasks
"Well?" the man with the eye patch asked.
"This is extremely unprofessional," the green haired woman said defiantly. "We have expended an extraordinary amount of effort getting our agent in place. I'm not going to just hand it all over to you…"
"It's cute the way you're pretending you have a choice," the man interrupted. "If you like we can discuss all of this with the Oversight Council. Again. Though I'm fairly sure that doing so would mean that one of our organizations will have a new director by the end of the day."
The woman glared at him, causing Nicholas Fury to sigh. "Brand, I was doing this before you were a gleam in whatever your alien father used to see. D's brief is for extra-planetary threats. It may have escaped your notice, but both Starks and the Wand users are Earth based. That means it falls to my people to keep an eye on them."
"My agent is…" the woman noted.
"Your agent is much appreciated," Fury interrupted her. "And I'll probably let you have him back as soon as I confirm that the Wand users are wrong about their Black Magic Boogie Man coming back from the dead. Unless, of course, the Wand users are right and your agent ends up well positioned to help the Boogie Man to die again. I've taken over paying him, and will have a nice big intra-service cooperation citation for his service jacket when he's done and I give him back to you."
Abigail Brand's mouth set to a firm line as she handed over the thumb drive containing the reports. "I hate you."
"You, all three of my ex-wives, more than 80 percent of my staff, the entire Oversight Council, and pretty much the sum total of international security forces from all sides," Fury noted with a small grin. "They're having team jackets made. What size should I put you down for?"
Franklin packed away his notes from class and prepared to join the rest of his classmates in heading to lunch.
~ Franklin, ~ Xavier's voice spoke in his mind, ~ remain a moment, would you? ~
Richards nodded, placed his backpack back on the floor and waited while the rest of his class exited Xavier's classroom.
"I thought we might speak about your interaction with the magic users over the Christmas holiday," Professor Xavier said quietly.
"Yes sir?" Franklin asked innocently. He knew that Uncle Johnny's go to advice to 'admit nothing' was pointless when dealing with a telepath of Xavier's level, but habit dies hard.
"Pointless, indeed," Xavier agreed verbally. "Consider this an extra credit assignment for your Psionics Ethics class. How do you evaluate your dealings with Mr. Quinton Derrick?"
"A bully with an inflated sense of entitlement," Franklin said cautiously. "He, and his friends, intended to do me harm, and were seriously considering sexual assault on my friend for the crime of associating with me, a mere 'Muggle'."
"Accurate as far as it goes," Xavier agreed with a nod. "And your actions?"
"I negated his backup by blocking their access to their speech centers, removing the ability to cast spells since none of them had gained any proficiency in non-verbal casting. Losing the ability to form speech further rattled them. I then took control of Derrick's body and explained the facts of life to him."
Again, Xavier nodded. "And you believe your response was appropriate?"
"I do," Franklin answered with his own nod. "Had they opened with violence, my response would have been different, but Derrick decided that he was going to frighten Hermione first, so I put the fear of God into him instead. I also installed some psychological blocks that will guarantee that he will never again accompany his father on one of their 'Muggle Hunts'."
Xavier sat back in his powered chair, steepling his fingertips as he did so, "Franklin, I cannot help but wonder if you might have made the situation worse."
"Worse, how?" the younger mutant asked. "He intended violence and sexual assault. I did him no harm at all, unless he tries something like that again, then he will find his bowels will betray him. Any member of my family would have beaten him bloody, including my mother. Any member of the staff of this school would do worse. You, yourself have done worse to people who were not threatening in any way."
"Excuse me?" Xavier said in surprise.
"The way you modified Kitty Pryde's parents' minds when they were going to refuse to allow her to attend this school, for example?"
Xavier paled. "How do you know about that?"
"Logan's defenses drop off when he's had a few," Franklin shrugged. "He saw you do it. It was unusual enough for him to make specific note of it."
"You have penetrated Logan's mental defenses?" Xavier asked in surprise.
"It was at Kitty's going away party," Franklin explained. "Logan tolerates most of us, but a few of the girls… Jubilee and Kitty in particular, tickle his paternal instincts. It takes a lot of alcohol to get past his healing factor, but he manages it sometimes, and he was pretty deep into his cups by the end of the party, reminiscing about life with Kitty. I wasn't looking in his head, I just sort of overheard."
"I assure you," Xavier said hesitantly, "I had my reasons for how I dealt with the Pryde family."
"And I had my reasons for how I dealt with the Derrick and his friends," Franklin pointed out.
Xavier lowered his hands to grip the armrests of his chair. "Franklin, you are a young man of extraordinary power and range. With that power comes extraordinary responsibility."
Franklin refrained from pointing out Xavier was paraphrasing someone else's' line.
"Where are we going?" Harry asked a bit surprised to be led into a section of the castle he didn't recognize. After three and a half years, he thought he had been everywhere.
"Somewhere private," Neville explained without explaining.
"You know," Harry snarked. "It frightens me when you get all mysterious."
"Good," Neville nodded when he stopped in front of an unmarked door. "We're here, inside."
Harry proceeded through the door ahead of his friend, and was surprised to find an elaborate potion lab set up.
"Harry," Neville said as he perched upon a stool, "you are my best friend."
"Thanks, Nev," a grinning Harry responded.
"Shut up Harry," the Scion of the Longbottom family sighed. "You are also my only real friend. Before you found Trevor at the station first year, I'd never had any friends, at all."
"Oh, stop," Harry laughed, "you're going to make me get all misty."
"Harry," Neville shouted. "Listen to me. This is important. I'm not going to lose you."
Harry blinked and sat down on the other stool. "Nev, I'm not planning on going anywhere."
Silence filled the room for a five count.
"You do know I like girls, right?" Harry asked.
"Not that there's anything wrong with being, you know, gay. I've got no problems with that sort of attraction, but I don't share it. I have to say I can understand your attraction, and I'm honored…"
"Damn it, Harry," Neville said, pinching the bridge of his nose as if trying to ward off a migraine. "I'm not really in the mood for your smart arsed commentary on life. When I saw you waving that damned flag in front of the dragon, I thought I was going to lose my best, my only real friend. I'm not gay, you arrogant wally. And if I was, I could do a whole lot better than you. Your skinny arse doesn't do anything for me."
"Okay," Harry said with a pout. "Now my feelings are hurt."
"The history of the Triwizard Tournament suggests that each task is more dangerous than the last," Neville continued, ignoring Harry's snark. "That means that the next one will be worse than facing a dragon. I know that you think it's just going to be an obstacle course, but there will likely be much more to it than that."
Harry nodded. "We've figured that much out. There are hints in the eggs that told us as much. So, why am I here?"
"Evidently, alchemy isn't something you can just learn," Neville said. "You have to have something special in your magic, which I evidently do."
"Yeah," Harry agreed. "de Albo explained that."
"Master Alchemist de Albo," Neville corrected forcefully. "My point is that you've got it too. Maybe not as strong as a dedicated alchemist, but enough to make most of what I can do work."
"And you and I, Harry, are going to be spending ever free moment over the next month and a half in this lab making sure you can use alchemy to help you survive. Between your armor and what alchemy I can teach you, I'm making sure my best friend survives this stupid contest."
"Thanks, Nev," Harry said. "And I mean it. But, come on, seriously, I'm not your only friend. There is still Hermione, Padma, Susan, and Hannah, not to mention your Gryffie friends."
Neville felt his face heat up with his blush. "My link to the girls is through you, and while I get along with the others in Gryffindor, but I wouldn't call them friends. I've never been invited to their homes and none of them have ever accepted an invitation to mine."
Neville hesitated for a moment before continuing. "At least until I manage to get a real girlfriend, you are the source of my social life. That means I need to keep you alive."
The agent pressed himself into the shadows as he observed the pair.
Observe and report. That was his brief for this mission. That had not changed with the change of command structure.
If the agent was honest with himself, he was not sure how he felt being the subject of a pissing contest between the two theoretically aligned but territorial bureaucracies. Just whom he reported to did not matter to him, as long as promises were kept.
That being said, it was clear, at least to him, that the previous year's incursion by the Kree was aimed at the Stark boy, and not the magic users at large. The interrogation reports showed that clearly, but the suits were being suits.
Rumors about the dead terrorist coming back to life were turning out to be more difficult to pin down. No one he had happened upon spoke of any specifics about the dead man, however it was very clear that none of the wizards who followed him during his life, and few who opposed him, doubted his ability to return from the dead.
The agent had seen many things in his life, and a dead man returning to life did not even crack the top 100 Weird and Frightening things he had personally witnessed. Still, returning to life always had a price.
It would be interesting to see the price Tom Riddle would have to pay.
The first Potions class of the new term was the last class of the first Friday back for the 4th year Ravenclaws, and uncharacteristically, Hermione found herself dreading it. Harry had noticed that Severus Snape had been glaring at her whenever they were in sight of each other since the beginning of the term, and now, in his classroom, he focused his attention on her with an evil smile on his face.
Hermione fidgeted on her stool under his attention, barely noticing that Harry sighed and murmured "God damn it," while shaking his head.
"Miss Granger," Snape sneered, "I find your attitude unsatisfactory, I think perhaps…" the man's mouth continued movement as if he was speaking, but no sound emerged. His expression changed from one of satisfaction to one of panic before that expression faded to one of vacant distraction.
After several seconds of silence from the professor, the class was surprised when Harry stood up.
"I think that's class for the day," he said, addressing the assembled Hufflepuffs and Ravenclaws. "It would probably be a good idea for everyone to review today's assignment and be ready for the next class."
Susan Bones could not tear her eyes away from the apparently petrified professor. "Should we tell someone?"
"He'll be fine," Harry responded shaking his head. "I'm out 50 bucks, but he'll be all right."
It took three minutes while everyone in the room wondered why Stark might have lost fifty deer before the first student headed for the door. That broke the dam and the classroom emptied out.
"Are you coming?" Padma asked.
"Nah," Harry shook his head, "I think I'd best hang around for a few minutes. I'll see you two at dinner if I don't finish up here first."
Severus Snape blinked his eyes. He had been about to sentence the arrogant Muggleborn to a week of detention when suddenly the room faded away to nothing, leaving him standing in what was, by all appearances a grey infinite plane with no distinguishing features at all.
What had happened?
"It's called 'the Mindscape'." A voice interjected into the absolute silence that he had only noticed when it was broken.
Snape spun in place to find himself facing the Muggle boy from the Headmaster's office. "Where am I? What is this place?" he demanded. "Why am I here?"
"You're in your classroom," the boy said with a grin. "All this, it's called 'the Mindscape', and it's not really anywhere. "I brought you here you are here because you were about to be a dick. I believe I told you that I would be keeping an eye on you. What do you think of my range now?"
In a smooth move Snape pulled his wand, "You will return me to Hogwarts."
The blond boy's smile widened and Snape's wand drooped as if it was a piece of spaghetti.
"My wand?" Snape gasped.
"Once again, slowly, you are at Hogwarts, it's just your mind I've brought here," Franklin Richards explained. "You look like you because that's how you see yourself; you have a wand because you can't imagine yourself without one. That said, this is my world, and I control everything about it. For the sake of your self-image, you need to put your wand away, because we're going to talk, and you're not leaving here until I'm happy."
Harry settled into Snape's chair and swung his feet up on the Potions Master's desk, and wished he had thought to pack a novel. He honestly thought that Snape had grown up enough since first year to refrain from going after Hermione, just because he could.
Franklin had disagreed, and the bet made. Harry hated losing, but he had to admit that he probably should have trusted Frank's psionic insights.
A fluttering of leathery wings alerted Harry that Lockheed was in the room with him before the mini-dragon landed on the desk and looked at him with a questioning expression.
"Where have you been?" Harry asked. "I haven't seen you for a couple of weeks."
"Hhmp!" the mini-dragon responded as if it should be obvious. The alien then nodded toward the Potions Master.
"He was about to be a dick," Harry explained. "Frank high-jacked his psyche so that they could have a little talk about behaving himself."
Lockheed nodded. "Wichuds? Guud, Shape guy id a jherk!"
"Oh, now you talk," Harry noted. "Ass."
The Mini-Dragon offered a smug expression in return. "Pwore babee."
"Ass," Harry repeated as he rooted around in his book bag and extracted his trig textbook, deciding to get something done while he babysat Snape's body. That was when he noticed the noise coming Lockheed.
"Are you humming the Mr. Ed theme just to annoy me?"
"Ahur hur hur," the Mini-Dragon laughed.
"I do hope we've come to an understanding," Franklin smiled. "Next time I won't be so nice."
Without waiting for a response from his guest, Richards released Severus Snape back to his body. After pausing to verify that no portions of anyone's intellect remained on the Mindscape, he allowed himself back into his own body, where he quickly reviewed the notes on Conversational French the portion of his mind he had left in control of his body had taken in his absence, and congratulated himself on going unnoticed in his extracurricular excursion.
~ Oh, you were noticed, Mr. Richards, ~ Charles Xavier's voice spoke in his head. ~ A weeks detention with me, I think, where we will discuss the ethics of Psionics abusing their powers. ~
Damn, Franklin thought, the detection tarnishing the glow of his theoretically undetected crime. Then thoughts of Hermione crossed his mind. Oh, well, worth it.
"Uh," Snape breathed as his awareness returned to his body.
"Oh, good, you're back."
The Potions Master turned to find the child with Potter's face and Lily's eyes looking up at him from his own desk. The boy's accursed miniature dragon was nearby observing them both.
Stark stood up and began packing his book and notes away. "Did you and Franklin come to an understanding?"
"Why are you here?" Snape demanded.
The boy shrugged as he packed away the papers and book he had been using. "I didn't think leaving your body here unattended would have been the best plan. Things happen in this old castle."
"So, you're here to gloat?"
"Gloat?" Stark asked incredulously. "Why would I gloat? I bet Franklin $50 that you could be an adult about what happened."
"You… You bet on me?" Snape echoed in his on incredulity.
"Of course, I did," the boy said. "I thought it was a sure thing. I mean, after our bad start first year, you've been nothing but fair. It was still very clear that you detest the ground I stand on and the air I breath, but you've been a professional in all of our interactions. Franklin was worried that you'd be a dick about whatever happened in the Headmaster's office and I told him he was being ridiculous. Now, I'm out $50."
"Few students would dare speak to me in such a manner," Snape said darkly.
"Few students tell you the truth," Stark noted. "I really don't understand you. You're a master at your craft, which almost makes up for your crappy teaching skills, why did you risk all that to abuse a 15-year-old girl?"
"Was Franklin too subtle for you?" Harry Stark asked incredulously. "If you don't mellow out I'll have to get used to a new potions teacher." The boy paused for a moment while running his left hand through his unruly hair. "Look. Franklin is head over heels for Hermione Granger, and he will do anything, anything to protect her. If you continue to contemplate attacking her, he will know and take action.
Snape paled at that. "Are you… Are you saying that he would kill me?"
"No," he said, shaking his head. "Frank would never kill you, he's a good person. With his powerset, he pretty much has to be. His folks have spent his entire life teaching him to rein himself in. No, Franklin Richards would never kill you."
"Then what did you mean?" Snape demanded.
"There are worse things you can do to someone than to kill them," Stark explained shouldering his bag. "Take you, for example. If I were to guess, I would say that the most important thing in your life if your abilities in a potions lab. Frank wouldn't have to guess, he'd know, and if you made him angry enough, he'd take it away. Just poof, and you'd still be you, but you would no longer know anything about potions, at all. Or if he was feeling particularly vindictive towards you, he'd leave the knowledge and introduce a palsy to the point where you'd never be able to do a stir again, maybe never be able to hold a wand."
"Impossible," Snape scoffed.
"Sure," Harry nodded. "Just like someone's consciousness being yanked out of his body and pulled into the Mindscape is impossible. Professor, you have to know that there are things outside your experience. Calling something 'impossible' is just asking for trouble these days. I mean, everyone in the castle knows that you said it was impossible for Neville Longbottom would never have any skill in potions and his problems turned out to be due to his affinity for alchemy overpowering his potions to the point of disaster. Who knows what might have happened if his grandmother hadn't hired de Albo."
Snape ground his teeth. There was no denying it, not even to himself, James Potter's son was right. "Has Diablo offered Longbottom the apprenticeship yet?"
"Who?" Stark asked, his attention suddenly focused on his potions instructor.
"Master Alchemist de Albo's books are all written under the pen name Diablo," Snape explained.
The boy's eyes went wide. "I need to go Professor; I hope you think about what we've spoken about, because it would be a hassle to break in a new teacher before our OWLS."
"You seem distracted," Padma said gently leaning into Harry as the pair strolled the grounds, bundled against the February weather. "Is something bothering you about the second task?"
"Other than being forced into it?" Harry asked. "No, it's something else."
"Can I help?"
"Not really," Harry sighed. "It's just something that's bothering me that I can't verify. I need to talk to someone who isn't at school or online."
"Not online? Not one of your friends back home then?"
"No," Harry admitted shaking his head. "And I'm probably being silly worrying about something based only on a hint of a rumor and likely coincidence. It's just nagging at me."
"Normally, I'd suggest you worried too much," Padma said with a small smile, "but then I remember who I'm talking to."
"Yeah," Harry laughed. "On that topic, I want you to do something for me."
"The Champions have figured out that the second task is likely to be something more than an obstacle course," Harry said, reaching out to take her hand. "There are suspicions that someone important to each of us will be used, somehow, as part of the task. If they come to you, I want you to tell them no."
Harry crested yet another leg-killing dune, fighting against the urge to activate his armor. Still sand as far as the eye could see.
He found himself torn between admiration for the magic that had transformed this section of the Hogwarts grounds into this endless desert for, and sheer frustration at, the second task. His had been the last token from the bag, and he had last choice for his starting point.
Cedric had at least looked apologetic when he had taken the entrance labeled 'East' to begin the course, the one that looked to be a deciduous forest, while Viktor had laughed when he had taken the entrance labeled 'West' with its soft rolling hills. Fleur had taken the entrance labeled 'North' disappearing into the rocky alpine slopes as if she were born to it.
This left Harry with the 'choice' of the sandy desert under the label 'South'.
Of course, the first thing the Triwizard Officials had done was confiscate the brooms that each of them carried. The Champions had expected that, but, seriously, after fifty-seven minutes in this massive magical sandbox, a broom would be so very handy right now. At least he had spotted the man-sized scorpions before they had seen him, allowing him to avoid the creatures. Now atop the dune, an odd movement to his left caught his eye as a huge… thing heaved itself free of the sand approximately half way to the horizon before arcing back to the dunes.
This stupid desert had sandworms? Oh, he was so going to have a conversation with whoever set this thing up. He paused for a moment. Did the presence of sandworms mean that there was Spice here?
No, no, no, Harry scolded himself. Don't get distracted. Keep moving toward the goal.
Harry pulled up his GPS display, which showed he was still on the Hogwarts grounds, having apparently traveled all of 200 yards in the real world since entering the enchanted landscape. Dismissing the display, he used the 'Point Me' charm to verify Magical North still aligned with Actual North.
It did. With North verified to the best of his ability, Harry focused on the next dune top and made his way toward it, down, and then up, wondering with each step if a variant of snowshoes might make climbing the sand dune easier.
Cresting this latest dune, Harry blinked when he saw that the endless desert simply stopped perhaps twenty feet away, terminating at the edge of a grassy meadow. Chancing a glance to his rear, he could clearly see his tracks in the sand behind him, but he had not been able to see the grassland just beyond this dune until he reached this particular dune.
Weird. He added that to his list of things he wanted explained by the organizers.
Shaking his head, Harry took a step forward, coming to a complete halt when the sand between him and the meadow started writhing.
Snakes. Dozens of them intertwined and all focused on him.
~ Hey fellas, ~ his hissed. ~ Want to get out of the way? I don't want to step on you. ~
~ A Speaker! ~ Multiple voices chorused. ~ Friend Hagrid did not say that there would be another Speaker. ~
Hagrid could talk to snakes? Harry was surprised to learn that tidbit of trivia. It made sense the way the big guy loved animals.
~ Speaker, not Speaker, it matters not! ~ one strident voice broke through the chorus. ~ Friend Hagrid asked we block passage. We will block the new Speaker's passage. ~
Harry knelt down to be closer to the snakes. ~ Look, fellas, I'm a wizard, I've got a wand. I know you're there, I could do horrible things to you, but I don't want to do that. I need to get past you to that meadow. I'll apologize to Hagrid, he's my friend too, but I'm going forward. ~
~ But Friend Hagrid said… ~ one voice protested.
~ Is Speaker! ~ Another pair disagreed.
~ How about I catch you guys a few dozen rats? ~ Harry asked his wand in motion, and the rats appearing between him and the snakes.
~ FOOD! ~ The chorus was back.
Harry could not help but smile, Snakes always had such one-track minds.
He stepped gingerly through the mass of reptiles as they set upon the conjured rodents.
Twenty meters into the meadow, Harry spotted Viktor Krum standing next to an odd structure.
"Harry!" Viktor called as he approached. "I am glad you are the second to arrive, I was afraid I would have to wait."
"Good to see you too, Vik," Harry laughed, shaking the older boy's hand. "Why did you have to wait?"
"I found a puzzle," the Quidditch star admitted. "One that I could not solve without your help."
Krum gestured toward the figure that was facing north. "As we guessed, we are tasked to rescue a hostage, but I am not sure which one is for me. This girl," he pointed to the structure, which, now that he was closer, Harry could see was a small roofed building with Cho Chang standing unmoving and apparently unconscious in the doorway facing him. "She is Cedric's friend, yes?"
"Yeah," Harry nodded as he followed Krum to the west side of the small building.
"This one, I don't know who he is," Krum said gesturing to a young man who appeared to be in his 20s.
"A friend of Fleur, maybe?" Harry postulated. "He's annoyingly good looking. Are there Male Veela?"
"No," Krum said with a shake of his head. "Is likely another species, they are called Adonis. I have heard that the Veela prefer relationships with Adonis men."
"Okay, weird," Harry admitted as he made his way to the south face of the building. "Oh, Hermione."
"Yes," Krum agreed. "When I found her, I wanted her to be my hostage, but I did not know the fourth hostage and I know that you are her friend."
"Fourth?" Harry asked with a grimace, wondering why Viktor had not recognized Padma as he made his way to the eastern face of the building. Evidently, Dumbledore and the other organizers had not taken 'no' for an answer.
"Oh," he said as soon as he sighted the fourth hostage.
"I think you're right about Hermione being your hostage," Harry said gesturing to the fourth hostage. "She's mine."
A smile pulled at the corners of the professional Quidditch player's mouth. "Good."
"Vik," Harry continued hesitantly, "I've been watching you chase Hermione and not saying anything because it was… funny."
"Funny?" Krum asked, raising a single eyebrow.
"Yeah, it's hilarious," Harry admitted. "I mean, this is like the Richards/Von Doom feud running into a second generation, but now it's getting a bit too real."
"I am not worried about Richards," Krum said.
"Yeah, I figured," Harry admitted. "Have you spoken with your Godfather about Franklin Richards?"
"No, why should I?" Viktor asked.
"Do it," Harry advised. "Ask him why he doesn't strike at Reed Richards through his son anymore. You and I have become friends of a sort through this stupid contest. Franklin is my first and best friend. I'd rather you two didn't end up spending your lives trying to kill each other."
"I hardly think I would have to worry about a Muggle, Harry," Krum disagreed.
"Talk to your godfather," Harry advised.
From the Judge's stand, Albus Dumbledore continued to stare at the displays that showed the progress of the Champions, focusing on the pair that displayed Harry Potter and Viktor Krum respectively. Why were the two waiting around talking rather than racing toward the exits of their respective courses?
He was starting to think that not adding listening charms to the spell matrix that allowed the observation of the champions had been a mistake. The two were deeply in a discussion about something.
"My student is in the lead," Karkaroff noted.
"Your student is standing next to one of mine," Dumbledore pointed out, "And Mr. Diggory is but minutes away. For whatever reason, your student chose to waste his advantage."
"I still say the water hazard Miss Delacour encountered was unfair," Madam Maxime huffed.
"You only started saying that after she fell in," Karkaroff laughed.
Viktor disappeared from the meadow taking the exit to the south, an unconscious Hermione slung over his shoulder like the damsel in distress from a Victorian era melodrama.
Harry pondered the sheer amount of holy hell Hermione would be unleashing on Krum once she found out she had been carried like that, before shaking his head and returning his attention to the note he had found attached to his hostage's sleeve.
Congratulations. You have successfully completed the first half of your task.
You will exit to the east with your hostage with the goal of returning to the starting point. How you deal with your hostage is completely up to you. You may wake her if you so wish and have access to her inputs to your escape plan, or you may leave her in the enchanted sleep and transport her, physically or magically to the exit.
You are, of course responsible for the safety of your hostage, any injuries suffered will have a detrimental effect on your final score.
Good Luck, I expect you to do Hogwarts proud.
Harry shook his head at the cavalier way innocents utterly unrelated to the Triwizard could be placed into dangerous situations, while wondering why Viktor hadn't read the note attached to Hermione. Had the Latvarian been looking for… permission?
Harry contemplated his options. Just saying 'fuck it' and having a seat to wait out the event would probably not be in keeping with the intent of the magic enforcing his participation, and it could possibly hurt the girl as well.
He could try carrying her, but he doubted he would be able to manage to carry her physically for an hour without using his armor, and that surprise was one he had no intention of wasting. Levitating her would tie up his wand.
The scorpions and sandworms he had seen on his way in suggested that to be a poor choice. Even if he was not exiting via the desert he entered through, there was likely to be something on his way out that would be dangerous all on their own.
That only left waking her.
Drawing his wand, Harry concentrated on casting with as little power as possible. One of the major issues he was having with his modified wand was overpowering every spell. Leaving his hostage unable to sleep for a few days would probably not be appreciated.
"Enervate," he cast.
Tracey Davis stirred in her enchanted slumber, before blinking her eyes several times.
"Harry?" she asked, "What happened? How did I get here?"
"We're in the middle of the Second Task," Harry explained gently. "I hope they at least asked you before shanghaiing you into this mess."
"The Headmaster asked if I would be willing to assist you in the task," she nodded, stepping out of the structure on shaky legs, leaning on Harry for support. As she exited the structure, a golden cord formed between them, binding her right wrist to his left, separated by three feet.
"And then, you were waking me up," she continued, examining their connection before looking into his eyes. "I always have the most interesting adventures with you. What do you suppose this is supposed to do?"
"My options were to carry you out or wake you and we walk out together," Harry explained. "It seems that either way, our hostages were supposed to be impediments."
The golden cord terminated on the inside of his left wrist. A few test tugs gave the impression that the connection was to the bones in his wrist, rather than the skin. Unpleasant.
"We're in second place," Harry continued, we should probably get going."
"And that," Harry explained forty minutes later, "Is how you avoid a griffin."
"Oh, yes," Tracey wheezed, gasping for breath. "Running away is a wonderful tactic."
"If you want to fight the griffin, I'll lend you my wand as soon as we get disconnected," Harry snarked. "Personally, I find dropping a sonic mine and making a strategic retreat to be a perfectly reasonable tactic. Far less blood and gore, especially mine."
"My hero," she snarked back before falling away with a small yelp.
Harry felt the golden cord that connected them yank his left arm down, dragging him on the ground to the edge of a wet patch. Tracey was waist deep in some kind of oozing muck. Harry reached out with his right hand to cup a sample of the ooze. Gritty, wet, nasty. Quicksand. He felt himself relax. This was not going to be a problem.
"It's okay, Tracey, it's just quicksand."
"Quicksand?" she asked in a panic, as she settled deeper into the mire. "I'm going to die?"
"No," Harry disagreed. "Quicksand isn't as bad as its reputation. Loop the cord around your hand and I'll pull you out."
"Loop it?" she asked as she did so, "Why?"
"So that I'm not tugging directly on your wrist bones," Harry explained as he looped his own end of the cord around his hand. "Don't try standing up, just lie back and try to float, okay?"
Chest deep in the muck, Tracey fought against her panic, and tried to follow Harry's suggestion, only to sink faster. "It's not working!"
"This," Harry ground out as he tried pulling on the cord and felt himself being dragged toward the sand pit, "is NOT how quicksand works."
"Harry," she gasped as her chin touched the liquid, "help me!"
Harry dug in with his toes, trying to slow his forward motion and cast a bubblehead charm on his friend before allowing the wand to return to the sheath on his forearm. With a mental command, he activated the armor under his robes, the helmet rising from the collar to envelope his head, and his left gauntlet failing to deploy due to the golden cord emerging from his wrist.
Tracey's head disappeared under the quicksand, leaving only her upraised right hand visible. The armor finished its evaluation of the amount of force applied to his left arm from Tracey being pulled under. The Armor could overcome it, but doing so would likely damage his own hand beyond reasonable expectation of repair and would more than likely rip Tracey's arm from her shoulder.
"Shit," Harry spat eloquently as he dove into the quicksand pit after his friend. Blindly following the cord allowed him to find her, still struggling, though in no immediate danger of drowning. Harry wrapped his arms around her body and triggered his flight systems.
The reactionless thruster coughed once, and then died. A stream of profanity poured from Harry's mouth unheard by anyone other than himself. The reactionless thruster could not deal with the sloppy grit that surrounded them.
The helmet's heads up display showed that they were still sinking deeper. As if something was actively pulling them down. This was NOT how quicksand worked.
Carefully, still holding a panicking Tracey around her waist with his left hand, he aimed his wand as close to straight down as he could and cast the strongest banishing charm he had ever attempted.
Even with the enhanced wand, his casting had no effect. None at all.
This left few alternatives. Wait for help? Surely those behind the tournament wouldn't let them die… He had an hour's oxygen in his armor, and Tracey's Bubblehead should last as long as he was conscious, perhaps beyond given the power of his wand…
He carefully placed his wand into his left hand to free his right. Searching the pockets of his Tournament robes carefully, desperately, he found the vials he needed. Raising them to his faceplate, he found his vision so obscured he had no idea which was which.
Unable to imagine how the situation could possibly get any worse, and only slightly disturbed by the possibility that he had just tweaked the nose of the gods of Chaos with that thought, Harry concentrated on casting his spell, and then crushing the three vials in his armored grip.
Besides, the only actual god of Chaos he knew was Loki, and Loki owed him one.
As his students disappeared into the quicksand pit, Albus Dumbledore was on his feet. "Minerva, get proctors to each of the Champions," he barked. "Do not interfere with their progress, but if anyone is in danger of death, the proctors are to step in."
"What are you doing Albus?" Karkaroff demanded. "Death is part of the contest; we all knew this going in."
"None of these students are dying while at Hogwarts, Igor," Albus said dismissively. "Not while I still breathe. Fawkes!"
The Headmaster's phoenix flashed into being over the old man's head. Reaching up to grasp the firebird's talons, Dumbledore disappeared in sheet of flame.
He appeared instantly perhaps 10 feet away from the quicksand pit, and fought through the disorientation inherent to suddenly being somewhere else. He brought his wand up, intending to empty the quicksand deposit through nothing more than his force of will, only to stop when something heaved itself free of the pit.
Dumbledore stepped back when he recognized that the new… thing resembled one of de Albo's Earth Elementals, yet was radically different as the huge construct plodding away from the now empty pit. How?
Had de Albo take more than one student? It had taken Albus two years of study under the ancient alchemist to learn the art of creating elementals, and he had never been very good with them. How had Stark managed it? The old man sat down on a convenient stone while his phoenix looked on in confusion.
"It appears that Mr. Stark was in no need of my assistance, Fawkes," Dumbledore murmured. "We should return to the stands."
The firebird issued an encouraging song as he landed on his bonded's shoulder and flashed them away.
Tracey blinked in amazement as the soggy grit fell away from the bubblehead charms' bubble, revealing that she was face to face with an armored form. She recognized it from Harry's drawings from the previous year to be his creation. Finding herself unable to move, she looked down to see that she was still encased in the now inexplicably gelatinous quicksand from the chest down. Looking around, she discovered that she appeared to be embedded in the body of a huge golem.
The panic that had abated with the sunlight was replaced by a completely new feeling of confusion.
Tracey counted to twenty, first in English, then in French, and then once again in Italian, and still the insane situation remained. Leaning back as much as she could to take in the whole bronze and blue faceplate of Harry's armor, she cleared her throat. "Well," she said, her voice muffled by the bubblehead charm, "this is new."
Harry ordered his armor to power down caused the helmet to retract back into its collar housing, revealing his face before mentally commanding the elemental to free his right arm so that he could cancel the bubblehead charm before asking, "You okay?"
"Yes," she nodded. "I'd almost forgotten how being around you makes life so interesting."
"To get the full affect," Harry complained, "you've got to actually be me. I think I've had all the fun I can tolerate today; let's get out of here before it gets any more interesting." He redirected his attention to his creation. "Home, Jeeves, and let's not take the scenic route.
Four minutes later, Harry and Tracey emerged from the summer time meadow into the reality of February in Scotland, upon exiting the course, the Elemental deposited the pair on the ground before striding off, and entire sections of the body falling away to form sand piles and water puddles as it did to. Harry spotted Cedric while standing next to Fleur.
"Well, the French girl finished first," Tracey noted, examining her wrist where the golden cord had been before vanishing when they exited the course.
"How do you know she finished first?" Harry asked.
"Look beyond her shock at your golem. She is quite pleased with herself," Tracey suggested. "That's not the expression of someone who had to settle for second place."
"You're probably right," Harry admitted.
"I don't see their hostages, so I'm going to go get out of the weather," she said, moving away. "Thank you, Harry."
"No, thank you, Tracey. Go to the Medical tent and get checked out," he said as she walked away before moving to join his fellow champions.
"Are congratulations in order, Fleur?" He asked as he approached.
"You come out in the arms of a golem and the first thing you do is ask if she won?" Cedric asked incredulously. "She did win, beating me by three minutes, and I was only two minutes ahead of you. But you came out with a golem?"
"Winning is determined by more than just finishing order," the young woman disagreed. "We will have to await our scores to know who won. Although finishing first does not hurt, turning one of the traps into a form of transportation is not to be ignored. I had my challenges on the way in, while Demonte and I avoided the animals and traps on the way out."
"Viktor should be finishing soon," Cedric said gesturing to the huge screen showing the Durmstrang student's progress, still carrying the unconscious Hermione. "I wonder if he's going to be in as much trouble as I am with Cho for carrying the girl out instead of waking her like you two did."
"I was doing okay until we found that quicksand pit," Harry laughed. "And I still say quicksand doesn't work like that."
"Sod that," Cedric insisted.
"I quite agree," Fleur nodded. "Tell us about your golem."
"So," Padma said as she leaned back onto Harry on the sofa they shared. "Tracey, eh?"
The Ravenclaw common room was almost empty with so many parties going on in the castle in celebration of the completion of the 2nd task.
"My fault," Harry admitted, "I never expected them to go after someone else after you said no."
"Hannah thinks I should be jealous," Padma continued, "because you ended up in the arms of an elemental, cuddled face to face with your ex from last year after asking me to bow out."
"And?" Harry asked.
"I just remember that you both almost got killed in the Task, and before that she was the one who dumped you," she grinned, "and I'm suddenly okay with the whole thing."
"You could be a little jealous," Harry teased.
"Well," Padma said, tapping her chin with the forefinger of her left hand, "Tracey does have those really nice shoes she wore to the Yule ball. I could be jealous of them if you'd like."
"To Fleur!" Cedric toasted raising his glass to the blushing young woman.
"To Fleur!" Viktor and Harry echoed, lifting their own glasses.
"Merci'" the French girl smiled. "I shall spend my winnings taking Demonte out for a meal, and let him know that he owes it to all of you."
"Of course," Viktor smiled. "Demonte will spend his time asking you to approach me for tickets to my matches."
"I should never have let him speak with you," Fleur huffed. "You have awakened the Quidditch fan that I thought had died with maturity and experience."
"It is my gift and curse," Viktor said with a smile."
"We can get tickets from you? " Cedric asked with sudden interest.
"I have made arrangements for all of you to have tickets available at any of my games. It is the least I could do for those I competed against," Viktor laughed, "I am embarrassed to admit that when our names came out of the cup, I imagined myself a sure winner. I, the great Viktor Krum, in competition with a fashion obsessed woman, an average quidditch player from Hogwarts and," his eyes lit upon Harry for a moment, "a child."
"Watch it, old man," Harry snarked.
"Silence infant," Krum responded, "I, the great Viktor Krum, am humbling myself here. Imagine my shock when I finished second in the first task, and fourth in the second?" Shaking his head, he continued. "My arrogance is crushed… At least until the next time I am racing for the Snitch!"
"Such humility," Fleur laughed. "Should I return to the runways of Paris, I will ensure that all of you have access to my shows."
"And you are all invited to New York whenever you want," Harry said. "I'll show you the sights and get you all meals by Fin Fang Foom."
"The dragon you think is a chef?" Fleur asked.
"The chef I know to be a dragon," Harry disagreed.
"Fleur," Cedric interjected. "This is Harry. He got past the dragon by waving a flag, he escaped a pit of quicksand by changing it into a golem. If he says he knows a dragon chef, he knows a dragon chef."
"Yes," Viktor agreed. "When it comes to Harry, crazy is normal."
"Thanks a lot guys," Harry said drily.
"You think you've got troubles?" Cedric laughed. "Viktor is giving us tickets to his matches, Fleur is giving us tickets to her shows, you are offering us a tour of New York and a meal prepared by a Dragon, and what can I offer the lot of you? Anyone interested in seeing my Dad's office at the Ministry?"
The four champions shared a laugh before Fleur became very solemn. "We must be very cautious with the final task."
"You know what it will be?" Harry asked.
"Olympe Maxime, is many things, but subtle she is not," Fleur sighed. "She probably does not even know that she let slip the secret for the third task. It is dueling. In three months, we will be facing each other in the ring."
Sirius Black stood in the May sunshine, watching quietly as the old woman rose on her toes to kiss Steve Rogers, before the hero hugged her and joined him as they left the property.
"This place is huge," Sirius noted as he followed Steve Rogers on the path to the property line. "You know, it's really hard to believe that you and Lady Crichton are the same age."
"I blame the super soldier formula and a dip into the North Atlantic in the winter," Rogers responded. "Being 75 while looking like you're 25 isn't as good a deal as it would seem. Almost everyone I knew is dead now, or the few still alive like Jacqui just look at me like they can't believe I'm really the same person they knew."
"I got a small taste of that when I got out of prison," Black admitted.
"Anyway, thanks for coming out here to meet me, it couldn't have been easy leaving Greer and your little girl," Rogers continued, refusing to dwell on his situation any longer.
"I've got pictures," Sirius grinned. "I can spare a little time away from my angels to see Harry at the tournament. I've got plenty of time to achieve my new mission in life."
"New mission?" Steve asked.
"Teaching Jessica to say away from men like me," Black grinned. "That's a vital lesson for any young girl to learn."
"I'm glad you could spare the time," Rogers smiled, refraining from outright agreeing with Black. "With Tony in the hospital, we're going to be all the family Harry has for this tournament thing. How are we getting to Scotland, anyway? Driving or train?"
"Oh," Sirius grinned, placing his hand on the other man's shoulder. "Much faster than that."
The sudden transition had Rogers rolling away from their arrival point, and coming into a combat stance with his shield off his back and ready. The big blond man blinked at the utter lack of attacks coming his way.
"Sorry," he said ashamedly as he returned his shield to his back. "Reflexes. During the war, we worked with some wizards on a few operations; we always came out in the middle of something nasty. You should have warned me."
"Warning you wouldn't have been as funny," Black observed. "Or as educational. I had no idea that wizards and muggles worked together in the war."
"Yeah, you Wandies had quite a few combat teams, a few squadrons of broom pilots and they were part of the protective services for the Royal family, Churchill and the other heads of state," Rogers explained. "Where are we anyway?"
Sirius grinned and gestured broadly, "welcome to the cosmopolitan wonderland that is Hogsmeade."
"Hogsmeade?" Rogers mused while looking down the nearly deserted cobblestone street, "Abe said he owned a bar in Hogsmeade."
"Abe?" Sirius asked.
"One of my wizard teammates during the war," Rogers explained. "When we assaulted Nurmengard we always operated in pairs, one wizard, one trooper. Abe and I were practically joined at the hip for the entire 6 weeks it took to bust into that castle. Good old Abe. He'd be over 100 years old by now."
"You wouldn't be talking about Aberforth Dumbledore, would you?" Sirius asked in amazement.
"Yeah, that was his full name, but everyone just called him Abe," Steve's face split into a grin. "Everyone except his brother Albus. Albus was such a stiff that he insisted on using everyone's full name, all the time, which is probably why Abe and the other magicals pranked him so much."
"You're telling me that you were at Nurmengard with Albus and Aberforth Dumbledore?"
"Well, me, those two and about seventy others," Steve agreed. "I was just one of the pair in the goofy outfits."
"Steve," Sirius said as he led the living legend into the town, "the official meet and greet at the castle isn't until noon. Before we head to the castle, I think there is someone you need to see."
"What do you want, Black?" Aberforth Dumbledore called out from behind his bar. "I don't open for lunch until eleven."
"I've brought someone to see you," Sirius said, standing to the side so that Rogers could enter the bar.
"Abe?" the hero asked incredulously, "is that you? Man, you got old."
The old man behind the bar dropped the glass he had been cleaning and blinked owlishly. "Steve?" he gasped, "is that you? How? We saw you die!"
"Nah," Rogers shook his head. "You all saw Zemo's flying bomb explode. I was blown free and dropped in the Atlantic."
"You survived that?" Aberforth asked rhetorically.
"Clean living," Rogers grinned. "Though the Super Soldier formula probably didn't hurt. I ended up frozen, they only found me and thawed me out about 10 years ago. I'd have come sooner, but you and Albus were both already older than dirt, I never imagined either of you would still be around, not after I found out so many of the old gang were gone."
The barkeep made his way around the bar to pull Rogers into a hug. "It's so good to see you. How did you find me?"
"That's my fault," Sirius interjected, reminding the pair that he was still there. "I surprised Steve by apparating him without warning, and he just rolled into a combat stance when we arrived. Then he started telling me war stories the way you old codgers do when you get excited, and he mentioned someone owned a bar in Hogsmeade named Abe."
"I'm here to see a good friend's son compete in the Triwizard Tournament," Rogers added. "Though I'm not clear on why they would call it the Triwizard when there are four competitors."
"Wait, you're associated with Harry Stark?" Aberforth asked, putting things together.
"Yeah," Rogers nodded. "Good kid, worries a lot about doing the right thing."
Aberforth frowned. "He's made a strong showing, and surprised a lot of people, but the final task doesn't really play to his strengths."
"Really?" Sirius asked, his Godfather instincts coming to the fore, "How so?"
"He's three years younger than the other competitors and much smaller, even smaller than the girl," Dumbledore explained. "The final task is a Dueling competition, and where he might be able to keep up in the wanded fights, the smart money says that the older competitors will go to Staff fighting against him, since Hogwarts doesn't teach it."
"Staff fighting?" Rogers asked. "Ranged or close in like you guys during the war?"
"Close in, for the most part," Aberforth explained. Upon seeing Roger's grin at this information, his eyes widened. "Maybe I should place a few bets."
"Me too," Sirius chimed in. "Is Albus allowing betting on the grounds?"
"Albus is here too?" Steve asked.
"Oh, Merlin's Beard," Abe swore. "You and Albus, in one place after all these years… Wait a few minutes before you leave, I need to close up the bar for the day. There is no way I'm missing this show."
"Miss the show?" Steve asked. "You clearly weren't expecting to go to the contest. What show are you expecting?"
"After you were 'killed'," Abe said as he ushered the pair from his bar, "Albus let it be known that he was responsible for Gellert's defeat."
"Well," Steve said in a confused manner, "he did cast the spell that finally put Grindelwald down."
"After you beat Gellert over the head and shoulders with that shield of yours," Abe grinned though his massive beard.
"I only got away with that because Bucky stole his wand," Rogers protested.
Abe blinked in shock. "Bucky stole his wand? Not Albus? Did he…?"
"Why would that matter?" Steve asked. "But no, Albus was getting himself free of some kind of plant that had grabbed him with thorny vines. Jackson Murphy and I tried to buy Albus some time by distracting Grindelwald with magic and punches and while we were doing that, Bucky dropped down from the rafters to snatch the bastard's wand away from him."
"Bloody hell," Abe's grin returned. "Did Bucky survive as well?"
"No," Steve said with a shake of his head. "No, his body was never found."
"Hmm," Abe nodded. "We should get to the castle."
"Steve!" Harry called as he approached his mentor. Thanks for coming!"
"Wouldn't have missed it, Trooper," Rogers responded.
The younger man leaned in and whispered, "Is Dad okay?"
"He'll be fine, Harry," Rogers assured the boy. "He just needs some time to get control of his body back. Possession takes a lot out of a man."
Harry nodded. If anyone knew about that sort of thing, it was Steve Rogers. "The final task is going to be a round of duels."
"Dueling seems a bit extreme for a school competition," Rogers mused. "back in my day,"
"When dinosaurs roamed the earth," Harry interjected helpfully.
"When young idiots didn't forget that summer was coming, and so was morning PT," the hero continued, "we confined our fights to the school yard and back alleys. I'm not sure which is better."
"These are duels," Harry explained. "Not fights. If anything, they are more like the sparing you and T'challa do where you can both cut loose to see which of you is better without worrying if you're going to cripple the other guy. We all pretty much get along."
The pair turned to find the Headmaster standing behind them, his mouth open in shock.
"Albus!" Rogers exclaimed, reaching out to capture the old man's hand. "It's good to see you. When Abe told me you were still alive, I couldn't believe it. How are you doing?"
"How?" the old man faltered, "we saw you and James die when Zemo's… machine exploded."
The second reminder of Bucky's death in a day gave Roger's pause. He sighed before continuing, "I survived the explosion, but being dunked into the North Atlantic put me into something like suspended animation, probably due to the Super Soldier formula. I was found and thawed out about 10 years ago."
"And James?" Dumbledore asked, idling fingering the wand within his robes.
"His body was never found," Rogers explained. "And he wasn't enhanced with the Super Soldier formula. I don't believe that there is any way he could have survived… But enough about the past, I had no idea you were one of Harry's teachers."
"Alas," Albus sighed, "I rarely get to teach any longer, not since I became the Headmaster. I'm afraid my time is consumed by administration."
If either of the adults heard the snort that escaped Harry, they made no mention of it.
"Ladies and gentlemen, the third and final task of the Triwizard Tournament is about to begin! Let me remind you how the points currently stand! In first place, with seventy-four points - Mr. Harry Stark, of Hogwarts School!" The cheers and applause sent birds from the Forbidden Forest fluttering into the sky. "In second place, with sixty-eight points, Miss Fleur Delacour, of the Beauxbatons Academy, and tied for third place with sixty-six points each, Viktor Krum, of Durmstrang Institute and Mr. Cedric Diggory of Hogwarts school!"
Ludo Bagman waited theatrically for the applause to die down. "Our Champions are grouped in such a way that the 50 points the winner of the third task will be the overall winner. In the first task, we witnessed our champion's prowess when facing the most dangerous of the magical beasts, the Dragon. In the second we watched as they demonstrated to us all how well they could cope with a changing environment, placing themselves in the defense of another,"
Again, Bagman was drowned out by the cheering and applause, and had to wait.
"In this third task," he continued, "they will face each other in a series of duels. For each round lots will be drawn to determine who will be the challenger. The challenger will choose both his opponent and the method of the duel."
There are three possibilities for the duels. The first being, of course, wands. The duelers will meet in a regulation dueling pit to face each other in classic wizarding combat." Bagman waited for the crowd to quiet down before continuing. "The second option will be staff fighting, the traditional way for Wizards of old to face each other."
The prospect of staff fighting brought the audience to their feet with thunderous cheers.
"And the third possible method of dueling will be the oldest and least well known of them all," Bagman continued. "Grappling. A pair of unarmed fighters enter the pit and only one comes out under his or her own power."
"This will be a single elimination event. When a champion loses, he, or she, is done. None of the matches will have a time limit, and all wins must be by submission or rendering your opponent unconscious. All of this means what we will have two matches immediately and then another in an hour, allowing the winners of each match to recuperate before facing each other."
"Headmistress, if you would?" Bagman asked as he offered an ornate bowl to the huge woman. Madame Maxime reached into the bowl and extracted a slip of paper which she handed to Ludo.
"The Challenger for the first Match will be," Bagman paused as he unfolded the slip of paper so as to read it, "Viktor Krum!"
The cheering from the Durmstrang students exploded.
"Now, Viktor," Ludo asked. "what are your choices?"
"I choose the staff!" Viktor answered. "And I will fight, Harry Stark!"
Viktor strode into the glowing circle, a wide grin on his face.
For his part, Harry was examining the 6-foot long shaft of ash in his hands. He had already given the staff a few experimental swings, and was puzzling how they were supposed to use it. What made it a 'wizard's staff' anyway? That sounded like the beginning of a dirty joke. Surely, beating each other senseless was not the goal of the duel, was it?
"I am sorry, Harry," Viktor said, "But unlike Hogwarts, Durmstrang teaches dueling with Wizard's staffs. I will try to make this as quick and painless as possible."
"Thanks Viktor," Harry nodded. "I really appreciate that. Am I holding it right?"
The umpire, a witch from Beauxbatons entered the ring. "If the two of you are done with your trash talk, the match will be ended, with submission or knockout. Fatalities will result in immediate disqualification and the criminal investigation of the survivor. You may begin."
Harry watched the larger boy as he went into a familiar guard stance. Oh, he thought, so you use these things like pugil sticks. Harry shifted his staff to a two-handed grip. I can work with that.
Viktor moved forward in a supremely confident manner, one that evaporated as soon as Harry drove the butt of his staff into the older competitor's stomach, followed immediately by a sweep of his legs with the other end.
Krum found himself on his back, trying hard not to vomit, his staff well out of reach as Harry knelt next to him and placed the butt of his own staff lightly against Viktor's throat.
"If you're trying to lull me into a false sense of security, you're doing a bang-up job," Stark said with a grin. "Hogwarts doesn't teach fighting with these things, but I've got a trainer back home who loves them and beats me about the head and shoulders all the time."
"Damn you, Harry," Viktor grumbled. "I submit."
"Winner, Harry Stark of Hogwarts," the umpire announced in an amused tone. "A legal win, Mr. Stark, but traditionally, staff duels involve casting at least a bit of magic."
Stark stood up and offered Krum his hand.
"You can cast from these things?" Harry asked, examining the staff anew. "Cool. Can someone show me how?"
"I do not know why I expected you to do anything the normal way, Harry," Viktor grumbled good-naturedly. "Come, I will demonstrate casting with a staff while my ego recovers from the wounds it received."
"I must admit," Fleur said conversationally as she whipped her wand about in familiar motions. "When I heard Viktor select the staff for his challenge, I thought I would end up facing him."
"Maybe you'll still have a chance," Cedric grinned as he went through his own warm up exercises. "I suppose that the judges will need some method of determining third place."
"Third place?" Fleur asked imperiously. "Do you really believe yourself that capable? I thought your Hufflepuff house was supposed to be humble."
"It's not bragging if you can do it," Diggory laughed. "Still, I'm not sure if I want to challenge someone who can create a golem to a wand fight, and now that I've seen him use a staff, I'm thinking grappling will be my best choice for dealing with Harry after we're done here."
"Ooh, two sweaty boys all oiled up…" Fleur teased, "the prospect of that almost makes me want to let you win."
"The match will be ended," the referee from Durmstrang announced in a tone of supreme boredom, "with submission or knockout. Fatalities will result in immediate disqualification and the criminal investigation of the survivor. Loss of your wand constitutes a knock out. Take your positions."
Cedric moved to his mark in the pit, forcing himself into a relaxed state. While waiting for his competitor to do the same, in his mind, he ran through his dueling coach's mantra. Shield, attack, defend. Repeat as needed until your opponent surrendered. Shield, attack, defend.
Those word were still echoing in his mind when the referee signaled the start of the duel. Cedric's wand was in motion, anchoring a dueler's shield to his left forearm before unleashing a low powered Confringo at the ground at Fleur's feet.
He missed. Fleur was in motion, having foregone shielding entirely. His eyes widened when he saw the sphere of fire flying toward his head. She hadn't cast a fire spell, rather, she had thrown it from her off arm.
So, Veela can throw fire, some small part of his mind noted. Good to know. He raised his shield hoping it would deal with the fireball, when his feet flew up from underneath him, resulting in a painful crash to the ground.
Before Cedric had begun to gather his wits, the French girl was standing over him with an evil grin, placing her foot on his right wrist, pinning his wand hand to the ground, while she aimed her wand between his eyes.
"Pax, yes?" she asked.
His options ran through Cedric's mind. Few of them were good, and none of them were honorable. "I yield," he responded.
"Winner, Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons," the umpire announced before exiting the pit.
Cedric accepted Fleur's hand to help him to his feet. "I'm not sure throwing fireballs was strictly fair," he grumbled good naturedly.
"No rules against it," Fleur noted. "In fact, I recommend it. You should always throw fireballs in duels."
"Should I point out that humans can't throw fireballs?" Cedric asked as the pair left the confines of the pit.
"How did young Harry put it when we made note of the advantage his armor offered him?" Fleur asked rhetorically, "ah, yes. 'that sounds like a whole lot of not my problem'."
"Fine," Cedric agreed, "Can you tell me how you managed to pull my feet out from under me? I know it wasn't a summoning charm."
"It actually was a summoning charm," Fleur disagreed.
"But you can't summon people," Cedric protested.
"I didn't summon you," she explained. "I summoned your boots."
"Yes," she agreed.
"You summoned my boots," Cedric demanded.
" It's not bragging if you can do it," Fleur laughed.
"I guess I deserved that," Diggory admitted. "If I were you I wouldn't put much hope in being able to pull that with Harry. I'd wager he's already figured out a counter for it."
"I've got my own special plan for Harry," Fleur's smile grew wider. "Don't worry about that."
"We've seen two magnificent matches so far, with Harry Stark of Hogwarts and Fleur Delacour of Beauxbatons proving themselves worthy of the final match. The final will be in one hour, but first we much find out which of our finalist will be the Challenger, and what the challenge will be. Headmaster Karkaroff, if you would?"
Bagman accepted the piece of paper drawn from the same ornate bowl used earlier. "The Challenger for the final match will be," Bagman paused as he unfolded the slip of paper so as to read it, "Fleur Delacour!"
Rather than a single school, the entire stands erupted into cheers.
"Now, Miss Delacour," Bagman asked. "what is your choice?"
"I have seen Harry wield a staff, and I have seen him use his wand for some most impressive magic," Fleur answered. "I find myself following the suggestion of Cedric Diggory. Harry Stark and I will grapple!"
"So, wrestling with a girl, eh?" Sirius asked with a large grin.
"I thought we had at least a year or two before Harry fell to such depravity," Steve Rogers agreed.
"You two are hilarious," Harry snorted as he stepped into a singlet before pulling the garment up so the straps were on his shoulders. "What's the grease for?"
"It's oil, Harry," Sirius supplied. "It's not required you use it, but tradition calls for it."
"It will make both of you harder to grip," Steve explained. "This changes the wrestling from a test of strength to one of skill."
"Wonderful," Harry groused as he took a handful of the fluid and began rubbing it on his arms.
"Don't forget your hair," Sirius directed, "and the outfit."
"What are the rules for fighting women?" Steve asked, his 'I'm teaching you something, so pay attention,' voice in use.
"Protect the jewels, and fight them as hard as you would a man, if not harder," Harry recited. "Carol drove that one home."
"Carol?" Sirius asked.
"Carol Danvers," Steve explained. "I don't think you've met her yet. Former Air Force officer, one weekend when I was tied up with a broken leg, I got her to run greasy-boy here through his paces."
"She thought I was sandbagging her," Harry interjected. "She ended up chasing me around the compound zapping me in the butt with those freaky powers of hers."
Harry's remanences were interrupted by a flash. Blinking his eyes, he spotted a grinning Sirius with a camera.
"What?" Sirius asked. "Did you really think I was going to let you get covered in oil and not take pictures to share with Tony? Smile!"
Harry had to endure another 10 minutes of photography.
"Okay, I've got to ask," Harry said as he entered the dueling pit to find Fleur waiting for him. "Why the oiled-up fight?"
"Simple logic really," Fleur flexed in the sunlight. "I've seen what you can do with a staff, and if your golem is anything to go by, your wand work is not to be ignored."
The oil on her skin highlighted every single curve the beautiful young woman had. It took all of Harry's concentration to look beyond how… shiny she was.
"Miss Delacour, if you could hold your allure back until the match actually starts it would be appreciated, you are rather distracting the audience," the referee from Durmstrang requested before she held her wand to her own throat and cast "Sonorous!" before continuing; "This is the final bout of the final task of the Triwizard Tournament, and it will end with either submission or knockout. Fatalities will result in immediate disqualification and the criminal investigation of the survivor. Take your positions."
Harry moved to his mark. "Allure?"
"A Veela talent," Fleur explained. "It allows control of the minds of weak men. I have tested my allure on Viktor, Cedric and you, and all of you are resistant to it, you need not worry about that, Harry."
"Oh," He nodded still marveling at how her oil slicked clothing conformed to her body. "That's good."
"Yes," Fleur agreed shaking her head enthusiastically.
He was so focused on her movement, Harry never noticed when the amused referee directed the start of the match. Suddenly, Fleur was no longer across the ring from him, but so close he could feel her breath on his right ear as he looked down into her insanely impressive cleavage. "Of course, you are fourteen years old," she whispered. "I believe a power far superior to my allure has you now."
"Wha?" Harry asked.
"Three minutes, twenty-five seconds," Rogers noted. "In direct hand to hand combat with a young woman who appeared to have no training at all, you lasted all of three minutes and twenty-five seconds."
Harry sat in the Quidditch changing room, his head down in feigned embarrassment as those wonderful three minutes and twenty-five seconds ran through his mind, "Sorry."
Rogers just shook his head, while Sirius offered a huge grin. "I didn't notice a whole lot of fighting on your part, Harry…"
"Maybe we need to put in some extra hand to hand time into PT this summer," Harry offered.
"I'm guessing I'll need to get Simon Williams to come in and give you some one on one lessons," Steve agreed.
"Simon?" Harry asked perking up. "But he… I mean, yeah, he does a lot of hand to hand, but he's… I'm not equipped to deal with…"
"Simon will provide you with the acting lessons you so clearly need," Rogers laughed. "Now, I know you and young Mr. Richards both think I'm 'older than dirt',"
"You heard that?" Harry cringed.
"Oh, I heard it," Steve agreed, offering an evil smile. "I also remember it, and I remember that summer PT is coming back, and paybacks can be epic. I also remember that, despite not having personally been fourteen since dinosaurs roamed the Earth, I would have given my right arm to have a girl all oiled up and crawling on top of me like that French girl was doing to you."
"I quite agree, Harry," Sirius interjected. "This 'oh my, I have failed' routine of yours is completely unconvincing… and don't think we missed the way your attention was completely diverted while she suplexed you."
"It was pretty good," Harry admitted with a grin. "I had a real advantage in not caring about the stupid tournament."
"Not quite the advantage you imagine, Harry," Steve cautioned.
"Why?" the boy asked.
"We happened to notice that your two girlfriends were not quite as amused as Steve and I," Sirius laughed.
"Oh, hell," Harry breathed as he realized his error.
"Though, in fairness, I think it was a tossup if they were angrier with the French girl for being all curvy and oiled up, or with you for noticing," Steve suggested helpfully.
"Get cleaned up," Sirius said, tossing a towel at Harry. "The awards ceremony is in twenty minutes. You need to congratulate the Frenchie, and then face the music with your girlfriends. Steve and I will be there to lend you moral support and laugh."
"He means 'Laugh a whole lot'." Steve Rogers clarified.
"What did I miss?" Harry asked as he arrived for the awards ceremony.
"We are not speaking to you," Cedric sniffed.
Harry stopped in mid step. Attitude from Cedric? "What did I do?"
"You wrestled with hot oiled girl," Viktor growled.
"And not once did you offer to allow either of us to tag in," Cedric grinned.
"Selfish bastard," Viktor laughed.
"Oh, you guys are hilarious." Harry looked around. "Where's Fleur?"
"Didn't you see enough of her already?" Viktor snickered.
"See enough of whom?" Fleur asked. Freshly showered, robed, and coiffed, she approached the three young men from behind.
"These two think they're funny," Harry explained.
"It is the curse of the male gender," Fleur allowed. "If you could all at least try to act your ages, perhaps the ceremony can begin."
As if on cue, Bagman took the stage in front of the champions.
"Welcome to the awards ceremony for the Triwizard Tournament," Bagman announced, his amplified voice echoing off the castle's walls. "We've witnessed a magnificent display of skill, cunning and, yes, even team work among our Champions. Our winner is Miss Fleur Delacour of the Beauxbatons Academy of Magic with a total of 118 points. Miss Delacour has demonstrated admirable magical skill, guile, and even a dose of feminine wiles, as Harry Stark of the Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry can attest."
Bagman suppressed the wide grin that young Stark's suggestion of "Bite Me," inspired.
"Her winning has secured for her the grand prize of the competition," Bagman continued. "One Thousand Galleons, the Triwizard Cup, and of course the eternal glory of being the Supreme Champion of the reborn Triwizard Tournament."
"Harry Stark of Hogwarts has won second place and 200 Galleons with a total of 99 points, while Viktor Krum, of the Durmstrang Institute and Mr. Cedric Diggory of the Hogwarts school finish in a shared third place, winning 100 Galleons each with their final scores of 78 points. Each of the runners up will receive the prestigious Triwizard Medal from the British Ministry to commemorate their achievements. Barty, if you will?"
Barty Crouch, the representative of the British Ministry of Magic, stepped up behind Harry, and looped a broad ribbon over his head. Harry hardly notice when the man took hold of the medal that hung from the ribbon and pulled it hard into Harry's chest.
Harry was about to protest the clinch the man pulled him into when he felt the odd sensation of a hook behind his navel before oblivion claimed him.
A/N: I fully intended for this chapter to finish after Voldemort's regained his body, but that scene has been on my word processor for a month and just isn't coming together.
It's Christmas time, I missed the 10th anniversary of this Fic back on 7 December, so I decided to just end it with the kidnapping, and publish this beast (besides, it was shaping up to be an 18k word chapter).
Happy holidays to everyone. Hope you like what I've done.