AN: I'm going through the story with a beta finally. I'm sure people will be thrilled that I'm finally having an extra set of eyes go over things to catch all the little typos and spelling goofs I made.

This story is 615 pages long, 32 chapters. It is 'complete' in that it's the whole book 1. I'm already writing the sequel. There is a link on my author profile to my fanfiction forum where I post progress reports on the sequel.

First beta-pass by Clemex

Disclaimer: I am not JKRowling. I do not own Harry Potter. I am making no profit on this and it is an entirely for-fun endeavor.

Summary: It's Harry's 4th year at Hogwarts and his name has just come out of the Goblet of Fire. Everyone has abandoned him and he feels utterly alone. Through an accident Harry and the piece of Voldemort's soul that resides inside him begin to interact and Harry slowly begins to change. He becomes stronger and more aware, and slowly grows aware of a more sinister course of events that has perpetuated his entire life.

Warnings: this story is sort of pre-slash / slash. The story is NOT ABOUT THE RELATIONSHIP. The relationship doesn't even really happen until around page 450 (which translates to roughly chapter 24), so if you're here for a ship fic, you won't really find it, or you're going to be waiting a long time before it gets there. The pairing is HP/LV Yes – Voldemort. But it's more of an adult TR than the scaley snake-faced Voldemort we're all more familiar with.

Rated M for violence, torture, language, and some mild sexual situations.

Dark!Harry, eventual Slash, HP/LV, Manipulative Dumbledore


Harry Potter and the Descent into Darkness

Harry was alone. He'd never felt so lost and alone in his life. Even when at the Dursley's when he was a young child, he hadn't felt this alone. At least then, alone was all he had ever experienced. He didn't have anything to compare it to. Now he had known friendship and knew what it felt like to have friends and confidants with whom he could trust. Having it all ripped away from him, and being submerged back into that abyss of solitude was crushing.

It was now November 3rd, but his problems had really started on October 31st. Terrible things always happened on Halloween. So of course, he had been wary. Experience had taught Harry to dread this day each year, but he had not seen this coming. Not by a long shot.

He was in his 4th year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and things had started out fine enough. Granted, the attack by Death Eaters at the Quidditch World Cup several weeks before the start of term had been a rather terrible experience, and then there were the foreboding dreams Harry had been having... but actual school had been great, so far. Even their Defense teacher was brilliant. Mad. But brilliant.

So when Harry's name had come shooting out of the Goblet of Fire, naming him one of the Tri-Wizard Champions, he had been stunned into a dumbfounded silence.

The entire school was convinced that he had cheated somehow. That he'd managed to find some way around Dumbledore's age line and had entered his name into the cup. More than that, his cheat had somehow screwed things up so badly that there were two champions chosen to represent Hogwarts when there was only supposed to be one.

The day after the champions were chosen, a reporter from the Daily Prophet named Rita Skeeter had come to interview the four of them. Her article was like a nuke of horror and embarrassment upon his life. It was utter rubbish and gossip drivel, of course, but that didn't stop people from believing it.

The entire school was against him. He was the attention seeking, cheating, liar, who still cried about his parents death sometimes at night, and had serious mental stability issues. But all of this would probably be within his ability to cope with – if it weren't for the abandonment of the two people he had trusted he could trust to always believe him.

Ron was angry. He didn't believe Harry for one minute when he told the redhead that he hadn't put his name into that cup. He was convinced that Harry had found a way around the age line and had entered his name without sharing the information with Ron. That Harry didn't want the added competition. That he didn't want to risk giving Ron the chance for glory of his own.

The stupid sodding git was just so jealous of Harry's fame that he was blind to the truth. The fact that he could honestly believe that Harry would want anything to do with 'eternal glory' stung hard. It showed that his friend really didn't know him much at all.

And then there was Hermione. Even she didn't believe him! She was angry at him for cheating. For doing something that had screwed up the tournament to make four champions instead of three, and she was angry at him for being so reckless that he would do something to put his life in danger. She was so angry that she couldn't see past the fury to listen to his insistence that he hadn't done it in the first place.

It was Saturday and he was hiding away in his dormitory. All of his dorm mates had left for breakfast. None of them bothering to 'wake' him, since none of them were speaking to him. Not that he wanted to go to breakfast anyway. He was sick of the stares and the whispers, and the open mocking from every damn Slytherin in the school.

He lay down in his bed, buried deep within the red quilts and shadowed beneath the heavy drawn curtains that surrounded his four-poster bed. He closed his eyes and tried to clear his mind of all the pain and loneliness he felt. The sense of utter abandonment filled him and he clenched his jaw, taking in sharp breaths through his nose as he tried to push it all away. Turn everything off. Shut everything out.


He slowed his breathing and it was coming out in even, deep breaths now. He escaped deep into his mind in a way he hadn't done in years. He used to do this when he was shut away in the cupboard and trying not to cry because of something especially hurtful his relatives had said or done to him, but he had stopped doing it at some point.

As he retreated deeper and deeper into his mind he slowly began to recognize the place. It had been so long since he had done this. He'd utterly forgotten about it. The space was vast and formless. A large white expanse that had an ambiguous floor plane, and white walls surrounding an extremely large empty space. To one distant corner he noticed a cold, dark spot that he hadn't paid any attention to in so many years, that he had honestly forgotten that it was there at all. He examined the dark spot curiously for a moment. His memories of it were foggy and faded with time. It had been so long since he'd last paid this place any mind. He had honestly thought he had imagined the whole thing.

Yet as he thought about this isolated dark corner, he realized that it had always been there. It had always been with him, but it had been completely lost to his awareness for many many years. He remembered some long lost memory of being afraid of this cold dark spot inside himself. That he'd had some... reason why he was scared of it. In his youthful naivety he had thought it something horrible that needed to be shunned and hidden away, but he couldn't remember why.

He knew that at some point, a long time ago, he had begun to push it away though. That he had held it off through a great force of will. Like he had built up some great mental barrier around it to keep it away from him. To keep him separate from the scary dark spot in his mind.

Now that he was actually paying attention to it, he realized he was still doing it. It was like some sort of automatic defense mechanism now. It was just there. He just did it. It was always doing it. Surrounding the foggy dark corner was an invisible barrier, and he could feel that a lot of his magical power was going towards keeping it there. He wondered how much of his energy had been dedicated to constantly keeping this tiny thing pushed aside for so long.

He examined the dark spot with a speculative eye now. Wondering if there really was a good reason for him to have feared it, or if it was worth the expenditure of energy to keep pushing against the spot. It seemed rather innocuous to him now. Granted, it was cold over there.

His first experiments with approaching the dark spot were comparable to poking it with a long stick. Mentally prodding at it in short, quick gestures. Curiously watching for any sort of response. There was none.

He continued to examine and mentally 'approach' the darkness for some time after that, and found the closer he allowed himself to get to it, the warmer it felt. It wasn't really cold at all. And it felt oddly... comforting. It felt almost like a foreign presence, and yet it wasn't a presence that he felt any desire to expel.

He brushed up against it and felt warm and comforted. In his mindscape he imagined himself standing in the vast white room, and the dark spot was foggy and blurry, and yet it had substance. He stroked his hand against it hesitantly and he... he liked what he felt. It wasn't just a softness in his 'hand', but a shudder that ran through his whole body. A giddy tingle that made him smile his first real smile since the events of Halloween had come to pass.

He's automatic defenses had still been up this whole time. Caging the dark spot into it's own tiny corner, but he decided to lower them now. The dark thing didn't seem threatening at all. He wasn't afraid of it any longer, and saw no reason to exert any of his magical energy just to keep the thing cornered.

He stopped the constant battle his magic had fought against the dark spot for the last however many years and felt as if an enormous weight was suddenly lifted from his shoulders. He gasped in surprise at the tremendous difference it had made, almost instantly. He couldn't believe how much of his magic had been going towards holding off the dark thing! It was insane!

He wondered suddenly if this was why he'd had such pathetic results in his classwork for the last three years. Had his practical spellwork been impeded by this battle his subconscious had fought with itself all his life?

Harry refocused on the dark thing again now to observe how it reacted to the sudden release of it's prison. It didn't seem to be doing much of anything, really. It was still there, and it still felt... nice to touch it. It hadn't suddenly grown or moved, or lashed out in any way. It still just sat there in his mind's eye, being rather innocuous. Harry wondered why in Merlin's name he had been afraid of the thing in the first place. He realized suddenly that it was probably some childish thing that had no real baring, and he had constructed this subconscious barrier through accidental magic and had held it up through instinct.

It was mind boggling to think that some subconscious accidental magic he'd done when he was only four or five may had been seriously holding him back in his magical education. It was almost disgusting.

He finally emerged out from his inner mind and sighed heavily as he finally acknowledged that he needed to get out of bed. Even if he avoided meals with the rest of the school, he still had homework that needed doing, and he couldn't neglect it any longer.

– –

It was... incredible. His mind was so clear. His magic was so easy to control and manipulate. He could feel it swirling around him, ebbing and flowing with powerful waves, crashing upon the magic that lie ingrained in the castle around him. He'd never felt so in-tune with magic before in his whole life!

He'd never realized just how much of his magic, and his sub-conscious had been dedicated to the task of fighting against the little dark spot, until he had stopped the battle. Now the magic was always right at his fingertips and everything responded so quickly and easily. His mind was so much clearer now too. He just understood what was written in the books, and what the teachers said. It made so much sense, and he was dumbfounded that he had gone so long just not getting it.

It was so obvious! How could he have gone so long without seeing the truth? Without understanding what it was he was doing?

Magical theory had always been just beyond his grasp. He could do the spells with enough practice, but he never really understood the how and why of the magics before. But he did now. He could see the magic. Feel it as it worked it's way around and through him. His magic worked with him so easily and the thrill of having such easy control of it was exhilarating.

The last week of classes had been such an incredible experience that it had actually managed to outweigh the mocking and the angry glares that followed him wherever he went.

Each night before he let sleep claim him, he had regulated his breathing and let his awareness slip deep into his mind so he could examine the dark spot some more. He wanted to keep track of any reaction it might have to no longer being fought against, and so far there had been... none. It remained the same shape and size and in the same spot, resting deep in the back of his mind.

Why on earth had he wasted so much energy and mental concentration, for so long on fighting this small dark spot in the back of his mind!

He wished he could remember what had caused his younger self to be so afraid of this thing.

He had gradually began to approach the dark spot more and more. His classwork and studies had proved to be great distractions, but he still felt horribly alone. Having his two best friends utterly shun him still stung horribly, but when he let himself approach the dark spot, the horrible ache would fade away. The dark spot filled some of the empty void with a foreign warmth and he would sigh with the slightest bit of contentment.

– –

Another few days passed. Hagrid had him come out into the forest under his invisibility cloak and had shown him the dragons. Madam Maxime had been there too, and on his way back to the castle, Harry had run across Igor Karkaroff, so there was no doubt that both Krum and Delacour knew about the dragons as well.

Harry doubted that anyone had bothered to warn Cedric about it.

That night, after seeing the dragons first hand, Harry had had a firecall with Sirius. His godfather warned Harry that Karkaroff was once a Death Eater. He also told Harry that he suspected that whoever put his name into the goblet of fire had done so in the hopes that Harry would end up dead.

People died in this tournament. There was a reason that only wizards of age were allowed to compete. Harry, only at the start of his fourth year, was wholly unprepared for the tasks he would have to face. He simply hadn't been studying magic long enough to have been introduced to even a fraction of the magics that his fellow champions had.

At that point, Harry was still in the process of being utterly horrified by the prospect of having to face off against an enormous dragon. Sirius had told him that he knew of a simple way to tackle one, but had been cut off when Harry heard someone coming down into the common room. They had had to end their firecall early, and Harry felt incredibly disappointed by this.

His disappointment shifted into bitter anger when he discovered that the person who had interrupted his call had been none other than Ron. The jealous, traitorous git who had once claimed to be his best mate.

He's just an attention-seeking glory hound.

All he ever wanted from me was to bask in the cast off light of the 'boy-who-lived'. Once he realized that he was just living in my shadow, he got angry and turned on me.

A little voice inside Harry's head remarked bitterly.

– –

Harry spent every free moment he could find in the next few days, researching dragons. The more he had read about them, the more he realized just how horrifyingly dangerous dragons were. Usually huge teams of wizards were responsible for restraining and subduing the enormous creatures. It took twenty wizards casting simultaneous stunners to actually knock one out.

He set the book he was reading down on his bedside table and lay back in the overstuffed covers and sighed heavily. It was late – probably sometime after midnight – and all of his dorm mates were asleep. He was stressed and quite honestly, really starting to freak out. The task was only a week away and he still had no idea what he was going to do.

He lay back on his pillow, closed his eyes, and escaped into his mindscape. He'd found that spending time near the dark spot calmed his frayed nerves in an oddly pleasant way. He liked being near it. Liked brushing his 'fingers' along it's surface. He'd even begun laying against it. Leaning into it like a giant cushion. It's warmth enveloped him in a wonderful way. It was like it saturated every frayed nerve and calmed them. He could think clearer after being inside his mindscape, and he felt energized and magically rejuvenated after spending time in close proximity to the dark spot.

He escaped to it again, just then, going directly so it and settling himself beside it, feeling it's warmth envelope him. He sighed happily as he relished the feeling of having something there with him. He couldn't quite explain it, but when he was with this small dark spot in his mind, he felt as if he were with someone else. Like he wasn't alone.

He sighed heavily again and without even deciding it do it, he began to speak. He rambled and talked on and on about what had been happening in his life and the stress and worry that filled him as he worried about the task.

He'd never actually done this before. Talking to... well, himself, really. As he thought about what he was doing, he knew, rationally, that it was pretty crazy, and yet he did it anyway. He just... he wanted someone to talk to, and even though he knew it was crazy, he really did feel like this little bit of darkness in his mental world of pure white, was a separate person from himself.

After what felt like a very long session of ranting and raving, Harry fell silent and was able to relax into the comforting presence. He felt cleansed, somehow. It felt good to vent. To let it all out. To finally tell someone, even if he were really just telling himself.

The dark presence that he lay against seemed to... shift suddenly. It was small, but Harry was keenly aware of the dark spot, and noticed any change in it instantly.

He stiffened and all of his senses went on alert as he mentally observed it for any and all changes.

The dark spot didn't change 'shape' or 'size', but the presence seemed to... embrace Harry, as he was leaning beside it. This was all mental, and any physical manifestation was purely imagined on Harry's part. Much of it didn't really have any sort of physical manifestation at all – it was all just impressions and feelings. But if Harry were to put some sort of physical descriptor to what changed, he would almost say that the presence had just pulled him into a hug.

Slowly, he relaxed into the calming sensation. The embrace continued and it soothed him in ways he could not possibly describe. Harry never liked to be touched much. He wasn't accustomed to physical contact. The only contact he ever got from the Dursley's was painful or just fundamentally negative. He had never been held or hugged before coming to Hogwarts. So even when someone tried to make physical contact with him now, he always shied away from it. He didn't know how to react, so he just escaped.

But this was different.

He felt no desire to pull away. No discomfort or uncertainty. He didn't feel awkward. There was no embarrassment or urge to get far away and return to his comfort zone. This was his comfort zone.

He let out a long, slow sigh, and felt a mountain of tension melt away with it. The presence wrapped him tighter and it was as if it were wrapping him up entirely and holding him close. He'd never felt more whole, and accepted in his whole life. He loved it. He never wanted it to end.

He wanted to hold the presence back and he found that he was. He and the dark presence held each other for a very long time while Harry's conscious mind lulled away into unconsciousness as he slid into sleep.

– –

The next morning he awoke with what he could only describe as an epiphany. Harry now knew exactly how to handle the dragon. It wasn't a single 'simple spell' so he knew that it wasn't the same thing that Sirius had been thinking of – nor would Sirius ever think to do what Harry was now planning to do. However, even if it had nothing to do with what his godfather had been about to suggest, he knew that his answer was probably a better one anyway. He was absolutely positive that it would work.

First, he needed to make sure he got either the Chinese Fireball, or the Green Welsh. He knew it would work much better on those two breeds than it would the Horntail or the Short-Snout. The Fireball would be the easiest. It would listen. Being an eastern liondragon, it would be able to understand the best. The trick now was to make sure that he got it.

Harry was so consumed with his eager planning for the task, that it was nearly a whole day later when he first thought to worry about where this sudden inspiration had come from.

He'd read so many texts on dragons over the past few days that the knowledge, and which book it had come from, had all bled together. He told himself that he must have read it from somewhere in all of those books, but the more he thought on it, the more he was sure that he hadn't.

In fact, as he continued his search now, he realized he couldn't find a single reference in any books on dragons, that said that a speaker of... of parseltongue would be able to communicate with one.

Where had the idea come from?

Was it just some idiotic dream, and he was basing all of his plans on something that wouldn't work?

But he was absolutely positive that it would. He just was. So he pressed through the wall of uncertainty and refocused on his current task.

Making sure he got the Fireball.

His job was made easier when he saw Ludo Bagman walking the grounds from the forest that afternoon. He quickly ran after the man and managed to find a quiet, out of the way, spot to talk with him. A voice in the back of Harry's head told him that this was probably 'cheating' but a surprisingly louder voice insisted that his priority was surviving, not winning. He didn't care what he had to do. He just wanted to make it through this alive.

He asked Bagman in as round-about a manner as he could, that if there were multiple things to choose from in the next task, what might be the method used to assign each of those things to a specific champion. Bagman quickly caught on to what Harry was doing, and, thanks to his gambling debts and his stakes in Harry's winning, he eagerly assisted.

It turned out that each contestant would have to reach into a bag and blindly pull out a miniaturized version of the dragon that they would then have to face.

Harry also discovered that, as the youngest of the four champions, he would have to choose last. This greatly complicated his efforts. He wasn't willing to rely on luck of the draw when his chances were only one out of four that he'd get the dragon he wanted.

That night he slipped into his mindscape and recounted his troubles and his concerns to the dark spot while he relaxed back into it's warm, comforting embrace. He could almost swear that it was responding to him from time to time. There weren't words or sounds, but there was the definite impression of feelings. Like it was sympathizing with his woes. Like it understood. It was like a mother, holding and rocking a child when he was scared and alone. And yet it was also like a good friend. Or a companion who understood you better than anyone else ever could. One who you could truly trust would always be there for you.

Harry couldn't explain why he felt the way he did. None of it could really be put into words that would make sense to anyone else. Despite the lack of logic, he had no desire to fight it. He felt better than he ever had before. His magic was stronger, and he felt more at one, and more comfortable with himself than he could ever remember feeling in his whole life.

The dark presence held him and calmed his frazzled nerves. It listened to his worries, and it added in little vibes of feeling here and there in a way that made Harry utterly convinced that it really was listening. If that made any sense at all... which he knew it didn't.

The next morning Harry woke with a wide grin. It spread across his face and he felt giddy. There was a strong urge to giggle... or maybe cackle. But a moment later he squashed it down and frowned slightly as he let his mind really analyze what he was now planning.

One some level, he knew it wasn't right. That it was... unfair, or something equally ridiculous. Stupid reasons for putting one's life on the line, honestly. He pushed these concerns away by reminding himself that there really would be no benefit at all to the other champions as to which dragon they ended up with. Harry was the only parselmouth in the bunch, and the only one who would benefit from getting the Fireball.

In fact, the fireball was one of the more dangerous of the bunch. The Horntail would be really dangerous too, in the physical sense. It was littered with painful, deadly, spikes, and Hagrid had made it sound like it had an exceptionally nasty disposition – but the range of it's fire breath was actually the smallest of the bunch. The Fireball had the widest and longest range and it wasn't 'fire breath' as much as it was a fiery molten liquid spray.

If he made sure that the other contestants didn't get the fireball, he was really doing them a favor. Really.

After lunch that day Harry followed Cedric Diggory out of the great hall after lunch. The popular Hufflepuff boy was always surrounded by other students – students wearing Potter Stinks badges – but Harry forced himself to push back his self-consciousness and approached the older boy.

"Potter? What's up?" Cedric asked, shooting several of his snickering friends looks that told them to shut up.

"We need to talk. It's important."

Cedric gave him a suspicious, hesitant look but finally nodded his head. He told his friends he'd be back in a minute and followed Harry to an empty classroom. Harry sucked in a deep breath, still unsure if he could pull this off. There was a war waging in his mind over the morality of what he was planning to do, and yet, strangely enough, the part of him fighting against it because he knew it was 'wrong' was surprisingly weak in it's protests. It was as if he were fighting against it only because he felt like he should be fighting it – not because he actually believed that it was wrong.

Harry turned to face the older Hufflepuff and put up a rather convincing nervous mask. His real nerves, however, left him almost the instant he committed to really doing it, and instead an excited glee filled the pit of his stomach. He was almost excited to see if he could really do this. If it would really work.

"Cedric, I wanted to warn you."

The older boy narrowed his eyes and the suspicion was back full force.

"I know what the first task is going to be," Harry said, giving the other boy a determined nod and looking directly into his pale gray eyes. He felt the magic swirling around him. It bent to his will effortlessly. He didn't even have to say any words! Not that he had any idea of what spells would allow a person to read someone's mind, anyway. He was doing this entirely on instinct. He really wasn't sure why he knew he could, but he just knew it would work. And it was so easy! Hell, he was barely clutching his wand! He slipped into the other boy's mind with ease and could feel thoughts and emotions swirling around him.

Cedric was eager and excited at the prospect of getting a heads up on what was coming, but he wondered why in Merlin's name, Harry would be telling him any such thing.

"The first task is dragons," Harry continued to say. The older boy was still entirely oblivious to Harry's presence in his mind. Harry had to fight hard against the smirk that tried to spread across his lips. This is too easy!

"Dragons!" Cedric exclaimed and his mind filled with panicked thoughts and images of enormous scaled beasts with sharp fangs and walls of fire.

"Yeah, they've got four of them. A Swedish Short-snout, a Hungarian Horntail, a Green Welsh, and a Chinese Fireball," as Harry spoke the last one he followed the thought in the older boy's mind and encircled it with the strongest sense of dread and loathing he could subtly muster in Cedric's mind. He encased the very thought of it with the strongest desire to avoid it at all costs.

Don't choose the Fireball.

Cedric's expression only showed his utter horror at the idea of fighting a dragon for a moment before he managed to master his face into a committed, if not still rather unnerved, mask. The Hufflepuff's thoughts weren't nearly so ordered or controlled. He was utterly panicking on the inside.

Cedric noted, for a split second, that it was odd that he should be so terrified of the Fireball, but he also knew that the Chinese dragons had insane range with their molten fire breath, and figured that was probably why.

"Why are you telling me this?" Cedric asked suddenly as the suspicion from earlier took hold of his thoughts again.

"When I saw them – the dragon's I mean – I saw Madam Maxime and Karkaroff out there too. If they know, their champions know. It was unfair for you to be the only one of the four of us who didn't know," Harry said with an innocent face and a simple one-shoulder shrug. Cedric looked surprised and mentally commented on how naive Harry was.

Harry had to fight hard against a smug grin.

Naive indeed. He mentally chuckled.

Eventually, Cedric accepted Harry's gesture and thanked him for the information. The two parted ways and Harry finally allowed the sly smirk to cross his face.

Just too easy.

– –

The next day Moody had held Harry after Defense class and it almost seemed as if the man were trying to subtly offer his assistance to Harry. He even went so far as to tell him that cheating was a part of the Tri-Wizard Tournament's historical past time. This mildly soothed some of Harry's conscious, but he was already dedicated enough to his plan that he'd mostly gotten over his moral concerns.

Moody asked Harry if he had a plan for how to tackle the task and actually seemed rather shocked when Harry insisted that he did, and said as much with a surprising amount of confidence.

Moody had looked at him curiously but finally nodded his head and let him go to his next class.

– –

Finding Krum alone was easy enough. The enormous Bulgarian-of-few-words spent a surprisingly large amount of time in the library. The trick was getting to him before his 'fan club' arrived to crowd him.

Harry had easily noted a pattern in what times the Durmstrang student showed up in the library, since Harry himself had been spending so much time in the place lately, and was there waiting for him the next afternoon. He cornered Krum almost instantly because he knew he didn't have any time to waste. He called up the magics around him, loosely gripped his wand in hand at his side and slipped into Krum's mind.

The Durmstrang student was immediately wary and his mind was filled with suspicion. Harry used basically the same story he had with Cedric – with a few necessary modifications. He knew Krum already knew about the dragons, but Krum didn't know that Harry knew that – Harry had been under his invisibility cloak when he saw Karkaroff in the forest. And since Krum didn't want to get his headmaster in trouble, he pretended like he hadn't already known.

After the briefest moment in his mind Krum seemed to notice that something was... off. He didn't know what it was, but he mentally registered that something felt strange. Harry kept his stay in Krum's mind very short, and looked around as little as possible so as not to draw attention to his presence.

Krum already had the desire to aim for the Short-snout or the Green, so Harry subtly pushed for the Short-Snout, while adding in the aversion to the Fireball. He also reduced Krum's aversion to the Horntail, and added in the thought that it wouldn't be so bad since it had the shortest range in it's fire.

He left the older boy none the wiser, and with an even more smug grin plastered across his face.

Getting to Fleur Delacour alone seemed an utterly impossible feat. She was always surrounded by a hoard of giggling French schoolgirls, and the group of them glared angry daggers at any boy who had the balls to approach them. Of course, most boys who approached the half-veela, did so as a heap of babbling incoherent hormonal idiocy, so the girls' irritation was clearly warranted.

The task was only one day away at this point and Harry was beginning to feel slightly desperate. He needed to get o Fleur. His chances in the first task were already drastically improved, but Fleur would still get to draw before him, and with his luck, she'd pick the damn Fireball and screw him over.

He had back-up plans, and was at least mildly confident that he could still survive the task with the other dragons... or at least, he really hoped so... but his chances were far, far better if he got the damn Fireball!

He'd spent every morning and evening inside his mind with the dark presence. It gave him strength and encouraged him. Whenever he was feeling hopeless it would make him feel better. It was as if it were somehow telling him that he was strong and that he could do it, even though it had no words to tell him with. He could feel his confidence growing with each visit, and each morning would wake feeling better and more self-assured than the last.

So that morning with only one day left till the task, after a wonderfully invigorating hour of relaxing inside his own mind, he got up out of bed with an eager skip to his step and made his way quickly out into the grounds. He'd seen the Beauxbatons girls out in this part of the grounds studying a lot, and hoped he'd get lucky and find her out here without having to run half-way around the school searching for her.

He grinned widely as he saw her sitting on the grassy lawn with several other girls in light-blue tailored robes. He strode up to the group of them with a confidence he never would have felt before tearing down the barrier he had used to fight against the dark presence. He had always been so shy and insecure. He was so ruddy happy that he didn't feel that way anymore. He was so sick of that person. That stupid, weak, little boy.

"Mademoiselle Delacour?" He asked with a confident, but calm smile. The girls sitting around Fleur all looked at him with a mixture of surprise, or annoyance. A quick sweep of the girls surface thoughts didn't help with most of them since they were thinking in French, but their emotions and mental imagery told Harry that they were upset at having their study session interrupted by some stupid little boy. But several were surprised at he had managed to come up to Fleur without being a blathering, simpering mess.

"Monsieur Potter?" she asked, raising a single curious eyebrow, but still giving him a rather hesitant and curious look.

"I'm terribly sorry to interrupt your study session, but I have something really important to tell you. It will only take a moment," he said in a sweet, polite tone and an innocent smile.

She narrowed her eyes, and all of her fellow study partners looked suspicious and surprised, but Fleur stood to her feet and joined him about twenty feet away by another tree. Harry was surprised to note how very little her veela aura was effecting him. He easily pushed past the minute effect of irrational desire and slight increase in lustful feelings and urges that her halfblood creature decent caused. He could acknowledge that she was a pretty enough girl, although certainly nothing dramatically greater than any of her friends, or any of the 'pretty' girls at Hogwarts. But he really didn't find himself attracted to her at all. She was just a girl.

He was already wielding his swirling magic with practice ease, and slipped deep into her mind without any effort. She already knew about the dragons, just as he had suspected, although she hadn't been familiar with the specific breeds of dragons they would have to face. Just like Krum, she acted as if she had no idea what the first task would involve, and was quite surprised and impressed with Harry's sense of what was 'right' and 'just'. Krum had simply thought Harry incredibly naive for sharing information, but Fleur thought him noble.

She had no sense of his presence in her mind, and it was an easy matter to plant a strong aversion to the Fireball in her subconscious.

Harry left her quickly and she returned to her school mates, looking back at the younger boy with a curious little grin. Harry couldn't help but look at her over his shoulder and give her a slightly cocky smirk. She rolled her eyes at him and returned to the group of excited, giggling girls.

– –

The task was scheduled for the following afternoon, but only classes from lunch onward were canceled, so Harry sat through charms class that morning in an impatient haze. A huge part of him just wanted to get it over wish. He was anxious and felt impatient. Another part of him was still terrified that his theory on how to tackle the task wouldn't work and that he was going to be fried alive

Despite his strange, inexplicable faith in the parselmagic he planned to use, Harry had also spent quite a bit of time researching fireproofing and shielding charms in the library as a back-up plan.

The class assignment that day in charms was to practice a summoning charm, and Harry had completed it perfectly on his first attempt and saw no point to spend the rest of the class trying to call things from across the room when he already knew he could and instead sat at his desk making every object in his bag fireproof.

The class was clearly struggling with the summoning spell, which Harry found mildly amusing. At the same time, he knew that if he'd tried to perform the spell a month earlier, he probably would have had just as hard a time with it. It truly was amazing how huge a difference it made, now that he wasn't fighting against the dark presence.

Hermione kept shooting him disapproving glares as he sat there silently tapping his wand on the various books, quills, and bound parchment that he'd pulled from his bag. He glanced over at her and glared right back at her.

He made eye contact long enough to discern that she thought he wasn't doing anything at all, and was ignoring the class assignment.

She didn't think he could do it. Thought he was incompetent.

She had no faith in his skills or abilities. Thought he was probably failing epically at all of his homework since she hadn't been there for the last month to do it for him.

Of course, she hadn't thought these things quite so literally, but it was obvious from the general feel and shape of her thoughts and feelings that that was basically what she thought of him. She masked some of her lack of faith in him with concern and the desire to help him better himself, but the fundamental foundation of her opinion of him was clear.

His scowl deepened and anger raged.

Her brow furrowed and it was clear she was confused by the emotions she saw boiling behind his bright emerald eyes.

Their eye contact was broken suddenly by Professor Flitwick coming over and asking Harry about his progress with the summoning spell.

Harry sighed in mild annoyance and turned his focus to one of the apples sitting on the teacher's desk at the front of the room. He pointed his wand and willed the apple to come to him. He didn't even bother to say the accio incantation. He didn't need to. The magic came to him with such ease, that actually bothering to verbalize the spell took more energy than was necessary.

Flitwick squeaked in excitement as he watched the small red fruit fly across the room and directly into Harry's outstretched hand. Harry glanced over at Hermione as he heard her gasp in shock and gave her a smug grin before refocusing on the excited little professor.

– –

Lunch was a subdued affair for him. A tiny, terrified, voice in the back of his head kept wondering if this was the last meal he would ever have, but a larger voice kept telling himself that he was overreacting and that he just needed to calm down and stay focused and he would survive this stupid task.

He forced himself to eat and avoided looking at any of the Gryffindors sitting around him, shooting him looks. Some looked concerned for him. Some annoyed. Harry didn't care. They were all arses as far as he was concerned and they could all go to hell. Their opinion of him didn't matter anyway.

Finally, Professor McGonagall came over to him and led him from the Great Hall, out of the school, across the grounds, and into a tent set up for the champions. The others were already there, and they all looked to be in various states of dread and terror. Fleur looked pale and was pacing back and forth furiously. Cedric looked green. Krum was standing to the side of the tent with his back facing them all and his shoulders hunched and filled with tension.

Harry let out an impatient huff and stood to the side and leaned against a table there.

It felt like ages had passed after that. During the long wait, they could hear all of the students and other spectators arriving and noisily making their way past the tent and entering the stands.

Rita Skeeter even tried to slip into the tent to interview them. Harry had glared at her angrily and was only a second away from hexing her and her photographer into oblivion when Krum yelled at her to get out.

Finally the headmasters and Ludo Bagman entered the tent and the specifics of the task was described to them.

Apparently the dragons were all nesting mothers. Harry wanted to groan at this information. They were going to be brutal and vicious! Each dragon had a nest placed at the far end of the stadium and inside that nest was a golden egg. The champions were to retrieve the golden egg without getting killed.

Great. Sounds easy. Harry thought, sarcastically.

So the task was to get past the dragon, not defeat it. That, at least, was a relief. Harry had doubted that he could actually kill the dragon with what he had come prepared with. Getting past it shouldn't be too hard.

The three headmasters and Crouch would be judges. They would award points to the champions based on how quickly they completed the task, the level and proficiency of spells they used, and several other minor factors, like doing all this without damaging the other eggs in the nest.

Harry worried for a moment how the headmasters would score his magical spell-use since he was going to be using parseltongue, but pushed the concern aside. He didn't give a damn about the blasted score. He was doing this to survive, not win. He had no interest in 'eternal glory' or the stupid prize money.

Finally Bagman pulled out a small pouch that was wriggling slightly, as if something alive was crawling around inside it.

One and a time, he had the four champions reach their hands down into the bag and pull out one of the objects. The objects, of course, were the miniaturized version of the dragons. The four breeds of dragon were easy to identify by touch, and Harry watched with glee as Cedric pulled out the Short-Snout, Fluer the Welsh Green, and then Krum the Horntail. They had all avoided the Fireball just as he had wanted.

He quickly had to muffle his grin and pull on a nervous mask as he reached his hand into the bag and pulled out the long, slender, wingless, serpentine dragon.

The fireball had a number '3' around it's neck, so he would go third. He sat in the tent and waited impatiently while Cedric went first, followed by Fleur. He could hear the commentary, but was trapped inside the tent during the actual events. From what he could discern from the commentary, Cedric had transfigured a large rock into a dog and used it to distract the dragon while he went for the egg. He had ended up getting burned in the process and was taken to the medical tent

Fleur attempted to charm her Welsh Green into something of a trance. The dragon wasn't completely subdued, however, and blasted Fleur with fire, setting her robes alight. It sounded like she hadn't gotten burned badly, but was taken to the medical tent anyway.

Finally it was Harry's turn. His heart was thrumming away madly in his chest. Adrenaline was coursing through his veins and he felt the excitement setting his magic alight around him. It was swirling and dancing and his very skin tingled with magical energy.

His name was called and he made his way out into the rocky stadium.

At first glance, he couldn't see the dragon anywhere, but he could feel it's strong magical presence just around a rocky bend and decided to quickly cast the fireproofing spells on his clothing before the dragon became aware of his presence.

A few intricate wand movements over himself and the silent magics were cast. Next he conjured an invisible magical shield and attached it to his left forearm so he could hold it up and shield his face if necessary. The magic surged through him with such ease that it made him feel giddy and almost lightheaded with eager anticipation. He was almost surprised to find just how excited he felt at that moment to see if he could really pull this off.

Finally, feeling as prepared as he could, he began to climb cautiously around the rocks. He came around the bend and heard a great threatening hissing sound fill the air. It was a strange sound. He understood words within those hisses but they they were distorted slightly. Almost like hearing someone speak English with a thick accent.

MY eggs. Protect. Must defend. Disgusting humans. Taking my eggs from me. They'll pay. Fire. Burning fire. Insolent puny creatures. Defiant. Ignorant.

Harry came into the dragon's sight and it roared in anger. It was a split second from spewing a fountain of molten fiery liquid at him when he yelled out. §STOP!§ he called out in a powerful commanding voice and laced with a surge of persuasion magic.

The beast froze, stunned and pulled back, eying him cautiously.

He began to walk, cautiously along the rocky pass, always facing it and never breaking eye contact with it. It hissed angrily and curled it's body into a defensive position as he inched it's way closer to the nest. It was hissing angry words at him, telling him that the nest was HER'S and that she wouldn't allow anyone to harm her eggs.

§I do not wish to harm your eggs!§ He said in that same, loud, commanding tone that left no room to doubt his words. §One of the eggs within your clutch is an impostor! It is not one of your eggs. It threatens your young! It will hatch first and then smash all of your eggs to destroy it's competition! I am here to aid you. I will take the impostor egg.§

§You will not touch my eggs!§ the beast hissed back.

§I will not. You're eggs will remain untouched!§ Harry called out loudly. He was still making his way closer and closer to the nest. §YOU WILL NOT HARM ME! YOU WILL PULL BACK!§ Harry commanded again, and the magic surged around the words and ensnared the dragon. It hissed loudly in protest and shook it's head, but it began to walk backwards, leaving more and more space between it and Harry.

Harry was distinctly aware of the total and utter silence of the stands around him. Even Bagman's commentary had ceased. His display had clearly stunned the audience, but he wasn't going to care about that. Everyone already hated him, and the students and teachers of Hogwarts were already aware that he was a parselmouth.

Harry made his way to the nest, slowly and steadily, never once turning away from the dragon or breaking eye contact. The beast was clearly struggling against the command and was watching him carefully for any signs that he might harm her eggs.

Harry reached out towards the nest and the dragon arched and crouched menacingly. Harry hissed angrily as the display of aggression and the dragon began to back down again. His hand touched the golden egg and he carefully scooped it up.

Still with the same slow caution that he'd used in approaching the nest, he began to climb back away from it. The dragon was still tensed, but it was able to identify that the golden egg he carried was, in fact, not one of hers, so she did not fight the commands holding her and let him pass. He got a decent enough distance away and hissed that she could return to her nest. She did so quickly, coiling her long curvy body around the nest defensively and snarling angrily at the stands of people elevated above the outside of the stadium.

Finally confident that he was in the clear, he raced away and back to the start and through the exit.

It took a moment, but the stands erupted into cheers and Ludo Bagman finally resumed his commentary, exclaiming over Harry's surprising performance.

– –

Reaction to his performance had been mixed. Dumbledore, apparently, didn't approve of him using parseltongue in such a public setting, but didn't voice his disapproval openly, but rather though those annoying subtle indirect hints he always seemed to use.

He had also given Harry a 9.0 in his score, while Madam Maxime and Karkaroff had both given him perfect 10's. Crouch gave him a 9.5. Harry found it amusing that the two competitors had actually given him a perfect score when his own headmaster had deducted points for publicly using a 'dark' skill – even if it was to keep from being eaten or burned alive.

Nice. Harry scoffed bitterly. Neither Maxime or Karkaroff had ended up giving any of the other competitors, besides their own, perfect 10s, so Harry felt rather pleased with his performance.

After the scores were awarded and the champions were finally allowed to leave the tent and head back to the castle, Moody walked with Harry and questioned him about the performance.

"You mean you didn't know?" Harry responded, rather surprised that the defense teacher had no idea that Harry was a parselmouth.

"How the devil would I have known something like that?" the grizzled old auror asked indignantly.

"Oh... well, I just figured Dumbledore would have told you... I mean, he did tell you about the basilisk in my second year, right?"

"Basilisk!" Moody exclaimed in confused shock.

Harry gaped at the man. "He didn't tell you!" He couldn't believe that Dumbledore hadn't told the defense teacher about it, but perhaps Dumbledore avoided telling his prospective defense teachers about the miserable events that lead to any of the previous teacher's departures from the position.

"Tell me what, Potter?"

"In my second year I discovered the Chamber of Secrets beneath the school. One of the students was being possessed by this evil old artifact and it was controlling her in an attempt to kill the muggleborns. She ended up down in the chamber while the artifact tried to possess her body and drain all of her magic.

"I had realized that year that I'm a parselmouth, and it was because of that, that I was able to get down into the chamber. There was a giant basilisk down there and I... well, I killed it. But all year long I'd heard it hissing as it crawled through the pipes and secret passages of the castle. Always hissing angry things, and I was the only one who could hear and understand it."

Moody was staring at Harry with surprised shock, and the utterly stunned expression was odd to see on the older wizard's scarred features.

It took a few minutes of continued walking towards the castle for Moody to shake himself from his stupor and speak again.

"That was still reckless of you, Potter," he said, finally.

"Huh? What was?"

"Using parseltongue in front of all those people. Reckless, I say!"

"How so?" Harry asked, confused.

"Not many people are going to take kindly to you being a parselmouth."

Harry scowled. "Hell if I care. I already have the whole blasted world hating me. Everyone in the school, third year and up, already knew I'm a parselmouth."

"Maybe, but they had clearly forgotten about it. You just threw a big flashing reminder in their faces. Parseltongue is a dark art, Potter. People won't take too kindly to the idea of their savior practicing something like that."

"Pfft. Like I care. I never volunteered to be their ruddy savior."

Moody narrowed his eyes and gave Harry a speculative look. "It doesn't bother you? That you used something considered dark to win?"

"I did what I had to to survive!" Harry argued defensively. "Besides, I hardly see how it's dark. So I can speak to snakes. Big deal. Magic is about intent and how you use it. Light and dark is relative. If I had to use dark arts to survive, then so be it. It's better than ending up as dragon food, and that magic just comes to me so naturally. It's easy and..." Harry said but froze as soon as the words were out of his mouth and looked over at his defense teacher hesitantly – worried, suddenly, that the man wouldn't approve of what he'd just said.

Oddly enough, the corner's of Moody's mouth were turned up in a wry, approving grin. The old man nodded and quickly changed the subject for Harry's sake. He was grateful.

– –