The four champions, 3 wizards and 1 witch, all participants in the increasingly inaccurately named 'Tri'-'Wizard' Tournament, stood on the dock at the shore of the Black Lake. Bagman's amplified voice rung out across the crowd.
"The champions have each had something precious taken from them. In a minute, we will start the clock, and they will have 1 hour to get their hostag...their something precious back, lest it be lost to them forever. Champions, you have 3 minutes to prepare yourselves."
Harry looked around at the crowd. He'd known this moment was coming, and he looked for certain key people. Sure enough, 4 out of his 6 guesses were correct. Cho Chang and Padma Patil, as Cedric and Victor's dates to the ball were missing. Roger Davies was still there, drooling on himself as he watched the girl he had taken to the Yule Ball strip down to a silvery muggle-style racing swimsuit. He obviously was not what she would really miss the most, as she had selected her date by holding a charity auction, proceeds going to St. Mungos. Roger had paid over 600 galleons for the pleasure of drooling on her that night. But her parents were also there, looking absolutely incensed at the fact that her little sister, Gabrielle, was NOT.
And Hermione, his own date to the Ball, and now his girlfriend, was nowhere to be seen.
Harry discretely waved his wand, activating the monitoring charms he had established on the champions, and on those he had suspected to be hostages, providing him with a subconscious stream of vital health information. He then carefully deactivated the ones on Ron and Roger, as they were obviously in the stands, drooling over Fleur in eerie unison.
He smiled to himself as he realized just how much he had changed in the short two months since he actually started dating Hermione. Once he had been willing to actually listen to what she was telling him about study habits, she had drilled the 8 P's into him: "Proper Prior Planning Prevents Piss Poor Performance, Potter!" Similar to Moody's "Constance Vigilance!", just with less hearing loss. He had done his best to anticipate their actions against him, and Hermione, and he had prepared accordingly.
Bagman reapplied the Sonorous. "Alright, champions, get ready. Remember, the first one to get his hostage back here gets full points, the others lesser amounts depending on how long they take to arrive." The crowd gasped as he revealed that the task was a hostage rescue, but from the lack of response from the champions, they had obviously already figured it out.
"GO!" A cannon blast charm signaled the beginning of the task, and the timer started. Viktor dove into the water, shifting to a half-human, half-shark form. "Must be his Animagus form", Harry thought. Fleur used a bubblehead charm, and dove in, rapidly sinking out of sight. Cedric, however, pulled an object from his pocket, and enlarged it. It resembled a broom, with sharply tapered bristles. He jumped in the water, and straddled the 'broom', and shot across the surface of the water at fairly high speed, diving below the surface when he reached about 50 yards out.
Within 30 seconds, Harry was the only contestant left on the platform. He stood there looking calmly out over the water. After about 30 seconds, the crowd was muttering to itself, and Dumbledore called out, "Harry? Is everything alright, my boy?"
Harry turned and stepped over to the judges, a slightly confused, thoughtful look on his face. "Can I get some clarification on the rules for this task, Headmaster? It should only take a moment." As he spoke, he cast a subtle Sonorous, so his voice could be heard by the whole crowd.
There was some murmuring in the stands at his obvious inability to understand a very simple task. The Headmaster looked concerned, but after a glance to the other judges, he nodded. "Certainly, my boy, but the clock IS still ticking, so you should not waste too much time."
"Of course not, sir. From the fact that my girlfriend is not in the stands, would I be correct in assuming that the hostage that was chosen for me was Hermione Granger?"
Bagman spoke up. "Miss Granger is indeed your hostage, Mr Potter. And she is currently waiting for you at the bottom of the lake, so you had better get moving." He sounded somewhat anxious about the situation.
Harry nodded, and continued. "So if I understand the task correctly, in order to complete it satisfactorily, I must resolve the hostage situation, and bring Hermione Granger here, in front of you, without causing injury to anyone else, or breaking any laws and I am permitted the use of any items I have personally enchanted beforehand, like Mr. Diggory's device."
The judges looked at each other. This was a very concise summation of the rules for a boy who had seemed just moments before to not understand them. But they could find no flaw in his analysis, so they turned back, and responded, "That is correct, Mr. Potter. Your task is judged complete by presenting Miss Hermione Granger to us here, and you may use any legal, non-injurious means to do so. But any items used, other than your wand, must be personally enchanted by you, not purchased."
Harry grinned hugely. "Thank you for that clarification." He looked thoughtful for a moment. "I am reminded of one of the storied Professor Moody told us a couple months ago, about a hostage situation he had been involved in, and it gave me an idea. In a hostage situation, where one had advance knowledge of the potential for a specific hostage to be taken, the best way to resolve the situation ", he reached out to the side with his wand, "is to not let it happen in the first place."
So stating, he flicked his wand, and Hermione rippled into view, standing at his side with a huge grin on her face.
The crowd went crazy, some cheering him on, some calling that he had cheated. The judges were trying to speak, but were being drowned out by the noise. Through it all, Harry and Hermione just stood there with wide grins on their faces.
Finally, after about 30 seconds, Dumbledore stood and let off a cannon blast with his wand, bringing the chatter to a slow halt. He looked sternly at the students before him.
"Mr. Potter, the rules say nothing about retrieving you hostage before the time of the contest. By sneaking there early, you have violated the rules. Therefore.."
Harry hastily cut him off. "Actually, Headmaster, I did no such thing. I have not been under the lake at all. And actually, neither has Hermione."
Dumbledore looked at him sternly. "I beg to differ, Mr. Potter. I retrieved Hermione from her bed last night, and placed her under the lake myself. Lies will get you nowhere."
"No, Headmaster, what you placed under the lake was a Butterbeer bottle, transfigured to Hermione's likeness. Hermione slept Disillusioned in a different room in our dorm last night. You saw what you expected to see, and didn't question it further. So I prepared in advance, created an item, personally enchanted by me, to assist me in fulfilling my task. It was neither illegal, nor did it cause anyone any harm. And you assisted me by placing it under the lake."
The crowd noise went crazy again, and the stunned judges got their heads together, talking furiously. After a moment, they broke their huddle, and Dumbledore looked down at the two students.
"If that is the case, then the transfigured item would have been your hostage, Mr. Potter. Your task is to retrieve the hostage that was placed in the lake."
"Actually Headmaster", Harry countered, "you were correct." He stressed the past tense of the verb. "However, when I asked you to clarify the task, you confirmed that the task was not to retrieve the hostage, but to resolve the hostage situation, which is a very different thing. You also confirmed that Miss Granger was indeed my hostage, and that my task would be completed by presenting her here. "
He pulled a small book from his robes, and opened it to a specific page. "The official rules of the Tri-Wizard Tournament, as ratified last summer by the heads of the schools involved for this specific tournament. Rule 213.b reads "The judges have the right to change any task for any contestant, provided such change takes place prior to the contestant actually beginning the execution of the task. Any such change must be approved by all judges, and the new task presented either in writing, or stated explicitly to the contestant in the presence of at least 2 witnesses."
He closed the book. "Your confirmation of my restating of the terms to explicitly designate Miss Granger as the hostage I needed to produce, whether intentional or not, qualifies as an alteration of the rules of the task I was required to perform. It was agreed upon by all judges, and given to me verbally before I made any attempt at starting the task, and it was done in front of the requisite witnesses. "
Dumbledore grasped at the straw offered. "Yes Mr. Potter, but it was not the intention of the judges to alter the terms, therefore they were not altered. You must still complete the original task."
Harry replied, "I must beg to differ, Headmaster. The timers that determine the completion of the task are tied to the magic of the Tournament, and as you can see, mine has stopped." He pointed the magical timers for each contestant, showing that indeed, his times had stopped a number of minutes prior. "The tournament itself recognized that I have completed the task. The specifics have changed, even if it was not your intent to change them."
Dumbledore's brow furrowed as he tried to counter the argument. "But, my boy, intent is key to magic. As it was not our intent to change your task, it could not have been changed."
"On the contrary, Headmaster, there most certainly was an existing intent to change the terms of the task. But it was not your intent. It was mine. I intended to get you to specify changed terms, so when you agreed to them, they were made official. My intent, not yours. Contract magic works both ways, sir."
Dumbledore glared at him, annoyed beyond belief that this boy would do something so .. so .. so Slytherin! Harry was supposed to be a true Gryffindor, charging into danger to protect those he loved!
The glare was interrupted by a number of chuckles, and a few outright laughs. He looked around to find that quite a few of the audience were laughing outright, and many others seemed mightily amused. Including 2 of his fellow judges.
Madame Maxime was chuckling outright at the audacity the young man had displayed. "Faze eet, Alboos, ze boy is correct. 'E 'as played us as a master would. I may not be 'appy aboot eem beeing in ze Tournament, but 'e did win zis one, and wizin ze rules. Granted, eet was not a method any of us zought ov, but zat does not make eet cheating or unfair. I just weesh zat eet had been Fleur would zought of eet."
Bagman looked somewhat sheepish, but spoke up as well. "Albus, he tricked us, true, but it was within the rules, and the magic of the Tournament confirms that he won. We'll just have to remove that loophole for the next Tournament. But that kind of ingenuity should be rewarded."
"What would you have done, Mr. Potter, had you not been able to trick us into making the statement you wished?" Karkarov's swarthy face was angry.
Harry shrugged, and pulled a small wrapped package from his robes. He held up a small vial. "Plan B was merman polyjuice, and a preset tracking charm. Brewed it myself, and procured a small supply of hairs from one of the Merfolk about 3 weeks ago." He lifted a larger package. "Plan C was gillyweed. Harvested myself from the lake, using a bubblehead charm, which was Plan D."
"And Plan E, Mr. Potter?"
"Plan E was actually the absolute last ditch, and was against the Tournament rules. Remote activated portkey. Against the rules, because I had to buy it, as I don't yet have the right to make portkeys."
She laughed at that, then laughed again at the look on Dumbledore's face.
Dumbledore scowled, but realized that with 2 of the four judges siding with the boy, he couldn't win this argument. He hmmphed, and turned to the boy. "Mr. Potter, it seems the judges are split evenly, and the Tournament's magic does indeed confirm your 'win'. I am, however, extremely disappointed in your attempt to flaunt the rules of this contest."
"Not flaunted, headmaster. Used to my advantage, rather than yours."
He stared the headmaster in the eye, just inviting the old man to use Legilimency.
As he felt the tingle against his shields, he projected. 'Not as much fun from that side, is it, headmaster?'
Harry decided he would treasure the look on the old man's face for a very long time to come.