A/N: I don't own Harry Potter and wouldn't particularly care to. I would like a rental agreement with option to buy for Hermione Granger. A short term contract with Nymphadora Tonks wouldn't be turned down. A Long-term agreement with Luna Lovegood would probably be a whole lot of fun. Any time Padma Patil wants to open negotiations, call me and oh for a weekend with Fleur. Oddly Lavender and Padma's sister (despite being her twin) Parvati do nothing for me…
AN: In a break from tradition (in other words, the way I have always done it) this story has a Beta. The Great and Powerful Kokopelli himself just could not take what I was doing to the English language and volunteered to translate my scratchings into English. This story is almost completed, and I have five chapters in the beta pipe, so with any luck, there should be a chapter published once a week for the rest of the year. Or not if Real Life doesn't allow it.
Part One: Here There Be Dragons.
There were hundreds and hundreds of faces staring down at him from stands that had been magicked there since he'd last stood on this spot. And there was the Horntail, at the other end of the enclosure, crouched low over her clutch of eggs, her wings half-furled, her evil, yellow eyes upon him, a monstrous, scaly, black lizard, thrashing her spiked tail, heaving yard-long gouge marks in the hard ground. The crowd was making a great deal of noise, but whether friendly or not, Harry didn't know or care. It was time to do what he had to do… to focus his mind, entirely and absolutely, upon the thing that was his only chance.
He raised his wand.
"Accio Firebolt!" he shouted.
Harry waited, every fiber of him hoping, praying… If it hadn't worked… if it wasn't coming… He seemed to be looking at everything around him through some sort of shimmering, transparent barrier, like a heat haze, which made the enclosure and the hundreds of faces around him swim strangely…
- Excerpted from "Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire"
Up in the student section of the stands Hermione Granger had taken to biting her left fist to stop herself from screaming. Harry's Accio had not worked. Why hadn't it worked? They had drilled and drilled and drilled until the charm was second nature to Harry. But it hadn't worked and now the poor boy was standing there in front of the impossibly huge dragon looking so very small.
The crowd went almost silent watching; even Ron's constant harangue about Harry cheating his way into the tournament had gone quiet in the face of the horror that Harry had to face all alone when a single voice rang out.
"I'll lay a hundred to one odds that Potty forfeits or dies."
Every head in the student section turned to face a smirking Draco Malfoy. The Slytherin section of the crowd was peppered with laughter and then silence once again fell on the crowd. Harry still stood stock still in the arena. Hermione decided then that she had to do something.
"The Muggles have a saying Malfoy," she said clearly, loud enough that everyone could hear her. "It's morally wrong to allow a loud mouthed sucker to keep his money, and betting against Harry is always a sucker bet. I have ten Galleons not doing anything just now. I'll take some of that hundred to one action. Are you good for it?"
"Of course I am," the blonde said flushing.
"Oh, good," Justin Finch-Fletchley said from the row in front of Hermione. "I've got twenty Galleons looking for some friends as well. If attending Hogwarts for the last three years has taught me nothing else, it is that Potter usually wins. I'll take you up on your odds."
Malfoy managed to add up what thirty Galleons would be at a hundred to one and paled beyond his usual pallor. He tried to cover his nervousness with bluster. "Are you two sure that both of you can risk that much on a casual bet? Wouldn't it be better used to upgrade the mud huts your pathetic families live in?"
"That sounds like a little boy trying to weasel out of a man's wager Malfoy..." Justin asked with a twinkle in his eye. Getting a dig in for the transformation Draco had suffered at Professor Moody's wand was just gravy. Justin had long listened to Draco carry on about the wealth of the Malfoy clan, but having seen the Wizarding economy and the generalized pricing of consumer goods, the son of a pair of very successful investment bankers was willing to wager that his family could buy and sell that of the arrogant pure blood several times over. "What's wrong, don't you have the balls to carry through with your bet? You can cover Hermione and my little wagers can't you?"
"Of course I can cover it. Your paltry thirty Galleons is nothing to the Malfoy fortune."
"Great," Susan Bones broke in, pulling her eyes from where Harry still stood facing the mother dragon. Cedric was a 'Puff, but Harry was a very nice, very cute boy whom she had had her eye on for a while, and there was no way she was going to let an ass like Malfoy bad mouth him. "Now that you mention it, I could use some pocket money as well. Put me down for ten Galleons too."
The scion of the Malfoy clan paled even further when the crowd around him erupted with wagers against his offered odds.
Well this is bad, Harry thought as he fought to keep from vomiting in terror. OK Boy Who Lived Long Enough to End up Flash Fried, think of something.
Nothing came immediately to mind.
What were the odds that Dumbledore would allow a competition that would kill the competitors dead? It seemed unlikely... but then he had almost been killed every year since he started at Hogwarts, and this year someone had entered him into a contest where, according to Hermione, death was a common occurrence, so, yeah, he could end up being killed here.
The dragon roared, and then seemed to concentrate her attention on a section of the crowd for a moment. The beast's oddly expressive face seemed to curl into what Harry could only describe to himself as an evil grin.
~ You carry the taint of a Speaker little one. Can you understand me? ~
Harry blinked. Dragons spoke Parseltongue? ~ I can, ~ he responded in a similar manner.
The dragon stomped her feet and strained at her chains, roaring furiously. ~ So this is a contest of some sort? A test for you and those others? ~
~ It is, ~ Harry responded, while dodging a gout of flame that seemed to him to have been very poorly aimed.
~ I heard some of your companions in the audience making wagers as to your success against me ~ the dragon said while again straining at her chains and roaring. ~ They are fools of course; against me, you have no chance... However, a thought occurs to me, what would winning be worth to you? ~
~ What do you mean? ~ Harry asked wondering just why these things kept happening to him.
~ It seems to me that I might need a few things for my hatchlings when they make their appearance. Things that no human would ever willingly supply ~ an evil glint appeared in the dragon's eye. ~ Gold however, solves so many problems. ~
Harry mind raced as he dodged yet another underpowered wave of flame. Was this Dragon offering to throw the contest? For money? How much money? He did a quick calculation of the amount of gold in his vault. From his estimated size of the pile in his vault, he guessed that he could give up approximately five thousand Galleons and still be able to afford Hogwarts for the next three years.
Still, there was no point in being stupid about it. ~ 500 Galleons. ~ He offered.
~ It's good to see that some of you humans have a sense of humor, ~ the dragon laughed. ~ Do you really believe you could convince me that you so undervalue your life? Ten thousand. Now cast something at me! ~
~ I'm summoning that rock behind you, ~ Harry said getting into the spirit of the game. "Accio Rock!" ~ I'm not rich; I haven't got that kind of money. One thousand. ~
The dragon grabbed the boulder from the air with her forelimbs before heaving the huge stone close to, but not at, Harry.
Hermione was far too terrified for Harry to manage to join in with the cheering of the crowd around her. Where the other three Champions had all gone at the dragons they faced from oblique angles, Harry was actually standing his ground and fighting the dragon practically toe to toe.
It slowly filtered into her consciousness that the crowd around her was actually chanting 'Harry!' over and over. Even the Hufflepuffs who had raised the sound level for their housemate Cedric were cheering for the tiny boy facing the huge Dragon with such... style.
Who was that, and what had he done with Harry Potter?
~ It's agreed then, ~ the dragon said while dodging the Leviosa Harry had flung in her direction. ~ Two Thousand Five Hundred Galleons, ten hogsheads of Ogden's Old Firewhiskey, and a hundredweight of habanero peppers and I let you win. ~
~ Deal! ~ Harry agreed. ~ How do we do this? ~
~ I'll send a fireball your way, you jump over it and run between my legs. As soon as you are under me, do whatever light show you want and I will do the rest. ~
Harry leaped over the expected gout of flame and ran for all he was worth, wondering while he was doing so if he was just committing a highly choreographed suicide. He slid between the widely splayed forelegs of the dragon and once under its belly he cast the most powerful Lumos he could.
Hermione was blinded for a moment by the sudden pulse of light. Once the spots before her eyes cleared, she saw the dragon lying on its back, with all four of its legs pointing skyward, twitching.
"Potter knocked the dragon out!" Justin shouted.
"Bloody Hell!" Ron agreed as he rose from where he sat.
As one, the crowd turned to the Malfoy heir. "Pay up."
Harry rose from the ground. He must have bunged up his leg in the slide because it hurt like hell when he stood on it. He limped over to the nest and reached for the golden egg.
In a scene horrifyingly like his first year, he found the eggs to be hatching. First one, then another small head emerged from the heavy shell to stare into his eyes. Before he knew it, all five little dragons were staring at him and chirping in an odd tone, much as Norbert had three years before. That was when he realized that the chirps sounded something like baby talk. Why hadn't he noticed that with Norbert?
Realizing that the way the five small dragons were staring at him could not possibly be good, Harry gingerly pulled the golden egg from the pile of broken eggshells, deftly avoiding the small bursts of flame the baby dragons were producing between chirping sessions. Harry then limped over to the dragon, whose legs were still twitching dramatically.
~ You ham ~ Harry hissed.
~ You have no understanding of the dramatic; just get my fee to the red furred servant. ~ She said dismissively ~ tell him it's for 'Kiska' he knows who I am. ~
~ Yeah, whatever. Your eggs have hatched; ~ Harry informed the still over acting dragon.
~ Good, perhaps the servants will return me to my home sooner for it. ~
Shaking his head Harry made his way to stand in front of the judge's stand. He raised the egg to show that he had accomplished the task.
After a three count Harry turned and limped to the enclosure's entrance, where Madam Pomfrey and the other Champions were standing looking at him open mouthed. The stands were absolutely silent.
"What?" he asked.
And the crowd went wild.
Barty Crouch Jr. stood in his hiding place behind the stands with a look of shock on his borrowed face. When he made his suggestion to the Potter boy that he play to his strengths he had actually imagined that the child would mount his broom and display some of the talent he was famous for.
But this? The boy had done battle with and defeated a dragon?
How was that even possible?
A traitorous part of his mind wondered if even his master could have done the same with only a wand. He quickly clamped down on that thought, hating himself for doubting his master even within the privacy of his mind.
Crouch froze and curse himself yet again for having not yet mastered Moody's charmed eye. The damned girl had snuck up on him again.
"Good afternoon Miss Gwinn," he said trying to think of a way to end this conversation a quickly as possible. "Potter performed rather well at his task didn't he?"
"Hmm?" the seventh year Hufflepuff asked, her left hand idly playing with the décolletage of her blouse. "Did something happen?" Hope Gwinn paused to moisten her lips, "I was looking for you..."
In his life, Barty Crouch had regretted many things. He regretted getting caught in the raid on the Longbottoms, he regretted failing his master, he regretted the fact that Alastair Moody was evidently a breeder, and most of all he regretted that the old axiom that 'chicks dig scars' was turning out to be true, at least as far as several of his 7th year female students were concerned and this one in particular.
Though that regret was rapidly falling to second place when he made the horrifying discovery that his polyjuiced body was responding to the young woman precisely as the original would.
Charlie Weasley entered the rough log cabin that served as the offices for the dragon reserve through the employee entrance. It had been a week since he and his coworkers had returned the she-dragons and their clutches from that stupid tournament and the dragons were still in something of an uproar.
The higher ups all claimed that the dragons did not really communicate between themselves, but as the four nesting mothers came into contact with other dragons, the new comers seemed to be infected by the she-dragons' hostility. Any fool could see that the dragons were talking, and they were not pleased... All except Kiska, who seemed to be inordinately pleased with herself for some reason beyond the normal pride of a new mother with her brood happily flying about her.
That little detail was worrisome all by itself.
The redhead paused at the door to the Reserve Director's office and knocked.
"You wanted to see me Boss? Kiska is still acting a bit weird, even for her; her babies are awfully cute though."
"I rarely want to see you, Weasley," Constance Beaumont answered dryly. Beaumont was an older witch who had been a dragon handler for most of a century, with the burn scars to prove it. All of the handlers working on the Reserve respected the woman, and more than a few feared her. "The goblins of Gringotts on the other hand," she gestured toward a small being wearing the bank's crests, "seem to have some use for you."
The goblin looked up into Charlie's eyes. "You are Charlie Weasley?"
"I am," Charlie answered cautiously. He had never had much in the way of dealings with the goblins, as the Weasley clan rarely had enough gold to require a trip to the family vault.
The goblin thrust an ornate stone tablet with several sheets of parchment attached. "Sign on the bottom of page one, page seven, and page nine, initial in the marked spaces on pages three, four, ten and fourteen."
"What is this?" Charlie asked unwilling to sign anything handed to him by some goblin, even if the being was wearing Gringotts' livery.
"Can't you read human?" the goblin sneered. "You have been designated the proxy for the she-dragon Kiska, and as such you are taking delivery of a gift for her."
Beaumont and Charlie exchanged a glance at the mention of Kiska's name. Who would be sending gifts to a dragon? Charlie's eyes then went to the delivery receipt in his hands. "Twenty five hundred Galleons, ten hogsheads of firewhiskey and a hundredweight of habenero peppers? Who would send that to Kiska? Where is it? I'm not signing for anything I can't see."
"I don't believe it, a wizard with basic business sense," the goblin said with just a touch of grudging respect. "Outside."
Charlie and Beaumont followed the goblin out to the front of the cabin. There, guarded by four large unfriendly looking Security Trolls they found a large chest, and the rest of Kiska's 'gifts'.. "Seriously?" the redhead asked, "someone sent a gift to a dragon?"
"I don't question a client's motivation," the goblin commented, "If he has the gold, I make deliveries. Sign the receipt, human, I'm a busy goblin."
In the end, it took every handler working at the Reserve to deliver the she-dragon's gifts to Kiska's cave. This is partially due to the penalties that would be exacted upon the Reserve's staff should the delivery not take place with expediency, but mostly it was the novelty of a dragon being sent gifts that drew the handlers to Kiska's lair.
Outside the cave, Charlie made sure that everything was ready, and then raised his dragon whistle to his lips and blew as hard as he could. The horrible wet sound of a cow being eviscerated issued from the device. The handlers all hated the sound of a dragon whistle, but it was the only device known to Wizard-kind that was guaranteed to bring the huge beasts running... Or flying as the case may be.
It only took seconds for Kiska to appear at the mouth of her cave, as well as a crowd of dragons from throughout the Reserve.
Charlie could not believe his eyes at the reaction of the huge she-dragon when she spotted her gifts. The Horntail was practically hopping in place with glee at the gold and other things. A giddy dragon? Now he had seen everything.
Kiska was directing the other dragons in the task of taking her treasure into her lair, when she seemed to notice the assembled handlers. The huge she-dragon seemed to fix them all in her stare, and then she butted her head against the flank of one of the smaller males who was carrying one of the firewhiskey hogsheads in his mouth. The drake deferred to the larger female and laid the hogshead at her feet, and then entered the cave to join the others.
The horntail lifted the hogshead in her mouth, and then swung about to face the handlers, until she was snout to nose with a very confused Charlie Weasley. Charlie hardly had a chance to register her hot, humid breath in his face, before she spat the heavy hogshead into his chest.
Charlie found himself thrown backwards into a pair of his fellow dragon handlers, and the three large men struggled to remain upright under the combined weight of fifty gallons of firewhiskey and the wooden cask that contained it. The other handlers gathered to wrestle the heavy cask off their friends and coworkers in time for them all to see Kiska the Horntail vanish into her cave.
"What," Charlie asked the world, "the hell just happened."
"I'm not sure Weasley," Constance Beaumont answered, her voice full of wonder and confusion, her eyes never leaving the cave entrance. "But I think you were just tipped for good service."
The assembled Dragon handlers worked through their confusion at the actions of their charges in the time tested manner their profession had always used. They drank from the hogshead of firewhiskey until they no longer cared about being confused.
~ Good morning, ~ a voice said, waking the dragon from her slumber and introducing her to her newest hangover. ~ Are you Kiska the Horntail? ~
Kiska opened a single bloodshot eye and unleashed a gout of flame upon the speaker.
~ Yes, ~ the speaker said in a bored tone. ~ Very impressive. Now, are you Kiska? ~
The Horntail opened both of her eyes now, ignoring the pounding in her head and found a somewhat singed Feathered Serpent staring at her in that disturbing unblinking way of its kind.
~ Sorry, ~ Kiska hissed. ~ Something of a party last night, feeling a bit fragile this morning. ~
The snake did the head roll that passes for a shrug for its kind. ~ We've all been there, my name is Alejandro Q. Emplumada, and I work for The News of the Magical World. ~
That caught Kiska's attention. The News of the Magical World was the premiere news magazine for all of the non-human sapients in Europe, available in whatever format an individual sapient might require; it carried all the news that anyone in any of the magical communities could possibly care about. To be interviewed by The News was an honor.
A soft cough caught Kiska's attention; to the Feathered Serpent's left she discovered an embarrassed looking Yeti, an amused Hippogriff, a midsized Acromantula sporting a pink bow on the left side of its multi-eyed head and a small fur-less human who appeared to be busily scribbling on a note pad.
~ You brought an entourage? ~
Again the snake did the head roll shrug. ~ Reporting staff. I speak Dragon and Yeti, Ming there speaks Snake and Hippogryff, Pinfeathers speaks Yeti and Acromantula, and Missy speaks Hippogryff and Human. The one with the note pad is our boss, Xeno Lovegood. He owns Lovegood publishing and The News. ~
~ A human owns and publishes The News of the Magical World? ~
~ And about a dozen other major Magical Sapient publications. He even has a magazine intended for humans, but that is mostly just a weird hobby he uses to amuse himself and his hatchling... So, about the human's Triwizard Tournament, what really happened when you faced down the Boy-Who-Lived? ~~~~~~~~
~ Well, ~ Kiska began, ~ it's really a funny story... ~
"Twenty seven thousand Galleons?"
"Twenty seven thousand two hundred," Draco corrected his father quietly.
"And how," Lucius asked attempting to rein in his anger, "did you come to owe twenty seven thousand two hundred Galleons?"
"I was following your instructions to undermine Potter and Dumbledore whenever possible Father," Draco answered, wishing more than anything that he was anywhere but standing in front of his enraged father. "At the first task I saw my chance to humiliate Potter. He was just standing there in front of the dragon looking like he was going to pass out... so I..."
"So you what?" Lucius barked.
"So I offered hundred to one odds that he would forfeit or die," Draco admitted. "I didn't think anyone would take me up on it, I mean Potter was just standing there like he was going to wet himself. Then his pet Mudblood said it would be wrong to let me keep my money, and bet ten Galleons."
Lucius closed his eyes and slowly counted to ten, wondering, not for the first time if the best part of his son had not run down his mother's leg on the night he was conceived. "Alright," he sighed. "That's a thousand. Where did the rest come from?"
"Another Mudblood, this one from Hufflepuff, said that he'd learned to never bet against Potter. He bet twenty."
"Which started a rush to take your bet?"
The younger Malfoy became extremely interested in his own shoes. "Yes father."
"And what makes you think that I will pay for your foolishness?"
Draco swallowed noisily, "When I couldn't make good on the wagers there were threats of going to the Prophet and calling into question the honor of the Malfoy family."
Lucius fixed Draco with a stare, the beginnings of a tic forming below his left eye. The aristocratic man produced a coin bag and handed it to his son. "Fine. Needless to say it will be several years before you get any more pocket money."
"Father!" Draco responded, shocked at the thought of being cut off from the family vaults.
"I trust," Lucius continued, ignoring the boy's outburst, "that you will continue in your assigned duties to undermine the support that Dumbledore and Potter have at the school?"
"Of course I will Father," Draco responded, disturbed that his father might think he would shirk his duties to the family. "I have a cunning plan in place to humiliate Potter at the Yule Ball. I am your son after all."
"Yes," Lucius nodded absently while trying not to imagine what might pass for a 'cunning plan' in his son's mind. "I know. And four paternity charms confirm it, against all odds."