Knowledge is Useful, but Power is Power
A/N: This story had such a good reception when I posted it in Common Sense (my odd ideas file) that I decided to continue it as its own story. Chapter two should be up in a few days.
The fourth book is my favorite, but I have an abiding problem with the Goblet of Fire. Why make it in the first place? Why continue to use it? Here's a possible answer. BecomingStrong!Harry, SecretlyHelpfulbutEvil!Dumbledore
An owl flew into Dumbledore's office on a beautiful June afternoon. Sirius Black was alive, no thanks to the Ministry. The students had another day before they departed.
Albus took the parchment from the owl and bade the bird drink or eat. Instead, the owl left. It seemed to know it carried offensive news.
Dumbledore read the parchment from the Ministry and frowned. His opposition to restarting the Triwizard Tournament was ended. The Minister convened a small panel of the Wizengamot, his cronies and friends, and pushed the idea through. The contracts were agreed, just waiting the last signatures. Dumbledore as Chief Warlock would have to be in London the following day to add his signature to the debacle.
He hated not having a choice. But that was the danger he hadn't known existed when he allowed his name to be put forward in the Wizengamot as Chief Warlock. He was now bound, by oath, by magic, to do the will of the Wizengamot. Had been for decades. Not a leader so much as its bound servant, a glorious sounding prison he had walked himself into.
He would endanger school children for a competition when his whole body cried out that he mustn't. (Similar restrictions on his freedom had led him to bring the Philosopher's Stone into Hogwarts a few years earlier.)
The Chief Warlock was a prison but it wasn't unique. Any job in the Ministry could be a prison, not that many ever knew it. The Minister was told by his predecessor, if the predecessor survived his term of office. Cornelius didn't know how to dress himself in the morning, but Lucius Malfoy knew how to craft laws that bent Dumbledore into (at least) mentally painful configurations. Malfoy yanked Fudge around and Fudge did what Malfoy wanted. Up to a point.
Dumbledore pulled a sheaf of parchments from his desk drawer, his file on Malfoy. He leafed through them, remembering
Malfoy had to be devious. Had to propose benign sounding laws. If he did something as obvious as tossing Dumbledore out of Hogwarts with a few strokes of a quill on parchment...well, even his puppets on the Wizengamot might notice. So they played this game. Dumbledore, hamstrung, Malfoy a much weaker person but given wider latitude and full mobility.
Malfoy hadn't yet managed to evict Dumbledore from Hogwarts...but he'd come close a few times. Managed to get Fudge to throw the Malfoys a seat on the Board of Governors. Managed to hide his complicity in reopening the Chamber of Secrets that could have killed so many. Managed to resurrect this ridiculous tournament. Trying to push Dumbledore forward, into the public eye, trying to make him fail so that he could be deboned and served to the public.
Malfoy... He had done more than bought himself an acquittal for 'being under the Imperius Curse.' He had bought himself a whole lot of law to protect himself from people in the Ministry, people bound by oaths to the Ministry. Good people hamstrung by once decent laws, now abused by the evil who slunk around in the corners of their society.
That was the only reason Malfoy was still above ground. The old ways, the ways of justice for those who escaped official notice, were denied to Dumbledore because of words Malfoy or someone like him poured in Bagnold's ear...and Fudge's ear. There were laws that prevented Ministry oathholders from killing except in direst self-defense. Dumbledore didn't believe at all in Malfoy's redemption. But the laws made him preach it...and denied him the power that lived inside his body, his magic in its full damage-dealing splendor. Otherwise, Dumbledore himself would have cleaved Malfoy's head from his body in a duel to the death moments after Malfoy walked free from the courtroom.
It was all a mess, all these purchased laws, all these private sanctuaries for evil.
He knew Tom Riddle's identity and couldn't say it. A law Abraxus had managed to get through the Wizengamot in the 1960s, well cloaked, but obvious enough when Dumbledore wanted to understand why he couldn't do the things he needed to do.
Dumbledore knew of Tom's horcruxes and couldn't hunt for them without a special permit. A permit application Lucius would see before almost anyone else.
Dumbledore shoved his Malfoy file back into his desk. He turned his attention back to this newest outrage from the Ministry, the proclamation about the resurrection of the Triwizard Tournament. He'd even have to take some credit for this debacle. "For encouraging international cooperation," would have to be his stated motivation.
It was disgusting. It had been expensive to make all this happen. Why had Malfoy spent gold to make all this happen? What did he get out of it?
Not knowing worried Dumbledore.
If Dumbledore knew what Malfoy wanted, he could work through a proxy. Given enough time, enough notice. If he knew the target, he could erect something to interfere with Malfoy's plan.
This last year...hell, the last three years, Dumbledore had worked his will through Harry Potter. The poor child. What the coming year would mean...how bad it would get...
Ah! That was Lucius Malfoy's target. The Potter heir, once again. The boy who had a legend appended to him of being stronger at age fifteen months than Voldemort had been in the prime of his life. Fair or unfair, Harry Potter would always be a target.
So Lucius Malfoy had resurrected the Triwizard to add an old weapon into his quiver, one designed to handle very strong wizards. With the Triwizard Tournament came the strongest of the involuntary binding objects created and still possessed by the Ministry of Magic. The Goblet of Fire, a disgusting artifact. A binding tool.
Binding. It was a horrible, searing word in Dumbledore's mind.
Binding was the greatest of the secret arts of the wizarding world. The teaching of necromancy was illegal, unless done with a permit. The teaching of blood and soul magic were illegal. Period. No permits forthcoming. (Not that it had stopped Albus from exploring pieces of blood magic, including blood wards, over the years.) But the teaching of binding magic without a permit was the only kind punishable by death.
The study of binding magic was reserved to the Ministry alone. Reserved to the oathcrafters who doubled as lawyers in various departments. To the enchanters who maintained items like the Goblet of Fire.
Lucius Malfoy had a new plot in mind. His master's horcrux and basilisk show wasn't enough. Now he was going after Harry, the boy who had torn down his plot.
This was a Ministry affair so Dumbledore was bound to silence. Unlike Malfoy who had never sworn a Ministry oath and was not subject to those restraints. He bribed for votes rather than taking a seat...and the ties and the bindings of an oath. The man should be hunted down in the night and slaughtered for what he'd done in the war, not strutting like a pale peacock grown fat from too much hand feeding.
Dumbledore had the will, but not the free will to do it. He couldn't fight his oaths and survive to take Malfoy to his grave.
So, there had to be a way to warn Harry, prepare him. Aid him without aiding him.
The Ministry oaths were wide and deep, but some of the components were old, some included by tradition. He'd been able to find wiggle room. A time turner for Ms. Granger, for example, once he realized that the Dementors were coming. Even if an accident happened, with a time turner, things could be unwoven if done carefully.
Wiggle room. He could have the whole world if he were free of his oaths. So, why not resign from the Wizengamot?
He would if he could. That was the last aspect of the oaths. Albus Dumbledore served until he was dead or dismissed from office...ah! That was something else he could work on. Getting himself dismissed. Malfoy knew what he was about well enough to attack Dumbledore's position at Hogwarts, not his position with the Wizengamot. Malfoy wanted his opponent tethered and easy to wound...if Malfoy ever engineered Dumbledore's removal from the Wizengamot, the whole game might just change.
Plotting about the Wizengamot could wait.
For now, Dumbledore had to think of Harry, his once-again proxy in this unended war.
Dumbledore stood from his desk and began to peruse his collection of rare volumes. He was looking for an idea, a spark. His hand linger over Uncommon Magics for Uncommon Wizards. He'd always intended Harry to have a copy eventually, but...it was too diluted, covered too many subjects, to help Harry against the coming of the Goblet of Fire.
He worked his way through the rest of his books. He'd settled on allowing the Granger girl to find something and pass the information to Harry. It was the easiest way, it had worked several times before. For her to uncover Flamel, for her to uncover the basilisk.
The book Albus needed, the precise book, didn't exist.
Of course, all the true understanding of their culture passed from father to son. All attempts to write it down were banned... He didn't have the book he needed on the shelf because no one could ever put it on parchment. It was in his mind. Waiting to be put on paper. Waiting to cross from the old to the young.
He pulled a transcription quill off the shelf and sat at his desk. He pulled a roll of parchment from a drawer and set to cutting the roll into sheets.
If the book didn't exist, he would write the damned thing. No oath he was aware of prevented him from it, prevented him from leaving a personal journal in a place where a student might come across it. He would save Harry even if he couldn't tell Harry that his life would soon be endangered again. By Lucius Malfoy, by the greed of the Minister of Magic, by so many people who couldn't do more with their wands than clean a few dishes in dirty water.
He would help Harry to survive. Help him to remain free of entanglements and beckoning, innocent-looking prisons. He would never be able to admit what he'd done for their savior, but Dumbledore would do it.
It wasn't too late for the boy. He would live to become a man.
Harry Potter felt his body shaking apart. He opened his eyes, blinked, and the shaking stopped. He couldn't see anything without his glasses so his hand fumbled a moment.
She looked like some beast of Hagrid's was about to devour her.
"Harry, someone gave me a book."
Normally that would make her happy. Delirious. But not now.
"Someone gave Ginny a book, too."
The Chamber of Secrets. Harry would never forget that book. Hermione was right to be wary. She sought out books, books didn't seek her out.
Hermione was nothing if not cautious. Still, it was 1 September or, if after midnight, 2 September. Early for the yearly terror to set in.
"You want me to get a teacher?" His mouth and throat didn't work all that well so groggy. It was the first good night of sleep he'd (almost) gotten in months.
"I want you to look at it," she said.
"Where is it?"
"I didn't move it."
"I can't go to your room."
"Oh." She blushed. Strange there was enough light in the room to see it, but it must have been a whole body blush. "I can...levitate it to the common room."
"I'll get dressed."
He noticed that Hermione didn't wear much to bed in the autumn. He guessed he was starting to think about girls...and Hermione was no longer just a person garbed in sack cloth, gender indeterminate.
"Give me a few minutes. Thank you, Harry."
"I only owe you a hundred more favors. Try to space out the collecting of them. Maybe some of them in the daytime..."
But she'd gone. Harry got up and changed into what he'd worn the day before, but left off the robe he'd worn to the welcoming feast the night before.
He walked downstairs and Hermione clattered down her stairs a few minutes later, a sort of book levitated in front of her.
It wasn't a bound volume...or even very thick. Harry could tell from a glance that it was handwritten, neat writing, but quill on parchment. A magical book, perhaps. Created by a witch or wizard, definitely.
"Does it write to you?"
"I don't know." Hermione sounded embarrassed. She'd freaked out without studying something first. But what had happened to Ginny Weasley scared her. A book, a friend, her favorite kind of teaching aid almost killing a young girl. She trusted but there were limits to her trust.
"It didn't show you a memory, did it?"
Harry looked at the book that Hermione had let settle onto the floor.
"Well, that diary couldn't be harmed by anything other than a basilisk fang. I guess if I could set it on fire..."
"You don't burn books..."
That was the old Hermione.
"I guess I could tear a bit of blank paper."
"Oh." She didn't object.
Harry crouched in front of the book. He tore a corner off the front 'cover.' It came free with the normal tension involved in cutting parchment.
"That proves it," he said. It was normal parchment, not enchanted. Not demonic.
"Thank you, Harry."
Find a problem, bring it to Harry before it tried to eat Harry...that was how they worked things these days. After three years of solving problems, she didn't even have to ask.
Harry looked at the book. "Power" was the only word on the cover page. No author credited.
Harry changed from a crouch to a seated position. He opened the cover and began to read. It was clear the words had been laid on paper by a dictation quill, not that Harry owned one, but the writing was too even, too uniform, to have been done by a human hand.
"'The common witch and wizard fear power – and adore it. This one paradox has guided and warped our world for at least four centuries, if not longer.
"'Compare the present with the tales of Merlin. Consider how powerful the ones who made it into legend seem. How active. How supporting of the non-magical Kings they've allied themselves with. War mages and thinkers. Bloody war after war. Merlin. Morgana. Mordred. Ywain.
"'How active Slytherin and Ravenclaw, Gryffindor and Hufflepuff in the days before they created Hogwarts, in the days they grew it and taught in it. These were powerful men and women. They always had followers and students, some enamored, some hoping to steal their secrets, some spying on them for others of power, some plotting how to bring the powerful to heel.
"'The common man hated and envied power.
"'Let me tell you what this means for the most powerful sorcerers of this age...'"
Hermione read over Harry's shoulder but waited for him to finish the first page before her hand reached to turn the page.
"You read it first. You'll be done by dawn," Harry said.
"That's not fair."
"You took half the time to read what I just did."
"Fine." She wasn't going to fight the offer of a book.
She curled up in a chair and merged with the thin book. Harry took a different chair and let sleep claim him for a while.
When Hermione shook him awake again, she couldn't have seemed a more different person. Instead of scared, she was exhilarated.
"You have to read this."
"Just tell me what it's about."
"I think it was meant for you. You're the most powerful wizard I know."
"Me?" Every ounce of doubt he could squeeze went into that syllable.
"A hundred Dementors last June?"
Harry shrugged but accepted the book from Hermione. "What should I concentrate on?"
He wanted a cheat sheet so he didn't have to read the whole thing.
"From word one to the last word. You need to know all of this."
"Well, what's it about?"
"How to keep from making terrible mistakes..."
His life at Hogwarts seemed to tumble from one mistake to the next. "I guess I should read it," he said.
"Two or three times." She smiled at Harry.
"I'm not that bad."
He opened the book and read the first page again. It was old fashioned writing...it did hurt his head a bit, but then the book began to scare him. Scare him in a good way. A way that made him learn.
Harry came up to Hermione after Defense Against the Dark Arts. "I need the book."
She didn't have to ask which one. There was only one secret book they had between them now.
He pulled her into an empty corridor. "You keep a secret?"
"Moody's in the book."
"I remember. On that list of strong people who swore Ministry oaths, same with Dumbledore."
"He's on the list because he's thought to be strong," Harry said.
"He used the Imperius curse on me. Just now."
"And on me, too."
"And I made it not work. Slowly, but I made his curse fail."
Before reading the book, they would have assumed Harry was immune or some hogwash. Their reading of the book made them question what they'd just seen happen. The curse had taken hold...Harry had been willing to do as Moody had commanded...until he wrestled control of the spell away from Moody.
That wasn't immunity from a curse.
That was coming to terms with magical control. Learning to exercise vastly greater amounts of magic than the caster of the hostile spell possessed.
It was disturbing to Harry. This suggestion...this proof...of just how strong he might be. Able to end an Unforgivable cast by an old wizard, a retired Auror. It meant...
There was no direct way to measure the strength of a witch or wizard. There were only comparative tests. For example, the handwritten book suggested that Hogwarts, long in the past, had pairs of final year students cast stunners at each other. Assuming the spells tried to pass each other in a roughly contained area, the stronger caster would overwhelm the weaker caster's spell. So one student would be stunned and the other not. Unless they were roughly at the same level, in which case the spells would both sputter out.
Put enough students in pairs and test them...and it would allow a teacher to create a ladder of strength. Who was the mature witch or wizard with the most strength. Who, with proper aim and casting, could cancel the spells thrown by others. Could throw spells that couldn't be canceled by others.
Magic was all about strength. Strength and will.
Harry realized he had strength, but his will needed reinforcing. Standing up to Moody, defeating his spell, definitely helped in that regard.
"The book's in my trunk," Hermione said.
"I want to read about the War of the Seven Kings again."
They made it up to the Common Room and Harry found an out of the way couch near a window. He sat down and waited for Hermione. When she turned up with the book for him and other books for herself, he knew she was interested. She would wait for him to re-read the story and then read it herself...until then, homework to start on.
"'The relative peace that lasted for decades after the establishment of Hogwarts ended when the Muggle William the Conqueror arrived. His warfare for the Muggle throne prompted warfare on the magical side. It was the first large-scale warring between magicals in centuries. Of course, there were famous duels between Merlin and Morgana, among others, but this new kind of war was groups of wizards going up against groups of wizards.
"'It came to be called the War of the Seven Kings, although the two wizard 'Kings' were just earls. The other 'Kings' weren't nobility at all, just court wizards to Muggles fighting for or against William of Normandy.
"'The effects that would rip apart the peace for good were simple. Some wizards on the field survived longer, untouched, than any others. They could cast and cast and injure and kill. They would take little to no damage in return. In fact, more than one of these 'special' wizards were hit with the ancient Babylonian and Roman war spells, such as Avada Kedavra or the Imperius, without effect.
"'It took the wisest of wizards decades after the wars ended to propose a solution. The old curses were dominance curses. They didn't just require correct casting, such as the proper mental alignment, to have an affect. They required considerable magical strength...specifically more magical strength than the target possessed. Not just a little bit. A considerable amount. Two people of equal or near equal magical strength cannot ordinarily harm each other by casting the Killing Curse at each other. Nor the Cruciatus Curse.
"'When combined with binding rituals and enchantments, the theorists labeled all of this magic dominance magic. Some of it was war magic, some was what lords used to take on vassals or servants. But it was all based on a hierarchy of power.
"'In time, this knowledge was put aside and forgotten. Dominance magic was turned into Dark Arts was turned into Unforgivable Curses. They are considered unblockable. Books of magic theory propagate the idea. But, of course, it's not true. A stronger wizard will always kill a much weaker wizard by using the Killing Curse...unless there is a physical barrier to intercept the magic. Two equals cannot harm each other with this class of magic.
"'But the change in how this magic was regarded came from people who feared unchecked Lords of considerable power, such a vast amount there was no one to stand up against them. Wizards, except in times of war, rarely left their traditional lands. Even getting English or Welsh wizards to come to Hogwarts was difficult for centuries.
"'So a local Lord was a powerful figure. It was rare for a common wizard to kill a Lord with a Killing Curse. It was hard to mount other attacks on a Lord because the stronger wizard could dissolve other offensive spells just by casting a spell in its direction. The Lords who fell in this period of time died due to treachery of those allowed close or through duels conducted with traditional weapons, such as swords.
"'The legacy of the War of the Seven Kings was that the weaker wizards began to band together, bands that would grow and grow until a Wizengamot formed and a Ministry of Magic, a controller of the powerful magic, magic that would eventually allow groups of weaker wizards to control the vastly more powerful..."
Harry finished it, made to close the book, before Hermione took the pages from his hands.
There was too much to unpack there. How could he – Harry Potter, Fourth Year Student – be more powerful than Alastor Moody, a man who'd stood against Voldemort?
Moody was on the damned list in the book of very strong wizards who'd been clipped by taking a Ministry oath.
Harry had heard rumbles about the small size of the Ministry peace-keeping force. Everything was grist for gossip at a school like Hogwarts. But now he wondered if there was a paradox at play. The job required strength, but the oaths involved might make the strong decline to take the jobs.
So, perhaps it wasn't just bad teachers like Snape keeping the numbers of Aurors low. Perhaps there was advice passed down familes that the strong should stay out of the Ministry altogether, no matter what position was involved.
Harry knew so little when he came to Hogwarts. This struck him as more secrets that Harry hadn't been told. More secrets that an orphan was expected to learn for himself, the hard way. There was history not taught at Hogwarts that others knew...that guided what they did and why. Harry didn't believe that whining remedied much at all, so he set his mind to figuring out what to do.
"I don't understand," Hermione said. Rare words from her mouth.
"I'd read it before but this part didn't make sense...until I beat his curse."
"I knew you were strong, but..."
Harry kept quiet but nodded. It was troubling. His strength, the hints about what the Ministry really did. His complete lack of preparation for any of this. As much as Harry hated Voldemort, he could understand why the evil wizard had never joined the Ministry in his quest for power, never been entrapped and entangled. Not that Harry condoned murder. Not that Harry condoned terrorism in any form. But someone who wanted power shouldn't go looking for it in the Ministry of Magic, not at all.
"Harry, want to play some chess?" Ron asked. "Is Hermione trying to make you read that book?"
"We're just talking about it," Harry said. He hadn't seen Ron looking for them in the Common Room, but he'd been inside his own head trying to puzzle things out.
Hermione opened and closed her mouth. She looked at Harry with some confusion. Why hadn't he told Ron?
Harry knew why he wasn't saying. Ron came from a Ministry family. Ron had to know some of this and Ron hadn't said a word.
"Homework, is it?" Ron asked.
"No," Hermione said. "Light reading. It's fascinating."
Ron's eyes glazed over.
Hermione had, apparently, decided to go with Harry's lead. Keep Ron out of it for now. Harry smiled. Harry didn't want Ron to know he'd wised up. Not when Ron's father worked in the Ministry and had sworn an oath. Not when Ron's family, save for Percy, seemed hell-bent on steering clear of the Ministry. Arthur Weasley had been trapped and had explained what the trap meant to his magically talented children, so Bill and Charlie knew and avoided the Ministry...information Harry might have liked to possess for himself.
He wondered if Bill had sworn oaths to the goblins. Any Gringotts oaths had to be less invasive, less restrictive than what Ministry employees swore. Only the weak, only the almost powerless would take the words at face value.
Dumbledore was strong, but perhaps he hadn't known what the oaths would do. Harry didn't know if the Headmaster came from an old wizarding family. He'd never thought about the question.
In Moody's case, Harry assumed the old Auror had joined during a war when survival was more important than what the oaths would do during peacetime. Moody might have known or not, but he hadn't necessarily expected to survive.
But, for Harry, all this history he wasn't taught was enough to make him doubt everything.
"Chess?" Ron asked.
Harry looked at Hermione. She shooed him off. Their conversation could wait until later.
Harry went off with Ron for another drubbing. Nothing at all seemed to have changed, but everything had. Every last thing.
"Why aren't there any spells in here?" Harry asked against at the beginning of October. He'd read the book through a dozen times now. He'd been so focused on what the book was that he was slow to recognize what it wasn't: a book of magic. Little theory in its pages, mostly history, lots of analysis and the twisting of the lines.
It was a warning. But it didn't explain how to survive. Just gave a big dose of caution.
"I don't think we need the spells. Or, you don't." Hermione sounded damned unhappy to have those words cross her lips.
"How you say?"
"Well, if we found a room to practice in..."
"Yes, let's do that," Harry said.
Hermione smiled. For the first time, her friend seemed happy to study. It took a hell of a hammer to the head, but he was willing to study.
"If we did a practice duel, if we both cast stunners at each other, you would knock me out and my spell wouldn't do anything..."
"I still can't believe I'm that much stronger..."
"Stronger than me. Stronger than Moody, for sure. Who knows who else?" She wondered if he was stronger than Voldemort. After all, as an infant, Voldemort's Killing Curse fizzled. Some people chalked it up to Harry. Others to something James Potter had done. A few thought the credit lay with the brilliant Lily Potter.
Hermione was now back to thinking it was all Harry.
"Let's find a room," Harry said.
Hermione smirked. Words like that, with a boy a little older, could mean a very different thing.
"There's a couple in the Charms corridor," she said.
Hermione kept out two books and returned the rest of what she'd been working on into her trunk before they left to start practicing magic, real magic. Harry looked at the two she kept out, books Harry hadn't seen her with before, not that he memorized what it was she liked to read.
They arrived in the dusty room not far away from where they took classes with Professor Flitwick.
"So, I think there are a couple of spells we can work on," she said.
"How about the stunner the books talks about."
"You already know Petrificus Totalus."
"So?" He wanted the stunner.
Hermione nodded and began flipping pages. "Alright. Here it is."
Harry came over and looked over her shoulder. He produced his wand and began to play with the prescribed wand motion. It was just a bit uncomfortable. He wondered...if it was strength and will that made for power in magic, could he just point and speak the spell?
He aimed at a dust covered table. He cast.
"You're doing it..."
A faint red light impacted the table.
Hermione pulled her want and tried to cast the spell the right way, the prescribed way. She got a faint red beam.
They both knew they hadn't gotten the spell, probably couldn't do more than inconvenience a squirrel.
But success fed belief. Which fed the will to make it work.
Knowing he was strong was worth years of schooling at Hogwarts. Confidence in magic...worth his very life.
"Try it again," Hermione said.
He did. She did. A little success turned into moderate success turned into something to be proud of by the time Harry's stomach rumbled.
"We should do this again," he said.
"Yeah." She was disturbed and astounded how fast she learned the practical side of things when Harry goaded her to do better with his own success.
She wondered how strong she was. But she also wondered whether it was strength or will that was more important in the prime equation of magic.
She was most of all glad that Harry had started to believe in himself.
There was excitement in most corners of the Gryffindor common room, but not where Harry and Hermione sat after the feast.
"Did you hear Dumbledore mention the Goblet of Fire before?
"No," Hermione said.
"I think I would have remembered..."
"An artifact of binding."
Hermione had taken a deep plunge back through many of the books she owned, looking to verify elements of the hand-crafted book she'd been gifted. Not much lined up between the parallel accounts.
But she believed the new information. She believed in the theory of binding.
"Please," Harry said. There was a passage they both needed to read again.
Hermione returned to their quiet corner a few minutes later. She let Harry go first.
"'There are many greater spells that only those of great magical power can use. In particular, enchanting of objects that will retain specific magical properties for decades or centuries is one of the most important to the magical world. Lords of the tenth, eleventh, and twelfth centuries often secured vassals to their causes by enchanting heirlooms for the benefit of the vassal or his family. The only other way, at that time, to have enchanting done was to contract with the goblins. However, they had different rules of property ownership and things 'purchased' during a lifetime were not able to pass to descendants legally. They should have passed back to the goblins.
"'Various groups of lesser powered wizards attempted to break into enchanting for as long as they were locked out of it. The first breakthrough came in the late 14th century when a team headed by Longinus Diggory managed the first cooperative enchantment, using the magical strength of seven wizards to perform a task that one higher powered wizard could easily perform.
"'The next 'breakthrough' came in replacing marks of vassalship that Lords of the age used. The subject of vassal magic, or binding magic as it came to be known, will be treated later in more detail. But on the subject of enchanting, the first binding enchantment constructed by cooperative magic was an object called the Goblet of Fire.
"'I call particular attention to this artifact because it was the first time weaker wizards – a group of eleven wizards in this case – managed to create an enchantment to identify the most powerful wizards or witches within a group and bind them to a magical oath, on pain of loss of magic for non-compliance. Prior to this devil-cup, only the strong could perform such a binding. The only limitation known for the Goblet of Fire is that its binding is temporary, it must be used with a finite ending date, perhaps the only safeguard installed in the original magic.
"'At least thirty-one potentially powerful wizards have been murdered by means of the Goblet of Fire since its creation. Ten by use of the Goblet of Fire in competitions such as the Triwizard Tournament, long since abandoned. The remainder by acts of trickery perpetrated on the Goblet of Fire, usually some contract a wizard was bound to without knowing it, a contract that would be unknowingly violated costing the target-wizard his magic, a ripping that was invariably fatal...'"
There was another page on the Goblet of Fire, but neither Harry nor Hermione could bring themselves to read it.
Someone had dusted this monstrous thing off...and brought it to Hogwarts. To bind three powerful young people, possibly to kill them.
The weak still ruled the world.
"You can't enter," Hermione said.
"No plans to."
"But what if..."
"Someone like Malfoy," Harry said. The blond Slytherin had had it in for Harry for years, since almost the first day they started at Hogwarts.
"Is there any defense?"
"To being made subject to a binding?" Hermione clarified.
Hermione read the next page in the book and the page after that. "Doesn't say."
"According to what Dumbledore said, someone your age can't enter."
"But, can his name or hers be entered for him?"
Hermione shook her head. "Didn't say. I wish wizards had a lick of sense. They seem to think it's something wonderful. It sounds like a circus of death."
"Hermione doesn't like circuses?" Harry asked, smiling for the first time since he laid eyes on the Goblet of Fire.
"I don't like anything enslaved...by people or by fancy goblets."
They decided to spend the rest of the evening working on their magic, no longer dragging books out to learn new spells. No, they were trying to really put the effort into mastering what they already had.
To use a handful of spells, be able to modify them, be able to do as much as possible with a levitation and a stunner and a color changing spell. Harry wanted to get better with his animation spells and Hermione had picked for both of them to see how far Harry could take the Patronus Charm (getting him to teach it to her was a bonus).
By the time curfew snuck up on them, Hermione had made good progress pulling together a Patronus Charm, but Harry's mind was elsewhere. After getting his ass handed to him time and again when they practiced the stunning spell, Harry realized that force of will and quality of concentration were closely aligned. He followed up with an improvisation for Hermione, an animation to the clothes she wore so that she had to fight Harry and her own blouse and slacks.
After Harry laughed at her loss, he focused better and began to progress much faster. He wondered how to make a coloring charm an offensive weapon. He didn't know yet, but it would sit in the back of his mind for a time...until he had something to practice with.
Halloween. A few minutes before midnight. Harry sat alone in the common room trying to shuffle what he knew into some sort of shape.
Harry had been bound by the Goblet of Fire. The weak wizards of the Ministry of Magic admitted there was nothing they could do, he was bound to the terms of the competition. A fourth competitor in a tournament that should have had only three.
Hermione had wanted to stay up with him, but he needed some time alone. It was enough that she believed in him. Ron had already turned on him.
The others who cheered for him believed he did it on purpose.
Of course, they had no way to understand how much he reviled the idea of being bound to a contract that wanted to rip his magic from him.
He had already been through the book again. This was the first time it had failed to be helpful. It said nothing about how to break a binding. It's advice was about foreknowledge and avoidance, not to ever join the Ministry in any role. Not how to wiggle free of oaths.
He'd read those pages closely this evening and noted that, according to the author, no one knew the full extent of the oaths they would take when joining the Ministry. They didn't hand over a stack of parchments on a person's first day. There was an oath upon applying. An oath at an interview. A few oaths upon starting as a paper-pushing junior Auror. A few more at the Academy if you survived the exposure to all the paper and rules. By the time was one was a capable employee of the Department of Magic Law Enforcement, one was bound with oaths thicker than cable.
But the book offered nothing about unwilling commitment to an oath or a contract. He wondered who had written the book, given it to Hermione. It was a frequent topic between him and Hermione. He was grateful to know how much trouble he was in. But why had she been given the book? How did someone know the advice would be necessary at all?
Was it someone with more reliable Sight than Trelawney? Someone who had foreseen all that had come to pass? The knowledge in the book hadn't stopped anything, just made Harry aware.
Perhaps that was the point. Bind him, make sure he knows he's in trouble, let him craft a solution with as many facts as possible.
Had to be better than his normal way. Fall into something horrible and try not to die.
He had three weeks to figure out how to survive the First Task. He had until June to figure out how to destroy the Goblet of Fire, but the sooner the better.
No one seemed to have a copy of the agreement that the Goblet was set to enforce. 'Old magic that,' was the clearest of many foggy answers. Harry knew, roughly, how the Goblet had been made and to what purpose. But what did its specific rules say and do? What would get him in trouble with the Goblet?
Would the most powerful...shattering spell – he'd have to learn something that exploded things, wouldn't he? – work on the Goblet, or would it trigger the oath?
The only good thing Harry learned was that the Goblet would remain at Hogwarts, in the Great Hall, until the conclusion of the Tournament. That had to be important somehow. He needed to figure out why it was important and how to use it.
He reclined on the sofa and settled in for a nap. He didn't think he'd be able to sleep all that well. Better in the quiet of this room than near to Ron. He took off his glasses and set them on the floor, tucking them under the sofa.
There was too much to consider. Too much running around in his head. It just wouldn't settle.
In the week leading up to the First Task, Harry knew he would face a dragon, thanks to Hagrid sneaking him near the enclosures. Professor Moody also knew it was dragons. He had just witnessed Harry telling Cedric Diggory it was dragons. More likely, Moody had known long before Harry had.
Now the unspeakably ugly professor wanted a chat.
His office was filled with fiddly enchantments that kept pinging and banging and smoking. Harry, who had been trying to reverse engineer some of the enchanting process by the comments included in the book, recognized the items as cheap, pale imitations of what enchanted items should be.
"Not impressed?" Moody asked.
"How do you get any work done in here?"
"If I were somewhere unsafe, I'd have my eye pointed out the back of my skull all the time."
"You've been quiet."
"Since you got pulled into this."
What could he do, complain? He had a task to survive and a Goblet to destroy. "Working. Studying, sir."
"Well, you know it's dragons. What are you going to do?"
Harry had three or four ideas. Hermione hadn't liked them at all, so she'd been in the library for a week whenever she had a free moment. Not that he cared to share how he was preparing with this professor, a man driven crazy by the oaths he'd sworn and bumped up against time and again while a Ministry employee. Semi-retirement hadn't eased much, if any, of the man's burden.
No, he didn't care to tell the whole truth to anyone controlled by the Ministry.
"I don't know, sir."
"Blast you don't." The man proceeded to sketch out a plan for Harry to follow, hinting and winking and dragging the dim-acting boy along.
The gist was: Harry was supposed to summon his broom and outfly one of the four dragons. Each of the dragons selected for the Tournament was a full-grown adult. Each of them had wings and could probably fly...plus there were claws and flames and teeth and who knew what else to worry about.
Getting swallowed by a dragon while he was on the back of a broom was probably a good show for the judges, but Harry just smiled and thanked the professor. He left the man behind as fast as he could manage.
Advice that would get him killed was something Harry could do without.
He had foreknowledge he would face a dragon. He had a library that had a shocking array of books on dragons. He had Hermione. He had more magical power than he knew what to do with, which Harry believed was the reason the Goblet had drawn him in. Hermione and Harry would pull together a better plan.
No, he wouldn't trust word one from someone who'd made Ministry oaths.
Harry guessed, now that he thought about it, that included Dumbledore, didn't it? Fudge, Bagman, Crouch, Moody, Mr. Weasley, Cedric's father. Everyone with a connection to the Ministry.
He went off to the Library to have a conversation with Hermione.
He definitely wouldn't be flying in the next few days. Not with a dragon snapping at him, trying to roast him.
A camera flash blinded Harry in mid hug with Hermione. Without thinking, he sent one of his newest spells – Reducto – at the camera. It was the spell he planned, eventually, to use on the Goblet of Fire.
"You could have killed me," a rough looking man hollered, holding fragments of what could have been an expensive instrument.
"Harry, that's not sporting at all," Rita Skeeter said.
Harry stared at Skeeter, one person who wasn't supposed to be in the champion's tent. With or without her photographer in tow.
What a weak witch causing so many to cower.
"Draw your wand," Harry said.
Her venom-green quill waved in front of him.
"You're challenging me to a duel?"
"I'm giving you a chance to defend yourself from what you've done to me and my friends." The first article on Harry after the Weighing of the Wands had been a pack of lies. Which sent Hermione to the library where she had discovered there were no slander and libel laws in the Wizarding World, save that the dueling code was still intact to resolve disputes over honor.
"Harry, you're a young..."
Harry cast a spell, just one, without naming it. A moment later Rita Skeeter began to scream, she stepped back and to the side and bumped into her photographer putting them both on the ground.
Bagman and Crouch ran into the tent to see the aging witch rolling around on the ground, as if she were on fire, as if her brain were completely addled.
Poppy Pomfrey was brought into the tent. She immobilized and silenced the reporter while the photographer looked on, angry but not so angry as to say something to Harry. The man possessed some drive to self-preservation.
"There's nothing wrong with her," Pomfrey said. "Mr. Potter, the others say you cast a spell at her."
"If you look at her lips," which were silenced, "this witch seems to think she's blind," Harry said.
Pomfrey undid the silencing and Skeeter confirmed she couldn't see. Pomfrey did more testing, but Skeeter was unaffected by any curse the mediwitch knew.
Crouch interrupted. "Please take her to the medical tent."
"Nurse, please get this intruder out of here. We have the task to start."
Harry watched Skeeter levitated out of the room. He guessed he would explain what he'd done to Pomfrey...or just undo it himself...after the task. Let Skeeter have a taste of unpleasantness for a while. She didn't report the things she saw, things that were true. Let her be blind for a while. See if that would change her attitude. A woman didn't need eyes if all she wanted to do was lie.
Cedric Diggory looked at Harry anew. Krum pretended nothing had happened. Delacour had a sour look, like she'd been eating crabapples. Sour and constipated.
The four Triwizard Champions drew for dragons. Harry had the worst and the last.
The other three eventually left and did their battles. Harry calmed himself and got ready. It wasn't like he was going to do Greater Magic in order to survive, but he took it seriously. He practiced the wand movements several times without casting. He would need to use this spell eight times, ten times, maybe more. It would be draining.
But it was safe.
Harry didn't need to defeat the dragon. It's own biology gave one a painless way to defeat it. No harm for Harry, no harm for the dragon. No harm for the eggs, he hoped. They hadn't researched that part.
He still used the proper wand movements for spells when he was doing class work...or anything seen by people other than him or Hermione. He didn't want people to begin guessing about his researches into magic.
Harry heard his name called and exited the tent. He drew in a deep breath. He heard the bellow of the female Horntail, much larger than he expected when he was as close as he was. His wand was already out, already casting.
The crowd made noises of confusion. They couldn't see what was happening. But the dragon slowed down. Stopped breathing flames. Stopped thrashing and tugging on her chain. Eventually, as Harry reached his fourteenth spell, the dragon lay down on the stone near where it was tethered.
Finally, the crowd realized something was happening. Not that they could see what it was. Not big, not flashy. But something that worked.
Harry cast one more time and the dragon went to sleep.
None of his spells landed anywhere near the dragon, not one. He aimed for and hit rocks underneath the dragon or to its side or behind it.
Harry felt drained. He walked up to the dragon and over to its nest of eggs. They still radiated heat. He picked up the golden egg and almost dropped it.
The damned thing was cold. So cold his fingers almost stuck to the metal. He wrapped it in the robes he wore and trotted back a safe distance. He began casting again. He didn't verbalize the spell he used, but its effect became clear very soon. The dragon's eyes opened. It stood. It roared. It breathed flames on its own eggs.
Harry smiled and walked into the medical tent with his Golden Egg. He thought about ignoring Skeeter, but he waved his wand her way. She didn't make a sound but her eyes began to blink. She couldn't move, couldn't speak, so it would be some time before Pomfrey discovered her charge was all better, at least in body. In mind...well, Harry had given her her only chance. Let her lift her pen again and the witch wouldn't survive.
Harry had no interest in the weak binding and humiliating the strong.
Harry made it out of the tent without incurring an inspection from Pomfrey. Ron was the first of his age-mates to spot him.
"Harry, that was bloody awesome. How'd you do it?"
Harry began walking back to the castle, wiping condensation off the egg. Hermione ran up behind them.
"It worked," she said.
"What?" Ron asked. "What did you do?"
"What did it look like?" Harry asked.
"You put her to sleep."
"But how?" Ron pushed.
"There's a simple spell in...a book of household magic." She'd found it in Gilderoy Lockhart's book for housewives, not that she would admit that now. "It's the spell for making a cold box, the magical equivalent of a refrigerator."
"I made the dragon cold, so cold it had to sleep," Harry said. "I hit the rocks below, behind, and to the sides with a spell that made them begin chilling the air close by."
It was better than brilliant. It was simple. And it worked.
Harry was able to put more power behind the spell than should have been possible. Enough to make a refrigerator large enough for a dragon, even without a top or a front door. It was a simple spell, powerfully applied.
Enough for one young wizard to walk past a dragon unaffected.
Harry made it back to the castle before anyone else came looking for him. Hermione and Ron sat with him in the Common Room, Ron trying to make amends, the overall conversation strained. There was too much different between the two parts of this former trio. It was a polite conversation for now. Polite and friendly but perhaps never again more than that.
Harry could tell Hermione wanted to ask about Skeeter. How he blinded her, he would save for another day. At least until Ron got bored and left them alone.
He sunk deeper into his seat and began to fall asleep while Hermione and Ron argued. His body was exhausted, but his mind had never been so unfettered. The party that started up around him, in his honor, less than an hour later was loud enough to wake the dead, but it didn't wake Harry.
The day after the First Task, Hermione was ready to talk about the Goblet of Fire, about all her research. She'd held back on filling Harry's head with what she knew while Harry had worked on his mastery of the cooling charm.
Since Harry had done more than survive the First Task – he'd destroyed it –, it was time to work on getting him unbound from the Goblet. She had gone through every book in the library that even mentioned enchanting or artifacts. She'd put together as detailed a 'biography' of the object as she could manage with present resources. Now, she had to see if Harry could make use of any of the information.
There was also the golden egg they needed to look at...but if they could destroy the Goblet before the Second Task, there was no reason to worry about the egg, right?
More important issues first.
She dragged Harry off the couch where he'd slept overnight, forced more breakfast than he normally ate down his throat, and dragged him to the room where they met in the Charms corridor. By the time they arrived, Harry was almost awake and functional.
"Hit me," he said.
She rolled open a scroll and showed him what she'd found. His eyes glazed over. There was a lot to get through. She had neat handwriting, but it still made his eyes prefer to cross.
Hours later, with Harry reading some of it out loud, and Hermione the rest, they made it through all her notes.
The things that stuck out: the Goblet was always used at the Ministry or Hogwarts. There were no records of it being used elsewhere.
They didn't know what that meant, but thought it important.
There was but a single account of the Goblet ripping the magic from a cheater involved in the Triwizard Tournament, one of the ill-fated ones where none of the champions survived. It was horrible in every way.
There were no stories in the books of people attacking or attempting to destroy the Goblet itself. Harry wished there were.
Harry's stomach told both of them when it was time to take a pause. They headed for the Great Hall for lunch, but found the room in a roil.
That morning's copy of the Daily Prophet explained everything. Rita Skeeter had used eighty percent of the front page to attack Harry. "Hogwarts Student, Boy-Who-Lived, Mounts Vicious Attack on Reporter."
One wouldn't know from the article that the First Task had been held. That there were dragons on Hogwarts grounds. It was all about Rita, all the time. Her hissy fits sold papers and that was all that mattered...at least until Harry was finished with her.
Harry wasn't surprised when Aurors arrived before lunch was over.
The Ministry always did care more for appearances than anything else, just ask Hagrid about his lovely stay in Azkaban.
Dumbledore intercepted the five Aurors. He seemed to know the oldest one, a man who walked with something of a limp, his face full of pale, not-quite-tan colored hair. He looked like a damaged lion.
"Mr. Potter, if you would?" Dumbledore called out from near the door of the Great Hall. Harry took another bite of his sandwich and stood.
Dumbledore made the Aurors wait while he escorted Harry from the hall and to his office. Harry walked into the office and stood while the others gathered.
"Now, Auror Scrimgeour?" Dumbledore said.
"I just took his wand so we will soon understand how he blinded the Skeeter witch."
Harry searched his body for his own wand...it was gone. The Auror had pickpocketed him. That was the second time this year, once at the Quidditch World Cup and now when it really mattered.
Harry went from unconcerned to furious in moments. Two of the Aurors had their wands on Harry. They knew what the leader of the team was going to try to do. Stealing a person's wand wasn't a crime when an Auror did it. Right?
There was no conversation, no interview. Just a presumption of guilt.
Dumbledore did nothing, a stone statue would have been more useful. Ministry oaths and all that rot.
"What law did I break?" Harry asked.
"I don't know," the lead Auror said. "But when the Minister gives an order, I don't thumb through an old book."
"What Rita and I had was a lawful duel."
"Not what she's claimed," the Auror said.
Appearance was more important than fact.
"I take you as interfering after a lawful duel. You know what the dueling code says about that?"
"As a matter of fact, I don't."
Harry nodded. Dumbledore tucked himself away in a nook of his office. He expected something to happen and he would not be party to it, the craven old man.
The Aurors holding wands cast. The Auror Dumbledore called Scrimgeour snapped Harry's wand. Harry put to use some of his practice with Hermione. He cast without a wand. He cast hard.
Harry remained standing. The others were all on the ground. Harry looked around the office. Some of what the Aurors cast made it through, not that it hit Harry. There were deep gouges in the walls behind Harry. At least one of the men had cast cutting curses. Harry thanked Merlin he cast stronger than the Aurors. His stunning spell overwhelmed their offensive spells.
But he wouldn't take this 'legal' attempt on his life with a shrug.
The Ministry had to go. These weak people, little better than a gang of child-bullies, were about to find their world ended. Harry promised that.
He collected the pieces of his wand. He collected the wands possessed by the Aurors, most of them with more than one. He had a fistful of wood and animal parts. He tried each of them and got tepid reactions.
He wouldn't be able to replace his destroyed wand with someone else's. He put them down in Dumbledore's fireplace and set them alight. They weren't happy to burn, but his magic overwhelmed them. They burned.
"The dueling code?"
Harry turned and saw Dumbledore moving around. "Yes."
"An after-the-fact violation of the dueling code?"
"Then my oaths as Chief Warlock don't compel me to stop whatever it is you feel you need to do."
"Thank you, sir."
Harry could hate and remain polite. Living with his aunt and uncle had taught him that kind of mental duplicity.
"It's a powerful stunning spell you've worked up. Wandless, too."
"If you say so."
"I believe in that lowest drawer right there...yes, that cabinet right there, Harry, you might find a collection of wands willed to Hogwarts over the years. I couldn't do anything like suggest you try them until you find one that suits you. No, I definitely can't suggest that."
"I understand," Harry said, baffled as he could be.
"I'll just step out of my office so you can handle your business, Harry."
Harry had the sense the Headmaster hated the Aurors on the floor as much as Harry did. Why he thought that, Harry didn't know. It was important somehow, he suspected. He'd share all of this with Hermione and see what she made of it.
The book's pages on bindings had prompted Hermione to spend several days researching the giving and taking of oaths. That was what Harry would have to use now. An oath for each of the Aurors. An oath to stop the 'investigation,' an oath to punish Skeeter somehow, an oath to separate each of these people from the Ministry.
If he had to take the Ministry apart person by person, he'd do it. If he could make it all implode on itself, he would.
Harry tapped his fingers near the eyes of the youngest-looking Auror before breaking the stunning curse.
"Hello?" the called out. As if he were a small person in a vast, vast room. Completely dark to his perception.
"This wasn't your idea?" Harry asked.
"No." The Auror was almost ready to cry.
"Do you know the dueling code?"
"You interfered after a duel was over. It broke the duel. You're on the hook same as everyone else. Same as Rita Skeeter. There's not much I can't do to you," Harry said.
"What do you want?" The question asked through tears. The young Auror didn't even try to bluster. The weak who were also smart knew when they'd gambled and lost.
"Information, first. Then we'll get to the negotiation."
The Auror was succumbing to the effects of the darkness. He tried to keep silent, save for his tears, before he seemed to lose his poise. He went through a panic attack, the horror of the experience written on his face. The pain, the frustration, the confusion.
Harry found it made him sick. He was glad to know he was still a person and still deplored inflicting pain. It meant he wasn't a Voldemort-type. That was good. But he cared more about his future safety than about his moral comfort. He would push hard even push past his own limits.
"Information," Harry said again.
"Who sent you here?"
Harry shook his head, not that the Auror could see. "How is a cutting curse humiliating?"
"I didn't cast one."
Did different people get different orders? Or was this Auror not clued in on the real purpose? Harry understood why the Ministry had and used a binding artifact like the Goblet. To control the outliers in their civilization, the very powerful. This Auror may not yet be trusted with the deepest secrets of the Ministry, its real reason for existence.
The deeper the questioning went, the harsher the oath Harry wanted to administer. By the time he questioned all five, including the leader Scrimgeour, Harry had to create something that would almost destroy all their lives before he felt safe. He sat down on the floor and scratched out an oath on parchment he'd liberated from Dumbledore's desk. It was horrible. The oath clauses were beyond horrible.
He thought he would need a wand to do what needed done. He dug in the drawer that Dumbledore pointed out, the wands left to Hogwarts. His fifth attempt found a good match. He looked at the tag that hung from a string from the wand. "Georgeanna Evans, 1714-1832."
Harry snapped the tag from the wand and thanked this woman for her gift through the centuries.
Harry woke each of the Aurors again, made them swear it through the tears and the pleas, and then removed the blinding effect he'd placed on each one. When all five swore, he released them.
Harry noticed that the portraits in the office had watched everything. He guessed the Headmaster would get a full accounting of what Harry had done, the wand he'd selected for the time being.
All five Aurors ran out of the room, all of them recognizing they were in breach of contract and had only a few minutes to get outside of the castle.
None of them could spend more than five minutes inside Hogwarts without losing their magic. Likewise, no more than five minutes inside the Ministry of Magic. The rest of the oaths Harry had inflicted on these lackies would make it hard for them to ever find peace.
It was horrible what he'd done to them, but they were still alive.
Soon, Rita Skeeter would cease to be a problem. Perhaps Harry wouldn't tell Hermione the full oath he'd written. He would sleep better keeping part of the secret to himself.
The retraction of Rita's front page allegations the day after the First Task came a week later, on the inside back page, below a few notices placed by witches who had misplaced their cats. The brief apology by the publisher for comments above and beyond the necessary was just above notice that Rita had attacked Aurors investigating her and was committed permanently to St. Mungo's. Hermione didn't even notice the story, so Harry didn't bring it up.
In fact they were well at work on the information that Scrimgeour had given up on the Goblet of Fire. Harry had asked all five men, but only the leader had even a single piece of advice.
'The Goblet had to be near, very near, to a large concentration of witches and wizards at all times it was holding a contract open.'
They had had to wait for a Hogsmeade weekend. Once everyone, save for the first and second years, was out of the castle, Harry and Hermione went to the Great Hall. There were three students sitting at a table. No teachers. Hell, the teachers were in Hogsmeade, too, weren't they?
Harry had decided there was no delicate way to handle the Goblet. He hadn't studied Runes at all. Hermione was in her second year of learning what it was all about.
They would have to go with the brute force method.
The school was cleared. It was time to see what happened if Harry threw a Reducto at the Goblet. He had the Evans wand which worked well in a pinch, but Harry had also decided to continue practicing his wandless skills. He'd seen Dumbledore perform magic close to wandless so Harry knew it could be done. Harry hid what he was doing with a 'wand' that was little more than a twig he'd found on the ground and polished to a decent sheen. It looked close enough to his previous, but now snapped wand, that no one had mentioned a difference. He would visit Ollivander's in the summer to get a new one, a real one.
He wouldn't depend on just one tool any more. The Evans wand, the fake 'wand.' Eventually a new real wand. Each of them was different, each of them did different things to his magic. He learned this way. He wanted to keep learning this way.
For this attempt on the Goblet he would use the 'stick' he'd fashioned into a wand. He'd gotten very skilled with a Reducto cast wandlessly, just through a prop stick. In fact, this spell had more impact done this way than through he Evans. Harry guessed that antique wand hadn't been meant for offensive magics. It did much better with transfiguration.
Hermione remained by the doors of the Great Hall. Harry walked over to the side where the Goblet remained, waiting to steal the magic of someone powerful. Harry pushed magic through his stick and sent the densest, angriest Reducto he could manage. The curse struck the cup...and was absorbed.
Harry could feel fingers inside his chest, fingers trying to claw out the strength inside him, greedy fingers. He flexed his magic and the fingers inside him withered, snapped, broke.
The parasite died...and the Goblet of Fire exploded, a thousand chips of wood shreddings.
Harry found himself on the stone floor of the room, panting. He'd survived but he felt stomped on, almost torn to the point where he was broken.
He knelt and waited and his body began to conquer the lingering pain. It disappeared.
Harry had won.
She didn't answer back. He pushed himself to his feet. "Hermione?"
He turned and saw her collapsed on the stone floor. The children who'd been sitting at the Ravenclaw table were on the floor as well.
He levitated her. Then added the three young ones to his collection. He set off almost at a run through the halls of Hogwarts for the infirmary.
Madam Pomfrey looked up from her reading when he entered and directed Harry to put them down on their beds. He couldn't explain what had happened. He knew he had caused it, not that he explained himself that way. But why had the Goblet's exploding...done this?
He was free.
But Hermione...and the first years.
What had he done?
Three days later, Hermione recovered enough of her energy for Pomfrey to wake her. Harry and Hermione compared stories.
They had both had hands in their chests. The Goblet had affected both of them after Harry attacked it.
Probably the first years as well.
Hermione had struggled against it, but the Goblet took all the magic it wanted from her...until it just stopped.
Harry hadn't fought the Goblet so much as all the people within proximity of the Goblet, Hermione and three first year girls. The Goblet had been willing to kill all of them in order to destroy Harry. Stealing their magic, combining it, lobbing it as a weapon.
It was good they'd waited so long before attempting this. Had there been a dozen people in the Great Hall...Harry might now be dead.
On the good side, the Ministry recognized that the destruction of the Goblet meant that the Tournament was strictly voluntary. Fleur had already left with the rest of Beauxbatons. Krum was rumored to be unhappy in Scotland, Harry didn't expect Durmstrang to remain. Then it would be two: Cedric and Harry. He hoped Dumbledore would end this mess.
From a Triwizard Tournament to a Quadwizard Tournament to a Diwizard Tournament.
What a mess.
Harry didn't the leave the infirmary until Pomfrey kicked him out...or Hermione left under her own steam. It happened in time to rejoin Monday classes.
The young girls from Ravenclaw were awake again...and unharmed. Just exhausted and then refilled by time spent healing.
He hoped he never accidentally inflicted such harm, such pain on so many people ever again.
"Potter, with me."
Moody didn't bother to explain himself, just walked away from where Harry's class was breaking up. Hagrid's skrewts had left Harry more than a little frazzled.
"I know that the Ministry hasn't come to ask about the Goblet."
"The damned thing was hundreds of years old. It didn't just explode and injure four girls."
Vernon got this way sometimes. Harry knew roughly what to do, he thought.
"I'm not one for puzzles, boy. You're too big a puzzle for me to let alone."
"So, what did you do?"
"Hermione and I stopped in before heading to Hogsmeade. The food was all gone by then. Before we left she collapsed and the Goblet exploded..."
"If you're thinking of a career in politics, you need to lie better."
"I'd be a terrible politician," Harry said.
"Right you are."
"If that's all, sir." Harry turned to take the path back to the castle. They were almost at the gate that led to Hogsmeade.
Moody's hand grabbed Harry, spun him around, while another hand shoved something toward Harry.
He felt a twisting in his guts. "No," he shouted.
The twisting failed. It had been a portkey. "No."
Harry's hand flung out and landed on Moody, a stunning spell zipping from his hand into the man who had just tried to send him somewhere away from Hogwarts.
Moody crumpled to the dirt.
Harry stared at the man...the Ministry man...the oaths the man had sworn. Where would that portkey have taken Harry? The Ministry? Azkaban? The boy didn't want to know.
But he would need to find out. Need to find out what the Ministry had just tried to do.
The trick was, how to break someone like Moody?
He'd heard of truth serums, but getting his hands on one was something else. He needed to make it hard for Moody to lie to him.
Harry set to searching Moody's still body. His clothing had pockets within pockets. He eventually got hold of the man's flash and opened it. He began pouring. It wasn't a clear liquid at all and didn't smell of hard booze. It was a potion that was dark, angry. Harry had the idea it was Polyjuice, a rather nasty potion he'd used a few years earlier. Disgusting.
Moody with Polyjuice? Moody on Polyjuice? Who would choose to look that beaten and mauled?
Perhaps the man wasn't Moody at all. Moody had retired from the Ministry. Perhaps this was a spy from the Ministry who wore Moody's face.
Harry continued his search. He even took Moody's leg from him, but left the roving eye in place. He couldn't figure out how to get it loose.
He didn't think his usual blinding trick would work this time. He hadn't explained it to anyone so he could do it again, but Moody's crazy eye might just work around the problem. Harry didn't cast a blinding curse. Hermione had found one for him to look at, but it was more complex than he felt comfortable trying to master at the time. Power, after all, didn't require experience...but the blinding curse did.
What Harry had done was an odd application of a color changing charm. Things that were clear became black, like the lens of an eye or glass. Thus, apparent blindness without anyone being able to detect a blindness curse. They would have found the problem had they gone looking for a color changing charm.
It was good to be overestimated sometimes. Harry preferred the simple to the complex.
Now people thought he had some undetectable blinding curse. Undetectable by people looking for a blinding curse, it was true. But first year magic learned well, improved to the point where he could do variations on it.
Harry ripped a strip from Moody shirt and tied it over the man's face. He didn't know how the eye worked...Moody or whichever spy had taken Moody's place would see through it, but it would be disorienting.
He used his color changing spell as well. Perhaps being blind in one eye, with cloth covering it, and unblind with his enchanted eye would irritate the man and keep him off-centered long enough for Harry to make sense of him.
Without his leg, as the very least, the man wasn't going to get up and attack Harry.
He wished he had a truth serum.
He wished he had Hermione to help him. But he wasn't going to leave this man here long enough to track down Hermione.
He would have to do it himself.
The Aurors in Dumbledore's office had known they were beaten...but who knew if Harry would have such luck this time. He needed a carrot and a stick.
He would offer Moody the freedom to leave...and would punish him with...
Harry didn't know. As he thought about it, he realized he knew very little magic. Because of the handwritten book and the work Hermione put him through, Harry had maybe fifteen spells well mastered. Fifteen spells after four years of magical schooling.
He was worse than ignorant...and he would have to set to fixing that soon.
He had learned a cutting curse after his run-in with the Aurors. Harry could threaten to add a missing hand to Moody's already missing leg. He wouldn't want to do it, but kidnapping was unforgivable.
Harry woke the incapacitated man and the interrogation of a lifetime started.
An owl flew into the office. Albus took the missive and the owl went to Fawkes' perch for rest and refreshment. There was a fire going and it was a glorious place to be at the moment.
Dumbledore caressed the scroll. He knew what it said. It was his pardon and his freedom and his hunting license all rolled into one. Strictly speaking, it was his official retirement as Chief Warlock.
Dumbledore wished he was in better health to enjoy his retirement. He felt a touch of something beastly settling in, some bug passed from student to student that he'd now caught.
Even sick, he was happy. Freedom suited Albus Dumbledore. In the confusion after Cornelius Fudge's murder by a man long thought dead, Barty Crouch Junior, Albus pushed through the idea that they needed a younger man at the head of the Wizengamot to help with the coming, massive changes confronting the Ministry of Magic. Hence, some other sucker would take the oaths as Chief Warlock. Malfoy hadn't even been at the meeting where his preliminary request was entertained.
Now Albus had the sealed scroll in his hand. He was free.
It would be a perfect day, but this damn flu had settled in and not even a Pepper-Up could make him feel right. Hell of a way to spend the week before Christmas.
Albus couldn't get Pomfrey to tell him just what was wrong with him. There hadn't been many days in his life when he'd been under the weather, a side effect of being an enormously strong wizard.
Now that he was free, Albus could finish off the tasks he'd begun in the 1970s. He could handle the hunting of the horcruxes on his own. He could tap Minerva and let her take over Hogwarts. Albus could pay a midnight visit at Malfoy Mansion and end those smooth-tongued monsters. That would be the perfect start to a pleasant retirement.
He was content. He was free and he had his unknowing disciple. The real message he wanted to transmit – Albus' life's work – had taken hold in Harry Potter, not that the young man knew it. Strength was all. The boy would stumble into everything he needed to know. Albus didn't need to pen the boy another book now. What a creative mind the young man had, simple spells and so much came from them.
The color changing spell he'd heard about in his office, when used on Aurors, had stunning effect.
The boy would be fine.
Albus no longer had to be sure of anything on that score. The boy's growing strength would inevitably draw Voldemort to him. The clash would happen and the world would go on. Albus would be elsewhere in Europe and not even hear the news for a week. He'd fought his war. He would handle his loose ends that his oaths had kept him from handling. Then he was done. His reputation was fixed. Too many years as a school teacher, too many years as an amateur politician. If he rewrote the laws of transfiguration, he might walk himself up the ladder. Otherwise, no. Him killing Voldemort wouldn't be a surprise, a miracle, it would just be what people expected...what they would grouse had taken him too long.
Dumbledore killing Voldemort so late in all this might damage his reputation, come to think of it.
Dumbledore had become quite careful about his reputation. Now that he didn't really care any more. He didn't want to be saddled by undue expectations. He was done. He had a few more decades of life, but he wanted more or less anonymous years. Fun years.
He had them...
Albus felt his chest tightening, sweat beading on his forehead. His office was warm, but not that warm.
His first thought turned to poison.
He had been poisoned before. He reached into his desk and pulled out a bottle. A bezoar went down his throat.
Nothing. Nothing loosened or relaxed in his body.
Who'd gotten close enough...the last person who had spent time alone in this office was...Harry Potter. The boy didn't know Potions at all, not enough to know Poisons. But the boy had more than a healthy distrust of all things Ministry.
It was possible. Dumbledore had once been the ultimate symbol of the Ministry.
The phoenix flamed just about where Dumbledore sat and it wasn't long before drips of liquid began to rain down on Dumbledore. The old wizard raised his head and opened his mouth. He felt the phoenix tears land on his tongue.
Nothing else changed.
A bezoar and phoenix tears should remedy anything, poison wasn't the issue.
His eyes fell on the scroll from the Ministry, the one releasing him from his position as Chief Warlock. He cracked the seal and actually read the damned thing.
It didn't take long to figure out why he felt under the weather. The idiots who had written and signed the order hadn't released him from his oaths, just from the position. He was in conflict now. He was in violation.
To die because of this... Because of craftiness or idiocy.
If they had just fired him without some crafty bastard wordsmithing the letter. If they had just done what they were told...
Albus put his head on his desk and it never rose up again. Fawkes the Phoenix sang for his friend for several minutes before the office went silent. A new portrait hung behind Dumbledore's desk. The person in the portrait sleeping, not to wake for some time.
It wasn't until after dinner that the Deputy Headmistress found the Headmaster. It was a solemn night in the castle. A solemn night for the Magical World.
A great man was dead.
A/N: I've posted details about my original writing projects on my profile page. Check them out if you're interested.