When it came time for the Champions to be shown what was before them in the third task. Everyone was already ready to see it. There had been a lot of guessing going around about what the third task would be. Though Harry doubted several of the ones that he had heard to even be close to the truth. But still he was pleasantly surprised to see what it was. A large maze that took up the entire Quidditch pitch.
It was a straight forward challenge. They had to simply get through to the other side of the maze first and grab the Triwizard cup. The only challenging part, besides navigating it, was that there would be enchantments and creatures in their way. Harry and Cedric both felt a slight pang of fear as Hagrid was in charge of figuring out the best creatures for the maze.
Harry though asked just how the others would be able to watch. After all it would be a lot like the second task in the lake. The beginning and the end might be exciting but the wait between was unbelievably boring. And several students had commented about wanting to see more of the second task. Ludo looked a little put out at this, and when they left he said he would find a way to either track them above the maze, or otherwise have viewing screens so others might be able to watch.
It was at this point that they were dismissed to head back to the school. Harry though circled around towards the forest and away from the others. He wanted to let Sirius known what the next task was, and by taking a longer route back to the castle, Harry knew he could then slip over to the Whomping Willow without being seen.
So skirting the edge of the Forbidden Forest, Harry moved along swiftly. Another shadow in the night. But before he could reach the trees, someone stumbled out in front of him before falling to the ground. Harry jumped in surprise and pointed his wand at the figure, who was muttering something. The figure slowly stood back up, Harry finally recognized him. It was Bartemius, or Barty, Crouch.
The man, from what Harry understood, was the head of International Relations at the Ministry of Magic. He was also, along with Ludo Bagman a Triwizard Judge. But had been either on break or sick since December. Which begged the question as to why he was here now. Another one was why he clothes, were so messy. It looked like he had been walking for miles, there were spots of dirt up and down his clothes, and tears in several locations.
Harry slightly worried, edged closer to Barty, and listened trying to figure out just what he was saying. Behind him Rainbow Dash, Twilight and Applejack, watched; worry and concern clearly visible on their faces.
"All my fault, my fault… My fault. Must… tell… Dumbledore!" Barty said, as he began staggering towards the school again.
"Mr. Crouch," Harry said, getting a little closer.
Then, what happened next made Harry jump in shock. Barty stood up fully again and began talking to thin air in such a calm and level manner as if he was actually talking to someone else. No more was there something about him that suggested he was fight or even struggling. If anything he seemed happy not.
"Yes indeed Minister, my son was able to get twelve OWLs. It is really quite an achievement, my wife and I could not be any prouder than we are now," Crouch said.
The change in his tones so extreme it left Harry stunned for several seconds as Crouch continued on. He seemed to be talking to, if Harry was to guess the old Minister of Magic, as Fudge was being referenced in the talk. Then a few moments later he seemed to forget what he was talking about, and began to talking to someone called Weatherbe, about work currently.
It was then Harry felt a small poke in his side, causing him to jump and spin around wand drawn, it was only Twilight, who nodded towards Crouch, "What should we do? He seems quite mad, and I don't think we should leave him alone like this."
"I know, but I am not sure how we can get him to Pomfrey or Dumbledore. If I went up, we would have to leave him alone, and I don't fancy staying down here all night waiting for someone to notice us," Harry said, grimacing at the thought.
"I know," Twilight said, looking at Crouch who had continued on in a pretty long winded conversation.
"Alert Luna and Night," Harry said suddenly, "They can then alert Hermione who can get help from Pomfrey or Dumbledore."
Twilight nodded, and her horn after a few moments began to slowly pulse with magic. This continue for a while till finally they saw movement up by the castle's doors. Twilight quickly recast her spell, and soon was hidden again with the others. Down from the castle came three people, the light from the front door lighting up their forms. Harry recognized them as they got closer, Hermione leading the other two, with Hedwig on her shoulder.
The other two were thankfully Professor Dumbledore, and Madam Pomfrey, both of whom looked both serious and worried. As they got close enough to see Harry across the darkened lawn Harry yelled and waved for them to come over. They turned a little bit and headed direct let over towards him, and soon were within speaking distance.
"Mr. Potter, Miss Granger came to see me and said you needed us at once," Professor Dumbledore said, looking around at Crouch, "Stay here I will talk with him!"
Professor Dumbledore went over to speak with Barty, who was still rambling on. Madam Pomfrey followed right behind him, muttering something Harry could not hear. Hermione, on the other hand, stepped closer to Harry and whispered.
"Night got Twilight's message, but I had to get Hedwig first and forge a convincing note," Hermione explained.
"Of course," Harry whispered back, the note and Hedwig would cover for any oddities in the story.
They were suddenly stared and jumped as Crouch let out a loud yell of distress that echoed out over the grounds. He seemed to be crying and muttering again, though this time it was faster than ever. Harry moved closer along with Hermione, trying to make out just what Crouch was saying. However it was no use, his mutter had become so fast it was nearly intelligible.
"We need to get him to the Hospital Wing," Madam Pomfrey said, a grim look on her face, "Someone has laid a very powerful curse on him."
"Agreed," Dumbledore said, drawing his wand, carefully keeping an eye on Crouch just in case the man did something crazy.
A second later, Crouch slumped over, asleep. Harry let out a small breath he had not known he had been holding. Stepping closer, he looked at Barty Crouch, then at Dumbledore.
"What is wrong with him?" Harry asked.
"I am not sure, yet," Dumbledore answered turning to Pomfrey he spoke, "Take Crouch up to the Hospital Wing and then seal the ward. I want no chances of whoever caused this getting a second shot at him. I will go and alert the Ministry of Magic, as well as Susan Bones personally."
"Of course," Madam Pomfrey said, pulling out her own wand, and waving it at Crouch who suddenly began floating.
Dumbledore then turned to Hermione and Harry, "I first need your story Harry then you are to head back to your dorms. Miss Granger, you are to head straight back to your dorms as well, anything else you might want to do can wait till tomorrow."
Harry nodded, rather happy Hermione had thought to grab Hedwig. He could send a letter to Sirius explaining everything that had happened. So giving a quick run of events. His taking a longer walk back to the castle, and Barty Crouch appearance on the grounds. Hermione and Harry wrote down everything and soon sent a letter to Sirius.
Once this was done, Twilight took Night and Luna what had happened while they had been gone. They were not happy in the slightest about it. It was a sign things were picking up again, and something was about to happen. What that something was, neither of them could guess though. Luna did admit though, that it was rather lucky Harry had chosen that path across the school grounds. For if he had not, chances were Crouch would have been dead before the night was out.
Still though, the appearance of Crouch caused a stir to move through the castle. And much like when the Chamber of Secret. Everyone was moving about in groups talking about his appearance. Rumors were flying and shifting from one idea to the next with a rapidity that one came with the supposed doom of Hogwarts sitting over there head.
The Ministry of Magic had been by within a day, but Madam Pomfrey had not let Crouch out from the Hospital Wing. Only a few people could guess as to just how she had pulled this off, even if most were sure she had threaten to remove some very tender bits from Fudge. Either way, Crouch was to remain at Hogwarts under careful watch and guard, and only four people seemed to be allowed to see him. Dumbledore, Minister Fudge, Madam Pomfrey and Amelia Bones who was the Head of Magical Law Enforcement at the Ministry of Magic.
Harry, privately hoped that they would call off the final task. But he did not put much hope into this idea. After all it took several attacks from Slytherin's monster to shut down Quidditch. The Triwizard Tournament was, at least to some, much more important. Plus with the Head of Magical Law Enforcement, and the Minister of Magic at the Hogwarts, Harry doubted very much if would even be delayed.
And indeed the task date remained the same. So Harry along with the other champions worked as hard as they could to prepare. Hermione, Luna, Night and Twilight all working with Harry teaching him spells as fast as he could master them. When this or class was not going on, Rainbow Dash showed Harry some basic fighting moves, nothing fancy, but it might give him a small edge if he lost his wand.
Then finally, it was the day of the third and finally task. Harry as he awoke felt weirdly sick, and also very happy. In a day's time, Harry, the ponies, Hermione, Remus Lupin and Sirius Black would all be leaving for Equestria. More than likely never to return.
It gave Harry a rather odd feeling as he went down to breakfast. He was looking about the school realizing this would be a last time he would see much if any of it. He would never turn to Hogsmeade, or Diagon Alley. Many people who had been friends with him, would never see him again. And Harry felt the letters he had been writing out to each one, just was not a good enough goodbye.
For a few moments, as he stood at the entrance to the Great Hall, he wondered if he really wanted to leave. True, this world had rarely if ever been kind to him. But still it is where he had been born, where his mother and father had died. Where everything he had ever known was. It was in many ways his home, yet, as he looked into the Great Hall, it never felt like he was a part of it. A stranger in a foreign land.
Still though, Equestria. There he might feel at home as well. But also there he would truly be a stranger in a foreign land. Turning away from the Great Hall, Harry moved out through the front doors, and looked out over the grounds of Hogwarts. His eyes drifted from easily noticeable landmarks to the distance mountains, and he let out a soft sigh.
"Maybe we should return someday," Harry said, his voice barely more than a whisper.
Turning back, Harry nodded to himself. He could figure out a return trip sometime in the future. Right now, he had one thing to do, one goal in mind. Survive the task tonight.