Part Three of Taking Out the Competition: A Triwizard Mini-Series
Disclaimer: Not Mine. No Profit. No Shit.
by Big D
Part Three of Taking Out the Competition: A Triwizard Mini-Series
AN: I avoided using a heavy French accent with Fleur because it annoys me, and reads idiotically.
The scent of lilac and clean, freshly-scrubbed skin wafted across Harry’s nose a split second before a flash of white appeared in his peripheral vision. He studiously ignored it, even when the amorphous blob began to tap its toes and make impatient little noises. Harry fought the urge to smile. The girl wasn’t used to being anything other than the absolute center of attention, and clearly wasn’t used to having to attract someone’s notice by doing anything other than just standing there.
“I know what you are doing,” she said accusingly after several uncomfortable seconds. Her accent was noticeably lighter than it had been previously, which Harry took as a sign of her seriousness.
He laid his fork carefully down on the side of his plate, took a moment to wipe the corners of his mouth with a cloth napkin, then glanced up at the tall, quarter-Veela, taking the time to let his eyes make the pleasant journey from her slippered feet, up along the slender bare calves to that wonderfully snug Beauxbatons dress, which he had already made a formal petition to the Hogwarts Board of Advisors to have adopted as an official school uniform for females, all the way to Delacour’s flawless porcelain face, which was set into a mask of firm purpose.
Harry shrugged and answered honestly. “Undressing you with my eyes?”
The mask wavered for a moment as she blinked and thinned her lips. On anyone else it would have qualified as a blush.
“I know what else you are doing,” she replied, a wry look crossing her lovely face.
He couldn’t help but smile. This was going to be fun.
Harry made himself more comfortable in his place at the Slytherin table.
She took a seat across from him, straight-backed with her arms folded neatly across her lap. The plate in front of her instantly filled itself with food, but she gave it a single disdainful look then ignored it completely.
“It is strange, yes,” she began. “What has been happening to our fellow champions?”
Harry raised his eyebrows in puzzlement.
“I’m not sure what you mean.”
Fleur glanced behind her to the Hufflepuff table, where Cedric sat surrounded by a wide swath of empty seats. He had returned to class, but still needed crutches to walk after what had happened in the Forbidden Forest. For a few broken bones, lacerations, and a nasty concussion, it should have only taken Madam Pomfery a few days to have him reasonably healthy again, but one of the side effects of acromantula venom was that it made injuries highly resistant to magical healing. It was also caused painful seizures when the victim tried to use magic, so Cedric had been forbidden to use his wand until the toxin was completely out of his system.
A direct consequence was that Cedric had been forced to pull out of the Second Task, which meant it was now all but impossible for him to win the Tournament. His popularity had taken a similar turn for the negative, since as far as anyone else knew, he had foolishly brought it all on himself by wandering off into the forest alone. The only people who were still talking to him at this point were his close friends, and even most of those conversations usually began with frustrated questions about why he would do something so stupid when the entire school was counting on him. Cedric, of course, was bound by geis not to answer, and his responses had quickly taken a snappish tone, driving away the few supporters he still had.
Harry took a certain grim satisfaction in the surge his own popularity had taken as a result. After all, he was the one who was leading the Tournament, so all that nonsense about Diggory being the “real” Hogwarts champion had put his teeth on edge. Besides, he had worked hard to put the other boy out of the competition, and deserved a little praise for it, even if the people who now went out of their way to pat him on the back in the halls as he went by had no idea what had actually happened.
“That was very unfortunate, what happened to Diggory,” Harry said casually, picking up his fork again. “But what does it have to do with me?”
Fleur gave him a pointed look. “I have heard that just before his “unfortunate accident”, you stole his girlfriend away at the Yule Ball. And then your date attacked him and put him in the hospital wing.”
Harry shrugged. “I don’t know anything about that. Cho is an old friend who asked me to walk her back up to her room because she was tired. Anyone who tells you differently is just gossiping. And Daphne said that Cedric tried to take advantage of her, so what did you expect her to do? Frankly, if anyone has a bone to pick about stealing dates, it‘s me, not him.”
She continued to press the point. “But Diggory confronted you the next morning, yes? Challenged you to a duel?”
“Yeah,” he shrugged, “but that was probably just embarrassment from getting his ass kicked by a girl in public. You of all people should know how men are. He was just looking for someone to take it out on, and I was handy. He calmed right down after I explained to him that dueling would get us both kicked out of the Tournament.”
Harry sighed and pushed his plate to the side. “Listen, I don’t know exactly what you’re accusing me of here, but if it makes you feel any better, and in the interest of furthering international magical relations, I promise not to lay one finger on your girlfriend.”
Fleur huffed and rolled her eyes, while Harry indulged himself in a brief fantasy of the French champion and another girl, who‘s face shifted into several different likenesses, lathering each other up in the shower. It was a very diverting thought. Just because his mind was disciplined enough to resist the veela attraction didn’t mean that he was totally immune.
“And what about Krum,” she asked, some of her former iciness beginning to melt into casual banter. “Do you mean to tell me that his “accident” was mere coincidence? You were the one who suggested he brew that good luck potion, so he could approach that girl. You did not plan that so he would fail at the First Task?”
Krum’s injuries hadn’t been as serious as Cedric’s, so he hadn’t been forced to step aside, but since they had come just before the First Task, he had still been somewhat hobbled when they went to face the dragons, and had finished in last place when the mother beast caught him with a swipe of her tail, breaking several ribs.
Harry leaned back and held his hands out in mock surrender. “I admit it, you caught me. That’s why I set him up with Granger. It’s part of my nefarious plot to bore him to death.”
That got a smile. A very brief, quickly suppressed smile, but a smile none the less.
Harry gave her a look and stood up, calling across the Great Hall.
Krum turned around and waved at him, flashing a friendly smile. Hermione, who was sitting next to him as they shared a book, waved as well.
“Pickup quidditch after last bell! You game?”
“Ov course!” the Bulgarian yelled back. “I vill play blindfolded, zo you vill haff a chance!”
Harry raised two fingers at him in response, which sent the Durmstrang champion into a fit of laughter. Sitting back down with a satisfied grin, he addressed Fleur again.
“As you can see, he and I are clearly at each other’s throats,” Harry said dryly. “I realize how that whole thing with the potion looked, but the fact is, all three Headmasters cleared me of wrongdoing, after questioning me under Veritaserum I might add. If that’s good enough for him, why wouldn’t it be good enough for you?”
“What is it with you, anyway,” he asked, shifting to the offensive. “First you say that I‘m too inexperienced to even participate in the Tournament, now you‘re accusing me of masterminding some bizarrely convoluted plot to take out the rest of the champions?”
He leaned in and said quietly. “Doesn’t that sound a little crazy to you?”
Fleur stood up and straightened her dress, a glimmer of doubt and embarrassment flickering across her face. It was a nice look on her, but then again, most looks were.
“I will be watching you,” she said finally, opting to stand her ground despite the logic knots Harry had been trying to tie her in.
“Right back ‘atcha, love.”
She gave him a slightly exasperated smile and an inclined nod, then turned to leave.
Harry’s confident smile melted slightly as he watched her stride away. It was a pleasant enough sight, but he had other things on his mind right now than the practiced sway of Fleur Delacour’s hips. He had planned to leave the girl alone until after the Second Task, but this little exchange convinced him that he might have to move up his schedule. He may have succeeded in planting the seed of doubt in her mind, but she was clearly on her guard now. Trying to fast-talk her, the way he had done with Krum and Diggory, was bound to fail, if only because it was coming from him. Pushing his luck might also send her running to the press, and the last thing he wanted was that kind of attention with things going so well right now.
No, what he needed was to come at Delacour from a different angle. Something she wouldn’t expect, and which couldn’t possibly be blamed on him. Luckily, he had just the thing. All he needed was a little help from someone who would be all too glad to give it.
“Myrtle?” Harry called, sticking his head into the third floor girl‘s lavatory. “Sweetie, are you here?”
The ghost was clearly in one of her moods. Every fixture in the room was flowing with water, far too much for the floor drains to keep up with, and the exposed pipes shook angrily, as if they were preparing to burst. Harry flicked his wand and muttered an incantation as he walked in, clearing a path through the ankle deep water like a miniature Red Sea.
“Myrtle! You home?”
A second or two later, the rapid fire, metallic banging and flowing water suddenly stopped, like someone had flicked a switch. There was an embarrassed pause, then Moaning Myrtle herself floated up from the floor near his feet, a sheepish look on her face.
“What’s wrong,” he asked her, feigned sincerity lacing his tone.
“Nothing,” Myrtle quickly answered, not willing to take the chance on chasing him off with a long-winded, pointless story of her eternal teenaged angst. “Everything’s fine!”
Harry glanced around at the still flooded bathroom. “You’re sure?”
“Of course,” she said, forcing a smile onto her face. “Why wouldn’t it be?”
Harry shrugged and let it go, which was his intention from the beginning. It usually paid to indulge Myrtle a little, and simply acknowledging her problems was often enough to avoid having her explain them in detail.
“So, what brings you by,” she asked, putting her arms behind her back and trying to act as if it didn’t matter. “I barely see you at all anymore, not even working in the Chamber.”
Harry leaned in and gave her a conspiratorial smile, which immediately had her bouncing on her metaphysical toes to hear what he had to say.
“Actually, I was wondering if you’d like to help me play a little trick on the Beauxbaton’s champion.”
“Which one is she?”
“The really, really pretty one.”
Myrtle’s eyes narrowed dangerously. “What do you need me to do?”
Harry smiled. “Well... you know all the local spooks, right?”
Fleur let out a stream of unladylike obscenities as she encountered yet another dead end. It was the third time already that she had been certain she had seen a glimpse of Gabrielle’s blonde hair swaying in the distance, only to swim right into a nest of water snakes (which had been an extremely close call), and then a tangle of clinging seaweed, getting herself lost all over again.
Another flicker of gold flashed in the corner of her eyes, but was gone as soon as she turned her head. Somewhere along the way, she had drifted into an underwater valley, perhaps a one-time riverbed, and the water was murkier than ever, so that she was barely sure which way the surface was, much less where the hostages were being held. Picking a direction more or less at random, she started swimming again, well aware that her allotted hour was quickly slipping away. She had modified her Bubblehead Charm so that it fit only over her nose and mouth, leaving her ears free to listen through the water, and she had barely gotten more than a couple hundred feet when a high, tinny sound reached them, muffled and distorted by the lake, but recognizable none the less.
Someone was screaming for help off in the distance. Someone small and female.
Fleur redoubled her efforts, fear fueling her limbs, but the closer she got, the more the sound seemed to retreat. Her mind was filled with awful images of her little sister trapped in the clutches of some terrifying water monster, which was dragging her off to its lair to be torn apart and devoured at its leisure. The idea distracted her so thoroughly that she failed to notice the dimly silhouetted figures that were beginning to surround her, darting ribbon-like through the water as they shadowed her movements.
The first indication she had that something was very wrong was a slimy, scaled hand brushing at her ankle. She immediately drew herself up and rounded on whatever was behind her, but the touch had only been a distraction. Before she knew what was happening, a horde of grindylows had plowed into her from both sides, sending her crashing into the muddy lakebed and filling her awareness with snapping jaws and grasping, clawed hands. One of them slithered behind her and wrapped it’s thick, powerful fingers around her throat from behind, trying to throttle her while it’s companions held her arms down and wrestled her wand out of her grip.
Fleur struggled as hard as she could, but every time she fought one off, two more took it’s place. She finally got a hand free and grabbed the one that was choking her, breaking three of its strong, but brittle digits. The creature let out a watery scream and jerked away, but her respite didn’t last for long. She raised an arm to fend off another, but it ducked to the side and bit down on her wrist, sinking its needle-like teeth deep into her flesh. Letting out an angry scream, she grabbed the thing by the side of the skull with her other hand and viciously stabbed her thumb into its eye. It let her go, falling back with its hands clutched over its face and Fleur had a split second of freedom as the horde backed off, reassessing her as an opponent.
She was grateful for the chance to regroup, but she knew that she needed to get out of this quickly. All of that swimming had worn her down, and now she was suffering even more from the effects of being scratched, bitten, and nearly strangled into unconsciousness. Her arms and legs felt like lead weights, and bore several long red claw marks, which fortunately weren’t bleeding much, but were beginning to swell and sting painfully. The bite on her wrist was bleeding, more than she was comfortable with, but there was nothing she could do about it until she dealt with the swarm of little water monsters, which even now were swimming around in agitation, building up their courage for a second attack.
She wracked her brain for any useful information about grindylows, but couldn’t recall anything that would help her fight off nearly twenty at the same time without a wand. She glanced around for it one more time, but there was no hope of finding it in this muck, and whenever she turned her attention away from the grindylows, they pressed in close, hoping to catch her unawares, chittering and squeaking to each other in their own primitive language.
The grindylows might have a basic human shape: two arms, two legs, and an upright posture, but they were still basically animals, with animal instincts. Being part magical creature herself, Fleur had a fairly good idea what they were thinking. They were pursuing her because they perceived her as prey: alone, worn out, and ripe for the taking. What she needed to do was convince them that she was no easy meat. She had made a good start already, fighting off their first ambush and bloodying two of them. Now she needed to make a display that would prove that she was too dangerous to mess with. Since her wand was gone, that left one option.
Her veela blood was too thin to transform fully, never mind the fact that wings and magical fire might be the worst possible weapons imaginable for an underwater fight, but she could do enough to make herself look more menacing, if only for a short time. For her, trying to transform was like flexing every muscle in her body all at once, then holding them taut, and even when she was rested it wasn’t something she could keep up for long.
She did it now though, baring her teeth at the grindylows menacingly, feeling the bones in her face shift painfully and push them forward, like a muzzle. Her eyes changed as well, narrowing into vertical slits that glowed with an inner light. Her fingers lengthened, sprouting talons which she flexed for dramatic effect. Her shoulders bulged with muscles meant to power wings as wide as a city bus, but only formed as vestigial bumps.
The effect on the grindylows was immediate. The rapid fire clicks and whistles they had been exchanging ceased, and they went still in the water, like a mouse that had seen the shadow of a hunting bird of prey. Several of them simply melted down into the murk, taking the opportunity to flee while the tableau lasted, but more than half kept their places, waiting to see what she would do next.
Fleur let out an angry howl and slashed her talons at the nearest grindylow, but it was all show. Her limbs burned with fatigue, and what strength she did have was fading fast. With a pained cry, she lost the partial transformation, reverting back to her normal form. The remaining grindylows, sensing that she was spent, swarmed her, biting and grabbing for a hold on her neck again.
The last thought she had before she finally passed out was a fervent wish that Gabrielle was safe, wherever she was.
Harry almost wanted to curse Myrtle for being too successful.
He had sent her off to gather all the will-o-the-wisps she could find and tell them that several humans would be looking for something important in the lake today, and the vengeful spirits had responded enthusiastically, pouring into the area by the hundreds. He could hardly turn his head without seeing another one, trying to tempt him away from his goal and into some bad situation, and only the fact that he knew they were there that kept him from falling for the trap.
What he had done was dangerously close to directly interfering with a Task, which was a major offense as far as the Tournament rules went, and more than enough to get him disqualified if it had been interpreted as such. The fact that he wasn’t flat on his back, writhing in agony from the aftereffects of breaking the magical oath he was under, was proof enough that that hadn’t happened, but it was a close thing. The technical loophole he had exploited was that he had simply increased the natural hazards of the terrain, thereby making the Task harder for everyone, including himself.
But since Harry knew what to expect, he had a significant edge over the other two champions. After some library research, and making a few discrete inquiries with the more talkative portraits and ghosts about what the layout of the lake bottom was, he also had a decent idea where he was going. He would have preferred to do some personal reconnaissance, but Karkaroff had been given the job of keeping the champions out of the lake and had set to it with a will, particularly where Harry was concerned. He had finally given up trying after the third attempt, when he was almost “accidentally” impaled by the mast of the Durmstang ship as it surfaced where he was swimming.
But despite all that, he was still making excellent time. His transformed body slid easily through the water, propelled by flippered feet and webbed hands that moved as surely as if he had been doing this his entire life. He had brewed the Amphibeing Potion for this particular Task, which recreated the effects of eating gillyweed, but had the added benefit of allowing him to hold a water-breathing shape for as long as he liked, until he took the antidote, which was waiting for him back on shore.
He crested a rise and came within view of the merpeople town, a craggy collection of buildings hewn straight out of the standing stone and lit up in the gloom by bioluminescent creatures cultivated for the purpose. It was a little shocking, really, to think that a settlement of several hundred sentient creatures lived their entire lives down here, hardly interacting at all with the school above.
As he drew closer though, he could tell instantly that something wasn’t right. The town, which he had expected to be bustling with curious underwater dwellers, was completely deserted, and hundreds upon hundreds of long vines were creeping in and out of the dwellings, not exactly moving around, but not entirely still either. Harry hoped that the eerie sight was just a trick of the light, but he doubted it. Long, thin red leaves drifted up from the thumb-thick vines, swaying drowsily in the current, and something about them tugged at his memory, but when he tried to chase the thought down, he came up blank.
Either way, he was careful to keep clear of them, and took pains to keep an eye on the suspicious plants as he moved through the town. What he saw there put him further on edge. It looked as if there had been a fight. Shattered war tridents and assorted debris littered the lake floor, and the water here felt different in his gills, like something heavy and metallic had been diluted in it.
Harry’s highly developed sense of self-perseveration was singing to him that it was time to embrace the better part of valor, but he dismissed the notion and pressed ahead. Sirius was still up there somewhere, and he had gone to far to much trouble already with this idiotic tournament to be scared off quite so easily.
No obstacles barred his journey through the town. Even the normal aquatic life seemed to have abandoned the area, right down to the ubiquitous little bait fish he had seen swimming next to every rock and plant in the rest of the lake. As if to make up for the lack of living creatures, Myrtle’s will-o-the-whips ran thick through the streets, formless and quiescent as vague shapes of palely glowing, unearthly mist, but very much there, as if they were waiting for something, and impatiently so.
Knowing their nature as harbingers of deadly traps, Harry drew his wand and got ready for the other shoe to drop.
At the center of the town was a massive statue of a warrior merman, hewn out of a single boulder and worn to featurelessness by age and the relentless action of the current. Three unconscious people were bound with heavy ropes to the tail, apparently under a water-breathing spell, if the bubbles rising out of their mouths were any indication. Somewhat ominously, all three were wrapped from head to toe in the same mysterious vines that covered the rest of the town, so that the only way he would be able to get to them was by cutting it. Every instinct he possessed told him that that would be a very, very bad idea, both for him and the hostages.
Harry circled the statue, taking his time to assess the situation before he did anything. Granger, Krum’s hostage, was on the far left, wisps of her dark brown hair floating in the current, the parts of it that weren’t hideously tangled in with the vines. He flicked his wand at her and muttered a delving charm that told him she was alive and healthy, but in an enchanted sleep, which was more or less what he expected. Sirius was on the far right, decked out in sandals, beach shorts, and an unbuttoned Hawaiian shirt that even Dumbledore would have found gaudy. Typical enough for him, but it was the third hostage in-between the two of them who was the source of Harry‘s growing concern.
He had been expecting some dull-eyed, well-muscled boy toy, or even one the other vapid, empty-headed French girls that had been part of the Beauxbaton’s contingent. What he hadn’t expected was an utterly adorable, utterly helpless, and completely innocent little blonde-haired girl, who didn’t look to be a day over eight years old.
Son. Of. A. Bitch.
Having been orphaned by murder as a toddler had taught Harry one extremely important life lesson which he carried with him to this day. Sometimes bad things happened to good people. It was just a fact of life, nothing to get worked up over. So if Harry himself happened to occasionally be the bad thing that happened to a good person, as was the case with his fellow champions... well, tough shit, right?
Unfortunately, that philosophy didn’t extend to adorable, helpless, innocent little girls.
At the moment, he really wished it did. Granger would be fine on her own. She hadn’t been sorted into Gryffindor for nothing. She had a spine as straight and hard as a coffin nail underneath all that bushy hair and brains. And besides, Krum was coming for her. That shark form of his would allow him to track the hostages by smell, bypassing the Will-o-the-Wisp’s entirely. It was actually a pretty clever idea, if a rather unimpressive partial self-transfiguration. He’d have probably beaten Harry here if not for the fact that his human body was undoubtedly having trouble pushing the large, heavy shark’s head through the water.
But no one was coming for the little girl.
“Come on, Potter,” Harry said angrily to himself, “Now’s not the time for an attack of the morals. Grab Padfoot and bugger off. She’s not your problem.”
He might have been able to convince himself of that, too, if not for that fact that he was the reason no one was coming to rescue her.
The vines were another wild card, and one he wasn’t eager at all to turn over. They appeared to be growing out of the base of the statue, with their roots fixed solidly underneath, which meant that the only way to get to them was to blast it apart, something that would take time and could only be done after the hostages were free. It was entirely possible that they were part of the task, but he was almost certain that wasn’t the case.
Moving back towards the hostages, Harry examined the semi-familiar red leaves again. They appeared to sway along with the current, but when he moved his hand close, they leaned towards it, like iron filings to a magnet. He pulled back before they got too close, but the movement confirmed his suspicions, that this was some kind of hybridized aquatic version of a tangle weed.
Tangle weeds were the murderous cousin of the Devil’s Snare. Vampiric plants that hunted by ambush, using red, antenna-like leaves that hung down over game trails in the jungle. Even the slightest brush was enough to have dozens of independently moving limbs descend on the prey, wrapping around it and draining it of blood through retractable, hollow thorns. They were studiously neat creatures as well, taking care to bury the drained bodies of their victims, so as not to frighten off future prey with the stench of decay.
Harry glanced around at the empty town again, it’s very stillness a testament to the voracious nature of this particular specimen. Successful tanglers grew at a phenomenal rate while they were feeding, and given enough food, could cover an entire forest in the space of a week. It was for that very reason they were hunted down and killed wherever they appeared, and possessing one was considered a criminal offense in every civilized magical nation. This one clearly grew even faster than that, having consumed and occupied the entire merperson settlement in the space of a couple of hours.
Likely the only thing that had saved the hostages thus far was the fact that they were so deeply entranced that they hadn’t moved a muscle. The weed had simply grown around them, oblivious to the fact that they were very much on the menu.
Harry had never heard mention of an aquatic version of this particular plant, which was why he hadn’t recognized it until now, but with magic anything was possible. What it meant, though, was that the entire town was one huge death trap, which would spring the second he touched one of the hostages. Who put it here was irrelevant at the moment, but his mind instantly went to Karkaroff the Death Eater traitor, who had been responsible for preparing the lake for the task.
Harry closed his eyes and ran through the possibilities in his head. He could head back to shore and call for help, but he was hesitant to leave the hostages behind. If his delving was correct, the enchanted sleep they were under would end before he got to shore. The only reason the three of them were still alive was that the tangle weed hadn’t realized they were prey yet. Once they woke up and began to struggle, the weed would rouse itself, and all three would be dead and buried in the muck by the time help arrived.
Liberal application of fire was the recommended solution to a tangle weed infestation, but that was useless underwater, and too dangerous to the hostages even if the option were available. The simplest option was to kill the root, which would in turn kill the vines and defuse the trap, but as long as Granger, Sirius, and the little girl were tied to the statue protecting it, there was no way to reach it without killing them.
Harry’s eyes opened as an unavoidably risky, but potentially workable plan occurred to him. If heat wasn’t the answer, then maybe cold was. Tangle weeds were tropical vines, after all, which died when the weather turned to frost. This one was obviously a hardier breed, to live in chilly lake water like this, but he didn’t need enough ice to kill the entire thing, just enough to break the hostages loose. It was a bad idea and he knew it, but it was also the best he was going to do on short notice.
“God, I hate this hero shit,” he said to himself as he readied his wand.
Pointing it directly at the little girl, he began the incantation for a Freezing Spell, but barely got past the first syllable before the vines below his feet surged upwards with terrifying speed and tried to wrap around his legs. If he had been in his normal human form, he would have been caught easily. As it was, he just barely managed to slip out of their grasp, and then avoid several more that swept upwards at him, splayed out and questing like a blind man looking for a doorway in an unfamiliar room.
“Oh you’ve got to be kidding me,” Harry muttered in disgust.
Whatever had been done to this particular weed had not only allowed it to flourish underwater, but had also somehow given it the ability to sense incipient spellcraft being used against it.
Contrary to popular opinion and various urban myths, many of which he himself had started through gullible third parties, Harry wasn’t an inordinately powerful wizard. Above average, certainly, but even once he reached his full maturity, he would never be anywhere near Dumbledore or Voldemort’s league. One of the ways he compensated for that was to embrace the lessons that the Dark Lord himself had begun to teach him in first year while posing as Professor Quirrell. He had become an avid student of the wandless arts: potions, runecraft, alchemy, the various rituals of sympathy and thaumaturgy, and even a little necromancy when he was absolutely certain that no one was looking.
All of which had come in handy at various times, but were virtually useless to him at the moment. Padfoot had spent most of the summer drilling him on the finer points of becoming an animagus, but that was something he still hadn’t gotten the hang of it yet. He circled the statue again, studying it from every angle. Theoretically, sympathetic magic could be used to freeze the water around the hostages, but he’d have to freeze the entire lake. He simply wasn’t powerful enough to do that, even if he had somewhere handy to store all that heat.
He stopped and realized with a flash of annoyance that he was approaching this from the wrong angle. The problem wasn’t the hostages or the water, or even the vines. Those were just aspects of the deathtrap, and focusing on them would get him nowhere. The real danger was the thrice damned root, sitting snug and protected by ten tons of solid rock.
He lowered his wand and focused on the statue, ignoring everything around it. Sympathy worked by building mental links between objects, and transferring energy between them. It was perhaps the oldest and simplest magic in the world, and though it had fallen out of favor as the millennia passed, it’s discovery had changed human history. The first man to create fire had done so by transferring a portion of his own body heat into a wooden branch, igniting it, and it’s study had eventually led to the basic principles of the lever and the wheel. It was the type of magic most grounded in science, because its application was limited by various natural laws, such as the fact that stone was a very poor conductor of heat, but water was very good at it.
And if there was one thing Harry had plenty of right now, it was water.
So instead of freezing the water, he froze the statue. He forged a link between the stone and the lake, using his own body as a heat pump and ripped every bit of thermal energy out of it, passing it through himself and out into the frosty water, which gobbled it up greedily. For several seconds, he felt like he was standing in the middle of a blast furnace, since the sheer size of the statue meant that it had considerable heat stored up inside of it, but the effect was immediate and satisfactory.
A layer of ice quickly formed along the exposed surface of the statue. The leaves closest to it began to shrivel and die as the root did what all plants did when threatened by frost and turned in on itself, conserving energy. The vines darkened and drooped, loosening their grip on the hostages, and the statue itself shuddered and split cleanly down the middle, letting out a thunderously loud crack that exploded in his eardrums, shattering his concentration, along with the mental link.
He clapped his hands over his ears and cried out, but couldn’t hear himself scream. The next thing he was aware of was strong hands taking him by the shoulders and shaking him, not very gently. He opened his eyes to see that Sirius had broken free of the ice and dying vines, presumably having been woken up by the sudden shock of the rock against his back cooling down to something approaching absolute zero. Harry’s godfather was screaming his name, but there was nothing but a dull ringing sound in his ears.
Something flashed in the corner of his eye and Harry instinctively grabbed for his wand. Sirius gave him a smug look and held it up, having already lifted it from him while he was out, then nodded to his left, where Victor had appeared from somewhere and was pulling Granger and the little girl free from the quiescent vines. Granger was moving very gingerly, and the little girl was clinging to her, bawling in pain. Both of them were doubtlessly sporting impressive cold burns where they had been in contact with the way-past-freezing stone, but that was better than the alternative.
Krum was already casting pain-relieving spells on them, getting ready to carry them both back to shore. Deep puncture marks around his left leg gave testament that he had already had his own run in with the tangle weed farther back in the village, which was why he had been delayed for so long, and he clearly needed no explanation that the Task was over, and getting out of here alive was the priority now.
“What happened,” Sirius mouthed slowly at him. He was certainly in far more discomfort than either of the girls, since he was the only one not wearing heavy robes, but the former felon turned national hero was made of far sterner stuff, and endured it with the long-suffering patience of someone who had lived in agony for so long he hardly noticed it anymore.
Harry pointed angrily at the surface, then pounded the inside of his left forearm and swept his arm around the devastated merpeople village.
Sirius’ expression went flat and hard. “Karkaroff,” he mouthed.
Harry pointed at his nose.
Padfoot jerked his head in the direction of shore, but Harry shook him off and pointed back at the statue. As much as he loathed playing the hero, they needed to finish this threat off while they had the chance. Sirius frowned, but nodded in agreement. He swam over so that he could look down into the crack and widened it further with several well-placed blasting curses, exposing the root. It was a light green, the color of freshly exposed wood, and throbbed like a living heart. Sirius took aim and finished it off with a single Killing Curse. The town was briefly and spectacularly illuminated with green light as the energy of the curse flowed from the roots along each and every individual vine and leaf. Seconds later, the tangle weed was as dead as the village itself.
Harry found it hard to feel one way or another about that. All of these people had died just so a Death Eater could lay a trap for him, but it wasn’t the first time something like that had happened, and it likely wouldn’t be the last. Collateral damage wasn’t just simply a hazard when it came to being the Boy-Who-Lived, it was a way of life.
He and Padfoot quickly caught up with Krum and the other hostages. Even with numbing spells, Granger and the girl were in no condition to swim, and both were awkwardly holding onto Victor’s shark back as he swam for shore, his eyes peeled for unexpected danger. Harry let his godfather hang onto his wand and guard their backs, two things he trusted very few people in the world to do, then eased Krum’s burden by letting the little girl clamber onto his back. She wrapped her arms tightly around his neck and he could feel her lean down to say something to him. His hearing had come back just enough to hear her whisper one word, over and over again.
She kissed him on the cheek, and Harry felt a smile slip across his lips. Maybe being the hero wasn’t as annoying as he thought.
The spectators broke into an awkward cheer as he stumbled out of the water, happy to see that he had represented Hogwarts by returning first, but confused as to why he was carrying someone else’s hostage. Fleur let out a relieved shout and sprinted over, tossing aside the thick, warm towels she had been wrapped in as she came. Harry noted that she was covered in bruises and bright red scratches, and was surprised to feel an acute sense of guilt at the sight.
He chalked it up to exhaustion and suppressed the feeling immediately. Wouldn’t do to get soft now.
The little girl in his arms reached out for Fleur, babbling in French too quickly for him to decipher, though he caught the word “sister” and the name “Gabrielle” in Fleur’s response. He gladly handed the frightened girl to the French champion and scanned the crowd for a face he knew he wouldn’t see. Blaise came running up right behind her and handed him the Amphibeing antidote, which he took immediately, shifting back to his normal form. Zabini also had his backup wand, which he slipped discreetly into Harry’s other hand while no one was looking.
“Where’s Karkaroff,” Sirius bellowed, coming out of the water with Harry’s original wand raised. He was scanning the crowd as well, looking furious at the Durmstrang headmaster’s absence.
By the time they got the whole thing sorted out and a search started, it was far too late. Krum and his classmates were appalled and furious at what their leader had done, but after a vote, decided to stay at Hogwarts for the duration of the Tournament. The Durmstrang ship had also turned up missing, so the group ended up moving into the Slytherin dorms, much to the approval of Snape and the delight of the House, who took no missed opportunity to rub it in with the other students.
While the Ministry was still deciding how to word the press release, and the Order was still debating what to do next, Sirius simply walked out the front door, ignoring the protestations of Madam Pomfrey, and went hunting for Igor Karkaroff, intent on finding out whether his assassination attempt was a solo job or part of a larger plot. He and Harry made arrangements to meet after the Tournament, since communication would be difficult in the places where Padfoot was heading.
After the fury had finally died down, and well after he was supposed to have gone to bed, Harry found himself slipping into the Hospital Wing. His own injuries were reasonably minor, but Granger and the Delacour girl had been ordered to spend the night under observation to make sure their frostbite didn’t grow into anything more dangerous.
He drifted over to the first curtained bed and peeked inside. Granger was wrapped in a pile of blankets, with little more than her hair and closed eyes visible. She would be alright. Far from being angry at nearly getting frozen to death in the course of Harry’s rescue, she had been extremely impressed by his resourcefulness, and utterly fascinated by sympathetic magic, which she had barely heard of before today.
Naturally, she had demanded that he teach it to her as soon as possible, and mapped out a schedule for lessons before he had even finished telling the entire story.
At the far end of the wing was a second screened-off area. Gabrielle Delacour was curled up in the middle of the bed, which radiated a gentle warmth from the spells Madam Pomfrey had layered on top of it. She had taken the worse of the cold, since she was considerably smaller than either Granger or Padfoot, and the trip back to shore hadn’t done her much good either.
Harry wasn’t quite sure why he had come here, but found himself sitting down on the edge of the her bed. Poppy had said she would recover in a few days, but even now, the little girl was pale and shivering beneath the thick covers. He placed the back of his hand against her cheek and could easily feel the chill. Unconsciously, she leaned into him, muttering something in French under her breath.
Harry usually didn’t waste time indulging in guilt trips. He certainly hadn’t when it came to all of those dead merpeople back in the village, but then again, he had only seen the aftereffects there. Here he was faced with the consequences of his own actions. He hadn’t laid the trap, but maybe he could have found a way to defuse it that didn’t involve friends and innocents getting hurt. And he definitely should have kept a better eye on Karkaroff. He had put so much effort into sabotaging the other champions that he had lost focus on the real threat.
It wasn’t a mistake he would make twice.
He tugged the blankets up to Gabrielle’s chin, gave her soft blonde hair a final affectionate rub, and stood to leave. Ducking out from behind the curtain, he found himself face to face with Fleur, who had apparently been watching him visit her sister. The French champion’s superficial cuts and bruises had been easily healed, with only a mild discoloration around her pale, slender throat to attest to the fact that she had been injured. She would have been killed easily, if not for the fact that the grindylows had been placed under a geis that compelled them to bring her back to shore rather than finish her off.
Dumbledore’s idea, of course. The purists had grumbled that the chance of death was half the fun, but never where he could hear them.
With her hair down, standing in the dim candlelight of the Hospital Wing, Delacour was even more stunning than usual. She put a finger to her lips, took him by the hand, and led him quietly out of the room, down the hall, and out to a small, seldom-used courtyard.
Fleur turned around and took both of his hands in hers. They were standing very close, and Harry noted again that she was taller than he was, but didn’t let it bother him.
“I was wrong about you,” she said quietly.
“Which part,” he asked. “That I’m a little boy, or some kind of criminal mastermind?”
He smiled, and she returned it gladly.
“Both,” she replied, then leaned down to kiss him. Her body pressed against his, and her tongue quickly found its way past his lips. As Fleur pulled him down to the cool grass and set about giving him a proper reward, it occurred to Harry for the second time today that being a hero might not be quite so bad.
But being the bad guy was way more fun.
AN: Apologizing for the delay would be pointless, since everything I write has massive, laziness-induced delays built into it. I’ve actually been so guilty about not updating this that I haven’t read any of the reviews since just after the most recent chapter.
The last couple of WWSHD installments focused more on the conniving and manipulative aspects of Harry’s personality, since I wanted to make the point that he was more of a functional villain than a good guy, albeit one who mostly works against the other villains. In that same vein, I wanted to use this one to explore his more selfless aspect, showing that he will sometimes go out of his way to save people he cares about, as well as those who he feels can‘t protect themselves, or who were put in danger by unintended consequences of his actions.
Originally, I had intended to have Harry do battle with the tangle weed. It’s actually a scene I’ve had ticking around my head for a long time, and which I planned to adapt for this story, but the flow led me in a different direction. Frankly, I put him in a situation where I simply couldn’t see him prevailing in an open battle without someone getting killed, so I had him find another way.
Sympathetic magic I mostly stole from Patrick Rothfuss’ “The Name of the Wind”, which features a hero who, like Slytherin!Harry, relies more on his mind to solve problems than his muscles. Good read, if a little slower paced and more melodramatic than I prefer.
I have several other installments of WWSHD in various states of completion, but none of them feel quite important or interesting enough to update with after such a long delay. My current plan is to go back to third year and show how Harry managed to clear Padfoot’s name. There’s a couple of clues sprinkled throughout the Triwizard Mini-Series, for anyone who cares to try and put the pieces together.
For those of you who would have preferred a more detailed Harry/Fleur scene at the end, you may see it someday, but there just wasn’t space for it here. I’ve been toying with the idea of doing a “Who Would Slytherin Harry Do?” series, detailing his various sexual adventures and encounters, but I’ve never gotten around to it, and I make no promises that I ever will.