The Second Task
A/N 2: Thanks for the reviews, even the not so nice ones. I shall endeavor to explain my reasoning better in future.
A/N 3: Apologies for the long hiatus. Real life decided to hit me with a 7lb, 1oz hurricane in the form of a darling baby daughter. Between the excessive cuteness and a severe lack of sleep, this chapter has been on hold for far too long!
One Wizard Too Many
Unrestricted Submarine Warfare
“Master Harry Potter! The Great Wizard Harry Potter needs to wake up sir!”
Harry knew that voice. That high pitched and overtly servile bit of sound invading his cozy oblivion could only belong to a House Elf. The unique manner of address hinted as to which elf it was.
He groaned and rubbed his face.
“Dobby. What the bloody hell happened to me?”
“Master Harry sir! Yous in the infirmary, resting after a big fight. But no time to rest now!”
At the mention of a ‘Big Fight’, memories of the running battle with the aurors flooded back into his mind.
He sat up quickly and opened his eyes in a squint. He was occupying a cot in the oft visited hospital wing. The goodly amount of ambient natural light told him it was now daytime, as well as exacerbating his already considerable headache. The silence and lack of activity seemed a bit odd though. Not even the ever present Madam Pomfrey was in sight.
“Dobby, what time is it?”
“Eleven in the morning, and time for the Second Task!”
“And again, fuck.”
He noticed he was still mostly clothed, excepting his shoes and shirt. Footwear he found under the bed, and a t shirt was folded up on the table next to his bed. He slipped the shirt on, hissing as it brushed against the big bandage gracing his pectorals.
“Fucking cutter! Should’ve decapitated that McLeod bastard! Wait, I think I might’ve…”
His wand was, almost unbelievably, resting on the side table.
“Hold on. I kill, or nearly kill about half a dozen aurors yesterday, and they let me keep my wand? What the fuck is wrong with these people?”
Shrugging at the thought, he scooped it up and jogged for the door. It was unlocked, to his mild surprise. Shaking his head at the inability of wizards to ever do the sensible thing, he set off for the Black Lake at a brisk pace. He thought of the situation at hand, hoping to get his mind off the fact he was going into this task feeling like refried shit. Unfortunately, the prevailing strategic situation was almost as bad as the current physical one.
“Something is very odd here. As soon as this stupid nonsense is over, I’m really going to have to figure what the hell is going on!”
“Mister Potter! Good of you to finally join us!” Bartemius Crouch was, as ever, unamused.
Usually, Harry would’ve had a reply handy to counter the pompous minister. Today though, he didn’t trust his voice not to utter ‘Avada Kedavra’ or perhaps ‘Crucio’ at the man. He settled for a ‘go fuck yourself’ glare.
During the run to the venue, Harry had allowed thoughts of yesterday to stoke the fires of his anger. Him and Hermione, attacked. Hermione insulted. Percy and McGonagall’s utter indifference to what he wanted. Hermione injured! Dawlish gloating. And what was up with Moody? How long was he there watching under a disillusionment?
He could feel his wrath approaching ‘potential for creative homicide’ levels, and the reddish tinge was already visible in the periphery of his vision.
Ludo Bagman began his announcements, describing the task to the assembled throng. When he reached the part about ‘what they’ll sorely miss’ and choice of hostages, Harry’s left eye twitched a bit and his anger notched a little higher on the scale.
Finally, the four champions were lined up on the edge of a dock near the frigid water.
Harry stood between Fleur Delacoeur and Cedric Diggory, but he didn’t spare his opponents even as much as a glance. Cedric could read the warning signals and spared the young Gryffindor a sympathetic glance.
“All right Harry?”
“Awesome.” Harry’s angry glare at the lake lent his answer a certain amount of sarcasm.
Cedric tried to help. “No worries, mate. Just a quick grab and go, yeah?”
Harry turned to the taller boy. The pure rage in his expression shocked the Hufflepuff deeply.
“Cedric, listen, you just grab Cho and get out of there. Just ignore me and whatever I may be doing, no matter how violent it may seem.”
“What do you mean? Why would you have to hurt anybody?”
Harry shook his head. “I don’t know, but something about this whole setup seems off. I’m counting on the Ministry trying to screw me over, but I’m not sure of the mermen.”
Cedric contemplated the younger wizard’s statement for a moment.
“Well, mermen in general aren’t reckoned to be very friendly towards wizards, but Professor Dumbledore and the ministry liaison are supposed to have this group pacified.”
In the background, Bagman was chattering on about the champions and a recap of the first task.
Harry however, was beginning to grow a bit more concerned at what Cedric had mentioned. Calling a potentially threatening group ‘pacified’ was never a good sign. The Royal Army said that about the American Colonials before Lexington, the Zulus before Isandlwana, and the Boers prior to Ladysmith. Even more famously, the Yanks made the claim about the Sioux in 1876 at a place the Native Americans called ‘Greasy Grass’ (the white men knew it better as the Little Big Horn), and then there was the matter of the Vietnamese just before the Tet holidays in 1968.
In short, calling a people ‘pacified’ was tantamount to daring the shit to hit the fan.
Then there was something else bugging him.
“Cedric, who is the ministry liaison?”
“I think it’s still Walden Mac Nair from the bureau of Magical Creatures.”
“Aw fuckin’ bloody hell!”
Harry’s curse was loud enough to cause a few in the crowd to chuckle or frown, depending on their sense of humor.
“Why the hell am I just hearing about this now? Why didn’t I think to ask?”
The answer was complacency, pure and simple.
“We all forgot, that’s why. Fuck.”
Just as Cedric’s face formed a questioning look at Harry’s outburst, a loud boom issued from the judges booth signaling the start of the task.
Viktor, Fleur, and Cedric quickly dove into the cold water to begin their magical efforts.
Harry stood there for a moment, and then drew his wand.
“Accio ‘special package’!”
Bagman’s overly cheerful voice boomed out over the lake.
“And Potter seems to be starting this task the same way he started the last one! Wonder what surprise he has in store this time!”
Thirty seconds later, the loaded Zodiac rigid inflatable raft came zooming in from the direction of the castle.
Harry captured the boat with a levitation charm and set it down in the water just before him. He hopped in and started the outboard with a firm yank on the cord.
Soon, he was zooming away from the docks and toward the center of the lake.
He gunned the throttle with his right hand and flipped open a box with his left. Inside, there was a last minute extra from Remus that would aid him in this stupid task. As he neared the deepest part of the lake, he slowed the craft and stuck a pole with a cylinder shaped item overboard. He then fired up the fishing sonar display and set it to sweep.
As the complicated electronics did their work, Harry quickly stripped out of his clothes and put on the neoprene wetsuit, zipping it up under his chin. Mask, fins, tank, regulator, a wicked looking dive knife, the speargun, extra spears, and the Soviet made ‘needle gun’ completed his kit. He left the flash bangs in the raft, as he wasn’t sure he could get away in time to not kill himself if he triggered one under water.
He checked his watch: 10 minutes elapsed.
He then checked the sonar display. The readings placed some oddly shaped terrain below him and extending several dozen meters in every direction.
“Right above the ville. Let’s scoot over to the edge of town.” He said to himself.
He trolled the raft further into the lake until he saw the odd ‘bench like’ terrain change into a rolling abyssal plain.
“City limits. Here’s the spot.”
Harry moved the mask into place and tucked his wand securely into a wrist strap. He checked his regulator and grabbed the crate of limpet mines, falling over the side into the cold lake waters.
He adopted a slightly ‘head down’ position, arms around the crate and fins tucked up behind him. This attitude gave him a nice and steady rate of descent with very little energy expended. Every few minutes he equalized the pressure in his ears by blowing air from his nose.
During the several minute descent, Harry thought over the situation with the mermen.
“So here we have a group of magical sentients who are already pissed off at wizards in general. Add in the fact that you have old Walden ‘Whack em off at the Neck’ Mac Nair the Death Eater as their main contact with the Ministry, who I’m sure has told them all about little old me. I guess the only question is: how ugly is this going to get?”
After a descent of about 20 meters or so the lake bed and a few merman huts became visible.
Total depth in this area was about 27 meters; a very deep dive indeed. The seascape around him was cast in a dim light and the currents ran very cold.
“What a miserable fuckin’ place.” Harry had little energy for or inclination toward philosophical observation currently.
Time check: 25 minutes elapsed.
Harry set the heavy crate down on the lake bed and gathered a goodly amount in his arms. He swam for the first few mer-dwellings along the ‘street’ he was moving along.
He wasn’t particularly pissed off at the merpeople yet, but he and Remus both felt that an appropriate diversion might come in handy for his exit from the town. The werewolf had of course known the merpeople were typically at odds with most wizards, but this bit about Mac Nair had come as a rather rude surprise.
Either way, leveling half their town was an excellent way to snatch their attention away from any rapidly fleeing wizards in scuba gear, should it come to that.
Besides, any ‘de-pacification’ that may result would just cause problems for the thrice damned Ministry.
All good points as far as Harry was concerned.
The area, for as built up as it was, happened to be totally devoid of activity. No mer-people showed themselves as Harry busied himself by mining the underwater buildings. He placed a mine against a wall, pressed firmly, and pulled the pin to start the timer.
Remus had worked out three general settings; green paint, present on the first few charges he placed, indicated a 30 minute fuse (give or take; sixty year old munitions couldn’t be counted on for scientific accuracy). He set three of the half hour variety on his progress toward the town center. The next three he set had yellow paint, indicating a twenty minute timer.
Finally, he began to get very close to the sound of a mer-choir singing that infernal riddle from the egg.
At each refrain mentioning something he’d sorely miss, he became just a bit angrier.
“Maybe it’s just me, but it sounds like the bastards are bragging!”
Harry gingerly placed the last three charges on the back side of a large building next to their main plaza. From the fancier architecture, he took in to be the mer-equivalent to city hall. These mines had red paint and a ten minute fuse.
Elapsed Time: 45 minutes.
“The green charges have been live for about fifteen minutes, yellow for just under ten, red for three or four.”
He turned the corner into the plaza and swam hard for the center. Ahead of him was the choir, several guards, most of the villagers, and four posts. Two of the posts were unoccupied, rope like vines floating free in the current.
As Harry approached the target, he glanced around a bit to fix the positions and numbers of mer-people loitering about as well as he could in the murky conditions. He noticed three general types of be-finned denizens:
1. Civilians. There was the mer-choir singing away, comprising about ten individuals and a ‘conductor’ of sorts. They seemed to be focusing on belting out their tune for the duration of the event. Also present were about four dozen spectators calmly observing him approach. The outcome of the event was immaterial to them beyond any sort of general spectacle. None of these individuals had weapons in evidence. Threat level was low.
2. Officials and Dignitaries. On a dais to the left of the hostages ‘stood’ (more accurately, floated) a few older mer-people. They seemed to be bedecked in some sort of ceremonial chains, like the mayor of a French village. Three individuals were so garbed. Also in attendance were four ‘lackey’ types holding clay tablets and trying to look energetic. “Like a soggy Percy Weasley!” This group would be expected to watch the proceedings very closely, as they seemed to be in charge of the event. One bigwig seemed to be holding a bejeweled trident, most likely a badge of office rather than a real weapon. The others were unarmed. Threat level was medium.
3. Security. Around the hostages were arrayed ten rugged looking mermen watching him very intently. Their flinty glares indicated a considerable level of distrust for the land dwelling wizards. They held tridents in their hand-like fins. Two bored mermen were positioned off to the side and engaging in a practice spar, demonstrating a significant degree of skill with the weapon. Clearly, the threat level was high.
Harry kicked hard, closing the distance rapidly to the dais. Time was running out quickly. He swam up to the posts and located the inert form of Hermione, looking to all the world like a drowning victim and tied to a stone column.
“Hermione! I’ve got to get you out of here!” Harry couldn’t decide between fear and anger as an appropriate response to the sight.
He quickly unsheathed his knife and hacked away at the ropes holding her to the column. In his fear and haste to free Hermione, he managed to miss a few things. His arrival in the square attracted a great deal of attention from the mermen. Most of the fishy denizens looked on in curiosity, but the sparring mermen paused in their bout and began to slowly approach the distracted wizard.
Harry gathered his unconscious girlfriend in his arms after freeing her of the binds and took a quick look around. He noticed two things that troubled him greatly.
Firstly, there were two very unfriendly security mermen looming up on him. They were displaying an unhealthy amount of interest in his activities and looked rather grim.
Ordinarily, he would be able to count on the diverting spectacle of an exploding mer-village to properly engage their attention, allowing him to make his escape with his ‘prize’. The ensuing mayhem should cover their tracks nicely.
Unfortunately, said mayhem would directly affect the second thing he noticed. Someone forgot their hostage.
A little blonde girl was tied to a column two over from the one formerly occupied by Hermione.
“Damn! If I don’t take her too, we might never get her back!” Either the concussions from an exploding village might kill her, or a horde of pissed off mermen would hack her up for spite.
He was distracted from his ruminations by the angry prods from the two security mermen.
“What?” He tried to convey with a look. As usual, Harry really didn’t have time for this.
One of the mermen began to shriek and gesture angrily.
What he wanted, Harry hadn’t a clue.
“What the fuck do you want, idiot?” He threw one arm out to the side wildly, in a gesture meaning roughly the same as his mental question.
A quick glance at the watch on his splayed-out arm: Fifty three minutes elapsed. The first charges will probably start to go off in less than five minutes.
Just then, the quieter of the two security mermen lurched backwards and shrieked in pain. A reddish cloud of blood formed around his midsection.
“What the hell? What just happened to him?”
At first, Harry was confused. Then he saw the dead fish pouring blood in the ‘wounded’ merman’s fist.
“Holy shit, it’s a frame up!” The grin on the first merman’s face as he reared back for a lunge told the whole story.
Harry was to be assassinated ‘in self defense’ by the merpeople. He had, apparently, attacked the security merman in a fit of rage and would be skewered for it.
Harry lurched to the right and pushed a semi-buoyant Hermione out of the way as the trident gashed his left arm badly. He wanted to scream bloody murder, but a grunt would do for now.
The enraged merman drew back for another thrust. All Harry could do was lean right and draw the needle gun. Two jerks of the extra large trigger and the merman was surprised by a pair of largish holes in his chest.
His partner dropped the playacting bit along with the dead fish to snatch up his trident and avenge his mate. His bid for vengeance was halted by a third jerk of the trigger and a single hole in the gut, courtesy of an enraged Harry.
The disabling of the second merman seemed to cause everything to pause for a moment. Harry was engulfed in a cloud of blood, some of it his own, and therefore temporarily hidden from view of the remaining security mermen.
“Shit, shit, shit! Gotta get out of here!”
Mermish cries of rage and distress could be heard as the dead merman floated clear of the blood cloud.
Harry had seconds to act. He grabbed Hermione by the arm and paddled as quickly as he could towards the blonde girl. He only had time to swipe once at the ropes binding her when the mermen were nearly upon him.
Harry swung the speargun around and spiked the first merman. The fishy assailant shrieked in pain and lurched into the path of another merman, delaying the attack by a precious few seconds.
Harry managed to part the line binding the blonde girl and was starting to reload the speargun, when a rumble shook the village. In the distance, a large silt cloud could be discerned rising.
“Green charges went off. Time to go!”
Harry finished reloading the speargun and grabbed the floating blonde girl by the arm. The girl’s legs still had a length of rope attached, so Harry grabbed the bitter end and tied it around Hermione’s waist. He grabbed Hermione’s robes by the collar and began to ascend. Another series of rumbles and an uncomfortable pressure wave rolled through the village, indicating the detonation of the yellow charges. Harry could make out a few mermen stunned into unconsciousness at the edge of the square.
Harry kicked furiously and paddled hard with his uninjured right arm towards the dim light above. He tried not to think about the pain and burning from his left, made worse from towing Hermione and the blonde below him.
“This is taking too long! Might have to banish us out of the lake!” A strong banishing charm cast behind him would probably propel the group toward the surface. That, or cause him to lose his grip on Hermione, thereby leaving her for the angry merpeople to deal with. Unfortunately, there wasn’t enough rope to secure Hermione to him.
A dull boom and a rush of water and silt erupted from below. The red charges had gone off and merman town hall was most likely a muddy hole in the lakebed.
An angry screech below indicated a close pursuer. He grabbed the speargun and drew a bead on the merman emerging from the depths.
The spear leapt off the launcher with a whoosh towards the merman, catching him in the top of the shoulder. He dropped his trident and sank into the gloom, leaving a blood cloud behind.
In the back of Harry’s mind, two words popped up and tried to move forward into his consciousness. “The bends.”
He knew he was ascending too fast to avoid injury from compressed nitrogen boiling out of his blood.
Four words erupted in his frontal lobe and shot backward in answer. “No choice. Fuck it.”
He kicked hard and struggled to reload the speargun one handed. He seated the spear and cocked the mechanism just in time to fire it off at another angry merman. This one managed to dodge, escaping with a minor graze on the scaly part where someone’s legs should be.
“Shit!” Harry was unloaded and the merman kept coming. He grabbed his needle gun and fired his fourth and final shot, catching the merman in the head.
Harry had to get out of this lake now! He dropped the now empty needle gun and drew his wand. He twined his left hand around the collar of Hermione’s robes and hoped for the best.
The spell shot out of the wand, impacting the water immediately. The force was incredible as the trio rocketed upward. Harry felt as if a giant had smacked him in the face as the water pressure broke his mask. The rushing water then knocked the mask from his now bloody face to hang around his neck. His regulator was torn from his mouth, knocking out a tooth or three in the process.
For all the pain though, the charm had the desired effect. Harry felt his body break the surface of the lake and fly into the air a short distance. The weight on his left arm hurt like hell, but told him he still had a hold of Hermione and the little girl. Being propelled into the atmosphere caused him to lose his grip on the collar, however.
He landed with a splash and quickly broke the surface again. He wiped some of the blood out of his face and tried to see where he was.
“Okay, about fifty yards from the raft.”
A gasp and a shouted “Harry!” Came from somewhere to his left. He turned to see a conscious Hermione holding the little blonde girl and swimming toward him.
“Oh thank God!” He summoned the raft and directed it towards the paddling girls. He kicked towards it himself as he prepared the speargun to cover their retreat.
Ahead of him, he saw Hermione sling the little girl into the raft before climbing in herself. She pushed herself up and looked toward Harry.
“Harry, behind you!” She shouted.
Harry spun and brought the speargun to bear. Just beneath the waves behind him he could see a rapidly approaching merman. He jerked the trigger on the gun and launched a spear just beneath the surface. The spear grazed the merman along the back, severing a fin in the process. The merman wavered, but shrugged off his injury to continue his attack.
Harry grimly drew his knife. He couldn’t swim away fast enough; he would have to fight it out.
The merman’s thrust trident grazed Harry’s ribs, missing everything important but causing a great deal of pain. He trapped the trident under his savaged left arm and started jabbing with his knife, catching the merman in the shoulder and neck. The wounds weren’t fatal though. The merman yanked hard on the shaft of the trident, wrenching Harry’s damaged arm. The wizard tried to get a few more jabs in with his knife, but the merman caught him by the wrist and twisted.
Harry’s right wrist broke with an audible pop. He managed to keep a hold on the blade, but couldn’t put any significant force into a thrust.
He needed a miracle, and he knew it.
Just then, the zodiac raft bumped his head from behind and a pole with a cylinder contacted the merman’s skull with a thud. Another swing, and the pole whacked the attacker again. The merman’s grip slackened before a third swing caused the water dweller to sag away from Harry and sink into the lake. Harry looked up to see Hermione toss the remainder of the ruined sonar rig into the water and throw out an arm to help him into the raft.
The seriously wounded and exhausted wizard managed to clamber up into the raft and grab the tiller.
“Hermione!” He croaked.
“Oh Harry! Thank Merlin you’re all right!”
A tired grin. “Thanks to you! We need to get the heck out of here though. I’ll drive, you and blondie start in on the flash bangs in our wake.”
“Right.” The brunette witch reached into the bag holding the grenades and began to pitch them into the lake behind them, dissuading any possible pursuit. The little blonde girl could only huddle near the bow and cry silently.
Soon, the raft reached the ‘safe’ area of the lake, and Hermione ceased throwing the grenades to crawl up next to Harry and try and treat come of his many lacerations with his wand.
Harry ran the raft up on the beach at the finish line, completing the task well after the hour was up.
Harry found that he really didn’t care about the time.
As Hermione helped him and the little blonde girl out of the raft, he heard Bagman announce. “And Potter finishes the task at one hour, eighteen minutes. He also seems to have picked up a stowaway!”
The little blonde girl screamed something in French and ran toward the Beauxbatons area, to be caught up in a desperate hug from a soggy Fleur Delacoeur.
Harry didn’t pay much attention to the joyous Gallic reunion. His focus was on the judges table, which he gimped toward with Hermione’s help.
Bartemius Crouch was the first to comment.
“Potter! You’re late! The time limit was one hour.”
Harry said nothing, but pulled away from Hermione and gimped toward the judges on his own.
Crouch continued. “As such, you should expect to receive a reduced score.”
Harry seated a spear in the spear gun and cocked the mechanism. He drew nearer to the judges table. Hermione followed a step behind.
“Potter, are you even listening to me? Say something!” Crouch was beginning to get unnerved by Harry’s silence.
Harry stopped ten yards from the table. The speargun rested on his hip, and he tipped the business end up a bit.
“Fuck you, Barty.”
He jerked the trigger hard, and the spear leapt off the rail and caught Barty Crouch in the stomach.
Crouch gasped and fell backwards, holding the spear protruding from his guts.
Hermione grabbed Harry’s left arm and pushed her face into his shoulder.
Crouch moaned in pain, and then rather oddly looked around in a confused manner.
“Dumbledore! Where’s Albus Dumbledore?”
Professor Moody pushed his way up to the fallen judge and quickly hit a portkey, presumably to St. Mungo’s.
Harry thought he should be confused, but found he was far to tired to care why ass hat Crouch was calling for the Headmaster, or why Moody stepped in to help the man. He could also feel a burning pain in his joints indicating the onset of the bends.
With one last look at the chaos occurring all around them, Harry held tight onto Hermione as he triggered the portkey to their Jamaican beach.