The First Task and Yule Ball
It was time for the champions to choose their dragon. All four of the teens had been nervous well-before they had been officially told about them. Harry had thought the other schools' heads would have told their champions, and so Harry had clued in Cedric.
Harry relaxed slightly as the others chose. He almost smiled as he drew out the last dragon -- the Welsh Green. There was no such thing as a safe dragon, but the Welsh Green was the least dangerous of the four. It also meant he would go second. He felt just alittle sorry for the Beauxbatons champion, Fleur, who would be going last and facing the most dangerous of the four beasts.
Cedric went first, and time started to play tricks on Harry. It seemed as if it was both his turn in an instant, and that it took hours, although Hermione would later tell Harry it was less than twenty-five minutes between the time Cedric would have left the tent and when Harry's name was called.
The crowd was screaming so much that the noise was almost aphysical assault. The Welsh Green was upset and roaring. Harry almost smiled as his silent 'accio' failed to budge the golden egg-- he could have screamed it and no one would have heard.
Harry's Parseltongue-dragonspeak spell at least drew the dragon's attention, which in turn drew the crowd's.
The dragon reared back, "A Speaker?"
Harry bowed, and slowly approached.
"Do not approach, Little Speaker," the dragon warned.
"I will try not to disturb your eggs," Harry replied, sidling a few steps closer. "There is an imitation egg in your nest," Harry pointed out. "If I remove it, you and your eggs will be taken back where you and they belong, undamaged."
The dragon looked at the eggs, and snorted smoke. "The false egg is not gold, but it is pretty like gold. Gold good."
"I can make your eggs look pretty like the false egg, without hurting them," Harry offered. "As a gift, if you would like it, in return for the false egg."
"Show me!" the dragon demanded.
Harry was glad that turning most objects different colors was easy. He suddenly hoped that dragon eggs were not overly resistant to this type of magic. With a wave of his wand, one of the dragon eggs looked like gold.
"You will do the others?"
"I so vow," Harry promised.
The dragon hesitated, but then bent over and nudged the false egg out of the nest, and Harry quickly turned the other eggs gold. Harry bowed and thanked the dragon both before and after picking the egg up. Only then did the dragon handlers come and put the dragon to sleep.
All the judges except Karkaroff gave Harry 10s, while Karkaroff gave him a 9. Harry was well-satisfied. Although he had not had to exert himself physically, he was still drained from the stress. He was happy to lie in the tent until Hermione came for him after the other two faced their dragons.
"An awful shame about Delacour," Hermione commented to Jason and Zara as Harry half-slept in her lap. The quartet was in Zara's suite of rooms in the castle, discussing the First Task.
Zara and Jason exchanged a brief look. Both knew better than to comment too much about a woman pretending to feel sorry for a woman with veela blood. "In what way?" Zara ventured.
"Well, those claw marks to her face will be horribly disfiguring,"Hermione pointed out with a tinge of satisfaction.
"No, she has bred true to her veela ancestry," Jason replied. Seeing Hermione's puzzlement, he explained. "Her magic will not allow her to be disfigured. It will, however, weaken her physical health. She will likely lose a few years of her life expectancy."
Hermione winced at that. "And what about that?" she asked, gesturing towards the golden egg with her chin, mostly to change the subject.
"You know we can't tell you anything outright," Zara pointed out.
"We listened to it screeching in the common room before we came here," Hermione informed them. "Harry told me on the way here that it sounded a bit like the Mermish he heard on . . . well. . . ."She suddenly realized that she might be giving away Jason's secret.
"Zara knows of my island, although not how to find it," Jason told her. "And yes, Harry heard me talking with a merman in his first summer there."
"What do you think of the idea?" Zara asked.
"I haven't had time to research anything," Hermione retorted."Still, Harry's ideas are often good ones. How would we translate it?"
"Maybe you should listen to it first in its proper environment,"Zara suggested.
"True," Hermione agreed, but then frowned. "Where? We only have showers."
"I have a bath," Zara pointed out.
Hermione looked down on the now-snoring Harry. "I'll tell him when he's awake," she said softly.
Harry was in the early lead, well ahead of Krum and Cedric (who was just behind Krum), while Fleur was a distant fourth. Most people assumed, therefore, that however Harry was feeling, he should have few worries. When Harry heard the song underwater, however, he went straight to the Headmaster.
"I do not know what perturbs you," the Headmaster complained when Harry stopped ranting.
"Fine," Harry growled, "tell me this. Are you planning on taking a what from me, or a who?"
"I cannot divulge. . . ." Dumbledore swallowed nervously, as he could feel the power radiating from Harry. Fawkes gave a squawk, but rather than singing to calm Harry's nerves, the bird disappeared in a puff of fiery smoke.
"It sounds as if, should you take a who rather than a what, they would be in danger, if they are not recovered in a hour," Harry pointed out. "Hermione had better not so much as get a scratch." He strode from the office.
"Perhaps you should reconsider the hostages," one of the headmistress portraits suggested.
"Nonsense," Dumbledore snorted. "Mrs. Granger-Potter will be perfectly safe."
"Yes, because the Dark Lord does not at least one agent running around the castle," another portrait retorted.
"Do not back Potter into a corner," the headmaster from the late 1200s warned. "Threaten his lady, and there will be hell to pay. And should she die for any reason, you will have lost him. Perhaps not to the Dark, but you will have lost him."
"I wish we had a different task, but we have agreed to these tasks months ago," Dumbledore lamented. "We must carry them through."
"Then explain that to one of the boy's mentors who can then explain it to him, since the rules you agreed to prevent you from doing so directly," another portrait chimed in. "Do it now. Quickly."
Dumbledore sighed and gave in. He decided he would talk to Minerva and Alastor about the second and third tasks as well. Their insights might prove useful.
Relations between Harry and the Headmaster softened after the Headmaster's apology, but they were still a bit strained. Few people noticed, however, once the announcement of the Yule Ball was made. Harry, of course, instantly asked Hermione if she wanted to attend, and she had agreed. It would be a few days later when they learned that Harry, in fact, was required to attend.
In any event, this meant Harry and Hermione could sit back and enjoy the fun of watching their friends trying to get dates. Neville struck early, tracking down Ginny Weasley over in Ravenclaw, while it took Dean and Seamus some time to build up the nerve to ask Lavender and Parvati. Ron seemed to think it a good idea to stumble up to a group of girls, apparently in the hope one would ask him to the Ball before he ran away.
So far, none had.
Harry and Hermione were trying to get Luna to go, but she turned down the three boys who had asked her. She had become slightly closer to the Druids protecting Harry than he or Hermione had. After the Druids' solstice service, she would return home for Christmas. If Harry and Hermione went to London after the Ball as they planned, she would join them for New Year's. If they didn't, she would return to Hogwarts early.
Other than Harry, Cedric was the first champion to get a date. It was taking Fleur a few weeks for the dragon-inflicted scars to heal, and so far as anyone knew, no one had even approached her. It was also not known if Viktor had a date either.
Harry had tried to get Viktor involved in an obstacle course/broom race for fun, which the Gryffindor chasers had thought up. Nine other Hogwarts students had quickly signed up, as had three Beauxbatons students and five Durmstrang students. Viktor had not been one of them. When Harry had appealed directly to Viktor, he had merely shrugged and said gruffly, "Am professional. Cannot play-fly."
Harry and his friends were shocked when he came in a distant third when the races were held the weekend before the Ball. Harry had just nudged out a Beauxbatons student, Cedric, and Alicia, while two Durmstrang students claimed first and second. The other participants hadn't even been close.
"Did you fly as well as you are able?" Zara asked the sulking Harry that Sunday night.
Harry thought about that. "I suppose so. I took some risks. Some paid off and some didn't. I think the Durmstrangers just knew their brooms better than us." He shrugged. "They also had better brooms, but so did some of the students behind me. That made adifference, but I think they would have won anyway, just not as easily."
"You fly what?"
"The Nimbus 2000," Harry said proudly, then he made a face. "The 2001 is slightly more maneuverable, and the Firebolt is faster and more maneuverable." Harry shrugged. "They were both flying Firebolts, but like I said, I think they may have won anyway."
"Did you know they are both alternates for professional teams? They will likely become starters next year, after they leave school, and also become alternates for the Finnish and Polish national teams as well."
"They were ringers?"
"You invited Krum to participate," Zara pointed out. "They only signed up after you asked him. Most likely, Krum didn't fly so they would have a chance to win something here."
"I guess that answers the question if I'm really ready to fly professionally," Harry said.
"And that answer is?"
Harry smiled. "Almost."
Zara smiled at Harry. "You could fly professionally now. Those two are more noted for their flying ability than their handling of the Quaffle. Are you ready for the Ball?"
"I suppose," Harry said. "Why did people ever decide to have dances?"
"People have always danced," Zara pointed out. "Only repressive regimes try to ban dancing, especially spontaneous dancing. I do grant you," Zara added, his eye twinkling, "mixed gender dancing has been very rare until fairly recently."
"Will you stop that!" Someone, Harry suspected Cobra, had created a charm which allowed the caster's eyes to twinkle. It was really annoying, to Dumbledore even more than to Harry and others.
Zara stood to leave. "And just when I was going to teach you the charm," he said.
"I don't know why everyone thinks you're so nice," Harry grumbled.
Zara laughed and left.
In the end, Ron ended up asking Eloise Midgen, which did not seem to please him very much. Hermione was stunned that Christmas morning when Harry presented her after they had opened their presents with what he called a 'non-present' -- a chest slightly larger than their school trunks.
Hermione quickly guessed what was in the chest, but the actual jewelry was still shocking to actually see. She quickly decided that rubies and diamonds matched her best. She was even more shocked to learn that it was a magical multi-compartment trunk.
Then Hermione realized that while the rubies matched her well, but would clash with the periwinkle blue gown. She then went with plain white and blue diamonds to match her dress that night, although she only would wear a few tasteful pieces.
As they lined up that evening, Hermione decided that she and Harry were among the best dressed couples -- several were more expensively dressed, and several of the teens had jewels which rivaled Hermione's. Hermione had worried that her tasteful jewels might still be too gaudy, but now felt more comfortable.
She was also glad that Draco and Pansy were not present. Draco had demanded that his wife be allowed to attend, but no one gave in on her ban from the school. Draco had therefore left for the holidays as well.
Few if any missed him.
Viktor Krum had surprised many by asking Fourth year Hannah Abbott, much made Hermione t'sk slightly in disapproval. Fleur was escorted by the winner of the obstacle race.
Harry never remembered much about the Ball, other than Hermione, and how it felt to hold her during the slower dances. For Hermione, it was one of the more romantic moments of her life, perhaps the most romantic to date, other than parts of their time on the island the previous summer. She was storing up precious memories, in case she had few chances in the future.
Barty Crouch knelt before his master, trembling.
"Your direct actions have not displeased me, but I am NOT pleased with your informants at Hogwarts. Evaluate them!"
"The Ravenclaw girl is intelligent, and good at drawing the bits of information she hears in her common room and among the students in the great hall together. However, she had hoped that the Weasley girl would be more useful in getting information about Potter, and more importantly about the people around Potter. She is a good source on Potter and his Mudblood, both directly and from her three brothers, but not a great one. The brother in Potter's year is no longer a close as he was a few years ago, but is still friendly. The two sixth years seem a bit closer. However, none of them are close enough to know much about the Druids and others."
"Is the Weasley girl a likely recruit?"
"Not at this time," Crouch admitted. "She does not seem as much of a Muggle-lover as some of the others of her family, but she still seems a blood traitor at heart."
"See if she can be led into a more proper frame of mind."
"Yes, my lord."
"And the others?"
"Draco Malfoy is a complete self-centered fool, but he is a snoop. He blackmailed Nott too easily -- Nott is not totally reliable. Malfoy wants some spectacular coup to impress you into leaping into your confidence."
That made the Dark Lord start in surprise."The whelp dares?"
Crouch pressed his forehead to the floor.
"Young Malfoy may have to be dealt with. Go on."
"The other Slytherin students contacted report to Nott, but not with enthusiasm. Karkaroff's reports are largely unneeded, as he hears little that I do not. Still, his viewpoint allows me to clarify mine."
"Very well." The Dark Lord pondered a moment, and then said, "The whelp has stayed at Hogwarts?"
"No, my lord."
"See that he comes to visit his bride before he returns." A bit of correction needed to be applied to Draco Malfoy's attitude.
Both Harry and Hermione enjoyed the rest of the holiday even more than they did the first part, although Hermione had to deal with the emotional stresses of spending time with her parents. She, Luna, and Harry spent their free time researching in the Black family library -- the obvious ways to deal with the second task would be to use a bubblehead charm, transfiguration, or gillyweed. Each had their disadvantages.
Both the charm and any transfiguration could easily be ended by another competitor. The bubblehead charm worked well under water, but did not help with seeing underwater, and the bubble created would prevent securely wearing goggles. In addition, transfiguring just gills would make them very inefficient structures, slowing Harry down unless he totally transformed -- which would leave him handless. Partial transfigurations were unpredictable, each time they were tried they generally transformed slightly different areas, dangerous when the lungs were involved.
In working underwater, gillyweed was easily the best option. It gave a very efficient gill structure, transformed the eyes to see underwater, and webbed the hands and feet for faster swimming. The problem with gillyweed was the timing. The plant itself varied slightly, and so did the effects. Even if the timing was exact, say an hour, Harry would be unable to breath above the water if he reached shore before then.
At that point, Sirius helped Harry break into a local school which had a pool several early mornings running. Harry mastered several transfigurations for his eyes, hands, and feet, as well as the bubblehead charm. Having used gillyweed in the past helped Harry tremendously.
Harry didn't know what Fleur or Cedric were up to, but Viktor was often seen swimming in the nearly-iced-over lake. Harry, realizing that it was not going to be much if any warmer at the end of February, was glad when Cobra told him that the charms Harry had learned to deal with the Antarctic cold would work under water as well.
No one noticed when a tent was swapped out in the Druid camp. Within Hogwarts, only Harry, his mentors, Hermione, and Luna knew that it had been rapidly created during the late autumn and winter, arriving in Scotland just before the New Year. In the unlikely event anyone unauthorized visited it, it appeared just another tent, used as a dormitory. Its basement, however, was possibly unique. It held a pool, four times the size of a regulation Olympic pool, and it was nearly three times as deep. Harry practiced in it three hours every Saturday and Sunday. Each time Harry used it, it was transformed from a clear pool to an environment more closely resembling conditions he would encounter in the lake.
Meanwhile, Luna had not been idle. She had taken over researching the second task for Harry, leaving Hermione to the study of the curse she had been hit with and the other research on creating aHorcrux for herself. Luna was taking Care of Magical Creatures and Runes (as well as Divination) and claimed to be doing research on the Merpeople and on Mermish. She therefore had access to those parts of the Restricted Section. She found a map of the lake, including the Merpeople's village, and then copied it.
Harry spent some of his little free time with the copy of the map Luna had made. He charmed it not only to be waterproof, but managed to add location charms, especially geared for Hermione, Luna (just in case the Headmaster tried to pull something), and himself. Harry would have liked to have given more features, like Sirius had recently shown him on the Marauders' Map (Remus had had objections while alive), but James had accidentally hit on a way to tie the Map in with the wards and paintings operating within Hogwarts, and those were not present in the lake.
Madam Maxime obviously had some suspicions of what Karkaroff could be hinting to Viktor and what Harry might be up to. As January wore down, the four champions were told that they could only enter the water with a simple bathing costume, their wand, and a knife in a strap-on sheath. Karkaroff's non-specific objections were voted down, but Cedric's appeal for a watch was approved.
With help from Dobby, Hermione, and Luna, Harry made a two piece bathing costume for himself. It would have been conservative in the early 1900s, covering Harry from his ankles to his wrists. If anyone asked about it, Harry would merely reply that it was to hold warming charms better. Given the expected temperature of the lake, that would be understandable, and it was even true.
Out of the water, the costume would be Gryffindor red. After thirty seconds in the water, however, it would fade to white. Atap on the right thigh of the costume would reveal a copy of the map of the lake, should Harry need it. A tap on new watch he had the Druids get for him would turn the second hand into a pointer for Hermione or Luna.
As the date of the second task approached, Harry felt ready.