The third task, and after.
"And there you have it," Osiris concluded.
"But the Cup isn't charmed as a Portkey yet," Hermione pointed out."You don't know where to send it."
"True, but Voldemort built the location into a charmed disk. Even though Crouch could come and go to Voldemort's lair, it was through another damn disk. We could try and break it, but that could lose us the location."
"So what is it you want me to do?" Harry asked quietly.
"Get to the Cup first and let it take you to the location," Osiris answered. "Land shooting. We'll be at most forty-five seconds behind you."
"And just who is 'we'?" Hermione asked archly.
"Myself, Cobra, Jason, and Scorpion," Osiris answered. "I doubt we will all be needed."
"No," Harry stated.
"No?" Osiris was surprised.
"No. Scorpion will likely be placed near the maze, playing Moody,"Harry pointed out. "And I wouldn't put it past several people to make an attempt on Hermione or Luna."
"You may be right," Zara answered. "Scorpion and I have been partially through the connected books Crouch was using to collate information -- a copy of which goes to Voldemort, by the way. Malfoy and Karkaroff among others have been sending information, and Malfoy has been practically begging Crouch for permission to attack Hermione while you are in the maze. There seems to be agroup of Ravenclaw girls involved in spying on you, as well. Ginny Weasley is the source of most of their non-obvious information, although it is doubtful she is aware that it is making its way to Voldemort. However, she does seem to be planning on taking Hermione's place, should the curse go fully into effect."
Zara made a face. "In fact, should you fail to seize the Cup first, the Ravenclaw girls who are involved are suggesting they poison Hermione, get you involved with Weasley, and have Voldemort again possess her, while she controls you through love potions."
"See, she could be in danger," Harry said to Osiris. Hermione was still trying to grasp that her friend Ginny would be scheming like that, ignoring that the few Ravenclaws involved were likely egging the girl on.
"I shall stay near Hermione during the Third Task," Zara assured Harry, "as will Luna and several of the Druids. Other Druids will be near the maze, should the need arise. As the task starts in the twilight, the vampires will also be nearby and in force." Harry was satisfied, while Hermione was still thinking.
That evening, as Hermione sat on the bed and Harry brushed her hair, she asked, "What should we do about Ginny?"
"She's just selfish and silly," Harry answered with a shrug. "The other Ravenclaws, the real plotters, will be identified and the Brotherhood and the Druids in ensure that they'll be expelled after the third task." Harry shrugged again. "One would hope that she'll learn a little something from that."
Hermione looked dissatisfied.
"Here's something else to mull over," Harry said.
"Malfoy's father is still involved in Voldemort's plots to some degree, and so is he. What's more, I got some more information out of Jason."
"He's like a clam to everyone but you," Hermione said, almost smiling. "With you, he's almost as chatty as Hagrid."
"I wouldn't go that far," Harry retorted. "Anyway, they're not sure what she's up to, but Pansy seems to be directly serving Voldemort."
"So she's facing Azkaban, and the Malfoys might be as well?"Hermione suggested, thinking things through.
"Exactly. And they would likely be willing to cut a deal."
"For Pansy to have our baby?"
Hermione frowned. "Wouldn't it be wrong for us to wrangle them abetter deal just to benefit me?"
Harry thought about that for several moments, and then he sighed."I think that's the problem with being Muggle-raised."
"What do you mean?"
"Do you think many pure bloods would hesitate a moment? For that matter, would any Muggle aristocrat have hesitated two hundred years ago?"
"This isn't two hundred years ago, Harry."
"Isn't it?" Harry asked. "Our new culture here has its own mind set. We don't have to agree with it, but we don't have to feel guilty about operating by the rules."
"Don't we?" Hermione demanded.
"Well, we don't have to," Harry replied, a bit doubtful. "At least we can consider it."
"That's true." Neither were happy with the situation, but both were willing to await events before they made any final decision, keeping their options open.
The final task was still over a week away when Hermione and Harry were whisked off to meet with the First Acolyte and some others."We believe we can help a woman create a soul jar, or Horcrux. However, daughter, we are not certain if it will work, and less certain if it will work for you."
"Why is that?"
"The original method, the one we use, takes the power of death and uses it to detach part of the soul, which is weakened by killing."
"Each person's death diminishes me," another brother said softly.
"Exactly, no matter how cruel or callous the killer might be. Now, the inverse happens at conception. A new soul is created, or if you believe in reincarnation as the Druids do, a soul is attracted. That force of creation has more power than it needs, and part can be diverted. We have not tried it, of course, but we believe that when this takes place within the woman's body who is making the Horcrux, her soul is weakened momentarily at conception and with some modifications to our ceremony, the combination should create a Horcrux."
"Well, as you might say, we are ninety-five percent certain," a third brother said.
"With a ninety-nine percent chance that the conception will be completed," the second brother added. "As it would need to be outside your body, however, there is only a sixty percent chance of it working with you, and a fifty percent chance that the conception will not take place."
"However, it should be perfectly safe for the woman," the First Acolyte concluded.
"We really do not feel we can further your options in the near-term," the second brother concluded. "We will keep studying the problems, but must caution you not to expect more."
"Thank you," Harry said, as Hermione was trying to process all of this. "We'll keep it all in mind."
"After the third task," Hermione pointed out.
To the unobservant, Hermione Granger-Potter and Luna Lovegood looked isolated in the crowd. They were at the base of a swell in the ground. No one stood behind them, and those in the seating that was behind them were raised several feet. The people on either side of them had their attention on the maze.
Draco Malfoy snuck into the area behind them, imagining himself agreat hunter. In reality, of course, his halting progress was impossible to miss to anyone paying any attention, and several people were.
Draco 'stealthily' pulled the vial from his pocket, nearly dropping it twice. As soon as he began his throwing motion, three vampires pulled him silently into their disillusioned embrace. They had already placed a muting charm on him, so they just had to secure the vial and portkey away with their prisoner.
"Draco's gone," Zara told Hermione softly. "Don't drop your guard, just in case some one competent tries something else."
Hermione nodded. "Will they feed on him?"
"Probably a little, but not enough to harm him."
"Well, not enough to kill him."
Luna suddenly shuddered. "Harry's gone. It has begun."
Osiris, Cobra, and Jason were already standing back-to-back and in defensive crouches when Harry had activated the Portkey. Each sent up a prayer, which were rewarded when Harry's signal came through in less than thirty seconds.
The trio appeared in a graveyard, about thirty yards from afirefight -- some twenty-odd figures in Death Eater regalia were firing at a large tomb, presumably sheltering Harry. Before they could do anything, they saw Voldemort was in the midst of the group attacking Harry
"Stop!" Voldemort commanded, and his Death Eaters stopped their attack, as did Harry..
Osiris signaled 'no action' and watched. However, when Osiris saw the attention of a huge, mutated snake was being drawn towards them, a slight movement of his staff silently killed it.
Osiris' eyebrows went up as he realized that the snake had been aHorcrux. He had never heard of anyone being stupid enough to embed a Horcrux in a mortal being before.
Meanwhile, Voldemort had moved to the front of the group, and was demanding that Harry come out and duel. Taking advantage of the grouping in front of them, while Harry exchanged abuse with Voldemort, the trio silently, although slowly, picked off the Death Eaters one at a time.
Voldemort, or at least one of the Death Eaters, had to turn around at some point. As it turned out, it was Voldemort who turned just as the eighth Death Eater was muted, pulled a few yards back, and then killed in a silent ballet of death.
"Who dares!" Voldemort demanded. "Avada. . . ." He could not complete the curse as Osiris sent a powerful wall of magic at the group, which made Voldemort and twelve of the thirteen remaining Death Eaters hit the ground. The remaining, slowest Death Eater, was only a set of hips and a pair of legs after the spell it.
"Tell me, Tom Riddle, did you think Agathon powerful?" Osiris asked.
A hint of terror flashed over Voldemort's face, as he realized who, and what, he faced.
"In many ways, Agathon is below average for our group, and is certainly the least discreet." Osiris stepped closer. "You have talent as well as power; let no one ever deny that. Had you done what you told Agathon you would do -- create your two or three soul jars, by whatever name you prefer, and live a life of gathering knowledge and experience over the millennia, we would not only have left you alone, we might have even invited you to join us. We have done so a few times before."
Voldemort stood and looked Osiris in the eye. The Death Eaters stayed on the ground. "And do you think I would grovel before you or your leaders," he sneered.
The Death Eaters tried to squirm into the turf, and even Voldemort paled even more than normal when the Eye of Judgement burst into its deadly, fiery form behind the trio. "I am Ahk Shir-rusch, Giver of Death, Lord of Nile Waters, Master of the Desert. I walked the Earth as a god millennia before the first stone circles were built in this land. In life, I was probably only slightly more powerful than you, and to be honest, overall very likely not as knowledgeable at your age, although I believe I had more sense."
Osiris smiled grimly. "Do you think I have learned anything more over these last six thousand years? Don't you think my being has become ever more infused with my magic? becoming ever more attuned to power? If you think your puny magic can harm me, feel free to try."
Osiris now glared at his opponent while signaling Jason and Cobra to move away. "But I warn you, even if you have by chance some piece of magic which can harm me, my soul jars are intact . . . and all of yours, including your snake, are gone. Anyone can kill you now, Tom Riddle."
"Anyone," Jason repeated with an expression that showed he was itching for a fight.
"Anyone at all," Cobra agreed coldly.
At that point, a pale, almost pastel green light hit Voldemort from behind. He froze for nearly three seconds, and then dropped like a marionette with cut strings.
"Anyone at all," Harry agreed, now visible, standing next to the tomb he had been sheltering behind.
Osiris, Cobra, and Scorpion, pretending to be Druids, were aiding the Ministry in cleaning up the aftermath. Hermione, exhausted from the tension and the worry of having to make some important decisions, was asleep. Harry was alone with Jason.
"You look disappointed," Harry pointed out.
"I am," Jason admitted.
"Why?" Harry asked, puzzled.
"I am, by nature and training, a warrior," Jason pointed out. "I had hoped that there would be some good fights." His face showed his disdain. "Ambushes and a little brawling. Not much action."
"There was more than enough for me," Harry stated with feeling.
"Very likely," Jason agreed. "You are not me."
Harry had to agree with that, of course. He therefore changed the subject a bit. "Is Malfoy still alive?"
Jason smirked. "Which one? Draco was not nearly drained by the vampires. He'll be weak for a few days." He frowned. "His idiot father returned to Britain a few days ago. Since that idiot Agathon was partially behind this mess, including their involvement, we'll spare them both. Still, in my time, I would have either killed or enslaved the pair of them, or at least striped them of their ability to harm anyone."
"Could you? Strip them of their wealth, I mean?"
"Draco has none. He was the named heir before, and therefore we could attach part of the family wealth. Now that his infant brother is the heir, Draco is worth nothing. Most of Lucius'personal wealth has also already been stripped away. We cannot force him to stop being the head of the family trust."
"So there's nothing we can pressure them with, if Hermione decides to choose one of the options that need them?"
"It turns out that Pansy was used as a nursemaid to some . . .thing, some artificial creature that housed Riddle spirit before he recreated his body. Before and after he was recreated, she was used as a sex slave by the Death Eaters."
Harry's face fell. "Does Hermione know?"
Jason grimaced, and Harry returned the gesture, saying, "Hermione would never condone forcing Pansy, even before this. Now. . . ."
"Actually, we could not overtly force or bribe her, if the goal was to break the curse," Jason pointed out.
"I suppose not." Harry was dissatisfied. "When can I talk to her?"
"When our people and the Ministry have determined exactly what they want to charge her and the other Malfoys with," Jason answered. "I would say about three days." He frowned. "I am not arguing that you shouldn't meet with her. . . ."
"I'll talk with Hermione, of course, but according to custom, Ineed to do it."
Harry met with Pansy four days later, in a cell in the Ministry. Harry observed her from behind a one-way mirror before going in to meet with her. Her eyes looked haunted, and she would twitch and shiver randomly. Harry could not pretend to himself that she had not been ill-used.
Harry took a deep breath and entered the cell. Only Cobra and Jason would be able to observe him.
Pansy sat at attention when she heard the noise of someone coming in. She managed a good version of her old sneer when she saw who it was. "Potter," she spat. "I should have guessed. What does the half-blood hero of blood traitors everywhere want with me?"
"You really are an ignorant cunt, aren't you, Pug-nose?" Harry managed to return with equal venom. "Here I thought you had been raped and used. It turns out you're not even a whore, just astupid slut."
"How dare you!"
"Well, you got repeatedly fucked and fucked up the arse by some two dozen or more men for about a year. Yet you still tow the same line as the men who used you, so you weren't a victim. You were paid an allowance, so you aren't a whore. What else is there to call a girl who allowed her self to be used like but a slut?"
"I didn't allow anything! I was forced!"
"Then who are the ones who betrayed you, Pug? Me, the one who ended your alleged abuse, or those that turned you over like a piece of meat and the ones you used you like a toy?"
"No one can stand up to. . . ." Pansy's shout trailed off as she realized who she was yelling at.
"That's right, you dumb bitch," Harry retorted. "That claim doesn't stand up any more, not that it ever really did. What kind of moron claims to worship purity of blood and yet debases themselves to ahalf-blood like Voldemort anyway? Now, do you want to get out of a little bit of the major trouble you're in?"
"How much trouble do I get out of and what do I have to do?"
"Not so fast," Harry said coldly. "First, do you want the 'getting out of trouble to apply to just you, or to Draco as well?"
"He is my husband, as weak and worthless as he's been," Pansy answered. For the first time, the sneer fully left her face."Since you seem to be about to offer me some sort of deal, Ipresume you feel the same about Granger."
"Yes, and if you have a brain in your head, you'll at least call her Mrs. Potter from now on."
"Good." Harry made a face. "Actually, if you had cast Draco off, Icouldn't offer you this."
"And what is 'this'?" Pansy demanded.
"Do you know the minimum as well as the maximum you and Draco face?" Harry asked. "From the Ministry, from me, and from your families?"
Pansy flushed. "Yes," she whispered.
"Now, think very carefully," Harry said coldly. "What is it I need you to do?"
Pansy glared. "I don't know how to break the bloody curse on your Mud . . . on your . . . whatever you call her."
"Would you, if you could?"
Pansy glared. "What's in it for me? I mean for us? Draco and me, and. . . ."
"Don't push it, Pansy," Harry warned her. "You have to agree to help Hermione to end your curse, and rely on me to do what's right when it's over."
"You have GOT to be joking!"
"No," Harry replied. "It's the only why to break the curse, and to prevent it from either coming back on Hermione . . . or avoid hitting you in retribution, if you betray us."
Pansy paled, and help up her hand. She thought a moment, and then asked quietly, "What would I need to do?"
Harry passed over two sheets of parchment, one describing what Pansy would need to do, and the other the oaths which she would be required to swear to enable her actions to break the curse -- and the consequences, not for honest failure, but for bad faith.
Pansy swallowed nervously, and said, "I'll do it."