The Nereid, the Changeling, and the Siren
Harry swallowed nervously as he looked at Sirius’s nearly inscrutable features. Only the barest twitch at the corners of his godfather’s lips suggested any emotion, but Harry couldn’t be certain what it was. Lupin peered into the mirror over Sirius’s shoulder, his eyebrows raised.
“So when were you going to tell us Harry?” asked Sirius, sounding slightly strained, as if struggling to maintain an even tone. “I had to read it in the notification pages of the Daily Prophet when Remus pointed it out to me - I never usually read those pages... And I still didn’t quite believe it until Mad Eye confirmed it for me...”
“I’m sorry!” Harry muttered, his face feeling hotter as he began to redden. “You’re not cross with me are you?”
“Only because I wasn’t invited to the bachelor party,” retorted Sirius, unable to maintain his composure any longer and breaking into a broad grin. Lupin smiled wryly and shook his head with a mild snort of amusement.
“It is not generally advisable to get married so young,” said Lupin, “but you were well within your rights to do so Harry. Congratulations to you and Hermione both.”
Harry let out a sigh of relief and grinned; Hermione beamed and gave him a kiss on the cheek.
“I must say Harry, I am extremely impressed,” Sirius continued, awe in his voice and a look of pride on his face. “This rather beats any of James’s and my own youthful escapades at your age hollow. We were very big on rebellion... but Responsibility, not so much. You’ve managed to demonstrate a large degree of both in a single act - and you’re not even in Fifth Year yet. James and I didn’t really straighten out and begin to settle down till our Sixth and Seventh...”
“I just hope Hermione’s mum feels the same way,” said Harry, giving his wife a guilty look.
“She will Harry! I’m certain of it,” Hermione reassured him, though a trace of concern flickered across her features, “I sent Hedwig with a letter telling Mum and Auntie Joanne all about it the day before yesterday. But you know how far Bournemouth is from Scotland... and with the latest snowstorm, it could be a few more days before she returns with a reply.”
“Don’t you two worry,” said Lupin kindly. “Sirius and I will get in contact with Jean straight away, and let her know how well you’re both doing. Your mother is very sensible and kindhearted Hermione... Sirius and I spoke with her at great length last month after Dumbledore contacted her. I’m sure everything will be fine.”
Hermione beamed gratefully at Lupin, feeling a rush of relief.
“Anyway, we’ll let you two get on with things - I know how busy you are...” Sirius gave Harry a wink and another grin. “Tell my little cousin I said hello, won’t you?”
Tonks grinned when Harry passed on Sirius’s message to her.
“... ‘little’ cousin, am I?” she chortled. “What... does he think I’m still six years old? Remind me to morph into one of those American Wrestlers and sit on him the next time I see him. We’ll see how little he thinks I am then.”
Harry and Hermione both had a good laugh at the idea of Tonks looking like a hairy three hundred and fifty pound man in a silly outfit sitting on top of Sirius.
“Right, well let’s see how you’re doin’ Harry,” Tonks went on after the giggles died down. But a new round of laughter was set off when Harry combined Dean Thomas’s skin tone with Malfoy’s hair colour and held up his hands to display Lavender’s sparkly mauve fingernails.
“That’s smashing Harry,” Tonks wheezed as she gasped for breath; Hermione was still giggling madly. “I reckon you’re ready to move on to the more complicated stuff now. You might as well start working on changing the shape of your nose, teeth size, and the length of your hair. Show me what you’ve got in a couple of days, and then we’ll move on to working on your entire facial structure...”
“I can’t wait,” said Harry, grinning. Tonks’ eyes flicked towards his lightning-bolt shaped scar briefly and she smiled sympathetically.
“I expect you’d like to hide that scar sometimes, wouldn’t you?” she said knowingly; Harry was hardly the attention-seeking tragedy-milking sort that Skeeter made him out to be, not that Tonks had ever thought he was.
“Yeah...” Harry sighed, giving his scar a quick rub, “I wouldn’t mind that at all actually.”
Harry had always hated people staring at his scar, but at the moment, it wasn’t the first thing on his mind. Several days had passed since Harry had picked up the Gillyweed in the village apothecary, and sampled a teensy amount during the bath he’d had with Hermione - much to her delight - and he was eager to begin working out how to replicate its effects with his metamorphmagus talent.
If he could have, Harry would have spent all of his time practicing, but he and Hermione still had their regular classes to contend with as well; and the professors continued to pile on the work and impress upon their students the importance of preparing for their OWL’s which were approaching at the end of the following year.
Harry didn’t mind working hard and studying - he was as eager as ever to learn as much as he could about magic - but he still had to work twice as hard as Hermione to achieve similar results in many classes. He wished again that he could read and write as fast as her, and retain the knowledge as readily as she did. Arithmancy in particular continued to be a struggle despite Hermione’s patient tutoring, and Harry was grateful that he was at least still managing to scrape by with barely passing marks.
For her part, Hermione was thrilled with how well Harry was doing in school. Harry continued to match her in Potions, Ancient Runes, and Charms, and often exceeded her marks in Defence Against the Dark Arts.
They were both very happy to have Hagrid back in Care of Magical Creatures. Hagrid had continued the lessons with Unicorns, and he appeared to think that their horns made up a fair bit for their disappointing lack of fangs.
“I hope yeh were all payin’ attention ter Grubbly-Plank... she’s right on the mark abou’ how dangerous the adult Unicorns can be to mos’ lads,” Hagrid said cheerfully. “But the young uns might letcha touch ‘em though, boys...”
“...if yer real quiet an’ calm like,” he added as an afterthought.
Parvati and Lavender squeaked happily, and even Pansy Parkinson couldn’t conceal her delight when she saw the Unicorn foals that Hagrid had brought to class that day. Draco Malfoy had fumed when the Unicorn let Potter and the Mudblood touch it again, and seeing the Unicorn foals eating out of the palms of their hands was simply too much to bear.
Daphne Greengrass - a pretty blonde haired Slytherin girl whom Draco had been eyeballing at the Yule Ball, much to Pansy’s dismay - was cuddling one of the foals. Draco smiled pompously, reckoning that he ought to do well with a foal that liked Greengrass. Putting all thoughts aside about the “girlyness” of Unicorns, Draco marched up to take a turn with the Unicorn foal.
The foal squealed when Draco drew near. Daphne looked up to see what had upset the foal and frowned warningly at Malfoy. Ignoring Greengrass’s look and the foal’s squeals, Draco kept approaching. The adult Unicorn snorted in alarm and strained at its bond at the sound of distress coming from one of its young.
The tether broke free and the Unicorn charged at Draco, whinnying angrily. Malfoy’s face fell - eyes wide with terror, he ran for it, shrieking in a high pitched voice. Hagrid panicked when the row caught his attention.
“Bloody idiot’s gone an’ done it again,” he muttered furiously under his breath as he lunged for the galloping Unicorn. Hagrid only barely managed to catch it in time before it skewered Malfoy with its spiral horn.
Some of the other students began laughing as Hagrid shut the furious Unicorn in the paddock. Draco shot Greengrass a malevolent glare. It was her fault for spooking the foal; he just knew it! Daphne shrank back and bit her lip. Uncertainty crossed her features and she trembled as she regarded Draco’s dangerous look - as if seeing him for the first time. She let out a sigh of relief when his attention turned back to the Unicorn which Hagrid was still trying to calm down.
“Bloody Rhinoceros!” Draco spat venomously, “Crabbe, Goyle, let’s go... I’m done with this! We’re dropping this stupid class...”
Hagrid looked cheered, and a smattering of applause broke out among the Gryffindors at Malfoy’s proclamation. Though a few were mildly disappointed.
“Shame Hagrid caught it,” sighed Ron, a wistful expression on his face as he imagined Malfoy impaled and gored by the Unicorn. Seamus sniggered as Neville and Dean both nodded.
Harry grinned at Ron, unable to bring himself to disagree. Despite a fleeting feeling of sympathy with Ron’s sentiments, Hermione was quite thankful, as she was certain that Hagrid would have been unable to avoid being sacked this time. But she kept that thought to herself, sensing Harry’s need to just enjoy the moment.
A few days after Harry and Hermione had spoken with Sirius and Lupin, Hedwig finally returned with a reply from Hermione’s mother. Hermione buttered a crumpet for Hedwig and glanced nervously at Harry, who was peering anxiously over her shoulder at the envelope. The exhausted and cold snowy owl gratefully gobbled the crumpet and several pieces of bacon before flying off for a well deserved nap.
Fortunately it was Saturday morning, and the Potters didn’t have to worry about classes. As soon as breakfast was finished, Harry and Hermione hurried back to their private chambers where they found Hedwig settling in on top of the wardrobe and Crookshanks purring as he curled his bushy tail around her.
Hermione took a deep breath to steel herself, but her hands still trembled slightly as she carefully undid the envelope. Harry’s heart was thumping so loudly, he was sure that Hermione could hear it. A flowery card was enclosed with a letter folded inside. Hermione unfolded the letter and Harry peered over her shoulder as she began to read, both of them blushing furiously at the awkward bits.
Congratulations darling! Your aunt and I are both so happy for you! To be perfectly honest, though I’m a bit surprised that Harry asked you to marry him, I’m not at all surprised that you said yes as I already knew how much you love him. It is quite rare to find a sexually mature young man of Harry’s age who is willing to settle down and bear the responsibility of a commitment such as marriage.
Indeed, many men twice his age or more quail at the very thought of marriage, stuck as they are in a state of eternal adolescence - set on playing the field for as long as they have seed to sow. Conversely, some boys of his age have barely yet begun to understand their adolescent urges, much less consider marriage a valid option in which to explore them...
“Erm... you didn’t tell your mum that you were going to share this letter with me, did you?” groaned Harry, his beet-red face scrunched up with embarrassment.
“I’m so sorry Harry,” Hermione squeaked, equally appalled at the brutally frank nature of her mother’s reply. “I should have known... Mum was always quite up front about these sorts of things. She sat me down for a discussion and gave me a book about sex and puberty a few months after we got my Hogwarts letter - anyway there’s more...”
Harry closed his eyes and took a few deep breaths to calm himself before he read on.
...Of course, I am quite aware that with Harry it is so much more than that. Having seen you both together, it was more than apparent to me how dear you are to him, and that he loves you very much.
Indeed, I had quite hoped that one day he would realise just how very special you are and ask you to marry him. I just hadn’t expected it to be quite so soon, though I probably ought to have had an inkling, given the rare levels of maturity he exhibits and how accomplished he already is for his age.
And please don’t fret or think that I might be put out by you being married at your age. Your Great-Aunt Gertrude was married at fifteen to a seventeen year old boy - your Great-Uncle Alfie - and they spent their entire lives happily together. I am just thrilled that you have found such a suitable and intelligent companion, as well as one as kind and brave as Harry is. And I couldn’t be more happy to know that you have found someone who truly respects your intellect - someone who doesn’t feel threatened by it or put you down for it, as some men are so wont to behave badly towards intelligent women.
I’m sorry to inject a slightly sour note into this letter, but I continue to hold out some hope that one day your father eventually comes to feel the same way as I do. Obviously, given things as they currently stand, the news of your nuptials would be too much for him to bear at the moment.
The only slight disappointment I might have beyond that, is that I wasn’t able to attend. But please don’t mind that. You explained very thoroughly the circumstances of the situation, and I quite understand. Remus and Sirius were also both dears, and very forthcoming when they visited your aunt and me shortly before Hedwig arrived with your letter. They took us both to dinner and we all shared a toast in your and Harry’s honour.
Perhaps one day, when you have finished school and things have settled down a bit, you and Harry might like to renew your vows among family and friends. But in the meantime, I and your aunt are just as happy to have a small celebration with you and Harry and his godfathers when we next meet - perhaps at Easter.
Please give Harry my best - and your aunt’s - and be sure to let him know that he has our full blessing and that we love him and that we are delighted for him to be a part of our family.
Hermione squealed with happiness when she finished the letter and began peppering Harry with little kisses.
“See Harry! I told you she would understand!” she squeaked joyfully.
The flush of embarrassment faded in the giddy flood of relief that rushed through Harry’s veins. He beamed from ear to ear as he embraced his wife and returned every kiss.
“Easter at home then?” he said with a grin.
In his free time, Harry spent every moment he could with Hermione researching things which might be helpful for the Second Task. He pored over his Third Year notes regarding Grindylow and other creatures which might likely be found in the Black Lake. And he went back over his report and his notes on Runes to ward against dangerous magical creatures, rereading the relevant portions of his books for that class.
Every moment he wasn’t swimming, training with Moody or Tonks, or studying for his other
classes, Harry spent in the library looking in books with Hermione and taking more notes. When Hermione returned from the dusty unused section of muggle reference books, she found Harry hunched in a library chair with his head buried in a book of Mermish.
“Why are you looking in that Harry?”
“Well, I don’t think a few runes saying ‘Merpeople friend’ is going to cut it this time if I run into trouble with them,” Harry muttered, frowning. “But Mermish looks bloody complicated. There’s no way I can learn it in time.”
“You really shouldn’t have to Harry,” said Hermione reasonably. “Some of them must know how to speak English - or else they wouldn’t have been able to sing that song so that you’d understand it under water.”
“Yeah, I suppose...” Harry didn’t look entirely convinced. “But what if most of them don’t speak much English, and I need to talk my way out of a sticky situation? They’d understand me better if I could speak their language, wouldn’t they?”
Hermione rather thought Harry had a good point. She bit her lip as her brow furrowed pensively.
“Well...” she began tentatively, “runes are sort of a magical language themselves. Maybe there’s a set that would work as a ‘universal translator’ of sorts - something that would allow you to hear what they’re saying in English, and allow them to hear what you’re saying in Mermish. If not, there might be a charm which does much the same thing.”
“Brilliant! Thanks Hermione,” Harry beamed. “I’ll start researching that then. What’ve you found there?”
“Oh... erm, just some books on human anatomy and ichthyology...”
“Ichthyology... the study of fish. I thought it would help to look up gill cell-structures and compare them with the cell structure of human lungs...”
Harry rubbed at his forehead and raised his eyebrows, beginning to wonder if he wouldn’t just be better off learning the Bubble-Head Charm and being done with it.
They were supposed to be practicing Banishing Charms, the opposite of Summoning Charms, but as Harry and Hermione had both managed it quite well in the first ten minutes of class, they spent a bit of time helping Neville. His spellwork had improved considerably since getting his new wand, but Neville’s aim was dreadful, and after a while, the Potters left him to practice with Dean.
“Just keep practicing Neville... You’ll get the hang of it eventually,” said Harry encouragingly.
The sound of a small explosion caught everyone’s attention. Feathers filled the classroom and Ron’s face looked a bit scorched. Seamus had managed to blow up the cushion he was banishing towards Ron.
“You’re doing much better than Ron and Seamus in any case,” said Hermione. “At least the things you’re banishing aren’t exploding.”
“Lucky for Flitwick...” Neville muttered as he glanced at the tiny Charms professor who still looked a bit dazed after Neville had sent him flying across the room instead of the cushion that he had been trying to aim at.
Left to themselves, Harry and Hermione both continued working on research for the Second Task. Hermione looked at the book on fish anatomy while Harry began flicking through fifth, sixth, and seventh year Charms books for something to help him speak and understand Mermish. He was beginning to feel a bit panicky about it, because he’d been through all the Runes books in the library that he could find, and many of the Charms books in the library as well, but still hadn’t come across anything helpful.
Professor Flitwick had recovered from his flight across the classroom when he noticed that Harry was reading an unassigned book in class. At first he tried to take away five points from Gryffindor, then he tried to add fifteen points when he discovered that Harry was reading a seventh year Charms book instead of his fourth year Charms book.
For a few moments, Flitwick couldn’t comprehend why his points taking and giving spells weren’t working. Then he finally remembered that Harry Potter was married and no longer bound by the House system. He gave a little cough to catch Harry’s attention.
“Well Potter, I’m very pleased that you’re reading so far ahead,” the diminutive professor squeaked, “but you appear to be a bit lost. Perhaps I can be of assistance.”
“I... er... I’m not sure if you’re allowed to assist me, sir,” Harry responded with a pained expression, “I’m looking for something to help me in the Second Task.”
“Nonsense Potter! Of course I can help guide you in the right direction. I just can’t do your work for you. You’ll have to do all the research without my help, but I can certainly point you to the correct resources. What is it you’re looking for?”
Harry scratched his head before remembering the term that Hermione had used.
“Erm... a ‘Universal Translator’ spell sir. I may need to talk to Merpeople, and there’s not enough time to learn a whole language.”
“Oho, it’s no wonder you can’t find it in a standard school text-book then - as it could potentially be used for cheating in a magical language elective class... Nor will you find such a spell in a standard Charms book in the library. That’s highly advanced, specialised magic which can only be found in the Restricted Section. In any case, there is no single Translation Charm which will work for all languages.
“Each language or closely related language group has a specific charm. Try Linguistic Legerdemain by Reddo Semanticus. I’ll give you a permission slip for the Restricted Section of the library. You ought to find a good charm in that book which will work for Mermish that you can cast upon yourself. The spells are quite complex, but they are lasting, and must be removed with a counterspell...”
Professor Flitwick paused, his features becoming distraught and uncertain when it struck him that the difficulty of translation spells made them ill-suited for casual use; they were usually reserved for extreme situations. But his professorial nature compelled him to continue; Potter deserved to know everything.
“Translation spells are generally used for negotiations after...well... ahem... usually after diplomats have been killed in war or in civil strife between ethnic groups who speak different languages. Good on you for taking all potentialities into consideration Potter - only a few Merfolk speak English well enough to carry a full conversation - and even then, only when they are fully submerged.”
Hermione took one look at the Mermish Translation Charm after Harry checked the book out from the Restricted Section and knew that Harry didn’t have time to learn it with everything else he had to deal with at the moment. He had more than enough to be getting on with as it was.
“Leave this to me Harry...” she said earnestly.
“Wait,” Harry interjected, frowning, “are you sure about this Hermione?”
“Yes Harry! You need to keep your focus on practicing the fighting spells and the hand to hand training, and doing it all underwater, not to mention your metamorphmagus training - and the rest of your schoolwork... I’ll learn this spell and cast it on both of us the afternoon before the Second Task.”
Harry sighed, knowing that Hermione was probably right. Hermione bit her lip in consternation; she could see Harry struggling to accept that he’d have to give up learning the spell for now, and that he was feeling inadequate.
“Harry... it’s alright!” she tried to reassure him. “I know you could learn the spell if you had the time, but there’s barely more than a month left before the Second Task now. If you really want to learn it, I can help you work it out after - but there’re more important things for you to focus on right now to be ready in time. It’s just a matter of prioritising and division of labour...
“And just remember, you were the one who was smart enough to consider the possibility that you might need to be able to speak Mermish to begin with.”
Harry peered at his wife gratefully, feeling a bit better about things. He took Hermione in his arms and kissed her forehead.
“Thanks Hermione! I dunno what I’d do without you...”
Hermione had been right. Harry did have loads of work to be getting on with - they both did really. Harry’s swimming was at least as good as Hermione’s now, which was much better than Hermione gave herself credit for. Professor Moody had been teaching them some more spells such as the explosive Bombarda, and the Reductor curse - a disintegration spell - as well as continuing to train them to fight underwater. And Moody encouraged Harry to continue reviewing spells he’d learned during his first three and a half years at Hogwarts - especially releasing, repulsing, and severing spells.
“...You don’t wanna get tangled in water-weeds,” the battle-hardened ex-Auror had said, “and don’t be afraid to use the more dangerous spells against creatures if you find yourself in a fight for your life, Potter...”
Professor Moody had indeed turned the swimming pool into a mini-version of the Black Lake, and the water was like ice. The Gillyweed supply began to dwindle as Harry was using it to stay submerged for the duration of their lessons now, while Hermione was making good use of the Bubble-Head Charm. But he was nearly at the point of his metamorphmagus training with Tonks to begin trying to mimic the effects of the magical Mediterranean water-plant.
He’d had to start using a mirror to practice as he advanced to more complex changes, adjusting musculature, bone structure, and hair and skin colour all at once. By the end of one of his previous lessons he’d managed a rather disturbing blend of his own and Hermione’s features. Tonks and Hermione had roared with laughter and had to hold their sides to keep from getting stitches. Tonks had laughed so hard that she fell over backwards, but Hermione caught her before she could hurt herself.
“Merlin, Harry!” Tonks gasped for breath, “That’s ‘orrible - I mean, Well Done for changin’ your features - it’s just a ghastly look. Just keep practicing and soon Hermione will have a twin.”
Seeing the gleam in Harry’s eyes set Tonks off again. By the time she had calmed into chortles she admonished him.
“Mind you Harry, don’t forget you’re not to try anything but changin’ your face just yet, alright?”
When Harry had perfected the ability to alter his facial features, Tonks had deemed him ready to begin adjusting the rest of his anatomy. He had been practicing hard, and at his most recent lesson, he knew he was finally ready to begin replicating the effects of Gillyweed.
Before Tonks’ and Hermione’s eyes, Harry’s face morphed into a perfect replica of Hermione; his hair lengthened and curled into her tawny-brown ringlets; his already slight build slimmed and his angles curved, two round bumps on his chest swelling in just the right place. Hermione couldn’t help giggling and she gave Harry a little shove when she saw his chest bulging.
Tonks got a little tingly feeling when she saw Hermione practically twinned.
“Erm... that’s as far as I’ve got so far,” the fake Hermione grinned. “I’m not really sure how to... er... you know - the other bit,” he concluded awkwardly as he glanced downwards, turning slightly pink.
Hermione and Tonks both burst out laughing.
“Never mind! That’s brilliant for now... If you want Harry, you can practice that next,” Tonks chortled. “You don’t ‘ave to show me though. Hermione can tell me how it looks.”
Tonks’s comment sent all of them into a paroxysm of giggles.
“Actually, I’m going to start working on Gillyweed gills and flippers, Tonks,” the red-faced Harry-Hermione responded when he finally caught his breath, “I want to be prepared for the Second Task, and I think making the gills work properly is going to take all of my effort over the next few weeks.”
Tonks nodded approvingly, “Of course Harry! That’s what you’ve been working towards, and you’re definitely ready for it.”
The next morning it was the weekend again. There were only patches of snow left on the Hogwarts Grounds as the first week of February ended in rain. After breakfast, the Potters returned to their quarters. Hermione pulled out her notes and pages meticulously copied from the books she had been reading as they sat together on the settee by the crackling fire in the hearth.
“These are the images of the gill-structures that you’ll need Harry,” Hermione began as she launched into the explanation with her “school-teacher” tone of voice. “It won’t be as difficult as I thought it would be. At first I thought you’d need special fish cells, but apparently fish gill cells for extracting oxygen and transferring it to the capillaries aren’t much different than those in our lungs - they just arrange them differently, in layers of epithelium instead of internal alveoli...”
Harry’s eyebrows had shot up, disappearing under his messy black fringe at “won’t be as difficult as I thought,” and his brain had gone a bit fuzzy when he heard the words “epithelium” and “alveoli,” though he was quite certain that he knew what capillaries were. Hermione saw his expression and blanched slightly, realising that she’d lost him already.
Then Hermione blushed, reminding herself that Harry was a very visual learner. As long as he could picture it, he could do it, and with enough verbal association he would pick up the correct terminology with ease. But he had to be able to create a visual framework in his mind first to hang the words on.
“Sorry Harry...” she said with a sheepish smile, “don’t worry about anything I just said right now. All you need to do is picture these gill cell-structures at the same time as you’re visualising the overall cosmetic form while you’re transforming. I suppose that will be quite difficult to do - hold more than one image in your mind at a time I mean.”
Harry nodded and smiled at Hermione. That, he understood right off the mark. He cupped his surprised wife’s chin with one hand and kissed her tenderly, his other hand curling around her waist. Hermione’s own brain went a little fuzzy. She gave him a puzzled look when Harry had finished kissing her.
“What was that for? Not that I minded of course....” she said breathlessly, her lips still tingling.
“For just being you... No apologies necessary Hermione. You’re brilliant, and I wouldn’t have you any other way. I’ve told you before that I like it when you go into lecture mode. You always get around to showing me what you’re on about eventually, and then I can work out what you just said even if I didn’t quite understand some of it the first time through.”
The parchments fell from Hermione’s hands as she melted in Harry’s iridescent green eyes and she pulled him into a heated passionate kiss, all work forgotten for the next few hours as their caresses began to roam...
Harry and Hermione made their way to breakfast the morning of the day before the Second Task. Tonks had already entered the Great Hall when the Potters heard raised voices nearby. They halted near the bottom of the marble stairs to peer over the bannister and listen.
“I said leave me alone Draco! Don’t touch me...”
“Look, I’m sorry alright... I didn’t mean it Daphne!”
“I don’t want anything to do with you anymore,” Daphne Greengrass snapped icily. “I don't want you anywhere near me! Why can’t you get that through your thick head?”
“It was just that stupid Unicorn... I was angry...”
“Unicorns know the difference between a good person and a rotten one, Draco...”
“That’s bloody rubbish...” Draco began to fume as he struggled to maintain his composure, “It was because I’m a boy...”
“Well the foals seemed alright with Longbottom and Dean Thomas, and the adult Unicorn seemed to like Potter well enough...”
“Potter?” snarled Draco, “That... that blood-traitor? I suppose you like him better than me too then, do you? Well too bad for you Greengrass... he’s already married to a Mudblood!” he sneered viciously as he forcefully grabbed her arm.
“Get your hands off me... Let go! You're hurting me!”
Harry’s blood was boiling now and he stepped off the bottom step of the stairs, facing the doorway leading from the dungeons, his hand under his robes near his wand holster. Hermione anxiously followed, hoping there wasn’t going to be a fight.
“You heard the lady...” said Harry, his chilly tone belying the heat rushing through his veins. “Let go of her, Malfoy!”
Malfoy froze, glaring at Harry.
“Stay out of it Potter!” said Malfoy, finding his voice, “This is none of your business!”
“Bullies and creeps are my business,” Harry retorted, staring Malfoy down. Draco’s pallid cheeks flushed angrily, his hand twitching towards his own wand.
Taking advantage of the distraction, Daphne yanked her arm free of Draco’s hard grip and ran past Harry and Hermione into the Great Hall, unable to meet their eyes. Hermione bit her lip, her own eyes stinging when she caught Daphne wiping tears away on the sleeve of her robes before she passed out of sight.
Malfoy considered his options. He badly wanted to Cruciate Potter - having practiced the curse on rodents that Crabbe and Goyle had trapped for that very purpose. But he knew that he couldn’t get away with the use of an Unforgivable as long as Dumbledore was still in charge of Hogwarts.
There were other spells of course, but the risk of confiscation of his wand if he used it outside of class wasn’t worth it if he was caught, and he had just spotted the French Champion standing by the front doors of the castle with her little sister, watching the scene coldly. Furiously, Draco strode by the Potters, glowering at Harry the entire time.
“Good luck on the Second Task tomorrow, Potter,” he hissed insincerely, “You’ll need it!”
Harry let out a sigh of relief as the tension drained once Malfoy was gone. He and Hermione turned to enter the Great Hall and spied Tonks hovering in the doorway, her spiky hair - neon red today - seeming to fluoresce.
“How long were you there for?” Harry asked, swallowing guiltily, not sure if she would approve of him nearly getting in a fight with Malfoy.
“Long enough Harry,” Tonks replied, looking oddly pleased. “I’d’ve stepped in if it got out of hand. But good for you... standin’ up to that loathsome little pillock like that.”
As Harry and Hermione sat down to breakfast, they glanced at the Slytherin table. Daphne was sitting at the far end of the table with the First and Second Years, near a young girl who looked much like her, and Draco had settled in his usual spot, flanked by Crabbe and Goyle. Pansy Parkinson looked confused, seemingly torn between being disgruntled and cheered.
“What’s going on?” whispered Parvati; Lavender peered at Harry and Hermione questioningly.
“Draco was harassing Daphne Greengrass and Harry put a stop to it,” Hermione answered, feeling a swell of pride in her husband.
“Zat was vairy brave of you ‘Arry Potter,” said Fleur Delacour quietly as she walked by the table, catching the attention of the Gryffindors. Hermione beamed at her, flushing slightly when Fleur batted her silvery eyelashes and returned her smile warmly.
Fleur had entered the Great Hall with her sister, just behind the Potters, and she almost had a glow about her. Tonks seemed as captivated by the French beauty as did most of the boys at the Gryffindor table. Fleur caught the look, and blushed, glancing at Tonks’ radiant hair.
“...I’m telling you, she’s a Veela,” Ron was saying to everyone in earshot once Fleur had passed by and settled in at the Ravenclaw table next to Luna and Padma with her sister.
Seamus half shrugged and half nodded wearily, as if Ron had just told him for the thousandth time. Neville, Dean, the Creevey brothers, and the Twins seemed to be in agreement with Ron and still had expressions as goofy as Ron’s on their faces. Ginny rolled her eyes, but she had a slightly put out look on her face when she spotted Luna listening intently to Fleur’s recounting of the events she had just witnessed.
During breakfast, it took Harry very little argument to convince Hermione that they both needed to ditch classes for last minute preparations.
“...and it almost seemed like Malfoy knows something we don’t,” Harry muttered. “How much do you want to bet that his father has something planned to make things even more difficult for me in this task?”
“Yes, I think you’re right Harry, and I wouldn’t be at all surprised if Ludo Bagman has something up his sleeve - Mr Malfoy could be giving him the gold to pay off his gambling debts - or the Minister herself could be giving him the money from the Ministry’s coffers...” Hermione whispered back, frowning.
“...or passing along Mr Malfoy’s bribes, especially if they’re all in on it together,” Harry finished, nodding, his face darkening as he considered all of the worst permutations of the possibilities.
“I’ll just pop up to the Staff-table and get permission from Professor McGonagall to take the day off then,” said Hermione.
Professor McGonagall had needed as little convincing as Hermione had herself. Harry watched the oft strict professor - who would under most circumstances balk at the idea of students skiving off from classes - nodding in agreement with his wife as they spoke briefly in hushed tones at the Staff-table. When McGonagall caught Harry’s eye, he recognised the same worried look she’d had when she had escorted him and Hermione to the Champions’ tent the day of the First Task.
The Potters both gradually relaxed a bit as they made their way back upstairs after breakfast.
“Erm... Perhaps... er... could you take off your blouse, Hermione? Please?” Harry asked when they returned to their quarters. Hermione peered at Harry in puzzlement. It was obvious that Harry wasn’t making an overture. Harry couldn’t help grinning at Hermione’s consternation as he opened a drawer and found his magical tattoo ink and ink brushes.
“Sorry Hermione... I forgot to tell you - I’m going to paint a couple of runes on you to protect you from the cold and ward off the Grindylows - the lake is going to be bloody freezing, and I think the Merpeople are going to be enough trouble without us having to deal with Grindylows too. I’m going to put the same runes on myself... I’m not too worried about the Giant Squid though - according to the Creeveys, it’s alright.”
Hermione gulped anxiously and nodded. “Th...thanks Harry. I didn’t think about that.”
“No worries Hermione,” Harry replied gently. “We’ve both been working hard on trying to figure this out, and focused on different bits. Thanks for teaching me how to swim and helping me with the gills and metamorphing, not to mention practicing all the spells with me... I couldn’t have done this without you...”
“I’ll cast the Mermish Translation Charm on both of us now too,” said Hermione.
After running down a checklist and going over their notes one last time until lunchtime, the Potters decided that they were as ready as they were ever going to be. They took the rest of the afternoon off to try and relax, snuggling on their settee and drinking cocoa in front of the fire.
Lavender and Parvati hugged Hermione when the Potters arrived for dinner, both of them looking worried. Ginny and Neville both looked pleased when Luna joined them at the Gryffindor table too that evening. Fleur sat at the Ravenclaw table with her sister and their mother who had arrived that morning to watch the Second Task. Krum and Lavender were nowhere in sight, nor were Cedric and Cho, and Harry supposed that they were spending as much time alone together as they could before the Merpeople took Lavender and Cho.
As dinner concluded, a very grim-faced McGonagall approached their table.
“Good luck Hermione,” Luna whispered, giving her a hug,
“Harry will find you tomorrow... I know he will,” said Tonks, smiling reassuringly at Hermione.
Harry embraced his wife one last time and kissed her forehead before watching Professor McGonagall lead her away with an ache in his gut.
Harry walked back to his quarters glumly. He didn’t know how he was going to sleep that night without Hermione next to him. Tonks silently kept pace beside him until they reached their corridor.
“Here you go Harry,” said Tonks, giving him a sad little smile as she passed him two vials. “From Pomfrey... One’s a calming draught for right now, and the other’s a sleeping draught for a bit later. Please take them. I’ll be sure to wake you on time tomorrow.”
Harry peered gratefully at Tonks, wondering if this was what it might feel like to have an older sister.
“Y...yeah - okay... I will,” he said hoarsely. “Thanks Tonks!”
“Oi, Harry...” Tonks suddenly wrapped her arms around him and gave him a peck on the cheek. “Call me Dora from now on... alright? You and Hermione both!”
As Harry settled into bed that night, his scar throbbed and burned for the first time in two months. He knew it wouldn’t be half as bad if Hermione were snuggled beside him. He could almost sense Voldemort’s eager anticipation to discover the outcome of the Second Task. He peered at the vial of sleeping draught thankfully before downing it in a single gulp, hoping it would keep the Nightmares at bay.
When he woke early the next morning, Harry headed to the bathroom and appraised himself in the mirror for a few minutes before dressing. He stepped out of his pyjama bottoms and tugged on his black swimming trunks. He strapped his wand holster around his waist.
Then, taking several deep breaths, Harry traced the runes on his chest with his fingers before pulling on a thick black t-shirt and covering them. Finally, he dressed warmly and stowed a pouch of Gillyweed in his robes before he retired to the sitting room, staring anxiously at the fire as he waited for Dora to collect him.
The minutes ticked by until Dora knocked on the oak door of the Potters’ private chambers. She and Harry made their way to the Great Hall, but there was no question about eating breakfast - it simply wasn’t happening for Harry. He glanced at the other tables and saw that Viktor, Cedric, and Fleur were peering at their own plates just as gloomily. None of them were hungry.
Harry glanced at the Staff-table and saw Dumbledore looking almost calm by most measures, but Harry knew by the lack of twinkles that the headmaster was worried. He caught Snape staring at him with an almost sorrowful expression and the Potions Master quickly looked away, his walls slamming shut once more.
Hagrid tried to give Harry an encouraging smile, but it was stiffer than usual. Pomfrey and McGonagall both looked fit to be tied; Flitwick gave him a small nod and a smile as stiff as Hagrid’s. Professor Babbling beamed at Harry, projecting an air of certainty that was undoubtedly tempered by hidden anxiety.
The Champions waited patiently for everyone else to finish breakfast, and were finally led to the platform perched at the end of a new pier on the lake. A few geese honked as they flew above; Harry peered up to see puffy white clouds scudding across the brightest sky that he had seen in some weeks.
The murmur of a crowd could be heard as hundreds of visitors as well as students filled the stands at the edge of the lake - many times more wizards than there had been at the First Task. Harry looked back and shook his head, wondering what everyone expected to see under the surface of the Black Lake. He supposed Sirius and Lupin had decided to stay at home to avoid causing an uproar after the article Skeeter had written about Hagrid and Lupin, especially as it was near the full moon.
Harry caught Percy’s eye, who was sitting in Crouch’s place among the other judges, and felt a knot of anger at his disapproving stare. It suddenly, finally hit home to Harry that Percy was now working directly for Minister Umbridge - a close friend of the Malfoys - along with everything that implied about Percy’s loyalties since he’d become a part of the Ministry.
Percy’s apparent attitude shift towards Harry and Hermione - and even Dumbledore - since the World Cup now made a lot more sense. The smug look that Bagman was giving Harry didn’t improve his mood. Only the warm smile of Professor Dumbledore gave Harry any comfort at all.
Standing on the platform, the four Champions removed their outer garments when the judges indicated it was nearly time. Fleur knotted her platinum hair under a swimming cap and strapped it under her chin. She wore a tight-fitted powder blue wetsuit. Harry frowned when he heard a lecherous chorus of whoops, wolf-whistles and cat-calls from Fleur’s admirers in the stands.
For a moment, Harry saw a look in her eye which reminded him of how he felt when people stared at his scar, but then she seemingly managed to push it aside and smiled brightly at Harry. Feeling a bit more cheered, he returned the smile as best he could.
Viktor stood stiffly in his black swimming trunks and a burgundy t-shirt, his face stony; he caught Harry’s eye and grimaced, giving him a single nod. Cedric fidgeted and jostled in place in his black and gold wetsuit as he glanced about at the other Champions nervously. Finally, a shrill whistle sounded in the biting chill of the morning air, echoing across the lake.
Cedric and Viktor dove into the lake head-first. Fleur and Harry shared one last look before she plunged in after them. Harry took a huge swipe of Gillyweed, making certain that all of the judges could see him stuffing it in his mouth, and he followed after the other three Champions. Once Harry was several metres under the shimmering surface of the lake, he spat out the Gillyweed and morphed into the form he needed.
He gulped the icy-cold water of the lake, and felt the sense of exhilaration which came from getting a rush of oxygen to the brain. Harry dove deeper into the forests of black and pale green water-weeds, propelled rapidly beyond the reach of the sun by his flipper-like feet and webbed hands. He lit his wand so that he could see through the murk. Harry undulated through the dense underwater foliage keeping a vigilant eye out all around him, heading for the centre of the lake where he surmised the Merpeople would have an underwater town of some sort.
Harry passed by some rotting black logs and a sunken fishing vessel, before emerging into a field of aquatic grasses. His eyes darted across the plain, still seeing nothing. Harry sensed several ripples moving against the current and he whirled around to spy a large swarm of Grindylow approaching, their razor sharp teeth bared as they stretched their spindly fingers towards him. When they got within several metres of Harry, their glittering black eyes widened in terror and they let out a high-pitched series of chitters as they fled.
There was a pale green forest of delicate looking fronds up ahead. As Harry swam through it he felt something grasp his ankle. His heart thudding wildly, Harry flipped over and kicked out. A bubble emerged from his mouth when he gasped in surprise, discerning a greenish humanoid figure rolling backwards. It looked much less like the scaly monkey in Fantastic Beasts, and much more like the human-ish turtle-like figures he’d seen in the book of Asian monsters and magical creatures.
But what on earth would Kappa - Japanese magical creatures - be doing in a Scottish lake? Even odder, they appeared to bristling with weapons. It made no sense to him - unless this was one of the surprises intended for Harry alone which he and Hermione had surmised might be waiting for him. Three more Kappa swam rapidly towards Harry, flinging some small spinning objects at him which glinted in his wand-light.
Harry only barely managed to dodge most of the objects, and when one sliced through the skin of his forearm, he recognised them from one of the Ninja movies he’d seen at the martial-arts film festival that Sirius and Lupin had taken him and Hermione to see. The Kappa clearly meant to kill him, and he just hoped that the throwing stars hadn’t been poisoned. Harry darted behind a boulder as a rush of adrenaline flooded through him, overwhelming his brief moment of panic.
Gills flaring, Harry emerged from the other side of the boulder and shot a Bombarda spell into the midst of the Kappa, knocking out two of them. Harry fled into the pale-green forest with one Kappa following close behind, but the other had disappeared. Harry spied another wreck and darted in one side and out the other. The Kappa swam by him and he caught it by surprise with a Stunner that glanced off its shell.
The Kappa spun around, whipping out a pair of deadly looking sais, and Harry knew this was a moment that Mad Eye had prepared him for - a moment which called for the sort of drastic measures that made Harry sick to his stomach.
Harry silently slashed his wand twice, aiming carefully, and the Kappa’s hands drifted in a cloud of dark green blood. The sais sank into the sediment of the lake floor. An echoey shrieking sound of agony rippled through the water and hit Harry’s ears as he swam off leaving the howling Kappa behind waving two stumps, wondering desperately where the other Kappa was.
Only Harry’s alertness to the shifting currents saved him from being cut in half by the Katana which suddenly sliced through the water and slit a hole in his t-shirt as he flung himself out of the way. Harry’s other senses had thankfully detected that which he couldn't see. The Kappa’s concealment charm slipped as it furiously charged at Harry and slashed its gleaming sword again.
The sword sank into the side of the second wreck as Harry barely escaped its blow. The moment it took for the Kappa to yank the blade from the plank it had bitten into was the opportunity Harry needed to strike, and for the second time Harry silently slashed his wand twice, utilising the Diffindo spell against a living being. The wailing Kappa was now as handless as his colleague.
As angry as he was about a deliberate assassination attempt, and even though Harry knew that he would likely be dead if he hadn’t used the spell, he couldn’t help feeling as Hermione must have felt when she’d used it against the "Death Eater" for hire at the World Cup. Harry took some comfort in knowing that the Kappa would no longer be able to attack him, but would still have a chance to live.
The adrenaline continued to pump as Harry put as much distance between himself and the Kappa assassins as possible, hoping that there had only been the four. He was bleeding a lot from the deep gashes on his forearm and abdomen. Harry stopped swimming after a few minutes and took a moment to pull off his t-shirt. He tore it into strips and bound his forearm with one, and tied the others around his middle before continuing on.
Finally he saw what appeared to be dwellings made of boulders and stone ahead - the Mer-Village - it had to be. But just as he was about to swim off to find Hermione, an eerie scream echoed through the basin.
Harry whirled around and beheld a massive swarm of Grindylow attacking Fleur off to his right. For a moment he considered continuing on to find Hermione - but only for a moment. Harry simply couldn’t bring himself to abandon Fleur to whatever terrible fate might befall her if he left her behind.
As he swam towards Fleur, Harry passed through more than a dozen charred dead Grindylow. Fleur was shooting balls of flame from her one free hand which were so hot that they stayed lit underwater like magnesium torches. At that moment, Harry knew for certain that Ron was right: Fleur was a Veela - or at least part-Veela - a Siren.
As she furiously struggled against the swarm of Grindylow surrounding her, Fleur’s face began to elongate into a bird-beak, but not nearly such a pronounced beak as belonged to the Veela who had got into a brawl with the Leprechauns at the Quidditch World Cup. Harry marveled at the Siren’s natural magical defences. Those Leprechauns at the World Cup had been very lucky to have barely more than sparks shot their direction, he thought. The Veela cheering squad had clearly been holding back.
Still, Fleur was alone and surrounded by more than a hundred Grindylow; half a dozen of them had hold of her other three limbs, and she was already bleeding from several bites. If they began tearing at her with their razor fangs, she was doomed.
Harry knew that a long-range attack could possibly endanger Fleur as much as the Grindylow; his best option for a rescue was to swim right into their midst. Harry propelled himself rapidly through the water. The Grindylow chittered shrilly and fled in terror from the wizard with the rune tattoos, which Harry had a sneaking suspicion was a promise of Death to the water-demons.
Fleur almost couldn’t believe it when Harry swam to her rescue. There had been so many Grindylow, that she knew they would have eventually overwhelmed her. Anyone else might have left her to be subdued by those foul creatures, but not Harry Potter, whom she had come to greatly admire the more she had learned about his kindness and his courage.
The Siren smiled gratefully at Harry through the bubble which surrounded her head and clasped his hand. Together they swam back towards the underwater village of the Merpeople, passing by a number of rough-hewn stone houses as many silvery-grey, vaguely humanoid figures with fish-like tails, jagged teeth, and wild tangles of black-green hair, watched them with anxious pale yellow eyes.
Harry and Fleur finally arrived in the centre of the village and the blood drained from their faces. Hermione, Gabrielle, Cho, and Lavender; all were chained to an enormous rusting anchor, not far from a large statue of a Merperson. Their robes and hair drifted eerily in the currents; they looked dead, but were apparently only in some form of bewitched sleep. And they were surrounded by a crowd of raucous jeering and laughing Mermen brandishing deadly looking tridents and spears.
The hour was almost up, but Viktor and Cedric were nowhere to be seen. Harry and Fleur turned to their own hostages and both uttered “Relashio.” The chains fell from Gabrielle, but Hermione’s remained attached. Harry felt a clutch of fury and fear grip his heart - Hermione's chains had clearly been charmed to resist the releasing spell.
Several grinning Mermen pointed their spears at him and shook their heads. One drew a blade and held it to Hermione’s throat, drawing several drops of blood. They obviously had no intention of letting Hermione go.
“This one stays. Only you go with yours... if you still have time!” one of the Mermen said to Fleur in halting English.
But the hour was gone.
Panicky, his gills flaring with rage, Harry tried the severing charm on Hermione’s chain, and thanked his lucky stars when the steel links sparked and shattered under the impact of his spell. Hermione stirred, the pain of the cut on her neck waking her. A bubble formed around her head as she incanted the same charm that Fleur was obviously using. The Mermen holding her tightened their grip, narrowing their pale yellow eyes.
Hermone’s eyes widened with shock, having believed that she was relatively safe with the Merfolk. She tightened her neck muscles and slammed the back of her head into the bridge of the nose of the Merman behind her as Tonks had taught her. He dropped the blade he was holding to Hermione’s throat, and fell back screeching.
Hermione bit the arm of one of the others holding her while Harry furiously slashed at the third with his wand, opening a gash along the arm which was holding a wicked looking dagger. They both fell away from Hermione, shrieking in pain.
Fleur had managed to free Cho with the releasing spell, but Mermen swarmed her with spears before she could reach Lavender.
“This one, and the other... Not yours... Go! Take yours only, you may live... Stay, you all die...” rasped one of the Mermen.
But Fleur wasn’t leaving without Harry and the other hostages. Angrily, she sent fiery bolts of plasma into the midst of the Mermen, scattering them as the water boiled. Harry aimed his wand and used a stunning spell as three Mermen bore down on him and Hermione; Hermione shot a Repulsor Charm at the other two - hoping they would take the hint and give it up.
But the non-lethal spells strangely seemed to have little effect on the Merfolk as they shrugged them off, only slowing down for a moment and charging again as three more Merfolk joined the fray.
Hermione had strapped her wand to her forearm before allowing herself to be taken, and was thankful that they hadn’t removed it as the half-dozen Merpeople surrounded her and Harry, jabbing their weapons at them and drawing blood. She glanced at Harry - sharing a stricken look as they both understood that they had to respond in kind to be taken seriously.
Together, Harry and Hermione slashed their wands a number of times, and the Merfolk howled as they retreated. Harry was surprised at the dark coppery colour of their blood, he’d thought it might be green like the Kappa's. The injured Merpeople wailed like banshees, their spears and tridents sinking to the bottom of the lake as they dropped them.
Harry and Hermione were briefly clear of Mermen, but more were approaching rapidly. Hermione used the releasing charm on Lavender’s chain and bubbles emerged from Harry's mouth when he screamed at Fleur to take Cho and Gabrielle and go.
Fleur wanted to stay and help Harry and Hermione fight, but a Merman took advantage of her distraction to grab at Gabrielle. Hermione fired a stunning spell to slow the Merman down and also yelled at Fleur to go while she still had a chance. Fleur finally obeyed; she used an Ascendio Charm and rose quickly to the surface of the Black Lake with Gabrielle and Cho in her arms.
Harry thrust Lavender into Hermione’s arms and severed the forearm of the Merman driving a spear at his face with another slash of his wand. Harry was sickened at having to use the Diffindo Charm repeatedly, but the Merfolk seemed intent on preventing Hermione’s escape and killing him, and they seemed relatively impervious to most of the non-injurious spells. So far he had managed to avoid using it to kill anyone himself, but he wasn’t sure how long he could continue to do so.
Harry and Hermione began to ascend to the surface with Lavender, who was thankfully still unconscious. But they were quickly surrounded by dozens of armoured Merfolk, and the one in the middle wearing a tarnished golden crown encrusted with pearls raised a staff at them. A ripple of magic spread through the water as a globe shaped bronze cage appeared from nowhere, encircling and trapping them. The apparent Chieftain of the Merpeople approached, his silvery-grey face a mask of rage. He turned around to address his soldiers in Mermish.
“The battle is won - the young Demon Wizard and his mate are ours thanks to the return of the Magic Staff. You have seen the violence he has wrought against us - he is clearly a Muggleborn Criminal just as we were told... And when we turn him and his mate over to his Minister, we shall be granted our rightful status as the Rulers of the Waters and the Open Sea as once we were so long ago.
“No longer shall we be forced to submit meekly to the whims of wizards and to live without magic in order to appease the delicate sensibilities of non-magical humans.”
Harry and Hermione looked at each other in surprise. They had both wondered how the Ministry had managed to convince the Merpeople to be part of the Triwizard Tournament. It hadn’t seemed very likely that they would be any more pleased to do the bidding of wizards than most Centaurs were. Harry was glad that he hadn’t had to kill any so far. He and Hermione might yet be able to talk themselves out of this situation.
Fleur broke the surface gasping for fresh air and used a propulsion spell to send her speeding towards the platform with Gabrielle under one arm and Cho under the other. Two of the Aurors securing the tournament each hauled a girl onto the platform. Professor McGonagall and Madam Pomfrey grabbed Fleur’s arms and heaved her out of the water.
Shivering and sobbing, Fleur turned to look behind her and saw a bloom of coppery blood spreading across the surface in the middle of the lake. She scrambled towards the edge of the platform, intending to jump back in, but she was restrained by McGonagall and Pomfrey.
“I must go back,” Fleur screamed, as Minerva and Poppy tried to hold her down, “...‘Arry and ‘Ermione - ze Nereid are killing zem.”
The two older witches’ faces went ashen and they almost let Fleur go. But the two Aurors pulled off their cloaks and dove into the lake. The Professor and the Healer continued to restrain Fleur as Dumbledore and Maxime both thundered onto the platform.
“What the hell is going on out there Miss Delacour?” Dumbledore asked as gently as possible, his own face contorted in wrath. “What are they doing to my students?”
“Zose water-demon, they would not let ‘Ermione go when ‘Arry released ‘er,” Fleur sobbed. “I know not why. But ze Nereid - they tried to kill zem... ‘Arry and ‘Ermione were still fighting when I left. I was going to stay and fight too, but ‘Arry and ‘Ermione told me to bring Cho and Gabrielle back, so I did as I was told.”
Albus Dumbledore nodded furiously. He drew his wand and lunged into the lake to follow the Aurors.
Harry glowered at the idiot wearing the crown.
“Are you bloody mad?” Harry snapped, “D’you really think the Minister is going to honour any bargains she made with you?”
The Mer-Chieftain was astonished to hear the boy’s Mermish utterances. The Minister’s lackeys had assured him the boy was a very young muggleborn criminal with little education in the ways of wizard-kind. And they had made many promises to persuade him to do whatever was necessary during the Triwizard tournament in order to ensure the boy’s capture, dead or alive - even returning the magic staff of the Merfolk as a sign of good faith... the only magic they had ever once possessed as a people.
But it took years for human wizards to learn Mermish - the boy couldn’t possibly be as uneducated as was claimed. What other untruths had he been told? The Chieftain halted his advance, suddenly uncertain. Harry continued, having got the Chieftain’s attention.
“I’m not a criminal - the Minister just hates muggleborns. This girl with me - the one who I love - she’s a muggleborn. The Minister wants to kill her, and she wants to kill me because I was raised by muggles too. And from what I’ve been told, the current Minister is the same person who wants to round you lot up and tag you...”
Harry was just winging it, saying whatever came to the top of his head, including the bits he’d heard about Minister Umbridge from Sirius and Lupin. He was more certain than ever that she really had instigated the tournament to capture or kill him now; and Harry instinctively knew that she believed the same sort of rubbish as Voldemort, even if he couldn’t really prove it - she was a friend of the Malfoys after all. But he didn’t think the Chieftain needed to hear the full story - just the bits which might give him pause.
“So what makes you think that the Minister would ever actually follow through on an agreement once you turn me over to her? ... ” Harry continued.
Suddenly there was an outraged babble of voices from the Merfolk behind the Chieftain.
“Get back,” yelled one of the soldiers at the gathering crowd of villagers.
“Stand down or I will gut you like a fish, you coward,” a female voice said dangerously. “You know who I am - the rightful Chieftainess of this village before the Usurper imprisoned me and made that foul deal with new Minister of Wizards.
“The People have freed me. Now step aside or face the wrath of the People - those to whom this village truly belongs... and release those prisoners so that they may return to the castle above where they belong.”
Harry glanced at Hermione, both of them taken aback by the sudden change of affairs. They thought that Harry had been addressing the legitimate head of the Mer-Village. Neither of them knew how things would play out if there was civil unrest among the Merpeople, and neither of them knew what to do at this point.
The soldiers appeared to be uncertain too. They simply followed whoever wore the crown, but they also knew that the Chief only served at the Will of the People. The Village Councillors had been swayed to have the Chieftainess arrested and to install her cousin as leader in her place. But now the people had apparently disagreed and deposed the Councillors, freeing the former Chieftainess. They peered at the Chieftain questioningly, awaiting his response.
Harry glanced at the Merman with the crown and the sceptre, sensing that he was wavering.
“Look,” said Harry, “is this really what you wanted? A civil war? Do you really want to fight your own people? The current Minister and wizards like her would be only too happy if you lot killed each other off... ”
The “Chieftain’s” silvery-grey face flushed coppery in shame as he realised that the boy was right. He had been a fool to leap at the Minister’s Offer and to use the temptation of the Magic Staff and Ruling the Waters once more to persuade the Councillors to turn against his cousin. He should have known that it was a trick. And he knew that his cousin was right... he had never deserved the Crown.
The “Chieftain” raised the staff again, and the cage vanished just as another group of wizards swam towards them. He recognised one of them as the Headmaster of the school above the lake.
“Go!” the Merman said to Harry, taking the crown off his head. “I and my cousin will speak with the Headmaster of what has happened here today, and she shall once again wear this crown. I was a fool for allowing myself to be used...”
Harry didn’t need to be told twice. He and Hermione swam towards the approaching Aurors and Dumbledore with Lavender in hand. Seeing his students safe, Dumbledore gestured for one of the Aurors to return with them to the surface while Kingsley Shacklebolt remained with him to speak with the Merpeople and determine what had happened.
Fleur was still crying on the platform, embracing her sister when Harry and Hermione finally returned with Lavender Brown. Krum swooped Lavender into his arms, overjoyed to see her safe and sound, and feeling much better since Pomfrey and McGonagall had sorted him out.
Cedric looked rather ashamed of himself, but none the worse for wear when Harry spotted him and Cho.
“The Grindylows...” Cedric muttered when Harry raised his eyebrows questioningly, “there were just too many of them.”
Harry was nodding sympathetically when Fleur flung herself on both of the Potters, sobbing.
“I was so worried zat you might both be dead... I wanted to stay and fight ze Nereid - if not for you ‘Arry, my seester - she might be dead too. You saved me ‘Arry! ... And you ‘Ermione - you both ‘elped me save my Gabrielle...”
Numerous cameras began flashing from the stands. Hermione gasped - momentarily outraged when Fleur suddenly gave Harry a big kiss on the lips. But when Fleur turned her head and kissed Hermione wetly on the lips too, Hermione’s outrage evaporated in a cloud of steam. She blushed furiously as Fleur’s lips parted from her own.
“And thank you both for saving Lavender,” said Viktor Krum, grinning at the pair of red-faced Potters still trapped in Fleur’s embrace, “but please excuse me zat I do not kiss you!”
Harry returned the grin and almost laughed.
“So what happened to you?” he asked Viktor.
“Ze Giant Squid... I transfigure myself part into shark, but the Squid - I learn zat it does not like sharks... ze hard way.” Viktor glanced at Hermione, something catching his eye. “By ze vay, Hermione, you haff a water-beetle in your hair...”
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