A Chance Encounter

Chapter 21

-Harry-

Back straight, Harry walked through the tunnel leading up to the entrance of the arboreal labyrinth. From above he could hear the sound of cheering spectators from all three countries involved. All day he'd been seeing bets being placed, excited celebrated preparation for the event, and even Ginny and Ron awkwardly sitting beside each other. Ever since the Great Hall incident that he'd missed, Ginny had been trying to fix things with her family. She'd at least continued to obey the decree to keep her distance from him, so he wished her well.

"Ladies and Gentlemen!" Bagman's booming voice carried through the stands as Harry and the others finally stepped into the torchlight, the Labyrinth waiting with four separate entrances, "Your Champions have arrived!" the answering roar was thunderous.

As he approached the entry point, each one clearly marked so he knew who was supposed to enter where, Harry took the time to observe the set up. Nobody but those working on the maze had been allowed near it since they'd first been told of the upcoming event and the place had drastically changed.

Before the hedges hadn't even been knee high. Now they towered over twelve feet in the air. Wide spaces separated each wall to give plenty of room for him and his fellow champions to move, as well as whatever might attack them. He could see staircases leading up above the maze itself, spectators in line waiting to go to some sort of platform that let them stand above the event. From what he could tell there was a glass floor for the viewing area but the bit of the maze he could look through from the opening area had a dark 'ceiling' so he and the others couldn't see who was watching. The darkness of the maze was lit by floating little lights akin to will-o-the-wisps.

"This is it, the third and final task of the Tri-Wizard tournament!" Bagman riled up the crowd, both those already above the maze and those last few filing up there, "The Grand Labyrinth stands ready for its challengers! First to enter will be Harry Potter who is currently leading with eighty-nine points. Five minutes after he enters the maze, Fleur Delacour and Viktor Krum will follow, both having eighty-eight points. Finally, another five minutes after that, Cedric Diggory will be the last to enter, currently trailing in last with a still respectable eighty-four points. The scores being this close means its anyone's game and whosoever reaches the center of the maze first and grasps the Tri-Wizard cup shall be declared the victor! If, at any point, the competitors wish to surrender then they need to merely fire red sparks at the 'ceiling' of the maze. It will seal of that portion of the labyrinth and open a way out for them."

"Sir, I have a request." Harry stepped forward before Bagman could continue, the man surprised but tilting the magical megaphone so that his words could be heard by the spectators as well, "I've spoken with my fellow Champions, and we'd like to request the head starts be removed so we can all enter at the same time." if he said no then they'd just wait for the others to be inside before moving.

"You'd give up a head start?" Bagman blinked in confusion, seemingly struggling to understand why.

"The four of us want an honest competition, one that's as fair as we can make it." Harry answered, an eager grin on his face as he glanced at his fellow champions, "We aren't just competitors here, they're my friends. I want us all to give our all tonight and not be bogged down by a head start that big. Especially since there's at most a five-point different between all our scores."

He was positive the cheers were largely from Hufflepuff and Gryffindor at that statement.

"Are all four of you in agreement?" Bagman blinked as he looked at the other three champions who all nodded in agreement, "Then I see no reason to deny you! All four champions will now enter the maze at once, but the victory factor remains the same. May the best witch or wizard win!"

Taking his place, Harry tensed his legs and, with the blast of the canon, ran into the shadows of the labyrinth.

-Ron-

The second the canon had sounded, Harry, Fleur, and the others had run into the maze, the hedge growth sealing the entrances behind them.

The 'viewing area' covered the entirety of the maze so he was able to move along any path he wanted. He could find an obstacle to wait at or just follow a specific competitor.

He could see all sorts of traps and tricks waiting for the four champions scattered throughout the entirety of the maze. There was one of Hagrid's 'Blast Ended Skrewts', a weird twinkling golden cloud of mist, spiders he was deliberately refusing to look at, and even a Merlin Damned Sphinx.

"What sort of budget do they even have for something like this?" Hermione was gaping at the variety just as he was, "The first two tasks wouldn't have cost that much but all this?"

"I guess since it's being split between all three governments it wouldn't hit anyone that hard." Ron mused, "Assuming Fudge didn't try to make the others pay more since 'England was hosting' or something. Still, they are selling tickets to people who wanted to come and spectate so that would probably be good tourism money."

"I suppose." Hermione admitted as they saw Harry reach his first obstacle, the Skrewt. He felt Hermione clutch his arm in concern as she gasped, his own fist clenched in worry for their best friend.

Those not close to Harry personally just cheered for a 'show'.

The second the armored monstrosity charged, Harry's arm markings glowed, a wall of condensed stone rising up as the creature slammed into it, rubble falling as the stone cracked upon impact.

"We have got to convince Hagrid not to breed anything like that again." Hermione shuddered as Harry continued to fight the monster that seemed as durable as a dragon, and unfortunately just as mean.

"Maybe we can try and find out if Charlie's dragon preserve has any openings?" Ron grimaced as Harry banished the rubble at the Skrewt's armored hide, "He'd only have dragons around and more oversight."

"…Write the letter as soon as the task is over…please." Hermione grimaced as Harry had to dodge a gout of flame from the unholy fusion of fire crab and manticore.

The chitinous monster worked to slam their armored leg down on Harry who had to dodge, lashing out with a blade of raw magic from the mark on his hand. The spectral energy cut straight through the creature, bypassing any magical resistance given the purity of the power and the honed shape it had taken.

Harry wasted no time in capitalizing on this discovery, putting his wand to the stump that now had parts of the Skrewt not protected by the magic resistant chitin. A powerful stunner knocked the beast out as Harry had the sympathy to cauterize the stump so it wouldn't bleed out.

"How's Fleur doing?" Ron looked through around, trying to spot the distinctive head of golden blonde hair.

"There she is!" Hermione pointed, Fleur visible fighting off a Quinatped, the part veela hurling fistfuls of fire at the dangerous creature ranked as a known wizard killer alongside dragons and basilisks. One thing that stood out was that the hedges weren't even singing from the flames.

"The hedges aren't burning." Ron frowned in confusion, "Think that's how they were made or just some control from Fleur's magic?"

"I don't know." Hermione pouted at not knowing something, swatting him with a huff when he chuckled at the adorable expression.

Further away he could hear Cedric shouting out "Ridiculus!" as he ran into something, likely a boggart, Krum just blasting away at something with reductor curses.

"Incendio!" hearing Harry's voice, Ron looked back to see his friend had run into a dead end and tired burning his way through, the hedge's foliage not even showing a hint of singe from his efforts.

"I guess that answers that." Hermione blinked, "The Hedge resists magic somehow."

"A ward maybe?" Ron shrugged, that sort of thing not being his area of focus, "Still, I can't believe they thought a ten-minute head start was a good idea." He shook his head. The maze was fully grown but it was at most double the size of the quiditch pitch. Unless Harry took every wrong turn and spent a long time fighting each obstacle, he'd likely have been done before Cedric could even enter the maze.

"Dumbledore probably happened." Hermione scowled, "I've been saying it since first year. Wizards don't have an ounce of common sense or logic."

"Even me?" He asked innocently as his girlfriend huffed and swatted his chest.

"Especially you." She teased back.

"Ouch."

-Harry-

Pumping his arms, Harry surged past the Sphinx whose riddle he'd thankfully been able to solve. Up ahead he could see the heart of the maze, the blue glow of the Tri-Wizard cup standing out like a star in the night.

But more than that he could see another path across from him and was sure there were more on either sides. Four entrances to the cup.

And he could see Fleur's hair shining in the wisp light of the tunnel across from him.

Bursting into the clearing, he glanced to the side and saw Cedric coming fast…and something approaching his friend that was going unnoticed.

"Cedric, duck!" He roared, wand whipping out as his friend threw themselves to the ground without hesitation "Arania Exume!" he cast the spell he'd seen the memory of Riddle do back in second year, the light slamming into an Acromantula the size of a large dog, the spider screeching in pain as it was flung hard against the hedge wall and got stuck.

"Viktor, dodge!" Cedric cast a curse at the ground as Viktor leapt up and away, a wooden tendril that had been reaching for him getting blasted apart.

"Fleur, above you!" Viktor case a cutting curse as the wings were sliced off some sort of bat like creature Harry had never seen before.

"Harry, behind you!" Fleur's shout caused him to roll forward, Fleur's spell flying overhead and striking the Inferius that he hadn't heard sneaking up behind him in the commotion, burning the zombie to ash.

Standing up, panting as the adrenaline died down, Harry glanced around. All four of them were at the cup, the threats chasing them unnoticed in their focus on the goal destroyed.

"Together then?" the words came from his mouth before he could even think on them.

"A shared victory?" Viktor blinked in surprise but didn't sound displeased.

"Hey, if it's you guys then I wouldn't mind sharing the glory."

"I believe making two new friends was a better prize than any 'glory'." Fleur shook her head with a grin.

"Together." The four nodded in sync, none of them noticing a faint glow appearing on the cup as they all prepared to grab it.

"On three then." Harry nodded to them "One…two…three!" the second their hands touched the cup, the world around him became a whirl of motion and light. It was nauseating as he found his hand sealed to the cup that had somehow become a portkey. Faster and faster the world spun around them until, finally, it stopped.

He grunted as he slammed hard onto the ground, the compass in his pocket vibrating furiously, and an old, neglected gravestone bearing the name of 'Riddle' in front of his face.