SHAMELESS PLUG: Please check out my original fiction on Amazon. Strangers In Boston, by T.S. Mann. SPECIAL NEWS: Second edition of Strangers In Boston (to correct some errors and issues) is up on Kindle. The SIB Audiobook should be live before the next POS update.


Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations belong to J.K. Rowling.


Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game
Chapter 29: Here Be Dragons (Part 2)

26 November 1994
The Forbidden Forest
1:00 a.m.

The raven flew through the dark forest in silence until it found what it was searching for: a large open clearing that had been prepared for several tents … and five enormous cages. The corvid landed on a tree branch and took in the scene. Then, as if suddenly aware it was under observation itself, it turned its head towards the subtle movement that had caught the bird's eye … only to find an eye of a different kind staring back.

"CAW!" cried the raven, which was so startled that it nearly fell from its perch. For just ten feet away was a sinister floating orb, jet black except for a single glass eye-lens, that was hovering in mid-air as it regarded the bird's presence.

Simultaneously, deep beneath Hogwarts Castle, a young man with a lightning bolt scar watched the raven's image in a silver mirror.

"And good evening to you too, Little Brother."

The raven fluttered its wings and cawed again as if to register its disapproval at being caught by the hidden Eye-Spy. The Eye-Spy said nothing in response. It simply rotated silently and turned back to watch the clearing below. There was a soft whirr as the lens focused in on the massive and deadly creatures encaged down below.

The bird hopped up and down on its branch a few times as if indignant at the Eye-Spy's presence (and, by extension, that of its owner). Then, it jumped from the branch and glided down towards the clearing below. The raven circled the clearing a few times before coming in for a landing. But instead of a raven's talons, it was Jim Potter's trainers that touched down onto the forest floor. He was dressed in black from head to toe and even had a hood pulled up over his head. Back in the Prince's Lair, Harry was mildly impressed. Jim's attire suggested more forethought than he'd believed his twin capable.

Carefully, Jim crept forward towards the nearest cage, the one containing the Hungarian Horntail. Like her sisters, the Horntail's mouth was bound shut with a magically-reinforced iron band, lest the magnificent beast set the entire forest ablaze with her fury. Jim looked around to make sure he was unobserved (other than the Eye-Spy, of course). Then, he softly cleared his throat.

"Hello. Can you underssstand what I am sssaying?" he hissed.

The Horntail's only response was an angry growl, followed by a short puff of flames from the creature's nostrils. Not enough to be a danger to Jim, thanks to the bindings, but enough to frighten him. Even from here, Jim Potter could feel the intensity of the dragon-fire, and he did not relish the thought of facing this or any of the other dragons when they were free and able to breathe fire to their maximum ranges. Which, according to Ron's research, could reach over 100 feet for a Horntail.

Jim hissed a few more phrases in Parseltongue before finally concluding that communication was impossible. Not one to give up, however, the Animagus took a single step before shifting to his raven form and flying over to the next caged dragon to repeat the experiment with the Chinese Fireball. Though the Fireball was far more serpentine than the Hungarian Horntail, the results seemed the same.

Jim made his way around the camp to visit each of the remaining dragons and confirm that none of them seemed capable of understanding Parseltongue. Disappointed and somewhat annoyed, Jim turned and looked back up towards the floating Eye-Spy before making a rude gesture in its direction. Then, the raven took wing once more, up over the treetops and then back to Hogwarts. The Eye-Spy tracked the raven's path before turning and floating away from the dragon-handler's encampment and back to the castle.


The Prince's Lair

"Huh," muttered Theo, who was observing the mirror that had been enchanted to receive the Eye-Spy's feed from over Harry's left shoulder. "Looks like our Lion has a bit of Snake in him after all."

Harry shrugged. "I am reliably informed that the Hat offered him Slytherin, but unresolved 'daddy issues' led him to insist on Gryffindor."

"The thought boggles the mind," Blaise quipped while shaking his head at the idea of Jim Potter as a Slytherin. "Unfortunately, he just confirmed that Parseltongue definitely doesn't work on dragons. Pity that."

"I was pretty sure it wouldn't from the sources here in the Lair. But confirmation is good, I suppose. Not that I would have used it anyway unless I was out of other options."

"True," said Theo, "but if you had to expose yourself as a Parselmouth, wouldn't it be cool to do so in the middle of the First Challenge by commanding a bloody dragon to just hand you the Egg?"

"You seriously overestimate my need to 'look cool,' Theo," Harry said. Theo openly laughed at that.

"After over three years of watching you in action, I'm pretty sure I don't. In fact, I'm probably underselling your obsession with looking cooler than everyone else."

"So anyway," Blaise interrupted, "if Parseltongue is out, what's your Plan B?"

"Pfft!" Harry exhaled disdainfully. "There is no Plan B. There is a Plan Two. Followed by Plans Three, Four, and the beginnings of Plan Five."

He gave the other two-thirds of the Silver Trio an imperious look. "I would never identify my plans with letters, Blaise! That would imply I couldn't come up with more than 26!"


Later that night …

Luna Lovegood gazed up at the Goblet of Fire and shivered. The artifact that had placed two of her close friends into a deadly competition still sat on its plinth in the Great Hall, where it would remain until the end of the Triwizard Tournament. (At Luna's suggestion, the Quibbler had taken to referring to the competition as "the Pentawizard Playoffs," but that name had not yet taken off with the larger public despite being more accurate than the official name.) By day, the Goblet of Fire was not terribly impressive. Just a simple wooden cup, notable only for the eerie flames that burned constantly within it. In Luna's dreams, however, she found the artifact far more sinister.

At present, none of the usual creatures revealed by the Heliopath's insight—wrackspurts, fury-flies, and all the rest—were present, save for the few nargles generated by the girl's own pensive emotional state. The Great Hall was empty at night, and so there were no other people present to draw those creatures down to this plane to feed on their emotions. And, of course, there were no such extraplanar creatures summoned by the Goblet itself, for, as far as Luna could tell, the artifact lacked any degree of awareness, let alone sentience or emotional capacity.

And yet, there was … something. As she cautiously floated closer (Luna rarely walked in her dreams unless she was interacting with fellow dreamers), she could sense something strange about the Goblet of Fire. Though it conveyed nothing indicative of actual thought, not even on the level of the basest animal, she could nevertheless sense a powerful emotion emanating from it. A strange sense of indignation and pain, as if the Goblet had suffered some kind of dreadful violation.

But then, as Luna moved close to the very edge of the wards that protected the ancient device, she gasped. For she now realized that whatever terrible violation had been performed on the Goblet was ongoing! She could now feel something else that permeated every molecule of the Goblet of Fire and yet which was not a part of it. The Heliopath had never encountered anything like it before.

Well, almost never. In a very faint and superficial way, the wrongness that permeated the Goblet of Fire was similar to the wrongness that she'd encountered several times in her dreams when she'd crossed paths with the Dream-Selves of the Carrow Things. Similar yet wholly different, of course. But to Luna they all carried the same sense of innate horror.

It was not that Luna simply subjectively found both the Carrow Things and the Goblet to be horrible, though she did. Rather, it was as though horror for horror's own sake was somehow fundamental to their existences. Intuitively, Luna knew that had she been able to witness whatever foul rituals made both the Goblet and the Carrow Sisters into what they were, she would have been revolted … and that very revulsion was essential to the magic working as intended!

Excited by this epiphany, Luna pulled out her wand and pointed it at a peculiar freestanding object positioned next to a nearby wall. It had not been there before she turned towards it, but wherever she was in the castle, it was always right there when she needed it. With a few flicks of her wand, words appeared on the flat surface, joining other words already inscribed there in different hands.

"Horror for horror's sake," she wrote.

Then, Luna turned back to the Goblet of Fire and marshalled her Gryffindor courage to move closer to the cursed artifact. But before she could cross the warding line, she was distracted by an unexpected sound. Someone was running down the main corridor outside the Great Hall. She took one last baleful look at the Goblet before floating swiftly away, passing through the doors of the Great Hall as if she were a ghost. From there, she flew down the halls of Hogwarts in pursuit of the other person.

And before any time had passed (for that was the nature of travel in dreams), she found him. It was a child, specifically a boy who seemed too young for Hogwarts. He was disheveled, tear-stricken, and terrified. His red hair was tousled, and his clothes seemed old-fashioned to the point of anachronism.

Luna touched down to the floor and approached cautiously. Here were the nargles and wrackspurts she'd been missing, a veritable swarm of them feasting on the boy's fear and distress.

"Shh, it's okay," she whispered softly. "Nothing can harm you here. My name's Luna. What's yours?"

The boy hesitated. Then, his face crumpled, and he burst into tears. "I … I don't know?!" he sobbed.

Before Luna could respond, she stiffened at the realization of a hostile dream-presence nearby. She whirled around and pointed her wand at the figure standing about twenty feet down the corridor. It was a frightening apparition that looked similar to a Dementor, save that its robes were jet-black. And under its hood, Luna saw not the hideous face of a Dementor but rather a mask, bone-white and featureless save for a strange symbol on its brow. Without hesitation, Luna fired off a series of Rennervate Charms even as the enemy charged. With incredible speed, it dodged the first three spells, but just before it could reach her, Luna's fourth spell struck true. The masked being seemed to convulse for a second before vanishing completely. Luna exhaled slowly before turning back to where the boy was hiding, only to see that he too had disappeared.

Luna sighed in frustration and turned back to her marker board (which had now reappeared just a few feet down the corridor in the opposite direction—in Luna's dreams, it was always handy when she needed it). With a flick of her wand, the creature's strange mask was added to the notes on the board, and next to the drawing she wrote a brief question to remind her of this in her future dreams. Then, she took a moment to focus her attention completely on the drawing of the mask and its strange sigil before lifting her wand to her own temple.

"RENNERVATE."

Instantly, Luna shot up in her bed and took a second to collect herself. But only a second, for she knew that her dream memories always faded quickly. She snatched up the writing pad and self-inking quill that always rested on her nightside table. On it, she drew an oval shape to which she added two eye holes and a thin line where a mouth would go, and just above the eyes, she copied the sigil that she remembered from her dream. Specifically, a sigil that her waking mind now recognized as a Muggle yin-yang symbol. And below the image of what she strongly suspected was a Death Eater mask, she copied the same question she'd written down in her dream, a question that would vex her for days to come.

"Who was that little boy?"


27 November 1994
6:00 p.m.
A private dining hall at Hogwarts

On the night before the First Challenge, the five Champions ate dinner in a small dining hall at Hogwarts normally used for the occasional faculty luncheon. Also present were the three Headmasters plus Ludo Bagman, Barty Crouch Sr., and Percy Weasley. The dinner had been scheduled back before the Tournament had turned into a death sport, and Crouch candidly apologized to the Champions for dragging them to another tedious function when he was sure they all wanted to spend time with their friends on the night prior to the Challenge. But the simple and frustrating fact was that the "official Tournament calendar of events" was something that had been fed into the Goblet as part of the parameters, and no one was quite sure just how "officially" the Goblet was treating everything, so they elected to follow the maxim of "better safe than sorry."

Ludo Bagman also said a few brief words which most everyone ignored, although the Champions did all smirk noticeably when Ludo mentioned that "tomorrow we will finally be able to reveal to you what the First Challenge is." Crouch and Dumbledore glanced at one another, and both looked relieved to realize that the Champions obviously had known about the dragons for some time. Ludo, naturally, completely missed that subtext, and he became distracted in the middle of his speech wondering why everyone but him suddenly looked smug. So distracted in fact that he got tongue-tied and referred to Jim Potter as "the Slayer of Him Who You Know Should Not Be Named," which in turn led to a smattering of laughs from the others at the table.

For his part, Jim politely thanked Ludo for his words.

"Personally, though," he added, "I think Professor Dumbledore has the right idea and that people shouldn't be afraid to call him Voldemort."

The Boy-Who-Lived ignored the sudden frisson of fear that passed over the room as he turned to the Headmaster. "What is it you always say, sir? 'Fear of a name increases fear of the thing itself,' or something like that?"

Dumbledore nodded approvingly, though Headmaster Karkaroff was less sanguine—the man had flinched visibly when Jim said the taboo name. Crouch also was not amused and said so.

"You and the Headmaster are entitled to the courage of your convictions, Mr. Potter. But the terror that led an entire nation to make that man's name socially unmentionable was legitimate and reasonable. I should know, having played an important role in spreading its notoriety."

"Barty, my friend," Albus chided. "After all these years, you cannot continue to blame yourself for that incident."

"Tell that to Harold Minchum's widow and children, Albus," Crouch snapped. Then, he looked around the room, which had gone silent. "Forgive me, all of you. It's … a sore subject."

He paused to take a sip of water from his goblet before beginning his tale.

"It was the summer of 1975. The Death Eater Insurrection had finally grown serious enough for the government to issue a public response. Harold Minchum was the Minister for Magic at the time and was about to give a public speech right in the middle of Diagon Alley to allay public concerns about this … Lord Voldemort."

Crouch shuddered to say the forbidden name. "I was a Senior Auror at the time and had been assigned to handle his security arrangements. I listened as he worked on his speech, and he asked me for ideas on how best to reassure the public that the so-called Dark Lord was no threat. And in one of the great regrets of my life, I recommended that he mock the Dark Lord and his oh-so-pretentious name as a way of puncturing his mystique."

The canny old politician snorted as if contemptuous of his younger self. "I even gave him a joke to use."


17 August 1975
Diagon Alley

Minchum was a gifted speaker and had the audience and the press eating out of his hand. Behind him on the stage (a raised wooden platform some twenty feet off the ground) stood several of his closest supporters and advisors: Chief Warlock Edith Macmillan, DMLE Director Randolph Parkinson, DIMC Director Millicent Bagnold, and Chief Auror Roderick Shacklebolt. Several other Aurors, including Senior Auror Barty Crouch Sr. (he would not remove the suffix "Sr." until years later), were also on-stage providing security.

"And so, in conclusion," Minchum said, as his speech drew to a close, "I say to you all friends, so long as we maintain the courage of our convictions, we shall have nothing to fear from these Death Eater cowards. Nor from their leader, the ridiculously named Lord Voldemort. Or perhaps we should all call him instead—Lord Moldy Shorts!"

The crowd of several hundred wizards and witches roared in laughter at the insult and gave Minchum a rousing ovation.

And then came the explosion.

There was a flash of light and a crack of thunder, as a wave of incredible force manifested from the middle of the crowd in front of the stage and knocked everyone aside, leaving a large open space in the center of the street nearly fifty feet across. And standing in the middle of it … was Lord Voldemort himself!

Despite the terror caused by the shockwave and the Dark Lord's sudden arrival, the scene was deathly quiet, as if a Silencing Charm had been cast over the area, one specially cast so as to silence every witch and wizard within range. Everyone save Voldemort himself.

The Dark Lord stared deeply into the eyes of the suddenly terrified Harold Minchum. Then, Voldemort merely shook his head, almost pityingly. Voldemort didn't raise his wand, nor did he call out any incantations. He just repeated Minchum's last two words in a dry tone meant to reflect his disdain for the Minister's attempted mockery.

"Moldy … shorts?"

Without another word, Voldemort raised his empty hand and snapped his fingers.

And Harold Minchum exploded.

The man's body was not ripped apart so much as liquefied,with his gory remains splashing over the others on the platform as if flung at them from a waste bucket taken from an abattoir. For good measure, the Dark Lord silently gestured once more with just a single finger. In response, the entire stage collapsed to the ground before any of the Aurors or other wizards on it could react.

Voldemort then turned around within the empty circle from which he'd blasted dozens of wizards and witches to clear his path. As he turned, he made sure that everyone present could see his serpentine visage. See it and remember. He smirked cruelly before speaking once more.

"Thou shalt not take thy Lord's name in vain," he said quietly, and yet, somehow, everyone present could hear him with perfect clarity. Then, there was a loud crack as he Apparated away.


The Present
Hogwarts

Those on hand to hear Barty Crouch's tale were horrified, though Dumbledore merely looked sad. (Karkaroff stared doggedly at the plate in front of him as if desperately wishing the dessert course would arrive and end this excruciating tableau.)

"And that, Mr. Potter," Crouch said in summation, "is why it is considered very impolite at best to use the name … Voldemort in casual conversation."

Harry coughed and then pulled at his collar before speaking.

"Voldemort publicly assassinated the Minister for Magic … for calling him … Moldy Shorts?"

"So it would seem," replied Crouch. "Intellectually, I know that someone must have leaked Minchum's speech to the Death Eaters so that he would know the precise moment when he should arrive and assassinate Minchum for maximum effect. But emotionally, every British witch or wizard who was on hand that day, including the thousands who heard it live on the Wizarding Wireless, came away with the firm conviction he could somehow know when people were using his name disrespectfully. And all because I suggested that Minchum try to be funny."

"It wasn't your fault, Barty," Albus said consolingly. Crouch just snorted disdainfully.

"You weren't there, Albus. I was. And I had a lot of time to think about the matter while I spent two hours washing the remains of Harold Minchum out of my hair!"


Later that night
An undisclosed location

Peter Pettigrew sat on the floor of his specially prepared ritual room, naked and covered in runes drawn with fresh blood. Not his own, this time, which Peter thought was good. He had no idea why so many Kemetic rituals required the caster to be naked, but at least this one did not require the sacrifice of blood (or worse, body parts—Peter was still adjusting to the loss of his left pinkie finger).

"Well, no blood from me at least," Peter muttered idly to himself before lifting his sacrificial dagger again and drawing yet another long cut, this time along the Muggle's back. The poor bastard screamed loudly in response. The Muggle's name was "Mike Something." Or maybe "Mark Something." Peter had already forgotten, but he was pretty sure it started with M. Really, Peter only knew that much about his victim because the ritual's exacting requirements called for the blood of a Muggle who had been born on this particular day. This last cut was the ninth Peter had made, and now "Malcolm" was looking rather pale and weak, though not so weak that he couldn't scream. The Death Eater winced at the sound, but the nature of the magic meant that the sacrificial victim could be neither magically silenced nor even gagged, and certainly not allowed to fall unconscious. Luckily, Peter was nearly done, so Monty Something's suffering was almost at an end.

Setting his wand aside, Peter picked up a black quill and stabbed it into the fresh wound. Quickly, he started the last line of his missive written in another man's blood. Just a few minutes later, he was finally finished with his little calligraphy project. Peter put down the quill and picked up his wand, which he started waving over the bloody parchment at his feet while chanting in a language that had been dead since long before the rise of Sumer. The parchment began to glow, and then the bloody writing on it changed into normal ink in a clearly written script before the parchment itself disappeared in a flash of light.

Peter sighed in relief. He was very much looking forward to a hot bath followed by a good night's sleep. But there was one bit of housekeeping left. He turned back to the Muggle—Milton, maybe?—who was hanging limply and barely alive, too weak to even moan any more.

"I'm sorry to have put you through that, my friend," Peter said in an excellent imitation of compassion. "Believe me when I say it was necessary. But don't worry. The ritual is complete, and your suffering is finally at an end."

With that, Peter raised his wand and pointed it right between the Muggle's eyes.


"AVADA KEDAVRA."

Seconds later, in the bedroom of the Minister for Magic …

Cornelius Fudge had finally nodded off to sleep. Tomorrow, he would have to be up bright and early so that he got to Hogwarts in time for the First Challenge, where hopefully he would not be watching brave young teenagers die because of his orders. Unfortunately, Fudge had been suffering from a bit of insomnia lately. In fact, ever since that damnable box had first appeared on his desk with a pronouncement from the Goblet of Fire.

Suddenly, just as the guilt-stricken wizard was finally nodding off, he was shocked into full wakefulness by a bright light and a crack of magic that sounded like a particularly loud Apparation. Cornelius shot up in bed and looked around the room wildly. Almost immediately, he saw it: a softly glowing wooden box that bore his name and the image of the Goblet of Fire. Fudge rubbed his hands over his face and then got out of bed and made his way over the desk where the box had materialized to find out what new nightmare orders would be handed down in his name.


28 November 1994
The Morning of the First Challenge

It was Saturday, and Harry was up unusually early for a weekend and ready for breakfast with his Slytherin friends. He was remarkably calm. Unnaturally so, in fact, but then, he was a high Fourth Level Occlumens, so fear at this point was pretty much just a lifestyle choice. He looked around the Great Hall to scope out his "competition."

Viktor sat further down the Slytherin table among his Durmstrang peers. Alex Nott sat next to him, trying unsuccessfully to pretend that he wasn't terrified over his boyfriend's fate. And also still trying to pretend that he wasn't Viktor's boyfriend, Harry noted. For his part, Viktor was tearing into his third plate of scrambled eggs and sausages with gusto. Apparently, he was a stress eater.

At the Ravenclaw table, on the other hand, Fleur Delacour seemed utterly relaxed as she nibbled daintily at a croissant while reading from a book next to her plate. And not even a magical one. Rather, it appeared to be a Muggle book about becoming "less miserable" or something like that. (There was a limit to how far Harry's enchanted glasses would let him read from across the room.) Regardless, Harry concluded that either the girl's Occlumency was even better than he'd realized or else she had a strategy for dealing with the dragons with which she was completely confident.

At the Hufflepuff table, Cedric smiled easily at the fellow students who came up to wish him good luck, not one of whom knew how utterly terrified the boy was. Harry wondered at Diggory's background that he would place such a higher premium on reassuring others that he was feeling confident than he did on actually being confident. Then, for good measure, Harry wondered why he was mentally thinking of a fellow student two years older than himself as "the boy" and wondered if it was a side effect of spending so much time occluding that he was mentally becoming an old man in a young man's body. He resolved to go out and do something fun with his friends the following summer once his life was no longer in danger from the Tournament and all the nonsense that came with it.

At the Gryffindor table, Jim Potter was conspicuous by his absence. Harry wondered briefly at that, before deciding that it wasn't any of his concern.


Dumbledore's Office

"You want me to what?!" Jim growled at the Death Eater standing before him. James and Lily stood on either side of their remaining son, and both looked just as angry as Jim at the man's presence and the instructions he'd come to deliver to the Boy-Who-Lived. The Death Eater smiled back at them like the snake he was.

"Now Jim," said Corban Yaxley condescendingly. "It's not about what I want you to do. These instructions come straight from Minister Fudge. Who, in turn, received them late last night from the Goblet of Fire itself. You know? The magical artifact that holds your life in its hands?"

Yaxley thought for a moment. "Well, in its metaphorical hands, I suppose."

James opened his mouth to respond angrily when Dumbledore interrupted him.

"James, Lily, Jim. I'm sorry, but it's true. I spoke with Cornelius and with Saul Croaker via Floo just before summoning you. Late last night, the Goblet of Fire did indeed communicate with Cornelius and deliver … well, I suppose it can best be described as an addendum to the Tournament rules."

"An addendum?" Lily snapped angrily. "That just applies to Jim?"

"Well, to be fair, Professor Potter," Yaxley said smugly. "As far as we know, Jim is the only Champion to whom this particular rule might even apply."

And with that, Yaxley nodded at the Hit wizard who'd accompanied him, and the man stepped forward with a small box which he opened with a click. Inside were two metal bracelets inscribed with runes and inlaid with small gemstones. Lily recognized the design. She remembered Harry snapping a similar pair onto Peter Pettigrew after capturing him in the Shrieking Shack just a few months before. The other pair had been linked by a short chain that made them function like handcuffs while these were simply two separate manacles. But their function was the same.

Animagus-Suppression Cuffs.

"Jim," said Dumbledore. "It will be alright. I promise you that I will remove the cuffs immediately after completion of the task."

"Uh-huh," the boy said sullenly. "That kind of assumes that I don't die during the task on account of not being able to turn into Poe and fly out of danger!"

Dumbledore looked at him sadly, but Jim ignored the pity. Really, he was angrier at the indignity than worried about the First Challenge. His plans for dealing with the nesting mother dragon did not involve turning into a raven, which would probably have led to him getting barbecued anyway. But he continued to glare angrily at Yaxley as the DMLE Director clicked the lock on each manacle shut. And with that click, Jim could feel his Animagus form being locked away. Suddenly (and unexpectedly), the boy was struck by the knowledge that Sirius Black had spent thirteen years in Azkaban, and he wondered if Black had felt the same sense of loss, of incompleteness, for all those years like Jim was feeling now.

"Is there anything else to discuss now, Corban?" asked Dumbledore. "Jim does still need to eat before the First Challenge, after all."

"Nothing for Mr. Potter, Albus," Yaxley replied unctuously. "But I do need to speak to the adult Potters about a legal matter. Perhaps Jim can run along to breakfast while we discuss it in private."

Lily and James ushered their brooding son out of the Headmaster's office before turning back to the DMLE Director.

"Alright, Yaxley," James said, not caring about the disrespect shown towards his putative boss. "What is it now? More frivolous murder accusations against my wife?"

"This has nothing to do with the Vernon Dursley investigation, if that's what you mean, Potter. Though it is indeed a potential criminal matter."

Yaxley reached into his robe and withdrew a rolled-up parchment which he handed over to James.

"I have received what I consider to be reliable information that your son lied to the Wizengamot about his status as a supposed natural Animagus. And furthermore, that one or both of you assisted him in becoming an illegal and underage Animagus. Accordingly, under my authority as Director of the DMLE, I have prepared a Writ of Entry in advance of a search of your home."

"A what?!" Lily snapped angrily. Meanwhile, Albus sat up in his chair at the announcement, though he remained silent for now.

"A Writ of Entry, Professor Potter," Yaxley said almost sweetly. "If you are unfamiliar with the legal process involved, I'm sure your husband can explain it to you. As I recall, he made liberal use of such writs during his tenure with the Auror Corps."

Next to her, James ground his teeth together while he unfurled the writ to examine it. As DMLE Director, Yaxley did indeed have the authority to issue a Writ of Entry (what Muggles would call a search warrant) of any wizard's home upon suspicion of certain crimes. He'd issued a few himself during his brief stint as Chief Auror, and he'd executed many more during his time as a field Auror.

Usually, though, a Writ of Entry obtained against a Noble House would need to be approved by the Wizengamot, and the Lords and Ladies were notoriously opposed to allowing law enforcement to enter the manors and estates of their peers, even on suspicion of being a Death Eater. Mad-Eye Moody's infamous raid on Wilkes Manor was only possible because of Arthur Weasley's dogged research that proved the Toymaker's involvement in scores of aggravated Muggle-baiting crimes which, under the Death Eater Laws, allowed for Writs of Entry to issue without Wizengamot approval.

"Corban," Albus finally said. "What exactly is the nature of this reliable information that you say justifies a search of the Potter home?"

"Regrettably, Chief Warlock," the man said in a poor imitation of sincere regret, "I cannot reveal my sources prior to the Wizengamot hearing. Which, by the way, I have scheduled for next Thursday, at which time I will present my arguments in open court. Sadly, I can say no more, lest you be put in a position where you will have to recuse yourself once again for overseeing the case."

"Of course," Albus said calmly. "But you must realize that the Potter residence is also the home of the Boy-Who-Lived, which means that there are certain special security concerns that must be taken into account."

"Oh, I do indeed, Chief Warlock. Which is why I am here today. I have given the Potters advance warning of the issuance of the Writ of Entry in hopes that they will be amenable to less public alternatives."

"Like what?" James snapped.

"If you would consent to allow us access, I can enter your home via Floo with a small group of investigators. You are certainly welcome to be present to observe the search, of course. But because we would be entering by Floo, I and my team will not know precisely where the Boy-Who-Lived's summer hideaway actually is."

Yaxley smiled cruelly. "The alternative is to take the Writ up with the Wizengamot. Which, in turn, means that if the Writ is approved, your physical address will become a part of the public record, along with a concise description of your ward scheme and other defensive measures. That would include whatever magic you have used that would otherwise make it impossible to even find your home."

"That's if the Wizengamot approves, Yaxley," Lily said defiantly.

"Yes, Professor Potter. If it approves."

James took a moment to calm himself, and when he spoke to Yaxley again, it was with a professional, even voice.

"Director Yaxley, might my wife and I have a moment to discuss this?"

"Please, take all the time you need … within reason, of course. I'll come and find you after the First Challenge is completed and hear your answer."

Yaxley headed for the door, only to stop and turn back. "I hope it is unnecessary to say this, but I am compelled to tell you that any attempt to leave the Hogwarts grounds and return home will be viewed as likely an attempt at concealing evidence. Which, in turn, may be used against you in any future proceedings."

And with that final bit of menace, Yaxley bowed his head respectfully and left the Headmaster's office.

"In other words," James said ruefully. "He'll have people spying on us to make sure we don't go anywhere. Albus, any advice?"

"None at all, James. Under the circumstances, my oath as Chief Warlock would preclude me from showing such favoritism. However, I believe I can safely explain for Lily's benefit the trap Director Yaxley has just laid."

"Please do," Lily said. "My specialties are Charms and Potions, not … legal trickery."

Albus gave a mordant chuckle before proceeding with a more serious expression. "Essentially, Yaxley is offering you two options, both with inherent risks. If you consent to a search of 4 Privet Drive, you will escort Yaxley and his cronies into your home via Floo and allow them to search the place for … well, whatever he expects to find. But the protective enchantments and ward scheme placed on that house will remain intact, and it will be exceedingly difficult if not impossible for any of them to learn exactly where your home is.

"Alternatively, you can attempt to fight the Writ in court. If you are successful, the DMLE won't be allowed to search the property at all, at least at this time. But in the meantime, neither of you would be permitted to return to that home before the Wizengamot meets and decides. The mere act of trying to fight the Writ would likely lead to more bad press for you both. And if the Wizengamot rules in the DMLE's favor … the physical location of your home, free of any occlusive magic, will be revealed in open court and become part of the public record, causing you to lose a significant portion of Jim's summer protection. You would also be legally required to reveal your entire external ward scheme to the DMLE. And since you would not be able to return to 4 Privet Drive until after the hearing, anything that you are worried about the DMLE discovering will still be there waiting for them."

Lily's eyes widened, while James's expression was grim. Albus peered at them over the top of his spectacles.

"So, I suppose the operative question is: Do you have anything at 4 Privet Drive that you would find embarrassing—or worse—for you if it were discovered in a search of your home?"

James swallowed. "If you will excuse us, Albus, Lily and I need to talk in private."


A few hours later …

As Harry walked down the hill, he could see up the arena which had been constructed for the First Challenge. A 50-foot retaining wall had been built around a patch on the Hogwarts grounds near the edge of the Forbidden Forest. The whole arena structure looked to be well over 100 yards in radius, with stands for the audience surrounding whatever layout was inside.

"Not much room for evasive maneuvers," Harry thought ruefully.

Attached to the arena was a tent that had been set up as a staging area for the Champions where they would wait for the Challenge to begin. And Snape was currently escorting Harry in that direction. The Potions Master walked stiffly, with his hands clasped behind his back and his eyes facing forward. He did not waste his time or Harry's with words of encouragement.

"Just between us, Black. You know what you are facing?"

"Yes, Professor Snape," Harry replied. "We've all known for some time."

"And you have at least one viable strategy for dealing with it?"

"Five in which I have a high degree of confidence. I am … debating how much effort to put into … showmanship. Do you think that will play a role in judging?"

"I really couldn't say, Black. Are you that concerned about scores?"

"Only in a tactical sense, sir. My understanding is that, historically, doing well in the First Challenge provides advantages in the Second, which in turn grants advantages in the Third. And every advantage increases the odds of surviving."

Harry's nose wrinkled with a hint of disdain. "And to be completely honest, I am … unhappy at the thought of not doing as well as Jim Potter. The Oath of Enmity, I expect."

"Understandable, Black. Survival first. Then worry about presentation."

"Naturally, sir."

By that point, the two Slytherins had reached the Champions' tent. They said their goodbyes, and Harry entered.

Inside, the other Champions were already waiting. Cedric was standing by himself in one corner practicing some complicated wand movements with increasing urgency. Nearby, Fleur and Viktor sat next to one another. Harry noted that they were speaking French. Fleur seemed completely placid and appeared to be reassuring Viktor about something. For his part, Viktor's face showed no fear, but Harry's Legilimency saw through that and noticed the other boy's constant fidgeting with his hands that reflected true anxiety. Fleur, on the other hand, either really was completely relaxed and confident, or else the girl had Occlumency at a level superior to Harry's own Legilimency. Finally, Jim was on the far side of the tent pacing nervously while fidgeting with his wand. He turned and made eye contact with Harry, and for just a second, the two glared at one another before Jim turned away. Harry crooked an eyebrow at the metal cuffs Jim was wearing for some reason but otherwise chose to ignore his sibling.

All the males, including Harry, were wearing competition uniforms that seemed to be essentially modified Quidditch uniforms: green and silver for Harry, red and gold for Jim, black and yellow for Cedric, and multiple shades of brown for Viktor. But to Harry's surprise, Fleur's uniform more closely resembled a Muggle track suit in pale blue and black, though it seemed to be made of some lightweight wizarding material. To Harry's even greater surprise, the girl was wearing what were clearly expensive Muggle athletic trainers instead of the boots all the males were wearing.

Before Harry had a chance to ask her about her unusual but highly sensible fashion decisions, Ludo Bagman entered the tent just behind him, the man's expression simultaneously as ebullient and vapid as ever. The idiot was even wearing his old Winbourne Wasps robes again.

"Good mooorning, Champions!" he exclaimed delightedly while rubbing his hands in excitement. "Well, now we're all here, it's time to fill you in! In just a moment, you will reach inside this bag—" he held up a small sack of silk and purple—" from which you each draw a small model of … the thing you are about to face! There are different, er, varieties, you see."

"How exciting," Harry deadpanned. "I can't wait to find out what it is."

Viktor snorted loudly at that, while the other Champions merely smirked at Ludo's obliviousness.

"Soon, Harry, soon!" Ludo replied. "And I was supposed to tell you something else, too. Now what was it … ah yes! Your task will be to collect the golden egg!"

Everyone simply stared at Bagman (whose last remark would have sounded nonsensical if they all didn't already know what the challenge was) until he grew uncomfortable. He coughed in embarrassment before turning to Fleur.

"Ladies first," he said while holding up the bag and shaking it.

In response, the bag began to jostle as if it contained small living things, and soft snarls could be heard from within. Fleur looked at Ludo balefully before striding over to him and sticking her hand inside. She grimaced but then pulled out a tiny, perfect model of a Welsh Green with a No. 2 inscribed on a charm around its neck.

"Oh look," she said in a bored voice. "It eez a dragon. What a twist."

Krum went next and pulled out a scarlet Chinese Fireball with the number 3 around its neck. While obviously not surprised by the sight of a dragon, the Bulgarian grew fixated on the model that fit into the palm of his hand.

"Can Viktor keep this?" he asked Bagman. The question seemed to confuse the older wizard.

"Well, I don't see why not! Want a souvenir of this grand adventure, eh?"

Viktor wrinkled his nose contemptuously and growled out what Harry was pretty sure was a Bulgarian profanity before heading back to the far side of the tent without another word.

Cedric was next, swallowing nervously as he pulled out a Swedish Short-Snout bearing the number 1. Then Jim cautiously pulled out the Hungarian Horntail bearing the number 4. As soon as Jim realized what he was up against, the tiny Horntail stretched its wings and bared its miniscule fangs at him. Jim groaned, and the three older Champions looked at him sadly. Harry knew why—the Horntail was easily the most aggressive of the five dragon breeds involved in this Challenge.

Then, it was Harry's turn. He sauntered over to the official but then stopped suddenly, slapped his hands to the sides of his head, and began to swoon.

"What is it, Harry?!" Ludo asked urgently, while the others watched the boy in concern.

"I .., I… I think I'm having some kind of … vision!' Harry exclaimed. "Yes! I'm definitely having a vision! I think … the dragon I'll have to face … is a Ukrainian Iron Belly!"

The other three boys gaped at Harry, while Fleur clapped a hand over her mouth to hide her grin. Then, Harry quickly reached into the bag and pulled out a miniature dragon that was indeed a Ukrainian Iron Belly.

"Well, what do you know!" the Slytherin said excitedly. "I was right! I guess I probably should have taken Divination after all!"

Bagman was flummoxed, and his confusion only grew when the other Champions burst into laughter.

"Did … did you know about the dragons ahead of time?!" he asked Harry shakily.

"Oh don't be silly, Mr. Bagman!" Jim snarked. "There's no way anyone could have gotten around the Tournament's flawless security!"

The wizard's face flushed as he observed the reactions of all the competitors.

"YOU ALL KNEW?!" He stammered for a bit before gathering himself with a huff. "Well, this is just scandalous! This Tournament is supposed to be about sportsmanship and international cooperation and representing the honor of your respective school! Stuff like that! And this particular challenge is about Bravery in the Face of the Unknown! I know because that's exactly what I had them put on the big banner that's flying over the arena! We're even selling T-shirts! And it turns out you all know ahead of time exactly what the Unknown is?! Well that's just completely contrary to the spirit of this event! I must say I'm very disappointed in you all!"

The laughter of the Champions instantly faded, to be replaced by looks of astonishment followed by varying degrees of fury.

"ARE YOU FUCKING INSANE?!" Cedric bellowed so loudly that Ludo actually took a step back.

Then, Cedric clamped his jaws together, acutely aware of the fact that he'd just used vulgar profanity to insult a departmental director who was also a close friend to his own father. And then, he noticed that the other Champions were all staring at him open-mouthed.

"What?" he asked, suddenly nervous.

"Nothing," said Jim. "I just don't think I've ever heard you yell in anger before. Let alone a swear word."

"I'll go further," said Harry. "I am genuinely surprised that you even know what that word means!"

Cedric blushed even as Harry turned back to Ludo with a cold expression.

"But let's set aside Cedric's crude vulgarities for now. The five of us have one goal for today: surviving! And notwithstanding how Jim and I managed to be picked for the Tournament—an issue you still have not gotten to the bottom of—all of us originally signed up for an academic competition! Not … bloody dragon-wrangling!"

Ludo fumed for a moment. "Now see here, Harry…"

"Mr. Black," said Harry coldly. "Or better yet, Lord Wilkes."

Bagman swallowed at the reminder of just how politically powerful one of the Champions was. He took a second to collect himself before pushing forward.

"Right. Lord Wilkes … and the rest of you as well. I am sorry you are all in this situation. But there's nothing we can do about it now. It is what it is. So I expect all of you to go out there and do your best for your schools! Of course, I want you to survive. But if you can do so and also, you know, put on a good show for the crowd, so much the better, am I right? You know—to really give this Tournament the respect it deserves!"

The silence from the Champions was deafening. Harry started to reply before concluding that sarcastic insults would simply be wasted on a man this dumb.

"Anyway," Bagman continued. "You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons. Now I'm going to have to leave for a bit because I'm commentating. Ced—I mean, Mr. Diggory, you're first. I'll be back to collect you shortly."

The man turned and headed towards the entryway. But before he could exit, Bagman turned back to the Champions one last time. He gulped.

"Good luck," he said before quickly passing through the tent opening.

"Wanker," Cedric muttered quietly.

"Cedric," Harry drawled, "if you don't get that potty mouth of yours under control, I'm going to have to ask Fleur to wash your mouth out with a Scourgify."

"Why me?" Fleur asked indignantly. "Eez eet because I am a woman, and only we can properly use zee Scourgify?"

"Of course not," Harry replied. "I just think out of all of us, you're the most intimidating."

Fleur blinked a few times before turning to the other boys. "Eez zat so?"

Cedric, Jim, and Viktor all assented, albeit good-naturedly. "Definitely." "Bloody terrifying." "Like shield maiden from tales of old!"

Fleur smiled as if she'd been complimented. "Well … merci."


About thirty minutes later, Bagman returned to collect Cedric, who looked as though he was heading towards his own execution. Which, possibly, he was. The other Champions crowded around to wish him luck on his way out. Viktor clapped him on the back, and Fleur even gave him a hug and a kiss on the cheek. Once he was gone, the other four took their seats shakily and listened in silence to the cheers of the crowd and soon the roar of the Swedish Short-Snout. But the Champions' worry over their friend slowly changed to simmering anger as they listened to Ludo Bagman's insipid commentary.

"If Cedric is hurt," Viktor said with a surprisingly cold sneer, "will new friends help Viktor to feed Bagman to dragons?"

The others murmured their assent, even as the roars of the mother dragon grew louder.


When Cedric entered the arena, he was both relieved and dismayed to see that it was exactly as described on the blueprints Harry Black had provided weeks earlier. Relieved that there were no unpleasant surprises. Dismayed that it was as bad as predicted.

The dragon enclosure was a circle about 100 yards in diameter. A magically reinforced wall 10-feet-high surrounded the enclosure and generated a transparent magical shield that extended another thirty feet straight up to protect the spectators from stray spells and dragon fire. Inside the wall was a flat ring about ten yards wide that would allow anyone inside the enclosure to walk its circumference if they chose and keep them outside the extreme range of each dragon's breath. The spectators sat in rowed arena seating that started just above the wall and encircled the enclosure.

The seats were packed with what looked like thousands of attendees, and Cedric winced as he picked his mother and father out of a crowd dressed mainly in Hufflepuff colors. Amos Diggory was yelling wildly and waving about a large picture of Cedric's face mounted onto a stick (to Mrs. Diggory's obvious embarrassment). The writing above Cedric's face identified him as "the REAL Hogwarts Champion." Cedric waved to his parents while smiling wanly. Then, he turned his attention to the interior of the arena.

In the center of the enclosure was a flat platform about thirty yards across. That was where the dragon had made her nest atop a huge pile of basalt stones. Separating the central platform from the outer ring was a rough, jagged trench full of rocks and boulders. It was deep enough to allow a Champion to hide from a dragon's direct reach, but anyone who poked their head up over the top might get burned alive if the dragon happened to be facing that way.

At each cardinal direction, there was a bridge over the chasm that connected the outer ring directly to the central platform. This could potentially allow stealthy Champions to approach the dragon from behind if the beast could be distracted long enough. Or it could also allow insane Champions to charge straight at the dragon if they didn't mind taking a face full of dragon fire.

The Short-Snout herself was chained to the central platform. The chain, according to the Tournament plans Harry had acquired, was not quite long enough to allow the dragon to reach her head down into the pit, let alone fully enter it. Unfortunately, the platform upon which the nest sat was completely exposed, and the chain was long enough to allow the dragon to take to the air and incinerate anyone who stepped onto it.

Where each bridge connected with the outer ring, the ring expanded into a larger semi-circular platform covered in protective runes, and just past the ward-line was an exit door. The twenty-four judges were divided into four boxes, one box above each exit to hold six judges. High in the air above each judge's box, one of Harry Black's Eye-Spies floated lazily, with each of the four orbs projecting the image it was recording onto huge white screens hung above the top level of the spectator seats. Wherever an observer sat, they would have a good view of the action. Or carnage as the case might be.

A countdown clock that was presently fixed at "60:00" was conveniently hung on the outer wall just above each exit. To complete the Task, Cedric would have one hour to recover the egg and reach any of the ward-lines surrounding the four exits. If Cedric ran out of time before doing so, he would lose his magic. If he was injured to the point of being unable to compete or even flee, no one would be able to come and save him until after the hour had run out … by which point he would also have lost his magic, if not yet his life.

As he contemplated that gloomy fate, Cedric was startled by Ludo Bagman's voice amplified through a Sonorous Charm.

"LAADIEES AND GENTLE-WIZARDS! PLEASE WELCOME OUR FIRST CHAMPION—CEDRIIIIIIIIC DIGGORY!"

Cedric stepped forward onto the small platform and waved to the crowd. His face was projected up onto all the screens, and instantly he made a point to grin broadly, almost to the point of making his cheeks hurt. Amos often nagged him about not smiling properly.

"Show your teeth when you smile, boy!" the elder Diggory would say. "That'll make people believe you're sincere!"

The Hufflepuff shook off that memory when Bagman spoke again.

"THE JUDGES ARE READY. CEDRIC DIGGORY, YOUR TIME BEGINS …. NOW!"

The four clocks simultaneously clicked over to 59:59. Cedric took a deep breath and ran forward, ignoring the bridge in favor of immediately dropping down into the chasm before the Short-Snout could react.

Forty minutes later, Cedric was running out of time and was close to panic. All his less desperate plans had failed, and he was completely exhausted. So he turned to his most desperate plan. Stealthily, he climbed up the chasm wall and touched his wand to a large rock at the top. After a few seconds of concentration, the rock transformed into a Labrador retriever. He needed something large enough to attract the dragon's attention but fast enough to dodge its fiery breath, and a medium-sized dog was the largest inanimate-to-animate Transfiguration Cedric thought he could maintain and control for any length of time. At his direction, the dog started running quickly around the nest while barking loudly and nimbly dodging the beast's flames. Then, it darted across the bridge on the side opposite the dragon, which moved to follow as far as the chain would allow.

With the Short-Snout's attention drawn to the opposite side of the arena, Cedric carefully pulled himself up onto the platform and crept towards the nest while the dragon was straining at the chains that kept her from reaching the dog. He'd just managed to reach the nest and pick up his egg when disaster struck. Though the dragon was paying Cedric no attention, its spiked tail was waving madly in agitation, and it just happened to swing in his direction. Desperately, he threw up a Protego, but the impact was still enough to send him flying back a good thirty feet and almost knocked him off the bridge down into the chasm. The Hufflepuff barely caught himself with one arm and scrambled back up onto the bridge as fast as he could.

Unfortunately, the impact broke his concentration, and the dog instantly returned to its original stone form. It took the Short-Snout barely a second to realize it had been deceived, and the nesting mother looked around to see Cedric apparently holding one of its eggs. Her roar of anger was deafening. In a panic, Cedric cast a Flame-Freezing Charm just before a gout of flame could incinerate him. While he survived mostly unscathed, some of the dragon fire did get through, and he screamed as a small burst of flame struck him on his arm. When the Short-Snout had exhausted herself and paused to take another breath, Cedric turned tail and ran, desperately trying to put out the flames with an Aguamenti as he went.

He almost made it to the safe zone. The second gout of flame didn't hit him directly, but it impacted the ground just behind him with explosive force, hurling him forward and setting the legs of his trousers on fire. Luckily, he was able to put those flames out quickly. After a few more seconds, he staggered across the ward-line before collapsing to the ground, his arm and legs covered in burns. The crowd roared its approval, and Cedric blearily looked up at the clock to see that it was frozen with 2:11 remaining. But as Tournament officials ran forward to transport Cedric to Madam Pomfrey, a single thought fully occupied the lad's mind.

He wondered if Amos Diggory up in the stands was suitably impressed.


Soon after, Bagman returned to the Champions' tent to collect Fleur. After Bagman's introduction to the crowd, the Beauxbatons Champion stepped off the platform and strode confidently across the bridge straight towards the Welsh Green, stopping when she reached the edge of the dragon's fire breath range. Then, she paused and collected herself before holding her wand aloft. She whispered a spell, and the tip of the wand lit up as if she'd cast a Lumos. But the light was not as crisp or as bright as a normal Lumos. Oh, it was bright enough to see even by daylight, but it was strangely hazy and indistinct, even as it drew the attention of everyone in the arena, including the Welsh Green. The creature growled menacingly but did not launch a blast of fire towards her.

Whatever the spell was, it was not limited to producing a strange light. It also caused Fleur's wand to generate an odd sound, like some kind of ethereal whistle. Then, Fleur slowly began to sway while waving her wand in a wide, lazy pattern. In response, the whistle changed pitch. Fleur slowly stepped forward with careful foot placement and arm movements, and it soon became apparent that she was performing some kind of dance to accompany the haunting melody her wand was generating. Her progress was slow—after almost a minute, she'd only made it halfway to the dragon. Nevertheless, she was moving straight towards the nesting mother, who had put her head down on her enormous talons, content to merely watch the Champion's slow advance.

"What is she doing?" Hermione Granger muttered up in the stands, as she'd never seen any magic performed like this before.

It was a rhetorical question, but Percy Weasley (who had been allowed by Barty Crouch to sit in the stands with his siblings) happily answered, though in a quiet voice as if he didn't want to break whatever spell the French girl was weaving.

"Oh, I say," he whispered excitedly. "I believe this is an example of Balinese Dance Magic! Far more intricate and time-consuming than Western wanded magic, but if one has the time and skill to pull it off, it can produce remarkably potent effects. As you can see from the fact that Miss Delacour has nearly put her dragon to sleep."

And indeed, the Welsh Green was now watching Fleur through hooded eyes, its breathing slow and regular. Up in the stands, Hermione was startled by the loud snore that came from Ron Weasley, whose head was leaning against his brother George (who was also asleep). Hermione looked around the stands and noticed just how many audience members were asleep or getting there, despite what should have been the unbearable tension of watching a 17-year-old witch slowly dancing her way towards an XXXXX creature.

"The dragon's not the only one she's affecting," Ginny murmured.

"Indeed," Percy said as he looked around and noticed who among the audience seemed entranced and who was not. "But not us, Ginny. Nor Hermione. Nor several of your other Slytherin friends."

He leaned over to his little sister with a smug expression and whispered in her ear. "And while I hope you're being careful, I promise I won't tell Mum and Dad that their baby girl has been learning Occlumency."

Ginny stuck her tongue out at him before patting him on the leg. Then, she turned to Amy Wilkes who was sitting on her other side. The two nodded to each other conveying a hidden meaning. Then, the two Slytherins casually started looking around the stadium to make a mental note of which of their classmates also seemed resistant to the eerie music and the strange dancing that accompanied it. They figured Harry would probably want to know.

Elsewhere in the stadium, Kevin Entwhistle covered his mouth to stifle a deep yawn and then shook his head to clear it.

"Anybody know what that tune is?" he asked sleepily. "It – yawn – sounds familiar."

Justin Finch-Fletchley, who still seemed quite alert, spoke up from a few feet away.

"It's Un Bel Dì, Vedremo from the opera Madame Butterfly. Written by a Muggle named Giacomo Puccini."

Zacharias Smith yawned even more loudly from the row behind him. "How the hell do you know that, J-Finch?"

Justin wrinkled his nose in response to the nickname. Then, he looked back at his house mate as if annoyed at such a stupid question.

"Well … I'm posh, of course."

Down in the arena, Fleur had danced her way to within ten yards of the dragon's nest. The dragon herself was fast asleep, and the tune emanating from the girl's wand came to an end. She held perfectly still as she assessed how deeply the dragon was sleeping. Then, she cast a Silencio on herself, as well as a Charm to neutralize any smells a dragon might detect. Satisfied that this was as safe as things were going to get, Fleur crept forward and carefully removed the Golden Egg from the nest before backing slowly away. When she'd gotten a good thirty feet across the bridge, she turned away from the dragon and started walking swiftly towards the exit, only to stop in surprise at the sight before her. From here, it looked like well over three-quarters of the wizards and witches in the stands were unconscious, including nearly half the judges.

"Merde," she said ruefully. Then, she let out a soft "eep" as a weak gout of flame from the sleeping dragon came almost close enough to singe her backside. After checking to see there were no actual flames to put out, she calmly but quickly strode over the bridge to the ward-line. The clock above the exit stopped with 23:11 remaining.


By the time Bagman came to collect Viktor, the older wizard had gotten over his earlier bout of sensitivity.

"Good luck, Viktor," he said cheerfully as he walked the young Seeker to the arena. "Course with your background, I reckon I don't need to encourage you to put on a good show for the crowd!"

Viktor glared at the man and angrily snapped out a few choice Bulgarian curse words. Bagman just chuckled.

"Sorry, mate. I'm afraid I don't speak German!"

Viktor Krum simply stared at the man before shaking his head and stalking off in the direction of the arena's staging area. Looking more confident than he felt, he paused to salute the audience and the judges table by tapping his right fist against his chest and then raising it up in a closed-fist Roman salute. Up in the stands, most of the Durmstrang students returned the odd salute (even Draco) while loudly cheering in unison.

"SLAVA VIKTORU! SLAVA DURMSTRANGU!"

"Morituri te salutant," Viktor muttered softly under his breath as he walked to the edge of the chasm and then dropped down into it. Once under cover, Viktor pulled out the palm-sized model Fireball he'd taken from Bagman earlier. First, he cast a spell to turn the model invisible, though he, as the caster, could still see it clearly. The easy spell out of the way, Viktor steeled himself and then cast a much more demanding Charm.

"PIERTOTUM LOCOMOTOR."

Of course, the model dragon had already been Charmed to be animated, but for what he had planned, Viktor needed the model to be under his complete control. With that spell cast, he levitated the model back up onto the bridge, halfway between the nearest exit and the dragon's nest. As he piloted his decoy dragon, Viktor grimaced in concentration. Inwardly, he marveled that Harry Black had mastered the spell at the age of fourteen to enter the Tournament, despite the boy's seeming humility about the "ease" of the feat.

When the model was in position, Viktor took a moment to prepare himself and then cancelled the invisibility spell. There was a sudden flash as the model became visible once more, and instantly, the real dragon's head snapped in that direction, though at that distance the model was too small for the Fireball to spot … so far. Viktor braced himself, marshalled all his will and magical power, and focused it on the animated model before casting again.

"ENGORGIO HORRIBILIS!"

And if there was anyone in the audience who was still asleep after Fleur's performance, they were surely awake now. The crowd roared in amazement and approval as the animated model grew and grew until it was the same size as the real Chinese Fireball upon which it was based!

The nesting mother bellowed in fury at the sight of what appeared to be a second dragon that had appeared out of nowhere to threaten her eggs. She lunged forward towards her double, while the imitation surged forward to meet her. Meanwhile, Viktor quickly Disillusioned himself and started climbing up the chasm wall towards the nest. It was difficult because he had to split his concentration between climbing and maintaining control over the engorged model's movements, and soon, his vision began to swim from the exertion. As the two serpentine dragons went into battle, the mother dragon tried to bite the copy, while the copy (at Viktor's direction) tried to wrap its own coils around the mother's body to immobilize her.

Quickly, Viktor realized that he would not be able to maintain his spells for much longer. When he was near the nest, he dropped his invisibility and commanded his life-sized model to focus on wrapping its coils around both the Fireball and the bridge they were both fighting on as tightly as possible. Then, he simply abandoned the Piertotum Locomotor, and the Fireball suddenly found herself tightly bound to the bridge by what was essentially a gigantic metal cage made from the model's body. Instantly, Viktor snatched up the Golden Egg and started running towards the exit on the opposite side of the enclosure.

Meanwhile, the enraged Fireball began to smash its tail against the ground in a futile effort to break free. Viktor glanced back and saw to his horror that the tail was about to come down on the vulnerable eggs. Letting out a loud Bulgarian curse, Viktor dropped his egg so he could grasp his wand with both hands. "PROTEGO" he bellowed furiously.

Instantly, a shield manifested over the nest to block the tail, but the force of the impact knocked Viktor to his knees. Realizing he couldn't protect the eggs indefinitely, Viktor focused on the gigantic model and cast a Finite on it. The engorged model shrank back to its original size only to be immediately crushed by the real dragon's weight. With its enemy gone, the Fireball looked around and finally saw the Durmstrang Champion as he grabbed his Golden Egg again and raced for the exit. The dragon roared and shot off a gout of flame in the thief's direction, but it was too late. At the last second, Viktor hurled himself across the finish line, landing painfully on his right side with enough force to dislocate his shoulder. He screamed in pain but also in triumph. As the dragon handlers raced into the arena to restrain the Fireball, Viktor climbed to his feet and held up the Golden Egg high above his head and basked in the crowd's adulation. The clocks stopped with 42:49 remaining.


Back in the tent, only Harry and Jim remained. They both listened in silence to the sounds of Cedric, Fleur, and Viktor's attempts, though they could hear nothing but the sounds of three angry dragons, an excited crowd, and a vapid commentator. Annoyingly, the scores were not announced out loud, so they had no idea how their friends were doing.

At one point, while studying his miniature Hungarian Horntail, Jim finally spoke.

"Any chance it might be Norberta?" he asked, without really expecting a reply. He was genuinely surprised when Harry responded.

"No. As suitably ironic as that might be, Norberta is still too young. And also is a Norwegian Ridgeback, not a Horntail."

Jim looked over at Harry in surprise. The Slytherin shrugged.

"I spent several weeks in Norberta detentions with Kettleburn back when I was a firstie, remember?"

Jim nodded but said nothing else. Finally, Bagman came back to tell the boy it was his turn. The Boy-Who-Lived rose and headed for the exit bearing a stoic expression. But before he could pass through, Harry called out his name, and Jim turned to face his estranged brother. Harry opened his mouth to say something only for the words to be caught in his throat.

"Just don't do anything to embarrass Hogwarts, okay?" he finally said.

Despite the harshness of the comment, Jim smiled.

"Under the circumstances, I'm going to treat that as you wishing me luck."

With that, Jim turned and exited, while Harry grimaced and pulled a headache remedy out of his pocket.

"Good luck," he said to the empty tent before slugging the potion down.


The Slytherin sat there alone and in silence. Moments later, he could hear the roars of the angry dragon and cheering audience alike. He heard Jim yell some spell at the top of his lungs, but Harry still couldn't make it out. Just a few moments later, Harry thought he heard something new and unexpected: the sound of something whistling in the distance but drawing near. He suspected it was a broom but couldn't imagine why anyone might be flying around the arena. The boy was tempted to poke his head out of the tent to see what was going on.

But then, the crowd's cheers turned to screams of raw terror. A few seconds later, Harry looked up at the ceiling in surprise as what was now definitely a broom flew directly overhead. And furthermore, Harry very definitely could make out the sound of a familiar voice screaming out "Wahooooo!"

The Slytherin had barely a few seconds to register the absurdity of that before he was nearly knocked from his chair by the deafening sound of the Horntail's roar from just overhead! This was accompanied by a violent burst of wind that made the entire tent shake hard enough to almost collapse and which did knock Harry out of his chair. He jumped up at once and studied the ceiling of the tent as if willing himself to see through it. He couldn't, of course, but he still understood exactly what was happening.

Jim Potter had somehow smuggled a broom into the arena and allowed the Horntail to break free of both its chains and the protective wards meant to keep the dragons from leaving the arena! And now, the Lunatic-Who-Lived was flying around with a fire-breathing dragon on his tail. Harry slapped his hand over his face and ground out the only three words that seemed appropriate.

"What. An. Idiot!"


It was nearly forty minutes later that Bagman finally came to collect the last Champion. From the man's ecstatic expression, Harry assumed that Jim had survived. If nothing else, he didn't think even Bagman would be grinning like a loon if someone had just died.

"Blimey, that was amazing! I wish you could have seen that! People will be talking about this event for ages! Now I just hope you can put on a performance to rival your brother's!"

"My plan is to survive, Bagman, not make a spectacle of myself," Harry snapped angrily.

Ludo just shrugged. "No reason you can't do both, Harry. Now don't worry! No one out there expects you to be as impressive as your brother!"

Harry's eyes blazed furiously at that remark, but Bagman just barreled on obliviously.

"But what we all do expect is that you'll do your best, both to complete the task and to do so in a manner that befits a Champion of the Triwizard Tournament. I mean, this competition has a proud and storied history behind it! Survive, yes. But do so in a way that can entertain the audience, impress the judges, and above all, give this Tournament the dignity and respect that it deserves! Now, come along then!"

And with that, Ludo Bagman turned and strolled out of the tent. Harry stared after him with a murderous look on his face before following behind. Bagman led him to the staging area before wishing him luck and then jogging up the nearby stairs to the judge's box just above.

As the judging system had been explained to him, each judge would rank each Champion's performance, in the first task at least, on a 50-point scale, considering factors such as speed of completion, the number of spells cast, the versatility and obscurity of the spells cast, overall creativity, and the severity of any injuries suffered in the process! Oh, and as much as it pained Harry to admit it, Bagman was right about one thing. There was, in fact, a sub-category on the judging sheet for "showmanship." Anyway, once each judge had submitted a score, the top 4 and bottom 4 scores would be dropped, and the remaining 16 scores would be averaged to produce a final score ranging from 1 to 50.

Oh, and at that point, any penalties imposed by the Goblet for violating any of its arcane rules would be applied. And if those penalties reduced the judges' composite score to zero, the Champion would lose his or her magic and probably die.

After contemplating that cheery thought, Harry looked around the crowded stadium. At the Ukrainian Iron Belly waiting for him fifty yards away. At the image of his own face projected onto giant screens by his own Eye-spies. At the crowd of gawkers who'd come here to watch him and his friends fight for their lives. To be entertained.

As Harry contemplated both the deadly situation he was in and the absurd comments from Ludo Bagman (who was to some degree responsible for that deadly situation), the Slytherin's grim expression slowly changed to a malicious smirk.

"Okay, Bagman, you win," Harry Black said to himself as he stepped off the platform towards the angry mother dragon. "Time to put on a show!"


Next: Harry puts on a show.

And yes, I know this update is horribly late. All I can say is - real life.

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is being written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2: What the Sinister Man is reading:

evans by DragonflyxParodies (AOL). It's a WBWL, Slytherin Harry story, but with some interesting twists. First, Slytherin House is awful to Harry, but all the Hogwarts Houses are awful each in their own way. Second, Snape and Sirius are allied. Third, Sirius HATES the Potters for lying about Harry's status (they claimed he was dead just to get Sirius to shut up about his godson), but Sirius has to pretend to still be friends until he can get custody of Harry (who the Potters don't even realize is at Hogwarts). And fourth, Hedwig … is a steamer trunk. A magical, ambulatory, and slightly feral (though not yet homicidal) steamer trunk.

The Resurrection of House Black (AOL). Hermione realizes after Year 4 that Harry is grossly unsafe and moves aggressively to correct the problem … by forcing Sirius to get his shit together.

Darth Vader: Hero of Naboo (FF.N) by AkumaKami64. Not an HP fic, obviously, but a fascinating one. Basically, it's a time-travel fix-it fic in which Darth Vader, from a point sometime in the middle of Empire Strikes Back, somehow finds himself on Naboo just minutes into The Phantom Menace. And he quickly decides "fuck the timeline, I'm changing things." You will be very surprised at what exactly he changes and why. Nuanced takes on both Light and Dark Sides. No bashing of anyone except Palpatine (though Mace Windu is kind of a hot-headed dick. This fic is complete, but the sequel, Darth Vader: Shattered Galaxies, is in progress.

AN3: "Morituri te salutant" is part of a longer quote and means "We who are about to die salute you." Opinion is divided on whether any actual gladiators outside of movies ever proclaimed it to the Emperor at the start of mortal combat, but Viktor, being well-read, certainly knows the quote. Pentawizard Playoffs is yet another crib from "Oh God, Not Again."

AN4: Special thanks to my Discord editors: EssayOfThoughts | Aich, Farsight, Idefix, Jenna the Green Chaos Duck, Jiiti, kean, KeyLawd, Krisni, Norégveldi, Plantae, PrettyPinkCupcake, Prince of Conspiracy[Mr. Theory], ProgKingHughesker, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, Sandyna, sarah, skyari, and TylerRVG. Thanks guys!

AN5: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 19,522. Followers: 22,007. Favorites: 20,321. Communities: 257. Discord followers: 5,914! Go Team POS!