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. The SIB Audiobook is coming to Audible soon and should (hopefully) be live before the next POS update.

Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations belong to J.K. Rowling. I do not subscribe to J.K. Rowlings social and political views.

Sorry about the lengthy delay but, you know, life.


Previously:

"But what we all do expect," said Ludo Bagman pompously, "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.

Harry looked around the crowded stadium. At the Ukrainian Ironbelly 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 grin.

"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!"


Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game
Book 2: The Trials of Winter
Chapter 29: Here Be Dragons (Part 3)


28 November 1994
The Tri-Wizard Tournament
"Eye-Spy Control"

The control center for the four Eye-Spy units currently positioned around the stadium was a small 15x10 foot room situated above the top row of seats on the north side. The wall that faced down into the arena proper had been Charmed to be transparent from the interior and opaque from the exterior. Inside, there was a long table holding four silver mirrors onto which the images from each Eye-Spy were fed. Each mirror was monitored by a Muggleborn or Muggle-raised student under the command of Third Year Gryffindor Colin Creevey, Eye-Spy Incorporated's self-appointed "unit director and chief videographer." Now, however, the Eye-Spy personnel were joined by additional students who were both investors in the company and members of Harry Black's "brain trust," all of whom had rushed to the control room in the aftermath of Jim Potter's attempt at the First Challenge. It was getting a little crowded in the small, poorly ventilated control room, and tensions were running high.

The fact that a Hungarian Horntail had just broken free from its chains and run amok might have had something to do with that.

Presently, three of the four screens were showing replays from Jim Potter's challenge from different angles. As terrifying as it had been for all present, Jim's aerial duel with a nesting mother dragon had definitely won over the crowd—the Boy-Who-Lived was now tied for first place with Viktor Krum. Those watching the replay were less entertained.

"That ridiculous grandstanding BUFFOON led the dragon STRAIGHT TO RAVENCLAW TOWER!" exclaimed Anthony Goldstein in a sputtering fury.

The video feed that had put the Ravenclaw into such high dudgeon was somewhat grainy, as it was at the extreme range of the Eye-Spy's visual capabilities. (The design team had not made long-range viewing a priority since none of the competitors were supposed to leave the arena.) But it clearly showed Jim hanging from what looked like the window ledge of Anthony's own dorm room while trying to reach his broomstick that had somehow landed inches away, while the angry dragon, which had landed on a parapet, drew nearer and nearer. Finally, the dragon's roar dislodged the Nimbus 2000 from its perch and right into Jim's hand just as the creature let loose a gout of fire. The very real possibility that Anthony's dorm room had just been set ablaze by the dragon only made the boy sputter even more loudly more incoherently, while his not-quite-girlfriend-just-yet Sue Li patted him on the shoulder consolingly.

Nearby, Hermione, Theo, and Blaise were focused intently on a different mirror displaying a different playback. This one showed Jim flying in circles around the enraged dragon while she was still chained to the central platform. His plan (which Hermione had thought was insane, but she couldn't come up with any better ideas for her fellow Gryffindor on short notice) was three-fold: (1) summon his broomstick all the way from Gryffindor Tower, (2) fly around the dragon, enraging her without getting incinerated, until she finally lifted off to pursue him to the limit of her chains, and (3) fly under her to snatch up the Golden Egg. That plan had gone pear-shaped when the dragon snapped her chains and began pursuing Jim in earnest, forcing him to lead the dragon away from the arena altogether lest the audience be endangered. Moments later, Jim had returned—minus the dragon, which had crashed into a bridge and been knocked unconscious—to claim his Egg and the adulation of the crowd.

Hermione found all that suspicious, which was why she and two equally suspicious friends were now reviewing the footage of the dragon's escape in slow motion.

(The final mirror, which showed Ludo Bagman bloviating about Jim's performance, had no viewers for the moment.)

"There," said Blaise confidently while pointing at one corner of the screen.

In response, Colin tapped a sigil on the control panel with his wand. The image froze right as the dragon lifted off, and, at Blaise's direction, Colin rewound the feed slightly and then zoomed in on the dragon's chains as close as possible. And while the Eye-Spies had not been prepared to clearly record images some distance away from the arena, they delivered a very crisp image of events from inside it. When viewed in slow-motion and at maximum magnification, the group could see the instant a link of the chain broke in two.

"That … that wasn't just a weak link," Hermione gasped. "The link spontaneously broke in two!"

"And very cleanly too," Theo murmured grimly. "Almost like it had been hit with a Cutting Curse."

"But we'd have seen a Cutting Curse, wouldn't we?" asked Colin.

"I don't know how it was done," Hermione answered angrily, "but that was clearly sabotage. We've got to warn Harry. Theo, send a Patronus …!"

"Too late!" Colin exclaimed while pointing at another screen. Down below, the crowd erupted in cheers as Harry Black entered the stadium. The four Eye-Spies swiveled to show the last Triwizard Champion from different angles. Theo leaned in towards the one that most clearly showed Harry's face.

"Uh-oh," he muttered.

"What?" Hermione asked nervously. "What is it?"

"Harry's smirking," Theo answered grimly. Next to him, Blaise studied his friend's features and grimaced himself.

"No offense," said Sue Li, "but isn't Harry always smirking?"

"Not like that," Blaise said uneasily. "That's Harry's danger smirk. It's the one he uses when he thinks he's about to do something cool but that he knows will horrify everyone else."

Hermione said nothing, but she stared fretfully at her friend so far down below in the dragon's den. She knew that smirk all too well herself.


Down in the arena, Harry Black stood confidently. Almost too confidently, but Bagman had directed him to "put on a show," so by Merlin that was what Harry was going to do. Whether it was the sort of show Ludo Bagman wanted to see was a different question.

After taking a moment to acknowledge the crowd, Harry took two steps towards the waiting Ukrainian Ironbelly. It growled at him menacingly. The boy took a deep breath and with exaggerated precision pointed his wand at the dragon before loudly calling out a spell.

"ACCIO GOLDEN EGG!"

Nothing happened. After a few seconds, a wave of nervous laughter passed over the crowd, but Harry was unperturbed. He simply gave an exaggerated shrug and then called out loud enough for the entire arena to hear:

"OH WELL! IT COULDN'T HURT TO TRY!"

This time the laughter of the crowd was louder and less nervous. Harry turned towards the box behind him where Ludo Bagman sat bearing a furious expression. The boy smirked once more and tapped his wand to his forehead as if to salute the older wizard. Then, he turned back towards the dragon, took four quick steps forward and dropped off the edge of the walkway that surrounded the arena to disappear into the hidden underbelly of the arena.


Up in the recording booth, Hermione and the others watched pensively.

"Do either of you know what his plan actually is?" she asked.

"Plan-sss," said Blaise. "Plural. He said he had several potential plans, and he would decide which would be the most likely to succeed once it was his turn and he could see what he was up against."

Hermione nodded and said nothing, but her nervousness was obvious. It only grew as the clock ticked down with no sign of activity from the Slytherin Champion. Suddenly, Colin excitedly pointed to the opposite side of the arena from where Harry had entered. Rising up from beneath the walkway was an unnaturally thick and heavy fog. It was joined by three more fog banks rising up at each of the other cardinal directions. Soon, the entire arena was so full of fog that it reached almost to the top of the Ironbelly's head. The dragon flapped her wings repeatedly in an effort to fan away the mist, but it only grew stronger. The fog was accompanied by an eerie hush from the crowd which, deprived of any action to cheer for, was reduced to a subdued and nervous muttering.

"Wait a minute," Colin interjected. "Do you mean to say that Harry Black, the guy who founded Eye-Spy and finagled a contract to record the Triwizard Tournament, is using a plan for beating his dragon that will prevent us from seeing what he's doing?"

"So it would seem," Hermione answered tiredly. Beside her, Blaise chuckled.

"That's so … Harry."


The clock continued to tick down with no sign of activity from the Champion, and after nearly ten minutes, the thick mist finally began to dissipate. Suddenly, the eerie hush was broken when Harry Black's voice rang out, amplified by the Sonorous Charm.

"HULLOO! HULL-OOO-OOO!"

As the boy's voice echoed across the whole arena, the mist cleared enough for him to come into view, standing confidently about ten feet down the walkway, just out of the dragon's firing range. Unexpectedly, he was also on the opposite side of the arena from where he'd first entered. In response to his call, the Ironbelly whirled about and reoriented herself to guard her eggs from any threat in that direction.

Not that Harry seemed at all threatening at the moment. When he caught the dragon's attention, he grinned and waved at her, his voice still fully amplified.

"AND GOOD DAY TO YOU, MIGHTY DRAGON! I AM HARRY BLACK, LORD OF THE ANCIENT AND NOBLE HOUSE OF WILKES! AND I HAVE BEEN CHARGED BY THE GOBLET OF FIRE ITSELF AND ALSO BY LUDO BAGMAN, FORMERLY OF THE WIMBOURNE WASPS AND NOW A HIGH GOVERNMENT OFFICIAL, WITH A SACRED QUEST! TO SEEK AND RECOVER … THE GOLDEN EGG!"

Harry tilted his head slightly as if inspecting the dragon's nest.

"AH, I SEE YOU'VE ALREADY GOT ONE! IT'S VURRY NICE-A! CAN I COME CLOSER AND HAVE A LOOK?"

The boy took three steps closer to the dragon, which registered its disapproval with a deafening roar and a burst of flame. Meant for intimidation, the fire didn't come near Harry … yet.


Up in the control room, everyone stared at a screen, completely flummoxed at Harry's bizarrely direct approach and his even more bizarre speech.

"What on earth does he think he's doing?!" Hermione exclaimed. As if in response, Blaise Zabini slapped his hand over his mouth, his eyes widening in a mix of shock and horror. Plus, perhaps, a bit of admiration for his friend's audacity.

"Oh, Harry," he said weakly. "No, Harry. Just … no."

"What is it?" Theo asked urgently. "What's Harry doing?"

Blaise pulled his hand away from his face and stared at the screen in both amazement and resignation.

"He's doing Monty Python!"


Down below, Harry took another three steps towards the dragon. He was now quite near the dragon's range for a direct fire-breath attack.

"NOW LOOK! IF YOU WILL NOT LET ME HAVE YOUR GOLDEN EGG, I SHALL TAKE IT BY FORCE!"

The dragon roared again, even louder, but Harry seemed unimpressed.

"YOU DON'T FRIGHTEN ME, YOU UKRAINIAN PIG-LIZARD! GO AND BOIL YOUR BOTTOM, YOU SPAWN OF A SILLY SALAMANDER! I BLOW MY NOSE AT YOU, SO-CALLED IRONBELLY WITH YOUR PILE OF DRAGON-OMELETS IN ZEE MAKING!"


Up in the stands, in the Hufflepuff section, Zacharias Smith shook his head in utter confusion.

"I don't understand this at all!"

"Honestly," replied Justin Finch-Fletchley. "I'm not sure I do either. It's a bit confusing because it sounds like he's doing both Arthur's lines and those of the French knights!"

"I believe you'll find it's pronounced kaniggits," Kevin Entwhistle added while trying to maintain a straight face. Then, he and Justin made eye contact, and they both burst into a fit of giggles.

"What are you two on about?!" Smith snapped.

"Hush, Zach," said Justin, with a broad smile still on his face. "We're trying to watch a farcical draconic ceremony."


Harry took five steps closer to the dragon.

"ENOUGH! I DON'T WANT TO TALK TO YOU NO MORE, YOU TINY-BRAINED WIPER OF OTHER PEOPLE'S BOTTOMS! I FART IN YOUR GENERAL DIRECTION! YOUR MOTHER WAS AN IGUANA AND YOUR FATHER SMELLED OF ELDERBERRIES!"

Apparently, Harry's slur against the Ironbelly's parentage was a bridge too far. The dragon surged forward to the limit allowed by her chains, and she stretched her neck as far as possible towards the Champion to unleash a blast of fire that washed over him. The audience erupted into screams of terror and dismay.

But when the tremendous flames died down, the crowd was amazed to see Harry Black standing placidly in the middle of a patch of partially melted and still-smoldering stone but otherwise looking completely unharmed. He casually brushed some black ash off his shoulders.

"I'VE HAD WORSE! NOW COME ON, YA PANSY! GIVE ME YOUR EGG! OR I SHALL TAUNT YOU A SECOND TIME!"

And with that, Harry started patting the top of his head with his hands in what was obviously meant to be some strange gesture of contempt, while blowing a raspberry out of his mouth. Utterly enraged by the display, the Ironbelly strained against the chains that bound her. And this time, the chains broke just as they had with Jim's dragon!

Up in the control room, Hermione screamed, but she could not have been heard over the pandemonium that erupted from the rest of the audience as the dragon stretched its wings and took to the sky. The Ironbelly blasted Harry once again with dragon fire and then, for good measure landed on top of him. And through the whole thing, Harry's cries of distress were still being amplified for everyone to hear.

"HELP! HELP! I'M BEING REPRESSED!"

Undeterred, the dragon continued to blast fire while tearing at the ground where Harry stood with her talons until, with a terrible rumble, the walkway collapsed entirely, dumping both Harry and the dragon down into the pit below. The crowd could no longer see the two, but everyone could still hear the angry roars of the dragon and the baffling responses of the Champion.

"AH! NOW WE SEE THE VIOLENCE INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM!"

ROAR!

"EVERYBODY! COME AND SEE THE VIOLENCE INHERENT IN THE SYSTEM!"

ROAR!

"YOU ALL SEE THIS DRAGON REPRESSING ME? YOU SAW IT, DIDN'T YOU?"

ROAR!

After that, Harry apparently had nothing else to say or, worse, was unable to say anything else. The dragon's angry roars and fiery attacks continued for another twenty seconds before her rage was finally spent, and she began to calm down before flying back up to her nest. She had barely touched down when Harry's amplified voice called out one final time.

"ALRIGHT. WE'LL CALL IT A DRAW!"


Unlike the four earlier Champions, Ludo Bagman had done almost no commentary for Harry's run. Indeed, he was so confused by Harry's strategy that he couldn't think of anything to say. He could only watch in abject horror as the boy simply walked straight towards the Ukrainian Ironbelly while loudly (and bizarrely) taunting it until finally the beast snapped its chains—AGAIN!—and attacked the boy with both fire and claw until they both fell into the pit.

It had been nearly thirty seconds since Harry's last remark, but there had been no sign or sound of the boy since. And for those thirty seconds, Bagman could only stare in shock at the smoking arena. But then, his daze was shattered by the sound of a heavy metal object striking the table next to him with great force. Startled, he let out a small shriek and turned to see what had slammed into the table.

It was a Golden Egg. And holding it was an annoyed Harry Black, who seemed completely unharmed and was glaring at Bagman in annoyance.

"Right," said Harry. "Here's your egg. Now could you please turn off the timer? I've been done for nearly two minutes, and it's still running!"

Ludo simply blubbered for another five seconds before Harry barked at him.

"LUDO! TIME!"

Bagman jerked, fumbled for his wand, and then tapped the sigil to stop the timer with 16:18 remaining.

"But … but … HOW?!" one of the other judges stammered.

Harry shrugged and turned to address the entire group.

"Disillusionment. An overpowered Fumos Maxima. Doppelganger Defense. A modified Sonorous that incorporates a ventriloquism effect. The rest should be fairly obvious."

"Uh-huh," said Porpentina Goldstein, one of the judges in this box. "So, what was up with all that nonsense you were saying to rile up the dragon and get it to attack your doppelganger?"

"Oh, that was all lines from a Muggle film I'm very partial to," Harry answered. "Monty Python and the Holy Grail. It's very funny."

"What?" Bagman exclaimed. "But … why would you build your strategy around some poxied Muggle comedy?!"

Harry turned back to Mr. Bagman, his genial expression hardening into one much colder.

"Because you told me to give this Tournament the dignity and respect that it deserves, Mr. Bagman. So I did!"

Then, Harry turned and looked towards the other judges, a winning smile back on his face.

"So, how many points did I get?".


Later, after the announcement of scores …

"LAST PLACE?! SERIOUSLY?!"

Theo and Blaise, who were walking alongside Harry, winced at the force of his outburst. They were on their way back to the castle, the Golden Egg nestled under Harry's arm.

"It's not that bad," said Blaise. "I mean, you might be in last place, but the scores are really close. You're only four points out of the lead."

Harry snorted contemptuously at that. He'd scored a 37, one point behind Cedric Diggory, who'd been lucky to make it out alive. Fleur had a 39, mainly for her use of a magical technique so obscure that most of the judges didn't even know what it was (and a good percentage of whom were themselves rendered unconscious by it). Sitting on the top were Jim and Viktor, who'd tied with a 40.

"And another thing! How the hell did the judges conclude that Jim was equal to Viktor Krum, who apparently Engorgioed a child's toy dragon until it was as big as the real dragon and then had them fight? All the Git did was fly around, showboating for everyone!"

"Yes, well, you forget that showboating is part of it," said Theo in a longsuffering tone. "Potter's approach was daring, crowd-appealing, and, most importantly, fast. It took him less than six minutes to complete the task, by far the shortest of anyone. You took considerably longer, and your technique involved a lot of misdirection. For what it's worth, several judges—Dumbledore, Montmorency, Marchbanks, a few others—all gave you perfect scores. But since the top 4 and bottom 4 scores get dropped, most of them didn't count."

"And it didn't help," Blaise added pointedly, "that roughly a third of the judges were French nationals or Beauxbatons alumni, and they probably didn't approve of your out-raaageous Fronch accent."

Harry snorted contemptuously. "Screw'em if they can't take a joke. That still doesn't justify Jim scoring high enough for a first-place tie!"

"Yes, well, the only reason for the tie was Viktor's penalty," said Theo. "Viktor should be miles ahead of everyone." He noticed Harry's pointed look. "No offense."

"None taken," the boy muttered.

And it was true, what Theo had said. The clear winner of the First Task was Viktor Krum, who received perfect marks from the judges whose scores were counted, only to see the Goblet of Fire itself dock him 10 points for using the enchanted model dragon that Bagman had given him in the Champion's tent when the instructions were to rely only on his wand. It was sobering to think that such a tiny, technical infraction could result in such a harsh penalty.

"And that's another thing," Harry added angrily. "Viktor got a ten-point penalty for using a tiny enchanted item that a Tournament official gave him just before he entered the arena. So how the hell did Jim get away with using a broom?"

Theo shrugged. "He used his wand to summon it from outside the stadium. I guess Viktor would have been okay if he'd left the toy dragon in the tent and then summoned it to him."

Harry was unmollified. "Okay, so the Git-Who-Lived summoned it from outside the arena. He still must have had someone bring it to the stadium for him. Surely that's against 'the spirit of the Tournament,' as Ludo Bagman would probably say!"

"He, er, didn't have someone bring his broom to the stadium," Blaise said cautiously. "He summoned it all the way from Gryffindor Tower."

At that, Harry suddenly tripped over his own feet and nearly fell down before catching himself. He whirled around to gape at his two Slytherin friends, his eyes blazing.

"Jim … summoned his broom … all the way from Gryffindor Tower?"

"Yep," the two boys said as one. Harry gaped some more before speaking again.

"… That's almost a mile away from the stadium," he added slowly.

"Yep," they repeated in unison.

Harry stared at his friends in silence as if waiting for them to say they'd been joking. Finally, he accepted that they were not and turned to continue towards the castle and the hot shower that awaited him.

"Well … I suppose that's … mildly impressive."

Theo and Blaise glanced at one another and suppressed smiles, but neither said anything to Harry about his sibling's extraordinary feat as they continued up the hill.


Speaking of Jim Potter: the Boy-Who-Lived barely had time to register his parents' approach before Lily pulled him into a bone-crushing hug. He'd only just gotten the witch to release him when James pulled him into another hug, just as tight. Both James and Lily looked simultaneously elated at Jim's survival, amazed at how he'd overcome the task, and distraught that he'd been forced to face such a challenge at all.

Jim stepped back and grinned at his parents as he held his Golden Egg aloft.

"See! It's just like I told you. I may not be NEWTs-level at academics, but this sort of thing I can do!"

Lily was just about to chastise the boy for his cockiness when she looked over his shoulder. Instantly, her smile faded. Jim noticed and quickly turned around. He tensed as he saw Corban Yaxley standing just a few feet away, flanked by a pair of Hit Wizards. Yaxley stepped forward with a smile on his face.

"My congratulations, Jim! Your performance was remarkable. I'd not thought it was possible to summon something from that distance! And your flying, too! I can see a long and storied career ahead of you on the Quidditch pitch if you choose to pursue that line of work."

"… Thanks," Jim said without enthusiasm.

"Jim," said James, who tried gamely to keep his voice light and even, "why don't you run along with your friends. I'm sure they're eager for a party in the dorm to celebrate your success today."

Jim looked back and forth between his mum and dad, concern now marring his face. "Dad?"

"It's alright, Jim," said Lily, as she bent down to kiss his forehead. "Nothing for you to worry about. Your father and I just need a few quick words with Director Yaxley."

With obvious reluctance, Jim moved on towards the castle, pausing only to look back as his parents headed off in the direction of the ward line with the DMLE personnel following closely behind. Mercifully, he was distracted when Ron, Seamus, and several other Gryffindors rushed up, eager to congratulate him. He took one last glance as his parents left for whatever fate awaited them. Then, with practiced ease, Jim put on his "Boy-Who-Lived" mask and grinned genially at his fans while giving no sign of his inner turmoil.

He'd gotten good at that over the years.

As the excited Gryffindors headed towards the castle, none of them noticed Cedric Diggory and his family standing off to one side, with Cedric bowing his head meekly in the face of his father's disappointment.


The Slytherin Dormitory

As Harry and his friends entered the Slytherin dungeon, he was surprised to see most of Slytherin House waiting for them to offer their enthusiastic applause. In light of his disappointing last place finish, Harry had expected his reception to be lukewarm at best, but the other Slytherins seemed quite supportive. But then, he noticed that the applause seemed to be led by the Greengrass sisters and, even more surprisingly, by Cassius Warrington's little clique of aspiring Death Eaters. He intuited immediately that Daphne Greengrass had been working the room on his behalf, most likely to show that she and her fellow Slytherin members of the Cultural Preservation Society fully supported him. Harry raised his hand to quiet the crowd.

"Thank you all for this warm reception. Particularly in light of scores that were not up to my expectations. And, at the risk of sounding immodest, scores that I don't think were warranted based on my performance. Nevertheless, I thank you all. And I promise you all that, in the next Challenge, I will leave Jim Potter eating my dust!"

The crowd laughed at that, and then Prefect Adrian Pucey called out.

"Open up the egg, Harry! Let's hear what the next challenge is going to be all about!"

The other Slytherins also called out encouragement. Harry shrugged and set the egg down on a coffee table.

"I'm happy to open the egg, but I doubt it will give any clear instructions. Bagman said it would just provide a clue. Still, here goes nothing."

Harry pulled the latch at the top of the egg, and it opened almost like a flower. Immediately, however, the egg produced a deafening squeal like nails across a chalkboard and then amplified through a speaker system. Everyone in the room immediately clutched their hands to their ears to block out the ear-splitting noise, and Harry hastily closed the egg again to stop it.

"What the bloody hell was that?!" exclaimed Lucien Bole.

Harry looked at the egg balefully. "No idea, Lucien." Then, Harry looked up and scanned the crowd.

"So I guess we'll start by applying traditional Slytherin tactics to the problem." He took a moment to clear his throat before calling out loudly. "One-hundred Galleons to the first person who can tell me what that's all about!"

Harry's offer of a reward set the entire dorm to furious muttering, but barely two seconds after he'd finished speaking, there was a commotion as Millicent Bulstrode shoved her way through the throng, almost knocking two people down. Once she was in front, she began waving her arm furiously to get Harry's bemused attention.

"Oo-oo! Over here, Harry!"

The boy chuckled at Bulstrode's enthusiasm. "Yes, Millie? You have some ideas?"

"I've got better than ideas! I know exactly what it is! It's Mermish!"

Harry blinked owlishly. "… Mermish?"

"Yeah, definitely! When I was about nine or so, my family took a vacation to Magical Greece, and we paid a visit to the Merfolk colony at Santorini! They came up to the surface to greet our boat and it sounded just like that!"

"Really?" said Blaise in surprise. "So much for the song of Lorelei enchanting sailors to their doom. That racket would send them sailing in the other direction as fast as they could go!"

"Indeed," Harry said mildly before turning back to Bulstrode. "I, uh, don't suppose you or anyone else here actually speaks Mermish?"

"No, but you don't have to!" Millicent said triumphantly. "Mermish is a magical language and only sounds like that when you listen to it on dry land. If you're underwater, it sounds like a beautiful song in whatever your native language is!"

Adrian spoke up. "I have access to the Prefect's Bathroom, which is what we prefects euphemistically call our private heated swimming pool. It'll be plenty big enough for you to go swimming with your egg if you want. I can get you in for a go whenever you want."

"Thanks, Adrian," Harry said sincerely. "And thank you as well, Millicent. I'll have a Gringotts draft for 100G sent to you in a few days!"

"Yesss!" Milly practically hissed in excitement.

"You know," Cassius Warrington added helpfully, "if the clue is Mermish, it might mean you have to do something involving the Merfolk settlement out there in Black Lake."

Harry had already thought of that, of course. The Slytherin dungeon was basically at the bottom of Black Lake. He'd only been a few months past his Sorting when he was amazed to see some Merfolk swimming past one of the windows in the Common Room that looked out onto the lake. He glared down at the egg ruefully.

"Well, now that you raise the possibility, Cassius, I'm sure you're right. Given the way the Ministry has been running this Tournament from the start, making us all go swimming in a freezing lake in the middle of February is exactly the sort of thing I'd expect them to do next!"


4 Privet Drive
2:00 p.m.

It had been two hours since James and Lily Potter escorted DMLE Director Yaxley, two Aurors, and four DMLE Hit Wizards through the Floo and into their suburban Muggle home. Despite his own troubled history with the Auror Corps, James was happy for the Aurors' presence. Yaxley was clearly unhappy to see the Aurors intruding on what he obviously viewed as a DMLE investigation. From the snatches of conversations he'd overheard, James gathered that Chief Auror Bones wanted an Auror presence to keep an eye on Yaxley so he couldn't simply railroad the Potters with false evidence.

Of course, the search had nevertheless been stressful for James and Lily, and in no small part due to the damage the Hit Wizards were inflicting on their home. Magic and Muggle technology still didn't mix, despite Lily's best efforts, which is why all their magical objects had been limited to a single, heavily warded room where the Floo was situated. So far, the more invasive spells used by the searchers had caused six lightbulbs to burst and made the clock radio in the master bedroom start smoking. And Lily had needed to move quickly to avert disaster when one Hit Wizard investigated their gas stove for clues and nearly blew up the house.

The Aurors—Victoria Savage and Ben Williamson—had mostly just observed the investigation, but eventually, they had reluctantly been dragooned into investigating Lily's trunk, which rested in the Floo Room next to her Potions station. A cursory review of the trunk had revealed little of interest, but Yaxley somehow became convinced that it had hidden compartments full of "contraband." His suspicions only grew when Lily looked visibly nervous at the thought of a more in-depth examination of her trunk, and so Yaxley insisted that Savage and Williamson inspect it thoroughly for hidden wizard-space compartments.

In doing so, however, Yaxley only fell for Lily's manipulation. By this point, there was nothing objectionable in her trunk, all the borderline illegal magic books having been removed to her chambers at Hogwarts soon after the Potters arrived at 4 Privet Drive. But Lily reasoned that it might be best to provide the intruding Death Eater with a plausible diversion to keep him focused in here instead of the rest of the house. She didn't think there was anything incriminating here, and James assured her he didn't know of anything either. Then again, she didn't quite trust her beloved husband not to have unwittingly brought contraband of some kind in and then just forgotten about it. And she was outright frightened to think of what Jim might have brought in without their knowledge given he'd concealed his Animagery studies throughout the previous summer.

Studies that included a book written by Peter Pettigrew about Wild Animagery, which, thankfully, was presently hidden in James's room at the Three Broomsticks, transfigured into a sock and stuffed into his clothes hamper.

"I'm pretty sure we're wasting our time here, Director Yaxley," said Williamson. "I've used every detection spell I know, and there's nothing in this trunk beyond what we've already noted."

"Well, keep looking," Yaxley snapped. "There's got to be something!"

"No," James said coldly. "There doesn't have to be something. Not if we are, in fact, innocent, and you're tearing our home apart for nothing!"

Before Yaxley could reply, there was a loud bang from a nearby room, followed by a yell from one of the Hit Wizards.

"Uh, sorry, sir! But I think I broke the fellyvision! And also caught it on fire!"

"Oh, for pity's sake!" Lily snapped as she stormed out of the room, with James and Yaxley following her. Savage and Williamson looked at one another and both shook their heads.

"So," said Savage. "Are you sure there's nothing in here?"

Williamson snorted. "Well, don't tell Yak's Breath, but not entirely. Lady Potter's spellwork is immaculate. I'm pretty sure we've found all the hidden compartments, but I wouldn't bet a paycheck on it. But I'm not telling Yaxley that or he'll have us here the whole weekend!"

Victoria chuckled. But then, she cocked her head in response to a soft noise. A few seconds later, she heard it again and realized it was something behind her. Turning away from the trunk, the Auror noticed an object sticking out from under a couch. Looking back towards the door, she could tell that Yaxley and the Potters were still arguing over the damage inflicted by the Hit Wizards. With a wandless gesture, she summoned the object to her.

It was a book, one that had been heavily burned around the edges. But the title was still legible: Applied Pharmacology.

"What have you got there?" Ben asked.

"Something that we should have found earlier. Because I know it hasn't been sticking out from under that couch this whole time."

Savage pulled out her wand and levitated the couch up off the floor, but there was nothing else underneath save dust bunnies.

"Is it magical?" asked Ben, now intrigued. Victoria shook her head.

"No. This is a Muggle book. It's not related to our official reason for being here."

Williamson crooked an eyebrow. "Meaning?"

She tapped the book with her wand and shrank it down small enough to fit in her palm before stowing it in a pocket.

"Meaning it's not something we necessarily need to inform Director Yaxley about. So, I am exercising my Senior Auror prerogatives and taking this to Chief Bones instead. Any objections, Auror Williamson?"

Ben grinned. "No, ma'am."


Hogwarts
7:00 p.m.
Inside a memory …

"It's not where you start, it's where you finish! It's not how you go; it's how you land! A hundred to one shot, they call him a klutz, can out-run the favorite, all he needs is the guts!"

Inside the Pensieve memory of Harry's last encounter with Erasmus Wilkes, Memory-Harry could only glower in frustration at the Toymaker's ridiculous song-and-dance routine. Memory-Harry was, of course, oblivious to the people now watching him, which included his own future self as well as Harry's entire Inner Circle.

Having survived the First Task and with nearly three months to go before the Second, Harry chose to take the afternoon off from Triwizard follies to recuperate, with the Inner Circle set to meet in the Lair just after dinner to focus on the mystery of the lost Wilkes vault. He chose to start with a group review of his last conversation with the mad Death Eater.

"Your final return will not diminish! And you can be the cream of the crop! It's not where you start, it's where you finish! And you're gonna finish on toooopppp!"

All of those watching couldn't help but shudder at the Toymaker's display, but Amy Wilkes was the most affected. Moments later, the five Slytherins had withdrawn from the memory and were back in the Lair. Harry was on the Throne, with his two male friends on his right and the two girls on the left. Ginny noticed that Amy seemed shaken. She reached over and squeezed her friend's shoulder.

"You okay?" she asked. Amy nodded.

"It was just … disturbing. Halfway through, I suddenly realized that that was the first time I'd ever heard my father's voice. And he sounded like that!"

Harry looked sadly at his cousin. "I'm sorry, Amy. I should have realized. I didn't consider how you might feel seeing him under these circumstances."

Amy shrugged. "What? As a complete nutter?" She grimaced. "No, that's … not it."

The girl looked around the room at her friends before settling her gaze on Harry. "Now that you've all had a chance to see the Toymaker, even if only as a portrait … Do I … remind any of you of him?"

The others rushed to reassure her.

"I think I would have noticed if you were a potential murderer, Amy," said Blaise with a laugh. "I'm particularly observant about such things."

"Amy," Theo asked gently, "what's really troubling you?"

She swallowed. "I'm doing really well in all my classes, but especially Charms and Ancient Runes. Which are the two classes he was really good at. I don't know if I'm an actual genius about them like he was, but …"

Amy paused as if to collect herself before proceeding.

"I'm worried about what it might say about me if I can … think like him."

The others looked at one another in confusion.

"What do you mean 'think like him,' Amy?" Harry asked cautiously.

She took a deep breath and turned towards Harry. "I mean, after watching him and hearing what he had to say about it … I think I know where the Wilkes Vault is!"


Meanwhile, in the Great Hall …

After the DMLE's search of 4 Privet Drive ended (apparently) without anything illicit being discovered, Lily Potter returned to Hogwarts just in time to catch the very end of the evening meal. She'd hoped to catch Jim and reassure him that everything had gone well, but apparently her son had finished dinner early, and she resolved to visit him in his dorm later. In the meantime, she took the opportunity to unwind over a nice meal and get her mind off the stress of the search while chatting with her fellow professors about the First Challenge and the extraordinary performance of both her sons.

She had almost started to relax a little when she saw an official Ministry owl fly through the open window and head towards the faculty table. Straight towards her, in fact. Cautiously, she took the attached envelope from the menacing owl who delivered it and was surprised to see that it had come from Amelia Bones, the Chief Auror. Quickly, she opened it and scanned the contents, her face growing pale as she read.


To: Her Ladyship, Professor Lily Evans Potter of the Ancient and Noble House of Potter

From: A. Bones, Chief Auror, Ministry for Magic

Mrs. Potter,

In accordance with Ministry protocol and with all deference due you on account of your status as the Lady of an Ancient and Noble House, it is my duty to inform you that your presence is requested at Auror Headquarters for a formal inquest into the death of Vernon Dursley. Should you decline to appear voluntarily at this inquest, please be advised that a warrant for your arrest will issue immediately thereafter and, upon your apprehension, you will be detained in a Ministry holding cell until such time as the Wizengamot can be convened for a full trial as is in accordance with your rights under the Wizengamot Charter. You are entitled to have a solicitor present at the inquest, and I encourage you to do so. I am aware of the unfortunate circumstances in which House Potter has recently found itself, and so, if you are unable to afford a solicitor, please inform my office by owl prior to the inquest, and a solicitor will be provided for you from the funds set aside for indigent defendants.

In accordance with the ICW Declaration of Wizarding Rights, as adopted in Wizarding Britain by the Judicial Reform Act of 1983, I am required to inform you of the factual predicate for this inquest. To wit: it has been brought to my attention that during your previous interview, conducted by DMLE Director Corban Yaxley on 25 October of this year, you demonstrated your ability to lie under Veritaserum. More importantly, evidence discovered by Aurors during the search of your home indicates that you specifically lied under Veritaserum regarding matters that are both probative and material to the alleged murder of Vernon Dursley.

Please contact my office by owl or Floo if you have any questions. But be advised that this office cannot provide legal advice to a person under active criminal investigation, as you now are.

Amelia Bones, OOM 2nd Class, Chief Auror, British Auror Corps


"Unpleasant news?" said a voice from Lily's left. She started and turned to the questioner, who was Bathsheba Babbling. "Forgive me, Lily, but you look like you've just had a shock."

Lily chuckled bitterly. "Honestly, that's the story of my life, lately."

With that, she put the letter away and left the table, her dinner barely touched.

Five minutes later, Lily was banging on the door of Severus Snape's private quarters. The Potions Master jerked the door open angrily, though his face softened when he saw who was knocking.

"Lily?" he asked, concerned over her deeply troubled expression.

She strode past him into the room and immediately cast several privacy Charms, which both annoyed and amused Snape, who doubted seriously that even the great Lily Potter knew any secrecy Charms that were superior to his own ward scheme.

Not that there weren't a few Charms cast by the witch that Severus was surprised to see in the repertoire of the former Chief Auror's wife. When she was finished, she turned to her old friend and took a deep breath.

"Legilimize me," she said bluntly. Severus was nonplussed at the demand.

"What?!"

"You heard me. And you know we've talked about this."

"Yes. And also about the dangers of my trying to break into your mind when you apparently are a Level 5 or higher Occlumens but don't remember how you achieved it. And thus, have no idea what psychic defenses you have prepared that some unknown alternate personality might use against me."

"I know, I know!" she said urgently. "But … I'm out of time. Amelia Bones has called me in for a formal inquest on Monday morning and she knows I'm an Occlumens! More importantly, she knows I lied under Veritaserum! And specifically, about something that implicates me in Vernon's death! I can't go into that hearing not knowing … whatever it is I've made myself forget!"

Snape stared at his oldest friend sadly. It was wholly irrational on his part, he knew, but he still somehow felt partially responsible for Lily's situation. If their disastrous break-up hadn't happened right when she was on the cusp of Level 5 Occlumency, perhaps he could have …

"No," he said to himself. "Lily made her choices, one of which was to pursue higher levels of mastery without someone with her to make sure she did so safely. Just as I did. We were both equally foolish. I was just luckier than her. Still …"

Severus closed his eyes and tried to clear his thoughts. Like it or not, Lily was right. Time was of the essence if they were to keep Lily out of Azkaban. And while the Oath of Enmity might cause Harry Black to delight in such an outcome now, if the Enmity properly dissolved as expected in a few months' time, he would no doubt be devastated.

Snape tried diligently to make himself believe that Harry's feelings were his only motivating factor. He was nearly successful.

"Have a seat while I brew us some tea. We'll both need to spend some time meditating before I begin. I also need to set up some specialized wards to make certain we are not interrupted by anything. An interruption during this process could be disastrous, but I doubt there's anyone on hand we both trust enough to watch over us."

He chuckled softly as he started making the tea. "I just hope for both our sakes that the persona you put in charge of your own mental defenses doesn't hold a grudge against me after all these years. Or at least, not a homicidal grudge."


Meanwhile, in a forgotten part of the dungeon …

After a brief argument, Harry finally consented to give Amy the mysterious Wilkes Key. Without further elaboration, she led the other four Slytherins out through a secret passage, down a dusty forgotten corridor, and to the door of one Hogwarts' seemingly endless collection of disused broom closets.

She tried the door of the closet and found it unlocked. Inside were a few dusty shelves and a sad mop. Amy pulled the door closed again and turned back to the others.

"Okay, explain this to me," said Harry. "Why have we trekked into the depths of the Hogwarts dungeons looking for the most remote and forgotten supply closet the school has?"

"Because, Cousin Dearest, if this works, I don't want to access the Wilkes Vault only to have someone else catch us inside it! And if we, I dunno, unleash some horrible … something, I don't want it getting into the Lair, let alone the Slytherin dorms!"

She paused to take a deep breath. "Okay, so think about what he said about the Vault, both when he was talking to you and when he was singing that stupid song. It's not about the destination; it's about the journey. And it's not how you start; it's how you finish. The destination—the finish—that's the Wilkes vault. And how we take the journey there is important, but where you start the journey isn't! You said that, according to Mr. Malfoy, this key is enchanted to access wizard space. You and he assumed that there is some specific door that it opens and on the other side is some big wizard space vault that's much bigger than the space inside should hold. But what if the wizard space effect really is part of the key itself and it doesn't matter what lock you put it into, because where you start the journey doesn't matter at all!"

With that, she turned and inserted the brass key into the lock of the empty storeroom before turning it sharply. There was an unnaturally loud click. Amy turned the handle of the door and pulled it open. A rush of cool air washed over the five Slytherins, along with a strange metallic smell. It reminded Harry of a Gringotts vault.

"You are a genius, Amy," he said in a daze as he stepped towards the open door, only for Theo to grab his arm.

"You are not seriously thinking of just striding in there!"

Harry grimaced. "I don't plan on getting lost in here. I'm just gonna … poke my head in for a second. The Toymaker was pretty clear that if I could figure out how to get to the Vault, it would be safe to enter. The key can only be used by someone of Wilkes' blood, and when he told me that, he still thought I was his son."

"Which he no longer does!" Blaise added through clenched teeth.

"True," Harry replied easily. "But he's still stuck in an oil painting in my Wizengamot Office. It's not like he could nip over to the Vault and change his security protocols."

Harry turned back to the open door. The room beyond was dark, but Harry could tell it was enormous. He cast a quick Lumos and was gratified to see entire pallets of gold (or perhaps orichalcum!) in the distance glinting back at him. His face broke out into a grin as he began to comprehend the vastness of the fortune that awaited him.

"Theo, Blaise, stick close. Amy and Ginny, stay here."

The two girls were immediately outraged, and when Harry tried to placate them, Amy stepped forward and fixed him with a penetrating gaze.

"Harry, I am also a Wilkes and am only a year younger than you. If there's anything in there that's a danger to me, then it's probably a bigger danger to you, so you should wait until you can meet up with all your adult advisers and let them go in first. Or at the very least get Professor Snape to join you."

Then, she tilted her head slightly and smirked at him. "Or we could, as you said, poke our heads in and look around first! Just a pair of Wilkes cousins looking into our family legacy."

Harry gave his cousin a sour expression before relenting. "Okay, but stay close to me, and don't touch anything!"

"No fear on that score," Blaise muttered.

With that, Harry turned and carefully stepped across the threshold into the enormous, darkened vault with Amy and Ginny close behind. Theo and Blaise simply looked at one another before Theo shrugged and followed the others. Blaise reluctantly came last.

All five Slytherins had cast Lumos spells, but even then, they barely illuminated the surrounding area. The vault was cavernous. The ceiling looked to be over 40 feet high, with a narrow catwalk overhead that crisscrossed the Vault, with glass orbs hanging underneath. Harry assumed they were lights, but they weren't on presently, and he had no knowledge of how to activate them. It was impossible to even estimate the size of the Vault because of the rows and rows of tall shelves that blocked their view of the interior. There was a pathway forward, but it was clear that the vault was set up like a maze.

Somewhat more alarmingly, the quintet could hear noises from deeper in the vault, coming from what sounded like machinery but far from their field of view.

"What is that?" Amy whispered.

"The Toymaker described his vault as functioning like a factory," Harry murmured, "where he constructed magical weapons for Voldemort. Funtime Factory, he called it. He indicated that a lot of it was automated."

"And the equipment is still running?" Theo asked pensively. "After over a decade?"

Amy sniffed disdainfully. "The train that attacked Harry and Jim on their birthday back in 1992 was at least that old. Evidently, 'Daddy' built things to last."

Harry looked hesitantly around the part of the vault that could be seen from the entryway, focusing on what was almost certainly an entire pallet of orichalcum bricks up ahead.

"Amy, Ginny, and Theo, stay here. Blaise, with me."

Three of his friends balked at the idea of being left behind while Blaise balked at the idea of proceeding.

"I'm not going far," Harry snapped. "I just want to get something set up before we go exploring."

"Why me?" Blaise hissed.

Harry regarded him. "Because you're the one who thought to bring a bag with Expansion Charms."

Blaise glanced at the backpack hanging from his left shoulder.

"Great. I'm being punished for my own foresight and preparation."

With that, Harry and Blaise quickly darted forward to the pallet of golden ingots. Harry cast a quick spell taught to him by Lucius Malfoy, and, as he expected, the bricks were indeed orichalcum. Not the impossibly purified orichalcum from which the box taken from the Gaunt Shack was forged, though. This appeared to be 65% pure orichalcum, but the sheer quantity of it on just this single pallet nevertheless represented unimaginable wealth. Harry frowned.

"But why ingots?" he asked aloud, mainly to himself. "Once orichalcum is cast, it can't be melted down and then reforged into some new shape, can it? All that effort and magic spent just to make a few tons of indestructible bricks. Why?"

"I assume that's a rhetorical question," Blaise drawled. "Seeing as how I know nothing about orichalcum beyond what little you've told me. Perhaps in addition to some method of cheaply making the stuff, Boruslav Lestrange found a way to melt it down and recast it."

Harry frowned at that. Bad enough that the Death Eaters seemed to have an inexhaustible supply of the magical material. But if they could reshape it somehow without reducing its durability once reset …

"We'll worry about that later," he said. The boy reached out carefully to touch one of the golden ingots. Nothing horrible happened. He carefully picked one up off the pallet. Still nothing horrible happened.

"Right. Grab as many of these as you can carry and come with me."

With a grimace, Blaise complied, and seconds later, the two were back at the door, each carrying a half-dozen orichalcum ingots, with another dozen in the backpack that Blaise dumped out onto the floor.

Amy looked at Harry dubiously. "You know, it's going to take forever to empty this vault if we're just moving what we can carry in our bare hands."

"That, Amy, is not my plan at the moment," said Harry. He bent down to carefully arrange a stack of ingots next to the door. "If we're going to be stupid enough to explore Funtime Factory without adult supervision, which I freely admit we are, I at least want to make sure that nothing happens to close the door behind us."

Within seconds, Harry had positioned the orichalcum bricks to form a barrier in front of the entry way laid in such a way that that it would block the door from closing.

"You're worried that something might try to close the door and trap us in here?" Theo asked suspiciously.

"Well not anymore," said Harry cheekily. "Not after I blocked our exit open with the world's most expensive doorstop! And with that dealt with, now we explore the place. Everyone, stay close."

But then, he paused and looked at each of his friends, with particular emphasis on Blaise and Ginny. "If you want to come, that is," he said. "This could be dangerous."

Ginny scoffed outright, but Blaise swallowed before responding.

"I'm coming, Harry. Just so long as you acknowledge that this might be dangerous. But if you wish to proceed despite that knowledge, I will be with you."

Harry crooked an eyebrow. That, in his opinion, was unusually portentous coming from Blaise, who was generally more flippant. The Prince took a moment to truly study the other boy who stood firm under Harry's gaze.

"Something's troubling you," Harry said. "Spill it."

"That's very rude," Blaise snapped, annoyed at being blatantly if passively Legilimized by his friend. But after a few seconds, he relented.

"I took tea this morning at breakfast. Just so I could do a quick read before the First Challenge. It was Il Serpente Insidioso."

Harry gazed steadily at Blaise despite the unpleasant reminder of his twelfth birthday party.

"Your mother saw the Insidious Serpent in my teacup when I met with her at Potter Manor. Then, twenty minutes later, a Parselmagic toy train tried to eat me. And you didn't think this important to tell me earlier?"

Blaise shrugged. "As you were preparing to fight a dragon, I assumed the tea leaves were just telling me something I already knew. But if we're going into a magical vault likely full of Parselmagic-cursed items …?"

The five students looked at one another uneasily. Finally, Ginny (who had also been at the infamous birthday party) spoke up irritably.

"This is why I hate Divination. We're Slytherins! We spend nearly every day of our lives surrounded by insidious and occasionally dangerous snakes! So, are we going in? Or should we go have a cuppa instead so Blaise can read the leaves and give us another vague prediction?"

Blaise opened his mouth for an angry retort, but Harry cut him off.

"Blaise, I don't care for Divination either as a concept, but I've watched your mum doing it enough to respect it. Do you think whatever you saw is a sign we shouldn't go?"

Zabini's mouth pursed tightly. Then, he stepped forward, took Harry's hand, and turned it over to inspect the palm. After a few seconds of intense study, he released Harry's arm.

"Great danger, but a chance of great reward. You probably won't die today. I think you should go."

Harry crooked an eyebrow. "That is simultaneously more and less useful than the crap Trelawney usually spouts off."

With that, Harry turned and advanced deeper into the Vault, with the others close behind their Prince. Blaise followed up the rear constantly looking around for danger. After all, his quick palm-reading indicated that Harry wouldn't die. But the threatening omen that Blaise had seen in his teacup spoke to his own future rather than anyone else's, a fact he chose not to share with Harry or anyone else.

Methodically, every ten feet or so, Harry paused to use the Color-Changing Charm to leave a softly glowing arrow on the floor that directed them back towards the exit. Meanwhile, Ginny produced one of the journals that George and Fred had enchanted to take dictation, and she was using it both to draw a crude map of the vault and to list the names and locations of particularly interesting items. Except for the occasional pallet of orichalcum bricks (enough to provoke the goblins into a new war if they were ever released into the open market, even with the lower purity), this part of the vault seemed to be full of antiques from House Wilkes. None of it struck Harry as dangerous, or at least dangerous in the sense of being a Toymaker creation. In fact, much of it didn't even seem to be magical, though authentic Anglo-Saxon armor or antique furniture dating back to the Elizabethan era might fetch a tidy sum on the open market.

Indeed, the most interesting thing in this section was a pallet of what at first appeared to be silver ingots rather than the golden hue of orichalcum. Harry moved closer to study the silver, and it shimmered unnaturally as the light of his Lumos hit it.

"Moonsilver," he said softly.

"What's moonsilver?" Amy asked.

"No idea," he replied. "I just saw the word in a book I read about Nicholas Flamel's work on orichalcum. It's a variant form that uses silver as a base instead of gold or bronze. The book was vague on what made it so different from orichalcum as to justify using a different name."

He gestured towards Blaise's expanding backpack once more.

"Fine, fine," said Blaise as he stepped forward. "But if you don't know what this stuff does, are you sure it won't cause my bag to explode?"

Harry looked back and forth between the two moonsilver bricks in his hands and the open bookbag.

"… Yes?" he said in a way that suggested "I don't know. Let's find out."

He dropped the two ingots into the bag. Once again, nothing happened.

"No boom," said Theo.

"No boom today," Blaise corrected as he gingerly put his arm through the bag's straps. "There's always a boom tomorrow."

With that, the quintet resumed their stealthy exploration of the vault. But stealth was suddenly abandoned when Ginny let out a cry of excitement and darted down a side corridor to the consternation of her friends. She skidded to a halt in front of a large rack that had dozens of old brooms mounted on it, though her attention was fixated on one broom that seemed to hold a place of honor.

"Bloody hell," the Seeker whispered in awe.

"Ginny," Harry drawled. "I know that you are unhealthily obsessed with Quidditch, even by my standards. But we really don't have time to waste drooling over antique brooms. I mean, you fly a Nimbus 2001. And I regularly loan you my Firebolt!"

"Pale imitations," Ginny murmured while fixated on the broom, which Harry noticed disdainfully was an older model Cleansweep. "Harry, this is a Cleansweep X-14. And it is the best broom ever made."

"A Cleansweep?!" Blaise exclaimed. "Seriously?!"

The girl nodded reverently. "In 1969, Delbert Loudermilk, the owner and lead developer of Cleansweep Racing Brooms, announced that the company would be debuting a new line that would revolutionize racing brooms. The X-14 was the prototype. They only made seven, and before today, I would have said there were only three still in existence. In trials, it did everything that your Firebolt can do except it was faster and even more maneuverable."

"What? In 1969?" Harry said dubiously. "Why have I never heard of it then?"

"Because later that year, there was some kind of accident at the Cleansweep Factory that killed Delbert Loudermilk and caused all the plans for the X-14 and all but seven prototypes to be burnt up. And apparently, old Delbert never bothered to make any copies of his designs. The loss of the factory and all the Galleons spent on developing the X-14 nearly bankrupted the company. It never recovered. People spent years trying unsuccessfully to reverse-engineer the X-14, which is how most of the surviving prototypes were destroyed. The Firebolt's Redistributed Gravity Charm comes closest to duplicating the X-14's maneuverability."

"Okay," interrupted Amy. "This is fascinating, albeit in an incredibly boring way. But can we please get back to exploring the lost mystery-vault of my forefathers?"

Grumbling, the others put aside their fascination with the experimental broom and resumed their search of the Vault. As they drew nearer to what Harry thought was the center of the maze, mundane antiques and huge piles of coins gave way to shelving units stocked with dozens of examples of the Toymaker's craftsmanship. One entire set of shelves held at least two dozen copies of the blood-thirsty toy train that Peter Pettigrew had sent to kill Harry at his 12th birthday party. A few rows down stood another set of shelves full of Jack-In-The-Boxes just like the one that had nearly caused five Hit Wizards to laugh themselves to death. And there were plenty of other mass-produced and seemingly Muggle toys that took up row after row. A large table full of what Harry recognized as Slinkys, all in brilliant rainbow colors. A bin of dragon plush toys. Another row of shelves stacked with knock-offs of Muggle board games. Given the context, the presence of twenty or so copies of Milton Bradley's Operation game seemed particularly ominous, to say nothing of the faithful reproductions of Parker Brothers' Ouija boards. But for all five Slytherins, the most disturbing thing was that most of the obviously cursed toys seemed targeted at small children.

And that was before they got to the six rows of identical rubber ducks.

"This is too easy." Amy whispered, but not softly enough to keep her voice from echoing in the cavernous vault.

"We made it this far, and nothing's happened," Ginny said, though she was clearly nervous herself. Next to her, Harry stopped suddenly.

"What is it?" Theo asked, suddenly on guard.

"Amy's right. This is too easy. There should have been some kind of security by now. The overhead lights coming on if nothing else."

Harry took a moment to focus on his Legilimency and think about what he'd seen so far. There was something he'd missed. Something innocuous but more important than he'd realized. He moved closer to the nearest set of shelves, this one holding bright sparkly pink unicorn-themed rocking horses big enough for a toddler to ride. But other than the fact that they were cursed toys, Harry sensed no specific danger from them at present.

Then, his eyes were drawn away from the bright, gaily decorated toys that surrounded him to the shelves that contained them. The shelves appeared to be made of normal wood, perhaps magically treated to resist wear and tear, but no more threatening than the shelves in the Hogwarts Library. But there was definitely something there. Harry's gaze continued up to the top of the nearest shelf, where he spotted a detail he'd not noticed before: a brass decoration at the very top edge of the shelf that resembled a snake with two heads, one at each end. And the two snake-heads were twisted to bend out and down so that it almost looked like they were staring down at him from atop the 12-foot-tall shelf.

Harry blinked and then amended his observation. There was no almost. The snake-heads were looking directly at him. Swiftly, he pointed his glowing wand at the top of the next shelf. It too had the same two-headed snake decoration, but these heads were not pointing straight down. Instead, they were angled … to look straight at Harry and his friends. Harry whirled around to look at all the nearby shelves, and every one of them had the same double-snake head decoration, one that would not have been noticeable unless someone happened to look up (and also be a hyper-attentive Legilimens). And every snake head was looking right at them!

"We need to get out of here!" Harry said with a noticeable tremor in his voice. "We need to get out of here right …!"

But it was too late. In unison, all the snake-heads that had been quietly spying on them opened their jaws and hissed!

Theo was the first with the presence of mind to cast the Charm that allowed a non-Parselmouth to understand and speak in the language of enchanted snakes, but the other three quickly followed suit. And immediately, they all understood the hissing and knew why Harry was urging them back to the door.

"INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT! INTRUDER ALERT!"

Instantly, with a loud KA-CHUNK, the overhead lights came on, illuminating the entire vault. Before the quintet could get their bearings and start running for the exit, there were suddenly signs of movement all around them. From one direction, they could make out the sound of hoofbeats and whinnies as a dozen pink sparkly unicorns came to life and abandoned their rocking horse bases. The unicorns were only three feet tall and would have been adorable had it not been for the sharp points on the ends of their orichalcum horns, as Ginny realized when she cast a Protego shield that the horns sliced through with ease.

From another direction came a loud crash followed by a strange metallic sound, as scores of rainbow-colored Slinkys came to life and jumped off their shelves to pursue the children in an undulating wave of metallic coils. Amy shot a Blasting Hex into the middle of them, and while it destroyed some (demonstrating that at least they weren't orichalcum Slinkys), she was shocked when most of them seemed capable of dodging! And then, one of them leaped forward to wrap itself around Blaise's legs. The boy screamed in pain and fell to the ground.

Amy switched tactics and cast a Ventus Charm, and a powerful blast of air hurled the Slinkys away, but they quickly regrouped. Meanwhile, Blaise tried to pull the coiled spring that had entangled his legs away only to scream again as he cut his hands on the razor-sharp metal that was now constricting and slicing into his legs.

But aside from the Slinkys and the unicorns, Harry was most concerned about a third noise in the distance that was drawing closer from all directions: an ominous CLANG, CLANG, CLANG, as if armor-clad giants were moving to surround them.

To the left, one of the charging unicorns took a flying leap straight towards Theo. At the last possible second, the boy whirled around quickly, using his Wu Xi Do training to twist out of the way. The unicorn flew past him, its horn now headed straight for Ginny. But Theo's momentum carried him around in a full 360 degree turn, and he reached out and caught the unicorn by one of its hind legs before it could strike the girl. He continued his spin, bringing the deadly toy around with him before hurling it like a bowling ball into the approaching phalanx of toy unicorns. The lot of them crashed to the ground like nine-pins next to yet another pallet of orichalcum bricks. Swiftly, Ginny stepped past Theo to point her wand at the pallet.

"WINGARDIUM LEVIOSA!" she intoned. Theo shook his head.

"That won't work! Orichalcum resists … magic …"

His voice trailed off in surprise as the orichalcum began to tip over and rain down on the unicorns that were still struggling to get upright. Then, Theo realized that Ginny had known about the orichalcum's anti-magic properties, so she'd focused her spell on the wooden pallet upon which they rested. Instantly, he cast the same spell on the pallet, and their combined magic tipped the pallet over all the way, burying the deadly toys under perhaps half a ton of the heavy ore.

CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.

Meanwhile, Harry stepped past Amy and Blaise to point his wand at the advancing wave of metallic coils.

"VENTUSSSS MAXXXIMUSS!" he hissed. His wand seemed to vibrate in his hand, but it had the desired effect, as a tornado-strength blast of air hurled the Slinkys thirty feet away. Then, he knelt beside Blaise.

"Amy, those don't seem to be orichalcum, so a Protego should keep them out for a minute at least."

She nodded and cast the protective shield while Harry carefully pointed his wand at the coil now slicing into Blaise's legs.

CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.

"Hold very, very still," he said, causing Blaise to whimper slightly. "LACCCERA MAXXXIMUSSS!"

With surgical precision, a blade-like wave of magic poured from Harry's wand to completely sever the Slinky, which fell to the floor in inert pieces. He pulled the other boy to his feet.

"Can you walk?" Harry asked.

"If it means getting out of this death trap, Harry, I will DANCE!" Despite the bravado, Blaise was clearly in pain and would be moving with a limp at best until healing magic could be applied.

But before escape was even an option, there was a massive crash as a nearby tall shelf was knocked over in the direction of Theo and Ginny. They tried to dive for cover, but it was too late as the heavy shelves crashed right on top of them. Amy screamed in horror. Harry cursed loudly and moved in that direction to try digging them out, but he was distracted by Blaise's sudden cry of alarm. Harry turned in the direction where the other boy was pointing and saw what had knocked over the enormous shelf onto two of his friends.

It was a baby blue teddy bear. A twelve-foot-tall baby-blue teddy bear. A twelve-foot-tall baby-blue teddy bear with what appeared to be a massive welding torch mounted onto its arm.

Without hesitation, Harry raised his wand towards the monstrosity. "SSSECTUMSEMPRA!"

Waves of deadly magical force ripped out of his wand to slam into the teddy bear, which staggered from the force but quickly recovered. To Harry's horror, huge swathes of the bear's light blue fabric covering were torn away to reveal an orichalcum body underneath that not even a Parselmagic Sectumsempra could dent.

The bear raised its right paw. With a loud whoosh, the blowtorch came to life with a blue flame extending nearly a foot from its body. It advanced towards the children.

CLANG. CLANG. CLANG.

Now in something of a panic, the three remaining Slytherins turned and fled away from the deadly bear and deeper into the vault. Worse, Blaise's injured legs kept him from running, and Harry and Amy had to help support the boy. But as more of the titanic bears showed up from around corners to cut off their escape, Harry realized that they were being herded. Moments later, they came out of the maze of shelves and into a large open area. But even more bears appeared to block their remaining exits. Despite their best efforts, the Slytherins were soon surrounded by a dozen of the monstrous teddy bears, all of which seemed to have dangerous tools where hands should go. Blowtorches, buzz saws, even whip-like tentacles. They moved into a semi-circle around the children, who still had their wands at the ready.

Then, Harry, Blaise, and Amy all heard a whirring sound from behind them, and as one they turned. The sound came from a huge velvet double-curtain which was being pulled aside to reveal an oversized painting hung twenty feet above the floor. Harry's eyes widened in shock. It was a panoramic view of a well-maintained magical garden. And standing in the center of the painting, smirking down at them all, was Erasmus Wilkes.

"Harry, Harry, Harrikins!" Wilkes exclaimed jovially. "It's so lovely to finally see you again." He gave a sick grin. "I've missed you."

"You were locked in your Ministry portrait by the Unspeakables!" Harry exclaimed. "How can you be here?!"

The Toymaker pulled out his wand and twirled it around his fingers.

"Well, you see, it's like I said to you all those months ago, m'boy. Parseltongue and Runic Magic. There's just all kinds of things a clever wizard can do with them!"

With an excited giggle, the Toymaker touched his wand to the outer surface of his portrait, which was covered by an enormous pane of glass.

"EXPELLIARMUSSSS!" he hissed. The glass shimmered, as if it were somehow a conduit for the portrait figure's spell.

In response, a loud hum came from behind the three Slytherins. They turned as one and realized that the humming sound, which was growing rapidly in volume, was coming from one of the bears. As the hum reached its peak, the bear's chest suddenly lit up with glowing runes. Runes that Harry and Blaise immediately recognized as the array that represented the Disarming Jinx! Before either could react, the bear gave off a bright flash of light, and all three Slytherins' wands flew out of their hands to impact with the bear's chest and stick to it as if they were magnetized.

"Now then, 'Lord Wilkes,'" said a triumphant Toymaker. "Let's get better acquainted."


Next: Harry and friends try to escape a dragon's den of a different sort.

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:

Harry Potter and the Stolen Soul by crazy_badger. WBWL, but the Potters are dead and Harry's twin is raised alongside Neville, while Harry is sent to the Dursleys by a Dumbledore who is all but terrified of the evil he senses within the infant. But he never went back to double-check, so he never realized that the "Horcrux" aspect of the soul fragment didn't take. The result was a smarter-than-usual Harry (but not absurdly so) with a little barely-sentient voice in the back of his head that recommends ruthless courses of action that Harry is free to follow or ignore. A Harry who all but begs for Ravenclaw because he just wants to sit and read books and hates Slytherin because of all the political bullshit. Oh, and a Harry with no interest in being a Dark Lord, but considerable interest in becoming a criminal mastermind.

The Solitude of Suffering by Iseliljawho. Cynical 5th Year Harry responds to Voldemort sending him dreams about a long corridor through the Horcrux connection (which Harry knows about because REDACTED) by sending Voldemort nightmares in which Voldemort is forced to relive child Harry's abuse.

James Potter, Remus Lupin, Sirius Black, Peter Pettigrew, (pause for breath) and the Prisoner of Azkaban by gonzoclock. (Complete). From the same author as The Ghost of Christmas James. Because of magical shenanigans, perfect copies of the Marauders as they were in Year 5 of their school era materialize at Hogwarts during Harry's Third Year. Wackiness ensues.

AN3: Obviously, Harry's dialogue from the First Challenge is adapted from Monty Python and the Holy Grail. "No Boom today. There's always a boom tomorrow." is from Babylon 5.

AN4: Special thanks to my Discord editors: 100beep, AjithSen, DatGrammarSnob, Farsight, Jiiti, kean, Mr Tanuary, Nemo's Flower Song, raveenamarcus, Sakkiko, sfu, Sigurd, skyari, Valter, and weirdfiend. Thanks guys!

AN5: Vital Statistics: Reviews: Followers: 22,466. Favorites: 20,796. Communities: 257. Discord followers:! Go Team POS!