The Triwizard Tournament.
Harry remembered his thought, a little over a week before, doubting the survival instinct of Wizardkind. Now, he had amended that opinion.
Apparently they also didn't value the lives of their children.
There were six, six, separate occasions in which not a single competitor survived the first round. And there were a dozen of the tournaments in this book that had all of them dying before the end.
Harry looked around the Transfiguration classroom, trying to find someone as disturbed by what they were reading as he, he snorted as he saw the looks of reverence and awe on his new classmates' faces. Weren't Ravenclaws supposed to be intelligent?
Harry shook his head, and closed the book. He reached for the transfiguration book on his desk, he'd finished the Triwizard history book and would far prefer rereading some of the passages of transforming magic. If he was going to learn to cast them silently, and without motion, he'd need to know them better than the back of his hand. That was the only way for his magic to know them.
'You have another hour, Mr Potter. It would be best that you gain an understanding of the tournament, even if you will not be old enough to compete.' the Professor, who seemed to dislike him a little less now than she had the night before, said.
'I've finished reading it, Professor,' it was a small book and had only taken a few minutes. He read very quickly. 'I was hoping to move onto something that's more useful than learning more about how foolish this contest is.'
'You believe it is a bad idea?'
'The prize isn't worth the risk to life and limb. Eternal glory is a misnomer, nobody knows the names of any past champions, with the exception of those who died brutally and spectacularly, and the prize money isn't much at all.'
'A thousand galleons isn't much?!' Ronald Weasley exclaimed, from his seat two spaces behind Harry.
'When gambling with your life? No. There are those who would even say the likelihood of humiliation makes it a poor price. Especially for those in this year; the others will have moved well beyond our level of education.' The further through schooling one moved, in the Wizarding World, the faster subjects could be covered. People grew to understand the basic concepts, and were able to grasp new lessons faster.
'I think you're just scared. Or maybe you're trying to keep us from putting our names in so a Potter gets the glory again,' a Ravenclaw said, accusatory.
'Think what you want. If, somehow, you get selected, your opinion will cease to exist. Because you'll be dead.' Harry didn't even know the boy's name, and he was acting like a petulant child. A child needed things explained plainly.
'Well, Mr Potter,' Professor McGonagall stopped a rebuttal from the Ravenclaw, 'if you feel you have all the information you need on the Tournament, we can use this opportunity to judge your abilities in Transfiguration. Please come to the front of the class. The rest of you are to continue, and review last year's work when you're done.'
Harry walked to the front, having been a few rows back, and waited for instruction. McGonagall waved her wand in a long motions, and a pile of objects jumped from her office and onto her large desk.
'First of all, please turn this matchstick into a needle,' a match separated itself from the pile, and Harry waved his wand. Out the back of his head, he saw the Ravenclaw who had been speaking smirking as he watched. The matchstick changed, and McGonagall nodded.
'As I had expected. Next, perform the Avifors spell.'
'Avifors.' Harry waved his wand in the motion of an infinity symbol and a paperweight on the desk turned into a pigeon. Mcgonagall made a face, and undid the spell immediately. Harry guessed she did not like pigeons.
'And the rabbits into slippers,' McGonagall said. A pair of rabbits appeared on the desk, conjured, and Harry waved his wand at them. They transformed into a plain, comfortable pair of home wear shoes. McGonagall nodded and undid the spell before conjuring a bird. 'Transform this bird into a goblet, please.'
Harry pictured the goblets of the Great Hall, and the bird changed into a passable replica. The teacher nodded.
She had him cast half a dozen more spells, until her tone changed slightly. Harry would not catch it until later that day, as he was too busy noting that the Ravenclaw's smirk had turned to a scowl. Later, he would also remember the woman's look of mild disgust at his eye rolling into the back of his head.
'Please conjure a flock of birds for me, Mr Potter.' she asked.
Harry didn't think twice, 'Avis.' He'd used this spell in the past, it was one of those he'd been taught in his own world. They were useful as a distraction, when in an enclosed space, because the Death Eater would be trying to shield his eyes from beaks and little talons. They also made fancy spells more difficult to aim.
Nor did he think twice about dialling down the power of the spell. The gunshot-like sound was useless. It was a waste of energy, and alerted people. According to the books Harry had read, you could do more than that. Change the type of bird, or even the point in its life-cycle, though Harry didn't know why you'd want to do the second.
Fortunately, that required a good deal more thought, and only a flock of chirping bluebirds appeared quietly from his wand. Mcgonagall seemed to notice the alteration, and an eyebrow raised slightly.
'Very good. Next, please transfigure this,' she pointed to a maroon cushion on her desk, 'into a badger.'
Harry waved his wand, picturing a badger curled on her desk, and the cushion visibly shuddered before morphing into the animal. Where it should have been dark grey, Harry noticed, it was closer to brown. Not too important a detail, if ever he needed the transfiguration, but an imperfection that he hadn't anticipated.
The badger was angry at suddenly coming into existence, and growled at Harry with its teeth bared. Lost in his annoyance at the error of his badger, Harry cast another spell on the creature. It wiggled strangely, looking baffled and uncomfortable, and transformed into a fluffy grey poodle. The small dog looked around curiously, and then sat on the desk with as confused an expression as it was capable of having.
Harry waved his wand again, and it turned into an ashen cat, then a teddy bear. Honestly, when he had the basic concept down, Harry seemed good at this. It was all about visualisation, and Harry could imagine animals changing into each other as easily as into or from objects. His colours were slightly off, but that didn't diminish how useful creations could be on the battlefield.
It was the more complicated transfiguration he struggled with. Learning to animate inherently magical items, for one, or making companions on the battlefield as James Potter had done with his golem. And he had not yet figured out how to mentally command creatures. It was even hit and miss when saying them aloud.
'Very good, Mr Potter. Would you animate the bear, please?'
Harry did pause at that. Animation was halfway between Transfiguration and Charms, it wasn't a low-level branch of magic to learn, he knew, even if non-magical objects were much easier than their counterparts. But it wasn't hesitation as to whether to proceed, but a reassessment of the curriculum of Hogwarts. If Fourth Years were learning animation, then he must have underestimated their abilities.
He did wonder why there was no mention of it in the school books Dumbledore had bought him. Harry had read about it in one of the advanced Transfiguration books that had been included in the mountain of texts.
Perhaps they were hiding their abilities from the other schools.
Whether or not that was the case, Harry must have slipped up somewhere to have not noticed the advanced level of those he shared a class with. His thoughts darkened, slightly, with frustration at this oversight.
He cast the spell, and the teddy bear shivered. After a few seconds- which was a few seconds too long to use on the battlefield, Harry thought grimly- it rose to its feet, waddled over to the edge of the desk, and took a bow. Then, the cuddly toy began its acrobatics routine, as Harry guided it.
'Very impressive, Mr Potter,' McGonagall was giving an actual smile, even if it was a small one, and watched the progress of the acrobatic bear as it tucked and tumbled in mid air. 'You may return to your seat. But please remain behind at the end of class.'
A Ravenclaw girl whimpered when Harry glanced at her roused expression. For some reason she had directed it at him, rather than the book they were reading, and immediately regretted doing so. She didn't like looking at his face.
Harry wondered why Hermione Granger was looking at him so strangely. As though he was a mouse and she a cat.
McGonagall had given Harry more books to read, telling him that she had not believed Dumbledore when he hypothesized that Harry would progress through them so quickly. These new texts covered the rest of the school's transfiguration, taking different routes than the books Harry already had, and proceeded into more obscure uses that were not covered in Hogwarts. For example, there was a passage on the use of transfigurations as distractions, and the proper technique to either quieten them or increase their volume tenfold so that the effect would be tied to the animal itself rather than needing to cast another spell.
Harry had taken them with a thank you, and wondered after the contemplative expression on the woman's face.
Harry was still wondering when he arrived at the Gamekeeper's hut, and saw the monstrosities that awaited the class.
'The bloody Hell are they?' Ronald Weasley asked, his face a picture of disgust. It was a sentiment that the rest of the class seemed to agree with, since they were all staying well back from the crates that housed the strange things.
They looked like someone had pried the shell off a lobster, damaging it quite severely in the process, only to decide it was not deadly enough and that they needed to rectify that flaw in nature. One of their ends regularly fired sparks, propelling them into one another, and then the other end came into play. Half of them, presumably based on gender, had what appeared to be suckers, while the others had what looked to be stingers. Or pincers.
And, dear God, they stank. Rotten fish was all Harry could smell, and he tried not to breathe as a result. When he tried breathing through his mouth, the disgusting aroma was all he could taste and he did not know which was worse.
Harry didn't follow when Amaryllis and Hermione slowly walked forwards, in an attempt to show support for Hagrid the kind-hearted Half-Giant.
'Mornin'!' Hagrid exclaimed, to the class, as he kept a very large, black boarhound from bounding forwards to ravage the crates' contents. 'Be'er wait for the Slytherins, they won' want ter miss this. Blast-Ended Skrewts!'
It was a strange name, and Harry hadn't ever heard of Skrewts, but it seemed to fit.
'Right…' Ron said, sarcastically, as the rest of the Gryffindors stayed back. Lavender Brown, a blonde girl who came across as ditzy, made a distressed sound as one of the Skrewts gave a particularly large explosion and attacked another. Hagrid didn't make any move to stop it, as the hound he was holding renewed its efforts to get at the creatures.
Harry wondered if that was why there were a few hundred. They seemed aggressive, and he wondered how many would still be alive by the year's end. Then, he wondered if they were a new breed. He'd read the class books for Care of Magical Creatures, and there had been no mention of them at any point. Had they been bred especially for the classes to examine?
Harry grimaced, wondering whether the Champions of each school would be fighting them at some point in the challenges. That was, as far as Harry knew, the only reason the Ministry wouldn't mind the creation of these… Blast-Ended Skrewts.
'Only jus' hatched,' Hagrid proudly told them, 'so you'll be able to raise 'em yourselves! Though' we'd make a bit of a project of it!'
'And why would we want to raise them?' a snide, cold voice asked. Harry could hear the sneer in the words.
Harry looked behind him, with his magical eye, while keeping one eye on the crate of unfriendly creatures. A gaggle of Slytherins had arrived, and the blonde boy at the front of the group had spoken. Two overweight boys grinned stupidly at the words.
'I mean, what's the point of them?' Malfoy clarified, at Hagrid's stunned expression.
The half-giant looked reluctant to answer. Whether this was because he couldn't give details of the tournament away or there just wasn't a good reason, Harry didn't know, 'Tha'll have t' wait for next lesson, Malfoy. Yer Just feedin' 'em today. Now, yeh'll wan' ter try 'em on a few diff'rent things- I've never had 'em before, not sure what they'll go fer- I got ant eggs an' frog livers an' bits o' grass snake, just try 'em out with a bit of each.'
Over the course of the lesson, something became painfully clear to the class. Of all the options offered to the deformed lobster-things, they seemed most partial to human. Dean Thomas got burned, one of the dull boys who followed Malfoy's lead cut himself on the side of the crate and just barely withdrew his hand before one of the creatures shot at his bloody limb, and Lavender Brown frequently screamed bloody murder. For some reason, they seemed to want to eat her most of all.
Hagrid revealed that the males had stingers, and the female suckers, receiving a snide comment from Malfoy in response, and Harry wondered why Hagrid didn't give a detention for the disrespect that was shown. Not very authoritative, for a teacher.
'Just because they're not very pretty, doesn't mean they're not useful,' Hermione snapped at the sarcastic boy, 'Dragon's blood is amazingly magical, but you wouldn't want a dragon for a pet, would you?'
Harry was missing something, based on the grin Amaryllis gave Hagrid at that sentence. But it didn't seem especially important, as he dropped a handful of liver into a crate. He wondered how dangerous these things would be once they started to grow, and whether their swarm might be the cause of the champions' deaths this time around.
That would not be a nice way to go.
After class, the entire group made their way up in a loose formation. None of them particularly wanted to be around the Skrewts any longer than necessary, but the Gryffindors were at the back of the pack.
'You're ahead of me!' Hermione, half-jogging to keep up with Harry's faster, longer stride, said suddenly.
Harry looked at her, as the bushy-haired girl scowled and adjusted the strap over her shoulder.
'I have longer legs than you,' Harry said, slightly concerned that she was so upset.
'No! You're ahead of me in class! How are you ahead of me in class?! Nobody's ahead of me in class! I'm the head of the class! I've always been at the head of the class! And now, suddenly, you're-'
'At the head of the class?' Harry finished for her, his worried feeling growing with each passing moment. Her expression had gone from displeased to manic in the space of those half-dozen sentences.
'Exactly!' Hermione's bag swung down onto her arm, as she reached out and grabbed a handful of Harry's robes in each hand. 'How do you know more than me?! What am I doing wrong?!' she demanded. Harry noticed, now, that her eyes were slightly… damp. Was she about to cry?
'Uh…' that single syllable lasted for a good ten seconds, as Harry struggled to decide how he should deal with this situation. Maybe he could distract her and run away? 'I… don't think I am,' Harry decided to go a different route. To care this much, she must have an ego, 'you're clearly brilliant, but you seem to limit yourself too much based on what teachers tell you to learn.' Harry suspected that was true, though he didn't know for sure.. 'Maybe if you limited yourself only on your own abilities you'd be able to improve at an even faster rate. I'm sure you could find some help from teachers, if you decided on that endeavor. Or from older students, if the professors are too busy.'
Harry didn't often speak so much, but this girl was intense… worryingly so, and this would hopefully help dissuade her from interrogating Harry to learn all of his secrets. He half believed she might cut her own eye out to get onto even footing with Harry.
'You mean self-study?! I can do that! Is that how I improve? Will I catch up to you if I work through the advanced tests in the Library?!' she asked, and Harry found himself waiting for her to shake him by the robes, pleading desperately for his secret. Harry decided that telling her the truth, that to actually get to his level one needed blood on their hands, would put students at risk- and that she almost certainly meant his display in class, not of his fighting ability- and just, sort of, nodded.
Hermione moved towards the castle with a determined stride, leaving Harry to stand with a concerned expression as he watched her go.
'She's already read most of them,' Amaryllis' voice commented, from next to Harry, 'she just doesn't dare practise the magic until a teacher tells her it's okay. Obviously, that's the reason you're ahead of her practically…' Amaryllis trailed off briefly, 'or, part of the reason. Other stuff probably adds to it. I mean, like the stuff you told us about. Well, didn't tell us about- although you could if you wanted to, I'm happy to listen if you need an ear… or, like, a shoulder- but the stuff you mentioned. Y'know, to Dad and Remus when they first met you...'
Harry didn't much like this conversation's direction, so he reached for a subject to change the conversation to. 'So, Quidditch being cancelled for the year… that sucks. Do you know if you can go to the scouts, rather than them coming to you?'
That, clearly, was the right choice of subject. At least, if one wanted to get her mind away from the previous topic- if one wanted peace and quiet, on the other hand, it was the farthest thing from ideal.
'Right?! It's such BULL, why the Hell can't there be Quidditch and the tournament?! Any of us who aren't 17 just lose out, we can't compete in the tournament so we get punished by having Quidditch taken away?! It's so stupid! Bloody old man with his dumb clothes… And we would've gotten the chance to thrash the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons lot, too… do you have any idea how many offers I would've gotten if I'd caught the snitch against them? Especially if I'd used one of the new moves I was working on!
'I could've even played for teams abroad…' Amaryllis said, sadly, as they crossed the threshold, 'And to top it all off, you don't get to play now! Gryffindor could really use you, since we've lost Wood! And Slytherin would've tried to injure you so that you wouldn't be able to play, and you'd've punched Malfoy in the face, and he would've cried in front of the whole school…' the Girl-Who-Lived sighed dreamily as they entered the Great Hall for lunch.
'Surprise, surprise, 'Mione's nowhere to be seen. She's probably buried under a stack of books by now. I'm gonna have to bring her food again, aren't I?' she asked, rhetorically.
Harry heard snickering from the end of the Hufflepuff table, as the two of them walked towards the mostly-vacant Gryffindor table. Harry's head turned towards them, and his eyes narrowed at the group of boys laughing amongst themselves. One of them, the one who was guffawing the least, had been grinning over towards the pair of Potters with his tongue hanging strangely from his mouth.
Had been, because as the scarred face, and magical eye, of Harry fell upon him the boy paled, withdrew his tongue, and looked down at his plate as though it had written on it the lost play of William Shakespeare.
Harry asked, 'What were they laughing at?' as Amaryllis glanced over, following his eye line to the bunch of Hufflepuffs.
Amaryllis huffed to herself, 'Probably saying that it's rare to see me with a guy. A stupid old joke.' One that, by the sounds of it, wasn't funny. Perhaps even hurtful.
Things worked differently here, to what Harry knew. Once, back before Harry was truly known to him, Riddle had given a monologue on how he had killed James and Lily Potter without ceremony. Like vermin, were the words that had been used. He had seemed surprised, searching for Harry, to find that they inspired so little reaction from the boy; at that time Harry was irrefutably a child. They had stoked the flames, of course- Harry's anger was a constant, especially when facing those who had killed his friends- but to break his composure, and with it his cover, would have done nought but make the situation worse. If he had been thinking of his parents in that moment- rather than getting back to his group- then charging out to do battle with Riddle and the followers with him would only have disrespected their memory. James and Lily Potter had died to protect him, and Harry was supposed to throw that away because his feelings were hurt? Because their twisted murderer made a harsh comment?
Here, though, it was a different matter. It seemed that, in an environment without violence and the threat of death, insults were important. Hurting someone's feelings was enough to merit punishment, and the statements people made- rumours that were spread- could do their victim actual harm. Harry wondered if- when they found Alastor- having a foul-mouthed ex-Auror instructing them would desensitise Harry's new peers to such things.
He knew the grizzled stories, the insults and reminders alongside the regular putting downs he received, had done wonders to harden the child Harry could have been.
For now, though, the implication of their words- there had seemed to be a running joke that Amaryllis was homosexual between she and Hermione, presumably this was a related matter but without the goodwill that made theirs banter- seemed to upset Amaryllis. How much, Harry didn't know; however much it might be, words were unlikely to merit physical harm. Not until those words became a threat, physical or implied. Even so, he felt a certain protective instinct towards she and the rest of the Potters.
That instinct rose up as the girl's shoulders lifted slightly- almost unnoticeable, but a slight hunching that showed the words hurt more than she would be willing to let on. It was her own desire to protect herself- the lizard brain wasn't always able to discern between fear born of threat and that born of embarrassment.
Harry drew his wand, and cast a jinx at the scalp belonging to the presumed instigator.
Amaryllis looked up at the light leaping from Harry's wand- a reddish brown, described as maroon in the spellbook- and confusion passed over her face. Then fear, as it found its mark and struck the boy's blonde head. Worry, as it crossed her mind that Harry might have cursed him, that the boy would be maimed or broken.
And then humour, as the spell took effect and the boy's hair fell onto the table he so intently stared at.
The boy shrieked something fierce, as he grabbed a clump on the back of his head- one that had stayed atop his head thanks to gravity- and it came out in his hand. That wasn't intelligent, as it drew the attention of the entire Hall to his suddenly bald head.
When Harry had read the title of the spell, he had been more than slightly confused. Calling it a Balding Spell would have been far more accurate than a Scalping Spell. He knew a Scalping Spell, and it did not belong in "The Big Book of Jinxes." Not that Harry understood why Dumbledore had given him that book in the first place.
'Open season on SMITH!' a voice from behind Harry exclaimed, and he turned in time to see the identical Weasleys with grins on their faces and wands in their hands.
Harry placed his wand back on his wrist, and followed as Amaryllis seized his elbow and tugged him over towards the Gryffindor table.
'You don't want to get caught in the crossfire,' she told him, 'the Weasley twins really don't care about Bystanders,' Amaryllis said, with a smirk. 'Not that you're a Bystander.'
She shifted in her seat for a moment, Harry nodded absently while glancing up at the Staff Table in an effort to see if he had been seen jinxing Smith, and then patted Harry on the shoulder.
'Thanks for that. You didn't need to, but… thanks. You're good people, Harry.' She smiled at him, as Harry moved his eyes back to her, and he wondered why it looked like she was in pain.
Not a lot of pain, but enough to cause discomfort. He wondered, in the privacy of his own mind, whether the Weasleys had hit her with a spell. He also wondered, again silently, if that spell might have caused something along the lines of Hemorrhoids, or boils on the rear. The pain seemed to have begun when she sat on the wooden bench.
He looked over at the twins, as they chased Smith out of the Hall, and tried to see what spells they were favouring.