Author's Note: My usual gratitude goes out to those who take the time out of their day to write me a review, I read each and every single one.
Finally upped the rating due to my use of foul language.
Chapter 45: Stop the World, I Want to Get Off
Harry simply stared at the massive portrait for a few minutes as Alistair continued to laugh his non-existent arse off. The occupants of the painting, who all looked no older than their mid-thirties, had stopped whatever it was they had been doing as Harry started going through some facial twitches as he was desperately trying to figure why all the most bizarre things just had to happen to him. The mental arguments were so loud that the Hat couldn't help but 'hear' them, and he laughed all the harder because of it.
Finally rallying himself, and dreading the answer to his question, Harry asked, "Please tell me you aren't Wizarding Portraits of who I think you are..."
A kindly looking woman with long wavy brown hair, bright gray eyes, soft features, and a physique that looked like she had spent all of her life doing physical labor, gently said, "If you think we're portraits of the Founders of Hogwarts, you would be correct."
"Oh," was all he said, right before he promptly passed out. A feather mattress materialized right beneath where he would hit the floor, and no damage was done...
Alistair managed to get out a few words at a time between laughs, "If I keep laughing like this, I am going to bust a seam!"
The two men in the portrait, one with hard features, warm brown eyes, short cropped fiery red hair the stuck up everywhere and a bristly beard to match, and built to make even the largest American Football linebackers jealous, and the other having long inky black hair tied back in a ponytail, brilliant green eyes, vulpine features, and a slight build, became preoccupied with holding each other up as they also laughed themselves sick.
The last occupant of the portrait, a woman with short, bright blond hair, sharp icy blue eyes, rather elfin features, and a petite build, shook her head at the antics of those two. Even when they had been in their eighties, they had absolutely refused to grow up.
Harry was roused by someone yelling the words, "Mother always did like you best!"
He was further dragged from his torpor when another voice shouted, "Well, you were always Father's favorite!"
He heard chuckling from where a hat would be, and heard a third person say, "I forgot just how much I missed these four. The entertainment was always nonstop!"
Sitting up on the soft mattress he had apparently landed on, Harry carefully ventured, "Are the portraits of Godric Gryffindor and Salazar Slytherin arguing about who their parents loved best?"
Alistair bobbed up and down happily and said, "Yes, yes they are."
"Neither of their journals mentioned anything about them being brothers..."
"Yeah, well, they both got extremely drunk on Godric's sixty-seventh birthday, and swore a magical oath to attempt to wipe that little fact from the face of history. It should be apparent that if it weren't for their portraits, they would have succeeded."
"Al, the world has reached a whole new level of surreal. I am sitting on a feather mattress, in a room of infinite possibilities, with the magical portraits of the Four Founders of Hogwarts.
"Stop the ride, I want to get off now please."
A voice behind him said, "A room of infinite possibilities. That is quite the ego booster."
Turning around, he had another thought before he blissfully passed out again.
'One of the possibilities must be to give portraits bodies...'
"He's coming around again."
He heard a few snickers in response to that female voice.
Another female voice said, "Let's try to avoid shocking the lad anymore. I don't think passing out for a third time will do him any good."
Harry cracked his eyes open and saw that the Room was now filled with furniture, and the Founders were lounging about. Someone had placed him in a squishy, yet comfortable, chair, and he was sitting across from Helga Hufflepuff.
"Now, Harry, you've mentioned Godric's and Salazar's journals, you have Rowena's on you, so I have just one thing to ask you."
"Yes, Lady Hufflepuff?" He asked tentatively.
"Just Helga, dearie, and there is nothing to be afraid of. Now, its obvious that you're the heir to the Nitwit Brothers ("Hey!" "I resemble that remark!") and Miss Brainy Britches ("This Room wouldn't exist if I wasn't that, Helga"), but are you also my heir?"
All Harry could do is nod. And then watch in awe and confusion as Helga got up and did a very respectable victory dance, but it made (some) sense when she yelled out, "'Its impossible' you three said. 'Not likely to happen in a million years' you said. Ha! I was right, each of you owes me three forfeits!"
Off to one side, Godric said, "I don't want to do the can-can, Sal... Why does she always make me do the can-can, brother?"
"Quiet fool, you'll only give her ideas!"
Harry had come to the conclusion that the world had gone mad as Godric was forced to dress up as a cabaret dancer and do the can-can, Salazar was stuffed into a chicken suit and danced the chicken dance, and Rowena was put in a belly dancer costume and made to do the Macarena.
Though he now had a feeling that he knew exactly where the insane behavior that manifested in each generation of the Potter family came from. He also wondered just what would happen if it became known to the 'Puffs that their Founder was a madwoman... Though he also made a note that he really should read the woman's journal, if only to see if he could get some prank ideas.
Harry was rather forcibly brought back to reality when Helga sat back down across from him, and said, "Now that those three are having their egos deflated, just what was the requirement that you needed the Room to fulfill?"
Harry looked down at his shoes and muttered something unintelligible. Alistair just snickered. Helga shot the Hat a glare and said, "Just what is it you find so amusing, Alistair? Maybe I should tell Harry about that time two months after Godric created you were you got blind stinking drunk and..."
"He said, 'I need to learn how to dance, or I will have flee from a rather irate Veela'," Alistair quickly supplied to the Found of the House of the loyal, fear evident in his tone, "Though he is also very loudly thinking, 'There is no way I am going to get out of that with my dignity intact.'"
Helga Hufflepuff smiled softly, and then said in a tone that brooked no disagreement, "Stand up."
Three hours later Harry hobbled out of the Room of Requirement, cursing the fact that Helga apparently wanted to turn him into a proverbial 'Lord of the Dance' given that she had talked about at one point what the portraits could, and could not, do when interacting with others as she had led him through the steps of a simple waltz, again and again.
Some advice and consultation to School Heads, part of the job. Sources of wisdom and knowledge during a crisis that could destroy Hogwarts, one of the fail-safes they were made for. They could render some aid to their heirs, but it was rather limited, the biggest limitation being that they could not give any advanced magical training to anyone. Though that wasn't the limit of what they could teach...
He remembered what had happened as he had been leaving the Room...
"Now that Harry here is sufficiently tuckered out... and thus cannot flee while we render our decision, we now need to figure out what aid, of true substance, if any, we are going to render him..." Helga put forth with a grin on her face. Harry felt the specter of Death passing over him, and he had no clue what he wanted to happen.
The three other Founders shared a few long looks before collectively saying, "Nah."
Helga then directed Harry to return to the Room every other day to continue the dance lessons. He had the distinctive feeling that he had dodged a bullet in that the Founders were feeling particularly lazy.
Alistair had yet to finish laughing.
"I swear to Merlin, Al, if you don't stop laughing, I'm going to find a curse that will make the next Sorting Song a bawdy ditty that will make even Dumbledore put you on some kind of probation."
Alistair quieted for a moment and said, "I've actually done that before. In fact," the Hat said in a rather evil tone, "I think it is more than time for it to make a return."
"Damn it... For some bizarre reason, I've been having the feeling that I've dodged something really nasty since I've gotten out of the company of those four..."
"And you should, Harry, without a doubt. While they are good teachers, but have only ever dealt with apprentices, and the vast majority those poor souls only ever dealt with a single one of them. And still the rate of mental breakdowns was staggeringly high. They scoured Europe for teachers when they were first setting up Hogwarts, and it is a good thing they did, they only student ever subjected with more than one of those psychotics was driven mad within a fortnight. They never shared apprentices again... And stop complaining about aches and pains, given how quickly you heal, you'll be fine by the time you get back to the Gryffindor Tower."
"One of these days I am going to snap and set you on fire Alistair."
The month of November passed, with the only real issue Harry having encountered was the self inflicted dance lessons with the Founder of the House of the Loyal. Even with his accelerated healing, he was still left sore and limping from the paces that he was put through. Alistair kept laughing at him, and most of his familiars started to join in, the bunch of traitors.
The good news was that he was fairly certain that the likelihood of making a complete arse out of himself decreased in direct proportion to the amount of pain was inflicted.
Towards the end of the month, he had one of his spars with Neville, which had been slowly worked up from harmless paint, to school-yard hexes and jinxes, and they had started working their into spells and curses that could be mildly dangerous.
Given the number of interesting skills the last Potter had, which Neville didn't really begrudge him any advantage Harry could take, there was a system of handicaps involved, in order to both give Nev a better chance at claiming a few rounds and to give Harry a better workout.
Smirk plastered on his face, Harry asked, "So what are my three disabilities this time, Nev?"
Rolling his eyes in response, Neville said, "What do you think the first two are Harry?"
"No ring and no wandless 'kinetics?"
"Give the boy a candy! The third is ninety seconds where you cannot cast any offensive spells."
Chuckling, Harry questioned, "Simultaneous three count?"
The Longbottom Heir just smirked and nodded.
They both started counting down, "Three... Two... One!"
Neville started letting loose a rather interesting chain of spells; basically harmless jelly-legs and slug-vomiting, mixed with more dangerous blasts of fire and minor slashing spells, with a few rather heavy bludgeoners sprinkled into the spellfire.
Harry immediately started moving, running his wand (currently held in his right hand) along his left forearm from elbow to tip of middle finger, sub-vocalizing his favorite duelist's glove shield. He knew Neville's tactics well enough that this chain would last the entirety of the ninety seconds he would be forced to defend, though Neville tended to remain stationary when he was laying down heavy chains of spell fire.
Harry defended only where he had to, and being slightly quicker than Neville, who was built more towards strength than Harry's agility, he only had to deflect with his wand rarely. That isn't to say his wand wasn't being put to use between deflections. He was preparing the battlefield for his counter offensive, having focused in his spars with Neville at trying to learn to use Transfiguration in a fight.
It was a hard thing to do, but he had read a few passages in his parents' journals of the two times they had seen Dumbledore and Voldemort fight, and both James and Lily knew that both were holding back from rearranging the landscape.
He wasn't capable of anything significant, yet, but it was a few tricks that had caught his best friend of guard.
Palming a bat-bogey hex and redirecting it harmlessly to the side, Harry yelled out, "Ninety," and watched Neville reflexively shield at the shout. Snickering, Harry finished the last few counts he had until he could go on the attack, having just forced Nev into giving up his last seconds of offensive dominance.
The chain Harry started showed a larger field of spell knowledge than Neville's had, but then again, only every third spell in the rather bizarre torrent of magic would be of use in a fight. There rest were household spells, bursts of paint, flashes of light, and other spells that would do absolutely nothing, except keep someone on their guard. His aim suffered, quite badly, from the sheer torrent of spells, only one in four or five even hitting Neville's shield, but he used that inaccuracy to hide his attacks on Neville's flanks.
Seventeen seconds into Harry's counter offensive, and Neville was cursing to himself, wondering when Harry had abandoned his usual pinpoint precision, exhaustively practiced chains for this monstrosity that he was getting thrown at him. He swore he saw several charms meant to degrease pots and pans! His shield fell as his concentration slipped, due to being pelted in the side with marble-sized bits of stone.
Hogwarts's top Herbology student started to dodge out of the way of the signature red of a standard stunner, wondering why it looked a little oversized, but he was suddenly forced to zig in the middle of his zag when the stunning spell split apart into several smaller stunners, and got caught by a disarming spell due to being distraction that sudden action of the stunner caused.
Bending over and huffing, slightly out of breath, Neville queried, "When in the name of Merlin's right testicle did you learn burst casting, and where in the seven circles of hell can I learn that crap?"
Looking barely winded, Harry said, "I'll get you copies of the books I've read. Had to go through the information about four times and do about a hundred hours of practice to get it down with the stunner, but hopefully now that I've learned it with one spell it won't be too difficult to transfer to others."
"I think I'm going to need another handicap soon. You're pulling farther ahead... Then again, I still have to go to all my classes, and I'm fairly certain you screwing around with time magics..."
Harry chuckled, and said, "Aye, I have. But can you begrudge me any advantage in this monstrous tournament?"
"After the first task being a dragon, half of the third having something the simulated Dementors, and the other half having, and I quote your own words at you, 'Three knockdown, drag out fights, one after another'? Hell no. Though Ronald and Malfoy are still being gits spouting about how you are a glory-hound only in it for the money..."
"Tell me does anyone know the names of the previous Tournament winners off the top of their heads?"
"Nope. Not even going to touch the money comment?"
"Not with a ten foot staff."
The first week of December passed with almost annoying slowness. Helga had finally deemed Harry fit to dance in public, but still had him coming back to the Room for more lessons.
He was wandering around on the fourth floor of the castle, debating just how he would handle the martial portion of the Fourth Task. Would he make and use just a single weapon, or should he refine one of his more interesting creations and use that for shock and awe. Or...
He looked down at his right hand as he quickly morphed it, reenforcing the joints and bones and lengthened, hardened, and shaped his fingernails into claws.
There was always the fact that he was planning on seeing whether or not he would need to start digging up rituals where the cost of permanently boosting his physical capabilities weren't too high. He really had no clue how long he could hold the change he had planned, or how much magic it would take to keep it running. Whenever he did changes that added or removed mass, or went too far from what would normally be considered human, it took more effort and magic to make the change, but he had never really tried holding them for longer than necessary.
Snapping out of his revere, Harry asked, "How can I help you Professor Moody?"
Giving what sounded like a really evil chuckle, the ex-Auror replied, "Wondering if you needed a sparring partner to prepare for the next task. Though I must compliment your instincts. Not many can tell when I'm sneaking up on them. You'd make a damn fine Auror one day."
Harry didn't reply immediately, though his brow did furrow in concentration. "Isn't it against the rules for you to offer help to any of the Champions?"
"Bah, they aren't enforced by oaths, what is the worst they can do, fire me? I'm quitting at the end of the school year anyway."
Harry made a thoughtful sound, and nodded before replying, "Thank you for the offer, but I have things well in hand. I'll remember if I feel like getting knocked down a few pegs.
Giving another evil sounding chuckle, Moody started hobbling off, saying, "Have a good day, Potter, and good luck..."
As Harry continued walking as he was before Moody had intercepted him, he took three deep breaths.
And then used his magic to violently slam whoever the hell was wearing Mad-eye's face into the corridor wall. He then threw the person into the opposite wall while he turned on his heel, wand in hand. Jabbing his wand violently at fake Moody, he let loose a trio of stunners so close together that one spell could not be differentiated from another. Following up with three different restraining spells, none of which had physical components, he then bound the fake in conjured ropes, and then, in a fit of paranoia, added chains, just to be sure.
Once he was sure that he would have plenty of warning before he (or maybe even she, Harry had no clue who it really was) escaped, he cast a few quick charms, trying to figure out how the infiltrator had tricked everyone and their uncle. After a great many of them came up inconclusive, before he ground out a greater finishing spell, the finite incantatem's big brother,eradicoincantatum.
Finally getting results, he cast half a dozen detection spells before getting a positive on Polyjuice. Reaching into a pocket, he pulled out a mirror and called out, 'Sirius'. A few moments later, the fact of his godfather appeared and asked, "What is it Harry? Last time we talked face to face you said everything was well in hand, and since you've only written since the last Hogsmeade weekend, I would think that hadn't changed..."
"Yeah well, that was until, Moody, or rather the person impersonating him via Polyjuice, screwed up and said I would do well as an Auror. Get the DMLE."
The image of Sirius blinked a few times, before saying, "I think I vaguely remember what you are talking about, a story your dad told me about Moody saying that James was a damn fine Hit-Wizard who, like Charlus, his father, wouldn't have done well in the Auror Corps."
"His exact words were, 'Potters make magnificent Hit-Wizards, but don't have the disposition for law enforcement, and wouldn't last fifteen minutes before blowing something up if any of your family tried to become Aurors. In fact, I worked with your father when he tried to do just that... He nearly caused another war with the goblins.'"
Snickering, Sirius replied, "Yeah, I remember that now. The fact of the matter was something like that was really out of character with your granddad, a more even tempered and... non-explosion inducing man I have never met... I'll be there with some Aurors... and like Amelia, she never seems to let anything happen at Hogwarts without showing up personally... as soon as a can. If whoever it is twitches, stun 'em again pup."
Harry sighed as he stuffed the mirror in his pocket, and eyed the unconscious person warily. He really needed to ask Alistair about the wards, as they should be something in the protections of the school to prevent something like this from happening.
Fifteen minutes later, a group of about dozen people appeared at the end of the hallway, and saw Harry poking his captive (who no longer looked like Alastor Moody, but rather was a male in his late twenties to early thirties with dark hair) a yard long stick.
The seven Aurors accompanying the Head of the DMLE quickly took charge of the captive, saving him from the bored fourteen year old. The eight law enforcement officers were accompanied by Sirius, the Headmaster, and, strangely enough, a reporter.
Harry glanced askance at Sirius, who simply held one finger up to his lips.
Harry quickly repeated what had happened when Madam Bones asked him, though a rather interesting question followed after he told his short tale.
Removing her monocle for a moment and cleaning it with a handkerchief, Madam Bones asked, "Is there a particular reason you were so... violent... when you initially disabled him?"
"Because if he was impersonating a staff member, he was likely the one who put my name in the magically binding torture device? There is nothing misplaced about any amount of aggression I could direct at him."
Nodding, and placing her monocle back, she said, "You may go, if anything relevant comes up in his questioning, we shall inform your guardians, and it shall be up to them what to tell you."
Taking that clear dismissal, Harry breathed a sigh of relief, and made his way to his lab, hoping he was right in his belief that he had caught the person who had entered him into the Tournament.