Descent into Darkness

BY : Athey1024
Category: Harry Potter AU/AR > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 69308
Disclaimer: I do not own Harry Potter, nor any of the characters from the books or movies. I do not make any money from the writing of this story.


Disclaimer: Don't own Harry Potter. JKRowling does.

First Beta Pass by Clemex

– –

It was three days till the second task and Harry actually felt excited, which part of him thought was probably odd. He felt as ready as he could ever be, and was honestly just anxious to get it over with. He also wondered what the hell the third task was going to be, and whether or not it was going to require as much preparation time as the second task had.

Harry was sitting in transfiguration, working on writing out his essay that was technically homework that he wasn't supposed to start working on until after class. But the rest of the class was practicing the current in-class practical spell, while he had performed it easily on his first try. He rarely saw any point in sitting around repeatedly transforming tea-cups into pillows or other such nonsense for a whole class period when he was in no need of the practice, and could be using that time to get some of his homework done instead.

McGonagall had disapproved of his actions at first, but it had been about two months now, and she rarely made a fuss anymore. He could always prove that he could do the practical spell, the moment she asked him to demonstrate it, and he was getting his homework done. She could hardly fault him for that.

Harry was scratching away at his parchment when he felt McGonagall's presence beside him. Expecting that she was going to ask him to demonstrate the spell, he set down his quill and picked up his wand and wordlessly transfigured the guinea fowl on his desk into a guinea pig. The moment he was done, he dropped his wand and picked his quill back up to resume his essay.

"That's all well and good, Mr. Potter, but I was acting wanting to ask you to remain after class. I need to discuss something important with you," McGonagall said.

Harry looked up at her and blinked in confusion. He nodded his head hesitantly and agreed. She walked away to continue making rounds and checking on everyone's progress.

"What do you think she wants?" Hermione whispered as she leaned across the aisle towards Harry.

He glanced up at her a shrugged. "No clue."

Twenty minutes later, class was over and everyone had just finished evacuating the room. Harry and McGonagall were the only ones left, and Harry was in the process of packing up the last of his things.

"My office, Mr. Potter," McGonagall said as she strode down the aisle towards the door. Harry frowned a bit, but quickly followed after her.

"Have I done something wrong, Professor?" He asked, warily as he trailed after.

She looked back at him with a moments confusion before her face softened. "Oh no. Not at all. But I have something important that we need to discuss and work out."

Harry was filled with a moment of relief, but then he wondered what on earth they needed to 'work out'.

They entered her office and McGonagall sat down in the straight-backed chair behind her desk and motioned for Harry to sit in the chair opposite it.

"Tell me exactly what you have determined about the second task," she said as she folded her hands on her desk.

Harry blinked. "Uh, well, it's going to be in the Black Lake. Something is going to be taken from me, and I'll have one hour to go find it."

"Correct. Normally we would not disclose this detail, but we are in a bit of a conundrum at the moment and I feel I have little choice. The something that will be taken is supposed to be a person. Someone who is very close and important to you. We performed the ceremony last night with the goblet to determine who would be taken for each of the four champions."

"Oh?" Harry responded, trying to mask his emotions. They were a mixture of excitement, curiosity, confusion, and a bit of concern as to why she was telling him this when Bagman had said that who they took from him was supposed to remain a secret.

"Yes. We encountered a problem."

"What is it?"

"The cup would not return a name for you. The paper it sent out always remained blank."

Harry frowned. "Oh...kay. So what does that mean?"

"We theorize that perhaps whatever confundus spell was used to trick the cup into accepting your name in the first place has not been sufficient enough to also make it choose someone for you to save."

Or maybe there isn't anyone at this stupid school that I give a damn about enough to go into the lake for them. And the goblet knows it. Harry thought sardonically.

"In any case, we are left having to choose someone for it."

Harry shrugged. "Alright. That doesn't seem to be a big deal. Just pick someone."

"Miss Granger is unavailable because she has been chosen for Mr. Krum. As an alternative, we were going to choose Mr. Weasley," she finished with her words trailing off hesitantly.

Harry looked thoughtful for a minute and then shook his head. "You can't use him. If Krum's person is Hermione, everyone will think that Ron is my person because I fancy him or something."

"That is what we were concerned about as well," McGonagall said.

"It would end up in the Prophet. No doubt about that. Skeeter would fabricate some huge best-mate boy-love nonsense. Ron would be teased mercilessly, and he would probably start getting all weird, wondering if I really do fancy him or something."

"Exactly," McGonagall said nodding her head. "So do you have an alternative suggestion?"

"You're going to let me choose?" he asked in surprise.

"You can make a suggestion," she said.

For a brief moment, Harry considered asking for Malfoy, simply because it would be hilarious. The idea of Draco being pulled into his Daily Prophet gossip woes brought a wicked grin to his lips. And the taunting and teasing that Malfoy would receive from it would be worth every weird look Harry would get from his fellow Gryffindors.

But he knew McGonagall would see through it, and never go for it.

So he let his mind wander to other alternatives.

It couldn't be a guy. Anyone taken who was male would immediately bring up the idea that Harry fancied them. End of story. So it had to be a girl, but Hermione was already taken by Krum.

Harry's brow's rose and he grinned. "Ginny."

"Miss Weasley?"

Harry nodded. "Yup. Ginny."

"Alright, Mr. Potter. Thank you for you time. You can go now."

– –

The next morning a familiar little owl showed up shortly after breakfast. It was unusual for a post owl to show up at any time outside of breakfast, but seeing as how Harry recognized this specific owl, he wasn't the least bit surprised.

"Is that Sir – er, Snuffle's owl?" Ron gasped as he saw Harry removing the letter from the owl's leg.

"It is," Harry nodded. He was wondering if Sirius's reply would respond to any of his observations about Snape and Karkaroff, and the dark mark, and suddenly realized that he had never actually told Ron or Hermione about any of it. They would probably expect him to read the letter to them, and if it didmention it, they would wonder why he had kept that hidden from them.

However all of his worries were proved for naught when he opened the letter and found it only had a single line of text printed on it.

"Send date of next Hogsmeade weekend by return owl."

Harry blinked and then frowned at it.

Hermione, who had been leaning over his shoulder to read the letter made a curious noise in her throat.

"What do you think that's about?" Ron asked in a bewildered tone.

"I don't know," Hermione said frowning.

"Sounds to me like he plans to pay us a visit," Harry said looking dubiously down at the letter in his hands.

Hermione gasped. "He wouldn't! It's not safe!"

Harry shook his head and sighed. "I imagine he probably would, if he felt it was important enough. Anyway, I guess I'd better reply," he said as he looked over at Sirius's owl, that was sitting and waiting rather impatiently for a response.

"The next Hogsmeade weekend is the weekend after next," Hermione supplied quickly as Harry dug into his bag for a piece of parchment and a quill.

"Thanks," he said as he jotted down the quick response and attached it to the owl's leg.

– –

The morning of the task arrived. It would begin at 9:30am, and classes were canceled for the entire day. Harry and Ron went to breakfast together an hour before the task was scheduled to begin. Ron kept looking around with a curious frown on his face, and finally he turned to Harry and spoke.

"Hey, Harry?"

"Yeah, Ron?" Harry said, not looking up from the book he was currently reading while he ate.

"Where's Hermione? And for that matter... where's Ginny?"

Harry looked up blankly at Ron and shrugged. "Dunno." He quickly went back to the book.

"Is that for the task or something?" Ron asked after a quiet minute.


"That book. Are you reading it for some last minute preparation?"

"No. Just reading it," Harry said distractedly.

"Are you joking?" Ron exclaimed.

Harry looked up reluctantly and rose a single questioning eyebrow at the ginger.

"How can you be just reading some book when you've got to go swim through the lake in forty minutes! And you're eating! You never had the stomach to eat before Quidditch matches before. You always said the nerves were too much. But here you are, sitting all calm, reading some bloody book, like it was any normal, boring day of the week."

Harry sat there, shooting Ron a flat, slightly annoyed, look during the ginger's triad.

"Are you done?"

Ron scowled.

"I've got the task handled. I'm not stressed out over it because I feel pretty damn prepared for this one. I've had months to prep for it, and I think I've got a good solid strategy. At this point, I'm feeling more annoyed impatience than nerves. I just want to get it over with. Reading is distracting me, and keeping my mind off of how frustrated I feel at having to do this at all."

Ron grumbled and looked away, slightly abashed.

They finished their breakfast and Harry went off to Gryffindor tower to change clothes. He had transfigured himself a pair of swimming trunks and then pulled his school robe on over top.

By the time he left the castle and began to cross the grounds towards the lake, it was 9:15am.

The stands that had been placed in a large circle around the dragon enclosure for the first task had now been placed all along one side of the shore of the Black Lake. They were also packed with people.

Harry wondered how much of a show these people were expecting to get, since all four champions would be deep beneath the murky depths for an hour.

Once again, he wondered if there was some sort of monitoring spell to allow the spectators to know what was going on in the lake, but Bagman had said that there wasn't going to be one, and he could only hope that was true.

Harry walked over and joined the other three champions who were gathering near the judges table. The three headmasters were all seated there, but instead of Mr. Crouch, his assistant, Percy Weasley was seated there. Harry frowned at this. He darted his eyes around, looking for any sign of 'Moody', but didn't see him either.

Thinking back, he had seen both Crouch and Moody at the first task though. So maybe Crouch didn't start impersonating Moody until more recently?

Harry sighed and shook his head. He didn't like not knowing what was going on with that.

Ludo Bagman came up, looking excitedly at the four champions. "Is everyone ready, then?" he asked, grinning.

Harry looked over at the others for the first time then. Fleur looked nervous and when their eyes met he gave her a reassuring smile.

She grinned at him, and it appeared that a small amount of tension left her for a moment.

Cedric was giving off a determined air, but Harry could see the older boy's hands shake a bit before he clenched them into tight fists.

Krum was glowering at the lake as if it were a beast he was set to tackle. Harry supposed it sort of was. It was certainly filled with beasts.

"Alright then, lets get everyone lined up," Bagman said as he began to herd the four of them towards the shore. He placed them at ten foot intervals from each other, and they each began to prepare. Fleur took off her robes to reveal a one-piece swim suit, which illicited some rude catcalls from the stands. Fleur turned and glared angrily in the general direction the sound had come from.

Krum was already standing in nothing more than a pair of swimming trunks, and looked perfectly fine with the temperature. Harry wondered if he had already cast a warming charm on himself.

Cedric slipped off his outer robes to reveal a pair of trunks and a tank-top. He shivered visibly and ran his hands up and down his exposed arms.

Harry sighed and pulled off his robes as well. Instantly the chill hit him, but he was pretty used to it by now. It was nicer that day than it had been for the previous week, however it was currently 9:25 am, and he usually did his swim training in the afternoon when the day had had some time to warm up.

Fleur looked his way again with a soft smile, but it stilled and her eyes widened for a moment. Harry watched as her eyes trailed up and down his lithe form with a surprisingly appreciative look. Harry almost laughed. Instead he rose a single, cocky, questioning eyebrow at her. When she realized she'd been caught gawking, she actually blushed!

Harry laughed and she rolled her eyes at him. But she was now smiling rather genuinely now, so if nothing else, he had at least distracted her from some of her nerves.

Bagman returned to the stands by the judges table and brought his wand up to his neck, as he had at the Quidditch World Cup and said "Sonorus!" and his voice boomed out across the dark water towards the stands.

"Well, all our champions are ready for the second task, which will start on my whistle. They have precisely an hour to recover what has been taken from them. On the count of three, then. One... two... three!"

The whistle echoed shrilly in the cold, still air and the stands erupted with cheers and applause.

Harry gripped his wand in his hand and cast the warming charm first. He was desperately relieved the moment it took effect and his shivers could stop. Next he cast the small bubble-head charm over his face, and then promptly dropped his wand on the folded pile of robes. He wouldn't need it and it would transform with him so he wouldn't even be able to hold it.

Still, the abandonment of his wand apparently bewildered quite a few people because he could hear a lot of murmuring in the section of stands behind him.

He ignored it and took off into the water at a quick pace. The lake had a gradual incline at this portion, instead of the steeper drop off he was used to from the side of the lake he usually trained from. This meant that he had to wait longer – until he reached a deep enough section of water to dive deep – to do his actual transformation.

He waded his way as quickly as he could manage until it got deep enough that the water was up to his chest. Finally he plunged under the surface and began to swim forward.

He had gotten a fair distance from the shore and had gone down into the muddy silt before he finally felt safe in performing his transformation. He'd done it so many times now that it felt like second nature and only took a few seconds to complete.

As a sea snake Harry had a paddle-like tail at the very tip and his body was laterally compressed slightly, but not much. It almost gave him a slight eel-like appearance, except that he was extremely thick, and about 9 feet long.

His body was black and white striped, with a mostly black head, except for a small area of white on the top of his head and snout.

His bright silvery-white stripes didn't exactly provide him with good camouflage in the dark, green, murky depths of the lake, but his three weeks of training in it had taught him that most things would avoid him just because it was a great, thick, 9 foot long snake.

The moment his transformation was complete he shot forward into the depths of the lake to get as far from the shore as he could manage, as fast as possible. He was soon calling forth his parselmagic and starting the locator spell. He grinned internally, thankful that he knew exactly who he was supposed to be looking for thanks to the cup's inability to provide the headmaster's with a name.

He told the great black snake to find Ginny, and it quickly began to dart in the direction of the merfolk's village.

Just as Harry was swimming through the long green weeds that he knew housed a large group of grindylows he heard the reverberated watery echoes of the nasty little water demons as they swarmed something. He was about to ignore it and move on, thankful that he wasn't the one being attacked, when he heard the garbled, bubbled yelp of Fleur.

He called his locator snake to stop and wait for him and turned to swim in the direction he sensed the commotion from.

Fleur was struggling in the long grassy weeds as a grindylow held on tight to her ankle. Another reached up and clutched it's long fingers around her other leg and bared it's pointed fangs.

She was pointing her wand at them, and probably trying to cast some non-verbal spells, but it was obvious that she was having trouble focusing in her panicked state.

Two more grindylows appeared out of the weeds and grabbed and clawed at her arms and hair. They began to amass around her and pull her down as she struggled and panicked.

Harry darted through the water with his serpentine speed and opened his mouth, baring his fangs at the nasty little creatures. Once they spotted him coming, they began to panic and the first few dispersed within an instant. Fleur looked shocked and then relieved as she was released from some of her demonic captors... and then she saw Harry.

Her eyes grew wide and her mouth opened to scream. The sound echoed strangely through her bubble-head charm. Two of the remaining grindylows saw Harry and squealed in terror. One bared it's fangs at Harry, and dug it's claws into Fleur's arm. She began to renew her struggle against the beasts, all the while keeping her terrified eyes trained on Harry's enormous serpentine form.

Harry darted forward and snapped his jaws around one of the little monsters, sinking his short fangs into it's side. It screamed a horrible high-pitched noise and struggled against him. He tossed it aside with a flick of his head and set his sights on one of the others. One look from him, and the remaining grindylows gave up and ran.

Fleur now had her wand trained on Harry and looked to be on the brink of sobs.

Harry blinked at her and then turned away, swimming back in the direction he had left his locator spell.

Harry renewed the spell and followed the black serpent that only he could see, directly towards the merfolk's village.

He passed the large rock with 'painting's on it, depicting what looked like merfolk carrying spears, fighting the giant squid. He snickered at it and keep moving forward, towards the village. A cluster of crude stone dwellings stained with algae loomed suddenly and Harry could see faces peering out from the windows, hesitantly watching him.

A few of the merfolk had seen him during his training the last tree weeks, but he doubted any of them realized he was actually one of the competitors.

He swam his way through the center of town, still following his black locator snake until it came to stop, coiling around a great carved stone statue of a merperson with four people bound tightly to it's tail.

Ginny was tied between Hermione and Cho Chang. The last person was a young girl – probably no older than eight or nine – with long silvery blond hair. Harry assumed she had to be Fleur's sister or something. All four of them appeared to be in a very deep sleep, and a fine stream of bubbles kept issues from their mouths.

The merpeople were gathering now, and surround the statue was a rather large group of them, all carry those unpleasantly sharp spears of theirs.

Harry swam quickly, straight for the statue and the merfolk eyed him warily. They were all whispering to each other, animatedly, curiosity and concern in their eyes. Harry approached cautiously, half-expecting them to start attacking him. But they didn't. He went straight for Ginny and eyed her restraints. She was tied with a thick heavy rope, and he grumbled slightly. Not that it wasn't something he could handle, but he was probably going to have to transform back into a human to deal with it.

Heaving an internal sigh, he began to revert his transformation. Seconds later, he was human again, and the merfolk seemed utterly stunned. He cautiously tested the bubble-head charm and was relieved to get reliable breath of air from it. It was shrinking through, so he couldn't stay in a human form for too long like this.

He focused on the ropes and pointed his fingers at them while calling forth his parselmagic and hissing out a weak severing curse. He sliced through the bindings, one at a time until there was nothing left holding Ginny to the statue and she began to float freely.

Harry paused and looked over at Hermione's floating form. He had no idea where the others were, but he was fairly confident that Krum would come for her. Even if the others didn't make in the hour time limit, he knew there was no way Dumbledore would actually allow anyone down here to drown.

So he turned back to Ginny. He summoned a piece of long reedy grass and transfigured it into a rope, all through parselmagic. The merfolk were still watching him with intense fascination, as he worked at tying it around Ginny's waist. Finally, he transformed back into his sea serpent form, grabbed the end of the rope in his mouth and began to haul her out of the village.

He knew his way back to the shore from here, so he didn't need to bother with the locator spell again.

As the ground became closer to the surface, and Harry knew he was growing near the shore, he transformed back into his human form and started swimming up to the surface, with the unconscious Ginny still in tow behind him. He broke through the surface of the water, and pulled in a great gasp of breath.

The moment they broke through the surface, whatever spell was on Ginny seemed to cease because she proceeded to cough out a mouth full of water and then blink at him owlishly.

"Hey Gin, you alright?" Harry asked.

"Uh... yeah?" she said weakly. He chuckled and began to paddle towards the shore with her, still in tow.

They climbed out of the water, freezing and dripping wet. The stands were cheering uproariously, and a small crowd of people were heading their way. Madam Pomfrey was racing straight for them with large fluffy towels. Percy Weasley looked remarkably pale and stunned to see his baby sister coming out of the freezing water and he rushed over to her.

Dumbledore was beaming at Harry, and Harry had for force a smile onto his face as he looked into his headmaster's eyes. The powerful, deep seeded loathing was still there, and still as powerful as ever, but he couldn't let it show.

"Well done, Harry! Well done!" Ludo Bagman was saying as he came over and clapped Harry on the back. Harry grinned weakly at the man and walked over to the spot where he'd left his robes and his wand. Madam Pomfrey was forcing a towel on him while he gathered his things. He took it, but didn't bother wrapping himself with it at first. Instead he cast a non-verbal drying charm on himself, and then renewed the warming charm. Another charm later and his hair was dry too. He pulled his robes back on, looked at the towel, and then handed it to Ginny instead.

"Thanks Harry," she said, ducking her head a little. "That was really brilliant. You saved me, and you came in first!" she exclaimed, looking up now.

Harry shrugged. "Yeah, well, it's not like Dumbledore would have let any of you actually get hurt down there, so I don't see how I 'saved' you, per se. I'm sorry you had to get dragged into this actually."

"Oh it's alright. It's kind of exciting, really. Although, admittedly, I am really really cold," she said, chuckling. Percy was standing beside her and frowning. Whenever he did bother a glance Harry's way, he actually scowled.

Harry rolled his eyes. Stupid prat.

"Here, let me help with that," Harry said as he raised his wand and pointed it at her. First he dried her clothes, which took two separate drying charms, and then a third for her hair. He finished it all off with another simple warming charm.

She blinked and looked down at herself with obvious surprise.

"Blimey, Harry! That was brilliant!" she beamed. "I didn't know you could perform wordless spells! What was all that?"

"Just foveo and exaresco. Nothing special. And I've been practicing non-verbal spells for a while now."

Percy actually looked mildly impressed, but clearly he didn't want Harry to know that because he turned his attention back to Ginny and asked her if she was really alright, for about the dozenth time in the last four minutes.

Harry sighed and made his way to a small tent with some chairs that had been set up for the champions. He sat down to wait for the others to finish, and wished suddenly that he'd actually brought his book with him.

Quite a few people in the stands were still quite animated with chatter about Harry's return, but many of them had reverted to a state of bored impatience. Harry snickered. Bagman was right about this not being a very entertaining event for spectators.

He was relieved to see that there were no magical devices, or anything else set up to relay what the champions were doing under the water. Sure, it meant it was boring for those standing around waiting, but it also meant that no one would know about his sea snake transformation.

Another ten minutes passed before Cedric Diggory broke the surface with a sputtering Cho Chang in toe. Five more minutes after them, and what looked like a shark exploded from the water. It turned out it was only a shark head, and the body of Viktor Krum. His head morphed and twisted as he reversed the half-completed transfiguration, and Hermione came bobbing to the surface looking like a drowned cat. Harry snickered.

Harry was growing a tad worried that Fleur still hadn't made an appearance several minutes later when the French Veela finally showed up with her little sister in her arms.

Harry watched as Dumbledore walked over to the waters edge to meet with one of the merpeople. She was a rather wild and ferocious-looking female, and the old headmaster actually started making the same ear piercing screechy sounds that she was, and the two of them were apparently talking. So, Harry supposed, that meant that Dumbledore could speak Mermish.

Harry's heart stopped.

Dumbledore could speak mermish.

The merfolk had seen him transform to free Ginny. Shite!

Finally he straightened up, turned to his fellow judges and said, "A conference before we give the marks, I think."

The judges went into a huddle and Harry found himself staring at them with a feeling of horror in his gut. What was he going to tell them if they asked him what he'd done? Could he admit that it was a parselmagic thing, or would he just claim to be an animagus and register the form with the ministry when he turned 17?

" was the most remarkable thing. A great snake saved me from the grindylows!" Fleur was saying to one of her Beauxbatons friends. Harry turned around grinned a bit to himself. "I was sure I was doomed! Ze little water demons were pulling me down and I could do no'sing to stop zem! Zen dis huge serpent appears out of nowhere and bites one of zem! They all scattered, but I was afraid zen that it would come after me. But it didn't!"

Harry found himself tempted to say something to her, but was distracted by Bagman's voice calling out again and drawing in everyone's attention.

"Ladies and gentlemen, we have reached our decision. Mer-chieftainess Murcus has told us exactly what happened at the bottom of the lake, and we have therefore decided to award marks out of fifty for each of the champions as follows..."

Harry felt his blood go cold. 'Told us exactly what happened at the bottom of the lake.'

Shite shite shite...

"Fleur Delacour demonstrated an excellent use of the bubblehead charm, and was able to recover her hostage, but only in forth place and after one hour and seventeen minutes; outside the time-limit of an hour. Because of this, we award her twenty-five points."

Applause from the stands.

"Viktor Krum used an incomplete form of Transfiguration, which was nevertheless effective, and was third to return with his hostage. We award him thirty-five points."

Karkaroff clapped particularly hard, and a nice sized cheer roared from the stands.

"Cedric Diggory, who also used the bubble-head charm, was the second to return with his hostage, though he returned one minute outside the limit of an hour. Therefore we award him forty points."

Another roar of cheers from the crowd, most notably from the Hufflepuffs in the crowd.

"And finally, Harry Potter, who used a combination of magics, including the bubble-head charm, and a remarkable use of human-to-animal transfiguration, turned himself into a sea serpent! He was the first to return with his hostage, and well within the time limit. We award him, fifty points!"

The stands erupted in cheers and Harry smiled brightly and waved up at them, all the while wondering if the headmasters really believed that line, or if they were just covering for him.

Harry turned and saw Hermione standing beside him suddenly with wide eyes and her jaw hanging open slightly.

"Is that true!" she gasped.

"Is what true? That I was first and came in under the time limit?" Harry asked innocently.

"No, not that, Harry! I already knew that! Did you really transfigure yourself? Human transfiguration is a NEWT level skill, Harry! And you're not supposed to do it to yourself! It's incredibly dangerous! How did you even turn yourself back?"

"Hermione!" Harry called out, cutting off her rant. "I didn't transfigure myself."

She screwed up her face and frowned. "What? Then why did they say that?"

"If they think I transfigured myself, then they can go ahead and believe that. I'm not about to correct them, unless they come asking me specifically about it."

"Well then what did you do?"

"I –" Harry began but hesitated and then blinked as Viktor Krum came up, looking rather indignant.

"You haff a water beetle in your hair, Herm-own-ninny," Krum said, and Harry had the impression that Krum was trying to draw her attention back to him, seeing as how he had been the one who just 'saved her' from the Black Lake.

Harry smirked and reached up into Hermione's hair and snatched the little black beetle with a quick reach and reflexes honed by quidditch, and several months of mock dueling a dead snake with dark magic.

He was about to release the little bug when a jolt went through his fingers. The little bug was fluttering it's wings and wiggling it's legs wildly, trying to get out of his hand.

"Ew, Harry. Just toss it," Hermione said, looking down at the bug he was still holding in his hand.

Instead Harry clasped his hand shut, trapping it in his fist.

"Herm-own-ninny?" Krum said again and Hermione turned to see what he wanted. Harry looked down at his fist and frowned. He wasn't sure what it was he felt, but he was certain it wasn't just a bug. He focused all of his senses and was surprised to detect the faint magical aura of a wizardcoming from the bug."

He turned his head away from Krum and Hermione and whispered a parselmagic hiss quietly while focusing his magic on encasing the bug in a small magical field. Once it was complete, he could only feel a cool sphere of magic in his hand, instead of the fluttering scraping of bug. He slipped the orb into his robe pockets and turned back just in time to find Hermione about to round on him again.

"Well?" she said.


"What did you do! If you didn't transfigure yourself, why did they think you did?"

"It's... kind of a long story."

"Oh, Harry, please! I hate all of these secrets you been keeping all term! You never tell Ron and me anything anymore," she said with a flustered pout. "The task is over, why can't you tell us what you've been doing all this time? You've dedicated so much time to your training, and I know there is no way that you spent all that time just working on the bubble-head charm! And what about those potions you brewed over the holidays? What were those for?"

Harry restrained the urge to scowl and gripe at her that it was none of her damned concern and to just mind her own bloody business.

"Look..." he said with some exasperation. "I'll... I'll talk to you about it later. Okay?"

Harry decided that he would wait to figure out what to tell Ron and Hermione until after he was confronted by Dumbledore – which he was almost positive would happen sooner or later – so that he could keep his stories in sync.

Hermione didn't seem pleased with this, but nodded her head and accepted it.

Bagman's voice boomed through the air again and Harry refocused on it.

"The third and final task will take place at dusk on the twenty-forth of June. The champions will be notified of what is coming precisely one month beforehand. Thank you all for your support."

Madam Pomfrey then began herding the champions and hostages back to the castle to get looked over. Harry insisted to her that he was fine, but she then insisted that she didn't care and would make that determination herself up in the hospital wing.

Reluctantly, he trudged up with the others so that the school's medi-witch could do her work-up on them, to make sure that no one had sustained any injuries that needed her attention.

It was over.

June twenty-forth. He wouldn't even find out what the last task was until May twenty-forth. That meant he now had three whole months before he even found out what it was.

He grimaced. He would have preferred to have all this time to prepare. Now he was going to have to prepare blindly. He would just continue teaching himself as much as possible and hope it would be applicable.

He was probably going to have to learn some more neutral attacks and defenses. He had learned loads of dark ones that would be helpful in lots of different situations, but he doubted that he would be in a position where he could safely use any of those.

As it was, he had believed himself relatively safe from prying eyes in regards to her sea snake transformation, but Dumbledore had found out about it anyway.

No. He definitely couldn't risk using any dark magic in the tournament.

He sighed in resignation. He had seen a dark-ish-neutral-magic defense book on the Crespus Publishing book list, but had ignored it at the time. He would order it once he was back in the dormitory and focus on it for a while.

Just as Madam Pomfrey finally released him from her care, Albus Dumbledore strode into the hospital wing with eyes trained directly upon Harry. Harry froze up and felt a mixture of dread and hatred course through him, but held it in check.

"Mr. Potter, I was wondering if perhaps I could have a brief word with you," Dumbledore said with a gentle smile and his usual twinkle in his eye.

Harry forced a look of confused innocence on his face and quickly made his way over to his headmaster. "Of course, sir."

Dumbledore smiled, turned, and began to stride quickly out of the hospital wing and towards the grand staircase.

Harry didn't bother to ask where they were going. He had no doubt that he was heading up to Dumbledore's office.

He was not surprised then, when they reached the seventh floor and headed straight down the corridor towards the gargoyle that stood in front of the entrance to the headmaster's office.

"Ice mice," Dumbledore said to the gargoyle, and it leapt aside. The two of them stepped onto the rising turning staircase and moments later Harry found himself in an overstuffed armchair and being offered a lemon drop, which he politely declined.

"So, Harry," Dumbledore began genially as he clasped his hands on his desk. "Can you tell me exactly what it is that you did, in the lake? I heard some rather interesting things from their Chieftainess."

"Um... what sorts of things?"

"It's the most curious thing, actually. Mer-chieftainess Murcus told me that there was a very large serpent that entered their village. She said that this serpent had been seen a few times before during the last few weeks, but none of her people had given it much thought since it had not been aggressive at all. Her people watched as the snake approached the hostages, but were then quite started to witness it transform into... you.

"After freeing Miss Weasley, you then apparently transformed back and left. I must admit, Harry, I am quite curious as to what exactly you did, as I doubt somewhat that you actually transfigured yourself... especially taking into account how you discarded your wand before entering the lake."

Harry paused... was a wand necessary for the animagus transformation? Crap, he should have looked that up.

If he told the truth – that it was a parselmagic transformation – the headmaster would want to know where Harry learned it. And even if Harry lied – which he would, there was no way he was telling anyone about his visits to the chamber – the best he could do was claim he found some old rare book somehow. But that would still make Dumbledore wonder as to why Harry would go to the trouble to try finding out more about the 'dark and dangerous' skill that Harry inherited from the Dark Lord. If he realized that Harry was interested enough in his parselmagic to start investigating it enough to learn the transformation, he would probably start worrying about Harry looking into other dark magics... which, you know, is exactly what happened. But he didn't want to let Dumbledore know that.

And there was no way he was going to risk some idealist, barmy old codger keep him from learning a powerful and useful skill, no matter how 'dark and evil' it was socially perceived to be.

So... the lesser of two evils was... animagus. He could claim to have been working on it since the previous year. He could say that he started working on it after he found out about his dad being an animagus.

The fact that his 'animagus form' was a snake would cause some curiosity, but you can't choose your animagus form, so no one could pin it on him. And he could always try to shrug it off as one of those things caused by his 'weird connection to Voldemort'. Plus he could also use the fact that his 'form' was a snake as the excuse for why he had kept it hidden.

But then there was that whole 'did you need a wand to do the animagus transformation' problem. It didn't seem likely. Afterall – how would you turn back? Then he remembered – Sirius had transformed while in Azkaban! He didn't have a wand in prison! So he was safe. No wand was needed to perform the animagus transformation.

Harry had spent all of a second contemplating all of this. He cleared his mind and expression and replaced it with the a sheepish, guilty look.

"Um... I didn't think anyone would find out," he said in a quiet voice, as he ducked his head down and looked at his hands, which he was now wringing nervously in his lap.

"You're not in trouble, Harry. I just want to know what technique you used," Dumbledore said in a calming, reassuring voice.

Internally, Harry rolled his eyes and made a derisive remark. Externally, he looked up through his eyelashes at his headmaster with apologetic, puppy-dog eyes.

"Um... I know I'm not registered, but I read that it's not mandatory to register it until a wizard reaches 17, so I thought it would be okay... and I didn't expect anyone to be able to see it either... so..."

"Unregistered?" Dumbledore asked, curiously.

"Er... yeah... last year, pretty early on, I started trying to do the animagus transformation..." Harry said, looking back into his lap, and his voice growing more quiet and meek as he went.

Dumbledore's large bushy white eyebrows moved up into his forehead a bit in surprise.

Harry cleared his throat and squared his shoulders a bit – as if he were trying to regroup his courage – although they instantly hunched back down a moment later. "Anyway, I didn't really know if I was going to get it completed in time for the task. I only mastered the transformation about three weeks ago. My backup plan was to just swim the hard way, and rely on the bubble-head charm, completely."

Dumbledore blinked at him for a moment before sitting forward a bit. "Harry, are you saying that you mastered the animagus transformation in less than a year?"

Harry looked up and gaped for a moment before ducking his head bashfully. "Er... I guess so."

"What, exactly, possessed you to try it, if I may ask?"

"I heard that my dad and his friends were animagus. I thought it would... I don't know... bring me closer to him if I went through the same thing that he did."

Harry stole a peak up at his headmaster, trying to gauge how well the old man was taking this. Dumbledore's eyes grew sad and understanding, and a soft smile spread across his lips.

"I must say Harry; I am quite surprised... but also very impressed. That is quite an impressive accomplishment, especially for someone only in their forth year. I believe that your father and his friends didn't begin their training till their fifth, and even then, they didn't successfully complete it until seventh."

Harry looked up at Dumbledore with wide, hopeful, and awe-filled eyes. Details on James and Lily used to be more precious than gold to him, and any indication that he might learn something new about either of them had always garnered this sort of response in Harry, and he knew Dumbledore would expect it.

"So!" Dumbledore said sitting back in his chair and folding his hands in his lap again. "What is your form, exactly?"

"Er... a Sea Krait."

"Ah, the sea krait. Genus Laticuada, family Hydrophiidae. The only sea serpent to retain enough of the traits from it's terrestrial cousins to still be adapted to live both on land an in water. Fascinating."

Harry's jaw dropped slightly in legitimate surprise. Bloody hell, the man was a dictionary for both magical and non-magical information! He would almost expect that sort of response out of Hermione, but he hadn't expected it from the headmaster.

"Uh... yeah. That," Harry responded ineloquently.

"That's a rather curious form for you to take on, don't you think?" Dumbledore asked.

Harry shrugged and looked down into his lap again. "Yeah, I suppose... I guess that's why I never told Ron or Hermione. The whole... snake thing. It would... weird them out."

"Mr. Weasley and Miss Granger don't know?" Dumbledore said, with obvious surprise.

Harry shrugged one shoulder and kept his head bowed. "Like I said... it would weird them out. You know how Ron is about the whole parseltongue thing. Any relationship or connection with snakes and a person is instantly labeled as dark by him."

"Ah, yes. I can understand your fears. However I am sure that Mr. Weasley will find it in himself to move beyond such petty prejudices. He is your friend and I think that it is important that we have people near us that we can confide in."

Harry kept his head bowed, appearing thoroughly cowed. "Yes, sir."

"Good. Now, I would assume that there may be a bit of a celebration waiting for you back in the common room."

Harry looked up with wide surprised eyes. Internally, he was snickering about how fickle his classmates were, if that were true. If they did all suddenly start worshiping the ground he walked on, just because he was in the lead of this ruddy tournament, it would just prove how idiotic the lot of them were.

"You really think so, sir?" Harry asked with faux hope oozing from him.

"I do, Harry."

Finally Harry was dismissed and allowed to escape his headmaster's office. He slipped past the gargoyle and down the hall with a smug smirk on his face. He was really becoming an extremely accomplished actor. Even he would have believed that performance.

Well... maybe not. But Harry had become a very un-trusting person. While Dumbledore wanted nothing more that to believe the best in everyone, and was, therefore, an idiotically trusting person.

Harry's hand slipped into his pocket and fingered the magical orb that contained the strange little beetle he had picked from Hermione's hair. His curiosity was peaked about it, but if Dumbledore was right, and his fellow Gryffindors were setting up some sort of stupid celebration in the common room, then he probably wasn't going to get a chance to examine it anytime soon.

That was annoying, but he'd just have to be patient and play nice with his house mates.

Harry made his way to the portrait of the Fat Lady, spoke the password and pulled it open. As soon as he stepped through the portrait hole, a roar of cheers and applause echoed through the room and he was instantly greeted by Hermione, Ron, and Ginny, who were all beaming at him and spouting congratulations.

Harry smiled, and laughed, and blushed, and acted sheepish and bashful in the appropriate instances. All the while, he kept impatiently fingering the magical ball in his pocket and wishing anxiously that the damned party would end already so he could find somewhere private to investigate it.

The party, however, seemed like it would never end. It was still in full swing later that afternoon.

Harry managed to beg off by telling the others that he really wanted to shower and clean up before dinner and escaped up to his dorm room alone. Once inside, he flicked his wand towards the door and cast a locking spell.

He pulled the magical ball out of his pocket and examined it. It looked like a glass orb, and while it had no actual physical form, it felt solid. And of course, inside it was a hysterically fluttering little black beetle.

The magical barrier he was using to contain it was masking some of his ability to sense the magic he detected from the bug when he first picked it up, so he looked around the room for an alternative container.

On the desk beside Harry's bed was a glass jar that he used to hold old quills. He walked over, emptied it's contents into a drawer and examined the jar. It was an old jam jar that he had nicked from his aunt a few summers ago, and he didn't have the lid to it. But that certainly wasn't a real problem. He could have used a rock and transfigured it into an aquarium if he really felt like going all out, after all.

He lowered the little magical containment ball into the jar and then waved his wand over the jar, transfiguring it so that it had no opening at all, but was instead a solid continuous glass all around. With a quiet hiss and a wave of his fingers, the magical ball vanished and the beetle was released from it, only to find itself just as trapped inside the jar with no opening.

It fluttered angrily around the jar, ramming itself at the sides. Now that the parselmagic barrier was gone and the beetle was left in an entirely non-magical container, there was nothing blocking his senses.

He set the jar on his desk, sat down in his chair, and stared intently at it. He could definitely feel a wizard's aura.

"You're a wizard, aren't you?" he asked at the little bug and it froze suddenly. He smirked and quirked a single eyebrow. "Not very subtle are you?" he chuckled. "Let's see... you could be someone who has been transfigured into a bug, but then it's unlikely that you'd retain enough sense to understand English. Alternately... you could be an animagus...?"

The bug was holding still and he would swear it was staring straight at him. Suddenly it began fluttering around crazily again.

"Well, if you are an animagus, I know one quick way to tell," he mused as he stood up, grabbed his bag from beside his bed and pulled the Marauder's Map out of it's front pocket. He tapped his wand on it and spoke the incantation to activate it. The ink appeared on the page and he quickly found his location in Gryffindor Tower. What he saw there made him nearly choke.

Inside the forth year dormitory of Gryffindor Tower were two dots. One said Harry Potter. The other one said Rita Skeeter.

Harry narrowed his eyes and turned back to the bug in the jar. He growled and tapped the map again, deactivating it. He folded it up, and slid it back into his bag before striding back to the desk, sitting down in the chair and coming eye level with the jar. He stared straight into it and pierced the beetle with a deathly glare.

"Well, hello Rita," he said as a dangerously wicked grin spread across his lips. The bug froze for a second before resuming it's furious flight in circles inside it's confined space.

Harry quickly pulled out his wand and cast an unbreakable charm on the jar, to make sure she could break the jar by transforming.

"I suppose this explains how you were able to spy on me inside the school," he mused as he bent down and brought his nose right up to the side of the glass. "Now, what to do with you... I wonder..." the evil, sadistic grin that was plastered across his face, and the powerful waves of magic –dark magic – that was rolling off him would have terrified the strongest of wizards.

Rita actually fainted.

He cackled lightly before opening his trunk to the expanded book compartment that had the parseltongue password. He slid the jar in between several books and closed the trunk with a giggle. Oh this was going to be entertaining... he just needed to find an appropriate block of time to have his fun.

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