Descent into Darkness

BY : Athey1024
Category: Harry Potter AU/AR > Slash - Male/Male
Dragon prints: 70162
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



– –



The morning of the third task dawned and Harry made his way to the Great Hall for breakfast. It was a bigger deal than usual since the Minister for Magic was there, as well as a number of extra guests, even thought the actual task wasn't until that evening. Harry had been exempt from his exams because he was one of the tournament champions but he had only taken up that offered relief in History of Magic and Divination. In his other classes, he had insisted on taking the exams anyway. Ron had been utterly dumbfounded by this, while Hermione was beaming with pride.



That morning, for example, was his History of Magic exam that he didn't need to, or even remotely want to take. So his plans for the morning was to sit in the back of the classroom and read. His plans were interrupted when Professor McGonagall came up behind him and told him that all of the champions were supposed to gather in the small chamber off the Great Hall.



"But the task isn't until this evening," Harry said, looking at her in utter bewilderment.



"Yes, but the champion's families are invited to watch the final task. This is simply a chance for you to greet them."



Harry gaped at her in utter dumbfounded confusion.



"My...family?" Harry deadpanned.



"Yes, Mr. Potter."



Harry gave her a piercing look and she actually looked a bit unnerved by it. "Is this Dumbledore's idea?"



He didn't seriously get the Dursleys down here, did he? Harry was quite sure that nothing short of the Imperius curse would get Vernon Dursley to come with in a hundred miles of Hogwarts.



"You may be surprised by what you find there, Harry. You have until the end of breakfast," she said before turning and heading off to inform the others.



Harry blinked after her, still entirely confused as to what was going on. There really was no way in hell that the Dursleys would be at Hogwarts. Just no. way.



So who was it? Surely not Sirius? He hadn't written anymore letters since Harry's visit the week prior, so Harry really didn't know what was going on with his godfather. He could have taken polyjuice potion and disguised himself, but even that would only work with Dumbledore's assistance and Harry just didn't see that as being very likely. And even if it was, it was an insanely risky thing for Sirius to do! The Minister of Magic was sitting no more than twenty feet from Harry at this very minute.



"What do you think is going on, Harry?" Hermione asked in a hushed, worried, voice.



"I have no idea," Harry said, still staring after McGonagall.



Hermione was frowning and looking just as concerned and suspicious as Harry. Finally she sighed and looked at her wrist watch.



"We'd better hurry, Ron or we'll be late for Professor Binns."



"Right," Ron said before stuffing another fork full of eggs into his mouth. He finally finished and then gave Harry a slightly concerned look before speaking again. "Well er... good luck, I guess?" Ron said giving Harry a hesitant look and shrugging.



"Yeah... thanks," Harry said nodding his head at them. They both stood and hurried out of the hall to take their History of Magic exam.



Harry finished his breakfast in the emptying Great Hall, slowly mulling over what could be going on. He watched as Fleur got up from where she was sitting at the Ravenclaw table and joined Cedric as he crossed to the side chamber and entered. Krum slouched off to join them shortly afterward.



Harry was frowning away at the door. He was almost dreading what he found find behind that door. Finally he stood up and slowly made his way towards it.



The door of the side chamber opened suddenly and Cedric stuck his head out, momentarily searching around before he spotted Harry.



"Harry, come on, they're waiting for you!"



This only made Harry start. Who the bloody hell was 'they'? If it was Sirius under Polyjuice, it would he a 'he'. He didn't know enough potential family members to form a 'they', and he still knew that there was no way in hell that the Dursleys would set foot in Hogwarts.



Unless Dumbledore really did put them under the Imperius. Did he seriously think Harry would fall for that? That he wouldn't notice? Was this some attempt to convince him that it would be okay if he went back to his relatives? Was –



Harry stepped through the door and blinked. There, standing a few feet from Fleur, her mother, and her little sister Gabrielle, was none other than Mrs. Weasley and Bill, standing in front of the fireplace, beaming at him.



"Surprise!" Mrs. Weasley said excitedly. Harry gaped at them before a small smile crept onto his lips.



Well, this was certainly better than anything he had feared. He walked over to them, still rather stunned, and came to an awkward stop directly in front of them.



"Thought we'd come and watch you, Harry!" she said as she leaned forward and kissed him on the cheek. He felt himself go red at the overly affectionate gesture and stood there stiffly as she began to look him over.



"Good Merlin, Harry! Look at you! You've shot up like a weed! You were always such a small dear, no offense of course Harry. You must have grown half a foot! If not more!"



Harry ducked his head and ran his hand through his hair, trying to hide his grin.



Mrs. Weasley made a tutting sound next though, and he looked up at her curiously. "Really should do something about that hair though. Getting a bit shaggy," she said and Harry saw her eyes dart over to Bill and frown at his long hair, tied into a loose low ponytail. Harry grinned.



Bill rolled his eyes at his mother and offered his hand to Harry. "Hey, Harry. Charlie wanted to come too, but he couldn't get time off. He said you were incredible against the Fireball. Said he's never seen anyone able to dominate one like that before. I know some people get kinda squeamish over the parseltongue thing, but Charlie couldn't help but wonder if he could find someone who speaks it to recruit for up at the reserve."



Harry barked out a small laugh and Bill smirked.



Fleur, Harry noticed, was eyeing Bill with great interest over her mother's shoulder. Harry could tell she had no objection whatsoever to long hair or earrings with fangs on them.



"This was really nice of you two," Harry said taking a step back and grinning at the two of them. He really was quite surprised, but he couldn't help feel a bit odd about the whole thing.



Harry glanced over a Fleur again and then back at Bill, who had now noticed her as well.



"Hey, can I introduce you two to everyone?" Harry said suddenly, smirking at Bill. "This is Cedric, although I suppose you probably already know him...?" he trailed off and both Weasley's nodded. Cedric grinned and nodded at the two of them, giving a quick greeting. "And over there is Viktor Krum. Hey Viktor!"



The Bulgarian turned over and looked at Harry with mild confusion. They had got on well enough at the Yule Ball but that was ages ago, and they really hadn't spoken since. They barely said anything at the second task and hadn't even come within five feet of each other since then.



"Viktor, these are some very good friends of mine, Mrs. Molly Weasley and her oldest son, Bill. I'm sure you two are already aware of who Viktor is."



"Oh, er, yes dear. It's a pleasure to meet you," Mrs. Weasley said. Bill, however looked considerably more enthusiastic and made a couple comments on various noteworthy games and plays that Krum had been responsible for.



"And of course, the oh so lovely Ms. Fleur Delacour," Harry said doing a sweeping motion with his hand and smirking up at Fleur who was grinning and rolling her eyes at his antics. "Fleur, this is Mrs. Molly Weasley and her eldest, Bill. Bill works as a curse and ward breaker for Gringotts.



Fleur's face lit up when she came face to face with Bill and Harry thought he even saw the faintest dusting of a blush. His grin widened.



The two began to speak then and Fleur even introduced Bill to her little sister and mother. While they chatted away, Amos Diggory came up and glared at Harry who stood there with a bewildered frown on his face.



"Can I help you with something?" Harry said curtly.



"You think you're hot stuff, do you Potter?"



"Uh.." Harry blinked, not finding the man even remotely amusing.



"Ignore him," Cedric said stepping between the two and trying to pull Harry aside. "He's been angry ever since Rita Skeeter's article about the Tri-Wizard Tournament – you know, where she made out you were the only Hogwarts champion."



"Didn't bother to correct her, though, did he?" Amos Diggory said over his son's shoulder. "But you'll show him, Ced. You've beaten him once before and you'll do it again!"



Harry gave Mr. Diggory a blank, bewildered look. When the bloody hell had Cedric ever beaten him at anything? He almost said as much before he realized what the man was likely referring to.



"Wait, you mean during that quidditch game where a hundred dementors attacked me on my broom, fifty feet in the air, and sent me falling to my death? Well, I suppose if you want, you're free to consider that a victory, but I think Ced has more pride than that."



Mr. Diggory looked as if he were about to explode before Mrs. Weasley cut in abruptly.



"Rita Skeeter always went out of her way to cause trouble, Amos!" Mrs. Weasley said angrily. "I would have thought you'd know that, working at the Ministry!"



Mr. Diggory looked as though he was going to say something angry, but his wife laid a hand on his arm, and he merely shrugged and turned away.



Bill finally separated from Fleur and came over to investigate what was going on with the Diggorys. Seeing that things were possibly getting a bit uncomfortable he turned to Harry and asked, "Fancy giving us a tour, Harry?"



Relieved for the distraction Harry grinned and agreed.



The rest of the morning was spent walking over the sunny grounds with Bill and Mrs. Weasley, showing them the Beauxbatons carriage and the Durmstrang ship. Mrs. Weasley was intrigued by the Whomping Willow, which had been planted after she had left school, and reminisced at length about the gamekeeper before Hagrid, a man named Ogg.



Finally, the trio returned to the castle for lunch.



"Mum – Bill!" Ron said, looking stunned as he joined the Gryffindor table. "What're you doing here?"



"Come to watch Harry in the last task!" said Mrs. Weasley brightly. "I must say, it makes a lovely change, not having to cook. How was your exam?"



"Oh... okay," said Ron hesitantly. "Couldn't remember all the goblin rebel names, so I invented a few. It's all right," he said, helping himself to a Cornish pasty, while Mrs. Weasley looked stern, "they're all called stuff like Bodrod the Bearded and Urg the Unclean; it wasn't hard."



Fred, George, and Ginny came to sit next to them too and Harry suddenly felt as if he were back in the Burrow surrounded by the army of gingers.



Hermione showed up and Harry couldn't help but notice that Mrs. Weasley seemed a bit cold to her. He couldn't come up with a single reason as to why the change of attitude could have taken place until Ginny leaned in close and reminded him on the article in Witch Weekly that came out about Hermione and Krum all those months prior.



Harry couldn't help but find it humorous that earlier Mrs. Weasley had scolded Amos Diggory for thinking badly of Harry because of something Skeeter had written, and now she was doing the same thing to Hermione.



After lunch Harry found himself itching to slip away from the pair to pay his daily after-lunch visit to Tom. He hoped that he would just manage to get his time-turner activities lined up perfectly and begged off from the pair for a moment to 'go use the loo'. He slipped inside, pulled on his cloak and activated the map. He saw the second Harry Potter dot waiting in the hall outside the privy he was currently standing in and grinned. His other self was simply waiting for him to leave so he could slip in and take his place.



Perfect.



He slipped out, watched the dot of his future counterpart slip in after him, and quickly made his way out of the castle and across the grounds towards the edge of the wards.



A matter of minutes later and Harry was using the portkey and appearing in Tom's entry hall.



Obviously, his afternoon breaks no longer had anything to do with Tom meditating. Instead they usually skipped straight to an hour or two of dark arts instruction and some dueling practice.



Harry stepped into the study and let his bag slip off his shoulder as he came over and sat down beside Tom's chair. The older man was already comfortably perched in his chair with a periodical of some sort in his hands. Harry sighed in relief as he leaned back and Tom's hand automatically went to his hair.



"How has your day been so far?" Tom asked airily.



"Had a bit of a surprise come at me this morning," Harry said with a chuckle.



Tom paused and looked down at him curiously. "Oh?"



"Yeah, apparently there's this whole thing about the 'family' of the champions coming to the third task, and right after breakfast we were supposed to meet with them. For a minute there, McGonagall actually had me convinced that Dumbledore had somehow forced the Dursleys to show up. Turned out that Ron and Ginny's mum and oldest brother turned out to watch. I've been playing host all morning. It's honestly getting a bit exhausting, and I still have the rest of the afternoon to show them around as well."



"Playing tour guide to a pair of blood traitors, how droll," Tom sneered and Harry chuckled.



They quickly slipped into their normal routine, but Tom cut it short after only forty minutes of dueling practice. Since the task wouldn't be held until late that evening, he didn't want Harry to be excessively tired from his overly extended day.



He walked Harry to the time-turner room and just as they got there he spoke. "Ah yes, one last thing, Harry."



"Yes Tom?" Harry said turning around.



"I will be calling the Death Eaters to me tomorrow night. Severus will likely be late to the meeting since I have instructed him to go to Dumbledore first. I expect the man will send Snape to me to resume his role as spy, so I am still confident that he will make it, albeit delayed."



Harry nodded his head. "Alright. Will it be suspicious if Barty disappears from the castle at the same time as Snape being summoned? And what about Karkaroff?"



"I have told Igor not to attend. It is for the best on several levels. Dumbledore will likely be watching to see if the Durmstrang headmaster returns to me. It is also likely that several people he tried to sell out to save his own skin will attend and they will likely not be pleased with him. Barty will slip out ahead of time and hopefully his absence will not be noted."



"Should I be there?" Harry asked, finally voicing the one thing that he was most curious about.



Tom paused but smiled. "Yes, pet. I would like you there. I have plans, actually. We need to discuss them in more depth. I want you to make sure you come tomorrow after lunch so we can go over them."



"Alright. I'll be here."



"Good," Tom said with a small smirk before leaning forward and wrapping a hand behind Harry's neck and pulling the younger wizard in close. Their lips brushed against each other lightly once, causing magical sparks, then twice, magic popping and hissing even more, before the kiss deepened and they both momentarily lost themselves to the heady, needy, feelings. Their lips parted and tongues began to come together in a sinful dance. Harry groaned and pressed himself against Tom as his body was suddenly desperate for more contact and more friction.



Tom, always being the one with far more self control and restraint, finally pulled back and Harry whimpered. Tom chuckled lightly before smirking down at Harry with mild amusement, layered in lust.



"Mmmm... so responsive. So eager." He leaned forward and brushed his lips lightly against Harry's while letting his thumb rub circles into Harry's jaw. He brushed across a faint stubble and chuckled. "You need to shave," he mumbled against Harry's lips.



Harry shrugged. "Do you mind it?"



"No. It's good to know you're old enough for facial hair."



Harry rolled his eyes and gave Tom an annoyed look. "I'm almost fifteen, not twelve."



"Please don't remind me of your age, Harry. I prefer to remain blissfully deluded."



"You're the one that brought it up."



"Yes, I suppose I did." Tom sighed and took a step back and hissed open the door to the time-turner room. "Alright, pet. You should be getting back. I expect you to return to me victorious. It would be utterly obscene for you to lose to those incompetent children."



Harry snickered. "Those 'incompetent children' are all three years older than me."



"Again with the age... Yes, they are older, but they are not you, and they have not been trained by me."



Harry grinned and nodded his head. "Alright, I swear not to disappoint you," he said in a cocky, amused voice. "If I get the chance, should I visit tonight after the task?" he asked, more serious now.



"If you wish. I suspect you will be quite worn by then though. Just come to me tomorrow so we can prepare for tomorrow night."



Harry smiled and nodded one last time while walking backwards into the small room that contained the time-turner. Tom finally closed the door and Harry sighed as he turned around and slipped the small magical hourglass around his neck.





Once again hidden by his invisibility cloak and using the Map to guide his way, he made his way back into the castle and waited outside the bathroom while his earlier counterpart slipped inside and then disappeared. He went inside, removed the cloak and stuffed it and the map into his bag before exiting and meeting back up with Bill and Mrs. Weasley, who were none the wiser to the fact that he had actually been gone for nearly an hour, in the time that they thought he had merely gone to the loo.



He, Bill, and Mrs. Weasley whittled away the frustratingly long afternoon with a lazy walk around the castle, and then returned to the Great Hall for the evening feast. Ludo Bagman and Cornelius Fudge had joined the staff table again. Bagman looked quite cheerful but Cornelius Fudge was looking rather annoyed.



There were more courses than usual, but Harry ate about as much as ever. Nerves weren't really an issue here. He'd had Tom throwing nasty dark hexes and curses at him every day for more than a month and didn't honestly expect anything that he would find in the maze more dangerous than the Dark Lord. Granted, Tom hadn't been honestly trying to kill him, but the man didn't pull his punches either. In more recent weeks, every dueling session had ended with a twenty minute 'break' where Harry would rest while Tom healed his wounds and applied the counters to all the curses he'd been hit with.



But he had been getting hit with fewer and fewer curses ad their training progressed. So if nothing else, Harry knew he had gotten a lot better at dodging.



He was also confident about the task because he had gotten a summery of all the different things inside it from Barty weeks ago.



After the last course Dumbledore called the Great Hall to attention and spoke a few words that Harry didn't care about and absently tuned out. McGonagall came up behind him and gathered him up to leave with the other champions. He, Cedric, Fleur, and Viktor were all lead out of the hall and across the grounds towards the Quidditch field. They went through the locker rooms and onto a small open patch in the field at the entrance of the now twenty-foot tall hedge maze. The task would be starting at 9pm, and it was currently 8:32. Harry could hear the sounds of the spectators gathering in the surrounding stands and found himself gazing up into the dimming evening sky. The horizon was glowing orange but if he looked straight up he saw a deep purple filling the air.



That would be the only thing to really complicate the task. It would be done in the dark. But that was the point. The task was intended to be frightening. Being in a dark maze; lost, unsure where to go, and what you would find around the next corner. Only the dim glow from the tip of your wand to illuminate your surroundings. The creatures inside weren't necessarily all that bad – mostly they were creatures raised by Hagrid, and while Harry would easily admit that Hagrid had an idiotic love for deadly creatures, he knew that none of these were beyond his ability to handle. But it was the not knowing that was intended to make it frightening. Add that to the frantic search for an end to a dizzying maze...



Harry found himself sorely contemplating using his serpentine sea krait form and the locator spell again. He knew exactly what he was looking for. At the center of the maze was the Tri-Wizard cup. All he would have to do was zero in on that cup and he would be led straight to his destination. And if he used his sea snake form, he could slither right under the damn hedges. His skin was tough enough to endure some stupid brambles.



But that would leave him vulnerable to some extent. There were some things that he would have difficulties dealing with in his snake form. His offensive parselmagic repertoire was still fairly limited. Tom had been teaching him some parselmagic spells, but it hadn't been their focus.



Besides that, there was that whole 'the judges would be monitoring his spellwork' thing to consider. And Cornelius Fudge was one of the judges. Dumbledore knew about his so-called animagus form, but none of the others did. And if Fudge found out about it, it would have to register as an animagus... even if he wasn't one.



So that idea was out. He couldn't fall back on his sea krait form. He would have to do this as a human. But he could still use the locator spell. He just wasn't sure if the summoned black snake would stick to the hedge pathways or if it would just cut right through them and leave him behind.



Of course... he could just cut his way through the damn hedges. There was nothing in the rules that said he couldn't.



Harry was pulled out of his musings by the sound of Cornelius Fudge's voice a bit behind him. He turned around and saw the three headmasters and the Minister of Magic gathering with Ludo Bagman and talking amongst themselves. Harry checked his watch and saw that it was now 8:45pm.



Cedric, Fleur, and Viktor were all standing around in various states of nervousness. Harry realized he was the only one out of the four that didn't look about ready to piss himself and he smirked. Harry walked over and watched as Fudge separated himself from the headmasters who seemed to be in the middle of some sort of talk with Bagman. Fudge clearly looked tired.



"Minister Fudge?" Harry said in the most innocent eager voice he could muster. It was surprisingly convincing.



Fudge started and turned around to blink owlishly at Harry.



"Oh, my! Harry Potter. How are you doing, young man? Was there something I could help you with?"



"Oh no, I don't need anything, I just wanted to greet you and thank you."



"Thank me?" Fudge asked, clearly confused.



"I know it's been quite a while, nearly two years now, in fact, but I really wanted to express how grateful I am for the help you gave me back during the summer before my third year. You know, the summer when I accidentally 'blew up' my muggle aunt, and you allowed me to stay in Diagon Alley after Sirius Black had escaped."



"Oh! Oh, yes... well that was.. a very... busy time. Much going on then. Quite hectic. And it really was no problem at all – that mess with your aunt, I mean."



"Well, I really did appreciate your help. I understand that elections are being held this summer. It's really quite a shame I won't be of age to vote yet, because I'd love the opportunity to vote for you. I'm really looking forward to when I'm old enough to finally partake in the whole workings of the magical governing system. In fact, I learned this year that along with inheriting the ancient Potter fortune, I've apparently also inherited the right to a seat on the Wizengamot for the Potter line. I intend to claim it once I'm old enough."



Fudge blinked and looked a bit dumbstruck for a moment.



"I-I had no idea you had political aspirations," Fudge stuttered out.



"Well, certainly not anytime soon. I'm only just about to turn fifteen next month, after all. But I've found that the inner workings of governing and politics have sparked my interest recently."



"Oh... is that so? And you say that you'd vote for me?"



"Of course," Harry said with mock eagerness and an only partially hidden sly smile. "I know that the word of a teenager probably isn't much, but I'd be more than willing to give you a public endorsement."



Fudge's face instantly lit up and Harry could see the calculating glint in the man's eyes.



"Is that so?" Fudge asked in a tone that was apparently supposed to sound only mildly interested, but came off as rather eager. Harry smirked.



"Of course."



"You know, Harry my boy, I have to admit I'm rather surprised. I was under the impression that you were..." Fudge trailed off, as if he were suddenly unsure what exactly he wanted to say.



"Ignorant of wizarding politics? Too stupid to know how to make use of my famous name? Far too loyal to a certain headmaster to support someone he rarely shows much love or the proper respect for?"



Fudge blinked at Harry's response for a stunned moment before a sly grin of his own spread across his face.



"You are certainly not what I had been led to believe you were, Mr. Potter."



Harry's grin widened. "No I'm not. And Albus Dumbledore does not show you nearly enough respect for the powerful position you hold. You are the Minister of Magic and you've been the Minister for five years already. You'd think after five peaceful years under your leadership would earn you some proper respect from the man."



Fudge's chest puffed up and his nose rose a bit into the air, imperiously. "Yes, you would think that," he said with an indignant air.



Harry noticed out of the corner of his eyes that the Headmasters and Bagman seemed to be wrapping up whatever they were discussing. "Well, I should probably go back and rejoin my fellow champions. But if, during the summer sometime, there are any events or perhaps some place that you think would be beneficial for the two of us to just happen to run into each other in the presence of photographers feel free to send me an owl and let me know."



Fudge's grin grew feral for a moment before he masked it and gave Harry a curt nod. "I just may do that, Mr. Potter. It's been a pleasant surprise speaking with you."



"The pleasure is all mine," Harry added with a grin of his own before giving the Minister a curt nod of his head and walking over towards the other champions.



A few more minutes passed and the judges left the starting area for the judges box and the four champions were left standing beside Ludo Bagman. The man brought his wand to his throat and said Sonorus, activating the voice amplifying charm.



Good evening ladies and gentlemen and welcome to the third and final task of the Tri-Wizard Tournament!" he called out excitedly. "For tonight's task our four champions will have to make their way through this magical maze filled with dangerous challenges and deadly creatures! The current standing of our champions are, Harry Potter in first place with a total of 88 points! Cedric Diggory in second place with 76 points! Viktor Krum in third place with 72 points, and finally Fleur Delacour in fourth place with 60 points.



"As the champion with the highest current standing, Harry Potter will be let into the maze first. Two minutes later he will be joined by Cedric Diggory, than another two minutes they will be followed by Viktor Krum, and finally Fleur Delacour. The champion that reaches the center of the maze first will receive full marks! The champion with the highest number of points by the end of this evening will be our new Tri-Wizard Champion!" Bagman finished with a loud yell and the crowd cheered.



Bagman removed his wand from his throat and turned to the champions. "There will be professors walking the perimeter of the maze so if any of you get into any trouble and can't get yourself out of it, just shoot red sparks into the air and someone will come to get you."



They all nodded and finally he turned to Harry. "Well, Mr. Potter. On the count of three, head in.



Harry stood before the entrance to the maze and waited as Bagman counted down from three and then shot off sparks from his wand.



Harry quickly strode forward and made a left at the fork in the path and walked a short ways down the hedge before he stopped and took a deep breath to calmed himself a bit. He focused on a mental image of a great black serpent, coiling and slithering. He felt the build of his parselmagic and called it forth, coiling it around him like the great black snake in his mind. Then he focused on the image of the Tri-Wizard cup.



Once he was positive he had the correct image and focus established, he hissed out §find the Tri-Wizard cup§.



When he opened his eyes, the familiar hazy, distorted image of the great black serpent filled his vision. It had been a while since he had used this spell and he smiled at it. It was slithering in mid-air in front of him, turning it's head from side-to-side for only a moment before it began to slither down the path in the hedges and turned a corner. Harry lit a quick Lumos on the tip of his wand and hurried after it.



Every corner Harry took with caution, but after about ten minutes of encountering nothing but more bushes he began to feel an annoyed sense of disappointment. Finally, as he was making another left, trailing after his black locator snake, he felt a powerful disturbance in the magic near him. He brought his wand up higher and put a little more power into the glow on the tip of his wand to increase the light level. He could hear a clicking sort of sound growing louder as he continued to progress further. The clicking sound increased in volume and quantity – whatever was making the sound, there was more than one of them. It was also unnervingly familiar.



He turned another corner and saw white webbing stringing across the hedges and ground and many small black things moving and scurrying along the ground and climbing on the bushes.



Harry almost groaned as he called his locator snake to stop and wait for him. Baby acromantula. Each one was about the size of his palm and they already had fully formed pincers. Harry also knew that even this 'small' their poisonous venom was still nasty enough to hurt quite a bit and leave him temporarily paralyzed.



He aimed his wand and began to send out wide range slashing hexes. The blasts left his wand like five-foot long slashes of sharp magical energy that severed any spiders in his way. Unfortunately the spiders didn't exactly line up in neat little lines to be sliced up and the huge number of fist-sized spiders were quickly encroaching on him so he quickly switched tactics to an area affect blasting spell that radiated out from him at the center. He knew Tom would scold him for using such a magic intensive spell, but Harry knew he had plenty more magical energy in reserve and hopefully he could keep his attacks more focused from here on out.



The blast had easily taken out the vast majority of the spiders and most of them were now running from him. He continued down the row and stepped on several of the acromantula as he walked, smirking viciously as he felt them crunching beneath his dragon hide boots.



"Send my regards to Aragog," Harry muttered under his breath as he left the pathway filled with dead spiders behind and instructed his locator snake to keep going.



The night sky was growing darker the longer he continued to go but he felt confident that he was making good progress. The snake hadn't led him into a single dead-end the entire time, which was a promising sign that it was working correctly.



After another turn he came across a long stretch of hedge filled with a strange yellow mist. He was almost sure he'd read something about it at some point but couldn't quite place what it was. It was as if it were on the tip of his tongue, but just not there. He grumbled to himself about Barty not warning him about whatever the hell this was and cast a few detection spells with his wand to try and identify any harmful effects the mist might have.



His spells didn't turn up much. It wasn't poison. It wasn't a sedative. It wouldn't cause pain. What the hell was it?



He considered trying to find a way around it. His inner Slytherin was telling him that self-preservation was paramount and if he had no idea what he was up against, he should turn back. He hated the idea of relying on his Gryffindor side for anything, but in this instance, he was just too annoyed at the whole thing to go back. Plus his locator spell had been working so well so far.



With a muttered 'Screw it', Harry took a few steps back and did a running jump into and through the mist. He felt the effects the first time his foot hit the ground, but he had a running start and his momentum pushed him forward a few more long strides before the disorientation got to be too much and he came to a total halt.



Despite the fact that his feet were planted firmly on the ground, Harry felt as if the entire world had just turned upside down. Literally. His shaggy hair and school robes were all hanging up as if the sky were down, and he felt the effects of gravity trying to pull him into the air. Part of his mind screamed that if he lifted his feet from the ground he would just go floating away, but he knew that was idiotic.



"Oh hell. Anti-gravity mist," Harry muttered to himself as his hand came up and he smacked his forehead.



Harry lifted his wand, closed his eyes and began muttering lowly under his breath. The counter to disable the spell wasn't a single spell, but rather a short chant that had to be repeated several times before it started to work. About a minute later the mist was dispersing and Harry could feel the disorienting feeling of the world turning right-side-up again and suddenly down was down and up was up. Harry heaved out a sigh, quickly followed by an annoyed huff.



A few quick strides and Harry had caught up with his locator snake, that was waiting around the corner for him. Two turns later and Harry was dodging a blast of fire from the largest and most horrendously ugly blast-ended skrewt that Harry had ever had the displeasure of seeing.



The thing was at least ten feet long and had a gigantic scorpion's tail with a stinger on the end, curled up over its back, ready to strike. What Harry could only assume was its front end, was expelling blasts of fire, and its back was covered with a hard protective shell that Harry knew was resistant to most neutral spells. He could think of a half-dozen dark spells that would rip right through it and growled out in frustration at not being able to use any of them. He found himself loudly cursing Hagrid for ever breeding the damned creatures as he dodged another blast of fire, and rolled out of the way of its tail as it came down and pierced the ground where he had been a moment before.



As he rolled on the ground he caught sight of it's unprotected underbelly and quickly aimed his wand, sending off a powerful blasting hex. The skrewt was sent flying several feet into the air from the force of the blast and ended up falling back down on its side. Harry jumped to his feet, darting back a few feet to give himself more space and began sending powerful cutting curses at the now exposed underbelly. He slashed into it again and again, causing sickly whitish gray goo to seep out of it. He nearly wretched at the stench of it and as soon as he was sure the damned thing wasn't going to get back up, he ran around it and down the hedge row after his locator snake that he had to call back to him because he'd forgotten to stop it this time.



Harry continued down the seemingly endless rows of hedge, grumbling to himself about stupid half-giants breeding stupid killer monsters when he came face to face with a sphinx. It looked for all the world to be a large lion, except instead of a lion's head, there was the face of a woman inside the large furry mane. A wide grin spread across Harry's lips. He knew he was close. The Sphinx was supposed to be guarding the inner-most access point to the center of the maze. Beyond this would be a single giant acromantula and then the cup.



He took a few cautious steps towards the sphinx and came to a stop several feet from it. It had been pacing back and forth but now came to a stop and sat down, looking at him calmly.



The feminine face smiled at him and then spoke. "You are very near your goal. The quickest way is past me."



"Alright... I know it's not as simple as me asking you to move aside, so how about you get to the point."



"You must answer my riddle. Answer on your first guess – I let you pass. Answer wrongly – I attack. Remain silent – I will let you walk away from me unscathed."



Harry rolled his eyes. "Yes, yes. Can I hear the riddle?"



"First think of the person who lives in disguise,



Who deals in secrets and tells naught but lies.



Next, tell me what's always the last thing to mend,



The middle of the middle and the end of the end?



And finally give me the sound often heard,



During the search for a hard-to-find word.



Now string them together, and answer me this,



Which creature would you be unwilling to kiss?"



Harry blinked and quickly started repeating the words to him in his head. Barty had warned him that the damned thing would have a riddle, but he'd had no way of knowing what it would be.



"Can you repeat it slower?" Harry asked, hesitantly.



Again she smiled and repeated the poem.



"A person in disguise," Harry muttered, "who lies... oh..." Harry chuckled. "A spy. I'm familiar with that... Alright, that's the first part. Last thing to mend, middle of middle end of... D. Okay, spy, d and... the sound often heard during the search of a hard to find world. Uh... no. Er? Spy, d, er... Spider." Harry scoffed and rolled his eyes. The last creature he had to face was a giant acromantula. He already knew that. So of course the answer to the damned riddle was 'Spider'.



"Spider," he said confidently.



The sphinx smiled more broadly, got up, stretched and moved aside. He dashed ahead and resumed following the locator snake. The spell led him to the right-hand path and Harry could see the faint glow of the Tri-Wizard cup at the end of the long path he was currently on. Part of him wanted to just make a run for it, but he knew it wouldn't be that simple. There was supposed to be a giant acromantula here damn it, and he wasn't going to get caught off –



"GAH!" Harry yelped as something fell down from above and he quickly had to roll away before a pair of giant pincers came snapping down at him.



He growled angrily at himself for being caught so easily off his own guard and quickly began throwing hexes and curses at it to distract it from its focus on him while he scrambled to put some distance between them. Once he finally felt like his footing was reliable again he threw a well aimed severing curse at one of the beasts legs. It came right off and the enormous spider roared out in angry pain. It stormed over to Harry's position and he quickly found himself being pressed into the bramble filled hedge. He used another area effect curse that blasted the beast back enough for him to try to bolt away. Unfortunately one step and he found himself falling head first into the dirt. Some evil little creeping tentacle-like vine and twined itself around his ankle and was currently digging its barbs into his skin.



Harry roared in anger and quickly aimed his wand down at the plant, freezing it and then pulling the remains off his leg. The annoying distraction had given the spider enough time to recoup and he only just barely crawled out of the way as the damn thing crashed down with it's giant pincers again. It was up and crashing down again and again. Every time he managed to shuffle a few feet to one side or the other and it was instantly upon him again. Finally he manged to get a good shot off and sent off another powerful area blast that sent it flying away from him again.



Harry staggered to his feet, feeling his magical reserves running low. All these damn high level neutral spells were draining him too fast and it was irritating. He sent off two more aimed severing curses, cutting off another two legs. He quickly ran and rolled underneath the flailing body to the opposite side and severed another pair. The monstrous spider was screeching in pain and anger and took another low swiping snap at him. He dodged it and managed one more severing curse, cutting off another leg and sending the beast crashing down to the ground. Unfortunately the ground it was crashing into was the same ground that Harry was currently crouching on.



Harry made to dodge and roared out again, cursing the tournament and Professor Sprout because he was sure that she had something to do with these damn bloody vines, as he found himself once again trapped by one of the nasty barbed plants.



The spider crashed down on top of him, and he screamed out in pain as one of its pincers sliced down along the side of his torso. He freed his wand arm, pointed his wand directly into the acromantula's head that was only feet from his own face, and sent off the most powerful non-dark blasting spell he knew. The beasts head exploded and its body became nothing but dead weight upon him.



Harry groaned miserably and felt himself collapse back into the dirt, exhausted and angry. He felt mostly annoyed at himself for being hurt so badly by something he knew was coming. He would never hear the end of it from Tom.



Oh, and acromantula bites are poisonous. Great.



With a groan, Harry began to shimmy out from underneath the beast. He sent several freezing charms at the various thorny vines that were still trying to get their barby mits into him.



He finally managed to pry himself free of it and weakly stood to his feet... and promptly fell to his knees with a sharp yelp of pain.



His ankle, which was bleeding from the barbs from the thorn, also seemed to be sprained... or maybe broken. He hoped it wasn't the latter Again, growling in anger and annoyance he cast a numbing spell and spelled himself a temporary splint to support his weight. He felt the searing burn of the acromantula venom in the large bloody slash down his side as it slowly spread. His body was going a bit numb and he could feel his head getting heavy but he pushed himself past it. He could see the damn cup. He wasn't going to pass out until after he'd touched the fucking thing. Thenthey could take him to the infirmary.



He limped down the pathway, wincing at the sharp pain in his ankle, and grumbling and growling to himself under his breath. He was wobbling and weaving from side to side as he just barely clung to consciousness. Finally, just as his vision was growing dim and he was about to slip into a quiet abyss, his hand stretched out and grasped the edge of the ornate Tri-Wizard cup from the pedestal it rested upon. He and the cup fell to the ground and then vanished with a soft pop.



– –



Harry woke up with a pounding headache. He blinked several times to find nothing more than a whitish blur. It took him a moment to realize that his glasses were missing. He really needed to investigate that ritual Tom had mentioned about fixing his eyesight. He was laying on something relatively soft, but the sheets and pillow were overly starched. He heard voices and saw the blurry forms of people rushing about. He pushed himself up onto his elbows and looked through his shitty vision to make sense of his surroundings.



The hospital wing. Ah. That makes sense.



"Oh, Harry!" a shrill female voice gasped from somewhere to the left and he turned his head to see a red-headed blur that he figured was Mrs. Weasley. "Oh goodness dear! We were so worried when you appeared with the cup unconscious!"



She continued to prattle on about all her worries but Harry wasn't particularly paying attention. He turned and looked towards his bedside table and found his glasses and his holly wand sitting there. He grabbed his glasses and by the time they were back on his face, several other people had joined Mrs. Weasley at Harry's bedside. Hermione, Ron, and Ginny were there, and Harry noticed that Moody was standing against a wall on the opposite end of the hospital wing, watching him closely.



"I'm fine, I'm fine. Really!" Harry said loudly as he raised a hand, trying to calm them all done.



"Fine?" a surprisingly distraught Ginny yelled. "Harry your ankle was broken and you got bit by an acromantula!"



"Broken? Shit, I didn't realize it was that bad," Harry said, grimacing. "I was hoping it was just sprained."



"Were you the one that conjured the first aid splint, Mr. Potter?" the voice of Madam Pomfrey broke into their discussion as she came up to them from where she had been standing beside another patient's bed. Harry realized suddenly that Fleur and Cedric were also in the infirmary, and each of their beds were currently surrounded by their family members.



"Huh? Oh yeah, the splint. Well it happened with only about twenty feet to go before I got to the cup so there was no way I was going to just sit there and send up sparks when I could literally see the cup, mere feet from me. So I cast a numbing charm and conjured the splint."



"You walked on a broken ankle?" Mrs. Weasley yelled and Madam Pomfrey gave him a very stern, disapproving glare. Harry grinned and shrugged, unapologetic.



"Well, I suppose it could have been worse, knowing you." Madam Pomfrey said with a heavy sigh. "That was a very impressive healers splint, Mr Potter."



"Thanks," Harry said with a grin. He glanced back over and Fleur and Cedric and nodded his head towards them. "What happened to them?"



"One of Hagrid's skrewts got Fleur," Ron said in a quiet sympathetic voice. "I heard they were nasty."



Harry scoffed. "Nasty doesn't even begin to cover it. Came across one of those myself. You know those damned things grew to be ten feet long?"



Ron's face paled.



"We don't actually know what happened to Cedric yet. He's still unconscious. Viktor came upon him and found the hedge trying to eat him. He sent up sparks to alert the professors," Hermione said quietly as she looked over at a very concerned Mr. And Mrs. Diggory who were standing at Cedric's bedside.



"So did Krum at least finish?" Harry asked.



"Oh yeah, he made it to the center. They'd returned the cup portkey to the middle by then and he appeared with it thinking that he'd won," Ron said. "But you had shown up first with it, and it took him nearly thirty minutes longer than it took you."



Harry smirked and let himself fall back down onto his bed. "So Poppy, how long will it take for you to fix me up this time?" Harry said as he stretched his arms out and then folded them behind his head.



Madam Pomfrey's eyes went wide and it looked like there was a battle going on inside her over whether to be annoyed, angered, or amused as his use of her first name. The Weasleys and Hermione all looked stunned, except for Ginny, who apparently found it funny.



"I will be keeping you here until tomorrow evening, at the earliest. I've removed all of the taratal barbs from your legs and ankle and your broken ankle should be mended by morning, but it will probably be tender for several days. I've administered the antidote for the acromantula venom, but I want to keep an eye on you to make sure you aren't suffering any adverse effects from your bite," Madam Pomfrey said after having decided to ignore his earlier use of her first name.



Harry frowned at this and sat back up. His eyes darted over to 'Moody' who was still standing towards the back of the hospital wing, clearly listening in.



"Are you sure you can't cut me a break and let me out after lunch if I promise to stay in bed?" Harry asked taking on his most innocent look with the biggest puppy-dog eyes he could manage.



Pomfrey's eyes narrowed and she rose a single eyebrow at him as if silently asking 'Do you really think that's going to work on me?'.



"No," she said.



"Pleeeease?"



Ron snorted and Ginny had to put her hand up to stifle her snickers.



"No means no Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey said looking stern.



Harry huffed out in frustration and rolled his eyes. "Fine, fine. Hey Ron, do you think you could grab my bag from the dorm? It's sitting on my bed and it's got some stuff in it I need."



"You are to rest Mr. Potter," Madam Pomfrey said in a scolding tone.



"I will! I promise! But sometimes I can't get to sleep without reading for a while first, alright? Just books, that's still resting, right?"



Pomfrey frowned but sighed. "Fine."



Harry turned his attention back to Ron and gave him pleading eyes.



"Er, sure mate. You want me to go get it now?"



"Nah, just if you can make sure I've got it before you go to bed, I'll be fine."



"Alright."



The group went on to talk for a bit longer. Bill showed up several minutes later. He spent a few minutes with Harry showing his proper concern, and congratulating Harry on his win, but Harry could see the man's concerned eyes frequently darting over to Fleur's bed and Harry couldn't help but smirk. Bill was only able to stick around for a short while before he had to leave in order to get back home for work the next morning. Mrs. Weasley reluctantly left with him since it was getting quite late. At some point Cedric woke up, but Harry wasn't able to hear whatever it was that he'd told his parents and Madam Pomfrey about what had knocked him out. Whatever it was, Cedric looked pretty embarrassed by it, so Harry figured he'd let the guy save face and not ask.



Ron was enthralled by Harry's tale of the various nasty things he went up against and had Harry describing every bit of it even though everyone in the stands had gotten a play-by-play announced by Ludo Bagman thanks to some sort of magical surveillance system that allowed him and the headmaster's to watch and judge the champions. Apparently hearing it from Harry himself made it more interesting, plus Bagman hadn't caught everything. The visibility wasn't always best and they had trouble focusing it on more than one or two champions at once. Harry asked how it was that no one knew what happened to Cedric and Ginny said that whatever happened to him happened at the same time that Harry was fighting against the acromantula and people were a bit distracted.



Hermione told Harry that he'd gotten a full fifty points for completing the task first, and in a record-breaking time. They'd asked him how he managed to make it through so fast, and Hermione pointed out that Bagman hadn't mentioned him hitting a single dead-end. Harry had whispered to Ron and Hermione that he'd used the same spell he used to find Ginny in the second task. Ron didn't seem to remember what spell exactly Harry was referring to, but Hermione seemed to catch on, remembering that it was a parselmagic spell, and changed the subject.



Obviously since Harry had been in first place already, finishing first in the maze meant he'd won the Tri-Wizard Tournament. The crowd had roared and cheered for him as he was levitated and carried off the field and back to Hogwarts for medical treatment.



Madam Pomfrey came in and told them all that her patient needed his rest so they all bid him farewell and left. Ron told Harry he'd be back right away with his bag and disappeared out the door.



'Moody' came over and Harry was surprised that the man had stuck around that long.



"It was my understanding that you had an appointment tomorrow afternoon," Moody said quietly under his voice as he came to stand beside Harry's bed.



"Yes and I still intend to keep it. That's why I'm having Ron bring me my bag," Harry mumbled, keeping one eye trained on Madam Pomfrey who was currently attending to Fleur and working to shoo her sister and parents away.



"Will that be possible?" 'Moody' asked.



"Of course it will. As long as I can use T-our Lord's time-turner, I can leave and get back here without anyone ever even realizing I was gone," Harry hissed quietly.



"Time-turner?" Moody said, looking surprised.



"Yeah, that's how I've been getting away so often for the last few months."



What was left of Moody's eyebrows rose high into his forehead but he didn't say anything else.



"Do you need my assistance getting out?" he asked instead.



"If you can come by around lunch time and leave the door open so I can slip out under my cloak that would help," Harry whispered quickly.



'Moody' nodded his head before standing taller and leaving.



A couple minutes later Ron returned with Harry's bag and then bid his friend goodnight. Harry quickly checked through his bag and confirmed that the Map, the cloak and his cypress wand were inside inside the security pouch in the bottom.



Out of habit Harry's right hand slipped up his left sleeve of his simple white hospital wing robes and fingered the leather cuff strapped there. He was glad that Pomfrey hadn't felt the need to remove it when she'd spelled off his torn and bloodied clothing to address his wounds. He probably would have had a bit of a panic attack if he'd woken up and felt it missing.



Satisfied that he had everything he needed he resecured his things inside his bag, and pulled out a book for the sake of keeping up his story for the healer. He only read for about twenty minutes before he felt his exhaustion totally kicking his ass and he set the book and his glasses back onto his night stand and settled down into his bed.






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