|SIYE Time:14:30 on 21st May 2018|
When Harry Missed the Trick Step
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Characters:Harry/Ginny, Hermione Granger, Ron Weasley
Genres: Action/Adventure, Drama, Romance
Summary: Ever wondered what would have happened if Harry's foot hadn't sunk into the trick step, when he went to investigate Barty Crouch's sudden appearance in Snape's office in his fourth year? Read on to find out! Compliant till a part of the chapter "The Egg and the Eye" of Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire.
Chapter 10 up - please read and review!
Hitcount: Story Total: 15193; Chapter Total: 944
When Harry Missed the Trick Step
Chapter 7: The Second Task
Previously on “When Harry Missed the Trick Step”…
‘What was that about?’ said Ron in a low voice. Neville and Ginny looked equally confused as well.
The five of them paid for their lunch and began slowly meandering back to the castle, each of them lost in their thoughts. For his part, Harry was furiously trying to connect the dots between the interaction he’d just seen between the Weasley twins and Bagman, and any other incidents that had involved those three people in question. And as he thought, the only thing that came to mind was the bet the twins had placed with Bagman before the final of the Qudditch World Cup — where Krum would catch the Snitch but Ireland would win. Was it something to do with that bet? He distinctly remembered Bagman extracting the gold and silver coins to give to Fred and George as soon as the trophy presentation was over at the Top Box — had he not given them enough? Or had he handed over some fake coins — probably as a practical joke just like the fake wand that Fred and George had shown him?
Whatever it was, it was clear that the twins weren’t happy with it; but he had no reason to interfere in their business — not when he had more pressing matters on hand.
It was time to put the Gillyweed to the test.
‘As ready as I would ever be, Neville.’
A week had passed since the quintet’s Hogsmeade trip, and Harry’s purchase of Gillyweed from Dogweed and Deathcap for the second task. An uneventful week, for the most part, but one that was to be finally rounded off with Harry’s first trial of the magical plant in the waters of the Black Lake.
And so it was that the five of them stood on the banks of the lake on the morning of the following Saturday. They had decided to do it just before breakfast, since, as Hermione had said, you should never swim right after a meal. Harry privately disagreed — and so did Ron, a bit more publicly — but he went along with it anyway; having an argument on empty stomachs was an equally bad idea. There was also the fact that they did not want his excursion to be public knowledge; a full week of classes meant that most of the students would choose to have a lie-in on a Saturday morning, and none of them — save for a few early-risers — would want to be woken up in the early hours of the day.
Unfortunately, this was also true for Ron and Ginny, who were sporting disgruntled and sleepy expressions on their faces. Harry had learnt over his summer stay with the Weasleys that none of the children — except for Percy — liked waking up early.
‘Will you hurry up?’ snapped Ron, glaring at Neville as though he was the sole reason for him to be missing breakfast. ‘I’m hungry, and it’s cold.’
Harry had to cede that point to Ron — it was quite chilly; a thin mist hung over the Hogwarts grounds, and the water even looked cold. They had been compelled to wear their coats to stave off the chill — except for Harry, who was trying very hard not to shiver as he stood in a t-shirt and shorts.
‘Right then,’ said Neville, ‘just put the Gillyweed into your mouth. Done? You’ve got to chew on it, Harry… Wait for the sensation of breathlessness to overcome you…now jump!’
Harry didn’t need telling twice — his inability to breathe through his nose and mouth had already set off a panicked reaction in his brain, so he followed Neville’s directions by throwing himself completely into the waters of the Black Lake.
His first reaction was to hold his breath underwater — but then Ginny’s yell came from above the surface. ‘You’ve got to breathe, Harry! Swallow some water!’
The first gulp of the icy water felt like a godsend — the first breath of life after having been denied it for so long. His head, which had been spinning from the lack of oxygen just moments earlier, felt remarkably clear as his gills worked to send the much needed element to his brain. He stretched out his hands to perform a simple breast-stroke — something he’d seen his former classmates do during his primary school days in Surrey — and noticed, with a gurgled gasp, that they were webbed. Something that should not have shocked him, he realized a moment later, as this was exactly what was supposed to happen as per Neville’s book.
He paddled his legs furiously — which he noted had now become elongated and looked like flippers — and propelled himself a good distance in front. The water, which only seconds ago had felt freezing and icy cold, was now pleasantly cool. He was no longer shivering, and nor was he, with another jolt of surprise, blinking either; he could see quite clearly through his glasses. Of course, the lake water was so murky, he could barely see anything more than ten feet ahead of him, but he supposed it was as good an advantage as anything else.
On and on he swam through the lake, diving as deep as he dared, but making sure he was close enough to the surface in case the Gillyweed transformation was reversed; the man at Dogweed and Deathcap hadn’t mentioned how much of the slimy plant would be required for an hour’s worth of swimming, and he didn’t want to use up too much only for his practice sessions.
The silence of the lake’s depths pressed around him as he propelled through a foggy landscape; here and there were clumps and tangles of weeds, rotten logs, and dull stones lying on the muddy bottom that eerily shimmered in the weak sunlight penetrating through the inky blackness. His limited range of vision meant that new scenes and sights popped up in front of him as he moved along — he had, at one moment, spotted the large anchor of the Durmstrang ship, buried into the ground.
Hermione and Ginny had pulled out several books from the library on Merpeople and where they were most likely to be found in a water body. Ginny had also insisted on reading up on their nature and culture — something which she explained was important if he, Harry was going to interact with them to get back whatever they had taken.
‘Trust me, Harry, it’ll be easier to negotiate with them if you know what they like and how they deal with humans,’ she had said, when both Harry and Ron had questioned the need for this research.
With the second task barely a week away, Harry chose not to argue, and returned to his difficult essay on the theory behind inter-species transfiguration.
From their research, they had found that the Merpeople tended to live in colonies — each of which was under the stewardship of an Alcalde. The Alcaldes of all the colonies reported to the Merchieftain, who was the supreme head of the Merpeople residing in that particular area. The Merpeople in the Black Lake, however, only had a Merchieftainess, due to their relatively small population.
While their social structure was relatively admirable, it was their nature that had Harry slightly worried. The Merpeople in real life were nothing like the one he’d seen in the prefects’ bathroom earlier. Hogwarts: A History had almost an entire section dedicated to the inhabitants of the Black Lake, complete with photographs; Harry had to admit that, at first sight, they looked rather ferocious and frightening.
They appeared to have greyish skin, with long and wild hair spread around their heads as they navigated the depths of the lake. Most of them were clutching spears in their hands, while also sporting necklaces of pebbles, held together by thick ropes. The sight of the spears had Harry wondering, for a split second, whether he would need to fight the Merpeople to retrieve what they’d taken. He wouldn’t put it past the Tournament organisers to do so — after all, they had thought that getting past a fully-grown, nesting, female dragon was reasonable enough to constitute the first task.
When he voiced this worry to the others, however, it was met with sceptic looks.
‘Merpeople aren’t vicious, Harry. Not like, well, giants,’ said Ron, with an almost apologetic look. Harry supposed he didn’t want to stir up the debate on the bigotry towards giants and their brutal nature, especially with Hermione around. ‘I remember Charlie telling me — they only attack if you attack them. More of a retaliation, really, than an outright assault from their side.’
This managed to cheer Harry up somewhat; his spirits were further bolstered by the fact that Dumbledore had an excellent relationship with the Merchieftainess of the Black Lake, and would surely not risk endangering either the Merpeople or his students.
It was with all of this in mind that Harry ventured even further out from the banks of the lake, hoping to spot some sort of landmark that would indicate the location of the Merpeople’s dwellings. Once or twice he thought he saw something large moving in front of him as he sped on — one of those large things looked suspiciously like a tentacle of the giant squid — but he was out of luck for quite a while.
And then he saw it. Rising out of the muddy water like an eerie apparition, the large rock stood tall and imposing against the surrounding landscape of overgrown weeds. It looked ancient: parts of it were covered by moss and algae, giving it a rather neat camouflage. If it weren’t for the painting on the rock’s surface — a group of merpeople waving their spears in an aggressive manner and chasing what appeared to be the giant squid — he would have passed it off as another random piece of stone in the water.
Feeling that this was as good a landmark as any, Harry pulled out his wand — albeit with some difficulty due to his webbed fingers — ready to cast a neat little spell that Ron had discovered after the latter’s brainwave a few days earlier. It had started when Hermione, ever the logical person, had voiced out the need to identify a particular object in the lake as a marker, which Harry could use to make sure that he never get lost in his search.
‘I’m sure there’s a spell for this somewhere,’ she had muttered, and had immediately ventured off to pull out some more enormous and dusty volumes from the shelves of the library.
Harry looked over at Ron and Neville, who both shrugged and returned to their respective essays.
Surprisingly — although in hindsight for Harry, it really shouldn’t have been too much of a shock — it was ultimately Ron who had located the spell.
‘Aha!’ he had exclaimed triumphantly, a mere half an hour after he had joined in on the search.
Hermione looked up from her rather large book, a frazzled expression on her face and a frown creasing her brow. ‘What?’
‘I think I’ve found it,’ said Ron, passing his tome to her and pointing out the relevant passage. ‘Here, wouldn’t this be it?’
A few minutes of debate later, Hermione had confirmed that that was indeed the spell they were looking for: the Invenio spell, when cast upon an object or a person, allows a person to locate the item once again. It was, essentially, a two-part spell — the first step was to mark that item, while the second would be to point the caster’s wand in the direction of the item. The passage also mentioned that there would be an impossibly thin line extending from the wand, thus helping the caster to locate the marked object in the future.
‘How long does it last?’ asked Harry.
‘It doesn’t say,’ said Ginny, who had gone around to read the passage from behind Hermione’s shoulder. ‘But I suppose the magic will linger for quite some time — maybe a week? Even two, perhaps.’
‘Shame it isn’t permanent,’ said Neville sadly. ‘I would have used it on Trevor — it would make life a lot easier.’
This elicited a few chuckles from the others, as they packed their things and returned to the common room.
Now, with a look of concentration on his face, and the anticipatory feeling of finally accomplishing something for succeeding in the second task filling his chest, Harry pointed his wand at the rock and said, ‘Invenio!’
Or at least, he tried to — only to see a stream of bubbles come out of his mouth as he opened his mouth and cast the spell. A few attempts later — all with the same results — he was forced to come to the conclusion that he could not say anything at all while underwater.
Bugger, he thought as he stared at the rock. He had been relying on this spell to work, so much so that he had not thought to trace his underwater route from his starting point. How was he to come back to the same spot now? He had no idea how he had reached here in the first place. And with another unpleasant jolt, he realized that even if he did track back and map out his course to the rock, there was no guarantee that the second task would start in the same place as where he had begun earlier that morning; he would not put it past Bagman to have the champions jump into the lake from another spot altogether. He was also sure that, despite the extra quantity of Gillyweed that Neville had thoughtfully asked for, he would not have enough for a second practice dive, and the second task.
Of course, there was always the chance that the second swim would allow him to perform the Invenio Spell properly on the rock; even if he was left with less than an hour’s worth of Gillyweed for the task itself, he would not need to waste time in searching for the rock - the spell would do the trick. A risky move, but if he got it right…
Frustration rose inside him as he looked between his wand and the painted rock; the Merpeople on its surface seemed to be mocking him and his failure to plan for this complication. How could he have missed out on this crucial detail? Bugger him, how could Hermione, of all people, not have thought about this?
Seconds, probably even minutes, passed as he glared at the rock, motionless in the murky waters. Schools of fish swam past him, the water rippling towards him from the constant movement of their tails; in the distance, shadows and dark shapes shifted in and out of sight…
He had stayed underwater for far too long already; he had no intention of being stuck when his gills would disappear. Having never had any proper swimming lessons while growing up, he did not want to be caught in the middle of the lake, without any means or methods of returning to shore.
It has to work, he told himself, as he squared his shoulders to cast it one more time. And if it didn’t, well, he would simply have to turn up on the day of the second task and hope that he could find the rock within the time limit.
But past an hour — the prospect’s black
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.
Not going to happen, he thought, as the last lines of the Merpeople’s eerie, haunting song came back to him. He had to make it work, he just had to!
He raised his wand.
He had yelled the spell this time, and a torrent of small bubbles escaped his mouth. And this time, his wand emitted — something; but instead of the white light that was supposed to emerge from his wand and hit the target, the water itself became white — so white, that Harry blinked quite instinctively as spots from the brightness covered his vision — and a jet of the white water sped towards the rock.
He blinked once more, waiting for the dots to disappear. The jet of water had long since dissipated, leaving his surroundings calm and unfettered once more. And as his vision returned to normal, he looked at the rock, hoping to see the faint white mark that would signify the success of the spell.
And miraculously, there it was — faint and dull, as though it was likely to be wiped off with one good ripple of water — but it was there. He had done it; he had cast the spell.
Elated with his success, he did a mini somersault in the water — something he seemed to be extremely comfortable in doing with his flippers in place, and definitely not what would not have dared to do on land. Righting himself once more, he slowly approached the rock, making sure that the mark was still there, and was not just a trick of the light… But it was there, clear as day, there was no doubt about it.
Two minutes later, as the first few groups of students began to exit the castle for a short walk on the grounds, a head broke through the previously undisturbed surface of the water. One would have been forgiven for thinking that it was a grotesque, life-like puppet — it had glasses, eyes, nose, ears, a mouth, and gills…but the gills soon receded as the face bobbed up and down, and the mouth stretched into a wide grin that was returned by four people perched upon the banks of the lake — for one of whom the sight of the head brought with it an immeasurable sense of relief.
It is a wonderful sensation — the feeling of being completely under control, of being so sure that you have everything sorted out, and that there is nothing that could disturb the tranquillity and the sense of contentment that comes along with it. Some would say that such a giddy, heady feeling was bad for you — too much is too bad after all — but how many could confess to have felt that way at all? Still others would preach that the notion of absolute, total control was not one to be taken lightly, and it could get into your mind, play tricks upon you…but would it not be worth it? The security, the comfort that such knowledge brought to you was unimaginably wonderful. Unquestionably perfect. Unequivocally amazing.
It was exactly how Harry felt in the final few days leading up to the second task. He had ensured his survival — and possibly his success — in more ways than one: the Gillyweed, the Invenio Spell, and a useful Four-Point Spell that Hermione had managed to scour out from one of her many trusty tomes; it would make his wand point due north, allowing him to ensure that he didn’t stray too far from the rock with the painting of Merpeople. Not that I need it anyway, he thought privately to himself, after the success of the Invenio Spell in the lake’s gloomy depths.
Harry had not told any of his friends about the way he had managed to get his spell to work without enunciating the words properly — partly because he knew Hermione would go into full-blown research mode as to how he had pulled it off, and partly because, well, he had absolutely no idea how he had done it at all. He supposed it was the frustration at not being able to cast the spell normally that had built up inside him, coupled with the desire to get it to work. It was probably for the best anyway, that he didn’t mention it to the others — he wanted to revel in the knowledge that his plan for the second task was fool-proof, and was sure to work.
In any case, Harry was saving the Four-Point Spell as his ultimate last resort at navigating the Black Lake; there had been no indication of where the task would begin, and folly would be the ideal term to describe his reliance on a spell which pointed him in only one direction, when he had no inkling of which direction the rock was. His excursion into the lake had resulted in that single miss — something he expressed his concern over to Hermione and Ron over breakfast a couple of days later.
‘Don’t worry about it,’ Hermione had tried to reassure him. ‘If the Invenio Spell worked, it’s as good as done — you wouldn’t even need the Four-Point Spell. Plus, how were you supposed to figure out which direction you were facing while you were underwater, anyway?’
Apart from his preparedness for the second task, there was also the good news about the defeat of the anti-werewolf legislation at the Wizengamot. Harry had woken early on Friday morning — the day after the vote — with his insides feeling distinctly queasy; it had taken him a few moments to realize that he was worried about Lupin’s fate. And the fate of every other werewolf who, like Lupin, were decent, good people, suffering with a problem. A furry problem.
His anxiety was, to an extent, justified; the legislation seemed to have been heavily debated and discussed by the members of the Wizengamot, if the eight hours straight that they had spent in the legislative chamber — according to the Daily Prophet — was any indication. By some strange miracle, the Prophet had assigned another reporter to cover the proceedings: just a year out of Hogwarts, Joshua Smallwood did not disappoint on his first big break. The article was unbiased, true — to the extent that it could be verified — and made no judgements or insinuations about anyone or anything of note. Umbridge’s pet legislation was tossed and thrown about within the fabled chamber, and ultimately ended up being ripped six ways to next week — but the final vote count was close. Some said it was the closest ballot result that had ever taken place in the Wizengamot in a really long time.
But it was definitely worth it — worth every single argument and point debated upon in the chamber — to know that things would be alright in the end.
The deafening, thunderous, heart-soaring cheers that rent the Great Hall when Lupin entered for breakfast were ample proof of that.
And all of that — the sheer joy, the unbridled glee, the sense of security, all of it — came crashing down on the morning of the second task.
In hindsight, he really should have known that it was going to happen. How could he not have seen it? How could he have been this blind, this oblivious, this thick, to have not noticed it in the first place? Had he become complacent — too wrapped up in his fantastic plan for survival and success to identify anything that could be considered as being amiss? Had he been too giddy with the sheer, absolute control that he had over his fate — the fact that nothing would stop him from achieving his goal? Had the events of the last two weeks side-tracked him that much?
But soon, a new emotion bubbled up inside him — the shock he had suffered when he first realized it was quickly and swiftly replaced by worry. Anxiety, apprehension, uneasiness…all of them assaulted his mind and heart with the force of a rampaging Hippogriff. And with these sentiments, came the questions — the first vestiges of doubt that creeped into his conscious thoughts, waiting ever so patiently to slip into his unconsciousness: would it be alright? Would everything turn out okay? He could not mess this up — no, could not even dare to think that he would mess this up.
He had to do it right; had to make sure that he had a cool head when it came to it, and that he would succeed in the end.
But it still did not stop Harry Potter from worrying about the fact that Ginny Weasley was at the bottom of the lake, at the mercy of the Merpeople.
For what seemed like the umpteenth time that morning, Harry stared at his meagre serving of a single slice of toast; it stared back at him innocently, yet probably secretly hoping that it would not be eaten, and would live for just a few more minutes.
It got its wish — Harry pushed his plate away, his insides feeling as though they had been turned into jelly. Nausea threatened to overtake him, almost forcing him to heave out the non-existent breakfast and the already digested dinner from inside him.
She’ll be alright, he tried to reassure himself. She’ll be okay, they won’t harm her.
‘They had bloody well not,’ spat the second youngest child of the red-headed clan from his seat beside Harry, who realised that he had said his last thought out loud.
Ron had never, in all the years that Harry had known him, looked this murderous: there was a small fire in his blue eyes that he, Harry, had never seen before; his hands were clenched into such tight fists, it was a wonder that his nails were not drawing blood from his palms; and the most astonishing thing of all — Ron had not touched his breakfast at all.
She’ll be alright, she has to be alright…
Harry should have known that the magical two weeks he had had — what with Lupin keeping his job, the anti-werewolf legislation of Umbridge (he hated that name and woman on principle now) being defeated at the Ministry, his fool-proof plan for succeeding in the second task, and spending time enough with Ron, Hermione, Neville and Ginny — would not have lasted. Fate was just cruel to him that way. No amount of luck or miracles would have helped in salvaging something from the hand he had been dealt with, time and again — Fate always held all the good cards, he should have known.
We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,
An hour long you’ll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
But past an hour — the prospect’s black,
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back
He had not thought much of the summons that Ginny and Hermione had received late last evening from Professor McGonagall — through Fred and George. He supposed it was something to do with some essay of theirs: she might have been grading them together — coincidentally by accident — and had called them to discuss.
But now, that reasoning seemed so flawed and childish, so irrational and unusual…
She’ll be alright, she’ll be alright…
Of course it was to get them to be the thing that they would sorely miss…Hermione was probably Krum’s — Harry wasn’t thick enough to have not noticed how the Bulgarian cared for his best friend. Judging by the absence of Cho Chang at the Ravenclaw table, he knew she would be Cedric’s to “rescue”, for lack of a better word; and Fleur’s… well, it didn’t matter. Not right then anyway.
The Great Hall was alive with the chatter of the students of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons and Durmstrang — all of them predictably excited with the upcoming second task. It was due to happen in less than an hour; Bagman had already joined the staff table for breakfast, and was currently chortling away to something that Professor Sinistra had said. Snape was his usual surly self, his glittering, coal-dark eyes glaring around the hall — but Harry knew its intensity had greatly reduced since the “night”. Professors Sprout and Vector — the latter of whom taught Arithmancy — were chatting away. The other two Heads of Houses, however, were distinctly, and unpleasantly, silent: Professor McGonagall was picking at her food slowly, and even the normally chirpy Professor Flitwick was half-heartedly participating in the conversation with Hagrid.
They’re worried too. It’s three of their students down there, of course they’re worried.
The noise died down almost immediately as Professor Dumbledore, looking as magnificent as ever in his magenta robes, stood up from his huge chair. ‘The second task of the Tournament will begin in forty-five minutes. I request the four champions to please join Mr Bagman in going down to the Black Lake. The rest of the school, and our esteemed guests, will join you shortly.’
The applause that filled the cavernous hall was thunderous, and on any other day, Harry would have felt inspired, but not today. He had never felt this anxious — ever: not even when Aunt Marge had come to visit when he was six years old, or two summers ago; not when Dudley and his gang were partaking in their favourite pastime — Harry Hunting; and not even in the Quidditch Final last year, where he had to catch the Snitch only when Gryffindor were fifty points ahead against Slytherin.
No, this was restlessness and agitation at a whole new level, far outstripping even the sinking feeling he had experienced when he had pulled the Hungarian Horntail out of that purple silk sack, and when he had to actually face the magnificent beast.
Harry pushed himself off the bench and made his way to the double doors of the Great Hall. Calls of ‘Good luck Harry!’, ‘You can win this, Harry!’, interspersed with ‘Go Cedric!’, and presumably similar encouraging cheers in Bulgarian and French filled his ears as the other three champions joined him and Bagman, who was bouncing on the balls of his feet, and looking too happy for his own good.
‘All ready? Right, let’s go!’
The walk to the banks of the Black Lake was daunting; each step was an effort in itself as conflicting emotions warred inside of him: fear of the Merpeople, concern for Ginny’s well-being, doubt at his plan to survive — which only twelve hours ago had seemed so certain and unbreakable — and a faint rush of anger at Bagman’s annoying whistling.
The lake looked more ominous than Harry had ever seen before — and this was including the time when a hundred Dementors had glided over its surface to almost Kiss him and Sirius. Smooth as glass, but black as death, with not a ripple in sight. A light, yet chilly breeze blew across the grounds, causing Harry to shiver even through his cloak.
A quick glance at Cedric, Fleur and Krum told him one thing: they were as anxious as he was, and probably as ticked off with the off-key tune that Bagman was attempting to whistle. Fleur, in particular, looked more distressed than the others; then again, it was difficult to tell with Krum with his trademark scowl.
It was probably a minor saving grace that the organisers had chosen to start the task from the bank that was nearest to the front doors of the castle; he knew now, to a greater extent, where exactly he needed to swim to get to the rock. Large stands had been erected around the edge of the water, the plastic seats clearly reflected in the lake below. Closer to the starting point was a gold-draped table — the judges’ seats.
What definitely surprised Harry was the sight of two large — screens; he could think of no better word to describe them. They stood facing the stands, their white opaque backs facing the school. He supposed they had been set up for the viewing benefit of the audience; it wouldn’t have been fun for them to remain in the stands without any news for a whole hour…
An hour long you’ll have to look,
And to recover what we took,
She’ll be alright, she has to be alright…
The stands were slowly filling up now; the excited babble of the students of the three schools echoed strangely across the water as they took their seats. Harry could hear the calls of the professors as they rounded up the stragglers and forced them to sit down quickly.
Harry turned to look at the table, perched a few feet away from the four of them. Dumbledore’s magenta robes shimmered softly in the weak February sun, his pointed hat barely reaching up to the chin of Madame Maxime, dressed in stately robes of olive green. Karkaroff was wearing his silver furs once again, an empty chair that was presumably for Bagman, being one of the judges, and —
Harry did a double-take.
There was no mistaking it: that was definitely Mr Crouch, albeit looking a little worse for the wear. His usually immaculately pressed and tailored robes were a bit crumpled, his moustache was slightly overgrown — as opposed to the finely trimmed look he had sported at the World Cup — and he had a hint of a stubble on his chin. He looked utterly drained out and exhausted, and was currently trying to shield his eyes half-heartedly from the increasing intensity of the sun’s glare.
The dishevelled look sported by the Head of the Department of International Magical Co-operation at the Ministry of Magic was, beyond doubt, odd and unusual — Mr Crouch was known for abiding to the rules extremely strictly, and for him to present himself this way in public was out of character…
Or was it Mr Crouch? Could it be someone else using Polyjuice Potion this time, now masquerading as Crouch Senior? Just like how his son had been impersonating Mad-Eye Moody? Harry looked at the man a little more closely, when a slight movement out of the corner of his eye caught his attention.
Professor Dumbledore had adjusted his seat a bit, and when Harry turned to him, the Headmaster gave him a quick shake of the head, and a slight frown. Harry instantly understood the message.
This is the real Bartemius Crouch Senior. Don’t give anything away. Focus.
Properly chastised, Harry tore his eyes away from the judges’ table and faced the lake once more, just as the reality of the situation came crashing down upon him.
Ginny was down there. So were Hermione and Cho.
But past an hour — the prospect’s black,
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back
Bagman was now moving between the champions, placing them at intervals of ten feet from each other. Harry glanced at his competitors once again — their anxious expressions had been replaced by looks of determination. And instantly, he knew that this was going to be a tough one. They were all going in at the same time; the psychological advantage — or disadvantage, depending on how he looked at it — that Harry had held when he went last in the first task had vanished now. None of that mattered at this moment: it would all boil down to pure magical skill — and hopefully some logic.
‘All right, Harry?’ came the whisper of Bagman as he steered him to stand the closest to the stands. ‘Got a plan?’
‘Err — yeah,’ said Harry, momentarily distracted.
Bagman squeezed his shoulder quickly, stepped back and looked over at the crowd, who were cheering and clapping loudly. Pointing his wand at his throat, he muttered, ‘Sonorus’, just as he had done at the World Cup, and spoke out loud, his voice booming across the lake to the eager audience.
‘Students and teachers of Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang! Welcome to the second task!’
‘Late last night, something had been taken from each of our four champions. They now lie at the bottom of the Black Lake. The second task is simply this — the champions must enter the lake and recover what was taken from them. For this, they have a time limit of one hour!’
Even more cheering from the stands.
‘The screens that you see in front of you —’ Bagman indicated the two large screens ‘— will provide a live viewing of the progress of our champions during the second task. Mr Diggory and Miss Delacour will be shown on the right screen, with Mr Potter and Mr Krum on the other. This would also allow us to ensure adequate assistance to any champion who may be in mortal danger in the lake.
‘The champions will start on my whistle, on the count of three. One…two…three!’
Bagman’s whistle echoed shrilly through the cold air; the stands erupted with even more cheers, applause, and in some cases, catcalls and jeers. Harry took off his robes until he was wearing only the swimming gear that someone had laid out for him on his bed earlier this morning, noticing the other champions doing so while he removed his shoes and socks. He extracted the Gillyweed from the pocket of his robes, stuffed it into his mouth, and waded into the lake, waiting for the familiar sensation of breathlessness to overcome him.
Three splashes sounded towards him from his right; he figured the others had already gone under, but he didn’t care…he knew what he was waiting for; he knew what he must do.
The sensation of an invisible pillow being pressed over his mouth and nose overcame him once more, and automatically, he flung himself forward into the water…
And at that moment, when he took his first gulp of the icy lake water, sending oxygen to his brain and clarity to his mind, he steeled his resolve. He was not going to lose this. He was going to get Ginny.
The long, impossibly thin line of light emerged from his wand, stretching out into the gloomy distance and illuminating his path to the rock. He whispered a silent thanks to Ron — probably grinning with pride at the success of the spell he had discovered — and propelled himself forward.
Forests of rippling, black weed, wide plains of mud littered with glittering stones, schools of fish suddenly appearing in front of or alongside him…the strangely familiar sights welcomed him back to the inky depths of the lake as he soared ahead. He made sure that he gave a wide berth to the tangled weeds below, Lupin’s words from Defence classes last year echoing in his head:
‘They generally live in the weeds growing in water bodies. Strong but brittle fingers — easy to repel of course — but best to avoid encountering them altogether, especially since they move around in packs.’
It seemed like no time that he reached the rock with the painting of the Merpeople on it. He glanced at his watch to confirm the time left, but it had stopped working. Something told him that he hadn’t taken more than 15 minutes to reach his landmark, which would leave with a good three-quarters of the allotted hour to grab Ginny and return to the surface.
She has to be alright…
He moved past the rock, a bit more slowly now that he was in virtually unknown territory. And suddenly, almost as though someone had switched a set of floodlights on, he came upon the Merpeople colony of the Black Lake of Hogwarts.
Algae covered stone dwellings dotted the landscape in front of him; as he sped on, the houses increased in number and concentration…and soon, he was in the heart of what could only be described as the Mer-village. Gardens of weed surrounded the homes of the Merpeople, rotting logs discerned one house from another, and domesticated Grindylows bared their sharp teeth at him from their tethered spots near the front of the caves and dwellings. All around him, Merpeople emerged from their houses, gaping and leering at him, either with astonishment, or with sardonic smiles on their greying faces…
More and more of them joined Harry as he paddled forward, their own silver fish tails powerfully beating against the water. Their long, sharp spears gave them an ominous appearance; Harry had to keep reminding himself of the fact that they never attacked unless attacked upon.
And then, he stopped so abruptly that he accidentally swallowed an extra amount of water, gaping at the sight before him.
It was the mer-version of a village square — a crowd of Merpeople were floating alongside rows of houses that lined the square, which was dominated by a huge statue of a Merperson that looked as though it had been hewn out of a single rock. Another twenty or so Merpeople were arranging themselves in a group in the middle of the square — just below the statue — as though they were about to sing. Harry’s eyes drifted over to the large tail of the crude statue, where four people were bound tightly, motionless and clearly in a deep enchanted sleep.
Hermione, Ginny, Cho, and a little girl who looked no older than eight years old, with flowing, silvery hair draped behind her; Harry was sure that was Fleur’s sister. Their heads lolled against their shoulders, and fine streams of bubbles issued from their mouths.
Harry paddled towards the hostages, half-expecting the Merpeople to attack him with their spears, but they did nothing of the sort. His accompanying entourage from the outskirts of the Merpeople colony tapered off to join the crowd of Merpeople near the houses, leaving him alone as he neared the girls.
They were bound together with what looked like ropes of thick, strong and slimy weed — clearly he would be unable to untie them by hand; and while they may not have attacked him, he doubt the Merpeople would help him by giving him their spears to cut through the ropes. He glanced around the bed of the lake, near the foot of statue; rocks and stones were strewn about, some blunt as a hammer, and others as sharp as a razor.
He had just begun to swim downwards to pick out a particularly jagged looking rock, when Ron’s exasperated yell from his first year at Hogwarts echoed in his head:
‘ARE YOU MAD? ARE YOU A WITCH OR NOT?!’
I should hit myself with one of those rocks, thought Harry as he swivelled mid-dive. Smirking at the knowledge that Ron was surely having at a laugh at his, Harry’s, momentary lapse of awareness, from his vantage point in the stands, he raised his wand, his focus and concentration now on severing the ropes holding Ginny with the others.
They broke free, and Ginny, unencumbered by the binds, floated, unconscious, a few inches above the bed of the lake, drifting slightly in the general ebb of the water. Harry rushed towards her, his webbed hands gently caressing her pale cheek. It did not look like she had been harmed — a relief for Harry, and after confirming that she was indeed okay, he took her arm and looked around.
It seemed as though his excursion last week had done the trick: there were no signs of the other champions within his range of vision. He stared, unblinkingly, into the inky blackness, looking for some sort of indication that would announce their presence, but there was nothing…
Ought he to leave? Harry looked back at Ginny, gently bobbing up and down as the lateral current caught her figure. Cho, Hermione and the young girl were still asleep, their heads bumping into each other’s shoulders…
And then, a sudden movement in the distance caught his eye…another figure was swimming towards them at great speed…as he approached the first house lining the square, Harry noticed the canary yellow of his swimming gear: Cedric Diggory.
Harry’s heart leapt a bit — partly with relief that Cedric had finally arrived, which meant that the others could not be too far behind, and partly with a streak of competitiveness that he hadn’t felt since the start of the Tournament.
He could not let Cedric win. Not when he had the upper hand.
With a swift and furious kick, Harry paddled away from the square; Cedric, who was approaching the square from the other end, had not noticed yet, but he would, soon…Harry kicked out harder, swimming towards the rock that served as his landmark — the Invenio spell had provided him with the most direct and easiest route from the banks of the lake where they had begun…he could swim along that course to reach the shore first…
On and on he swam, holding Ginny around the waist so that he could use at least one of his webbed hands to propel himself forwards, but it was slow going…Ginny’s dead weight combined with gravity threatened to pull him down to the depths of the lake…
Past the rock, past the huge rotten log, past the forest of weeds that definitely contained a group of Grindylows, and still Harry swam, gripping Ginny so tightly that he was sure if she was conscious, she would be gasping for air now…
He could see daylight above him…he knew he was close to the surface now…fifteen feet, ten feet…five, four, three, two, one…
And then he broke through the surface of the water; his gills receded back into his neck as his hands lost their ghostly webbing; Ginny’s head had emerged as well; she opened her eyes, and brown stared into brilliant green, before she coughed up a great deal of water, blinking in the bright light of the sun.
‘Ginny!’ Harry said a little hoarsely, still holding her close to him around the waist. ‘Are you alright?’
She nodded, and he began pulling her through the water to the bank, a mere five feet away, where the judges were seated…The crowd were making a great deal of noise as their feet hit the muddy shores, and slowly, they climbed out of the water, both of them shivering in the icy air that bit into their wet skin.
Dumbledore and Bagman had risen from their seats at the table, beaming at Harry with pride; Karkaroff looked surly at Harry’s re-appearance; Mr Crouch was watching the proceedings with a dispassionate air, still looking exhausted; but Madame Maxime was standing with Madam Pomfrey, comforting a girl with silvery blonde hair and a terrified expression on her face — Fleur Delacour.
The realization of what had happened hit Harry — Fleur was here, but her sister was still down there, and no one would be able to get her.
Not if I can help it.
He turned to Ginny, who seemed to have noticed his expression morph from relief, to surprise and shock, to finally grim determination. He opened his mouth to explain, but she shook her head, sending droplets of water all around them, but she was smiling.
‘Go,’ she said softly. ‘Go get her, Harry.’
Harry beamed at her, and without a backward glance at Dumbledore, Bagman, and Madam Pomfrey — who were moving towards him — he let Ginny go, rushed to his robes which lay forgotten and untouched where he had left them, pulled out the spare bit of Gillyweed, stuffed it into his mouth, and waded out into the waters once more.
He paid no attention to the gasps and cries of shock from the stands, or the calls of ‘Harry!’ from Dumbledore and Bagman — his sudden re-entry into the freezing lake had completely overshadowed Cedric’s appearance with Cho…Both of them blinked in the glare, and then stared in shock as Harry waded past them.
He didn’t bother to wait for the gills to form this time — as soon as he reached the point where the water was knee-deep, he flung himself forward; and sure enough, his gills began to function just as he opened his eyes underwater and took a gulp of oxygenated water.
He soared forward, doing away with the second part of the Invenio Spell, the route to the rock almost committed to memory…and as he reached it in record time, he heard the last vestiges of what was surely another Merpeople song, echoing through the depths…
‘…time’s half gone, so tarry not
Lest what you seek stays here to rot’
The Merpeople of the Black Lake had had enough drama and entertainment for one morning — they had been saddled with four young girls who were in some deep enchanted sleep, a boy who had gills had first arrived and taken one of the girls; then came the older boy with the odd-looking bubble across his face, and then the half-man, half-shark abomination that had almost scared them out of their wits. Three people came, three hostages gone. Only one remained — the young girl with the silvery hair, looking ghostly and ethereal as she slept, bound to the tail of their revered ancestor. The fourth person had less than half an hour to rescue her…
Not one of them expected a speeding — something — to rocket past them to their square, mere seconds after the abomination had left their midst. They stared at each other confusedly, then rushed towards the statue as quickly as their tails could push them forward.
Harry paid them no mind — the only thought in his head was to get to the little girl and save her. If he failed, if he couldn’t do it…he didn’t want to think about the consequences, especially not after that song he just heard.
The great, crude statue of the Merperson loomed like a shadow as he shot towards the village square and made a beeline for its tail, where the little girl still was, thank goodness… He drew his wand as he swam, pointed it at the ropes that held Fleur’s sister in place, and cried ‘Diffindo!’
The girl floated away from her bindings, drifting along with the water…but before Harry could grab hold of her, he found himself being pulled away by a dozen slimy hands on his shoulders, and to his horror, a giant of a Merman came in front of him, his spear pointing straight at Harry’s throat.
‘She is not yours to take!’ said the Merman in a harsh, croaky voice. ‘You have already rescued yours, leave her!’
‘But I don’t want her to die!’ he shouted, but all that came out of his mouth were bubbles.
They were shaking their heads at him, hands still dragging him away…he didn’t have time for this; the hour was almost up, and his Gillyweed couldn’t be enough for a long trip.
He pointed his wand at the Merman in front of him, and yelled, ‘Get out of the way!’
Harry knew, instantly, that they had understood, even if it was just bubbles. The giant Merman’s eyes widened in shock and fear; he was staring at Harry’s wand apprehensively — clearly they were afraid of magic.
It seemed to do the trick: the hands dropped from his shoulders, and the giant Merman turned tail and swam away just as quickly. Harry darted forward, grabbed the little girl by the waist — just as he had done with Ginny — and sped off.
The exhaustion of the second trip back to the bottom was now creeping up on him — the journey back to the surface this time was much slower than before…he turned his eyes skyward, unblinkingly staring through the murkiness, hoping against hope that he would reach the surface soon…
Merpeople were rising with him now, swirling around him with ease — as though they were looking to create a mini whirlpool, with him at the vortex… Would they pull him back down if he didn’t reach land within the time limit? Would they suddenly fancy a different delicacy for their lunch — human, perhaps?
Dark, irrational thoughts flitted across his mind as he kicked out, each thrust sapping him of more and more energy…his legs were seizing up with the effort, arms screamed in pain from the combined effort to swim forward and hold onto the little girl…
Was that daylight? Or was it a trick of the light on the glittering stone below? He could not tell…his head was spinning, his limbs were heavy, he could feel the pain on the sides of his neck once again…and now the water was going to his lungs…
You’re almost there, Harry, come on…come on…COME ON!
And at last, at long last, his head broke through the surface of the water once more; wonderful, cold, clear air stung his wet face; he gulped it down as though he had never breathed before…he dragged the little girl above with him, who spluttered a bit as she opened her eyes, a lost and scared expression on her face. And all around him, the Merpeople emerged out of the water, but they were smiling widely.
But the exhaustion had taken its toll on Harry; his head slumped against the girl’s shoulder, making her squeak with surprise…everything around him seemed to be spinning…darkness was encroaching on his vision; he could not see properly, even with his glasses…
‘It’s okay,’ croaked Harry to the girl, ‘you’re safe now.’
And his world went black.
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