The Many Faces of Harry Potter 28

“The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 28”
By = Fayanora

Chapter Twenty-eight: The First Task

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Adira, and Zoey, and now #Iliana (bold, italic, underlined, and now between hashtags/pound signs because some people's computers don't do the B.I.U.).# and {Tier}.

*FAYANORA*

Against Chandra's wishes, Al still managed to force control of the body in order to get to the library the next day and look up the wand movements for the Conjunctivitis Curse. He was allowed to take the book with him to practice.

For crying out loud, Chandra, it's not like it's really gonna hurt the damn thing. It's just pink eye, that's not all that bad. Might be a little jarring getting it from a spell, but so what?

~I have told you already, it might in its agony blindly thrash around, and if its eggs got hurt, I would be extremely sorrowful and angry.~

Fine, whatever, I'll try not to hurt it. But I make no promises. I want to survive this Tournament, after all.

~As do I.~

It was impossible to practice the Conjunctivitis Curse without a target. But they were going to have to practice it that way anyway, because the only counter to the Conjunctivitis Curse was something called the Oculus Potion, which contained stewed mandrake, ground unicorn horn, and something called 'crystalized water,' whatever that was. He didn't want to take a chance that Snape would deny him a potion that was plainly expensive to brew just so he could practice a curse on another person or animal, even if it was necessary to save his life, though it might be a useful spell for Malfoy later. He made do, then, with casting the curse at inanimate objects, but only after putting protective goggles on and locking the door with a colloportus to prevent others from getting hit with the hex. When he was consistently sending pink light to crash against objects, knocking them over, he considered he was doing it well enough and stopped, to go look for ideas for a plan Chandra would be happy with.

“An object to summon with your wand that can work against a dragon?” Javier said thoughtfully when Al had asked him for input. “Well, the first thing that comes to mind is a broomstick.”

“A broomstick? Why?”

“Well obviously you could fly past the dragon, I suppose.”

“Yeah I guess I could, but brooms are kinda, well... flammable.”

“So are you, if you get hit by dragon fire.”

“I guess. I dunno, I was kinda hoping you'd tell me there was some kind of magic pan pipes that would put a dragon to sleep like the Pied Piper did to the rats of Hamlin, or something like that.”

“Not that I've ever heard of. Nothing real, anyway. A few myths, like that one.”

“Damn.”

“Well I'll do some research for you, but there's not a lot of time left. Even if I found something else, there's probably not time to actually get one before the task.”

“Yeah you're probably right. But a broomstick, okay, yeah, maybe I can fly past it. Fly past a giant flying lizard that blows fire out its mouth, should be easy peasy.”

That had been sarcasm, though; he was rapidly becoming convinced that nothing was going to work. What if he flew on a broomstick and got charred to barbeque? What if he used the Conjunctivitis Curse and the dragon stomped on him? Even if he used both those things, he'd likely get the Horntail, and then it might blindly take his head off with its tail while thrashing around in agony. About the only safe thing he could think of was burrowing under the ground, but the only digging spell he knew wasn't very fast or efficient, and how would he see where he was going? Also, what if the dragon's stomping feet caved in the tunnel and suffocated him? He was starting to take the idea of shouting parseltongue at the dragon seriously. What if a dragon did count as a serpent? Could he convince it to let him past?

Or – a sudden thought struck him – could he call the basilisk from there? Unlikely; the dragon enclosure was way too far away. Even amplifying his voice with the spell he'd witnessed Bagman using over the summer wouldn't carry all the way to the school, let alone into the Chamber of Secrets. Besides, that would be far too dangerous. Even assuming the basilisk heard his commands well enough to close its eyes, there was still the risk that it might hurt someone else, either by accident or by changing its mind about taking orders from him. And using a basilisk against a dragon, well... if Chandra didn't like the Conjunctivitis Curse, he sure as heck wasn't going to approve of siccing a bloody great basilisk on the dragon.

Besides which, that would kind of expose the lie about the basilisk being dead, not to mention reopening the whole 'Potter is the Heir of Slytherin' nonsense again, and possibly getting the school closed. Best case scenario, he would tip his hand to Moldywart for no really good reason. No, the basilisk was an ace up his sleeve, and he was nowhere near desperate enough to use that tool yet.

So, risky as it was, it would have to be the broom.

“Oh SHIT!” he said aloud, woken out of his thoughts by a realization.

“Oh yeah, you've got Herbology, don't you?” Javier asked.

“Yeah but that's not it. Cedric doesn't know! Maxime was there, Karkaroff was there... Cedric is the only one who doesn't know about the dragons! I gotta go!”

He found Cedric when he ran into a corridor and spotted the older boy down the hall with some of his friends, by the bottom of the marble staircases. Al didn't want to talk in front of them, they were some of the ones who were quoting Rita Skeeter's scathing article at him the most, every time he went near them. He followed Cedric at a distance and saw that he was heading toward the Charms corridor. This gave him an idea. Pausing at a distance from them, he pulled out his wand, and took careful aim.

Diffindo!”

Cedric’s bag split. Parchment, quills, and books spilled out of it onto the floor. Several bottles of ink smashed.

“Don’t bother,” said Cedric in an exasperated voice as his friends bent down to help him. “Tell Flitwick I’m coming, go on.”

This was exactly what Al had been hoping for. He slipped his wand back into his robes, waited until Cedric’s friends had disappeared into their classroom, and hurried up the corridor, which was now empty of everyone but himself and Cedric.

“Hi,” said Cedric, picking up a copy of A Guide to Advanced Transfiguration that was now splattered with ink. “My bag just split … brand-new and all …”

“Cedric,” said Al. “The First Task. It's dragons.”

“What?” said Cedric, looking up.

“Dragons,” said Al, speaking quickly, in case Professor Flitwick came out to see where Cedric had got to. “They’ve got four, one for each of us, and we’ve got to get past them.”

Cedric stared at him. Al saw some of the panic he’d been feeling since Saturday night flickering in Cedric’s gray eyes.

“Are you sure?” Cedric said in a hushed voice.

“As sure as I am that you're standing in front of me right now,” said Al. “I’ve seen them.”

“But how did you find out? We’re not supposed to know.”

“That's not important. But I’m not the only one who knows. Fleur and Krum will know by now — Maxime and Karkaroff both saw the dragons too.”

Cedric straightened up, his arms full of inky quills, parchment, and books, his ripped bag dangling off one shoulder. He stared at Al, and there was a puzzled, almost suspicious look in his eyes.

“Why are you telling me?” he asked.

Al stared at him like he'd grown a second head. “Because this whole damn thing is daft! Fighting dragons, or getting past them or whatever. DRAGONS! I'm ahead of my year in a lot of ways, known the Summoning Charm since the first half of last year, but I've seen those damned things myself, and it took like a dozen wizards to subdue just one of them! I don't want you to die for some stupid tournament. I mean yes, you chose this and I didn't, but honestly, the whole wizarding world is insane. And anyway, it's fair. Now everyone's on equal footing.”

Cedric was still looking at him in a slightly suspicious way when Al heard a familiar clunking noise behind him. He turned around and saw Mad-Eye Moody emerging from a nearby classroom.

“Come with me, Potter,” he growled. “Diggory, off you go.”

“Um, I have to be in Herbology, Professor Moody.”

“Never mind that, Potter. In my office, please.”

Damn it, how screwed am I now, he thought. Is he going to turn me into a newt? It would be easier to get past a dragon as a newt, but he'd have a devil of a time if he had to grab something bigger than himself.

He followed Moody into his office. Moody closed the door behind them and turned to look at Al, his magical eye fixed upon him as well as the normal one.

“That was a very decent thing you just did, Potter,” Moody said quietly.

Al didn't know what to say. Neither did Chandra.

“Sit down,” said Moody, and Al sat, looking around.

The office was very different from the two times he'd been there before, under Lockhart and Lupin. Now it was full of a number of exceptionally odd objects that Al supposed Moody had used in the days when he had been an Auror.

On his desk stood what looked like a large, cracked, glass spinning top; Al recognized it at once as a Sneakoscope, because he owned one himself, though it was much smaller than Moody’s. In the corner on a small table stood an object that looked something like an extra-squiggly, golden television aerial. It was humming slightly. What appeared to be a mirror hung opposite Al on the wall, but it was not reflecting the room. Shadowy figures were moving around inside it, none of them clearly in focus.

“Like my Dark Detectors, do you?” said Moody, who was watching Al closely.

“Yeah. What’s that?” Al asked, pointing at the squiggly golden aerial.

“Secrecy Sensor. Vibrates when it detects concealment and lies … no use here, of course, too much interference — students in every direction lying about why they haven’t done their homework. Been humming ever since I got here. I had to disable my Sneakoscope because it wouldn’t stop whistling. It’s extra-sensitive, picks up stuff about a mile around. Of course, it could be picking up more than kid stuff,” he added in a growl.

“And what’s the mirror for?”

“Oh that’s my Foe-Glass. See them out there, skulking around? I’m not really in trouble until I see the whites of their eyes. That’s when I open my trunk.”

He let out a short, harsh laugh, and pointed to the large trunk under the window. It had seven keyholes in a row. Al wondered what was in there, until Moody’s next question brought him sharply back to earth.

“So … found out about the dragons, have you?”

“Yes. But I'm not telling you how.”

“Good on you. I don't want to know. But cheating’s a traditional part of the Tri-wizard Tournament and always has been.”

“Yes, well, I wouldn't normally, but given that this wasn't my choice, and it's life or death, I'll do whatever I can to survive.”

Moody chuckled. “Bit of an odd thing to hear from a Griffindor. More something a Slytherin would say.”

“More something that someone sane who values living would say,” Al countered. “Bravery is all well and good, but bravery without a plan – without a willingness to do whatever you can to stay alive and (if necessary) keep others alive, too – is just recklessness.”

“Well spoken, lad. Well spoken. Anyway, I wasn’t judging you, laddie. I’ve been telling Dumbledore from the start, he can be as high-minded as he likes, but you can bet old Karkaroff and Maxime won’t be. They’ll have told their champions everything they can. They want to win. They want to beat Dumbledore. They’d like to prove he’s only human.”

Moody gave another harsh laugh, and his magical eye swiveled around so fast it made Al feel queasy to watch it.

“So … got any ideas how you’re going to get past your dragon yet?” said Moody.

“A few. Sirius told me about the Conjunctivitis Curse, but Chandra refuses to have anything to do with it. Says it might hurt the dragon, or its eggs.”

“Hmm... well he's not wrong. That curse does hurt a fair bit, and dragons aren't especially accustomed to getting sick. The only disease I know for sure they can get is dragon pox, which wizards and witches can also get. In fact, we got it from the dragons. Prob'ly why it kills so many people; dragons are tougher than us. Takes more to hurt them.

“But yeah, the dragon might stomp around in pain. I don't know or care about the eggs, but yeah, it could stomp on you while it's in pain. What're some of your other ideas, laddie?”

“Sirius suggesting casting a Patronus after it. Then he mentioned Summoning something once I get in there. And Javier suggested I summon my broomstick and fly around the thing.”

“That sounds like a good plan to me. From what I'm privy to about the Tournament, I don't see any reason it shouldn't work. Granted, you should always try to prepare for unexpected turns of events.”

“'Expect the unexpected,' eh?”

Moody chuckled. “Exactly.”

Al smiled at Moody. Moody gave the best approximation of a smile his ruined face could manage. It was a rather unsettling thing to see.

“Well, now that I'm assured you have a plan, I'll let you be on your way, then. Off to class, sonny jim. Here's a note for Sprout, and Filch if necessary,” he said, handing Al a note explaining why he was late.

Al nodded, took the note, and left.

*

To give himself something to do while he waited, Al practiced a bunch of other spells out of the book of curses he'd gotten from Madam Pince when he'd been looking for the Conjunctivitis Curse. Some of them were too difficult for him at his level, but others were doable. He practiced constantly, using unused classrooms to do so. He preferred casting against the walls, which were resistant to spells, at least to the ones he could cast.

Chandra, for his own part, focused on trying to calm Al. And either he was succeeding, or Al was just distracted, but either way the blind panic was subdued for a time. It returned in full measure, however, on the following morning. The atmosphere in the school was one of great tension and excitement. Lessons were to stop at midday, giving all the students time to get down to the dragons’ enclosure — though of course, they didn’t yet know what they would find there.

Al felt oddly separate from everyone around him, whether they were wishing him good luck or hissing “We’ll have a box of tissues ready, Potter” as he passed. It was a state of nervousness so advanced that he wondered whether he mightn’t just lose his head when they tried to lead him out to his dragon, and start trying to curse everyone in sight. Time was behaving in a more peculiar fashion than ever, rushing past in great dollops, so that one moment he seemed to be sitting down in his first lesson, History of Magic, and the next, walking into lunch … and then (where had the morning gone? the last of the dragon-free hours?), Professor McGonagall was hurrying over to him in the Great Hall. Lots of people were watching. He looked down at himself, not sure he'd even dressed, and found that he was dressed in comfortable Muggle slacks and a loose shirt. He supposed Chandra had dressed them, it didn't seem like anything he would choose.

“Mr. Rahasyamay, the champions have to come down onto the grounds now. You have to get ready for your first task.”

Al's heart suddenly felt like it was being squeezed, at these words. He began to hyperventilate, wheezing. He was going to die, he knew it. He suddenly remembered that without Iliana, he was pants at flying. Either he did the task and got killed by a dragon, probably by falling right into its mouth while trying to fly, or he ran away and was killed by the Goblet's geas. As panic gripped him, he felt his eyes watering with tears, and the urge to vanish away where the others were still hiding.

He stood up, intent on physically running away, when he felt a soft, warm feeling flood his being. He still felt scared, and wanted to run, but he would face his doom now.

Al tried to move, and found he couldn't.

~I cannot risk you flying away,~ Chandra said in their shared mind-space, ~so I have locked you in a gilded cage for now. I will face the Scaly Mother for you, Sarcastic Defender. Try to be at peace.~

PEACE? PEACE??? ARE YOU MAD???

But he felt the volume of his voice in their head diminish, and his mind flashed with the image of Chandra turning a volume knob down. He was being muted!

“Mr. Rahasyamay?” Professor McGonagall asked in concern. “We need to go, now.”

“Yes, Tartan Grandmother. I have calmed the Sarcastic Defender. I shall face the Scaly Mother now. Lead the way.”

“Good luck, Chandra, Al,” Hermione whispered. “You’ll be fine!”

“Yeah, you'll be fine, mate,” said Ron.

“I shall endeavor to prove you correct, both of you.”

He left the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall. She didn’t seem herself either; in fact, she looked nearly as anxious as Hermione and Ron. As she walked him down the stone steps and out into the cold November afternoon, she put her hand on his shoulder.

“Now, don’t panic,” she said, “just keep a cool head. We’ve got wizards standing by to control the situation if it gets out of hand. The main thing is just to do your best, and nobody will think any the worse of you. Are you all right?”

“I am well. I have faith in myself and in my destiny. And I have Mother on my side.”

She was leading him toward the place where the dragons were, around the edge of the forest, but when they approached the clump of trees behind which the enclosure would be clearly visible, Chandra and Al saw that a tent had been erected, its entrance facing them, screening the dragons from view.

“You’re to go in here with the other champions,” said Professor McGonagall, in a rather shaky sort of voice, “and wait for your turn. Mr. Bagman is in there, he’ll be telling you the — the procedure. Good luck.”

“Blessings,” Chandra responded.

Fleur Delacour was sitting in a corner on a low wooden stool. She didn’t look nearly as composed as usual, but rather pale and clammy. Viktor Krum looked even surlier than usual, which Chandra supposed was his way of showing nerves. Cedric was pacing up and down. When Chandra entered, Cedric gave him a small smile, which Chandra returned.

“Mr. Rahasyamay! Good-o!” said Bagman happily, looking around at him. “Come in, come in, make yourself at home!”

Bagman looked somehow like a slightly overblown cartoon figure, standing amid all the pale-faced champions. He was wearing his old Wasp robes again.

“Well, now we’re all here — time to fill you in!” said Bagman brightly. “When the audience has assembled, I’m going to be offering each of you this bag” — he held up a small sack of purple silk and shook it at them — “from which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face! There are different — er — varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else too… ah, yes, your task is to collect the golden egg!”

Chandra and the others all nodded their understanding. Chandra was feeling pained by their scared and nervous energy, and concentrated on projecting his personal calm outward. It did not appear to be working, though.

Soon, Bagman was offering the sack of choices to Fleur Delacour.

She put a shaking hand inside the bag and drew out a tiny, perfect model of a dragon — a Welsh Green. It had the number three around its neck. Al – watching – knew, by the fact that Fleur showed no sign of surprise, but rather a determined resignation, that he had been right: Madame Maxime had told her what was coming.

Krum took a turn. He pulled out the blueish-gray Swedish Short-Snout, the number two tied around its neck. Chandra watched him look at it, determination in his eyes.

Next was Cedric. He pulled out the Hungarian Horntail, with a number one around its neck.

~Our luck is looking up, Sarcastic Defender.~

Chandra ignored Al's incoherent mumbling, and reached in, pulling out the Chinese Fireball, a number 4 around its neck.

“Well, there you are!” said Bagman. “You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons, do you see? Now, I’m going to have to leave you in a moment, because I’m commentating. Mr. Diggory, you’re first, just go out into the enclosure when you hear a whistle, all right? Now Mr. Rahasyamay, could I have a quick word? Outside?”

“I suppose so,” Chandra said, following him out.

“Feeling all right, Mr. Rahasyamay? Anything I can get you?”

“No. However,” he said, taking his shoes off, and handing them to Bagman, “if you could hold these for me until after, I shall not be needing them.”

“What? No no, I can't do that. You can't go in there barefoot!” Bagman protested, pushing the shoes back at him.

“Never mind, then,” Chandra said, putting the shoes down on the ground.

“Anyway, what I meant is, got a plan?” said Bagman, lowering his voice conspiratorially. “Because I don’t mind sharing a few pointers, if you’d like them, you know. I mean,” Bagman continued, lowering his voice still further, “you’re the underdog here, of course. Anything I can do to help?”

“You can hold my shoes for me, ensure they do not get stolen.”

“Alright fine, I'll do it then,” he said, taking the shoes. “But I mean, do you need any help with the Task?”

“I have a plan.”

“Nobody would know, Mr. Rahasyamay,” said Bagman, winking at him.

“Unless you are suggesting that you and myself are nobody, then we would know. The Sarcastic Defender is not above cheating to save our life, but we have multiple plans already. Thank you graciously for your offer, Mr. Bagman, but I doubt it will be necessary.”

A whistle had blown somewhere.

“Good lord, I’ve got to run!” said Bagman in alarm, and he hurried off.

“What a strange, large, yellow man,” Chandra commented aloud.

Chandra found a soft spot of grass, took a seated lotus position on it, and closed his eyes in meditation. Al tried to listen to what he could of the commentary for the other Champions, but Chandra was doing so well at meditating that Al couldn't hear anything but a dull sort of mumbling sound, and didn't snap out of his meditation until he heard Bagman call for 'Potter,' probably on the presumption that it was the name most people knew them by.

Standing up fluidly, Chandra walked barefoot through some trees, past an odd sort of rectangular metal doorway, and out into the arena. Across the way, he saw the Chinese Fireball. With two legs and two wings, it was scarlet and smooth scaled with a fringe of golden spikes around its snub-snouted face and had extremely protuberant eyes. It was shooting mushroom-shaped fireballs out of its nostrils as he watched.

Then he happened to look up, above the dragon, and noticed that the dragon enclosure and the stands for the crowd were all covered up under a very large, clear dome of enchanted glass.

Oh. Holy. Mother. Of. Crap, Al thought in their head. We're doomed!

~Ah. The metal doorway was the entrance. Well, this is rather unfortunate,~ Chandra thought. Al just spluttered at him, unable to form words in his upset.

Chandra shrugged, and filled his mind with a feeling of immense happiness, using what memories he could access from himself and Alastair, pointed his wand at the dragon, and cast his Patronus.

Expecto patronum!”

The glowing silver Amazon river dolphin swam out of his wand and moved to one side of the dragon, the side farthest away from Chandra. As they did that, he got the oak wand out with his right hand and relinquished control of that arm to Al. As he did, he caught Bagman saying something about the Patronus.

~Cast your own Patronus, Al!~

How? I'm facing down a dragon!

~You faced down dementors before. The worst that can happen here is we die. With dementors, we are destroyed utterly. Find your bravery!~

Al grumbled but gritted his proverbial teeth and concentrated on a happy thought. He tried three or four times to cast the spell before it finally took.

Expecto patronum!”

From the oak wand came a great long snake with three heads that slithered through the air to join Chandra's dolphin Patronus.

What the bloody Hell is that thing?

~No idea. Not important. Help me keep the dragon away from us!~

Two Patronuses, everybody!” Bagman announced to the audience. “Potter cast two Patronuses! And they're both different! One is a dolphin of some sort, and the other is a runespoor, of all things!”

Chandra tried walking toward the golden egg, but as distracting as the Patronuses were, the Fireball kept looking at Chandra, who had to back off.

What's going on? Asked a long-missed voice in their head. Holy shit, is that a dragon???

About time you showed up, Adira. Quick, cast your Patronus!

What? Okay, I'll try.

Soon...

Three patronuses, ladies and gentleman! And this third one is... is that a wolf? Or just a very large dog?”

One by one, the others woke up and, as Chandra was still having a hard time getting to the egg, added their own patronuses. Joining the dolphin, the runespoor, and the dog were Iliana's Muggle Chinese dragon, a raven from Zoey, and Tier's was a jaguar.

“My word, SIX patronuses???” Bagman shouted, as the crowd roared with delight.

Finally, under the combined distraction of six different patronuses, Chandra was able to run past the dragon and grab the golden egg, his river dolphin patronus winking out as he sheathed his wand to grab the egg and run. His timing was impeccable, for the dragon had finally figured out that the patronuses were harmless to it, and was turning around blowing fire at him, which he ducked just in time to escape through another door he'd only just spotted.

“Look at that!” Bagman was yelling. “Will you look at that! Our youngest champion is quickest to get his egg! Well, this is going to shorten the odds on Mr. Potter!”

From their new position safely away from the dragon, they witnessed the dragon keepers rushing forward to subdue the Chinese Fireball. Chandra was glad they hadn't needed to use the Conjunctivitis Curse, Al was so relieved he was giddy, and the others were all kind of dazed and confused. They had, from their perspective, gone to sleep in the Great Hall and woken up facing a dragon.

“That was excellent, Potter!” cried Professor McGonagall as he came into the sidelines — which from McGonagall was extravagant praise. Chandra noticed her hands were shaking, and took them in his own hands.

“Be calm, now, Professor. It is over. Deep breaths, now. Slow breaths, in, hold, and out.”

It really said something of her mood that she went along with Chandra's directions without comment or even a glare.

“Yeh did it, you lot!” said Hagrid hoarsely. “Yeh did it! An' six patronuses, what a show o' power they'll not be wise to scoff at!”

Professor Moody came into view, his face very pale and damp with sweat. “That was... quite a display of power and skill, Potter. I don't think anyone's ever seen anything like that before.”

“Quite,” agreed Professor Lupin, former-DADA-teacher-cum-history-teacher. He also looked shaken. “Six patronuses, I believe that's one for the record books.”

“Yes, well, there are six of us. Seven, if this 'Mother' that Chandra keeps talking about is what we think she is.”

“So the others are back, now?”

“Yes. And I don't know about you, Chandra, but I could use a nap.”

~Sounds good to me.~

“Good. Zoey?”

With a very faint glow, they transformed into Zoey's form, Al and Chandra going to sleep for a nap. Zoey was dressed unusually, thanks to the addition of heart-shaped sunglasses and a very large pink feather boa around her neck. She walked around with her nose in the air, giving off a haughty demeanor, which was somewhat ruined by the fact she kept tripping because, as it turned out, she was trying to walk on the grass in high-heeled shoes that were much too big for her.

“Hullo, dahlinks,” she said in a feigned hoity-toity accent. “Pray do tell me what the other peasants did to get past their dragons?”

“Sure thing. You were the best, you know, no competition. Cedric did this weird thing where he Transfigured a rock on the ground, turned it into a dog. He was trying to make the dragon go for the dog instead of him. Well, it was a pretty cool bit of Transfiguration, and it sort of worked, because he did get the egg, but he got burned as well — the dragon changed its mind halfway through and decided it would rather have him than the Labrador; he only just got away. And that Fleur girl tried this sort of charm, I think she was trying to put it into a trance — well, that kind of worked too, it went all sleepy, but then it snored, and this great jet of flame shot out, and her skirt caught fire — she put it out with a bit of water out of her wand. And Krum hit it with some sort of spell right in the eye.”

“Conjunctivitis curse,” Zoey supplied.

“Ah, okay. Anyway, it went trampling around in agony and squashed half the real eggs — they took marks off for that, he wasn’t supposed to do any damage to them.”

Zoey winced. Lapsing into her usual voice, she said, “Chandra isn't gonna like that.”

“Yeah, probably. Anyway, they're about to call out the scores.”

She sighed heavily, and turned to face the judges' box.

“It’s marks out of ten from each one,” Ron said, and Zoey, peering over her sunglasses up the field, saw the first judge — Madame Maxime — raise her wand in the air. What looked like a long silver ribbon shot out of it, which twisted itself into a large number 9.

Nine? You were fastest to get the egg, and with no injuries or broken eggs! Why a 9?”

Mr. Alder was next. He shot a 10 into the air.

“Looking good,” Ron said.

Dumbledore also put up a ten. The crowd was cheering harder than ever.

Ludo Bagman did a ten as well.

And now Karkaroff raised his wand. He paused for a moment, and then a number shot out of his wand too — a four.

What?” Ron bellowed furiously. “Four? You lousy, biased scumbag, you gave Krum ten!”

“I guess we were just too much for him, and his brain collapsed in on itself from the strain,” Zoey said casually.

“Er, are you one of the Potters?” asked Charlie Weasley.

Zoey held out a hand as though expecting him to kiss a ring, and said, “Yes, I am the esteemed Zoey Potter, esquire the first, at your disposable.” This got her a number of giggles from the people around her.

“Er, okay. Well it looks like you lot got the highest score. Krum is in second.”

“Indeed,” said Zoey.

“Listen, I’ve got to run, I’ve got to go and send Mum an owl, I swore I’d tell her what happened — but that was unbelievable! Oh yeah — and they told me to tell you you’ve got to hang around for a few more minutes. … Bagman wants a word, back in the champions’ tent.”

She sighed again. “The burden of being me is great. I shall deign to speak to him again, the poor fame-addicted soul.”

Ron and Hermione waited for her, too, as she went into the tent again (or for the first time, really, from her point of view).

Fleur, Cedric, and Krum all came in together. One side of Cedric’s face was covered in a thick orange paste, which was presumably mending his burn. He grinned at Zoey when he saw her, then looked confused.

“Er, which one are you, again?”

“Zoey Potter,” she said, holding her hand out as she had for Charlie. He shook it, and she sighed. Then giggled, but hastily pulled herself back into her faux condescending manner.

“Well, good one there. I heard about it while Madam Pomfrey was tending to my burns. Did you really cast six patronuses, and all of them different?”

Dropping her feigned attitude, she jumped up and down excitedly. “Yes we did! Each of us has our own patronus! Well the one called Mother might have one, too, but we're not even really sure she exists yet. Chandra keeps talking about her, though, as though she's real.”

“Well done, all of you!” said Ludo Bagman, bouncing into the tent and looking as pleased as though he personally had just got past a dragon. “By the way, here are Mr. Rahasyamay's shoes. Yes... Now, just a quick few words. You’ve got a nice long break before the second task, which will take place at half past nine on the morning of February the twenty-fourth — but we’re giving you something to think about in the meantime! If you look down at those golden eggs you’re all holding, you will see that they open … see the hinges there? You need to solve the clue inside the egg — because it will tell you what the second task is, and enable you to prepare for it! All clear? Sure? Well, off you go, then!”

Wasting no time, Zoey turned the latch and opened the egg, which started to wail and screech. She shut it hastily.

“What the bloody heckadoodle was that?” she exclaimed.

“You'll have to figure that out to discover what the next Task is,” Bagman said, and left.

Zoey sighed, and turned Chandra's shoes into bracelets and put them on before grabbing the golden egg in both arms and leaving toward the school.

Looking as dignified as she could while hugging a great big golden egg to carry it and occasionally tripping on her shoes, she came out of the tent, rejoined Ron and Hermione, and they started to walk back around the edge of the forest, talking hard; Zoey wanted to hear what the other champions had done in more detail. Then, as they rounded the clump of trees behind which they had first heard the dragons roar, a witch leapt out from behind them.

It was Rita Skeeter. She was wearing acid-green robes today; the Quick-Quotes Quill in her hand blended perfectly against them.

“Congratulations, Potter!” she said, beaming at Zoey. “I wonder if you could give me a quick word? How you felt facing that dragon? How you feel now, about the fairness of the scoring?”

Zoey paused, staring at the woman for a moment, then handed Ron the golden egg and turned back to face Rita. She put her fake hoity-toity demeanor back on and tossed her slipping feather boa back over her shoulder.

“I have, myself, full confidence that if all do their duty, if nothing is neglected, and if the best arrangements are made, as they are being made, we shall prove ourselves once again able to defend our Island home, to ride out the storm of war, and to outlive the menace of tyranny, if necessary for years, if necessary alone,” she said. “At any rate, that is what we are going to try to do. That is the resolve of His Majesty’s Government-every man of them. That is the will of Parliament and the nation. The British Empire and the French Republic, linked together in their cause and in their need, will defend to the death their native soil, aiding each other like good comrades to the utmost of their str--”

“What is that rubbish?” Rita Skeeter interrupted.

“Don't like it? What about this? 'Four score and seven years ago our fathers brought forth on this continent, a new nation, conceived in Liberty, and dedicated to the proposition that all men are created equal.'”

“Is this some sort of weird Muggle nonsense?” Skeeter asked.

“Tut tut. You're British! Witch or not, you should have recognized Churchill at least. I don't blame you not knowing the Gettysberg Address, which is what that 'four score and seven years' bit was. But honestly, you should be ashamed of yourself, not knowing Churchill!”

“Churchill? What was he, some Muggle entertainer?”

“He was Prime Minister of the country during World War II!”

Skeeter stared at her blankly, confused.

“World War II? You don't know about that? It was this huge war the Muggles were having about the same time as Grindelwald was banging about in Europe. You don't know about that? And you call yourself a journalist? Well good day to you!” she said, going back toward the school in a huff.

“Oh come on, stop with this nonsense. Can't you please just give me a word about the First Task?”

“Sure you can have a word: Supercalifragilisticexpialidocious!” Zoey shouted back at Skeeter.

After the fifth time she tripped on her high-heeled shoes, she took them off and carried them in her hands as she went barefoot back up to the school.

“Hey Hermione,” she said when they were far enough away from Skeeter, “do you recognize this sound?” Zoey reached over, popped open the egg and released its screechy wailing. Both her friends clapped their hands over their ears, Ron dropping the egg.

Soon Zoey had it closed again and the egg back in Ron's arms. Ron did not look pleased by that.

“Good lord, that was awful!” Hermione said.

“Yes yes, but do you know what it is?”

“Hmm... well it could be a code. It reminded me a little of my parents' modem when it dials the Internet. But wizards don't have computers, so I don't know how one would go about decoding it. Of course, it could be an actual language instead.”

“I'm gonna ask Lupin about it. He knows lots of creatures and stuff.”

“Yes, Zoey, but he's a teacher.”

“He's also Sirius’s friend. Which makes him like an uncle. I can butter him up, convince him to tell me. Or I could ask Moody; he was gonna give help for the dragons.”

“He shouldn't be doing that, he's a teacher!”

“Yeah and we didn't choose this, we're in it to survive. We'll take any help we can get to survive this.”

Hermione couldn't find an argument against that, apparently.

Taking this attitude to heart, it seemed, Zoey would grab the egg and open it for everyone she came across, asking if they recognized it. This ended in Zoey running to escape Filch's ire at making so much noise in the corridors. Zoey, Ron, and Hermione soon made it into the Griffindor common room.

When they entered the Gryffindor common room it exploded with cheers and yells again. There were mountains of cakes and flagons of pumpkin juice and butterbeer on every surface; Lee Jordan had let off some Filibuster’s Fireworks, so that the air was thick with stars and sparks; and Dean Thomas, who was very good at drawing, had put up some impressive new banners, most of which depicted Chandra shooting six patronuses at a Chinese Fireball dragon, though a couple showed Cedric with his head on fire.

Zoey grabbed a tablecloth off a table and used it as a knapsack to carry the egg in, where she kept irritating people by making the egg screech and wail after asking them if they recognized the sound. She got different answers, including 'banshee' and 'Percy Weasley singing in the shower,' but she didn't think those were likely. It also sounded a little like a musical saw, like at Nick's deathday party.

The worst part of this was when she started just staring into the emptiness of the egg, seemingly oblivious to the screechy wailing. She was feeling inside it, trying to work out clues. At that point, Ron took the egg away from her and told her she could have it back later. She spent the next hour turning snack food into spiders – goofy little spiders with smiley faces and not terribly realistic – and putting them on Ron's clothes, which cracked up the twins and Lee Jordan whenever Ron would yowl and flail around in terror, but this eventually drove Ron up to his room. After this, she enlisted Fred to retrieve the golden egg and she opened it again.

“SHUT IT!” Seamus roared, chucking a bottle of butterbeer at her.

He ended up knocking a punch bowl over right into the open egg. The sound was immediately muted, but something else was coming from the egg. She couldn't hear it very well, but it sounded somewhat like a comprehensible language. Curious, Zoey carried the egg up the stairs with a Wingardium Leviosa spell, dumped the punch into the sink, then set the closed egg aside as she filled the bathtub.

Once it was full, she opened the egg and pushed it into the water, filling it. She heard what sounded like faint singing. Stripping out of her clothes, she jumped into the tub and put her head under the water.

“Come seek us where our voices sound,
We cannot sing above the ground,

And while you’re searching ponder this:
We’ve taken what you’ll sorely miss,

Two hours long you’ll have to look,
And to recover what we took,

Around obstacles, past creature guards,
Whirlpools and magic wards,

But past two hours — the prospect’s black,
Too late, it’s gone, it won’t come back.”

She came up for air, summoned a parchment and quill and ink, and wrote down the riddle. She had to go back under the water several times to get it all, but finally she did.

A few minutes later, a soaking-wet Zoey, her robe on backwards and wet, came down looking for Hermione. When she found her friend, Zoey dragged her up to their room and showed her the parchment she'd written the riddle on.

“Sounds like someone's going to take something you have to get back. And if the egg can only be understood underwater...” Hermione checked her watch. “I'll be right back, gotta run to the library to confirm my suspicion.”

“Okie dokie,” Zoey said.

While she waited for her bookish friend to return, Zoey used her magic to dry herself off, though she left the water in the tub in case Hermione wanted to hear the song, too.

Less than half an hour passed when Hermione returned, a book in her hands.

“Mermish!” she said.

“Mermaids?”

“Mermish. It's the language of the mer-people. Let's see... yes, there are mer-people in Scotland. Specifically, the selkies. I wonder if you have to go into the lake?”

Zoey's face wrinkled up in disbelief. “In February? For a Triwizard task? How's anyone supposed to see us when we're down there? The Black Lake is called that for a reason.”

“Unless you think they're going to go to Ireland or Greece to find merrow or sirens, the Black Lake would make the most sense. I don't know how that would make a spectator sport either, but what else could it be?”

“And they're gonna steal something precious and we have to get it back?”

“That's what the song said, right?”

“Yes.”

“Then it must be.”

“But what's so precious I would go into the lake after it? I mean, I suppose they could take Iliana's Firebolt, but putting that in the water might ruin it.”

“Hmm... I don't know, either. But for now, we should focus on how you're going to go down there.”

Zoey shrugged. “I'll just have Tier change us to something that can breathe underwater and still use a wand. It'll be easy for him. It'll probably look really freakish, but whatever works.”

“What will you do when you find whatever it is you have to rescue?”

“That's a good question. Does that book teach mermish? How do you say 'Hand it over, you soggy goons' in mermish?”

“No, this book does not teach mermish, and I don't think it would be a good idea to insult the mer-people, Zoey.”

“Well maybe I can learn 'Please give me the thing you took, kind persons' in mermish. Now I know what to look for, I can raid the library later. Anyway, going back to the party now.”

Zoey took off running, padding barefoot down into the party again.

Ron was sulking in his bed when Zoey came into his room carrying a tray full of food.

“Sorry about the spiders. I was put off with you, but I shouldn't'a did that. It was mean, and I'm sorry. I brought you some food from the party.”

Ron sighed, smiling wanly. “Thank you. Apology accepted. Oooh, custard cream.”

He bit into a custard cream and swallowed. Then suddenly he was covered in yellow feathers. Zoey fell down laughing, thankfully having put the tray down beforehand.

“Har har. One of Fred and George's trick sweets, am I right?”

“Yeah. I really am sorry about the spiders, though. Should I prank the twins to get back at em for laughing at you?”

“If you want to try, you can,” Ron said as his feathers began to molt.

“Goody. I'll let you know when I have something.” Then she got a thoughtful look in her eye, and began giggling.

“You've thought of something, haven't you?”

“Possibly. I don't know if it's possible, yet. I'll have to practice upstairs later. For now, let's eat.”

She took a canary cream and swallowed it whole, then ran downstairs again, leaping down half the stairs effortlessly. Ron rushed to follow, and spotted her turn into a canary in front of the twins and Lee Jordan, to great laughter.

*

The next morning, Ron was at breakfast with the twins and Hermione. Zoey was nowhere to be seen. So he chatted with the twins about the First Task and how well the Potters did against the dragon.

Halfway through the twins telling a joke, everyone's attention turned to the entrance of the Great Hall.

“Fred and George Weasley!” came Mrs. Weasley's voice, loud and angry.

The twins turned, horrified. Their mother was standing in the doorway, looking cross.

“Mum? What are you doing here?”

Mrs. Weasley put her fists on her hips and glared at them. Hermione, though, thought something was off about her. She wasn't moving from her place by the door, and she looked a little shaky.

“Don't you fake innocence, boys! You know full well what you did!”

“But... but... we didn't to anything this bad?”

This bad? You mean bad enough for me to come here in perf... person, and... hold on...”

She shifted herself around, like something was out of place, then went back to glaring at the twins. But then, her head turned into an acorn squash and fell off, rolling away. Her arms turned into a broken-off tree branch and a mop. Then the rest of the facade fell over in a clatter of buckets and brushes, rope and sofa cushions, all wrapped up in an excellent copy of Mrs. Weasley's usual clothing.

Everyone froze. Then the room exploded in laughter and applause at the brilliant joke. Zoey came out from the other side of the entrance and bowed theatrically.

“Thank you, thank you. You're too kind.”

Even the twins were laughing by now.

“Brilliant joke, Zoey! You sure had us for a while. That's some impressive transfiguration, by the way. You actually made a pile of stuff look and act like Mum! We'll have to write home about it; Mum will get a kick out of us getting pranked like that!”

“Ms. Potter,” said a stern voice. She looked up at Professor McGonagall.

“Yes?” Zoey asked, smiling sweetly and innocently up at the professor.

“Ten points from Griffindor for disrupting breakfast with your shenannigans,” she said. “And you will clear up this mess or it will be twenty, am I understood?”

“Yes ma'am right away professor,” Zoey said, scooping the things into her arms and calling Dobby. When he appeared, she shoved the things into his arms.

“Thanks for your help, Dobby. Here, take this stuff back, I'll get the rest of it myself.”

Professor McGonagall hadn't left, yet. She stood in the doorway as Zoey tried to leave with her own large pile of things, which was so tall she couldn't really see where she was going.

“Was there something else, Professor?”

“Yes. Fifteen points to Griffindor, Ms. Potter, for pulling one over on the Weasley twins.”

Zoey laughed and thanked the professor, who let her go about clearing up. The twins came over and helped her, so she wouldn't run into things and get into more trouble.

“Again, that was impressive. We loved it!”

“Thanks, Fred. I could've made it last longer, but I forgot that moving it makes it harder to maintain. I should've left it still once I got it inside the room. When I made it move its arm, it was one thing too many and it all fell apart.”

“You did that whole thing with your wandless magic?” George asked.

“Yes. I had to get Dobby's help to find enough stuff to transfigure. He also helped me move it. Cast some kinda spell on me so it would move when I did. But as you saw, the transfigurations were unstable.”

“Well yeah. It's well past fourth year magic, that. And it must have been a drain on your magic keeping it going.”

“Yeah, I could do with a little more food, come to that. But breakfast will be done by the time I get done putting this stuff back. Good thing I had some sandwiches beforehand. Being friends with house elves has its uses.”

“How'd you mimic her voice?”

“Oh that's not hard when you've got Tier. He changed my voice box for me.”

“Wow. So you could talk like her anytime?”

“Yes. But it's not easy. Took ten whole minutes to get it done right. Luckily, going back to normal is a matter of seconds.”

*

After her prank of the twins, Zoey switched over to Iliana's version of the body, because Iliana had been getting strangely insistent about having facetime. One of the first things she did when she was Out was find Luna, and talk with the odd blond girl. She found Luna in a corridor on her way somewhere from her common room.

“Luna! Hi, I've missed you lately.”

“You missed me? Really?”

“Yes. You're a friend. And I've been gone since Halloween.”

“Ah yes. Chandra took your place. He... or she? Chandra is nice.”

“What? Oh yeah, I remember now. Thank goodness for the Common Memory.”

“How is Chandra?” Luna asked.

“He's quiet. I think he got very tired out by being Out all the time by himself, then with Al.”

“Ah, I see. Well tell him thank you for me, for helping me find my things.”

“Have, er... have your things been staying put?”

“Oh, for now they are. But I think they might start vanishing again soon.”

“Yeah, Chandra isn't very intimidating. You'll tell me at once if your things start going missing again, won't you?”

“I don't want to trouble you, Iliana.”

“It's not a bother, or a burden, or a trouble. I like helping you. And bullies who get away with stuff tend to escalate, to see how much they can get away with. I want to shut that sort of thing down as fast as possible. Not only for your sake, but for others as well.”

Something in Luna's eyes looked briefly worried, which her empathic sense confirmed. “No, it's fine. It'll be fine.”

“You're worried about retribution?”

Luna said nothing.

“You are. I can feel it. Empath, remember?”

Luna sighed. “Yes.”

“And you were lying about them not bothering you?” Iliana guessed.

Again, Luna said nothing.

“Hmm... well, I think I have an idea that will help you with your things and hopefully won't cause you any more trouble. You have a trunk, right?”

Luna nodded.

“Well I can ask Professor Lupin and Sirius about getting your trunk warded so only you can get into it. Then as long as you keep your things in your trunk, they'll stay there.”

“Do you think they can make wards good enough to keep out even seventh-year Ravenclaws taking Arithmancy and Ancient Runes?”

“Godfather Sirius and two of his friends figured out how to become Animagi in their fifth year at Hogwarts, and made a functional map of the castle that shows everyone's location, also while in school.”

Luna stared, wide-eyed, at Iliana. “They did that? Really? Can I see it?”

“Er, yeah. I brought it with me so I could avoid Snape, and to make sure we wouldn't be bothered in here.”

She pulled the Marauders Map out of a pocket, opened it up, and activated it. Luna giggled at the pass-phrase. But then she gasped in wonder at the Map's ink lines spreading out and showing where everyone was.

“That is amazing, Iliana.”

“I know. I love looking at it. Anyway, let's get out of the corridor. Here, this unused classroom is available.”

She took Luna's hand, feeling an odd feeling in her chest as she did, and the two ducked into the room. Iliana sealed the door and warded it to keep out ghosts and poltergeists, as well as putting up a silencing ward.

“Oh, now these desks won't do. Zoey?”

She set the Map down on a desk and Zoey came Out long enough to turn a different desk into a loveseat. She was sweating when she was done, but didn't comment before switching back to Iliana.

“Wow, she's talented. She made a loveseat without a wand.”

“Yeah, she's good at that kinda thing. Oh, and Zoey tells me she couldn't make it any bigger. It's only going to last an hour as it is.”

“Oh. Well, that's fine.” Luna sat down. “Are you sitting down, too?”

Iliana nodded, smiling, and sat down next to Luna. She reached over for the Map and the two girls examined it.

“Snape is in his office,” Iliana pointed out. “And---what's this? Why is Mr. Crouch in Moody's office?”

“Who's Mr. Crouch?”

“He's the former head of the international magical cooperation thingy at the ministry, before Mr. Alder took over.”

“You don't seem to like either of them very much.”

“Yeah, well, Crouch was the one who put Sirius in prison without a trial. He got fired for it, once Sirius’s name was cleared. But I still don't like him. And Mr. Alder is a creeper. He was eyeing me like forbidden candy when we met at the World Cup over the summer.”

“Oh. Yes, you're right to be wary of him, then. He might be a member of the Rotfang Conspiracy.”

“What's that?”

“Oh, they're a conspiracy infiltrating the Ministry. They want to take over the world through a mix of espionage and tooth decay. Mr. Alder probably wants to feed you candy so your teeth rot.”

Iliana snorted with suppressed laughter. “I'm sure he wants to give me candy, alright, but not to rot my teeth.”

“What do you mean?”

“Never mind. I'm probably being paranoid.”

“Paranoia can be a survival trait. Look at Moody.”

Iliana's nose wrinkled. “I'll look at him as little as possible, thanks. I know he can't help looking like that, but neither can I help not wanting to look at his disfigured face too much. Not that I'd ever tell anyone else that, least of all him. But Al thinks his face is interesting to look at. Al has a strange sense of aesthetics.”

“You know, if you're worried Mr. Alder might... hurt you, or whatever... I'll help you. You're such a good friend, I want to be a good friend for you, too.”

“Oh, I don't really think he's going to do anything. He just gives me the creeps. Anyway, let's change the subject, okay?”

“Sure, Iliana. So, this map... I wonder how it's made.”

They spent the rest of the hour sitting there, Luna trying to work out how it was made. It turned out she was in Arithmancy and Ancient Runes, but being it was her first year, she didn't know enough magic to analyze the Map. So she mostly speculated instead. It turned out that Luna had been studying Ancient Runes for a good many years with her father, but it was the Arithmancy that provided tools for analyzing and reverse-engineering spells and runes. If either girl had known how to reveal the runes of the map, Luna would probably have the thing half figured out before dinnertime. But they didn't.

*

Iliana liked talking with Luna so much, and had felt so bad about neglecting her younger friend for so long, that she insisted on being Out on Saturdays at least. But Al and Adira also wanted to be Out, so to avoid fights, they began to alternate. Al got Sundays and Mondays, Adira got Tuesdays and Wednesdays, while Iliana got Thursdays, Fridays, and Saturdays, though of the three, she was flexible about Thursday and Friday, but wouldn't budge on Saturdays, which she spent with Luna. Al, for his part, used his Sundays to spend time with Javier, and Adira just wanted to spend time with Ron and Hermione.

It had gotten to be such a regular thing that Luna and Iliana started meeting in the same unused classroom every Saturday. Outside was too cold, after all, neither of their common rooms was an option, and the library was not a good place for talking. Zoey was always willing to turn a couple desks into a loveseat for them to sit in, and after a few tries, managed to get it to last for a few hours before it reverted back into desks.

Javier and Al, on the other hand, spent time in the Great Hall, generally at the Griffindor table. There weren't many places to hang out with friends or lovers in the school, and they didn't want to appropriate Luna's and Iliana's space with their romantic shenannigans. Besides which, Al had come on too strong before, and both he and Javier were stepping back, getting to know each other better.

Iliana did indeed talk to Remus and Sirius about warding for Luna's trunk, and during the second week of December, the two men waited in Remus's classroom for Dobby to bring Luna's trunk to them to ward, as Iliana and Luna watched. When they were done, Luna's trunk would refuse access to anyone but herself, and there were clever and painful but otherwise harmless hexes that would punish anyone trying to break in. The more clever the intrusions, the more painful the punishments would get, so that nobody but Remus or Sirius would be able to undo the wards. Well, them or Dumbledore or someone else of that power and skill level. But seventh-year Arithmancy and Ancient Runes students, even Ravenclaws, would be in the hospital wing getting extensive spell damage fixed before they broke into Luna's trunk.

Iliana had never seen Luna as happy as she was when she cooed over her improved trunk, and showered the three of them with thanks. And Luna's happiness made Iliana beam with glee at how much good she'd done for her friend.

End note: I had so many ideas for the First Task I honestly didn't know which one was going to be used, and then this idea came out of left field. I like it. It establishes something I've long known was possible for them, without going overboard like some of my ideas would have done.

Endnote two: Zoey's use of the word "disposable" instead of "disposal" was deliberate, not a mistake.



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