Second Place- Alternate Universe
Third Place - Romance

Underwater Light



Author:Maya


Chapter One

I Want My Life To Make More Sense

This road is crooked, cracked and wrong

They've got the odds stacked nice and high

I don't know how they get along

Me, I just internalise.

Harry thought about himself as he entered the water. Or... perhaps he did not.

He thought about the person he saw reflected in the eyes of others.

Harry Potter.

The Boy Who Lived.

The boy whose miraculous defeat of Voldemort had become so absolutely futile because he had been unable to stop his resurrection. Because he had been a vital part of his rising again, more powerful than ever.

The boy who had been all but worshipped, yet could not even save his schoolmate.

Just another helpless child, but one who was more trouble because Voldemort wanted him dead, and because he had nobody to care for him.

Harry Potter, the boy who failed.

The one they were all so nice to. The one they all pitied.

It was like... being the hero of a story, for four years, and then suddenly being a bit player again. An insignificant annoyance, as the bleak grey war whirled past the windows of Hogwarts.

Everyone had a tired, strained expression on their faces which turned into a false smile as Harry passed. He could hear their thoughts by now - poor injured Harry, we mustn't make Harry feel bad...

As if he was still the child.

It had been that way for three years, and nobody had ever let up an inch in their ceaseless, grinding attempt to Make Harry Feel Better.

Pity is such a remorseless, wrenching thing. Something you offer when you see something weak, and cannot summon up the energy for contempt. Something so far away from love.

The pressure of all those pitying stares drove him into corners, into the back of classrooms, under the covers of his bed.

Anywhere to get away from the Valentines everyone sent, all imitations of Ginny Weasley's second year tribute. From the Quidditch matches where Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs seemed to lose deliberately, so that Harry Potter could be ecstatic about a glorious victory like that of his third year.

Harry had almost grown resigned to it. They wanted to do something for him, why stop them? It was all -- inevitable, and entirely useless.

And now had come this.

The final indignity, the final insulting gesture to a pathetic wounded creature.

The next Triwizard Tournament, held three years later.

Let Harry get over it, let Harry win, let him see that nothing bad has happened and then we can all clap and the orphan boy will be happy. Won't that be nice?

He had almost flung it back in their faces, those terrible pitying faces.

But in the end, he complied as he always did.

If that was the price, if they had to convince themselves he could get over Voldemort's resurrection so they could get on with their lives... then so be it.

Harry loved some of them. He wanted them to be content.

So he flew his Firebolt against the dragon. He accepted Parvati Patil's invitation to the ball, and danced with her until she drifted off to her boyfriend, Dean Thomas. (Then he drank some of the water Seamus Finnigan had Transfigured into rum, just enough to make everything mercifully numb but not enough to make anyone worry.)

Harry remembered the ball very clearly, the heat and light of the room overpowering. He had felt dazed and sick after a while, trying to smile at everyone who passed. Receiving the smiles of Hagrid and his wife, and Dumbledore, Hermione and Ron, as if they were unforced.

Eventually everything blurred around him, the dazzling lights mingling with everyone's hair. It seemed as if a light had been turned on a still-wet picture and paint was running, colours blending and changing.

The figures of Hermione and Ron dancing becoming one blurred shape. Dumbledore's blue eyes falling dizzily into the sky-pictured ceiling of the hall. Padma Patil's black hair suddenly streaming out across the room to mingle with the sharp shock of Malfoy's white-blond locks, as he sat at the Slytherin table getting systematically drunk.

It had been a nightmare. Harry had eventually leaned his head in his arms, overwhelmed with slow pressing despair, and pretended he was simply tired.

The second task could be nothing to that.

He had gone to the prefects' bathroom, quite legitimately this time because of course he was a prefect, how could poor dear Harry not be a prefect? He had figured out his clue.

He had found the Gillyweed neatly placed on his pillow by loyal Dobby, still feigning a devotion which must have long faded.

God, he was grateful for the coolness of the water now, the murky green swirling around him, absorbing him and protecting him from stares. He almost wished he could stay down here forever.

What if he did? Harry thought suddenly. He knew that Gillyweed could be dispelled with a wish. He could just to tumble down to the bottom and his lungs would burst with the effort to breathe. Then there would be nothing but silence and washing water forever.

But how everyone else would feel... and how right he would have proved them. He would have become that weak child they believed him, unable to bear it.

Harry had never been one to take the easy way out. Even now, he could fight. Even now, he wanted to fight.

So... he would find Ron, then. Find Ron, and wait by all the hostages, and get points and praised for his gallantry.

Find Ron.

Harry swam through the all-enveloping waters, swam listlessly through all the dangers which would not touch him. Swam grateful for the soothing movement of water against his tired body.

Swam until he found the place where the mermen lingered, where the hostages were tied up, and his eyes searched wearily for Ron's bright red hair.

Which was when something reached inside his chest and twisted his heart as if it was a Portkey, turning the centre of his being to transport him to another, much more immediate and terrifying world.

He stared in panic at the empty green of the lake, stared desperately at the strange faces of the hostages. He felt as if the Gillyweed had not worked and he was suddenly drowning, starved of oxygen and with his eyesight failing, refusing to see what was before him.

He couldn't help seeing.

There in the lake, the moody turquoise waters giving a stained-glass cast to his pale face and his tendrils of silver hair drifting in the lazy currents, was Draco Malfoy.

*

Harry utterly forgot about the Gillyweed, and choked on water, flailing, panicked, convinced he was drowning.

He couldn't breathe.

Later, he realised this was shock.

Somewhat helplessly, still gulping, he tumbled in the water in a desperate attempt to put his head between his knees. He'd heard that was good for... for...

Oh, what was happening?

Malfoy refused to go away. He remained on the rock, his hair describing silver scribbles against the green. It was as if the lake had suffered from a hostile Slytherin takeover.

Could this be some kind of joke? No, Dumbledore would kill Malfoy if he tried anything like that.

It had to be a mistake, Harry decided. Or maybe there had been some fiendish trick in the riddle, and it had really meant you had to rescue your worst enemy.

God, I have to know!

Harry was aware of the role he was supposed to play. He was supposed to be down here first, and then wait behind for all the hostages. That was what hopelessly heroic Harry did.

And suddenly, he couldn't bear it any more.

I'm so sick of all this crap!

I have to know.

Harry tore at the ropes which bound Malfoy. He was taking his hostage, and then he would find out what the hell was going on!

He wasn't a stupid child any more. And if the hostages really had been about to die, he might have left Malfoy behind him.

It hadn't been so difficult holding onto Ron. Of course, Harry had felt less uncomfortable touching Ron.

He settled with linking an arm around Malfoy's waist, and thanking heaven the boy was slim.

A positive aspect of Malfoy? Alert the Ministry.

Harry set his face, forcing down the panic that wanted to grab people's collars, gibber at them and demand an explanation. He took several deep breaths of water.

Then he surged upwards to the light.

Brightness and clarity lay ahead. Simplicity.

Just then, Harry didn't give a damn what anybody thought. He wanted reasons, and he wanted them now.

He broke the surface of the lake, taking a calming gulp of air.

The sky above him was a beautiful, simple blue, stilling the tumult of Harry's brain. He wished away the Gillyweed and began to swim lightly, easily, towards shore.

Which was when Malfoy opened his eyes and gave a stifled scream. He then made a sterling attempt to strangle Harry.

Harry gave a startled gasp, and had time for nothing more.

They sank, Harry fighting to surface again, limbs twisting and robes billowing in the water. Amidst the green blur and black swathes of material, Harry caught a glimpse of Malfoy's pale angular face, the features drawn taut by fear, the grey eyes wide with horror.

Harry recognised that look from the mirror, washing his face after a nightmare.

He knew how to deal with this.

He grasped Malfoy by the shoulders, and tried to mouth distinctly.

“Stop it, or you drown!”

Malfoy blinked. Underwater and scared out of his mind, he looked younger than he had when he was eleven.

Slowly he nodded, hair flaring about his face in a silver corona.

Harry gripped him harder and tried to help him keep afloat as they surfaced once more.

His whole body was tense with terror.

“Okay, Malfoy, breathe. Hey, it's all right,” said Harry Potter, Sucker For People In Distress and completely disgusted with himself for being such a pushover.

“All right?” snapped Malfoy, winner of the Hogwarts' Total Prat Award seventh year running. “I'm soaking wet in a lake, clinging to a complete idiot and trying not to have hysterics. How does that qualify as all right?”

“Shut up and I'll get you out of the lake.”

“Why am I in the lake, Potter?” inquired Malfoy in his most supercilious tones.

“I don't know!” Harry cried in exasperation. “I was hoping you could tell me!”

“How am I supposed to know? Dumbledore sent for me, and I came up to his office, and then suddenly I was unconscious!”

“There wasn't an explanation?”

Malfoy looked shifty, a not uncommon expression on him.

“Well,” he temporised. “There may have been.”

“What?”

“I didn't hear it, did I,” Malfoy returned sharply. “I was late. Malfoys don't go scurrying off to the headmaster's office straight away. Malfoys are fashionably late.”

His haughty voice faltered for a second as he looked down at the lapping water, and Harry softened fractionally. He might be acting obnoxious because he was frightened.

Of course, in that case he must have been in a state of paralysing terror for the entire course of his schooldays.

“I didn't know you were scared of the water, Malfoy.”

“We hardly do show-and-tell about our feelings, Potter. And everybody has phobias.” Malfoy's voice turned malicious. “I recall a certain person swooning over Dementors...”

“Shut up right now, Malfoy! I wish I'd left you tied up with the other hostages.”

“Hostages?”

Harry winced and wondered if his ears were bleeding. “Yeah,” he answered cautiously, hoping that it would not provoke another unholy scream.

“What, you mean like -- the Triwizard Tournament?”

“No, Malfoy, I mean bandits have kidnapped half the school. Yes, the Tournament!”

“But -- bugger it, how...?”

“Clearly,” said Harry, “there has been some horrible mistake.”

“Like your birth?” was Malfoy's helpful suggestion.

“And once I get to Professor Dumbledore, I'm sure-”

“And here, I believe, comes Hogwarts Champion Harry Potter now!”

Lee Jordan, the twins' friend and the old Quidditch commentator, had become a surprising success in the Ministry and had taken Bagman's place as Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Rumour had it Percy Weasley was green with jealousy.

Rumour also had it that he was a bit of a hog when it came to the magic microphone, though he always glanced uneasily over his shoulder whenever Professor McGonagall was around.

Just now, Harry wished Professor McGonagall would cosh him.

“The whole school has been in fevered suspense about the identity of Harry's hostage, since his best friends Hermione Granger and Ron Weasley are in the audience. Everyone's agog to see who the lucky girl is...”

Just then, Malfoy made a noise which suggested asphyxiation.

Harry realised he was splashing up onto the shore with Draco Malfoy, their arms around each other, Malfoy's head practically on his shoulder, both of them absolutely soaking wet.

In front of the entire school.

“It... it looks like...” Lee's uncertain voice trailed off with a weak, “Well. Good heavens.”

Hogwarts stared at them for all of five thunderstruck seconds, and then erupted into a frenzy of noise.

“Bugger,” said Harry.

Malfoy paused to deliberate, and then launched into a rather impressive stream of obscenity.

Only Madam Pomfrey did not seem paralysed. She sprang on them as they made their way onto dry land.

“Honestly, this stupid Tournament,” she fussed. “Ducking delicate children into a nasty cold lake...”

“I'm NOT delicate,” said Harry and Malfoy in cross unison.

Harry gave Malfoy a slightly puzzled look.

“Of course you're not, Draco,” Madam Pomfrey said soothingly. “Look at you,” she continued. “You can't stand up straight. You look like you're going to be sick.”

“I would have been, if Potter had worn swimming trunks,” Malfoy murmured, and extricated himself irritably from Harry, standing up straight out of sheer bloody-mindedness.

Harry grabbed him again as he staggered.

Malfoy scowled and Madam Pomfrey seized him, handling him as easily as if he had been Gabrielle Delacour.

“Tch,” she said. “What the headmaster can be thinking of... you'll be in shock next.”

“I will not,” snapped Malfoy, who still looked far less assured than usual as he struggled with Madam Pomfrey. He seemed ill and his hair was all over his face.

He peered through the plastered blond locks and his eyes widened in horror as Madam Pomfrey announced briskly:

“Have to get you out of these wet clothes immediately,” and pulled his robes over his head.

Nurse undresses student!

Further sensation around the school.

Harry was the first to realise that, in fact, Malfoy was wearing a full set of Muggle clothes underneath his robes.

He thanked God. He had had enough trauma for the day, though he would never have guessed that Malfoy was into the current Muggle clothes fad in Hogwarts.

Of course, he'd definitely never given any thought to what Malfoy wore under his robes.

Madam Pomfrey did not seem to share Harry's relief.

“Ridiculous things you children are wearing,” she commented, and grabbed the edge of Malfoy's sweater.

She had lifted it about an inch, revealing a gleam of white skin, when Malfoy intervened vehemently.

“I will not have pictures taken of me without my shirt on!” he exclaimed. “At least, not without substantial financial renumeration,” he added thoughtfully.

“Pic-” Harry's attention was finally diverted from the spectacle of Malfoy and Madam Pomfrey to the gang of photographers bearing down upon them.

“Oh, God.”

Behind him, he heard Malfoy break into another string of curses, interspersing them with demands for a blanket.

Voices burst in on Harry from all sides.

“Harry, can you tell us-?”

“Harry, how does it feel to be in the lead-?”

“Harry, isn't that Draco Malfoy-?”

“-the son involved in that tragedy-?”

“Here's your blanket, Mr Malfoy, and may I say that I have never heard such language from a student in my life!”

“Fairly shoddy blanket-”

Harry was blinded by the white light of snapping cameras, but he could make a shrewd guess as to which speech was Madame Pomfrey's.

And of course, Malfoy's cool drawl was unmistakable.

Harry blinked into the painful lights, surrounded by the clicking of the cameras all around him as Madam Pomfrey wrapped a blanket tightly around him. He felt the weight of those stares press down upon him again, those wondering, pitying, expectant stares reducing him to that small, dumbfounded child...

“Oh, don't question the poor wounded orphan,” sneered Malfoy. “He finds it hard forming coherent sentences on his best days.”

Harry straightened up and shot Malfoy a venomous look.

“Harry, can you explain-” said a lone photographer.

Harry focused on her. “No, I can't,” he said in a clear strong voice. “It seems there's been some kind of mistake about my hostage. I'm sure Professor Dumbledore will have a good explanation, though -- and I plan to ask him as soon as possible..”

*

“I can think of no explanation but the obvious one,” Dumbledore said calmly.

Harry had considerable affection for his eccentric headmaster. He was pretty sure the feeling was mutual. However, the very respect he felt for him had always, in some measure, kept him on his best behaviour.

Now, however, he was going absolutely berserk.

“What do you mean, you can't...? How are the hostages even chosen?” Harry shouted. “Did you do it? How does it work? Who made the mistake?”

Dumbledore, impassive in the face of a raving boy, ate a sherbet lemon.

To Harry's mind, this was heartless levity.

“The Goblet of Fire chooses the hostages, of course,” he said patiently. “Really, Harry, do you think we only use an object of such mystical power for selecting champions? The Goblet is a fount of occult knowledge. I do think we can trust it.”

“Bollocks!”

Harry had never sworn in front of a teacher before.

“Didn't it select me as a champion because Crouch fiddled with it?” he demanded. “Occult knowledge, I don't think! It'd probably take Voldemort less Dark Magic than

hexing a vegetable!”

“Harry, sit down and at least attempt to calm down.”

Dumbledore paused and looked expectantly up at Harry, like a serene old monarch giving audience to an erring subject.

Harry, who hadn't realised he'd stood up, returned his glance with a distraught but defiant look.

“Naturally since the last-” time when you ruined everything, got Cedric killed and helped raise the Dark Lord -- “unfortunate incident, we have placed extensive safeguards over the Goblet. I assure you, Harry, it has not been interfered with.”

Harry made a helpless and incoherent protest, but Dumbledore stilled him with a gesture.

“Moreover, Harry, I fail to see why Voldemort would have done such a thing. If the extent of his dark plans is to give Mr. Malfoy a dunking, we might as well all call it a day.”

“But... but why?” Harry stammered.

Dumbledore ate another sweet.

“I really couldn't tell you, Harry. I hardly know Mr. Malfoy, I'm sorry to say. I haven't had time of late to become properly acquainted with all my students. Anyone can see he is an unhappy, hostile young man, but considering the tragedy, who can blame him?”

Dumbledore gave him a piercing look.

“Surely you know him better than that? In light of current evidence.”

“No!” Harry almost screamed. “I don't know him, I mean -- well, obviously I -- I don't know anything about him. I mean, I hate him, I absolutely loathe him, I think he's-”

“Refrain from thumping my desk, if you would. It seems to me,” Dumbledore observed placidly, “that this loathing is a little excessive. We all have a common enemy, do we not? Mr. Malfoy is on our side.”

Harry's hands clenched into fists.

“In any case, Harry... I have no answers for you.” Dumbledore sighed. “There seem to be fewer and fewer answers these days. I am, however, a little busy. If you would be so good...”

Harry looked at Dumbledore's face, more weary and even more lined than he remembered it, and felt his selfish panic collapse in on itself.

Dumbledore was holding the war-torn wizarding world together. Everybody knew Fudge was an ostrich with his head in the sand, everybody knew about the disappearances, everyone was so scared... Dumbledore was the only thing that stood between wizards and chaos.

And, Harry realised with a slow pain in his chest, Dumbledore was a very old man.

“I'm -- sorry, sir.” His voice was a whisper. “If there's anything I can do-”

“Oh no, Harry. Don't worry about it.”

That was that. Harry Potter always had to be the protected child. Harry Potter always had to be part of the burden.

Harry's shoulders sagged.

“All right. Thank you, sir.”

What more could he do or say?

“One more thing, Harry.”

Harry paused on the threshold.

“Remember the exact wording of the clue.”

Ponder this...

The door shut in Harry's face, leaving him staring at the darkness.

We've taken what you'll sorely miss.

He didn't understand. But he was going to work this out.

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