Second Place- Alternate Universe
Third Place - Romance

Underwater Light



Author:Maya


Chapter Ten

The Last Test

The towering hedges cast black shadows across the path and, whether because they were so tall and thick, or because they had been enchanted, the sound of the surrounding crowd was silenced the moment they entered the maze. Harry felt almost as though he was underwater again - Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire

Try to keep it clear

But I'm losing it here

To the twilight

There's a dead end to my left

There's a burning bush to my right

You aren't in sight

You aren't in sight

Harry lay in bed, unable to sleep.

He wished he could blame this restlessness on the weather, or something, but it was a fine April night. That was, of course, the problem.

He wished Draco were here.

He'd thought that it would be all right, the third task. He knew that special precautions were being taken. He knew that Voldemort was not stupid enough to try and do something as predictable as seizing Harry during it. He knew that there was no other Hogwarts champion this year, nobody to... nobody who could...

Kill the spare.

Harry had seen a few dead people since then. Dementors and ogres had tried to storm Platform 9 at the end of fifth year, and a couple of parents had been killed. The students had arrived after the battle, but Harry could still remember those limp forms sprawled on the platform. He could still recall the screams of grief and fear, how Neville Longbottom had been sick, how Ginny couldn't stop shaking. He could still recall how distant those deaths had seemed, how impersonal the next tragedy could be, and the next, and the next...

But Cedric's death had been the first. Death was something that aged you so much more than the adventures other boys boasted about. It was the knowledge of an uncaring universe rather than someone else's flesh, marking the passage into what might one day be adulthood but which felt more like despair.

Harry still woke up screaming sometimes.

He'd left the curtains of his bed open, and in an attempt to distract himself from Seamus' empty bed opposite, he stared out of the window.

It was just an opening into blackness.

He would have gone to Draco, but Draco was out there in that blackness. This was his day for guarding the gates with Terry Boot. It was the most dangerous post there was, and usually teachers guarded it, but Draco and Terry had volunteered. Harry and Draco had had a shouting match about him taking it, but Draco had been determined.

Harry stopped peering out into the blank night outside the window, looked restlessly around the room and saw Draco slipping in the door.

He sat upright in bed, unable to keep back a smile despite the shock.

"Draco!"

"ush," Draco said sternly, pausing at the threshold. "I'll get into trouble if someone finds me here, you know. Some of us aren't practised at all this creeping about o'nights."

Harry lifted an eyebrow. "You seem to be doing all right. I thought you were out guarding the gates with Terry Boot."

"The esteemed Head Boy and I were relieved of our duties at two," Draco informed him. "I sensed, clearly because I have a psychic gift of awesome proportions, that you were being a silly idiot and were going to stay awake worrying all night. The very idea of this kind of stupidity was irritating me so much I wouldn't have been able to sleep, so I came here to knock you unconscious before I went to bed."

"Oh, I see." Harry stopped his smile from spreading further with no small effort.

Draco's black cloak made his face look white in the moonlight, his hood thrown back to show his pale clean features and his hair, in which raindrops were caught.

"If Weasley wakes up, he's going to murder me," he commented in a casual manner.

"We can go to the common room," Harry decided, throwing off his covers and thanking his stars that he'd chosen not to wear the favourite old pyjamas he had hidden from Draco's campaign of destructiveness. Instead he'd worn the pyjamas Draco had selected on their shopping spree, because - well, they had reminded him of that day, and that had been some little comfort.

Not as good as this.

*

The last embers of the fire were glowing in the common room grate, and the night was a little less intimidating and more comfortable.

Draco gave a small sigh of relief and tumbled onto the largest and most luxurious sofa. In the dim red light, he looked like a tired child.

"Was guarding duty hard?" Harry asked softly, before Draco could talk about anything else. "You know, I could-"

"No," Draco said firmly. "You may not accompany me in your damned Invisibility Cloak."

"You can't tell me what to do!"

Draco smiled faintly. "No, but Professor Lupin can - and I believe he has. There's a reason it's called a position of authority, you know. Besides, it's senseless to exhaust you too and you ought to know it." He looked patronising. "Even though sense has never been your strong point."

Harry leaned over and punched him lightly on the arm.

"Callous creature," Draco reproached him. "And here I've been up half the night serving my cause." He dropped the half-mocking tone. "Get over here, you stupid twit, and tell me all your troubles. I'm not sleeping until you do." He widened his eyes. "And I could get ill if I don't sleep."

In one of his more unwise moments last week, Harry had told Draco that he'd get sick if he missed more meals. Draco had been briefly outraged, and now brought up the issue of his fragile health for the purpose of getting his own way at least once an hour.

Harry pretended to scowl and pushed Draco's cloak out of the way as he sat on the sofa Draco had taken over.

"I'm sure your motives are entirely selfish."

"Always," Draco assured him. "Now talk to me, and be quick about it. Don't you know that I'm fragile?"

His gaze was wide awake and unwavering. Harry knew Draco; he wasn't going to let this rest.

"I don't know," he said. "I just keep thinking about the last time. About-"

"The Dark Lord?" Draco offered.

"No - Cedric." It still hurt to say his name.

He felt Draco stir against him, a faintly surprised look on his face.

"He's what bothers you most. But I thought you-" He broke off, and smiled with a trace of strain. "How like you, Potter."

"I don't know what you mean."

Draco had his head thrown back, and was studying the ceiling. "Don't you?"

"I'm not some sort of selfless hero," Harry burst out angrily. "I - of course I remember the other stuff. I was a kid, and I was scared to death, and when he performed the Cruciatus curse-"

Draco's eyes snapped back to his face.

"When he what?"

Harry fixed his eyes on the embers, and tried to force emotion out of his voice. He didn't want to get out of control - he didn't want to embarrass himself or Draco.

"I still - I still have the scar where Wormtail cut my arm," he said, rolling up his pyjama sleeve. "I didn't want them to remove it. It seemed - all wrong to pretend it was never made."

Draco looked at the mark in silence, eyes shimmering with dim light. He propped himself up on one elbow, reached out and touched it briefly. It was just a flicker of fingers, but it felt like a caress.

Harry turned to look at the dying fire again, and spoke in a low voice about the rising and the duel and his parents, and the final betrayal of Moody.

"Hagrid said that I would be all right," he told him.

Draco's voice was calm and quiet. "And are you?"

"Draco, how should I know? Some days I don't think so." He glanced back at Draco, who was lying back and tugging at his arm, and heard his voice soften involuntarily. "Right now maybe I am."

He sighed with exhaustion and old sorrow and relief, and stretched out beside Draco. Draco was warm and moved to his side to make more room for Harry, yawning somewhere near his ear.

"Thanks," Harry murmured. "For coming. And - well, everything."

"Oh yeah," Draco said dryly. "Everything. I was such a help when all that was actually happening, wasn't I?"

Harry opened his eyes to glance at Draco, his glasses hitting the side of Draco's face. He took them off and Draco was just a blur of sleepy child, and he couldn't see the cool gaze.

He remembered distinctly what Draco had said to him on the Hogwarts Express at the end of fourth year.

"Well, now you've picked the losing side too."

"And you've started choosing your company more carefully," Draco returned, and laughed somewhat bitterly. "I spent ages coming up with exactly the kind of thing I thought might hurt you most. I didn't - I didn't really care about much else, and I didn't know you'd taken so much you'd barely notice a kid yelling at you."

"Oh, I noticed. I always noticed you." Harry paused. "You're - kind of hard to ignore."

"I know," Draco said with a trace of smugness.

"Because you're such an absolutely poisonous brat, of course."

"Of course." Draco's voice was now definitely proud. "I'm a Slytherin."

Harry felt the flex of Draco's jaw against his face when Draco grinned.

"Still-" he said. "I meant it. Thank you for coming tonight."

"Think a lot of yourself, don't you, Potter? I simply happened to be bored." Draco touched him then, on his arm, on the exact spot where the scar lay beneath his sleeve. The fact he knew exactly where it was made this second touch feel even more like a caress.

He was so close to Draco he could see him without glasses, his eyes closed, his cheek pillowed against his black hood. He was obscurely delighted when Draco didn't remove his hand.

"Night, Draco."

"Oh, I'm supposed to sleep here now?" Draco demanded with well-feigned outrage. "Did you know I'm starting to forget what my bed looks like?"

"Night, Draco," he repeated serenely.

There was a pause. Draco still didn't take away his hand.

"Night, Harry."

*

When Harry woke up, he was alone. He went upstairs and dressed fast, dreading waking anyone. Their obvious worry - about him, about the task - made his intestines form knots of anxiety. He wanted to get to the Hall quickly.

It was only when he was hurrying down the stairs that it occurred to him Draco wouldn't be there. It always took Draco at least three-quarters of an hour to choose his clothes and get his hair right.

Draco was waiting for him at the door of the Great Hall. He clearly hadn't changed - he had brushed his hair, but Draco would have wanted to brush his hair if he was being led out to his own execution.

"You came early." For me. Harry smiled.

"For coffee," Draco sniffed. "I didn't sleep at all well."

"Of course."

"You pest."

They walked into the Hall, Harry's relief enormous. If this could be so different from fourth year - perhaps it could all be different.

He was about to suggest that they take toast and go for a walk around the lake, when Draco tugged his arm and led him over to the Slytherin table.

"I'm not sitting here, Draco."

"Did I ask you to?"

Draco methodically piled two plates high and filled two cups with coffee. Then he went to what appeared to be - and in fact was - a blank stone wall at the end of the room. He slid down to the floor and leaned against it.

Draco looked up and Harry could only laugh helplessly.

"You know," he said, sitting down in a more sedate fashion, "I don't like coffee."

Draco gave him a baleful look.

"I know that. Did I ever say the coffee was for you?"

"There are two - ah, never mind."

"Good. And I'll have no more insane prattle about caffeine theft from you." Draco pushed the plate towards him. "Eat now. Imagine the headlines if you swooned halfway through the task."

"Oh, you eat," Harry returned. "I'm not the pale, delicate one here."

"Shut up, you horrible little Gryffindor. Now eat, and stop worrying about unimportant things like a tiny Tournament. It can hardly be as important as my Creative Magic project."

Draco lifted his chin. Harry smiled behind his hand.

It had been announced that the Creative Magic project would count for half of the Creative Magic N.E.W.T. exam, and Draco had promptly gone insane. One day the floor of his room had been entirely hidden by crumpled-up plans.

"I'm sure that's crucial."

Draco kicked Harry sharply on the ankle. "It is. What if I fail the project? Then I'm practically certain to fail the entire subject, and then - death and ruin! My mother will certainly not accept a son who is an abject academic failure. I may be forced to disown myself." He kicked him again. "And you dare to further annoy me. Will you just eat?"

*

Ginny had been working up the nerve to wish Harry good luck all morning.

It could be important. The first time Harry had kissed her last year had been when she congratulated him after a fight.

She had brushed her hair a hundred times this morning, and chosen her nicest robes. She had planned to lean over and take his hand, and talk to him at the breakfast table.

He was shy - but surely that would get the message across.

When Ginny came down, though, Harry was not at the Gryffindor table. He and Draco Malfoy seemed to be sitting on the floor and kicking each other at intervals.

Ginny shook her head with a little smile. It was so sweet to see him like this, acting like a child. Harry was usually so serious - not that anyone could blame him, considering all he'd been through.

It did put a bit of a crimp in Ginny's plan, though. She decided to stop him when he went back to the Gryffindor rooms.

She had a small panic when Harry and Malfoy appeared to be heading straight for the Quidditch pitch. Then she realised that if she ran after them, she could guarantee that no Gryffindor - like her incredibly embarrassing brother - would hear her.

So she got up swiftly and hastened after them.

"Harry!" she called after them, panting. "Harry!"

Harry didn't seem to hear her, but Malfoy turned and then Harry did too. Ginny slowed her pace, trying to regain her breath and her composure, and tidy her flying curls.

It gave her time for a brief, delighted glance at Harry.

He was looking so much better these days. She had always thought he was handsome, of course, but lately a few other girls had started paying close attention.

He never looked at any of them. He never dreamed they might like him; he was that modest.

He smiled, that bright clear smile of his. He looked so - so wholesome to her just then, and so handsome. He was wearing those wonderful new clothes, her very favourite pair of his jeans and a red shirt that clung to him and emphasised his tousled black hair.

His eyes were vivid green, sweet and simple, as he looked at her.

"Ginny."

As always the sound of him saying her name made her heart stutter inside her chest, and filled her with a warm exultant glow.

"Har - Harry. I, um. I wanted to wish you - good luck?"

Harry was looking slightly confused. "Er... thanks."

Ginny consciously registered for the first time that Malfoy was there, standing a little apart and looking more than a little amused.

He was very unlike her Harry, the ideal of what a boy should be. She had never seen him be anything but inclined to be spiteful.

But Harry had chosen him to be his friend, and so it had to be the right choice. People were acting very oddly about that, as if Harry couldn't be trusted to make the right decision.

That probably upset Harry, Ginny reflected, and she turned as sweet a smile as she could on Malfoy. He couldn't be all that bad.

"I'm happy you're supporting him," she said.

She was rewarded with Harry's shining affectionate glance. Malfoy just looked even more amused.

"We're all supporting you, Harry," she continued earnestly, encouraged by how pleased he looked.

"And isn't he lucky to have such a lovely and devoted supporter," Malfoy said, taking her hand and lifting it to his lips.

Ginny blushed hotly and noticed Harry's smile snap off.

"We'd better be going. Thanks, Ginny," he said, and he actually hugged her, lifting her bodily away from Malfoy.

Ginny closed her eyes and breathed him in for a moment, the clean smell of soap and the trim feel of a Quidditch player's body.

He let her go too fast.

Then he stepped away, waving awkwardly, and walked off with Malfoy. She saw Malfoy's light head bend towards his black one, and heard the clear sound of Malfoy's laugh. He was obviously teasing Harry about her.

Ginny could have hugged herself. Another boy had kissed her hand - and Harry hadn't liked it.

No, Harry hadn't liked it at all.

*

"What did you do that for?"

Harry was aware that Draco was amused and Harry himself was agitated. This situation was rapidly becoming unbearable.

"I thought it would be funny," Draco said lazily. "And oh, it is. You're all jumpy and flushed. Decided you fancy the littlest Weasley after all?"

"No!" Harry snapped.

"So there's still a chance for Morag," Draco concluded with satisfaction.

"I still don't know who Morag is!" Harry almost shouted.

"She's been in your Potions classes for almost seven years," Draco observed disapprovingly. "Honestly, what have you been thinking of all this time?"

"I'm sorry, I was absorbed in my all-consuming hatred of you. And Snape," Harry added absently. "Look - Ginny's a nice girl, all right? I don't want her to, you know, get confused by you."

Draco laughed indulgently. "You overestimate my allure, Potter. She wouldn't notice if I began a leisurely striptease."

"Draco!" There were younger students filing down to get good seats for the Tournament and hearing him say these shocking things.

Draco looked positively gleeful. "Nobody could ever say that in quite the same scandalised fashion as you. Go on, say it again. I dare you."

"Dr - shut up."

"Of course, O Mighty Boy Who Lived. To hear is to obey. I solemnly swear that the virtue of the entire Weasley clan is safe from me. I offer up this tremendous sacrifice in your hon - ow."

"You deserved that," Harry informed him severely.

"You hit me," Draco said in outrage. "With your wand. I'm in an abusive friendship. I don't call randomly attacking people with your wand very heroic. Call that heroic? I don't."

Harry stopped listening as the maze came into view.

"I wish they weren't having the Task this early," he blurted. "I know they don't want it to be dark. But I wish I could go somewhere and have a bit of quiet time to think."

He was struggling to overcome the stab of panic that had come from seeing the high hedge around the Quidditch pitch. He wasn't even looking at the shadowy entrance to the maze.

Draco glanced over Harry's shoulder - Harry looked into Draco's eyes and saw Hermione rushing towards them, a tiny figure framed in silver. "Perhaps," he said slowly, "I should go now."

"Don't be stupid," Harry answered. "You know I want you to stay."

Hermione, flanked by other Gryffindors, was bearing down upon them. Draco spoke crossly out of the corner of his mouth.

"I'm not stupid."

Hermione and the others reached him, Hermione and Ron pointedly turning their backs on Draco. Harry looked at the worried expressions around him, and then the sulky look on Draco's face. He smiled a little.

"Oh, you kind of are."

"Harry, how are you feeling?" Hermione asked him anxiously.

"I am not," Draco insisted in bad-tempered tones.

Harry resisted the urge to stick out his tongue. "Are too."

"Harry!" Hermione's fingers closed so tightly on Harry's arm that he winced.

He tried to look strong and reassure her.

"I'm - all right, Hermione. I just feel a bit... fourteen again."

Pity filled Hermione's eyes. "Oh, Harry-"

"Hermione." He kept his voice quiet. "You don't really have to fuss over me. Why not trust me instead? I can handle this."

Hermione looked startled. "I - I do trust you, Harry."

"I know."

He reached forward and she slipped her arms around his neck. She hung on with the same tenacity she always had, because this was Hermione and she never gave up.

"Steady on there, Harry, getting cuddly with someone else's girlfriend," Ron said, his voice a mock threat. Harry grinned at him over Hermione's shoulder.

"Harry, this is different," Hermione assured him fiercely, combing his hair back with her fingers. "There are all these new precautions, you're safe, and - and everything will be all right."

"Besides," Ron added with a great air of bravado, "Like you said, you can handle yourself. You know a lot more spells now."

Harry cracked a smile. "Still no good at any of them."

Hermione almost strangled Harry with a last squeeze as she pulled away. "Things are different," she repeated, almost as if she was trying to convince herself.

Ron, Neville and Dean all administered slaps on the back with varying degrees of hearty masculinity. Draco lifted his eyebrow at him.

"She's right, you know. Things are different," he commented as the judges and the other contestants bore down upon them.

I know. Last time you were off in a crowd of Slytherins, wearing a Potter Stinks badge. Harry waited for Draco to say something.

Draco smiled wickedly. "You're taller now."

"Oh, sod off and go put on another stupidly insulting badge, why don't you?"

Draco looked outraged. "They were not stupid! I spent hours making those."

"I'd guessed you did it," Harry told him. "You evil ringleader you."

"You wrong me, Potter. I only verbally abuse because I care."

He only had time to laugh incredulously when Lee Jordan took him by the elbow and started leading him off to join the other champions. Harry cast a lingering look over his shoulder as Professor McGonagall began to shoo his friends to the stands.

Draco was standing there among the Gryffindors, probably uncomfortable and openly disdainful. He looked quite definitely out of place. But he was there. Perhaps he'd already said enough.

He caught Harry's gaze and called, "Get a move on, Potter!"

Harry hid another smile as he met the other champions. The French boy was looking decidedly queasy. The Durmstrang girl gave him a shy smile.

"Good friend?" she inquired.

Hiding the smile became distinctly unsuccessful. "Yeah."

Then Harry realised that Lee Jordan was yelling to the crowd.

"-on eighty points, Harry Potter-"

"Tied in first place, on eighty-five points each - Mr Cedric Diggory and Mr Harry Potter"

Harry's mouth went dry. Smiling was no longer an issue.

*

He went in first and alone. There was no one sharing the top spot with him this time, nobody to secretly resent and God, feel so guilty about later.

He thought that it would be worse than it was.

That was an immense relief. He thought that it would be fourth year all over again, but instead all he felt was sorry for that unsuspecting boy. He felt very far away from that child, with his head filled with optimistic daydreams about being rescued from the Dursleys.

Well, nobody had ever rescued him from the Dursleys or Voldemort or anything else. He'd had to do that himself.

He'd been able to do it, though.

Harry walked onward, his eyes fixed on the shadowy pathway before him. He'd done it, swung the sword, held the wand, and he planned to do it again, so he could definitely do this.

Harry lifted his head and looked around as he neared a fork in the maze.

And he got the shock of his life.

Naturally since the last unfortunate incident, we have placed extensive safeguards...

There are all these new precautions, you're safe, and - and everything will be all right.

The high hedges on the outside of the maze had begun to blur as if they were water instead of leaves, transparent as wavy glass. Harry could see the people in their crowded stands, and they could see him, even though he couldn't see through the inner hedges of the maze.

Dumbledore really wasn't taking any chances. And now please don't let me look a fool in front of the entire audience; Draco would never let me hear the end of it.

He held his wand flat in the palm of his hand, whispered the spell and followed where it pointed.

There was a little gaggle of the media in the front row, cameras at the ready. How perfect, he didn't think. He'd been told that some younger students had cut out and kept that picture of him and Draco emerging from the lake.

Lee Jordan's whistle told Harry that the other two champions, who were tied, had entered the maze.

A heavy dragging sound made Harry's stomach clench in anticipation, as it told him he was about to meet one of the obstacles. He set his teeth and told himself he could do this.

In the crowd, he saw Hermione and Ron's unmistakable heads, Hermione's bobbing because she was dancing on her tiptoes. Ron was waving one of the Harry Potter Hogwarts Champion signs Dean had made.

The creature rounded the corner, and Harry was hard put to it not to retch.

It was a vast Flobberworm, its slimy quivering body filling the passage. Folds of nauseating flesh, the same colour and texture as a worm's, almost hid its tiny black eyes. But unlike every other Flobberworm Harry had ever seen, it had a mouth, a gaping mouth filled with rows of teeth like a shark's, which snapped on mid-air as Harry jumped back.

Its small, menacing head weaved about, as if it was scenting its prey, and it began to move slowly towards Harry, the sound of heavy flesh dragging across the grass accompanied by a small, terrible hissing sound.

Harry seriously wondered if he could concede.

It snapped at him, and he jumped back, its teeth closing an inch from his shirt. Its head reminded Harry of snakes and for a moment he thought he should try to talk to it, but there was no way Dumbledore would have given him that advantage over the other students.

He stepped back, and back, as it moved towards him, unstoppable as a tsunami, until he stepped sideways and his back connected with the hedge.

Then he pointed his wand and shouted "Impedimenta! Impedimenta!"

The Flobberworm kept coming, as if its momentum could break any spell. Harry stared up into its tiny blank black eyes. Then suddenly it shuddered, and was still.

All Harry had to do was nerve himself for the disgusting task ahead.

Trying not to touch the thing with his bare skin, Harry began to climb over it. The awful creature squealed and heaved, and Harry fell on his hands and knees. His jeans were covered with viscous ooze.

"Oh - yuck," Harry said, but he couldn't even stop to consider the utter gruesomeness of this experience because the Impediment Jinx wouldn't last forever, and he didn't want to be on top of the Flobberworm when it could move properly.

He went scrambling and slipping down the squishy flesh onto the blessedly dry ground, grimaced and ran as fast as he could away from that object.

Ugh, ugh, ugh, he couldn't believe he had actually touched that sickening, loathsome... vision of beauty.

Harry stopped dead. A Veela was undulating on the path in front of him, dancing, and the very grass around her bare feet was curving lovingly in towards her. Harry was not terribly well-versed in the ranks of feminine beauty, let alone demi-sex-goddess beauty, but even he could see that this was an exceptionally lovely specimen.

Her feet were beautiful, tracing patterns in the grass as if she were creating a magical circle around herself, a circle that did not keep people out but invited them in. Harry wanted to do something, to impress her, to perform great deeds for her, but at the same time all he wanted was to move closer and never do anything but watch her dance.

She was seemed bathed in silver light, as if her fluid, hypnotic dance was being spotlighted and... there was something he really had to do, wasn't there, but... it was important that he keep watching, and maybe...

She tossed hair pale as Draco's over her shoulder.

"Stay here and keep me company," she sang out, her voice rich. "Don't think about anything else."

Thought. It was like cold water being thrown on him.

Harry blinked and stepped back. Oh, how embarrassing, the whole school was watching as he gaped like an idiot at the Veela.

He shut his eyes and clamped his hands over his ears, and attempted to get his back to the hedge and sidle past. Instead, he was stopped short by the feel of slender hands on his chest.

Harry's eyes snapped open, staring into oceans of deepest blue.

"Excuse me... um, miss," he said, trying not to sound too scandalised. "I'm sure you have a great personality and everything, but I really have to be going."

"I'm so lonely," she purred, flowing up against him.

"Erk," Harry replied. "No thank you. It's, um, very kind of you to offer though," he added politely.

He side-stepped away from her, and left her standing there. She stopped dancing and stared after him.

"What are you doing afterwards...?" she called, sounding somewhat forlorn.

Harry sprinted. He hoped like anything that nobody had taken a picture.

The wand pointed him in the right direction for a few blessedly uneventful minutes. Harry almost relaxed as he ran through the maze. Surely nothing could be quite as bad as Slime Monsters and sirens of doom.

The obstacles in the maze this year seemed to be chosen for quality rather than quantity. Harry had a rather peaceful time for a bit, whispering "Point me" at intervals, walking onward.

The peace didn't relax him. The quiet seemed ominous, the silence a sign that something cunning was hunting him rather than that he was safe.

Just be wary, he thought to himself. Just stay alert, remember what you have to do, don't let anything-

Something hit him and knocked him to the ground, sending his wand flying.

-surprise you.

Harry twisted and turned under the sharp pricking of hooves in his back, trying to fling himself closer to his wand and coming face to face with... a lion. It panted, huge curved fangs close to Harry's face, and a tiny lick of blue flame surrounded one tooth.

Hooves. Lion. Fire.

Harry remembered, with that desperate clarity one gains in these situations, a page from one of Hermione's books.

A lion's head, a serpent's tail, a goat's body.

A chimera.

Harry gasped and reached out with one desperately scrabbling hand. His fingers closed around wood.

A moment later, he realised it was a branch from the translucent hedge. He yanked it off anyway, rolling again to get out from under the chimera and when that didn't work, shoving the stick into its throat and expecting any instant to get a blast of fire in the face.

The monster snarled and snapped at Harry's face instead. One curved tooth scraped along Harry's cheek and he felt the sharp rush of blood. He pushed the stick deep into its throat, shoving it back, praying it wouldn't flame.

I'm fighting an enormous monster with an almost invisible stick, he thought wildly. Call these safety precautions?

The creature snarled and backed off a fraction, and Harry reached up to wipe the blood off his face.

His hand came off clean.

The animal lunged again and Harry rolled in the dirt, stabbed up with the stick, his mind working frantically all the time.

Bizarrely, he heard Uncle Vernon at the breakfast table a couple of years ago in his head, saying that the idea of reduced tax for the handicapped... was a chimera.

A fantasy. An illusion.

Harry pressed up into the chimera's throat with his stick, up and up until the monster tumbled backwards and it was in the dirt with Harry leaning over it.

"You can't hurt me," Harry panted. "You're not even real."

He almost fell forward as the creature collapsed in on itself, but he staggered up instead.

Breathing heavily, wiping his forehead against his sleeve, Harry stumbled forward into the next opening.

And it burst into flame.

Harry shouted out with alarm and, by pure chance, stepped forward instead of back.

He stood staring around, waiting for a panicked instant for the pain of burning or the smell of scorching clothes and hair, and then slowly realised that he was perfectly all right. There had been no surge of heat. There had been no real fire at all.

It had been an illusion, just like the chimera.

Harry drew in another deep breath, looked up and saw the Triwizard Cup, gleaming on a plinth not two feet away from him.

He blinked at it in amazement.

Surely it couldn't be over. The dread that had filled him all year over this Tournament, the second Task and all its consequences, the thoughts of Cedric last night and the terrified struggle with the monster just now... How could it be over?

Well - it was. There was the Cup, and all he had to do was take it and he would have one less thing to worry about.

He felt almost light with relief as he stretched out his hand to take it. He realised later that he didn't think of Cedric at all as his hand closed on one handle.

In the next second, Cedric's dead face was all he could think about because there came that familiar, sickening pull behind his navel, and the treacherous world was slipping from under his feet and he thought with cold terror, It's happening again...

*

He was stronger and not injured this time; he was determined not to tumble to the ground when he landed, and he stayed on his feet despite being rocked by the impact.

He kept hold of the Cup with one hand - don't put it down, keep it with you, it could bring you back - and took out his wand.

Then his eyes adjusted to the darkness, and he wasn't in a graveyard after all. He was in his dormitory in Gryffindor tower, it was night time, and all the lights were out.

There was not a sound or a sign of life in the entire room. Every bed was empty.

Just like Seamus.'

Harry looked around wildly, took a step backwards from Ron's deserted bed. The creak of the floor beneath his foot was a hideously alarming noise, as if a sound had not been made in this room for years.

The silence hung heavy and oppressive as the darkness on the room, and Harry couldn't bear to look at those beds any longer.

He turned and ran out of the door, down the steps, into the common room, his heart pounding against his ribs and just praying that someone would be there to help, to explain...

It was cold and still in the common room as it had been upstairs.

There were the remnants of an old, old fire in the grate, and on Hermione's favourite chair lay her book, Men Who Love Dragons Too Much. It was opened at the page Harry knew she had been on last night - she was nearly finished, and could hardly be persuaded to put it down.

She had apparently put it down now, though, and when Harry reached out to touch it the page was covered with a thick layer of dust.

He jumped back with a clutch of terror at his throat, as if he had reached out to touch someone's hand and found it cold and dead.

And he went utterly insane.

He did something he had never done before in his life without a thought, racing up the stairs to the girls' dormitory and running inside.

Nothing. Absolute quiet, and dust on a large ornamental butterfly he remembered Parvati had always loved to wear in her hair. The quick horrified breath he let out was the only noise in the world, and then he was running away from this room as well, back down to the common room and over to the Fat Lady's portrait and...

There she was, pink and plump under a layer of dust, as if a picture could die and become a ghost.

"Wh-what happened to everyone?" Harry stammered out, his voice shocking in the hushed room.

"I don't know what you mean," the Fat Lady answered. "Certainly there's a bit less coming and going of late... but..."

She paused, a faint look of distress on her face. The dust on her portrait suggested that she had not swung open for years.

"Never mind that," she said sternly. "The password, if you please."

"Um... Weasley's Wizard Wheezes," Harry told her.

Let me out of here. His throat was dry with dread.

"Quite right," said the Fat Lady. "Though really, I think it's time you all changed it..."

She swung open, her hinges screaming out loud. The scream echoed hopelessly in the darkened corridor beyond.

Harry ran out into it, hurled himself down the marble stairs and into the Entrance Hall and he was just about to run down to the Slytherin dungeons when another burst of panic exploded in his chest. He backed into a wall, leaning against it and staring up at the ceiling.

His breaths were ragged and desperate in his ears. There were cobwebs on the ceiling, and he really believed that they were all gone, because he was scared of seeing Draco's room empty too.

The horror had come home to him, and his home had been taken away from him.

Even Hogwarts wasn't safe. Even Hogwarts and the people he loved had been destroyed, and he hadn't been able to protect them.

When Harry heard the sound of plate chinking against plate coming from the Great Hall, he almost shouted aloud. And he was fighting down hysterical hope and fear as he pushed open the doors.

The house elves were setting up for dinner, spreading a sumptuous feast before chairs empty and thick with dust. The smell of hot food made Harry want to be violently sick.

An elf looked over at him, and gave a squeak of glee.

"One of the masters is come back!"

Immediately all the elves looked up, and fastened their hands on Harry's clothes, trying to drag him to the Gryffindor table. The feel of their thin, grasping hands through his clothes made him want to vomit more than ever.

"What the hell are you doing?"

Winky stared at him blankly with her huge, rather horrible eyes. "Our last orders was to make dinner, Harry Potter. We has been making dinner for an awfully long time. We is very glad to see you. We hopes you is hungry."

"Let me go!"

Harry didn't remember, afterwards, whether he kicked them out of his way. To do something like that - to be someone like that - would remind him too much of Lucius Malfoy, and he never wanted to remember him.

He was desperate to get away, even if it was only to race up the steps again and try to make his way to Dumbledore's office. He was on the second floor before the thought struck him that Dumbledore was just as certainly gone, and he was gazing into the stone gargoyle's eyes and laughing softly, hysterically, as he wondered whether Fawkes was still waiting there for the people to come back. Just like the Fat Lady. Just like the house elves.

He had not spoken a word when the gargoyle sprang aside and the staircase lowered itself down to the ground in a slow, sliding motion.

Harry was past the point of surprise, and enough past fear to only be dimly aware that he was feeling it. So it was only with a distant sort of terror that he saw a huge snake winding down the staircase, with just the same gradual glide of the moving staircase itself. He recognised Nagini at once - he had often seen her in dreams.

It wasn't until he heard the step on the stairs behind the snake that he remembered terror.

He stood waiting, his wand and the Cup still dangling uselessly from his hand. The staircase met the ground.

Voldemort stood high on the stairs, that pale narrow face pitiless as Harry remembered. His red eyes narrowed as they saw Harry, and Harry was alone and all his friends were gone already, and there was nothing left to fight for.

"Now, I think," he said, "You will bow for me without any further persuasion."

Harry stared at him for a long still moment.

"Why should I?" he asked slowly. "You bastard."

In that long, calm moment, Harry thought - even Time Turners don't take you into the future. It can't be night time. That dust on everything is impossible.

It's all impossible. It's like the chimera, like the fire, it's...

"You're not even real!"

Voldemort didn't disappear, but began to walk down the stairs.

It's not enough, Harry thought desperately. I have to do something more, like the stick, like stepping through the flame...

And it was, quite simply, hopeless. There was nothing he could do against Voldemort.

But he wasn't going to run away.

He stood there, trembling, as Voldemort swept down the remaining steps. He didn't flinch as he looked into that inhuman face and he raised his wand as Voldemort raised his, and Harry thought, quite distinctly, I've failed everyone.

Voldemort opened his mouth, and Harry tried to think of a spell to scream. And...

Then he found himself in daylight again, the illusion melting away as if he had never seen it.

The cup in his hand had melted too, and the real Cup stood glimmering on its plinth before him. He reached out... and he was standing outside the maze.

He had won the Triwizard Tournament, and it was all over.

Harry stood in the light, blinking up at Dumbledore, whose face was grave. He didn't have time to ask what he should have done, or how he could have known, or what he felt he should have done - to win something more than the Tournament.

Dumbledore stood aside, and the snapping lights of the cameras and the euphoric rush of his friends towards him obscured everything else.

Ron's hands closed on his shoulders.

"Harry! You just disappeared... We were going mad. Are you all right?"

Harry blinked up at Ron, who was so pale his freckles seemed to be on fire. He remembered, vivid as those freckles, every bed in the dormitory being empty.

"I'm fine," he said slowly.

Sirius and Lupin were having an agitated conversation with Dumbledore. Hermione was trying to push her way through the crowd, her questioning voice too thin to reach Dumbledore's ears.

"Sir! Sir, was... making him disappear really necessary...?"

Neville's round face was bright as he looked at Harry over Ron's shoulder. His expression was distressingly reminiscent of Colin Creevey's.

"That was marvellous, Harry," he said in heartfelt tones.

"For Heaven's sake, Longbottom, you're not complimenting him on a sexual exploit."

The vicious drawl made Harry aware that something was wrong even as he turned to look at Draco, his smile fading before it had begun. Like a snake swallowing its own tail. Like a snake.

Draco was standing apart from the immediate crush around Harry, the very way he stood generating space around him. His lip was disdainfully curled and his eyes were cold.

"Congratulations, Potter," he said. "Another stunning display of reckless stupidity. Well done."

Then he turned and stalked off.

"What a bastard!" Ron exploded. "Don't listen to him, Harry. He's jealous - he's always been jealous of you."

Ginny's dark eyes were very wide.

"Are you all right, Harry?"

Harry disengaged himself from Ron, staring after Draco. His mind was blank of everything except shock and the pressing need to find out what Draco thought he was doing.

He was still holding the Cup, he realised absently, and pushed it in Ron's direction.

Ron let go of Harry's shoulders to take it.

"Just - hold that for me a minute, would you?" Harry asked, moving past them all.

He'd find Draco and he'd bring him back. It was that simple, and he didn't have attention to spare for the hands trying to detain him as he passed.

He just doggedly went after Draco, who was already away from the Quidditch pitch and accelerating over the slope beyond, out of sight. He seemed to be heading for the Forbidden Forest. He must really not want to be followed.

The rain began to fall, tiny near-invisible needle-points, and Harry felt small stabs of annoyance and worry with the cool pelt of rain on his face. What had he done, and why was Draco acting like this, and damn it, he was tired and he'd been scared out of his mind, and he'd been looking forward to - to a bit of peace, and maybe for Draco to look pleased or relieved, instead of this!

He focused on that pale head and just ran, because Draco didn't know anyone was following him and he was only stalking onward, and it was the easiest thing in the world to hurl himself forward as they entered the shelter of the trees, and grab Draco's elbow, and yank him around and yell.

"What the hell was all that about, Malfoy?"

Draco's face was white and narrow and implacable, and the rain on his face looked like anything but tears.

"I was congratulating you, Potter," Draco answered calmly. "Brilliant exhibition of near-suicidal idiocy. Some of your best work yet, I'd say. Who knows what heights you may achieve? Now that you've received my homage, you'd best get back to the fan club. They're probably pining away without you."

Harry glared at him. Draco stared unforgivingly back.

"Why don't you stop acting like such a prat," Harry suggested, his voice low and heated.

"Why don't you stop being such a prat?" Draco demanded in a cool, almost conversational and altogether contemptuous tone.

He tried to pull his sleeve out of Harry's grip, but Harry grabbed his shoulder instead. Harry saw the curl of his mouth and tried to remember what person he hated had just this expression, and then realised it was Malfoy.

The old Malfoy, just like him, and Harry felt a bizarre urge to hit him and the only reason he didn't was because why would the old Malfoy have cared if his idiocy had been near-suicidal?

"Why don't you stop insulting me for just one second and tell me what I did!" Harry exploded. "I only did what I had to do, I don't understand why you're mad, so why don't you stop all this rubbish and tell me!"

"What you did?" Draco snapped. "You were trying to fight that chimera with a stick!"

"Listen, I had to, there was nothing else and I didn't have time to think-"

"Think?" Draco's voice was thin with outrage. "Do you never think about-"

"I think about you all the time!" Harry shouted.

They stood glaring at each other in the cold glitter of rain, breathing in shallow, furious synchronisation. Draco's shoulder under Harry's hand rose and fell with his chest in sharp, fast breaths.

Draco's mouth was an uncompromising line.

"You're a reckless fool," he said flatly.

"I don't know what-"

"Look, it's got to stop, all right?" Draco snapped. "It's got to stop, all of this running around trying to be the hero and save us all, I can see you thinking about it. You can't fight monsters on your own."

"I'm not - I don't - God, Draco, is that what you're so worked up about?"

Draco, who seemed to find it so easy to glare, stared at the ground.

"I don't know what-"

Harry felt the sudden calm he had felt entering the maze.

"Draco. Draco, look at me." He didn't, and Harry jerked his chin upwards. Instantly Draco was glaring again, eyes wide at the indignity. "It's all right if you were worried about me," Harry said softly.

"What are you going on about, Potter," Draco said in a voice that lacked conviction. Only Harry's hand kept him from turning his face away.

The rain always made Draco's hair a little bit static. Harry didn't mention that it was slightly fluffy, since Draco had enough on his mind.

"It's okay to be worried," he said. "I know you're not used to it."

"Are you delusional, Potter?" Draco demanded. "I'm worried all the time. The whole school is living in terror. My Slytherins aren't safe, I don't know what I'm supposed to do to protect them-"

"And that's your problem!" Harry shouted. "You're used to protecting people by ordering them around and being stronger than everyone else. That's why you're acting like an idiot, because you're not used to seeing someone you care about in danger you can't do anything about!"

"So what?" Draco shouted back. "You're just the same! You're worse!"

Harry thought of everyone being gone, of the sharp feeling that he had failed them all.

"I know," he said in a subdued voice. "That's why I understand."

Draco looked up at Harry, of his own accord this time, and bit the side of his lip. Then he took Harry's hand, removing it gently from his face, and let it fall.

"I'm not going to be anything less than you, Draco," Harry said, folding his arms. "You can't order me around."

"Well, I'm not going to be anything less than you, Harry," Draco returned sharply. "I don't want to hear any more rubbish about me not signing up for dangerous posts."

"That's not - I was just trying to-" Harry exhaled hard. "All right. I'm sorry."

Draco nodded. "I'm sorry if I was - a bit of a prat back there. Not that you weren't being a suicidal idiot, of course. You should have stayed there nice and cosy with that Veela." He brightened. "Actually, I think she was a bit taken with you. You could-"

Harry couldn't help laughing.

"You're impossible."

Draco smiled brilliantly back, and he lifted his hand to touch Harry's face. Harry felt the cool pressure of wet fingertips drawn along his cheekbone.

He looked at Draco, and thought of the burst of panic in his chest when he couldn't stand even to go and look at his empty room.

Draco drew his hand back, and examined his fingers.

"You're filthy," he remarked. Harry caught his wrist.

"Come back," he said. "I have this whole presentation thing to sort out."

"Oh, my God!" Draco exclaimed, looking appalled. "Of course you do! There's a ceremony! There's money. You complete pillock, what do you mean by running all over the place like this?"

Harry raised his eyebrows. Draco didn't even have the decency to look abashed.

"Come back," he repeated, and Draco let Harry pull him back to the Quidditch pitch.

Ginny gave Harry a bright welcoming smile as they returned. Ron gave him a distraught look, barely able to spare a sneer for Draco.

"Harry, please take this back," he said, pushing the Cup into Harry's free hand. "The money's supposed to be put in it, and then Fudge is supposed to give you back the Cup in this ceremony. There's a speech and everything. People kept trying to take pictures of it, I was going mental..."

To illustrate Ron's words, an army of photographers were bearing down upon them. Ron backed hastily away towards Hermione. Harry remembered that he was hurt and filthy, and wished Hagrid was nearby to hide behind.

"Oh no," he said quietly.

"They can take pictures of me if they like," Draco announced complacently. "I'm pretty."

Fudge came bustling over them, the self-confidence which had noticeably eroded since the disappearances apparently restored for this special occasion. He had the sack of money in his hands, and he beamed at Harry. Harry studied him with cool distrust. He didn't seem to notice.

"Honestly, Harry, where did you get to?" he inquired. "Here, take this and put it in the Cup... You'll say a few words, won't you?" he added, as Harry dropped Draco's wrist to take the money.

"Er," Harry answered, staring. "A speech?"

"I suggest you take that Veela onstage with you, and get her to take off her dress," Draco proposed. "That'll distract everyone nicely. Or you could take off your own shirt. Let's face it, these photographers are clearly desperate for every inch of you."

"Thank you, Draco," Harry said out of the corner of his mouth. "Do you have any suggestions not involving public indecency?"

"Me?" Draco said, scandalised. "Never!"

"You should be on the stage in a few minutes, Harry," Fudge told him. "Just hold onto the Cup for another second - I need to fetch the notes for my speech..."

He hurried off. Harry stared after him, looking desperately into the clicking cameras and the golden inside of the Cup. He was already limp with exhaustion and pain.

He glanced over at Draco, made his decision, and smiled.

"I've changed my mind," he said. "Let's go."

"What?"

Harry dropped the money and seized Draco's wrist again. Draco looked shocked and reached down to scoop it up.

"Never, ever drop money to grab a person!" he admonished sternly. "You can buy people with money!"

"How about you?" Harry suggested. "Come on. I want to go."

"Certainly not me," Draco said severely. "I rate special. Where precisely do you want to go?"

"I don't know. Anywhere. Not here. With you."

Draco looked almost awed. "You mean it. You are crazy."

Harry smiled recklessly. It had all been an illusion, the Tournament was over, and he was damned if he was making a speech. He turned and kept hold of Draco, who laughed and came willingly with him.

"I don't believe you dragged me all the way back there to leave again."

"Oh, but that's different," Harry said confidently, as the gasps began behind them. He began to walk more rapidly up the slope. "By the way, Draco... are you free this Saturday?"

"I expect so," Draco replied cautiously. "Why?"

"I have a present for you," Harry answered, doing his best to sound careless.

Draco looked delighted.

"A present? What for? Why can't I have it now? What is it? Is it shiny?

Give me a clue."

Harry cast a look over his shoulder. "Draco?"

"Yes?" said Draco, whose mind was clearly occupied by the prospect of a present.

"Run, would you?"

The rain still fell lightly down on them, and laughing for some reason, they raced down the hill with a pack of photographers in hot pursuit.



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