An Inconvenient Truth

old-crow

Chapter 011

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Chapter Eleven

The First Task

Saturday 26 November

… --- …

As the two witches found their seats just before the start of the first task, Connie voiced the words that Amelia had previously thought to herself - "What lapse of sanity possessed you to allow Harry to compete in this awful event? That dragon nearly took the Delacour girl's head off. My God, it's got her backed into a corner! She's going to get killed!"

Amelia took a calming breath; as she watched the young woman, not more than a few years older than her Susie, struggle with the huge Welsh Green. Just as the teen made a grab for the egg, the dragon, which had momentarily been distracted by a Confundus charm that the contestant had cast, blew a fireball in the girl's direction, setting her cloak and hair on fire. The young witch had obtained her prize, but would have lasting burn marks over much of her back.

"What the hell was Barty thinking coming up with these monsters as challenges for teenagers?" demanded an enraged Connie.

"I haven't a clue," admitted Amelia. "He missed the last staff meeting, and sent Arthur's son in his place. That boy needs to learn some humility, and soon. He's so full of himself." Changing the subject, she added, "I hope Amos's boy, Cedric is okay. He looks like he was badly burned by the Short Snout after it ate the dog that he'd transfigured out of that rock."

Connie shook her head in wonder and commented, "He'll be fine, but at least he signed up for it. Who's next?"

"The Durmstrang boy, Victor Krum. When I get my hands on whoever put Harry's name in that goblet, they'll have a very bad day."

A few minutes later, Connie commented, "Krum must have hit her with a Conjunctivitis curse. Look at that, she's squashed her eggs! Fireballs are practically extinct. What were the organizers thinking?"

"I don't know," admitted Amelia. "I expect that they weren't thinking at all. Actually, I believe that Bagman arranged this first task."

"That idiot probably set it up to have a flutter on who would come out alive. He should be chasing the dragons around that pit himself if he thinks it's such a great idea. I hope the moneylenders catch up with him and choke him."

A few minutes later, the gang of dragon handlers put the next dragon in place with a series of complicated switching spells.

Connie gasped and nearly shouted, "Good Lord, that's a Hungarian Horntail! The Short Snout looked like a puppy compared to that monster! Fourth years haven't learned enough spells yet to properly put that monster down, let alone get away. It's seen him. She looks like she'll tear him to bits…"

Amelia closed her eyes for a moment and cleared her head of her friend's colorful play-by-play commentary. Test his mettle… when she got a hold of that nosey, interfering, my-ideas-are-always-right wizard, she'd give him a few choice words. She knew that it was Harry's turn next, but barely dared to look; silently praying that Rufus's assistance would be enough. For nearly a minute the field was silent.

Suddenly Connie exclaimed, "Good Lord, Amelia, look at that!!!" Harry had somehow summoned his broom from nearly a mile away and he was flying right above the dragon's head, circling and weaving back and forth in a hypnotic pattern. She saw him pull his wand out and cast several spells in the direction of the egg while attempting to dodge the enraged Horntail.

Whoosh! He dove down and summoned the egg, just as the evil dragon's razor sharp tail sliced into his side.

"Poor Harry. That had to hurt." Even from a distance, she could see the crimson bloodstain blossoming on his shirt. She followed Connie down the stairs of the stands as they hurriedly made their way to the medical tent.

Somehow, Harry managed to stay on his broom and fly back to the starting point as a dozen of the dragon wranglers subdued the offended and angry mother dragon.

A few minutes later, Amelia smiled as she saw Susie and Hermione rush towards Harry. The bushy haired young witch stood back beaming at her best friend with pride while Susie gave him a bone crushing hug and kiss, only to realize that she had squeezed him too hard as she felt him wince. Knowing his high tolerance for pain, Amelia concluded that it was more than a scratch regardless of what he would eventually tell her.

Connie waited with the girls on the other side of the privacy screen as Amelia stood by Harry while Poppy carefully cleaned out the wound. While over a foot long, it appeared to Connie to be fairly clean, and not extremely deep. Amelia held his hand as Harry gave a slight whimper when the disinfecting fluid was applied. Amelia promised herself that she'd get Harry a dragonhide vest before the next infernal task. Poppy finished her work and remarked, "Dragons…What fool decided that bringing dragons into a school full of children would be a good idea?"

As if on cue, Ludo Bagman walked in to check on the conditions of the three injured champions. He was about to remark that the first task was a smashing success and that Harry had the fastest time when he noticed that Amelia had seen him. Better judgment prevailed, and he made a very quick exit from the tent and went back to the judging stands. The scores were announced and Harry was in the lead by a slim margin.

… --- …

Ron Weasley was about to come in and apologize to Harry when he saw his dad's boss standing by Harry looking extremely angry, and decided that this wasn't the best time to come in and try and make some semblance of peace with his former friend. He mentally kicked himself for having said all of those stupid and jealous things in the first place.

He knew that his temper was going to get him in serious trouble someday. He just hoped that it wouldn't be too soon.

… --- …

The evening after the first task, the four law enforcement officers left the pensieve that contained the memory that Rufus had managed to obtain from a very reluctant Horace Slughorn earlier in the afternoon. They took a moment to reflect on what they'd witnessed. Finally Amelia asked, "What did you see?"

Anna observed, "Slughorn had said that seven would be the best number. We don't know if Riddle interpreted his words to be seven plus one or six plus one, but based on Connie's research, I'm not certain that it matters."

Amelia wrote seven plus one on her notepad and asked, "What else?"

Scrimgeour said, "It was sixth year potions, so most likely he had already made the diary that Harry destroyed. His phrasing of the question implied that he'd barely even heard of them and he'd already made one. The sneaky bastard."

Amelia wrote sixth year on her pad and asked, "What else?"

Connie observed, "Riddle was wearing a ring with a large, flat black stone on the ring finger of his left hand. If that was Gaunt's ring, it is likely that it was the second horcrux that he'd created, meaning it would have a quarter-size bit within it. Also, it hadn't yet occurred to him to go and hide them. We could confirm that by getting a seventh year memory and checking to see if he was still wearing it, but he probably wanted his mates to see that he was wearing a Slytherin artifact."

Amelia wrote find additional memory on her notepad and asked, "What else?"

Scrimgeour added, "It's reasonable to believe that Slughorn could have guessed what really happened to Riddle in 1981. We're starting on this scavenger hunt looking for these bloody horcruxes thirteen years later than we should be. If that fat suck-up had had an ounce of decency, he would have said something to someone years ago."

Connie rubbed her forehead and replied, "True, but he couldn't be charged as an accessory to every murder that Riddle committed since 1981 without our disclosing that we know about the existence of the horcruxes. We could get our pound of flesh, but who knows what it would really cost?"

Amelia nodded and remarked, "Agreed. Rufus, well done coaching Harry on the first task." She made eye contact and added a heartfelt, "Thank you. What do you have in mind for the next few weeks?"

Scrimgeour replied, "I'm going to work on building up his magical endurance and making use of cutting charms. We're through thinking about just stunning these scum when they attack. He's got good accuracy and outstanding eye-hand coordination. He just hasn't learned a full complement of spells yet"

Amelia could find no fault in his logic and replied, "Thank you all. Good night."

… --- …

While Director Bones and the others were examining Slughorn's memory, Junior was reporting to his master regarding the first challenge. "Potter made it through the first task in one piece, Master. He has a slight lead for first place."

Voldemort replied, "That is good, Barty. How much did you have to help him?"

Junior admitted, "Not a bit, Master. When I kept him after class, and asked him, he told me that he had worked it out. One of the dragon handlers is the brother of his friend. He must have told him the nature of the task. His little pals must have read about charming and uncharming quidditch balls. His actual execution was pretty basic."

Riddle considered Crouch's reply for a minute and could find no fault with his conclusions. Potter's performance was well thought out, but was certainly more simplistic than what he himself could have accomplished as a fourth year. Riddle replied, "Be certain that he does not fail in the second task."

Junior bowed and was dismissed and limped out of the old mansion before apparating back to the castle.

After Junior took his leave, Voldemort sent Pettigrew on an errand. Riddle wanted to be alone for a while. In truth he was concerned. There had been only the vaguest references to the homunculus form that he had assumed after he'd met up with Wormtail. In muggle terms, the issue of shelf-life was on his mind. He had no way of knowing if his current form would remain viable for months or another year or more. For some reason, he felt weaker than when Wormtail had brought his wand back.

He cast several spells with his own wand. The first two seemed normal to him, but as he continued, he began to tire quickly.

Riddle believed that the key to achieving the strongest form was to use the blood of the strongest enemy that he could. Dumbledore was undoubtedly strong, but Riddle lacked the means of subduing him, and he was nearly 140 years of age – hardly a man in his prime that Riddle would wish to aspire to become. No, Potter was the correct choice. He would have Junior attempt to inconspicuously hand the boy a portkey the next time there was a Hogsmeade weekend.

… --- …

While Junior was visiting with the Dark Lord, Lucius paid an unannounced visit to Cornelius Fudge's home. Fudge's house elf answered the door and showed the blonde haired wizard with the cruel walking stick into the well-appointed waiting room. "Please waits here, Master Malfoy. I will gets Master Fudge right away." The little elf scurried off to help his master get presentable to receive such an important visitor.

Malfoy waited patiently for several minutes until Fudge came into the room. He was wearing slippers and a silk robe. His hair was damp, but he was presentable. He greeted his guest, "Lucius, this is an unexpected surprise. Did I forget an appointment?"

Lucius stood while Fudge entered the room and put a subservient look on his face before starting. "Forgive my intrusion, Minister, but I have a matter of some urgency to bring to your attention."

Fudge looked and saw the heavy bulge in Malfoy's pocket and asked, "How may I help you, Lucius? Speckles, bring us a bottle of single malt and two glasses."

The little elf hurried to comply with his master's order and Fudge suggested, "Please have a seat. How may I be of assistance?"

Lucius began his rehearsed conversation, "Minister, I became aware of some information regarding the convict, Black that I thought you would wish to know about."

Fudge sputtered, "Sirius Black? Is he here?"

"No, Minister. A colleague of mine saw him in the magical section of Cyprus not twenty minutes ago, and he immediately contacted me. I personally lack the resources to act on the Ministry's behalf and apprehend him, but knew that you would be in a better position to act and would want to do the right thing."

Fudge frowned a bit at the information. Cypress did not observe extradition laws, and he couldn't legally demand that Black be apprehended and returned to Britain to face justice. He took a sip of the ancient whiskey that his visitor had previously given him as a Christmas gift and admitted, "Amelia or Rufus would never go for a clandestine grab on foreign soil."

Lucius suggested, "Perhaps your personal guard detail would not be such sticklers for those bothersome details. I wish I had the means to help you myself."

Fudge watched as he reached into his pocket and pulled out the large sack of galleons. Malfoy put a friendly look on his face and offered, "I was going to drop off this donation that I managed to collect to the ministry pension fund tomorrow, but unexpected appointments came up. It's only ten thousand galleons, but I would appreciate it if you could drop it off for me." He made a show of looking at his watch and added, "I do apologize, but I need to return home."

"I understand Lucius. Thank you for coming over. I'll contact Dawlish and Franken right away. You said the wand shop?"

"Yes, but my associate mentioned that Black had a fitting scheduled immediately after at the robe shop next to the wandcrafter. I do hope you have some success in apprehending such a dangerous criminal. I'll take my leave, Minister. Good night."

As the blonde haired wizard walked out the door, Fudge practically ran to the fireplace to call his four bodyguards. Malfoy knew that Fudge wouldn't insist on such niceties as a live capture. In fact, he was counting on it, based on the belief that his son, Draco was in line to inherit the remainder of the Black fortune.

… --- …

Tuesday 29 November

After the dinner had been served, Headmaster Dumbledore stood and said, "May I have your attention?"

Immediately the mass of students grew silent. Susan watched as he stroked his beard once and his eyes gave off their twinkle that no longer amused her. Dumbledore waited some ten seconds for the quiet to become noticeable and announced, "In keeping with the traditions of the tri-wizard tournament, the four champions will be hosting a Yule Ball on 24 December. Fourth years and above are invited and may invite a younger student if desired."

Instinctively, the teenage girl in Susan kicked in, and she made eye-contact with Harry. He mouthed, "Will you go with me, please?" and she beamed, nodded and mouthed, "Yes!" She noticed that Ron, who was sitting next to Neville, had the deer-in-the-headlight, blank stare in his eyes. Neville was searching for Hannah, who was temporarily blocked from his view by the massive form of Stebbins.

Hermione had one of those fleeting moments when she wished that things had been different between her and Harry, then glanced at Ron for a moment and silently shook her head. Serious dating wasn't important to her at the moment, but being occasionally remembered would be nice.

… --- …

While Hermione was pondering her prospects for being escorted to the Yule Ball, two young German women on holiday were chattering away in an upscale London restaurant. They didn't pay the least bit of attention to the two older well-dressed men sitting at the next table with a bottle of single malt set between them.

Stephen Nott asked his long-time friend Lucius Malfoy, "What do you think will happen?"

Malfoy replied, "Some will return to his service when he calls. We don't know what form he will acquire. He may return with his old strength, or he may simply return. My question is, who is he to lead our pureblood society? I've learned that his father was merely a common muggle and one without honor at that."

Nott asked, "What do you mean? He's the heir of Slytherin. He can speak with serpents."

Lucius set his glass down and replied, "So he says. The fact remains that the Potter boy is of purer blood and he also speaks the parseltongue. It is proper to believe in our right as part of the aristocracy to rule our world. I subscribe to the traditional values as much as he claims to. We lost most of our fortune and respect trying to stay out of prison when the Dark Lord fell. Is that what you want for your sons and daughters?"

Nott admitted, "No, but you're suggesting a dangerous path, Lucius."

The blonde haired wizard sneered and commented, "I'm merely observing that there may not be any safe paths. Some have felt his Mark begin to strengthen and have chosen to leave. Tudberry sold his estate last week and is said to have retired somewhere in the southwest United States. Do you think he'll answer his call? I expect Karkarov will leave at the conclusion of the tournament and quickly disappear into Eastern Europe."

Nott asked, "Have you spoken with the others?"

Malfoy admitted, "Not yet. I wanted to hear your opinion first."

The Welshman replied, "I only envision three choices – Flee now and pretend that you never felt anything, stay and hope that he never returns, or wait and see what calls us before deciding what to do. There is no hope in joining Dumbledore and the blood traitors. The Dark Lord will go after them first."

"Perhaps, but you lost your wife and oldest son in the last war. I lost my brother and his entire family. The Aurors gave as good as they got. Our attempts to keep them weak through lack of funding will only go so far if he returns in a weakened condition. We are not canon fodder to be used to buy him time."

Nott asked, "What about Bulstrode and Yaxley. How are they?"

Malfoy replied, "They told their families that they were injured in a muggle automobile accident and treated in a muggle hospital. Apparently their families believed their story. They are weak-minded and will answer the call of anyone with strength."

Nott asked, "Did you find out who fired the Dark Lord's Mark at the World Cup?"

Lucius eyed the two women at the table next to him and, concluding that they were chattering about nothing, replied, "No one has admitted having done so. Perhaps it was old man Crouch, hoping to capture one of us as some sort of vengeance for corrupting his son."

Stephen shook his head and replied, "The boy joined of his own free will, as we all did. Unfortunately, it cost him his life." Changing the subject, Nott added, "Show me your arm, Lucius."

Malfoy looked around again, saw that no one was looking and exposed his left arm. The outline of the Dark Mark was definitely visible, though the inside was only faintly shaded. He looked at Nott's brand, which was about the same, and commented, 'It's much darker than last spring, but seems a bit lighter than it was when school started."

Nott nodded and asked, "What do you think it means?"

Malfoy poured them both another finger of the single malt and replied, "The Dark Lord will likely return in the next year. Who knows how much power he'll bring with him? Time will tell, old friend." With that he drained his glass and added, "We'll talk again in January."

… --- …

oc-OC-oc

The old scribe was disappointed. Some of the readers had failed to follow wizarding etiquette, and McGonagall hadn't given them attention. He looked at the old slip of paper that he'd found in his pocket that read Lansydyr – Royal Flush and recalled that it was a report from a fellow scribe that had apparently been shipped off to a foreign war.

McGonagall watched as Crow got off of his steel horse and walked towards the castle. For the moment, at least, she had things on her mind besides assigning detention to inconsiderate readers. She launched into him the moment that he walked into the door. "They are fourteen. Mr. Crow. You will keep that in mind, especially regarding Miss Bones."

The old scribe had a devilish look on his face that clearly indicated that he had other ideas and walked off, thinking to himself, 'Accidents can happen.'

The Transfiguration professor had a very uneasy feeling about what would happen next.

… --- …

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