The hospital wing looked more like a science lab or secret government installation. There were lights everywhere, floating steel tables with strange instruments on them and everything looked like it had been sterilised about five hundred times only a few hours ago. It even had a murky smell of bleach to it.
“How bad?” Scorpius asked, walking over to the Japanese healer who was busy mixing some kind of potion. Rose shuffled in behind him, still looking shaken.
“Bad. He tore most of the ligaments, stretched the tendons and seriously strained the muscles,” the healer said in pretty good English. He was a short, bespectacled man with a moustache and a no-nonsense look on his face.
The healer picked up the concoction he had just made and started walking across the room to where a line of doors where. Scorpius followed him.
“He gonna be okay?” Rose asked with concern.
“I can fix it up but you have to make sure that he doesn't do anything strenuous with his left arm,” the Healer said, opening one of the doors and stepping through, “no heavy lifting, no exercise and it needs to stay in a sling for at least a few days...”
Al was sitting on a floating stretcher a few feet away. He had his shirt off and several long, slim acupuncture needles stuck in multiple places on is left shoulder which was now back in the socket. His left hand had fresh bandages wrapped around it. He still looked exhausted but didn't seem to be in any discomfort.
Scarlet was sat on the stretcher next to him, rubbing some very soar looking scratches on her fingers. She seemed to be doing her best not to look at the needles protruding from Al's shoulder.
“Albus, are you listening?” the Healer asked.
“Yeah, I get it, no Wimbledon for me this year...” Al mumbled sarcastically.
“Drink this,” the Healer handed him the potion and Al gulped it down in one before giving a slight shudder at it's bad taste. “If you don't let your shoulder heal properly, you run the risk of doing permanent damage. To be honest, it's a miracle that your arm is still attached.”
The Healer picked up the empty potions cup and walked out of the room.
“It's a miracle that you're still alive,” Scorpius corrected.
“That's the problem, Scorp, the miracle part,” Al corrected back.
“What do you mean?”
“You were watching, what are the odds of a bunch of seventeen year old kids getting off that mountain alive?” Al asked, looking from Scorpius to Rose to Scarlet.
“Non-existent,” Scarlet said.
“Exactly. They aren't making the tasks more difficult to add to the challenge, they're doing it in the hopes that someone gets killed!” Albus huffed.
“Whoa, Al, that's kind of a serious accusation,” Rose warned.
“Really? Look through the history of the tournament. The ones with the most publicity, most popularity and most money involved are the ones where someone died. The one eight years ago, that was front page news for about two months, it was all anybody talked about. The big stadium, all those little camera thingys...they booked the entire wizarding world a front row seat to watch us get splattered!”
Scarlet looked like she was going to be sick.
“And say someone had died, what then? They sell the inside scoops to the highest bidders, they own all the footage of it happening and as horrible as it is, no can look away at the next task, just encase it happens again. There's a lot of money in death,” Al said darkly.
“Albus, you've got no proof that -”
“Maybe he's right, Rose,” Scorpius cut her off. “Imagine it for a second...the son of the boy-who-lived is killed on live TV during the Tri-WIzard tournament...I bet you anything, it was the Japanese ministry that suggested me and Al come here...”
Al nodded. He knew he was right.
“You put blood in the water, it's only a matter of time before the sharks turn up...and these bastards want to eat us alive.”
“This is absurd! The government wouldn't just -”
“You'd be surprised what governments are capable of, Rose,” Scarlet warned.
“You're being paranoid! The Japanese Ministry is not trying to kill you!” Rose huffed, crossing her arms across her chest.
“I didn't say they were trying to kill us, I said they were hoping we'd die. There's no way they could actually get their hands dirty with something like this but what they can do is make sure that the thin ice we're skating on is guaranteed to break...and that there will be spikes underneath it when it does. That way they can sit back and say how they warned us about the dangers and that we volunteered anyway.”
“No! This is ridiculous!”
“What is the single most documented event in human history?” Al asked loudly.
Rose and Scorpius looked at each other in confusion before Scarlet answered. “9/11.”
“That's right. One of the most terrible and horrific moments to ever occur and people can't get enough of it.”
Rose didn't have a come back for that one but she still wasn't convinced. Scarlet and Scorpius on the other hand were silently trying not to shudder at the idea.
“Al...you don't think that...that they made sure the Goblet chose you?” Scarlet asked sounding worried.
“I wouldn't be surprised if they did. The black sheep of the Potter family involved in all this...how could they resist?” Al said before angrily grabbing hold of one of the acupuncture needles and pulling it out of his shoulder.
Scarlet had to look away before she puked. She obviously didn't like needles.
“And then of course, there's Shiori,” he added, rubbing the small red dots on his shoulder.
“What do you mean?”
“You see her jump over me?”
“Yeah, but -” Scarlet started but was interrupted.
“That wasn't a Springing Charm! She wasn't even holding her wand, it was tucked into her trousers, I saw it,” Al said quickly.
“You sure?” Scorpius asked, looking apprehensive.
“Look at the footage.”
“Well, maybe she knows wandless magic. I know a little...” Scarlet admitted.
“Maybe. Or maybe she's Hokkaido's secret weapon. A guarantee that this school wins the tournament. She got to the top of that mountain without even breaking a sweat!”
None of them could deny that. Shiori had made that task look easy.
Al woke up just after lunch time the next day in a foul mood. Not only was he still pissed off at the fact that a bunch of money-grubbing politicians were trying to cash in on his death but his shoulder was so stiff that it felt like he had an anvil strapped to his arm. There was also a bruise the size of a watermelon where the joint was. Despite the doctors orders, he didn't bother with the sling.
He took a hot shower and went down stairs. The house was empty meaning that Rose and Scorpius had gone to their lessons. At least his injury now meant that he had a good excuse for missing his classes.
For the most part, he just lazed around the house, wondering what the next task might be and what the greedy men behind the curtain would do to make it more impossible than it probably already was. Unfortunately, he wouldn't be getting and clues to it until the next day.
After some painkilling potion and three or four beers, he was actually starting to feel quite a bit better. He still had to put in twice the effort just to lift a bottle of beer with his left hand, but it wasn't bothering him as much.
Al started to get a bit anxious when the clock showed seven o'clock and Scorpius and Rose still hadn't returned. He assumed that they were working on an assignment from one of their lessons or something but given yesterdays events, he couldn't shake the worry he had for them.
About twenty minutes later, a small blue origami bird fluttered through the open window and landing in front of him. Someone had sent him a memo. He unfolded the note and began to read.
Al, meet us at the Paradise Atrium, there's something we need to show you.
Whether this was good or bad, he didn't know, but he couldn't help get his hopes up that they may have discovered a clue to the next task.
He grabbed his jacket, cigarettes and wand and set off towards the main building.
It was a groggy evening, like the weather was threatening to rain but never quite got there. He arrived at the main building but Scorpius and Rose were nowhere to be found. The building itself looked empty, like Hogwarts at night. Most of the staff would have finished for the day and gone home.
An uneasy feeling started to enter his stomach. Something wasn't right.
Al began to reach for his wand but before he could get his hand on it, he felt something hit him in the back and squeeze his body. He looked down to see ropes wrapping themselves around him.
A body bind curse!
He struggled against them and looked around to see where they had come from. To his surprise, a group of five Salem students strutted out from the shadows.
“Well, that was easy,” a tall blond girl remarked with a grin. Al recognised her as one of the witches that had been grouped around Scarlet during the tournament starting celebration. “I thought you'd actually put up a fight.”
“What is this?!” Albus growled, his rage building.
“Aww, don't look so surprised, Albus,” the blond girl said in a babying tone. She was obviously the leader of the group. “You've had this coming for a while...” she said darkly.
Suddenly, like a pack of jackals, the other girls rushed over, grabbed him and began dragging him away. Albus tried to put up a fight but the ropes were too strong.
They pulled him down the corridor and through the doubled doors into the Paradise Atrium. Albus was just about to try and head-butt one of them when suddenly, cheers erupted around him.
He stopped, dumbfounded, and looked around.
All of the Salem witches were there, clapping and cheering him with drinks in their hands. Scorpius and Rose were standing in the centre of them along with several other Hogwarts students. Blakely and Scarlet appeared from behind a group of girls and walked over to him. With a quick wave of her wand the ropes dropped off Albus's body and disappeared.
“This was Scarlet's idea so don't blame me,” she smiled.
“We're saying thanks, for saving our champions life!” the tall blond girl laughed. “Oh, sorry, I'm Jessica, I didn't hurt your arm, did I?”
“No, I'm fine...I...err,” Albus didn't know what to say. The only parties he had ever had were the ones thrown for his birthday. This was the last thing he had expected.
“Sorry about the whole pretending to kidnap you thing but we wanted it to be a surprise,” Jessica said.
“I tried to warn them that it wasn't a good idea,” Rose giggled.
“Yeah, sure you did!” Al laughed. She and Scorpius were probably the ones that suggested it. In fact, they had probably been helping them plan it all day.
Scarlet waved her wand and a chilled beer flew through the air and hovered in front of Albus.
“I never thanked you for what you did,” she said sincerely. “You almost died saving my life and...I didn't know what to say to something like that...”
“You don't have to say anything,” Al smile, “just...watch your step next time.”
Scarlet hugged him and then softly kissed him on the cheek. She was clearly fighting the urge to cry. Albus started to turn bright red.
He was overwhelmed. He never been cheered or celebrated for anything. In fact, it had always been the complete opposite. People had shunted him and pushed him away. He had never been welcome at other peoples parties and treated like the plague after the things he had done. But he was, being thanked and applauded by people that had only ever heard about the mistakes he had made. He felt almost embarrassed, but in a good way.
Scorpius and Rose walked over and stood next to him, obviously sensing that he was having a bit of trouble dealing with this.
“Well, are we gonna have a party or not?!” Jessica yelled out.
Everyone cheered and held up their glasses, giving a toast to Albus Severus Potter.
Albus wasn't allowed to buy a single drink all night. He had people he had never spoken to before coming up to him giving him compliments and thanking him for what he had done. Suddenly he knew exactly what it was like to be Harry Potter...and why he didn't like it very much.
This kind of thing could go to a persons head.
After a while, Al, Scorpius, Rose, Scarlet, Blakely and Jessica had settled at one of the tables with other students grouping around them, listening to them chat.
“Okay, so I've got to ask...what's all this shit I keep hearing about Smuggler's Cove?” Jessica asked with a slight slur. She was getting a tiny bit drunk.
Albus just shook his head and looked away. He really didn't want to have to tell the story.
“Oh, Al and Scorpius made their destructive début with Smuggler's Cove,” Rose laughed before taking a sip of her Rosé. She was also looking a little bit tipsy which is probably why she was willing to talk about Smuggler's Cove in a light-hearted way instead of the annoyed tone that she usually used.
“I've heard a whole bunch of different stories about it. You know, you get someone saying they heard it from a friend of a friend who was there and all that crap. Come on, give us the truth!” Blakely giggled.
“Hey! I'm not proud of what happened at Smuggler's Cove, okay!” Al said, trying to keep the smirk off his face.
“Rose, come on! Tell us a bedtime story!” Scarlet pleaded.
Rose grinned wildly and put her wine glass down on the table. She was actually going to do it. “Well...”
“Ahh, shit!” Scorpius groaned and downed his beer, steeling himself.
“Al has always wanted to be an Auror,” Rose began with a smile. “So much so that he would often spy on his dad to pick up tips on how to become one. Anyway, one day, Al's eavesdropping, and he hears Harry and Ron talking about this pub called Smuggler's Cove and how it's a big hotspot for celebrities and that all the big players go there. It's just outside of Liverpool, right on the waterfront near the docks and it just so happened that their was a Holyhead Harpies game being played not far away a few days later...so, Al convinces his mum to let him and Scorp go. Of course, they never actually went to the game, they wanted to go an check out this really cool pub, so they sneaked away and went to find it.”
Al was hiding his face with his hand, trying not to laugh. At the time it had been a crazy, terrifying mess but talking about it now actually made it seem kind of funny. The Salems girls was listening avidly.
“Now, as you can see,” Rose indicated Albus and Scorpius, “these two look a bit older than they are and have gotten away with being served in bars before. So they found this place and went inside and...what was it, they had some kind of enchantment?” she asked Al, trying to remember.
“It was a parrot,” Al mumbled.
“Oh yeah!” Rose laughed. “They had this parrot just inside the door of the pub that was charmed to announced to the whole place when someone new came in. So this thing takes one look at Al and starts squawking; Harry Potter, Harry Potter! Two seconds later, every single person in that pub pulls out their wands and starts shooting at these two! Turns out that these 'celebrates' Harry was talking about was a metaphor for the Ministry's most wanted list!”
“No way!” Jessica burst into hysterics.
“Yep!” Rose chuckled with her. She calmed herself down to tell the last of the story. “One of the biggest fire-fights in years breaks out and after about five minutes, the buildings become so unstable from spell fire that it starts to collapse. Al and Scorp dive out of a window to escape, the roof falls in, ignites a barrel of fire whiskey which turns it into a bloody alcohol missile! This thing shoots through the wall, across the dockyard and hits one of the cranes the muggles use to load cargo containers onto the boats. It destroys the base of the crane, the thing collapse and sinks the two ships that were in dry dock!”
All the Salems girls looked at Albus and Scorpius in utter disbelief before almost falling over in uncontrollable laughter. Al and Scorpius were bright red with embarrassment but still couldn't keep the smiles off their faces.
“Thirty-thousand galleons worth of damage, all because these two decided to go for a drink!” Rose blurted, almost knocking over her wine as she chuckled.
“Holy shit!” Blakely gasped.
“They started it!” Scorpius said with a giggle.
“And you guys came out of that without a scratch?!” a Salems girl asked in amazement.
Scorpius's smile faded slightly. “I did...Al, err, well, he went through the window first and got slashed up pretty good...”
“I was picking glass out of my back for about a week an a half,” Al smirked.
“Ouch,” Scarlet winced.
“You been injured a lot?” Jessica asked.
“I've had my fair share of bumps and bruises,” Al nodded.
“More than your old man,” Scorpius remarked. “Got started earlier than he did as well.”
“What do you mean?” Blakely questioned.
“Oh, back in the first year. I had a broom riding lesson that didn't go so well...went into a wall at seventy miles an hour, broke my collar bone, crushed my ribcage, one of my ribs snapped off, got stuck in my lung, I was breathing blood bubbles, it was horrible. I don't recommend it,”
“Jesus...” Blakely said, all the laugher dying from her face.
“Spent my twelfth birthday in St. Mungo's, which also wasn't fun. Now I stay firmly on the ground.”
“He's afraid of flying...” Rose giggled quietly.
“I'm not afraid of flying! I just don't like it! If God had intended us to fly, he wouldn't have invented Welsh air traffic control!”
“Oi, I'm Welsh!” one of the Hogwarts students yelled.
“I hope you're wearing a parachute,” Scorpius chuckled.
“Yeah, even terrorists won't risk flying with you guys,” Al agreed.
“Is that why everyone calls you 'Al', is it short for 'Al' Qaeda?” Jessica said, falling into hysterics.
Everyone, including the Welsh kid, burst into laughter at that.
“Well, Hogwart's is screwed if the next task takes place in the air!” Blakely said.
“Yeah, and Salems is buggered if it takes place on the ground. If it stays on the ground, I'm good at it,” Al announced.
“Like cars. I'll admit, you're a good driver, Al,” Rose held up her wine in salute.
“Thank you, I am a good driver. When my bloody parents don't steal my bloody car keys! I love my car...I miss my car!” Albus groaned.
“What do you drive?”
“Yeah, she's a classic,” Al said smugly.
“She's falling apart. How that thing passed M.O.T. is beyond me,” Rose remarked.
“Hey! She may be old but she always puts out,” Al grinned.
Blakely rolled her eyes. “Boys and their toys.”
“Well, I don't have anything else to play with at the moment,” Al winked. He was feeling a little more confidant down that the booze were starting to circulate.
“Play with your wand, it's what it's there for,” Scarlet sassed.
“But not to much, you'll go blind,” Blakely laughed.
“My dad's the one with the bad eyesight,” Al shot back with a smirk.
“Doesn't slow him down though, does it,” Jessica said.
“Don't be so sure. Auror's are supposed to have at least twenty-ten vision. Yet another little exception they made for him,” Al said bitterly.
“Yeah. For marksmanship.”
“Well, you don't have a problem there, do you,” Scarlet remarked.
“I was talking to a couple of Hokkaido students. They said your like a sniper or something.”
“That's an understatement,” Scorpius mumbled.
“Really?” Jessica asked, sounding very interested. “You're a good shot?”
Al just shrugged and stood up. “I need the loo.”
He wondered off while the Salems students all looked to Scorpius for an answer. He sighed knowing that they would leave him alone unless he told them.
“Eight guys got crushed to death during the Smuggler's Cove thing,” Scorpius said in a hushed tone. “The other three that made it out, ran away, firing wild at us. One guy got all the way to the other side of the docks, still shooting at us. He was about a hundred yards away, running at full speed. Al had a shit load of glass digging into his back and was loosing about a pint of blood a minute and he still managed to put a stunner right into the guys face. He died of head trauma.”
This time the Salems witches weren't in awe. They actually looked a bit frightened.
“There isn't a single Auror in the Ministry that could have made a shot like that...I never seen him practice or have any kind of training...he can just do it. It's something he was born with...” Rose added.
There was silence for a moment then Scarlet spoke in a fragile voice.
“You're saying...Albus...has killed people?”
“It was all in self defence all right! He's not a murderer!” Scorpius growled in offence.
“I didn't mean - ”
“Those guys were trying to kill us!”
“Scorpius! Calm down,” Rose shouted.
Scorpius subsided and composed himself before speaking again. “Those people were murderers, drug traffickers, rapist, one of them was child molester...he did the world a favour.”
Albus hadn't realized how much the booze had actually affected him until he stood up. He wasn't loosing his balance or anything, but he feel slightly light headed and floaty. Luckily this didn't stop him from wondering down the corridor and finding the bathroom.
He went into one of the cubicles and locked the door. While standing there he wondered if anyone back home would treat him any differently after what happened during the first task. True, the Salems girls hadn't given him the same cold shoulder that Hokkaido and most of Wizarding Britain had but now they seemed almost like a fan club.
He knew it wasn't a good idea but he couldn't stop himself from entertaining the possibility that his odds of becoming an Auror may have just improved.
He flushed the chain and walked over to the sink. He leaned over and splashed his face with some cold water, trying to get rid of the dizzy feeling in his head. He looked up into the mirror a froze.
Some one was behind him. They were dressed completely in black, resembling some kind of ninja.
Albus whipped round and reached for his wand but the ninja already had a hold of his arm. Albus tried to counter by throwing a punch but it was blocked easily. The ninja twisted his arms around causing him to drop his wand and pain to burst from his busted shoulder. He slammed Albus, face first, into the sink and pinned him there.
A second later, something very sharp was being pressed against his throat.
Albus struggled but this guy was seriously strong. It felt like an anaconda had wrapped itself around him and was squeezing hard. He was unarmed, outmatched and injured. This was not good.
The ninja lowered his mouth to Albus's ear.
“If you want to keep your head attached to your body, you will loose the next task,” he whispered.
“I don't know if you've been keeping up on current events but I just lost the first task!” Al growled.
The ninja torqued his bad arm causing Al to yelp in pain.
“You will loose the next task!” the ninja hissed.
“All right, all right...” Al thought fast. He had to do something. “Just calm down...I think we got off on the wrong FOOT!”
Al slammed his foot down on top of the ninjas causing him to loosen his grip slightly and drop the knife on the floor. It was enough for him to throw his head back, catching the ninja in the face. Albus span round, anger overtaking pain and wrapped his arm around the ninjas throat.
“Gotcha' ya little bastard, lets have a look at you!” he said before ripping the ninjas mask off.
Albus's eyes bulged open as long black locks of hair fell down. He was a she!
“What the – you're a girl!?” he blurted.
Suddenly and with incredible strength, she threw his arm off, span around and kicked his in the chest. Albus flew at least ten feet through the air before colliding with a cubicle and flopping to the ground with a groan.
“I'm a lady!” she scathed.
“No, you really aren't!” Albus coughed causing her eyes to flash with fury.
She marched over to him and let out a massive roundhouse kick. Albus ducked out of the way just in time as her foot smashed straight through the cubicle behind him, completely destroying it. He took advantage and delivered the hardest right hook he could muster to her cheek.
She barely even flinched, as if he had just hit her with a pillow. She cocked her head in a sort of angered amusement at his attempt then punched him in the chest, showing him how it was done.
Al flew backwards, smashing into the wall with the wind knocked out of him. The girl was stronger than Hagrid!
She threw another punch and Al just managed to side step it as her fist broke straight through the wall, leaving a hole the size of a grapefruit.
Al tried to hit her again but he was injured and still coughing from being winded. She easily blocked his blow and caught the side of his head with an elbow. He flopped to the ground, the room spinning.
She was about to attack again when suddenly she stopped. Her head snapped around to the left as if some one was there, but she and Al were the only ones there. She immediately broke off and began heading to the door.
Albus, vision still dazed, stumbled to his feet and went after her. He grabbed her shoulder, trying to stop her but she just shoved him off and raised an open palm to his chest.
A ball of glowing green energy appeared in her head and shot directly into Al's chest.
It felt like he had just been hit by a freight train. He blasted backwards across the entire bathroom, smashed though the window at the end and landed in a bloodied, battered heap on the ground of the courtyard.
A few seconds later, his eyes began to flicker open. His body felt so heavy and numb that it might as well have been made of stone. He tried to move but everything was out of place. His arms and legs wouldn't move properly. Then a great pounding sensation took over his head.
He heard footsteps moving across the courtyard, getting closer.
“Albus! Are you all right?!”
It was Shiori. She was kneeling over him, looking worried. She was carrying an unsheathed samurai sword.
“No, I'm not all right, I got my ass kicked!” Albus slurred in a daze.
“Han!” she yelled and he ran over towards them, looking seriously spooked.
She said something in Japanese and then disappeared, running off in the direction of the car park. Han crouched over Albus and carefully lifted him up before walking him towards the main building.
Even though his head was still spinning, it was also racing. Just who the hell was that woman and how was she so strong? What was that ball of light that had come out of her hand? How could she punch through a brick wall?