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Chapter 25 : Warnings
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Fear not, little fae champion. Your beloved is perfectly safe, with her friends, where she belongs. Look up, and you shall see.He could see Draco, Katie, and Hermione standing at the railing of their respective House seats cheering and clapping. For one moment he missed Ron in the crowd, but then caught sight of him as well, standing next to some witches from Beauxbatons, waving a scarf and cheering madly.
Oh. But how . . .?
In the Impossible Land, I rule. Your beloved was never truly there in body, anymore than you were. Only spirit. Once you completed your task, I sent you both back to here, where your bodies awaited you. She will remember little of it, as she was mostly asleep, unlike you, who walked a waking dream. The same is true of the others.
Harry exhaled, relieved.
His eyes swept over his fellow competitors, and focused on the judges on their podium and he saw Severus applauding and giving him a smile. He smiled back, feeling a surge of joy go through him, for he knew his father was proud of him. Sarai was standing near Severus as well and she too gave him a look of approval, and then he felt as if he were on top of the world, for the two adults he most admired and wished to please were proud of him.
Dumbledore too, gave him a look of approval and so did Bagman and he received a nod from Crouch and a restrained smile from Madame Maxime. Karkaroff gave him a sneer and a suspicious look. Hagrid was bellowing, “Hooray for Harry and Cedric!” and the sound of his hands clapping sounded like muted thunder.
The sphinx watched the four champions through patiently lidded eyes, until the adulation of the crowd died down. Then she turned to the judges and said, “I rank the challengers thus: fourth place is tied—Viktor Krum and Fleur Delacour, who both took twenty minutes to complete my mind challenge. Second place goes to Cedric Diggory who took fifteen minutes. First place goes to Harry Snape, who took ten minutes. All did well, and stand as examples to other wizards of how to use intelligence and wit to solve riddles and problems. I salute you, champions!” Then she roared, low and loud, and the air quivered with her primeval sound.
The judges turned to confer with one another, probably about combining the marks, and Harry turned to Cedric, trying to keep his mind off worrying about his marks, and said, “Hey, Diggory. Mind telling me who you had to rescue when you were in the Land of Impossibilities?”
Cedric shook his head. “I had to rescue Cho, my girlfriend.”
“And I had to rescue Gabrielle, my leetle sister,” Fleur replied.
“What about you, Krum?” asked Cedric.
“First you, Snape,” Krum said coldly. “Who did you rescue? Your gay mate Weasley?”
“No. My girlfriend, Katie.” Harry replied. “Where did you ever get the idea that Ron is gay?”
“Because he’s always up your arse, that’s why,” Krum snorted and then brayed with laughter.
“Just ignore him.” Cedric advised.
“I am,” Harry said through gritted teeth, though he detested bigoted idiots like Krum. “Who did you have to rescue, Krum? Yourself?”
“Ha ha. Very funny. For your information, Snape, I had to save Damascus, the most beautiful and cultured girl in the world.” Krum declared.
Harry nearly opened his mouth to say that he hadn’t found Damascus very cultured at all, but he shut it when Cedric shook his head. Krum was trying to bait him again. He wrestled his temper into submission and focused back on the judges who were handing out marks.
He managed to come in first, ahead of Cedric by a mere five points. Krum was last behind Fleur by two points. He glared at the French girl, who sniffed and turned from him as if he radiated a bad odor.
Then the sphinx spoke, her voice a low rumble. “I thank you, wizards, for allowing me to participate in this challenge. May Isis watch over you. Farewell!” She sprang up into the air and vanished in a cloud of golden sparkles.
Crouch whirled upon Bagman angrily. “Ludo, I thought you said she was bound. I was hoping to get some of that Pharoah gold out of her they say sphinxes possess.”
“I . . .I never said she was bound, just that we had an agreement . . .of sorts,” stuttered Bagman, looking sheepish.
Sarai shook her head in disgust and whispered in Severus’ ear, “Fools! Do they not know better than to try and bind a sphinx against her will? Why is it that mortals always seek to dominate and control other creatures? Why cannot they respect them and in turn receive respect?”
“What, the way you of the Folk do, lady?” Crouch demanded, for he was close enough to hear her impassioned last question. “You High Court fae have Low Court to serve you, or so I have heard.”
Sarai turned to him. “That is true, but they are under a contract for a period of years, and while in service are also under the Queen’s protection. Any who harm one of her servants will pay the ultimate penalty, and this includes members of her court and family. To serve Titania is considered an honor, and we make none slaves, as you do to your house elves.”
Crouch flushed. “Our house elves serve us willingly.”
“Do not lie to me, mortal,” snapped the warrior. “I have seen with my own eyes how wizards come and steal away house elf clans from Faerie, paying much gold for them to the traders of the Unseelie Court. And once sold they become bound to a family for their lives and the lives of generations unborn, and you treat them cruelly. You strike no bargain, renew no contract. Where then is the honor in making another creature a slave?”
“They were born to serve,” argued Crouch. “I freed mine and she was miserable.”
“How did you free her, sir? Did you give her references and a new family to go to? Or did you just throw her into the street like a stray dog? There is a difference, wizard. To serve with dignity is one thing. But to serve out of fear is quite another. And in order to gain the former you must first respect those who serve you.”
Crouch snorted. “May as well respect the dirt beneath my boots.”
“Arrogance and pride shall be your downfall, wizard. Like so many before you.”
Crouch drew himself up. “Are you threatening me, woman?”
Sarai smiled tightly. “I do not threaten, I promise. Keep that wand up your sleeve, wizard. Because if you draw it on me, you are asking to lose it . . .along with the hand that wields it. Fair warning, Mr. Crouch.”
Her eyes were hard as emeralds and in them was a warning that Crouch would have been a fool to ignore.
He backed away from her. “I cannot believe you would wed such a termagant, Snape.”
Severus eyed him coldly. “Meek women are not to my taste, Crouch. Be careful, Bartemius. Make an enemy of my fiancée and you make an enemy of me. Now, if you will excuse me, I need to go and congratulate my son.” He gave the other wizard a barely civil nod and then swept off the dais, his black cloak billowing, to tell Harry that he was proud of him.
Sarai followed, ignoring the thinly veiled sneer of contempt the other wizard threw at her. Crouch reminded her of a poorly trained terrier, one that yapped at people and nipped for no reason save bad temperament. She too congratulated her soon to be stepson, and received a hug in return.
“Sarai!” Harry exclaimed. “You’re still here!”
“Yes, but not for much longer,” she told him. “I leave tomorrow evening. But I am glad I was here to share in your achievement. You do the Prince-Valink line proud, youngling. It is rare for one as young as you to best a sphinx like Nephthys.”
*I agree, Harry,* sent Smidgen, appearing in the air before him, her butterfly wings waving gently. *Sphinxes are the best riddlers in the Realms. And their minds are strong in magic.*
She perched upon his shoulder for a moment, but then flew off when the rest of his friends and his brother came over to congratulate him as well.
* * * * * *
Of course, the Gryffindors used Harry’s success to declare another party in the common room that evening. Harry was tired and would have preferred to spend the evening with Katie stargazing or sitting by the shore of the Black Lake talking, but his Housemates refused to let him slip away for another two hours. Unlike Hermione, who managed to escape to the library to do some studying for Ancient Runes, Arithmancy, and Astronomy all in one evening.
It was there that Draco found her, her head bent over her texts, scribbling away industriously in her notebook. He glided up behind her and put his hands over her eyes, whispering in her ear in a deeper voice than his normal one, “Guess who?”
She caught his wrists and said, “Hagrid, is that you?”
Draco choked. “Hagrid! Merlin’s Eyes, girl, please tell me I haven’t put on that much weight! I just might have to take an appetite suppressant.”
Hermione giggled. “Only kidding, Dragon. What are you doing down here?”
“Looking for you.” He removed his hands from her face and leaned over and kissed her cheek. Then he came around the chair and perched a hip on the corner of the table. “You work too hard, Mione. Always studying.”
She arched an eyebrow at him. “If I don’t study, I’ll get behind in my classes, Draco. You know that.”
He put a finger under her chin. “Then maybe you ought to not take so many at one time. There’s no law that says you have to memorize every book in the library before you finish school.”
“I thought you liked having a smart girlfriend, Malfoy.”
He sighed. He knew she was irritated with him when she started calling him by his last name. “I love having a smart girlfriend. But . . .you need to take a break once in awhile, Hermione. You’re pushing yourself harder than a seventh year NEWT student. How many classes do you have this year? Eight, nine, ten?”
“Seven core, plus three electives. It’s not too much, Draco. I can handle it,” she snapped, nettled.
“Hey. All I’m saying is that every so often you should let yourself relax. I hardly ever see you anymore this past month, except in class and at the Dueling Club. I miss you, bookworm.”
She looked down guiltily at her ink-smudged fingers. “I know. But there’s so much homework this year and all of my professors expect so much more from me, your father included. I don’t want to slip up. I want to maintain my high marks. I’m sorry, Draco. I don’t mean to . . .neglect you.”
He brushed her hair back from her forehead. “I understand. Just be careful you don’t overtax that genius head of yours, okay?” He kissed her again. “Take a night off. It won’t kill you.”
“Not tonight, Draco. I have a test in Astronomy and another in Arithmancy. Plus a three foot homework assignment in Ancient Runes.”
He looked disappointed. “All right. Want me to help you study?”
“No,” she said quickly, then regretted it when she saw the hurt look on his face. “I just . . .need some time by myself. And if you’re here you’ll just distract me.”
“Fine then,” he said abruptly, and stood up.
“Draco, wait!” she called after his retreating back. “I’ll spend some time with you after class tomorrow, okay?”
“Fine,” was all he said, his voice tight.
He strode from the library, his robes rustling, leaving Hermione alone as she had wished.
But now she felt guilty and found that she could barely concentrate on her work.
* * * * * *
Meanwhile, in the Headmaster’s office, Sarai and Severus were questioning Dumbledore as to why he had no idea what sort of challenges the two Ministry officials were going to pose to the champions. Sarai, in particular, was angry that Harry had had to face a lamia for his first task. “Lamias are demonkind, Headmaster! Among the most dangerous creatures in this realm or my own! How could you permit a mere apprentice to fight one?”
“Lady Sarai, I was not in charge of making the challenges. That task belonged to my Ministry colleagues, Mr. Bagman and Mr. Crouch. I had no say in how the challenges were presented.”
“No say? You wield great influence with them, or so Severus tells me. Why when you saw what Harry would be facing, did you not demand another creature be presented? Surely you know what a lamia is capable of? They live to kill and eat children! A Seelie warrior would have been hard pressed to deal with such an opponent, let alone a child.”
“But Harry did deal with it, lady.” Dumbledore reminded her.
“It could have gone either way, from what Severus told me. You ought to have more care for your students, Headmaster. If my betrothed had not banished it, the lamia could have created a slaughterhouse in this school.”
“I am well aware of that, my lady warrior,” Dumbledore said soothingly.
“I would hope then, that it would not happen again. Putting children in danger for the sake of a contest is not something that my people would ever do.”
“I had no choice. Once Harry’s name was in the Goblet . . .”
“The Cup’s magic binds, but there are ways around it. Ways that you wizards do not know because the object you call the Goblet of Fire is actually our sacred Cup of Wonders.”
Dumbledore gaped at her. “What do you mean? The Goblet has always belonged to us.”
“No. That is what you believe, but that belief is false. The Cup was stolen from us long ago by Galahad from the Cup Maidens. Galahad disdained his fae blood and believed we were a cursed people and so he justified his theft of our sacred object by claiming it was the Holy Grail. It vanished into the mortal realm and came eventually into the hands of you wizards, but it has never belonged to you. It has always been ours, fae magic that you cannot begin to comprehend. In the wrong hands it can do great harm. Or great good. It is much more than a mere goblet to be used in a contest, Albus Dumbledore.” Sarai said, her voice ringing with the force of her conviction. “Queen Titania has sent me to tell you this—when you have played your game to the end, we wish you to return the Cup to us. As an act of good faith between our peoples, we ask this.”
“The Cup is not mine to give.”
“Tell your Minister then, or whoever is in charge, of what the Queen has said. For if you continue to withhold the Cup from us, there will be discord between your people and mine. And that is the last thing you need, a war with the fae when you have trouble enough with your own dark wizards.”
“Is that a threat, Lady Valinek?”
“It is a warning, Headmaster, from the Queen of Faerie herself. I would suggest you not disregard it. Titania will not be so forgiving next time. If your Minister is wise, he will give us back the Cup and thus avoid bloodshed. My people take a dim view of thieves.”
Dumbledore paled. The might of the Seelie Court was nothing to trifle with. “I shall tell him so, Lady Sarai.”
“Good. Think about what your people will suffer, and choose wisely if he does not.” She gazed right at him, her eyes old with centuries of knowledge.
Dumbledore nodded once. “I understand.” Then he pushed the dish of lemon drops over to her. “Lemon drop?”
She slanted him a wry glance. “What’s in them?”
His eyes widened. “Nothing! I assure you, they are not enchanted.”
She took one, sniffed it, muttered something in the fae tongue, then satisfied, ate it. “Think on what I have said, Headmaster. Not just about the Cup, but about Harry as well. I look upon him as a son and if his life is put at risk again for your stupid contest . . .I shall be most displeased.” She fingered her sword meaningfully.
“Lady Sarai, surely you would not threaten an elderly man . . .”
She laughed. “You may be elderly, Dumbledore, but you are not the mild-mannered grandfather you wish to be seen as. Do not attempt to fool me, I know a manipulator when I see one. I grew up among the masters of the art. But though we may be hard, we fae cherish our children. Something that many of you mortals do not. And this was not the first time Harry was put in danger. So have a care, old one. For if any harm comes to Harry, I shall take payment for it out of your hide.”
“You’ll have to stand in line,” Severus interjected.
“Severus, please!” Dumbledore held up his hands. “I shall speak with Bartemius and Ludo and make sure this last task is not . . .outlandishly hard. I have no wish for Harry to get hurt.”
“Good. Then we are agreed,” Sarai said simply. “I shall take my leave of you now, if I may.” She gave the Headmaster a brief bow, and then left the office.
Dumbledore looked at Severus. “You have quite a lady there, my boy. I would not like to cross her. She would make a dangerous opponent.”
“She would indeed. But I would have her no other way. Good evening, Albus.” Then he too left the Headmaster to ponder the warnings he had been given, returning to his quarters to have a light supper with his beloved and engage in other more private pursuits before she had to leave tomorrow evening.
* * * * * *
Draco meandered along the shores of the lake, too angry and agitated to go back to the Slytherin common room and study or hang out with Crabbe and Goyle. There were times he really thought Hermione was obsessed with studying. She took more classes than any other witch her age, and probably more than any other witch in the school. While he admired her for her brains and dedication, he also feared that she would burn herself out from too much studying. He had meant to tell her that, only she had made him angry and he had forgotten it.
She was only fourteen, for Merlin’s sake! Shouldn’t she be enjoying her youth and not spending all of her free time poring over books and scrolls? I love her dearly, I really do, but sometimes she just . . .aggravates me to hell.
He continued walking, taking great gulps of the fresh air and admiring the moon as it rose full and round to light the night sky. He would have loved to be walking out here with his arm about Hermione, but instead he was alone and she was studying some dry chapter of Ancient Runes.
As he rounded the bend in the trail, he heard voices speaking softly, and slowed. But he could not help but see two figures in the moonlight, embracing. With a start he recognized Ravenclaw Luna Lovegood, mystical otherworldly Luna, who was forever being teased for seeing things that no one else could. She was being held by a tall black clad man with midnight hair festooned with shells and seaweed.
The kelpie, Duncan Wavestrider.
Who apparently did not think Luna was crazy, since he was kissing her ardently.
Draco turned away, blushing. He quickly hurried back up the path, red-faced. Yet a part of him whispered, Even Loony Lovegood’s found someone now. One of the fae and yet . . .they’re happy together. He wondered bitterly if this thing he felt for Hermione was going to last. Or had his mother been right when she told him that a match between a pureblood and anyone else was doomed to failure?
He shook his head. No, he couldn’t trust Narcissa, she had always been prejudiced towards anyone not a pureblood. Hermione was just . . .an overachiever. Even more so than he was. It didn’t mean that she was going to choose her studies over a relationship with him.
He slipped back into the castle and headed for the dungeons. A slight noise made him look up towards the top of the staircase where he saw his brother and Katie, also locking lips.
Bloody hell, what is with everyone tonight? Draco thought angrily. He spun around and took the stairs down to the dungeon two at a time, frustrated and upset. It looked like everyone but him was having a wonderful time tonight.
He entered the portrait hole and ignored his mates’ attempts to interest him in cards or chess or a debate on what was the better Defense counter to the Cruciatus Curse. “I’m tired. Going to bed,” he said shortly, then proceeded to do so.
But though he tried, he remained awake, thinking of a certain bushy-haired witch who lately seemed to prefer her studies to spending time with her Slytherin boyfriend. He groaned and turned on his stomach, burying his face in his pillow and doing meditation exercises until he fell asleep.
But even there his mind tormented him, as he dreamt of chasing Hermione down a corridor and just as he put out a hand to draw her close, a mountain of books fell upon him and buried him.
Hope you all enjoyed this one. I apologize for the long wait between updates, but I wanted to finish my holiday fic Away in A Manger first, and now it is completed and I can work on this one and my other ones. Thanks for your patience and I will try and update sooner this time.
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