The hedges of the maze towered over Harry, more than three times his height. A thick, grey fog hung over it like the whole thing was swarming with dementors.
Which it’d better not be. Harry peered through the mist. I draw the line there. Although I wouldn’t mind testing to see if fiendfyre is more effective than a patronus. Awful bloody creatures.
The crowd filling the quidditch stands cheered and drummed their hands on the rails.
‘All our champions are here,’ Ludo Bagman boomed. ‘That means it’s almost time to begin!’
Harry eyed his rivals. Cedric stared into the maze with a worried gleam in his eyes. Viktor ran through a few stretches, flexing his knees and arms as if he were about to play quidditch.
Harry dragged his gaze back onto the maze. Best not to think about how Fleur’s looking.
Viktor stood up and patted Harry on the shoulder with a firm hand. ‘I have not forgotten the fish, da.’
Harry smiled. ‘I was afraid if you had, I might have to conjure them again.’
Viktor laughed and thumped Harry on the back. ‘That’s the way! Da! This will be good fun.’
Ludo Bagman cleared his throat. ‘Not more than a few minutes ago my assistant and I, accompanied by Alastor Moody, placed the Triwizard Trophy at the centre of the maze. The first one to retrieve it wins. If, at any point, you wish to withdraw, you need only send up red sparks from your wand.’
‘What about the points?’ Cedric asked.
‘Mr Krum will enter first, as he has the most points, and for every point the next champion is behind him, ten seconds will be lost.’
Cedric frowned. ‘More than a minute,’ he muttered.
‘Is there anything we should know about the maze?’ Fleur’s blue eyes drifted over the hedges.
Ludo Bagman shrugged. ‘I can’t tell you anything that might help you.’
Harry stepped forward. ‘How can everyone watch, with all that mist?’
Ludo Bagman grinned. ‘Fantastic question, Harry. Short answer is, we can’t. After a couple of hedges, we lose all contact.’
Fleur’s eyebrows arched.
Yes, he does seem to be more keen to help me than anyone else, doesn’t he? The hairs prickled on Harry’s neck. He’s not the defence against the dark arts professor, though, so maybe he’s just placed a bet on me. He does have a reputation as a gambler according to Rita Skeeter.
‘Mr Krum?’ Ludo Bagman produced a chewed, wooden whistle. ‘Ready?’
Harry peered at the mist. Three hedges should be far enough. If they lose all contact at two, then they won’t see a small amount of fiendfyre beyond three.
‘Well, I suppose that’s really all there is to it.’ Ludo Bagman blew the whistle.
Viktor flew forward into the darkness of the maze.
‘Trente cinq. Trente quatre. Trente trois.’ Fleur’s whispered countdown goaded Harry’s heart into pounding.
At twenty. It’s me. He leant forwards. On your marks, get set…
‘Vingt deux. Vingt une. Vingt–‘
Go! Harry darted into the maze, leaving Bagman’s shrill whistle behind him.
Faint light filtered down through the mist. Between the towering hedges, it felt dark as dusk. Harry picked his way over the roots and grass, his blood pounding loud as thunder in his head, his wand clutched in his fist.
Footprints went left at the first fork.
Harry turned right. Best not to catch Viktor with the fiendfyre.
The path followed a gentle curve. Harry broke into a run, turning left and right each time they took him toward the centre. He smacked into something hard and bounced off into the hedge. Branches stabbed at his back and small, tongue-shaped leaves tickled his face.
The walls of the maze shivered. The whole maze rippled, roots shifted under the dirt, and he was dragged several metres to his right.
Harry hauled himself out of the hedge. The original obstacle loomed closer, clicking its pincers. He raised his wand, watching himself in the eight, almost life-size reflections of himself. Bloody hell. Who let Hagrid help?
‘Lacero,’ he hissed.
The flash of purple light put out one of the reflections. The acromantula gnashed its mandibles; thick, sticky green liquid dripped from its ruined eye.
‘Lacero.’ Harry cast a few more.
The curse gouged lines into the acromantula’s carapace, but pierced nothing. Harry back-stepped as fast as he could. The giant spider surged forward. He dived underneath its pincers, rolled to the side, and disillusioned himself. The acromantula clicked its mandibles, stalking up and down over the top of him.
Right, go search somewhere a bit further down so I can sneak off, please.
The acromantula began to spin a web across the path, blocking Harry’s way further into the maze.
Shit. I forgot they’re pretty smart. Harry squinted at the webbing. That stuff’s as thick as my bicep and spider-silk’s stronger than steel cables. He scowled. Now what? I can’t get through the damn exo-skeleton. Harry paused and bounced his wand in his hand. Skeleton…
‘Osassula,’ he whispered, flicking his wand in an inverted c shape.
The bone-splintering curse missed the spider’s carapace, but struck one of the legs. The limb shattered and the acromantula screeched and stumbled. Harry fired off three more bone-splinter curses; two more legs snapped on the same side. The spider collapsed into the hedge, curling its legs in on itself, keening, and gnashing its pincers.
He stared down at the writhing spider. Injured animals are dangerous. And it’s in a lot of pain.
Harry transfigured a long, thin, steel spike from a broken piece of spider leg and banished it deep into the acromantula’s skull. He stepped over the spider’s still legs, dropped his invisibility, and ducked through a gap in the webbing.
The maze began to curve in toward the centre and the urge to cast fiendfyre began to coil tighter in his chest. Not yet. I need to make sure I’m far enough in. Nobody can see what I cast.
Heavy footfalls thudded up ahead. Harry disillusioned himself.
A horrific cross between a scorpion and a lobster prowled the path before him. The slime-coated nightmare shot a shower of sparks its end and propelled forward into the hedge, flailing its stinger all around.
Harry sprinted past it and round the corner. He paused and listened, but the thudding faded away into the distance. Whatever the hell that was, I’m sure Hagrid loves it dearly.
A fork lay at his feet round the next gentle corner. No footprints marked either path. Harry glanced up into the mist. No patch of bright betrayed the location of the sun.
Idiot. He placed his wand flat on his palm.
‘Point me north,’ he murmured.
Not even a real spell, but the intent’s pretty simple. His ebony wand swirled to point down the left fork. North takes me close enough to the centre use fiendfyre and get to the cup before anyone else.
Harry made it fourteen steps before the mist thickened. A dementor loomed out of it. Grim, rattling breaths echoed from under its tattered hood and withered, skeletal hands clutched at the air.
‘I knew it,’ Harry muttered as the cold crept into him. He abandoned his disillusionment and dragged the memory of his parents in the Mirror of Erised to the forefront of his mind. ‘Expecto Patronum.’
A half-hearted, sluggish, silver mist poured from his wand tip onto the floor and swirled around his feet.
That’s not meant to happen. What happened to Prongs?
A feathered wing tip rose out of the mist at his feet, then burst into nothing. The dementor shivered, then shifted in a seamless blur of motion.
Harry stared at emerald eyes, messy, ebony hair, and a jagged scar behind wide-framed glasses. A distant, endless void loomed in his double’s green eyes, the weight of a thousand metres of cold, dark water crushing down upon him.
‘We’re nothing.’ It spoke with his voice, but flat and dead as concrete slabs. ‘We were nothing when we played hero. We’re nothing now. There’s no escape. There’s nothing more. Whether they understand us or not, they just. Don’t. Care.’
‘Someone will.’ Harry raised his wand and tore his eyes away from the dazed, numb look in his doppelganger’s eyes. ‘I’ll find them.’
‘No. They won’t. There’s no exceptions. We’re all shallow, selfish things. They’ll never be anything different.’ It took a step forward. ‘We can’t forget that. We mustn’t forgive it.’ Its eyes glowed red; the soft, hypnotic crimson of glowing coals, the precise hue of the eyes that’d peered out from behind the fragment of Harry’s soul. ‘If they’re all going to be selfish, then we’ll beat them at it. Winning is all that counts when there’s nothing else left. And in the end, even winning means nothing when you’re left holding the trophy alone.’
A deep well of hatred boiled up in Harry’s heart. His wand snapped up. Flames billowed from its tip, rippling over the boggart and down the path in front of him. The heat seared at Harry’s face and hungry whispers echoed from the crackle and snap of the fire.
I’m done with this maze. He took a deep breath of scorching air and smiled as the ashes of the boggart rained down. I’m going to win. And I’m going to find someone who understands. An equal.
The flames twisted, writhing and rising in the form of a vast serpent. A basilisk of white-hot, flame lunged forward, trailing crimson-tipped tongues of fire. Harry directed it forward with his wand, strolling through the smoking gaps in the hedge as he strode north toward the maze’s entre.
A girl’s scream echoed from ahead.
Fleur. A host of dangerous creatures flitted through his thoughts. The blood-clouded water of the Black Lake and Fleur’s desperate look hung before the eye of his mind.
The fiendfyre serpent twisted aside from its path. The flames flared bright as the sun.
No! Harry crushed all thought of destruction and the snake collapsed. He sprinted through the floating ashes of the hedges.
Fleur sprawled on the path, her silver hair draped over her face. Her wand lay beside her hand, glowing from the strength of the magic she’d been casting. Her chest rose and fell as if she slept, but tiny spasms and tremors rippled through her limbs and face.
The Cruciatus Curse causes that. Ice closed round his heart and green light flickered at the tip of his wand. She’s still alive, but whomever did this isn’t going to be for long.
A yellow curse hissed past his face, carving into the ground him.
‘Viktor,’ Harry hissed, twisting round and rising to his feet.
Bone-splintering curses flashed from his wand, slicing into the hedge. Viktor threw himself to one side, rolling across the path and back to his feet.
‘Not me,’ he yelled. ‘Not me!’
Harry raised his wand again. ‘Then who?’
Harry’s body lit up with pain.
It hurts more than anything. The memory of tearing his own soul rose up in the back of his mind. The thick, ink-black mist, the agony, and the screams of his fractured self. No, no it doesn’t. It just hurts a lot.
He struggled to his feet and raised his wand. ‘Lacero.’
The curse sliced a deep, crimson line along Cedric’s cheekbone and the Hufflepuff faltered. He shook his head and pressed a hand to his temple. ‘Eliminate the other champions,’ he muttered. ‘Eliminate them however I can.’
Just like Barty Crouch Junior…
‘Avada Kedavra!’ Diggory screamed.
Harry flinched aside from the flash of green light. A distinct thud came from behind him. His sank and the ice tightened its grasp. Viktor… This can’t be Cedric. Something’s messed with his head. Something like the Imperius Curse.
He threw himself flat and pictured wiping a window clean, focusing on the moment Ludo Bagman had first blown the whistle. ‘Obliviate.’
Diggory staggered, his mouth opened and close several times. ‘Harry?’ He blinked. ‘What? Where?’
The red beam struck Cedric square in the chest and he slumped to the ground.
Harry ran his eyes over the other champions. I’ve won. A lead weight rested on his heart. No. I haven’t. Someone else did this, not me. He took a deep breath. Voldemort. It’s always bloody Voldemort.
He glanced at Cedric. ‘But you cast two Unforgivables… They’ll send you to Azkaban.’
Harry bent and picked up Cedric’s wand. Cedric is the pawn they want to blame things on. If it’s Riddle, then he’s after me again, and Fleur and Viktor were just in the way.
He raised Cedric’s wand high in the air and shot a bright burst of red sparks up into the air, then snapped the wand in half and tossed the pieces aside.
‘Sorry, Cedric. I know how much losing a wand hurts, but it’s the best I can do. Someone will come find you and poor Viktor.’ Harry stared down at Fleur. His heart wrenched like someone’d twisted a knife in it. ‘I-I can’t leave you here.’
Am I still enthralled somehow? He slipped the rosewood wand back into her belt and scooped Fleur into his arms, cradling her against his chest with his left arm and keeping his right free to use his wand. I’ll take you with me, straight to the trophy, then we’re both finished with this.
Harry steeled himself, then unleashed a rippling wave of fiendfyre. The hedges in front him for a hundred metres turned to ash. Harry squashed the flames and fell to one knee as the strain caught up to him.
It will end soon. He pushed himself back up and swept Fleur’s hair off her face with his finger. Almost done, Fleur.
A single ring of hedge remained on the far side of the field of ashes and embers. A sphinx sat in the only visible gap, watching him with an unreadable expression on its feminine face.
‘I’d like to go through.’ Harry paused before the sphinx, hot ashes swirling about his feet. ‘Preferably as soon as I can.’
‘I can see that.’ The sphinx laughed; its beautiful, female voice carried a strange double timbre that tugged at Harry’s thoughts. ‘You have to answer the riddle, or you can try to force your way through, if you’d rather.’
Fighting a sphinx is probably a bad idea at the best of times, let alone now.
‘The riddle, please,’ Harry said.
‘A silent favour, a priceless gift; worn but not woven, a lipped rift.’
‘How many guesses do I get?’ Harry asked. ‘And is there a time limit?’
‘A good question to ask.’ The sphinx’s smile widened. ‘Normally, if we met by chance, you would only have three, but since I came here especially to test Salazar’s descendant…’
Harry felt the sinking feeling return. ‘That doesn’t mean extra guesses, does it…’
‘No, little human. You only get one. I hope you don’t disappoint me.’
Harry let out a weak chuckle. ‘So do I.’
If I die, Fleur’s vulnerable.
‘If you don’t mind,’ he said. ‘Just in case I do disappoint.’
Harry placed the tip of his wand on Fleur’s forehead and cast Salazar’s favourite protective ward-curse on her skin, then disillusioned her.
There, anyone who touches her intending her harm in the next few hours will wither to dust.
‘I’m sorry.’ Harry managed a rueful a grin. ‘I seem to have forgotten the riddle while casting that.’
‘A silent favour, a priceless gift; worn but not woven, a lipped rift.’ The sphinx shifted its weight and yawned, revealing lots of sharp, curved teeth.
What’s silent, a gift, and worn? Harry tried to drag something out of his thoughts. Clothes? Shoes? No, clothes probably count as woven. He sighed. This is worse than divination used to be, at least I didn’t actually die at the end of those lessons.
‘I don’t suppose you give hints?’ he asked.
‘I’m afraid not.’ The sphinx’s smile stretched so wide Harry thought it might leave its face.
Smile! It’s a smile! You wear a smile, you can give someone a smile, or favour them with a smile, and smiles are on your lips. Harry basked in his moment of inspiration for a moment. I’m really rather proud of that.
A splitting pain erupted in his head. Harry clapped his free hand to his face. I was wrong?
‘No,’ the sphinx said. ‘I was just curious.’
‘Indeed. Or, at least, that’s the closest your kind can come to what we do.’ The sphinx leant to one side to let him pass. ‘I will enjoy watching what happens to you, Harry Potter, Heir of Slytherin. For answering my riddle correctly, you may pass, for passing my test, I offer this. A second riddle, of sorts, that might help end a more troublesome third.’
‘Ok.’ Harry waited with baited breath. ‘I’m listening. Confused, but listening.’
The sphinx laughed. ‘When is victory not really victory? When does falling to your last enemy stop being defeat?’
Well, that made absolutely no sense. Harry watched the sphinx take flight. Was it even meant to be here for the tournament or did it just come for me?
He gathered Fleur into his arms and staggered round the corner. The triwizard cup gleamed not five metres away upon a marble plinth.
Now we’re done, Fleur. He stumbled to the plinth and leant her against it, resting her head back on the stone. There, otherwise you’re going to get a real crick in your neck while we wait. Harry paused, then dragged some of the dregs of his magic up to cast a warming charm on Fleur.
Harry sighed and smoothed her silver out. ‘You know, Fleur. I don’t what you did to me with your allure in the room or in the lake, but if I could somehow trade this cup to make you feel I was more important than winning, I’d do it in a heartbeat.’ He tucked his wand back up his sleeve and reached out with his right hand to take the trophy. ‘But I guess wishes like that just don’t come true, do they?’