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The day of the First Task dawned cold but clear, with not a cloud on the ceiling of the Great Hall. Al didn't have much time to enjoy it, though, because he was trying to distract Faith from glowering across the hall at James, who was doing a very inaccurate re-enactment of their fight a few days earlier. Faith had ended up in the Hospital Wing covered in boils after that one. James and Fred had ended up in the Hospital Wing with James’s and Fred unable to walk. Faith was pretty sure she had won. According to James, however, she had been comprehensively defeated - 'comprehensively defeated' was what Aurors said when they'd accidentally dropped a wall on a felon - and ended up fleeing to the Slytherin common room crying like a little girl.

James did a particularly nasty imitation of Faith having a hysterical breakdown, looking across the Great Hall to make sure she was watching. Faith leapt to her feet, snatching up a fork probably for disembowelling purposes.

"Harper, please don't lose us any more house points," Score said. Faith made a rude gesture at him.

"Score has a point," Al said, which only made Score look worried. Al was starting to wonder if there was any way he could win there.

"You'll lose us points and anyway he only wants the attention, so if you go over there and try to beat him up you'll be giving him what he wants - plus, the Gryffindors would be really upset and you'd be outnumbered," he added, and then a package fell out of the sky and landed on his head.

"Ow!"

Al's owl landed on the table in between a jug of milk and the butter dish and preened smugly, clearly very impressed with her aim, as the rest of the post owls started to flood in through the windows. At least the hate mail had stopped by now and no curses had actually turned up, though Avery still glanced up as Al made to open the envelope attached to his parcel.

“My owl brought it and it’s my dad’s handwriting, I don’t think it’ll be trying to kill me,” Al said, which seemed to be satisfactory.

Opening the envelope first turned out to have been a good choice, because the letter said:

Dear Al, DON'T OPEN THE PACKAGE AT THE TABLE.

I'm lending you my dad's Invisibility Cloak. Careful with it, it's been in the family for a while. There's lots of useful stuff you can get up to with an Invisibility Cloak, and I thought it might cheer you up a bit. Hope it does. Use it if you'd ever rather not be seen. (Remember you've got to tell me if you spot anyone doing anything illegal, though.)

Love, Dad.

Al pressed down on the parcel, in a kind of disbelief, and felt cloth crumple under his fingers. His dad had really sent him his Invisibility Cloak? But wasn't that dangerous - what if his dad needed - Al reminded himself that his dad hadn't used his Cloak in a few years at least, and he could do a good enough Disillusionment Charm anyway, and he wouldn't even have sent it if he thought he would need it himself.

Wow. He'd trusted Al with a family heirloom? He'd never given James any family heirlooms, Al thought happily, and slid the parcel into his satchel under his seat. Faith whipped the letter out of his hand.

"Hey, what does - wow! Al, your dad-"

"Shut up!" Al yelled at her. Faith blinked at him, and then opened her mouth like she was going to yell even louder just to be contrary.

"Please?" Al added. That worked better. He motioned for her to sit down next to him again and whispered into her ear, "My dad doesn't want anyone to know I've got it because then it wouldn't be much use - so no telling, please?"

"Oh fine, titch," Faith said. She looked like she was thinking of all the horrible things she could do to James if she had an invisibility cloak, so Al decided not to let Faith use the invisibility cloak unsupervised. At least it had distracted her from stabbing him repeatedly with a fork.

Score's grandmother had sent him another huge box of sweets, and he was handing them around the table. Maybe it was a bit huger than normal this time, because of the First Task, but she seemed to do that every few days anyway. Score's granny was quite nice, Al had decided, and then once he realised this box had blood-flavoured lollipops in he liked her even more.

They all wandered down to the opposite end of the lake after breakfast, Al sucking on a blood-flavoured lollipop and Score carrying the box of sweets, which was still half full. Faith was munching on a Cauldron Cake. Al had offered Kitty a blood-flavoured lolly but she said she didn't think she would like one.

"Wow!" Faith said, as they reached the top of one of the small cliffs around the other end of the lake and saw cut into the earth below tier upon tier of benches and, below all that, a huge rocky amphitheatre on the lakeshore. A deep flooded canyon ran down the centre almost all the way across the arena, and the far side bristled with fir trees. One wing of the seating jutted out into the lake, forming a deep bowl around the arena almost like a harbour. It was very pretty, but...

"It's very poor terrain for a fight," Al said. "Does anyone know what they'll have to do?"

"Er, something really dangerous," Faith guessed happily.

"The Champions won't have to fight each other for the first task," Kitty said, consulting her encyclopedia of the Triwizard Tournament. "It says it's usually something with a magical creature...hopefully something not very scary..." The Slytherins staked out their seats roughly in the middle and to the left and most of them stretched out at full-length along the bleachers to get the most out of the weak sunshine as Avery and Grimalkin cast Warming Charms. Al scanned the students filtering in, trying to work out how many of them were wearing his badges. He'd thought they might be more popular if it wasn't a Slytherin handing them out, so he'd given what was left after Charms Club to Violetta and made another batch to give to Lew, but the problem there was he didn't know how many people had actually taken one.

James, Fred and Louis were all wearing one when they showed up, and so was Rosie, who came in in a big group of Ravenclaws. Al wondered if they knew where the badges had come from, and if it would matter so much that they hadn't been given out by a Slytherin so long as as many people as possible were wearing them. The appearance of unity was the most important thing, Al thought: if he could make that, he could trick people into thinking they really were all united, and after that everything should just fall into place.

He looked back down at the amphitheatre, trying to work out where the champions were. They had to be there already, didn't they? He hadn't seen Victoire at breakfast, and he knew she'd dyed her hair red and gold again for the first task, so she wouldn't have been hard to pick out. The Durmstrang champion definitely hadn't been there either.

Score was looking around too, like he was thinking the same thing Al was.

"Do you know where the Champions are?" Al asked him, in as friendly and non-confrontational a voice as he could manage. Score just shook his head, but he was looking at a bulge in the bare rock below the box that had been carved out for the staff and Uncle Percy. Al supposed that might be it - it was a little bit away from the floor of the arena itself, and there could be protective charms over it.

Time dragged on. More and more people started to pour in - the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang school students, Portkeyed into Hogsmeade that morning, were obviously the biggest groups of guests, but it looked like everyone who lived in Hogsmeade must have turned up. The Slytherins who had been stretched out dozing had to sit up and bunch inwards to make room until they were surrounded by grown wizards and the first-years had to ask the people in front to move so they could see properly. Al could see that being surrounded was making the prefects paranoid, but that didn't seem very reasonable.

Finally, the headteachers, Uncle Percy and whoever was Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports (Finley, Al thought?) showed up, the latter coming up from a flight of steps that had opened up in the professors' box - it looked like Score had been right about where the Champions' tent was, then.

It all started quite anticlimactically, really: Finley cast Sonorus on himself and shouted "Attention! attention!" until people started to pay him some.

"It is my pleasure, witches, wizards and students from abroad, to welcome you to the First Task of the 2017 Triwizard Tournament!" Finley was quite a short man, with stubby little legs, and his head was very bald and very shiny. Al looked at what he'd just thought and hoped that wasn't unfairly judging anyone for their looks. He was pretty sure his dad would never have done that.

"In a few minutes, the first Champion will emerge from the tent below and the First Task will begin: this year, the Champions will be pitted against some of the strangest and deadliest creatures the magical world has to offer-"

"There's a surprise," said Avery, who was reading a book.

"These three valiant young mages have been charged as follows: they are to capture the creature placed into the enclosure with them, with the minimum of harm to either themselves or the animal. Marks out of ten will be awarded by myself, Mr Weasley, and the heads of Hogwarts, Durmstrang and Beauxbatons, based on time, skill, courage displayed and, well, anything else that seems relevant!"

Somewhere down below a whistle blew.

"And that's the signal for the first Champion to enter the arena: witches and wizards, I give you Oksana Zelenko of Durmstrang!"





Oksana had drawn the first turn: she walked - walk, don't run and don't dawdle, look calm, look collected - down the steps from the tent to the arena and scanned the terrain, looking for cover and good defensive points and, more importantly, whatever was in there with her. Do not look at the crowd, do not try to understand the commentator, do not be sick: there was only her and the arena and her quarry, and no reason to be afraid. Oksana cemented that in her mind and paced slowly around the edge of the amphitheatre, keeping her back to the wall as much as she could. 

She was examining the treeline for movement when a bubble the colour of ink burst from the surface of the lake, soared high over the wall and fell softly to the ground twenty feet away from her. The animal she was expected to capture must be in there - which meant it was small, by the standards of dangerous magical creatures. That probably meant it was poisonous.

The bubble burst with a quiet pop. It was empty.

What did that mean? Was the bubble a diversion meant to break her focus, or - Oksana crushed the momentary confusion and thought, invisible? Or only Disillusioned?

The creature let out a high scream, like an angry pig, and kicked up a spray of dust as it shot towards the trees and cover. Oksana raced after the animal automatically, not wanting to lose it in the trees, and realized a split second too late that she had let herself be caught with her back to a cliff, just as the animal shot out of the trees and slammed into her stomach like a Bludger. Oksana tumbled backwards, tried to grab at the edge of the cliff but it crumbled under her fingers, and then the water came up and hit her in the face.

It was deeper than she had thought it would be, Oksana thought muzzily, though nowhere near as cold as the lakes around Durmstrang. Was there a way she could use that to -

Then she realized she was sinking slowly to the bottom of a lake. Dammit, she was losing time! There was no point in trying to swim in wet robes, so she flicked her wand as best she could underwater and thought the incantation for the Bouyancy Charm as hard as she could. It worked, luckily: the noise of the crowd came back in a rush as she broke the surface and waded out onto the shore, dripping lakewater, and she blocked it out as best she could. Here, at least, the surface was sand and she would be able to see the creature's tracks if it made another charge.

…'the creature', she thought. Invisible, about four feet high, and it shrieked like a pig. A Tebo, Oksana realized. Knowing what it was helped, actually: Tebos, African warthogs capable of becoming invisible, aggressive when agitated and agitated very easily. But if it was agitated, it wouldn't be able to think.

It seemed that the first step should be to agitate it further, then. Oksana touched her wand to the middle of her forehead and whispered "Puzbira!" The air in a sphere all around her head seemed to solidify like treacle: Oksana checked that she could still breathe it in easily and then set fire to the trees. The branches were still green and living, and as the crowns went up like bonfires they billowed great clouds of stinging smoke across the arena.

The crowd, of course, had started to shout as soon as she torched the trees, and then to cough and choke as the smoke started to drift up into the rows of seats. That was irritating. It would be harder to find the Tebo if she couldn't rely on the sound of its coughing.

Oksana stirred her wand counterclockwise through the air, muttering an incantation that made the wind pick up and blow smoke all around the arena, and then went hunting for the Tebo.

This proved to not be difficult. The warthog, angered or just agitated by the crackling fires, charged at her as she scrambled up onto a higher, more level area near the trees, where the smoke was thickest. Oksana barely spotted it in time to dodge, but the wind throwing the smoke around it and against it made a dusty outline of it she couldn't miss when it started to move. But if she could make it any more visible...

"Accio!" A cloud of soot billowed into the air from the blazing trees and fell over Oksana and the Tebo like a sudden rainstorm, settling on the bubble of air around the top of her head and all along the warthog's back. It charged again, bellowing, and Oksana dived to one side, tearing her knees up on the rocky ground but that was barely worth noticing, and she leapt back onto her feet as the warthog wheeled around, raising her wand-

"Imperio!"

The sudden squalling from the crowd made it hard to concentrate, but this particular spell was mental discipline as much as magic and that was where Oksana excelled, and she forced the Tebo back - her will against its, and no mere animal could hope to match a Durmstrang student in a matter of willpower. The Tebo took a step back, and another, and when it was far enough away Oksana flicked her wand again and shouted "Kietka!"

And that was a spell she knew well too, from the times when Vanya absolutely would not leave her in peace, and it worked as well  now and at Hogwarts as it had at Durmstrang: a cage of black bars like voids cut into space appeared around the Tebo and contracted sharply to pin it in place.

That, Oksana decided, dispelling the Bubble-Head Charm so the soot settled gently onto her hair and shoulders, had gone well. It was a terrible surprise to see how angry some of the judges looked.

Six points from Professor McGonagall, the pinched-faced headmistress of Hogwarts, and five from Madame Maxime. Professor Kohut gave her ten, of course, but that was only favouritism. He looked very angry. Three points from the head of the English Department of Foreign Affairs, and seven from the commentator - Oksana counted that up quickly and got 31. Why so low? She didn't think she had taken that long, she had escaped injury, she had hardly run away screaming - Professor Kohut must have seen her confusion, because he leant over the railing and told her coldly "Points deducted for use of the Dark Arts, Zelenko."

...damn.

Oksana felt an awful fool. It wasn't the worst score on record, she tried to console herself - but still, it was an embarassing defeat. It had never been mentioned in the rules, so how had she been expected to know that the Forbidden Curses were forbid...oh.

Well, Oksanochka my beloved, they probably thought you could work that out from their name, Oksana's little imaginary Vanya told her as patronizingly as he could. Oksana crushed the little imaginary Vanya under a little imaginary anvil, bowed politely to the five judges - all of whom glowered at her stonily - and left the arena for the hospital tent.

That had been a humiliating loss, and all entirely her fault.  Oksana resolved to do better in the next trial. And at least - looking on the bright side for a moment - at least she had destroyed all the cover for when the other Champions took their turn.





"See, that was unfair," Faith said. "The Imperius Curse is bloody hard, she should have gotten more points for doing it well." She was leaning forward to watch Oksana leave the arena. "I've never managed it, at least, and I've practised loads," she added sourly.

"What?" said Al.

"What?" said Kitty.

"Harper," Grimalkin said, "while we're obviously all very pleased with your progress in the pointlessly-evil part of being a Slytherin, you've seriously got to work on your cunning. You aren't supposed to admit to using illegal spells, you know."

"My dad does it all the time," Faith said defensively.

"...that doesn't help your case," Grimalkin said.

"Harper, please try to avoid using the Dark Arts unless it's absolutely essential," said Avery, who had gone back to his book.

"Why would dark magic ever be essential?" Al demanded. "Faith, why were you doing that?”

Faith looked at him like he was a bit dumb and said "Potter, I live on a farm? With horses? How would you go about getting a purebred Aethonan stallion - who by the way has the temperament of a pissed-off weasel - to shut up without it? It's only illegal to use on humans, you know." She folded her arms and flopped down in her seat, then added grumpily. "There's loads of good reasons to use dark magic. Anyone who says there isn't hasn't got any imagination."

"Give me one good reason to use the Cruciatus Curse, then," Avery suggested.

Faith thought about that. "Well, if you really don't like someone..."

Avery turned a page in an oddly skeptical way.

"Well, you know what I mean anyway," Faith said, as the whistle blew again.

"Witches and wizards!" Finley boomed. "I give you... the Hogwarts Champion!"






Several minutes earlier, Victoire had been pacing back and forth in front of the exit to the tent, listening to the commentary on the Durmstrang Champion’s attempt.

"Oh dear, Zelenko’s taken an unexpected bath-" Finley said. That didn't sound good.

"Excuse me?" A tall wizard with a shock of dark hair - one of Uncle Percy's assistants, Victoire thought - slipped into the tent. "I have a message for Miss Victoire Weasley?"
Uncle Percy wanted to wish her luck, then? He could have done it in person. "Yes? What is it?" Victoire crossed the tent towards the wizard, who took hold of her arm, pulled her behind a curtain and kissed her.

"Erk!" Victoire said, shoving him in the chest, and then realised who he must be. "Teddy, you ass!"

Teddy grinned at her, changing his eyes back to their usual hazel but not the rest of his face.

"Don't be angry, Vicky, please...I only wanted to wish you luck..." The woefulness in his voice would have been a lot easier to believe if he hadn't been obviously so close to laughing.

"Shouldn't you be at work?"

"Funny story, that," Teddy said. "I told them I was ill. So if anyone asks you, I'm dying of leprosy right now. Look what I've got!" He held out the badge on his robes - Victoire had assumed it was just a staff badge or something like that, but looking closer –

"VICTOIRE," she read out, and glanced back up at him. "Did you make that?"

"Hah. Me? No. James spotted me as I was coming in and made me take his - made it himself, the clever sod. He's got loads of people wearing them, too."

Victoire smiled despite the butterflies in her stomach. "James’s a sweet kid, yeah." Even if he was a bit of a prat sometimes, though she was quite sure he’d got that from Teddy.

Teddy nodded and took hold of her by the upper arms. "Now. Remember." He stared down at her seriously, changing his eyes to grey for maximum seriousness. "Stay calm, and whatever you do, don't die."

"...wait, aren't I usually the one saying that to you?"

"Well, yes," Teddy admitted, and grinned at her. "I thought it would be funny. Plus-" He pulled a couple of bottles of Butterbeer out of his robe. "I brought these along. See you after you get done with all this?"

Victoire smiled. "Yeah, sure. I‘ll meet you at-"

The whistle blew.

"Oh, hell! That's me!" Victoire whirled towards the door. Teddy caught her arm, pulled her back, and kissed her firmly on the end of her nose.

"Now you can go. Good luck, have fun!"

Victoire waved goodbye to him, dashed out the exit and clattered down the steps into the arena.

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