Child of Innocence

Chapter 23

Chapter 23

Harry wiped the sweat from his palms onto his old, worn robes. As if it were some kind of supernatural sign, he had caught his sleeve on the wrought iron post of his bed that morning and had torn it halfway up. Until he could look up a stitching spell, he was forced to wear his old musty robes that smelled mysteriously like dungbombs.

Fleur paced the small tent, seeming as nervous as Harry felt. Cedric sat on a folding chair, foot bouncing in agitation and Bennet stood statue like, calm and detached. Harry wondered how he did that. He would give so much to be as calm as Bennet, or even Aris.

Harry drew in several deep breaths as he listened to the noisy crowd outside. He had parted with Draco and Severus, both expressing their concern and well wishes, over an hour ago. The wand weighing had not taken long and Harry had gone through it in a daze. He did, however, note that Fleur's wand had a veela core which was interesting. Bennet's was even more so; an Egyptian wandmaker's work containing a manticore hair core. Harry wondered idly what effect that would have on his spells.

The flap in the tent parted and in streamed several adults, among them Dumbledore. A thin, sallow man whom Harry recognized as Barty Crouch stepped forward.

"Welcome, all of our champions," he said in a wilting voice. "I wish you luck in today's competition. You will all be facing chimeras today; all different, of course. Your task is to fetch the golden egg from its nest of eggs. The egg contains a clue necessary for the next task. In case you are not aware, chimeras are vastly protective of their young and are very dangerous. You are allowed your wand only. It is recommended that you avoid hurting the chimera, if at all possible. Any questions?"

The competitors were silent. Harry gazed at Dumbeldore for reassurance and was caught off guard when his gaze flitted over Karkaroff who looked as if he had stepped in dung.

Crouch withdrew a small leather pouch from his pocket. "In here are slips with numbers on them. They will determine your order. Ladies first," he said, offering the pouch to Fleur. She slipped in a delicate hand and withdrew the number three. Fleur pursed her lips and continued to look nervous. Bennet, next in line, drew the number one. He straightened but seemed otherwise unaffected. Cedric took the number four, leaving Harry with the place of second. He drew in a breath, not sure whether or not he would have preferred to have gone last. Perhaps he should just get it over with.

"Mr. Mubarak, you shall go at the sound of the cannon," Crouch said. With a glance at the Headmasters, he shuffled from the tent. They followed in short order, Dumbledore patting Harry on the shoulder as he passed.

Harry clenched and unclenched his fists several times, trying to still his racing heart. When the cannon fired, he jumped unintentionally. No one noticed; they were too busy watching Bennet as he stepped forward carefully, clutching his wand. He straightened and pushed through the tent flap. Cheers sounded from outside the tent and Harry felt a rush of nausea. He heard the roar of a lion that chilled him to the bone.

Harry wished that Severus was allowed in the tent. He tried to remember the sound of his guardian's calming voice and focus on that rather than the gasps periodically emanating from the stands.

It will all be okay.

A cannon fired. Two sets of eyes turned to him as Harry drew his wand out from his pocket. He gulped. Standing at the edge of the tent, Harry took a brief moment to compose himself. He employed a few occlumency techniques as Snape had suggested in order to clear his mind and focus on the task at hand.

Harry stepped into the arena.

Cheers went up from the stands but they fell onto deaf ears. Harry had eyes and ears for only one thing: the roaring chimera that stood in front of him. It was tethered on a chain but by his rough estimate, it could traverse most of the arena. The air was hot and sticky, Harry realized. It must be a charm. Harry edged around the side, not wanting to test its distance. As it moved to follow him, dragon's tail dragging a line in the magically produced sand, the chimera let out a low growl. Stepping closer, it revealed the small nest of eggs in front of which it stood. One glinted in the sun and Harry marked it as his target.

Harry pulled out his wand. If he had been sensitive to it, Harry might have felt the tension in the stand as everyone waited to see what the famous wizard would cast. Perhaps disappointing his fans, Harry cast a disillusionment charm upon himself as practiced. His heart pounded wildly as he glanced down to see if it had worked. It did.

The chimera's eyes shifted over his position and Harry took a step forward. Immediately, its eyes locked upon his position. Harry froze and looked down, realizing that his footprints were clear in the sand. Harry cursed.

"Sizaria maxima!" he incanted, aiming carefully at the beast's face. A bright light lit up the immediate area as Harry shielded his eyes from the blinding hex. He blinked several times to clear his vision. The animal whimpered and backed up several steps. Harry had no idea how long he had before the effects wore off.

Carefully, Harry edged closer to the nest; closer to the chimera's domain. The spiked dragon's tail pounded the sand in anger as the chimera growled, lifting its head and ready to exact revenge. It turned its nose to the air and it twitched. Harry stood still for a long moment before it snapped its head towards him. It advanced, sniffing vigourously.

Harry bit his lip as it got closer. Darn his robes that smelled like dungbombs, they were leading the creature straight to him. Suddenly, he realized that perhaps dungbombs were the key. Stepping out of the range of the chimera, Harry raised his wand.

"Accio dungbomb!" he yelled, concentrating fiercely on the small package that currently rested on his dresser, a recent gift from Fred and George. He couldn't tell if the spell had worked. The chimera got closer as Harry waited. Perhaps it had failed.

Severus sat stone still in the stands. He almost wished that he had not instructed Harry to learn the disillusionment charm. If possible, not being able to see him made Severus even more nervous. When the sand stirred mere feet away from the chimera's maw, Severus bunched his fists in his robe until his knuckles turned white. What in Merlin's name was he doing? The blinding hex had made the animal angry and Severus knew that he had perhaps minutes before it wore off. But did Harry know that? Scenarios filled with blood and gore flashed through Severus's over-imaginative mind as he considered what would happen if it wore off when Harry was too close and caught off guard.

"Come on, Harry," he urged quietly, forcing himself to breathe.

Much to the crowd's confusion and delight, a small package came whizzing through the air, headed at the depression in the stand. Severus hoped that it was something useful. He hoped that Harry knew what he was doing.

The dungbomb landed in Harry's hand and he let out a sigh of relief. He pulled it and tossed it at the feet of the chimera. In moments, a cloud of gas enveloped the majority of the arena and Harry had to force himself not to gag. Moving quickly, Harry slipped around the edge of the arena and closer to the chimera's nest which lay off center, slightly to the right. Harry watched it carefully as it stomped its goat's hoof and reared its lion head. It jerked to the side, seeking him frantically but was deprived of almost all of its senses.

Harry knew that, if it was intelligent enough, it would return to guard its nest after its pursuit of him failed. Therefore, he took the first chance he got to dart closer to the nest. Little did he know that the blinding charm was wearing off. Harry bent to swipe the golden egg just as the chimera's dragon tail swung around to hit him in the back.

Still clutching the egg, Harry was thrown to the edge of the arena, thankfully out of range of further attack. He heard a roar and the rattling of chains as he lay there, considering the fact that he should get up. It dawned on Harry that he had the egg and he was done. Now all that he had to do was get up...

Severus, along with many of the spectators, stood sharply as Harry's small body went soaring across the arena. His heart caught in his throat, not helped by the fact that it was beating wildly. Severus began to push his way through the crowd, intent on making it to the edge of the arena. As he descended through the tiers of the stands, Severus caught a glimpse of movement on the golden sand. Harry stirred, and with much effort, stood up, clutching the egg to his chest. Severus's breathing eased slightly and cheers went up from the surrounding fans. A pair of wizards in distinctive healer robes entered, looking wary of the chimera. They helped Harry out of the ring and disappeared into a blue and white tent. Severus headed for it.

Harry grinned. "Severus! I made it!" Severus's face was one of the utmost concern and Harry faltered.

"I very nearly did not," he said, seeming a little too serious for comfort. "I thought you..." Severus shook his head. "That was horribly nerve-racking."

"I know," Harry agreed. A few healers bustled back and forth and Harry readjusted the pillow on which he leaned.

Severus reached out and touched his shoulder gently. "Are you alright?"

"I will be," Harry assured him. "They said I would just be a little sore for a few days. No Defense."

Severus nodded, seeming relieved. "I will give you some potion before I leave. Unfortunately, I was prepared for this instance among worse things."

Harry's brow furrowed. "Like what?"

Severus gave him a look. "I believe you would rather I did not say."

Harry gulped and glanced around idly. Bennet's arm was bandaged but he seemed otherwise alright. The cannon sounded and Harry knew that Fleur was preparing to face her task. Harry, for one, was relieved that he was finished. For a while at least.

"Your summoning charm was very good," Severus said. "As was your disillusionment charm. To be honest, it made me even more nervous that I could not see what you were doing."

"That's okay, I didn't know what I was doing," Harry said in a long suffering voice. "I'm just glad it's over," he said quietly.

"As am I," Severus said earnestly. He looked around before spotting a chair and pulling it over. Severus sat and patted Harry's forearm comfortingly.

"Thank you," Harry said with a smile. "I was right; I couldn't have done it without you."

"I am glad that you did not have to try," Severus said.

"So am I," Harry said, unable to imagine what state he would be in if he had never come to such an understanding with the person sitting next to him. He would be in a sorry state indeed, Harry was sure. He smiled.

Harry curled into his blankets that night, reveling in the calmness that stole over the dormitory. The darkness enveloped everything and provided the perfect canvas for replaying the events of the day. Harry thought back to his own task an what he had heard of the others. Apparently, Bennet spoke to the creature as a lion tamer would, using a soothing charm until the beast simply lay down and closed its eyes. Harry thought that was rather unique. Cedric had used some kind of lasso charm to pull the egg out to the edge but had been penalized for cracking several of the remaining eggs. The reports of what Fleur did were more unclear, but she had apparently assaulted it with a variety of charms until it became so disoriented that it was unable to find her. In its stumbling, however, it managed to swipe her worse than it did Harry and she was therefore docked more points than he. In the end, Bennet placed first, Harry second, Fleur third and Cedric fourth. Harry was just fine with that; it was not his outright goal to win, but he could not deny that it would be nice. The prize, besides eternal glory, was one thousand Galleons.

"Hey, Harry?" Draco said in the darkness.

"Yeah?" Harry replied.

There was a pause. "I'm sorry for acting so weird lately. Today made me realize..." Another hesitation. "You were my friend before all them. I won't forget that. I'm sorry."

"It's alright," Harry said, accepting his apology. "I just didn't want to see you get mixed up in things that you'll regret later."

"Thanks," Draco replied. "You did great today."

"Thank you," Harry said, smiling into the darkness. "That was pretty wicked."

"Did you try to open the egg?"

"Maybe tomorrow. Goodnight, Draco," Harry said.

"Goodnight, Harry."

Harry rolled onto his back which still ached. He pulled the blankets up to his chin and closed his eyes, more than ready for one of the most exciting days of his life to end.

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