Child of Innocence

Chapter 36

Harry woke up with his hair plastered to one side of his face, having fallen asleep on the hard table. He glanced at the time and sat up with a jolt. Blinking quickly to clear away his sleepiness, Harry ran his hand through his hair, messing it farther. The first task began in fifteen minutes at the lake.

Harry gulped down a dry cookie from the plate on the stand and grabbed the bottle filled with bright orange potion. After the frenzied, nerve-racking completion of the potion the night before, Harry had fallen asleep rather quickly. Now, he worried that Severus had never come back. Harry held the potion up to the light, admiring it for a moment. He hadn't thought that he could finish it alone but had heard Snape's voice in his ear uttering directions and warnings. It was almost as if Severus had been there, Harry knew him so well.

Sentimental moment over, Harry slipped the potion in his pocket and headed for the door. He gave little regard to his wrinkled robes or messy hair and all but sprinted to his dorm. He ran inside and found it empty. Harry hurried to his room and grabbed his thick cloak and gloves before heading immediately to the lake. Outside, Harry had to fight through the throng of people surrounding the platform beside the lake. Why were they at the lake if the challenge was something to do with ice sprites.

"Excuse me!" Harry said, pushing through.

At last, he broke through to where the other champions were standing, waiting for the challenge to begin. Dumbledore, Karkaroff and Madame Maxime were standing off to the side with Barty Crouch, eyeing Harry as he came late. Harry stepped up to his place sheepishly, searching the crowd for Snape but not finding him.

Cedric, standing beside him, elbowed him lightly. "Thanks for the tip, Harry. I don't think I would've figured it out if it weren't for you."

"What?" Harry asked, brow furrowing in confusion.

"You know, the note you left about trying the egg in the snow, it was really helpful," Cedirc said earnestly. He eyed Harry. "You feeling okay?"

"Just woke up," Harry said to cover, running his hands through his hair. He never wrote a note to Cedric. Or at least not that he could remember.

"Ah," Cedirc said, as if that cleared it up. "Well, this will wake you up."

"Welcome, welcome everyone!" Professor Dumbledore said, stepping up to the front of the platform that was facing the crowd with the lake at its back. "Thank you for coming to the second task of the Triwizard Tournament!"

Cheers filled the air as Harry's heart pounded.

"I'd like to introduce Mr. Weasley, standing in for Mr. Crouch due to his unforunate bout of sickness. Mr. Weasley, if you would..." Dumbledore trailed off as Percy stepped up, looking important.

"The champions will be transported to the top of that small mountain, the nearest," Percy said stiffly, pointing to a mountain perhaps a mile high. "Partway down is a small collection of ice sprites." More cheers went up. "Your task is to find and return what they have stolen from you. You will have one hour to reach the bottom of the mountain with your stolen item. It is very, very cold on the mountain. Good luck." Percy stopped talking and gestured to Dumbledore. "Professor Dumbledore, if you would do the honors."

Dumbledore stepped up holding an ice-sickle of all things. "This is a portkey. If you would all place a finger on it..."

As Harry did so, he looked up at Dumbledore who gave him a crinkle-eyed smile.

"And three, two, one," Dumbledore counted down. At the last, he tapped the ice with his wand and sent them spinning away.

Harry landed with a stumble, foot sliding on the unstable snow. He straightened and looked around. Cedric was brushing snow off of his cloak in what was sure to be a futile effort being that white gusts were blowing snow through the air. Bennet stood tall, cloak billowing in the wind like some kind of god. Fleur seemed to have disappeared. Harry watched as Cedric and Bennet cast some sort of charm upon themselves and he wondered at what they were using.

As the chill of the wind began to seep into his bones, Harry fumbled for the Inner Fire potion and struggled to remove the cork. When at last he did, he downed the entire potion in one gulp, hoping dearly that it would last a whole hour. As Harry warmed and looked up, Bennet had disappeared into the white and Cedric could only be distinguished by the glowing bubble that surrounded him, presumably with heat.

Harry hurried forth, the burning in his gut growing to almost an uncomfortable level. What if he had messed up the potion? Sweat began to bead on Harry's face, freezing in the chilled air. By now, the snow had blocked out everything and all Harry could see was a curtain of white. The buffets of wind blew back his cloak as he stumbled down the slope, tangling it behind him. After several minutes of "walking" as it was, Harry was jerked back roughly as his cloak caught on something. He tugged at it, turning back to see it hooked on a stone that jutted out of the snow. Harry pulled harder and it suddenly gave way, the momentum carrying Harry down the hill in a tumble. He rolled, twisted and slid, but couldn't manage to stop. Harry began to panic. If he slid too far, the climb back up to the ice sprites's village would be horrible. He didn't even know where it was.

These worries were cut short as Harry came to an abrupt, painful stop as a rock rammed into his back. Harry lay in the snow for a moment, wishing he could feel the numbing cold on his back. With a sharp gasp of pain, Harry managed to sit up, then stand. As he staggered in the thick snow, Harry heard a foreign chittering and swung his head that way. All he could see was white. The sound then came from the other side and Harry snapped that way. Again, nothing. Something brushed Harry's foot and he looked down, feeling the cold seep into his leg even through the potion. Harry saw a translucent, blue tinted figure made of ice half buried in the snow. He stepped back quickly. It was thin with an angular, grinning face. The ice rods that formed it were graceful but the overall appearance was reminiscent of a skeleton of some small animal.

Now knowing what to look for, Harry cast his eyes over the snow, finding far more of them than he expected, the cluster thickening as it moved farther from Harry. Some even were in the air, though Harry couldn't tell if they were blown there or could fly. Carefully avoiding the creature on the ground, Harry stepped closer to the throng of delicate organisms. He pulled out his wand and cast a repelling charm upon himself, causing them to shrink back as he got closer.

As the ice sprites began to form a path and Harry got closer to their center, the white air cleared enough for Harry to make out four tall columns of ice, the bottom half dark, the top half clear. Harry squinted into the wind and moved closer. About twenty feet away, Harry realized that the columns were not dark but there was something on them that was. People, tied to the columns.

The wind blew snow in Harry's face as he tried to make out who it was. He crept closer, praying that his repelling spell would hold the sprites off. He didn't know if the Inner Fire potion would prevent frostbite.

All at once, the wind stilled and Harry could make out their faces. He froze. Severus, Rhea, Sandra and a small blonde haired girl whom he didn't recognize were tied to the columns. Their hair was frozen and their skin a sort of pale blue. They looked dead.

Harry's heart raced. Surely they weren't dead. Surely not. But they did seem close to it. Harry pulled his wand but the wind whipped it around. He couldn't keep it steady. Finding it useless, Harry shoved the wand back into his pocket. He glanced around, needing something to cut the ties around their hands that held them to the column. There was nothing but snow.

Thinking fast, Harry pulled the empty potion bottle from his pocket and broke it against the ice. He felt in the snow for one of the shards, pricking his finger on a sharp edge. Harry picked up a decent sized piece and immediately set to breaking Severus's bonds. It took a lot of sawing before the rope gave way and Severus fell forward stiffly. Harry twisted to catch him and grunted under his weight. Luckily, Severus was heavy enough that the repelling charm didn't affect him. The creatures chittered around him as Harry heard someone call out.

He turned his head and saw Cedric stumble into the clearing of sorts, heat bubble repelling the sprites that came near. Harry gently laid Snape down on the snow and snatched up another piece of glass, tossing it to Cedric.

"Thanks!" he called, voice distorted by the wind.

Harry nodded and looked at the blonde girl and Rhea. He couldn't leave them and, looking into the snow, it didn't seem like anyone else was coming. Harry bit his lip as Cedric hoisted Sandra over his shoulder and set off down the mountain. Harry looked down at Severus and started to pick him up, to hope that someone would come for Rhea and the other girl, but stopped as movement caught the corner of his eye. A lean, slick snow leopard sauntered up to Rhea.

"Back off!" Harry cried, raising his wand. The snow leopard turned its golden eyes upon Harry and they held a depth of knowledge beyond any animal. Harry realized that it was no leopard; it was Bennet. Harry nodded at it and it set to chewing Rhea's ropes. Harry wondered at that for a second but as it grabbed her robes to pull her away, he turned his attention to the sole remaining captive. Harry searched the snowy landscape again but no-one was forthcoming.

There couldn't be much time left; Fleur must not be coming for this girl. Harry couldn't leave her, she would die. Having made up his mind, Harry grabbed the piece of glass again, perhaps too tightly, he thought as a stream of blood trickled down his hand. Harry staggered over and cut through her bonds, catching her more easily than he had Severus for she weighed much less.

Harry tried to put her over his shoulder but winced as his injured back gave out and settled for dragging her. Back at the place where Severus lay, Harry tried to figure out how best to get dow the mountain. He obviously couldn't carry them and levitating two people was more than he could manage. Finally, Harry decided upon shedding his cloak, being that he was still pleasantly warm from the potion. He spread it out and cast a hardening charm upon it, forming a rudimentary sled on which he rolled Severus. He picked up the girl and placed her across his lap for there was not much room left on the cloak. He sent a blasting curse at the ground behind him, propelling them forward with the force and nearly creating an avalanche.

Many more things raced through Harry's mind as they sped away, things such as survival which chased the possibility of an avalanche from his mind. Harry clung with one hand to the cloak and the other to both Severus's and the other girl's robes.

The wind raced past Harry, chilling him quickly. The potion was wearing off. He cast a warming charm upon himself and the other two but it dissipated in mere minutes. Still, they sped on, farther and farther down the hill until Harry wondered whether or not they would make it back in time, if at all. Several warming charms later, Harry's teeth chattered as the hill smoothed out and a knot of people appeared in the distance. Having no cloak, Harry shivered violently, struggling to cast yet another warming charm. He was becoming immune to them.

Just when Harry thought he could stand the cold no longer, they slid to a stop in front of the people waiting at the bottom of the mountain. Cheers went up as Harry was suddenly enveloped in people. A blanket was thrust upon him and he grasped it gratefully; it was warm and calmed his shivers.

"Severus?" Harry managed once his teeth stopped chattering.

Dumbledore, the nearest to him, replied, with a smile, "He's being thawed. He'll be just fine."

Harry nodded before being suddenly enveloped in a hug. Harry looked down and found Fleur had flung herself onto him and was now kissing his cheeks. "Thank you, thank you! My Gabrielle, my little sister, you saved her!"

"Er...You're welcome?" Harry replied, completely caught off guard.

"The ice sprites, I wazn't ready. I couldn't repel zem," a light, sheepish blush colored her cheeks. "They tossed me down ze cliff."

"Sorry," Harry replied immediately. "Glad to help, though."

She gave him a smile before flitting off to find her sister. Harry sat, stunned, for a moment, before figuring he should go find Severus. He wandered over to the hospital tent and met Severus just inside the flap.

"Severus!" Harry greeted. "Are you okay?"

"Completely," he replied with a furrowed brow. "Are you?"

Harry shrugged and winced. "Mostly." Severus looked at him in concern but Harry brushed him off. "It can wait until later."

Severus grabbed Harry's hand, turning it to reveal the blood on his palm. "We will look at it now."

"Severus," Harry complained.

"Let's just get this bandaged up and... are you hurt anywhere else?"Harry didn't really want to be fussed over at the moment but figured he'd regret it if he held back now. "My back. I slid into a rock."

Severus's look was full of admonishment and Harry looked down. "Come," Severus said, leading him farther into the tent.

On their way to the empty bed in the corner, Harry passed Rhea who sat with a blanket wrapped around her. For the first time, he had a moment to wonder why she was Bennet's "prize" per-say. Rhea smiled lightly at Harry but he merely frowned in return, still thinking. Had he been wrong about her liking him? How could he possibly have misread those signals?

Harry dismissed it for the moment though the thought still weighed on the back of his mind. He sat upon the bed as commanded and let the nurses and Severus bandage his hand and he dutifully took the muscle repairing potion that they gave him for his back.

"Okay, can we go now?" Harry asked, a little irritably.

Severus gave him a sideways look at the tone. Harry didn't say anything but simply looked away, coincidentally at Rhea. Severus followed his gaze.

"Ah," he replied.

"Let's go," Harry muttered.

They left the tent just as the final scores were being announced.

"It has been decided," Percy Weasley's voice boomed after being amplified, "that though Mr. Potter finished last, he displayed genuine moral fiber in staying to rescue one who was not his. Headmaster Karkaroff has had a conversation with the ice sprites and they have informed him that Mr. Potter did, indeed, finish first. Therefore, we have chosen to award first place to Mr. Diggory and second to Mr. Potter, with Mr. Mubarak in third and Ms. Delacour, regrettably, in last. Overall, that puts Mr. Diggory and Mr. Potter in the lead, tied, with Mr. Mubarak next and Ms. Delacour last. Congratulations to everyone."

Clapping and a few cheers went up at this news. Harry was surprised; he had not expected first. h He glanced over at Severus who raised a brow. "Moral fiber?"

Harry closed his eyes and groaned. "Not my words."

"Thank goodness," Severus replied. "Come, let us get you back to the castle and start a fire."

"Okay," Harry replied. He glanced over at Rhea in the crowd, talking to Aris. She could wait until tomorrow. Right now, Harry had to spend time with his guardian, for at least Harry knew what to think about him. "Yeah, a fire sounds good."

"And I'd like to take a closer look at your back."

Harry groaned as they set off. "I'm really glad you aren't frozen."

"Believe me, I am as well," Severus replied, giving Harry a half hug. "I am very proud of you for pulling that potion off successfully."

"Thanks, but it was only because I had the best teacher," Harry said with a grin.

Severus squeezed his shoulder and Harry grinned. The second task was over and he had survived.

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