FernWithy (fernwithy) wrote,

Stray, Chapter Nine: The First Task, pt. 1

Ack, I just realized, there are two Y.A. titles coming out this year named Stray. Oh, well.

Okay, well... not much set-up needed just now. It's first task time.

Table of Contents and Summary So Far

Sirius woke up long before dawn the next morning, wanting to go to Hogwarts and try to talk to Harry, knowing that the last thing Harry would need to day was the distraction of worrying about his godfather being caught on the grounds and packed back off to Azkaban. Although he was pleased with himself for applying complex reasoning--he could almost hear Lily saying, in her falsely incredulous tone, "My goodness, James, you never told me that Sirius had a brain, too!"--it was a distant sort of pleasure, far outweighed by the desire to be out there taking action instead of cooped up in Remus's drafty shack in the middle of nowhere.

Remus shuffled out, puffy-eyed and half-asleep, around eight and grunted some sort of greeting before starting to get himself breakfast. He made a sound that was probably an offer of food, and Sirius turned it down absently. He waited until Remus had some tea, then said, "The first task is this afternoon. The dragons."

"I know."

"It's going to be on the Wizarding Wireless Network, isn't it?"

"I imagine so," Remus said. "But I don't have a radio."

"I thought perhaps you'd take your dog over to the mainland, perhaps hole up in a wizarding pub."

"Do you know of one that would let a dog stay all day?"

"Well, maybe..." But it was a fair point; he sighed. "I suppose I'll read about it in the morning."

"I'm sorry. I should have found one to borrow. I'd like to hear it myself, now that I think about it."

Sirius thought about offering to give him money to Apparate to the mainland and buy one, but decided it would probably take too long. Instead, he settled himself into a restless morning of wandering aimlessly around the shack while Remus tinkered with the walls, to get them to resist the wind better.

After a while, Sirius transformed and went outside, thinking that he might have a nice dig in the hogboon's mound to pass the time. He was just discovering that the ground was well and truly frozen when he heard someone coming up behind him. He'd almost transformed when he realized it wasn't Remus that his canine nose was picking up.

He turned slowly. Dora Tonks was standing at the base of the mound, looking at him coolly. A portable wizarding radio was tucked under her arm.

"Come on, then," she said, then nodded at Remus's door and headed toward the shack. Sirius padded after her.

Remus opened the door when Dora knocked, and looked at her with honest surprise. "I thought you were in Morocco."

Dora smiled. "Reckon Kingsley thought a day was long enough to keep me from tripping over my own feet and falling straight into a trial in front of the Wizengamot. Clearly, Kingsley doesn't know me very well." She held up the radio. "He gave me the day off, and I thought you and your dog might want to hear the tournament." Sirius gave her a happy bark and leaned in to lick her hand, but she raised her wand at him. "Lick me and I'll be forced to curse you," she said.

Sirius whined at her playfully. She gave him a squint, turned up her nose, then gave in and scratched between his ears.

Remus grinned and took the radio, Conjuring a table for it in the living room. He tuned it carefully and found the pre-task programming, which seemed to be a rousing account of Triwizard Tournaments of the past, though Sirius wasn't entirely sure, since he was ignoring it as much as Remus and Dora were.

"Kingsley was by yesterday," Remus said.

"I know. He told me. He also told me that he's been looking for Pettigrew and not finding a single trace."

"But you believe me."

"If you were going to tell a lie like that, you'd make sure it was backed up." Remus opened his mouth to continue the conversation, but she held up her hand. "I don't want to talk about this," she said. "It can't go anywhere good. Now... tell me about the boy who's about to be beaten utterly by a Hufflepuff no one knows much about."

"I don't know of a boy by that description," Remus said loftily.

"Oh, come on, Remus. I've never pestered you. Do you seriously--no pun intended--think he can beat a sixth year?"

"I think Harry can do what he decides to do," Remus said. "What makes you think Cedric will win?"

"Hufflepuff pride."

"Well, as long as it's such a reasonable extrapolation of his skills and temperament..."

"What do you think it's going to be?" Dora asked.

"Why would I know?"

Dora raised her eyebrows. "That's not an answer, Remus. Charlie Weasley's in town. A lot of the old crowd got back in touch."

"I don't know Charlie or Bill, just the other five."

"Charlie's a dragon-keeper. He won't tell anyone why he's here."

"Are you ever surprised?" Remus asked her fondly.

"I'm always surprised. Aurors are just surprised a bit earlier than everyone else, so we have time to be smug and all-knowing." She stuck out her tongue, then turned her hair yellow with black, badger-shaped stripes in it.

"Festive," Remus said.

Dora suddenly turned her wand on Sirius. "Helga Victrix!"

In a flash of light, Sirius's fur turned bright yellow. Badgers marched up his forelegs. He looked indignantly at Remus, who snickered, pointed his own wand and said, "Godric Domitor." The yellow turned scarlet, the black became golden lions, which prowled threateningly across his pelt and settled on his haunches. With a further flick of Remus's wand, his already full ruff abruptly grew out into a proper mane.

The volume on the radio abruptly went up, giving a generic sort of fanfare that they'd apparently chosen for the Triwizard Tournament. A breathlessly excited actress gave a stirring speech about the grand tradition they were following, then began to introduce the champions.

"He's made his mark on the world of Quidditch, becoming Bulgaria's most famous wizarding son. He's led his year at Durmstrang since he began his education. But who is Viktor Krum?" This purple introduction was followed by the sounds of screaming Bulgarian Quidditch fans, heavily-accented appreciations from his parents, and a garbled comment from someone Sirius thought was an odds-maker. "But Hogwarts is a long way from the seven lakes of Rila... does Krum have what it takes to win the Triwizard Cup?"

Another burst of fanfare music interrupted, then was replaced by oversweet strains of harp. "In the gilded halls of Beauxbatons, she is something of a queen, adored by boys, envied by girls. Her marks are higher than any of the other champions, and her charm work has been called innovative and imaginative. Is Fleur Delacour your champion?" More interviews confirmed that Fleur was beautiful and smart, though Sirius noted that the boys were breathless and the girls perfunctory in their praise. Only Olympe Maxime seemed genuinely warm.

The fanfare came again, then broke into a rousing chorus of the Hogwarts school song, awkwardly set to the tune of "Rule, Britannia!" The announcer, more excited than ever (Sirius thought she might embarrass herself soon), continued. "And for the first time in Triwizard history, the two champions from Hogwarts! One, the brilliant and talented Cedric Diggory, known for being stalwart and true. The other, known to all wizardkind... the boy who lived!..."

This faded into a paean to Harry, and Dora gave a frustrated sigh. With any luck the coverage wouldn't get back to Hogwarts and cause Harry more trouble than he already had with his classmates.

She finally finished, leading into a dramatic drum roll. "And now," a new voice piped in, "Triwizard Judge and Commentator, world class Beater for the Wimbourne Wasps... LUDO BAGMAN!"

Sirius inched closer to the radio, willing Harry to be first, to get through this, in one part of his mind. Another part was back at Hogwarts, remembering Ludo on the pitch. He'd been a few years ahead of them and had only played on the same team as James for one year (Ludo's seventh). James had said, with great admiration, that Bagman was a right nutter with a Beater's bat, and had ended up putting up a poster of him when he made the Wimbourne team. It was that smiling face Sirius pictured giving the commentary, though he knew that time would have changed it.

"Welcome, welcome to the first task!" Bagman said, and the crowd at Hogwarts cheered for several seconds. "As you know, the champions have no idea what they will face in this arena. They must be prepared for anything. As each champion faces his test, the others remain securely out of view. And now... the first task!"

There was the snapping sound of a Concealment spell breaking, and the crowd gasped.

"Yes!" Bagman said. "Our champions will be facing dragons! Our first champion, Cedric Diggory, will take on this vicious Swedish Short-Snout, to get to the golden egg hidden in her clutch... and only with the egg will he have what he needs to face the second task in February!"

Sirius glanced up at Remus, who seemed rather pale now that it was actually happening. Dora was biting her lip in anticipation.

The crowd roared again as Cedric Diggory entered the arena, and the Triwizard Tournament began.

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