“You're tied in first place, Harry! You and Krum!” said Charlie Weasley,
hurrying to meet them as they set off back toward the school. “Listen, I've
got to run, I've got to go and send Mum an owl, I swore I'd tell her what happened—but
that was unbelievable! Oh yeah—and they told me to tell you you've got to hang
around for a few more minutes... Bagman wants a word, back in the champions'
Ron said he would wait, so Harry reentered the tent, which somehow looked
quite different now: friendly and welcoming. He thought back to how he'd felt
while dodging the Horntail, and compared it to the long wait before he'd walked
out to face it... There was no comparison; the wait had been immeasurably worse.
Fleur, Cedric, and Krum all came in together. One side of Cedric's face was
covered in a thick orange paste, which was presumably mending his burn. He grinned
at Harry when he saw him.
“Good one, Harry.”
“And you,” said Harry, grinning back.
“Well done, all of you!” said Ludo Bagman, bouncing into the tent and looking
as pleased as though he personally had just got past a dragon. “Now, just a
quick few words. You've got a nice long break before the second task, which
will take place at half past nine on the morning of February the twenty-fourth—but
we're giving you something to think about in the meantime! If you look down
at those golden eggs you're all holding, you will see that they open... see
the hinges there? You need to solve the clue inside the egg—because it will
tell you what the second task is, and enable you to prepare for it! All clear?
Sure? Well, off you go, then!”
Harry left the tent, rejoined Ron, and they started to walk back around the
edge of the forest, talking hard; Harry wanted to hear what the other champions
had done in more detail. Then, as they rounded the clump of trees behind which
Harry had first heard the dragons roar, a witch leapt out from behind them.
It was Rita Skeeter. She was wearing acid-green robes today; the Quick-Quotes
Quill in her hand blended perfectly against them.
“Congratulations, Harry!” she said, beaming at him. “I wonder if you could
give me a quick word? How you felt facing that dragon? How you feel now, about
the fairness of the scoring?”
“Yeah, you can have a word,” said Harry savagely. “Good-bye.”
And he set off back to the castle with Ron.
THE HOUSE-ELF LIBERATION FRONT
Harry, Ron, and Hermione went up to the Owlery that evening to find Pigwidgeon,
so that Harry could send Sirius a letter telling him that he had managed to
get past his dragon unscathed. On the way, Harry filled Ron in on everything
Sirius had told him about Karkaroff. Though shocked at first to hear that Karkaroff
had been a Death Eater, by the time they entered the Owlery Ron was saying that
they ought to have suspected it all along.
“Fits, doesn't it?” he said. “Remember what Malfoy said on the train, about
his dad being friends with Karkaroff? Now we know where they knew each other.
They were probably running around in masks together at the World Cup... I'll
tell you one thing, though, Harry, if it was Karkaroff who put your name in
the goblet, he's going to be feeling really stupid now, isn't he? Didn't work,
did it? You only got a scratch! Come here—I'll do it—”
Pigwidgeon was so overexcited at the idea of a delivery he was flying around
and around Harry's head, hooting incessantly. Ron snatched Pigwidgeon out of
the air and held him still while Harry attached the letter to his leg.
“There's no way any of the other tasks are going to be that dangerous, how
could they be?” Ron went on as he carried Pigwidgeon to the window. “You know
what? I reckon you could win this tournament, Harry, I'm serious.”
Harry knew that Ron was only saying this to make up for his behavior of the
last few weeks, but he appreciated it all the same. Hermione, however, leaned
against the Owlery wall, folded her arms, and frowned at Ron.
“Harry's got a long way to go before he finishes this tournament,” she said
seriously. “If that was the first task, I hate to think what's coming next.”
“Right little ray of sunshine, aren't you?” said Ron. “You and Professor
Trelawney should get together sometime.”
He threw Pigwidgeon out of the window. Pigwidgeon plummeted twelve feet before
managing to pull himself back up again; the letter attached to his leg was much
longer and heavier than usual—Harry hadn't been able to resist giving Sirius
a blow-by-blow account of exactly how he had swerved, circled, and dodged the
Horntail. They watched Pigwidgeon disappear into the darkness, and then Ron
said, “Well, we'd better get downstairs for your surprise party, Harry—Fred
and George should have nicked enough food from the kitchens by now.”
Sure enough, when they entered the Gryffindor common room it exploded with
cheers and yells again. There were mountains of cakes and flagons of pumpkin
juice and butterbeer on every surface; Lee Jordan had let off some Filibuster's
Fireworks, so that the air was thick with stars and sparks; and Dean Thomas,
who was very good at drawing, had put up some impressive new banners, most of
which depicted Harry zooming around the Horntail's head on his Firebolt, though
a couple showed Cedric with his head on fire.
Harry helped himself to food; he had almost forgotten what it was like to
feel properly hungry, and sat down with Ron and Hermione. He couldn't believe
how happy he felt; he had Ron back on his side, he'd gotten through the first
task, and he wouldn't have to face the second one for three months.
“Blimey, this is heavy,” said Lee Jordan, picking up the golden egg, which
Harry had left on a table, and weighing it in his hands. “Open it, Harry, go
on! Let's just see what's inside it!”
“He's supposed to work out the clue on his own,” Hermione said swiftly. “It's
in the tournament rules...”
“I was supposed to work out how to get past the dragon on my own too,” Harry
muttered, so only Hermione could hear him, and she grinned rather guiltily.
“Yeah, go on, Harry, open it!” several people echoed.
Lee passed Harry the egg, and Harry dug his fingernails into the groove that
ran all the way around it and prised it open.
It was hollow and completely empty—but the moment Harry opened it, the most
horrible noise, a loud and screechy wailing, filled the room. The nearest thing
to it Harry had ever heard was the ghost orchestra at Nearly Headless Nick's
deathday party, who had all been playing the musical saw.
“Shut it!” Fred bellowed, his hands over his ears.
“What was that?” said Seamus Finnigan, staring at the egg as Harry slammed
it shut again. “Sounded like a banshee ...Maybe you've got to get past one of
those next, Harry!”
“It was someone being tortured!” said Neville, who had gone very white and
spilled sausage rolls all over the floor. “You're going to have to fight the
“Don't be a prat, Neville, that's illegal,” said George. “They wouldn't use
the Cruciatus Curse on the champions. I thought it sounded a bit like Percy
singing... maybe you've got to attack him while he's in the shower. Harry.”
“Want a jam tart, Hermione?” said Fred.
Hermione looked doubtfully at the plate he was offering her. Fred grinned.
“It's all right,” he said. “I haven't done anything to them. It's the custard
creams you've got to watch—”
Neville, who had just bitten into a custard cream, choked and spat it out.
“Just my little joke, Neville...”
Hermione took a jam tart. Then she said, “Did you get all this from the kitchens,
“Yep,” said Fred, grinning at her. He put on a high-pitched squeak and imitated
a house-elf. “'Anything we can get you, sir, anything at all!' They're dead
helpful... get me a roast ox if I said I was peckish.”
“How do you get in there?” Hermione said in an innocently casual sort of
“Easy,” said Fred, “concealed door behind a painting of a bowl of fruit.
Just tickle the pear, and it giggles and—” He stopped and looked suspiciously
at her. “Why?”
“Nothing,” said Hermione quickly.
“Going to try and lead the house-elves out on strike now, are you?” said
George. “Going to give up all the leaflet stuff and try and stir them up into
Several people chortled. Hermione didn't answer.
“Don't you go upsetting them and telling them they've got to take clothes
and salaries!” said Fred warningly. “You'll put them off their cooking!”
Just then, Neville caused a slight diversion by turning into a large canary.
“Oh—sorry, Neville!” Fred shouted over all the laughter. “I forgot—it was
creams we hexed—”
Within a minute, however, Neville had molted, and once his feathers had fallen
off, he reappeared looking entirely normal. He even joined in laughing.
“Canary Creams!” Fred shouted to the excitable crowd. “George and I invented
them—seven Sickles each, a bargain!”
It was nearly one in the morning when Harry finally went up to the dormitory
with Ron, Neville, Seamus, and Dean. Before he pulled the curtains of his four-poster
shut. Harry set his tiny model of the Hungarian Horntail on the table next to
his bed, where it yawned, curled up, and closed its eyes. Really, Harry thought,
as he pulled the hangings on his four-poster closed, Hagrid had a point... they
were all right, really, dragons...
The start of December brought wind and sleet to Hogwarts. Drafty though the
castle always was in winter. Harry was glad of its fires and thick walls every
time he passed the Durmstrang ship on the lake, which was pitching in the high
winds, its black sails billowing
against the dark skies. He thought the Beauxbatons caravan was likely to
be pretty chilly too. Hagrid, he noticed, was keeping Madame Maxime's horses
well provided with their preferred drink of single-malt whiskey; the fumes wafting
from the trough in the comer of their paddock was enough to make the entire
Care of Magical Creatures class light-headed. This was unhelpful, as they were
still tending the horrible skrewts and needed their wits about them.
“I'm not sure whether they hibernate or not,” Hagrid told the shivering class
in the windy pumpkin patch next lesson. “Thought we'd jus' try an see if they
fancied a kip... we'll jus' settle 'em down in these boxes...”
There were now only ten skrewts left; apparently their desire to kill one
another had not been exercised out of them. Each of them was now approaching
six feet in length. Their thick gray armor; their powerful, scuttling legs;
their fire-blasting ends; their stings and their suckers, combined to make the
skrewts the most repulsive things Harry had ever seen. The class looked dispiritedly
at the enormous boxes Hagrid had brought out, all lined with pillows and fluffy
“We'll jus' lead 'em in here,” Hagrid said, “an' put the lids on, and we'll
see what happens.”
But the skrewts, it transpired, did not hibernate, and did not appreciate
being forced into pillow-lined boxes and nailed in. Hagrid was soon yelling,
“Don panic, now, don' panic!” while the skrewts rampaged around the pumpkin
patch, now strewn with the smoldering wreckage of the boxes. Most of the class—Malfoy,
Crabbe, and Goyle in the lead—had fled into Hagrid's cabin through the back
door and barricaded themselves in; Harry, Ron, and Hermione, however, were among
those who remained outside trying to help Hagrid. Together they managed to restrain
and tie up nine of the skrewts, though at the cost of numerous burns and cuts;
finally, only one skrewt was left.
“Don' frighten him, now!” Hagrid shouted as Ron and Harry used their wands
to shoot jets of fiery sparks at the skrewt, which was advancing menacingly
on them, its sting arched, quivering, over its back. “Jus' try an slip the rope
'round his sting, so he won hurt any o' the others!”
“Yeah, we wouldn't want that!” Ron shouted angrily as he and Harry backed
into the wall of Hagrid's cabin, still holding the skrewt off with their sparks.
“Well, well, well... this does look like fun.”
Rita Skeeter was leaning on Hagrid's garden fence, looking in at the mayhem.
She was wearing a thick magenta cloak with a furry purple collar today, and
her crocodile-skin handbag was over her arm.
Hagrid launched himself forward on top of the skrewt that was cornering Harry
and Ron and flattened it; a blast of fire shot out of its end, withering the
pumpkin plants nearby.
“Who're you?” Hagrid asked Rita Skeeter as he slipped a loop of rope around
the skrewt's sting and tightened it.
“Rita Skeeter, Daily Prophet reporter,” Rita replied, beaming at him. Her
gold teeth glinted.
“Thought Dumbledore said you weren' allowed inside the school anymore,” said
Hagrid, frowning slightly as he got off the slightly squashed skrewt and started
tugging it over to its fellows.
Rita acted as though she hadn't heard what Hagrid had said.
“What are these fascinating creatures called?” she asked, beaming still more
“Blast-Ended Skrewts,” grunted Hagrid.
“Really?” said Rita, apparently full of lively interest. “I've never heard
of them before... where do they come from?”
Harry noticed a dull red flush rising up out of Hagrid's wild black beard,
and his heart sank. Where had Hagrid got the skrewts from? Hermione, who seemed
to be thinking along these lines, said quickly, “They're very interesting, aren't
they? Aren't they. Harry?”
“What? Oh yeah... ouch... interesting,” said Harry as she stepped on his
“Ah, you're here. Harry!” said Rita Skeeter as she looked around. “So you
like Care of Magical Creatures, do you? One of your favorite lessons?”
“Yes,” said Harry stoutly. Hagrid beamed at him.
“Lovely,” said Rita. “Really lovely. Been teaching long?” she added to Hagrid.