156 Seven Rings of Beginning

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[The chapter is edited by my dear friend and Editor: Alan_Loo/AlanL]

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"Hermione," Harry whispered when he had sped into the greenhouse three minutes later, uttering a hurried apology to Professor Sprout as he passed her. "Hermione— was he serious?"

"It's Quinn West; I'm pretty sure he wasn't having you on. Not with the first take so close," she whispered back, her eyes round with anxiety over the top of the quivering Flutterby Bush she was pruning.

"But the task is tomorrow after lunch," he said.

"Quinn said that if you use the spells correctly, you'll be fine," whispered Hermione. She didn't look at Harry— maybe it was because she was concentrating on the plant in front of her or wasn't confident in her words.

Yesterday morning, Quinn had called them outside the Great Hall and announced that Harry's training was over and that he had already taught him everything he needed to survive a dragon.

. . .

"Don't be stupid, and you'll be fine. Relax till the first task, rest, and make sure you're in tip-top condition." This was Quinn's last statement to the group before he up and left without any prior indication.

After that, they didn't talk to him even once— or, to be specific, Quinn didn't speak to him. They saw him briefly at the Great Hall, but that was it.

. . .

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"If you're nervous, we can always practice," said a voice.

Harry craned his head to see Ivy, his sister, standing behind Hermione, with a weirdly subdued plant in her hand.

And so they practiced. The trio didn't have lunch. They headed for a free classroom, where Harry tried with all his might to make various objects fly across the room toward him. Quinn had taught him a short assortment of spells that he could use against the dragon at his own discretion.

"Concentrate, Harry, concentrate..."

"What d'you think I'm trying to do?" said Harry, snapping. "A great big dragon keeps popping up in my head for some reason... Okay, try again..."

He wanted to skip Divination to keep practicing, but Hermione and Ivy point-blank refused to skive off Arithmancy, and there was no point in staying without them. He, therefore, endured over an hour of Professor Trelawney, who spent half the lesson telling everyone that the position of Mars with relation to Saturn at that moment meant that people born in July were in great danger of sudden, violent deaths.

"Well, that's good," said Harry loudly, his temper getting the better of him, "just as long as it's not drawn-out. I don't want to suffer." Ron looked for a moment as though he would laugh; he certainly caught Harry's eye for the first time in days, but Harry was still feeling too resentful toward Ron to care. He spent the rest of the lesson trying to attract small objects toward him under the table with his wand.

After Divination, he forced down some dinner, then returned to the empty classroom with the girls, using the Invisibility Cloak to avoid the teachers. They kept practicing until past midnight. They would have stayed longer, but Peeves turned up and, pretending to think that Harry wanted things thrown at him, he started chucking chairs across the room. They left in a hurry before the noise attracted Filch and went back to the Gryffindor common room, which was now mercifully empty.

Harry stood near the fireplace at two o'clock in the morning, surrounded by heaps of objects: books, quills, several upturned chairs, an old set of Gobstones, and Neville's toad, Trevor. Only in the last hour had Harry felt that he had gotten used to all the spells taught to him.

"That's better, Harry, that's loads better," Ivy said, looking exhausted but very pleased.

"Well, now we know what to do next time I can't manage spells," Harry said, throwing a rune dictionary back to Hermione, so he could try again, "threaten me with a dragon. Right..." He raised his wand once more. "Accio Dictionary!"

The heavy book soared out of Hermione's hand, flew across the room, and Harry caught it.

"Harry, I really think you're ready!" said Hermione delightedly.

"Just as long as it works tomorrow," Harry said.

Harry had been focusing so hard on learning the spells that evening that some of his blind panic had left him. It returned in full measure, however, on the following morning. The atmosphere in the school was one of great tension and excitement. Lessons were to stop at midday, giving all the students time to get down to the dragons' enclosure— though, of course, they didn't yet know what they would find there.

Harry felt oddly separated from everyone around him, whether they wished him good luck or they hissed "We'll have a box of tissues ready, Potter" as he passed. It was a state of nervousness so advanced that he wondered whether he mightn't just lose his head when they tried to lead him out to his dragon and start trying to curse everyone in sight. Time was behaving more peculiarly than ever, rushing past in great dollops, so in a moment he seemed to be sitting down in his first lesson, History of Magic, and the next, walking into lunch... and then (where had the morning gone? the last of the dragon-free hours?), Professor McGonagall was hurrying over to him in the Great Hall. Lots of people were watching.

"Potter, the champions have to come down onto the grounds now... You have to get ready for your first task."

"Okay," said Harry, standing up, his fork falling onto his plate with a clatter.

"Good luck, Harry," Hermione whispered. "You'll be fine!"

"Thank you, Hermione," smiled Harry in return.

'Hmm?' Ivy looked at her brother and best friend. It was a little strange to see two people who quarreled almost every day, acting so cordially towards each other. Looking at them individually and together, she felt that something had changed.

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Harry left the Great Hall with Professor McGonagall. She didn't seem herself either; in fact, she looked nearly as anxious as Hermione. As she walked him down the stone steps and out into the cold November afternoon, she put her hand on his shoulder.

"Now, don't panic," she said, "just keep a cool head… We've got wizards standing by to control the situation if it gets out of hand... The main thing is just to do your best, and nobody will think any worse of you... Are you all right?"

"Yes," Harry heard himself say. "Yes, I'm fine."

She was leading him toward the place where the dragons were, around the edge of the forest, but when they approached the clump of trees behind which the enclosure would be clearly visible, Harry saw that a tent had been erected, its entrance facing them, screening the dragons from view.

"You're to go in here with the other champions," said Professor McGonagall, in a rather shaky sort of voice, "and wait for your turn, Potter. Mr. Bagman is in there… he'll be telling you the— the procedure… Good luck."

"Thanks," said Harry, in a flat, distant voice. She left him at the entrance of the tent. Harry went inside.

Fleur Delacour was sitting in a corner on a low wooden stool. She didn't look nearly as composed as usual but rather pale and clammy. Viktor Krum looked even surlier than expected, which Harry supposed was his way of showing nerves. Cedric was pacing up and down. When Harry entered, Cedric gave him a small smile, which Harry returned, feeling the muscles in his face working somewhat hard, as though they had forgotten how to smile.

"Harry! Good-o!" said Bagman happily, looking around at him. "Come in, come in, make yourself at home!"

Bagman looked somehow like a slightly overblown cartoon figure, standing amid all the pale-faced champions. He was wearing his old Wasp robes again.

"Well, now we're all here— time to fill you in!" said Bagman brightly. "When the audience has assembled, I'm going to be offering each of you this bag" —he held up a small sack of purple silk and showed it to them— "from which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face! There are different —er— varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else too… ah, yes... your task is to collect the golden egg!"

Harry stared at the golden egg, and except blinking, not a single part of his body moved.

'Aah— So this is what he meant by the egg!' thought Harry. Now that he thought about it, Quinn had been weirdly insistent about the term 'egg.'

Harry glanced around. Cedric had nodded once to show that he understood Bagman's words and then started pacing around the tent again; he looked slightly green. Fleur Delacour and Krum hadn't reacted at all. Perhaps they thought they might be sick if they opened their mouths; that was certainly how Harry felt. But they, at least, had volunteered for this...

And in no time at all, hundreds upon hundreds of pairs of feet could be heard passing the tent, their owners talking excitedly, laughing, joking... Harry felt as separate from the crowd as though they were a different species. And then —it seemed like about a second later to Harry— Bagman opened the neck of the purple silk sack.

"Ladies first," he said, offering it to Fleur Delacour.

She put a shaking hand inside the bag and drew out a tiny, perfect model of a dragon— a Welsh Green. It had the number two around its neck. And Harry knew, by the fact that Fleur showed no sign of surprise, but rather a determined resignation, that he had been right: Madame Maxime had told her what was coming.

The same held true for Krum. He pulled out the scarlet Chinese Fireball. It had a number three around its neck. He didn't even blink, just sat back down and stared at the ground. Cedric put his hand into the bag, and out came the blueish-gray Swedish Short-Snout, the number one tied around its neck. Knowing what was left, Harry put his hand into the silk bag, pulled out the Hungarian Horntail and the number four. It stretched its wings as he looked down at it and bared its little fangs.

"Well, there you are!" said Bagman. "You have each pulled out the dragon you will face, and the numbers refer to the order in which you are to take on the dragons, do you see? Mr. Diggory, you're first, just go out into the enclosure when you hear a whistle—"

The loud cheer from the hundreds outside made Bagman flinch. The champions were inside, so what had got the audience so excited.

Everyone inside saw a wisp of flame enter their tent through the open flap, which surprised everyone even more. All looked at each other wondering if someone knew what was happening. But none knew what was going on outside.

"D-Did they let out the dragons," asked Cedric.

Bagman shook his head. "... No, the dragons should be still inside."

"Then what is it?" questioned Krum.

"I don't know," muttered Bagman and had just taken a step towards the tent flap when they heard a voice resound throughout the stadium.

"Ladies and gentlemen and interesting miscellanea— beloved friends and tolerated acquaintances," the voice paused, "Welcome... to the Triwizard Tournament!"

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A couple minutes before the audience went wild, Eddie Carmichael sighed as he looked to his right.

"Do you really have to do this," he asked, "can't you like — be normal."

"You don't like it? I thought you would be stoked."

"No, you nutter!" blurted Eddie, "this is absolutely rubbish!"

"Don't say that," smiled Eddie's companion, his best friend, the grinning Quinn West, "didn't you like it when I showed it to you yesterday? You even praised me."

"I did no such thing!"

Eddie sighed and recalled the events of yesterday.

. . .

After the dinner feast, Eddie strolled through the Hogwarts ground with a toothpick sticking off his mouth. It was a calm night, with a clear sky, no signs of any incoming rain. The weather was truly great for the area around Hogwarts.

"Why in the world would that bloke call me here after supper," muttered Eddie. While he enjoyed the good weather, he wasn't the type to go out for a night stroll.

He finally stopped at the decided spot, standing just below the Astronomy tower.

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"Hogwarts, Hogwarts, Hoggy Warty Hogwarts,

Teach us something please,

Whether we be old and bald,

Or young with scabby knees,

Our heads could do with filling,

With some interesting stuff,

For now, they're bare and full of air,

Dead flies and bits of fluff,

So teach us things worth knowing,

Bring back what we've forgot,

Just do your best, we'll do the rest,

And learn until our brains all rot."

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Eddie sang Hogwarts school song as he waited for Quinn to arrive, while still wondering why he was called here.

Then he heard Quinn's voice from behind: "Hey Eddie, you're on time." He turned to the left, but there was no one there, same with his right.

A chilly wind brushed the back of his neck, sending a shiver down his spine. He felt goosebumps rise on his skin, and suddenly he felt that his surroundings were a little too quiet.

The toothpick which had been lying peacefully in Eddie's mouth suddenly felt the assault from his teeth.

"Quinn?!" called out Eddie, "This isn't bloody funny! Come out and stop this dodgy shit! Come out, or else I'm leaving!"

"All right, all right, no need to have your knickers in a twist," once again, Eddie heard Quinn's voice from all around, "Look up."

Eddie craned his neck to look up, and his eyes widened as a startling sight reflected in his dark irises.

Words suitable to the situation escaped the mouth of the Irish descendant.

"Bloody hell!!!"

. . .

Quinn grinned as he, too, recalled the incident from last night. "That bloody hell wasn't a praise?"

"Of course not, you git," said Eddie and then sighed, "I will ask once again, are you sure about this? You know you can just stroll down there, and everything will be just as dandy."

"Let me tell you something, Eddie; if possible, this is one of the things that I will take every single time," said Quinn with a beaming smile.

"All right, don't say that I didn't warn you."

"I won't. Now, you know what you've to do, right?"

"Yes, yes," nodded Eddie and removed one of his hands from the Cleansweep Eleven broom under him and held onto the shaft of Quinn's Nimbus 2001. The two flew above the stadium built for the first task, hovering at a height where the stadium was nothing but a bowl and the people in it were tiny ants.

"All right, see you on the other side, mate," smiled Quinn and slipped down from his broom, falling towards the ground.

Eddie held the now lifeless broom in his hand and spoke as he watched Quinn descend in a starfish position.

"WOohoO" He heard Quinn yell out.

"Shit, he is going to die, isn't he?"

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In the Durmstrang camp of the stadium, Kari Haugen tapped her feet impatiently— patience had never been her strong suit. She looked around her surroundings, seeing the crowd of Hogwarts students chattering away. Kari looked to the opposite side and saw the Beauxbatons' students enjoying the festivity. Even her own schoolmates looked excited; she was the same, but...

"What's taking so long?" she grumbled, "I want this to start, whatever this is."

Katie heard a sudden dip in the chatter before it went back— louder than before. She was about to look around to find out when she felt her friend shake her shoulder.

"What is it?" she asked.

Kari's friend pointed her finger up to the sky, and Kari followed. Her eyes widened when she saw the clear blue sky and found the reason for all the chatter.

"What's that?"

. . .

Ivy Potter and Hermoine Granger sitting in the stands, too, looked up like everyone else and saw a large violet smoke ring growing outwards, expanding to greater size.

"Morning skyworks?" spoke Hermione.

Another smoke ring appeared below the violet ring; this time, it was indigo-colored.

"The Ministry is really going all out on this," commented Ivy as a third blue smoke ring graced the sky.

The girls looked at a fourth green smoke ring that appeared below the blue circle.

. . .

"It's a rainbow!" commented Luna, pointing at the sky, "Violet, indigo, blue, and green... and the next one will be yellow—" and just as she said it, a yellow ring appeared — "See I was right!"

"You're right," nodded Marcus as he ate a piece of fried chicken, "It really is a rainbow."

He looked at the empty seat beside him that he had reserved by placing another bucket of fried chicken. "Where is Eddie? He's late."

"Maybe he found a crumple-horned snorkack," guessed Luna.

"... I doubt that."

They didn't know that Eddie was currently watching the smokeworks from a unique position, semi-enjoying and semi-worrying the experience.

"Do you want chicken?"

"Yes, please."

. . .

Tracey Davis clapped her hand as an orange plume of angry smoke puffed in the sky and expanded into an orange ring.

"This is quite the show," she said to the Greengrass sisters sitting beside her.

"It is. It's in the colours of the rainbow," smiled Astoria, who held a small flag with 'Cedric Diggory' written on it, waving it around, making it shimmer in yellow and black. She turned to her elder sister, "What do you think, Daphne?"

Daphne Greengrass watched as the seventh red ring completed the rainbow spectrum. There was a barrage of claps and applause as everyone guessed the VIBGYOR rings, but the sharp-eyed Daphne furrowed her eyes.

"... Is that —" Daphne took a moment to gather what she saw before speaking, "— a person?"

Tracey and Astoria, feeling confused, looked back at the seven smoke rings, and their eyes widened to the limit as they caught sight of a person appearing out of the seven-ring tunnel.

"Holy shit, look, someone is falling through the sky!" A Slytherin behind the Slytherin trio yelled, earning everyone's attention. All spectators, without fail, watched as a body sped down through the sky.

. . .

Albus Dumbledore, who had just removed his eyes from the totally unexpected colorful display in the sky to talk with Olympe Maxime in the judging panel asking about the skyworks and if she was the one who ordered it was rudely taken out of the conversation by a rough tug on his robes.

"Albus!" said the offender in shock and called the headmaster by his given name.

"What is it, Minerva?" he asked, frowning.

"Look!" she exclaimed and pointed her finger towards the smoke rings.

Dumbledore followed his deputies' finger and saw the same thing as everybody— a person falling through the sky.

For a split fraction of a second, Dumbledore took in the situation before a spark of urgency and energy flashed in his eyes as he hastily got up from his chair. The person was falling at speeds much higher than Harry had done during the Dementor game, so he whipped out the Death stick to focus his magic.

Alas... it was already too late as the figure was already too close to the ground for Dumbledore to do anything.

There was a collective sucking in of breath, averted eyes, many gulps in anticipation of a splat to the ground.

But— just before the body hit the ground, a harsh blue light zapped out of the figure towards the ground, momentarily causing everyone to avert their eyes.

There was no sound of the body hitting the ground, and instead, a cover of dust covered the rocky terrain of the arena.

There was complete silence in the arena. Not a single person had a mind to talk to someone else as they were entirely committed to looking past the thick dust cover.

Suddenly there was a sudden flash of fire, causing everyone to pull back with gasps filling every corner of the stadium. The fire seemed to consume everything in its path as the dust was incinerated into nothingness, leaving a clearly visible arena in view.

Everyone saw a person standing right in the smack dab middle of the arena, dressed in red and white robes. The figure looked up, and everyone in the stadium recognized Quinn West.

"Ladies, gentlemen, and interesting miscellanea— beloved friends and tolerated acquaintances," he said and took a pause as a big smile appeared on his face, "Welcome... to the Triwizard Tournament— first task: Dancing with Dragons."

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Quinn West - MC - Arresto Momentum — "Perfect!"

Eddie Carmichael - Broom Collector - "Ooooh shiiiiit!"

FictionOnlyReader - Author - "My dear friend, I wish you the best of luck. Hope you return soon. AMJ is incomplete without you."

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