A Problem with Wizards
Sometimes Gambit wondered what the hell he was doing with the X-Men. He didn't have trouble with the philosophical differences; he'd gotten over that a long time ago. He couldn't care less about the bedroom politics; as long as he got a little too, he was okay. He didn't even mind that once in a while his personal effects ended up in strange science experiments because Hank simply had to demonstrate some obscure chemistry point to one of the students.
What he had trouble with was hanging upside-down in a room that had a spider the size of Rhode Island snapping his (her? its?) mandibles at him while he tried to steal the most over-rated cup in the history of man since Jesus slapped on his skullcap one Friday and said "Take and drink."
"I still don't get why we have to get this," he grumbled. "I got no prep, no buyer, all the wrong equipment--"
"Just stick to the mission," Cyclops said, his tone calm as you please as he held the rope holding Gambit up.
"This isn't a mission," Gambit snarled into his comme-link. "This is some sort of sick punishment for God knows what."
"The Horseman of Death thing."
"I told you that was to have someone on the inside."
"It wasn't the defection," said Cyclops.
"It was the powers right? The knock-out gas?"
"No, although now that you mention it "
"Eat Twinkies and die."
"It was the costume," Cyclops confessed baldly. "I could have forgiven anything except the spiked choke collar."
"At least I never wore my swim trunks outside my pants."
"Do I have to bring up the fuschia body armour again?"
"Only you want me to bring up the Eric the Red leotard."
"I think my hold on the rope is weakening." Cyclops wiggled it threateningly.
"Drop that rope and you're dead," Gambit said, curling his body away from the glowing pedestal.
"The way I see it," said a clipped British voice, "you're dead either way."
Gambit swung his body around. There was a guy in a velvet bathrobe was pointing a stick at him. He squinted. Teeth gritting, he glared up at Cyclops. "Did you take me to a wizarding world? What did I tell you about the wizarding world? I told you I don't do wizards. I have a problem with wizards."
The guy didn't straighten from his fencing pose. "This wizard also has problems with you. Get down. Slowly."
Cyclops stuck his head down from the skylight. "It's me, Cedric."
The spider wriggled, excited by the prospect of a second meal.
"Scott?" Now the guy put the wand away. "What are you doing in Scotland?"
Gambit let his body hang limp. "He stuck me in the wizarding world in Scotland? Great. I'm dead."
"I was hoping I wouldn't run into you," Scott said, sounding only slightly abashed.
Cedric-- could you get a more British name than that? Well, maybe if his name was "Cecil"-- looked hurt at that. "Why not?"
"Besides the fact that we're stealing something from your castle?" Gambit put in.
"School," Cyclops and Cedric chorused. Cedric's eyes narrowed. "This has something to do with that Frost woman I've heard about, doesn't it?"
It was hard to be sure with the goggles and all but Cyclops might have looked a little uncomfortable. "Cedric--"
"They said she was leading you about by the front of your trousers but I said that the day you got led around by your pants by a woman is the day that I ate a bludger."
Gambit smirked. "You want ketchup or mayo on that?"
"Whoops." Cyclops let a foot of rope drop. The spider, now salivating at seeing three whole meals, danced around Gambit, reaching its legs up to bat him off his harness.
"Cyclops!" Gambit might have squealed. Maybe. Sort of.
Cedric pointed his wand at it. "Bitsy, stay."
Whimpering sulkily, the spider scuttled to a corner and curled into a ball if there were any balls the size of Volkswagen Beetles.
"Bitsy?" Gambit was definitely screaming by now. "You named a giant tarantula Bitsy? Are you all mental or did I just forget to have my happy pills this morning?"
"Like the itsy-bitsy spider," said Cyclops.
"She's a runt compared to normal acromantulas," Cedric explained.
Gambit went limp. "I hate wizards."
Five minutes later, ensconced in the castle's darkened kitchen and resolutely polishing off a pyramid of cream puffs, Gambit allowed that maybe not all wizards were bad. Just the ones he met.
"So why do you need to steal the Triwizard Cup?" Cedric asked Cyclops. "It's only a trophy. If you'd asked I would have lent it to you."
Cyclops rubbed at a spot on the scored oak table. "You only technically own it until the end of the year. Then it'll be time for a new tournament."
"Yeah. Which doesn't answer why you'd need it," said Cedric. "The competition is only for wizards and only for wizards from the three European schools."
"Our school has been having a little situation with mutants on the wizarding fringe," said Cyclops. "There was the Scarlet Witch taking away everyone's powers."
"Everyone but a hundred ninety-eight of us," Gambit added.
"Then Apocalypse re-appeared--"
"I thought he was dead," said Cedric.
"Mutants always get better," Gambit said. "Look at Cyclops."
Cyclops winced as Cedric's expression went livid. "You were dead?" the young man screeched, nearly coming off the bench. "Why didn't anyone tell me? Merlin's beard, here I was thinking the worst of you because you never answered my owls for aid and all this time you were dead!"
"I got better?" Cyclops attempted a comforting smile. "You said you wanted aid. What is it for?"
"No, you don't, you prat. You don't get to die and come back to life and not tell me what in the name of the seven hells happened."
"News of my death were highly exaggerated," said Cyclops off-handedly.
"I died, too," Gambit piped up.
"For that matter, I didn't hear about you nearly dying in the Triwizard Tournament until your father owled his usual Christmas package," Cyclops said, neatly placing the boot on the other foot.
"That was two and a half years ago," Cedric protested. "And it was only near death not actual death."
"Well, I was only figuratively dead not really dead," Cyclops protested.
"Everyone knows there's a big difference between figuratively dead and all dead," said Gambit. "Figuratively dead is slightly alive. With all dead...well, with all dead there's usually only one thing you can do."
Cedric looked confused. "What?"
"Go through his clothes and look for loose change."
Cyclops dropped his head on his hands. "I can't believe you're quoting the Princess Bride."
"We're in a Scottish Castle," Gambit said. "What else would I be quoting? 'Good night, Westley. Good work. Sleep well. I'll most likely kill you in the morning.' That's what Emma tells him every night, by the way," he added for Cedric's benefit.
"Right after she says, 'Bend over.'"
"But before she takes out the Icy-Hot."
Cyclops just hit him then.
Cedric grinned. "I like him. Did he follow you home?"
"Rogue fed him one night and since then he wouldn't go away," Cyclops snarled.
"Don't go sayin' things like, cher," said Gambit, pouting. "It might make me cry."
"Promise?" Cutting off his response, Cyclops addressed Cedric once more. "Once you put your name in the Triwizard Cup, you're magically bound to compete, right?"
"Yes," said Cedric.
"And if you can manipulate magic, you're automatically in the wizarding word whether or not you attend a magical school, right?"
"I think so."
"And wherever you go, the tournament will find a way to put you in the trials?"
"Yes, I believe I read something of the sort."
"Excellent." Cyclops all but rubbed his hands in glee. "I think this'll work then. Let's go find a pub and I'll explain everything to you."
"But you can't take the cup outside the wizarding world," Cedric protested even as Cyclops rappelled down the rope and led him out of the room. "It will cause havoc. The magic concentrated in it will interact negatively with the technology in the muggle world and who knows what the effect will be. We can't afford to have a complication like that in the middle of a war."
"Hear me out," said Cyclops. "Let me fill you in on what's been going on so far in my neck of the woods."
Meanwhile, Gambit scrambled out of his harness, keeping a wary eye on Bitsy. "Hate. Wizards."
On the other hand, Scotland was pretty damn smart for all the battered and deep-friend chocolate bars, Gambit reflected as he munched on one such delicacy. Cyclops had his face buried in a beer stein while his pal, Cedric, glossed on and on and on about the charms of some chick named Granger who could apparently give Superman a run for his money.
"-- and then as if that wasn't enough, she figured out how to track the horcruxes by reversing the polarity on the beryllium crystal components that they needed anyway to hold the spell together. And everyone knows that beryllium crystals radiate energy so anything that's held one for a while keeps a trace. That's how we're tracking them down. We're down to two pieces now, thanks to her." Cedric beamed. "Isn't she wonderful?"
"Fabulous," said Cyclops.
"The shizznit," Gambit agreed.
"Here, I'll show you." He pulled out a large locket, waved his wand over it and whispered, "Alarum phasmatis."
One of Gambit's pouches started beeping. He slapped a hand over it. "Uh... must be time to take my echinacea."
Cedric's eyes, already preternaturally huge, went even larger. "You have a horcrux?"
Cyclops had a better idea. "You stole a horcrux?"
"Liberated," Gambit corrected. "I liberated a horcrux. It was years ago. Besides, I wouldn't talk since you're the one who had the idea of stealing a honking huge cup."
"It's for a good cause."
"So was stealing the cauldron."
"You have Helga Hufflepuff's cauldron?" If Cedric looked shocked before, now he was downright fierce. "I thought I recognized you from somewhere. You're on the broadsheets for wanted felons."
"I am?" Gambit was even more disgruntled than Cyclops. "Damn. If I could've gone on for another year without a police record, I coulda gotten a discount on my next Thieves R Us purchase."
"Do you have idea the historical worth of that piece, never mind the power it contains?"
His eyes narrowed to two red slits, Gambit said, "Look, if a tall, thin, grumpy-looking old man with shitload of grey hair riding a Norwegian snow dragon tells you that they'll get you out of Antarctica if you'll just steal an iron shard, you do it because one, it's damned cold in Antarctica and two, the Norwegian snow dragon looked hungry." Sulkily, he took the last deep-fried chocolate bar.
"Who was he?"
"I don't take client names down," said Gambit. "He just told me to call him Abe."
"Aberforth Dumbledore." Cedric groaned. "But he's missing now. How can we ever hope to find that piece?"
"What if I offer you a trade?" asked Cyclops. "You find some way for us to use the Triwizard Cup and Gambit will offer his services to find the last horcruxes."
"Hey!" Gambit began to protest but Cyclops whapped his head without even looking to see if his hand would hit.
"Can he find them?" Cedric asked, staring dubiously at Gambit's less than impressive posture: ratty coat over his uniform, cream puff crumbs on his chin, shaggy hair covering face that hadn't been shaved in a week.
"Gambit's a Master Thief," said Cyclops. "If he can't find it and steal it back, it's been destroyed to jettisoned into outer space."
Gambit saluted. "Mersi for the recommendation, Cyke."
"I suppose we have no choice," said Cedric. "I'll see what I can do with the Order."
"Tell 'em this time I come with a higher price tag," said Gambit. "You do not want to know what I had to do to a goat under Abe's instructions."
The next day, three tawny owls delivered three letters: one to the Avengers mansion, another to Xavier's school, and a third deep in the heart of Apocalypse's lair.
The immortal mutant swatted at an owl that had had the audacity to perch on his throne. In his hands was a piece of parchment.
En Sabah Nur
Congratulations! You have been chosen as a Triwizard champion. Enclosed is a port key which will take you to the first task. Good luck!
A small etched ball the size of a marble rolled out of the envelope. Apocalypse stared at it for a moment then slammed his hand down to crush it. He disappeared without a trace.