Disclaimer: Imperio! State the disclaimer: Harry Potter is owned by JK Rowling.

A/N: Yes, I know Ron is being a jerk. I tried to make him a little more intellectual about it than in canon, given his different choices in this fic, but yes, he is still a jealous git. He hasn't had the introspective crises that Hermione and to a lesser extent Harry have had to force him to become more mature. I mention this because I had actually considered not making him a jerk in this story, but I realised he needed something like this to make him grow up. So he will see the light, but Harry won't let him off so easy like in canon, because that only ensures he won't learn from it.

I'm making another call for spell suggestions. Hermione will specifically be inventing hexes to help Harry in the Tournament. If you have ideas for mildly to moderately harmful spells she can invent, review or PM me.

Chapter 68

Harry awoke on the morning of the first of November feeling wiped out, miserable, and very worried. It took him a moment to remember why, and then it came back to him: the Goblet, the Tournament, the, honestly, really insensitive party his fellow Gryffindors had thrown for him last night, Ron not believing him, nor any of his other housemates, except for a few kind words from Ginny. Hermione's promise of help.

He groaned and staggered out of bed. He wanted to talk to Ron straightaway, but he had already gone down to breakfast. Harry really didn't want to face the school in the Great Hall, but there wasn't much else he could do.

When he got to breakfast, he felt the eyes of the whole school on him. The Slytherins were glaring at him, which was just to be expected, but what he wasn't accustomed to was most of Hufflepuff glaring at him as well. He was sure they felt that he'd stolen their thunder when his name was drawn after Diggory's. Ravenclaw just gave him a suspicious look, while a few of his fellow Gryffindor's cheered again when he came into the Hall. That didn't help his mood.

He located Ron and sat heavily beside him. His redheaded friend turned to face him wordlessly.

"So, are you ready to be sensible about the Goblet yet?" Harry demanded.



"Look, mate," he interrupted, "I don't know if you entered or not, but I reckon either way you're gonna need all the help you can get. I mean, it's supposed to be seventh-years doing this stuff. So tell me what the First Task is, and I'll help you strategise and stuff."

Harry sighed he knew he shouldn't take his frustration out on his friends, but he was pretty peeved that Ron still wouldn't believe him. "Well, that'd be great, Ron," he grumbled, "except they didn't tell us what the First Task is."

"Oh, well that figures," Ron griped. "I thought maybe I could do something. I guess you really are going in there alone. Shouldn't, like, the whole school be getting in on this? Isn't that the point?"

That was actually surprisingly perceptive for Ron. "Hey, don't blame me," Harry snapped. "I didn't make the rules."

"Well, how're you supposed compete? You don't know half as many spells as Diggory."

"Gee, thanks, Ron."

"Well, it's true."

"Hermione's gonna try to invent some new ones for me. That should be a good start, shouldn't it?"

"I guess," Ron grumbled. "Of course, she can help."

"Hey, isn't it a good thing if your best friend can invent some spells to get you out of a tight spot?" Harry said. "It's really nice of her to help me out like that isn't it? Especially since she goes to a rival school, now. But if you've got some good rune tricks I can use, I'll take those, too."

"Rune tricks?" he said. "There's not much you can do when you don't know what's coming, at least with what Babbling's taught us so far."

"Well, that's about it, then. Sorry, but there's not much else to be done, I think."

Ron just turned away at that and didn't say anything more. It was bad enough, Ron thought, that last night had him second guessing everything he knew about his friend, but now, he couldn't even help him out. He was a great chess player and a pretty good strategist from that. Even his brothers admitted it. But it was useless when he didn't know what was coming. (He assumed Harry truly didn't know either. He wouldn't try to go it completely alone…would he?) The same went for runes, which he was getting pretty good at. And of course, Hermione could invent new spells anytime. Ron just kept getting the short end of the stick.

Speaking of Hermione, Ron was surprised when he saw her come back into the Great Hall. She was drooping and looking dazed, like she always did when she hadn't slept well, and yet, she was still managing to pull off the Beauxbatons uniform.

Ron had to admit, the way Hermione had cleaned up this year, she was a pretty good-looking girl. He already knew she was a girl, of course, but damn, he'd never realised before how much the Hogwarts uniforms hid. Hermione's Beauxbatons uniform did her a lot more justice.

She sat down across from Harry and immediately launched into a conversation that Ron had no idea what she was talking about: "Sorry I'm late, Harry. I had to get a late start this morning in order to miss my Portkey properly. How are you feeling?"

"Oh, not too bad," Harry said sarcastically. "It's not like I'm fighting Voldemort again, is it?"

"Harry, you shouldn't talk like that," she chided. "Have you been to the Owlery yet?"

"No, I was gonna do that after breakfast."

"Good. I'll come, too. I need to owl Mum and Dad. Tell Sirius to reply right away. I need to make my arrangements pretty fast."

"Ahem," Ron cleared his throat loudly. Miss my Portkey? Owlery? Arrangements? he thought. Am I really that far out of the loop? "Someone wanna tell me what's going on here? I thought you were going back to France."

"Didn't Harry tell you?" Hermione said. "I'm helping him with the Tournament. I 'accidentally' missed my Portkey this morning. They're sending me a new one on Friday. That'll give me time to arrange a way to come back here with Sirius to help with the tasks. I'm going to try to visit a few days before each one."

"Oh…well you could've told me," Ron said.

"Well, you weren't being very sociable last night," Harry countered.

"Boys, this is no time to fight," Hermione interrupted.

"Hey, I'm trying to be friendly—" he started.

"Say, Hermione," George said from nearby, "I thought your folks were making Dobby to report your movements." It was said teasingly, but Hermione could hear the undercurrent of concern.

"Oh, I rearranged his contracts last night," she replied. "I'm paying him myself out of my royalties from the potions kits now."

"Of course you are," Ron muttered. Hermione sent him a sharp look. "Must be nice, having enough money you can just hire an elf on the spot. Not everyone can do that, you know."

"Ugh. Well, I'm sorry for being more worried about my best friend's safety," she scoffed. "Anyway, your parents didn't pull you out of here. You don't have to worry about sneaking around behind their backs to help out."

"Because we can't afford anywhere else," he shot back.

"Oh, come on, like you'd actually want to go anywhere else," Fred jumped in.

"It's starting to look more inviting," Ron said.

The Twins both shot him a mock scandalised gasp, but no one seemed to have a rebuttal to that one, so they went back to eating. Harry was still the object of whispers throughout the Great Hall, but he did his best to ignore them. Ginny offered a few words of comfort again, but she didn't seem to really know what to say, either.

A little while later, the mail arrived, and Hermione was surprised when an owl dropped a slim magazine in front of her. She looked and realised it was the latest issue of Annals of Arithmancy. Then, she looked closer and saw that one of the articles was titled, AN ANALYTIC TREATMENT OF EXTENSION CHARMS USING NON-EUCLIDEAN GEOMETRY by H. J. Granger and S. O. Vector.

"Oh my goodness, I forgot all about this," she said, "my article was supposed to be published today, wasn't it?"

Ron stared at her in disbelief. "You forgot?" he said. "You publish so many articles you forget when they come out."

"Oh, Ronald…just…cool it! We can worry about then when there aren't any nefarious plots afoot."

"Fine. Fine," he said, but Ron was not happy. He'd been best mates with Harry for three years, and Hermione had been a pretty good friend, too, and now he felt like he was getting completely left behind. Harry was rich and famous and now getting all the attention for getting picked for the Tournament. As for Ron, he couldn't help Harry this time, and people never seemed to recognise his achievements in helping Harry anyway. He had no Quidditch this year to make a name for himself on the pitch, and while Ron was a good student when he made the effort, Hermione was way over his head academically, and now, she was making her own money on the side thanks to that. Even Fred and George were just barely starting to do that.

How had he got to this point? He wondered. Harry and Hermione seemed even closer than before despite Hermione changing schools, and apparently, the two of them had gone off and made some elaborate plan without telling him.

And if he was honest with himself, could he really blame them? How could he ever keep up with those two? He hadn't defeated an evil wizard as a baby, and he didn't have the brains to be the best at any subject at school, let alone publish papers. Ron was accustomed to feeling…unworthy was probably the word. It came part and parcel with being poor, he thought, but now, it was hard not to see himself as the third wheel who just couldn't measure up to his friends.

He barely even noticed that he split off from the two of them after breakfast and went to class alone, stewing in his thoughts.

Dear Mum and Dad,

I'm informing you now so that Dobby won't have to. I overslept this morning and missed my Portkey back to France. I'm really sorry about that, but it's not that big a deal. The Ministry will send me a new one by the end of the week, and I already asked Madame Maxime to tell the teachers at Beauxbatons to owl me their assignments. I don't have classes here, so I have plenty of time to catch up.

I'm sorry again, but I was just so distraught last night. You remember how the Triwizard Tournament is considered very dangerous and is only open to students over age 17? Harry was selected to compete. Yes, my 14-year-old best friend, Harry. Someone—we don't know who—somehow—we don't know how—got through the magical protections and entered his name against his will. He still has to do it, though, because it's a binding magical contract, and if he doesn't, something magical and bad will happen to him. Headmaster Dumbledore says there's no way out of it, even though that would be extortion in the muggle world or something like that. I was just so scared for him last night that I couldn't sleep, and that's why I overslept this morning. I'm still terrified that something awful will happen to him.

I know I'm asking a lot from you, but I have another request. I'd like to be allowed to visit Hogwarts again for each of the three tasks of the Tournament. I'm going to be trying to help Harry by inventing useful spells at Beauxbatons and owling them to him, but I really feel like I need to be here to give him moral support for the actual tasks. I'll be sure to make all the arrangements for my schoolwork in advance, and I'll be more careful about the Portkeys. Please? I just couldn't stand it if I didn't do all I could to help Harry.

Love from,


P.S. I almost forgot. I was talking to Septima yesterday, and she gave me a big idea for a new Arithmancy/Transfiguration project. I mean really big—like whatever-their-equivalent-of-the-Nobel-Prize-is big. It has to do with whether or not radioactive materials can be transfigured, which is a longstanding question. Actually, the prestige isn't why I really want to do it. The real reason is that it's a stepping stone to giving myself the peace of mind of proving that it's impossible to transfigure antimatter. No, that wasn't a joke.

Anyway, I need a few things for this project: (1) A nuclear physics textbook, (2) a non-electronic radiation detector, like a cloud chamber, or a bunch of those film badges they uses in reactor facilities, (3) a can of potassium chloride salt substitute (containing potassium-40), and (4) a chunk of uranium (it doesn't have to be very big). You can take the money out of my potions kit royalties if you have to.

"I would go to hell and back for that boy," Sirius Black said. "In fact, I practically have. But this is completely out of line—Oh, Merlin! I don't even know what that thing was!"

"This was your idea, Padfoot," Remus Lupin grunted. "You said we need to find your old mirrors so we can give one to Harry and—DOXIES!"

Digging through something that the deed called a house at Number Twelve Grimmauld Place in London was like a dangerous expedition into the wildest part of the Congo, as far as Sirius and Remus were concerned. There was a reason Sirius had found a flat for him and Harry to live in. After the rats, spiders, doxies, and something that looked like a ghoul, but was way too tough and scary to be a ghoul, they would be lucky if they got out of this death trap without having to go to St. Mungo's.


"Padfoot, do you want to burn down the whole place?"

Buzz! Buzz! Screech!

"AHH! Incendio!" Remus screamed.

"You were saying?"

"Shut it!"

"I can't believe that old elf is still alive here, especially with the state this place is in. I oughta gut it and start over."

There was a loud flurry of cursing that seemed to come from all around them, and through it came the words, "Save it for when we aren't about to be eaten by rabid jarveys!"

Finally, they fought their way through to Sirius's old room—not that he had wanted to leave anything in this house, but that was where his effects had been sent after he went to Azkaban. Since his "mother" had sealed the room off at that point, it was an island of safety into the hostile territory of the House of Black.

"Phew," Sirius said. "That was even worse than I expected, and that's saying something."

"Let's just get this over with," Remus said. "I think those doxies got me, and I don't fancy dealing with an untreated bite."

"Fine, fine, let's get to it."

They dug through the old boxes. They were a mess of odds and ends—everything from clothes to toys to dirty muggle magazines mixed in with more important things like books and personal papers. There was no one box for magical items, so they had to tear up half the room to find what they were looking for.

"Hey, look at this," Sirius said.

"The mirrors?" Remus said hopefully.

"No, it's a photo from Harry's first birthday." Surprised, Remus looked over his friend's shoulder. Sure enough, there was a photo of James chasing a baby Harry on a toy broomstick as he zoomed in and out of the picture while Lily stood by and laughed. "Heh. I remember that toy broom," Sirius said. "And…aha! There's a letter from Lily with it. I'll send them to Harry with the mirror. He'll love them."

"We still have to find the mirrors," Remus reminded him.

"Right. Right."

It took some more time searching, but they finally found the two communication mirrors and verified that they still worked. After that, they had to fight their way out of that place.

Sirius transfigured a rope and went out the window. "Brooms," he said. "I should've thought to bring brooms."

Harry was unhappy with Ron for most of Tuesday. Almost all of Gryffindor seemed to believe he had entered his name in the Goblet of Fire and only responded to his denials with a wink and a nod, no matter how many times he said it. And Ron? Well, he certainly didn't look convinced by Harry's story, and he looked angry about something. And angry about what? Harry wondered. Not getting a chance of his own? Jealous of Harry's fame and fortune? Well, he could have it. Harry would just rather have a peaceful year for once.

Hermione tried to make awkward conversation with Ron a couple more times that day, but Harry was in a bad mood and really didn't want to deal with the redhead unless he would admit Harry hadn't entered himself in the Tournament. Harry thought she was going to force a confrontation after classes were over for the day, but to his surprise, she told him she had something personal to take care of and nervously asked him to come with her.

Hermione had half-thought about doing this on Halloween, but she hadn't thought it that important. However, now that she was diving deeper down the rabbit hole once again, she decided that, like the Patronus Charm, she needed some training in this subject, just in case.

She was just about to knock on the professor's door when a gruff voice inside called, "Come in."

The pair walked inside and came face to face with Alastor "Mad-Eye" Moody, an intimidating man with a peg leg, his face a mass of scars, including missing a chunk of his nose, and a pale blue false eye that could pierce cloud, shadow, earth, and flesh—not to mention doors. That was probably the most disconcerting thing of all. Just how much could he see in the castle? Could he see clear through to the outer walls? And Hermione didn't even want to think about clothes.

"Hello, Professor Moody," she said. "My name is—"

"Hermione Granger," he said. "Yes, I know about you. Vector talks about you all the time. Impressive work you've done here. I saw that paper you had this morning. Pity we've lost you to France."

"Er, thank you, sir."

"So? What is it, then? What can I do for you?"

"Well, Professor, I understand that you trained all of the fourth years in resisting the Imperius Curse a few weeks ago."

"Tried to, more like. Not much potential for most of them."

"I'd like you to give me the same training, if you don't mind," she said.

Moody raised his one good eyebrow. "You want me to test you with the Imperius Curse, now?" he said.

"Well, it's like you told them, Professor. It's better to learn what it's like in a controlled setting, where no one's trying to control you completely."

Moody nodded approvingly. "Potter, what are you doing here?" he demanded.

"A witness, Professor," Hermione said. "One who's known to be able to resist the Imperius Curse."

The old Auror gave her a ghastly grin. "Ah, smart lass," he said. "Course, I could still stun and Obliviate both of you if I wanted to try anything, but it's good thinking. I'd give you points if you were my student."

"Um…thank you, sir?" she said.

"So, you want to learn to resist the Imperius Curse," Moody mused. "I warn you, lass, it ain't easy. Your friend here is the only one who pulled it off. Most people, the best they can do is learn what it feels like and break out of it when their attacker's concentration lapses."

Hermione frowned. She would have thought it would be more of a direct battle of wills. But still, she said, "That's better than nothing."

"Alright, then," Moody said. He pointed his wand, and Hermione had to force herself not to react as he said, "Imperio."

Suddenly, an amazing sense of calm came over her. All her worries were washed away, and she was happy and relaxed like she hadn't felt since…she honestly couldn't remember, but what did it matter? Perhaps those lazy summer days before she ever came to Hogwarts. It felt so freeing not to have to worry about Harry or any of her other problems. But shouldn't she be worried about Harry? Nah. The thought was wiped from her head before she could fully think it.

Somewhere in the background of her mind, she heard Moody's voice: Do a cartwheel.

Why not? She thought. She was having such a good time already. Never mind that she hadn't done a cartwheel in years. She took the proper stance and spun head over heel like she was five years old again.

Dance an Irish jig, Moody commanded.

Hermione didn't know any Irish jigs, but the steps came to her unbidden, and she started dancing.

Get down on all fours and bark like a dog.

Now that's a little demeaning, isn't it, some still-functioning part of her brain thought. I think I'll pass on that one.

Get down on all fours and bark like a dog.

Oh, very well. She played her part, and then Moody abruptly broke off the curse.

"Ah!" Hermione yelped and jumped to her feet, taking a few cautious steps back from the old Auror.

"You okay, Hermione?" Harry asked.

"Am I okay?" Hermione repeated absently. "Ugh. I feel like I took a big whiff of laughing gas. That spell really messes with your head." To be honest, she really felt…violated after that, even though she'd asked for it. The symptoms were much the same as nitrous oxide, though: euphoria, detachment from the self and from reality, suppression of worry, and suggestibility. She thought she understood, now. There were other, milder spells that could influence people, but the curse part of the Imperius Curse was that it suppressed the will. So it wasn't a battle of wills, but a rout that only the very strongest—people like Harry—could fight off.

But Moody didn't look wholly disappointed. "You have the spark there," he said. "You hesitated at the end. You could probably fight it if you really pushed it."

"Really, Professor?" Hermione cleared her head and thought it over. "Could I try it again, then? Now that I know what it feels like, I might be able to do better."

"If you say so," he replied. "Imperio."

The floating, euphoric feeling came over her again, but this time, the voice in the back of her mind was telling her, Effects like nitrous oxide. Don't shut down completely. Keep a scrap of your wits about you.

Moody began to command her again: Skip around the classroom.

No, I'd really rather not.

Skip around the classroom.

Hermione skipped, but it was with a tinge of reluctance—a crack in the perfect contentment imposed by the curse.

Sing opera.

No way, I can't sing.

Sing opera…sing opera.

No. I play piano. I should've taken up violin. I don't sing.

Sing opera…SING NOW!

Hermione coughed under the force of the command and began belting out a truly terrible rendition of "O Mio Babbino Caro". She might not have been a terrible singer in general, but she didn't have the training for something like that.

Stop singing! Moody ordered. Hermione followed that command gladly.

Somewhere in her haze, she thought she heard another voice—Harry's voice—saying, "Tell her to…" but she couldn't make out the rest.

But Moody must have taken Harry's advice because he commanded, Write "two plus two equals five" on the blackboard.

No way! Hermione's inner self didn't even hesitate to react.

Do it. Write "two plus two equals five" on the blackboard. Do it now!

Hermione approached the blackboard and picked up the chalk, but still, she was thinking. I'm not doing it. Don't mess with my maths.

Write it! Write "two plus two equals five"!

Hermione put the chalk to the board and wrote a number 2, a plus sign, another 2, and an equal sign, fighting herself all the while.

Finish it! Moody ordered. Write a five!

Hermione's hand started shaking. She pressed the chalk hard against the board, fighting to control which way her hand would move.

Write a five! NOW!

I do not screw up maths problems!

Suddenly, her hand jerked, and her fingernails raked across the blackboard with a piercing screech. The curse's hold vanished so fast it set her reeling. But when she got her bearings looked up again, she grinned.

There, on the blackboard, was a number 4.

Professor Moody started laughing. "You were right, Potter," he said. "Tell her to act like an idiot, and she'll do it, but tell her to get a maths problem wrong, and she'll fight it off like anything. Ha! Five points to Gryffindor for that one. Granger, you've got some toughness in you. Learn to use it on everything else like you do on maths, and you might be able to fight the Imperius Curse from a real dark wizard.

"Thank you, Professor Moody," she said. She decided to quit while she was ahead, and she and Harry left the room.

The excitement of last night had died down in the Gryffindor Common Room, but people still smiled when Harry came in—except that Ron and Ginny sighed, though for different reasons.

"Hey, Harry, it's almost supper time. What were you doing?" Ron demanded.

"Oh, Hermione wanted Professor Moody to train her in fighting the Imperius Curse. She wanted me to come along."

"Ooh, you went for the Imperius Curse?" Lavender Brown said. "Did he make you do anything really horrible?"

"Not that horrible," she replied. "Except he tried to make me get a maths problem wrong."

Everyone who knew Hermione well gasped.

Harry chuckled: "I know. She fought it off when Moody tried that. I gave him the idea."

"Yeah? So why did you need to go?" Ron pressed Harry.

"Why?" he said in surprise. "Because she's my best friend, and she asked for my help. She wanted someone there who could resist it."

But suddenly, Ron started to get angry. "Your best friend?" he said. "Since when is she your best friend?"

Harry stopped. That threw him. Was that what this was about? "Since she started acting like my best friend," he shot back. "You sure aren't doing a good job of it."

Oh my God, are they fighting over me? Hermione thought, to her horror.

"Hey, I've been with you for the past three years, Harry," Ron said, his voice rising. "I've been by your side in every fight. Now you're in this Tournament, and I can't even try to help you."

"Ron, what's the matter with you?" Harry shouted. "You've been acting like a total prat all day. You know I never wanted to get in any of those fights. I don't want to be in the Tournament either. None of it's my fault."

"You're still getting all the attention. You and Hermione. Me, I'm just shut out from you two, now."

"We're not shutting you out!" Harry protested.

"Yeah, Ron," Ginny chimed in. "They're still friends with you and me and Fred and George. You're just being an arse."

"Yeah, come on, Weasley," Seamus Finnigan said, "just be glad we got a Gryffindor Champion."

The general consensus in the Common Room was on Seamus's side, which only made Ron angrier. "You see?" he yelled. "It's great for you, Harry. Everyone likes you 'cause you're a Champion, and I don't even have anything to do."

No, Hermione thought, it's not about me—or not just about me.The thought was oddly relieving. It's that jealousy and inferiority complex that he's been fighting for the past three years. He thinks he can't measure up to—to us. But he's really gone off the deep end this time. I never realised he was that mad about it. And honestly, taking it out on Harry? As she listened to Ron's ranting, something deep inside of her snapped. How could he do this to his best friends after everything the three of them had been through together? How could he not see how much Harry was hurting right now? It was all over his face. Harry had just been forced into a magical contract against his will, for Merlin's sake—press-ganged into competing in a contest where he could lose his life. She couldn't even express what the equivalent crime in the muggle world would be. She'd thought of extortion—or even slavery. Good God, wizards didn't just do it to house elves; they did it to each other, too. But the word still didn't quite fit. She wracked her brain for something better. Harry had never even signed the contract. It ought to be void, but it wasn't. It was…Her eyes widened as it hit her, and the implications mounted. It was even worse than she thought. This was legalised contract fraud. She had to do something.

"Ronald, will you shut up!" she cried.

All eyes turned to her. Normally, she would have been mortified that she had just shouted loud enough to silence the whole room, but at the moment, she was too livid to care. She turned around, trying to face the whole room. "All of you should be ashamed of yourselves! Harry's been telling you all day that he didn't put his name in that twice-damned Goblet. Why would he lie about that? It's not like they'd kick him out of the Tournament. He tried to get out, and they wouldn't let him because it's a binding magical contract. He didn't want to compete in the first place—it should have been obvious to anyone who saw his face last night that he didn't. He's terrified about it. I'm terrified about it. People die in this Tournament, remember? And it's designed for N.E.W.T. students, not fourth-years."

No one spoke. It was rare to see a rant this big in the middle of the Common Room from anyone, let alone someone as quiet as she. Then, Hermione wheeled on the other boy who was supposed to be her friend. "And you, Ronald. You've known Harry longer than anyone. Do you really think he'd lie to you?"

"I don't know!" he yelled. "I don't get how he could have got in if he didn't enter."

"Maybe because magical contracts are all screwed up."

"But they couldn't really do that, could they?" he shot back. "Maybe the Boy-Who-Lived wanted to go for the fame and fortune again."

"I'm right here, you know," Harry said.

"Ron, do you even hear what you're saying?" Hermione shouted. "We're talking about Harry Potter, here. As in, the Boy-Who's-Already-Rich-And-Famous-And-Doesn't-Particularly-Want-To-Be. As in, the Boy-Who-Was-Really-Hoping-To-Have-A-Year-Where-He-Didn't-Almost-Die-…-Again. As in, the Boy-Who-Already-Tried-To-Get-Out-Of-The-Damn-Thing-And-They-Wouldn't-Let-Him. I'd believe being forced into a magical contract over Harry lying about that. And that…" Her voice caught in worry. "That is really bad. I need to get to the library."

"The library? Why?" Ginny said.

"Contract law! What else?"

Harry shook his head: "Hermione, Dumbledore said I couldn't get out of it."

"No, Harry. Not about that," she said. "This is about much more than you being stuck in the Tournament."

"What are you talking about?" said Lavender Brown. A few other people looked as if they had the same question.

Hermione was already headed for the portrait hole. "Think about it!" she said. "If you can be forced into one kind of magical contract against your will, then it stands to reason you can be forced into others. That's a big problem." She got only blank looks in return. She tried to think of some examples they would understand: "Buying or selling a house? That's a contract. You're education here? That's on a contract. Hell, marriage is a contract." She jumped through the portrait hole and hurried down the corridor.

There was silence in the Common Room. Everyone just stared at each other for about one second, and then all of the girls and a majority of the boys present dashed off through the portrait hole to follow her.

Ron stared as he watched them go. He considered following after them, but he was a little more preoccupied with the rest of Hermione's words at the moment. When she put it that way, it did seem pretty silly to think Harry entered his name in the Goblet. He knew he probably shouldn't be so hard on Harry, too, but honestly, it was bigger than that by now. It was like they were just talking past each other all day. Yes, he was worried about Harry, but he couldn't do anything about it, so why waste his time? And in the meantime, he couldn't believe they said they weren't shutting him out. What did they call running off and making plans without telling him? What did they call calling each other their "best friend" all day? Did…they like each other? It wouldn't surprise him, Ron thought. Harry seemed to attract all the attention from girls, and Hermione was nice, scarily brilliant, had saved Harry's life a bunch of times, and was starting to look really pretty…Oh, Merlin's beard, he thought. Do I like her?

Well, wasn't that just the icing on the cake? Who would ever look at him, beside Harry Potter? What was he, compared with the Boy-Who-Lived?

Ron decided to head down to supper early alone. He felt like his two best friends had walked out on him, and he couldn't quite bring himself to voice his greatest fear: that they didn't need him anymore.

The crowd of Gryffindors barrelled into the library like a tidal wave, with one Beauxbatons student riding the crest. They barely even noticed Madam Pince's protestations. Hermione, knowing the place perhaps better than anyone else in the school, made a beeline for the relevant section.

"Alright, we spread out," she said. "Look for books on magical law, focusing on magical contract law. We should probably be looking for related things, too, like bonds, agreements, vows, pacts, life debts, those kinds of things."

"Do you really think they could force someone into marriage or anything like that?" Ginny asked as they started combing the shelves.

"I don't know, but I don't want to risk it," Hermione told her. "I want answers, and as soon as possible."

They started pulling books off the shelves and swarmed the largest table, practically running over its sole previous occupant, a little third-year Ravenclaw with stringy blond hair.

"Oh my," Luna said in surprise. "Did you start a new study group, Hermione?"

"Sorry, Luna, we've got a crisis here," Ginny said quickly.

"Harry was forced into the Tournament by a binding magical contract that he never actually signed," Hermione explained. "We need to find out if you can be forced into other kinds of contracts and how to prevent it."

Luna tilted her head and stared into space for a moment. Then, she said, "That does sound important, doesn't it? Could I help?"

"Sure, grab a book and start looking up contract law."

Luna quickly found a book that looked interesting and joined the rest of the group. Soon, they were all leafing through dusty volumes that had not been touched in years at a frantic pace.

Unnoticed by the students, Madam Pince had given up trying to contain a disruption of this size herself and had gone to a higher authority. Within minutes, Minerva McGonagall walked into the library to find the largest Gryffindor study group she'd ever seen making a rather large nuisance of themselves.

"This one only talks about contracts having to be signed," Patricia Stimpson reported.

"Life debts are magically invoked, but are not considered to be magically binding," said Lee Jordan.

"Hold on, here's something on marriage," Parvati Patil read off: "Under the Marriage Reform of 1693, betrothal contracts are not valid unless signed by the actual parties to be married."

"What is going on here?"

Over two dozen Gryffindors, one ex-Gryffindor, and one Ravenclaw looked up to see a very unhappy Professor McGonagall staring them down. They were silent, unsure how to explain things.

"I have never seen a disruption in the library of this magnitude," McGonagall continued. "What on earth is this about?"

The Gryffindors were all cowed into silence by that, but Hermione cautiously stepped forward and said, "Excuse me, Professor. This was my idea. I realised that Harry being forced into the Tournament was basically contract fraud, and I wanted to find out whether it was possible to be forced into other contracts."

McGonagall blinked and sighed: "I could have answered that for you, Miss Granger. There was no need to overrun the library. Or do you think I would not have investigated Mr. Potter's selection by the Goblet very carefully?"

Hermione winced when she realised she had missed the most obvious resource. "Sorry, Professor," she said.

"The Goblet of Fire," McGonagall explained, "is very old. It does not make precisely the sort of contract that you see in parchment and ink today. Its notions of authority and consent are literally medieval. Its original use, so far as can be determined, was in drawing lots, where the lots need not be random, but instead judged by the Goblet's magic—lots for contests like this one, and for conscription for battle, or even for selecting a king, in one instance. But under medieval law, any person could be entered by an authority figure over them, and the Goblet still follows that standard. Modern contracts do not allow that."

That made quite a lot of sense to Hermione, even if the fact that it was possible to bind someone against their will, even in principle, was worrying. But then again, it would be a lot simpler to hit someone with a powerful curse directly. Than to use a contract. But then she realised something else: "But if Harry had to be entered by an authority figure, doesn't that mean one of the teachers had to have done it?"

"I'm afraid we don't know. It's possible that the Goblet was Confunded to circumvent that as well. But I want to assure all of you that it is impossible to be bound against your will into a…betrothal contract, or almost any other sort of contract, in the modern magical world."

"Yes, ma'am." Hermione and the others sheepishly put their books back and returned to Gryffindor Tower.