Chapter One: Confrontation
Harry wanted more than anything to find Ron and Hermione, to find a bit of sanity, but neither of them seemed to be among the roistering Gryffindors in the common room. Insisting that he needed to sleep, and almost flattening the two Creevey brothers as they attempted to waylay him at the bottom of the stairs, Harry finally managed to shake everyone off and climb up to the dormitory.
To his great relief, he found Ron was lying on his bed in the otherwise empty dormitory, still fully dressed. He looked up when Harry slammed the door behind him.
"Where've you been?" Harry said.
"Oh hello," said Ron.
He was grinning, but it was a very odd, strained sort of grin. Harry suddenly became aware that he was wearing the scarlet Gryffindor banner that Lee Jordan had tied around him. He hastened to take it off, but it was tied very tightly. Ron lay on the bed without moving, watching Harry struggle to remove it.
"So," he said, when Harry had finally removed the banner and thrown it into a corner. "Congratulations."
"What d'you mean, congratulations?" said Harry, staring at Ron. There was definitely something wrong with the way Ron was smiling; it was more like a grimace.
"Well... no one else got across the Age Line," said Ron. "Not even Fred and George. What did you use - the Invisibility Cloak?"
"The Invisibility Cloak wouldn't have got me over that line," said Harry slowly.
"Oh, right," said Ron. "I thought you might've told me if it was the cloak... because it would've covered both of us, wouldn't it? But you found another way, did you?"
"Listen," said Harry, "I didn't put my name in that goblet. Someone else must've done it."
Ron raised his eyebrows.
"What would they do that for?"
"I dunno," said Harry. He felt it would sound melodramatic to say, "To kill me."
Ron's eyebrows rose so high that they were in danger of disappearing into his hair.
"It's okay, you know, you can tell me the truth," he said. "If you don't want anyone else to know, fine, but I don't know why you're bothering to lie, you didn't get into trouble for it, did you? That friend of the Fat Lady's, that Violet, she's already told us all Dumbledore's letting you enter. A thousand Galleons prize money, eh? And you don't have to do end-of-year tests either..."
"I didn't put my name in that goblet!" said Harry, starting to feel angry.
"Yeah, okay," said Ron, in exactly the same sceptical tone as Cedric. "Only you said this morning you'd have done it last night, and no one would have seen you... I'm not stupid, you know."
Harry glared and outright growled at his best friend. "For crying out loud, Ron, what do you want me to say? I'm a fourth year - there's no way I can compete with Cedric or Fleur, let alone bloody Krum. Even if I somehow manage not to get injured or killed, I'm definitely going to look like a complete prat in front of everyone. Do you really think I want that? Get it through your head, Ron - I don't want any of this. I hate the fame I already had, and I already have way more money than I know what to do with. There's absolutely no sane reason why I'd want to enter myself in the tournament, even if I knew how. Which I don't, by the way. Come on, you saw how shocked I was when my name came out. I never asked for this, Ron, I swear."
Ron rolled off his bed and strode to Harry, towering over him threateningly. "If you don't want it, then why are you doing it? Why not just quit?"
"Um... Binding magical contract? I lose my magic if I quit, and I'd rather look like a fool than lose my magic."
"So just don't try. Show up at the events, but don't actually try. You'd still be competing, but without all the danger. But you won't, will you? You can't resist the glory, whether you entered your name or not - you just can't stay away from the spotlight."
Harry was staring at Ron, slack-jawed. After a moment his face snapped into a huge grin.
"Of course! Ron, you're brilliant! That's exactly what I'll do, and to hell with anyone who doesn't believe me, and I don't even care whether they think I'm a hero or a villain or whatever."
Ron was now staring at Harry; if anything, he was even more stunned than Harry had been a moment before.
"You... you really mean that? You'd really just give it up like that?"
"Of course I would! I mean of course I will! I mean, what's to give up? It's not as if I could actually win the tournament - like I said, I'd just be making a fool of myself and maybe getting hurt or killed. No thanks."
A smile spread slowly across Ron Weasley's face, happy and relaxed.