"The Many Faces of Har—er, Adira Potter: Chapter 25"

By = Fayanora

Chapter Twenty-five: The Triwizard Tournament

Note 1: Text in 'Italics and British quotes' is Parseltongue.

Note 2: Once more, I apologize for the bits and pieces of canon dialogue/narration here and there.

Note 3: I have different styles for the internal speech of Alastair, Adira, and Zoey, and now #Iliana (bold, italic, underlined, and now between hashtags/pound signs because some people's computers don't do the B.I.U.).# and {Tier} if I ever get around to it.

Note 4: I just ran across something that boggles my freaking mind, in a bad way. There was this guy on a YouTube video, not a bad guy, but the most ignorant cis white person I have ever bloody seen in my life. While trying to say he thought such-and-such character might be genderqueer or transgender, he instead said they were "bisexual," conflating sexuality and gender in the most ridiculous way possible. It was so cringe-worthy I had to stop watching the video two minutes in to try to educate him on the proper terminology. He also seemed to think gay men were transgender, and I had to educate him on that. It's 2017, and this man is like, at least in his early 30's and I actually had to explain to him that sexuality and gender identity are not even remotely close to being the same thing, and that he wasn't using any of the terms correctly.

So yeah, please everyone, tell me you're not that bloody ignorant. Please tell me that you know that "bisexual" means "attracted to two or more genders sexually and/or romantically," and that you know it has nothing to do with a person's gender identity. Because honestly, running into just one of these people is making me want to bang my head against a brick wall repeatedly, or scream, or cry or something. I mean, I've heard stories about people that ignorant, but I always assumed it was an urban legend. Like, Google exists for a reason and literally takes 30 seconds at the most to use.

Note 5: A guest pointed out an error on chapter 9, saying the collective already knew where Dumbledore's office was. Being too lazy to fix such an old mistake, I'm just gonna handwave it away with the following: "Momentary forgetfulness on Al's part." Same with the mistake about the glasses in chapter 20.

Yes, occasionally there are mistakes. When you've read as much HP fanfic as I have, and have a less than great memory, and disorganized notes, that will happen. In fact, it's only my great memory for my own stories that saves me from having made more mistakes than I have, little details here and there notwithstanding. But don't let this discourage you from pointing out mistakes, by all means. It is helpful when the mistakes are big enough to foul things up. And I'll have a better idea, as the author of this fanfic, which mistakes are that bad.

All hail J.K. Rowling, owner of most of these characters!

*FAYANORA*

When they arrived in the entrance hall the Monday before Halloween, they found themselves unable to proceed owing to the large crowd of students congregated there, all milling around a large sign that had been erected at the foot of the marble staircase. Ron, the tallest of the three, stood on tiptoe to see over the heads in front of them and read the sign aloud to the other two:

TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT

The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving at 6 o'clock on Friday the 30th of October. Lessons will end half an hour early —

"Good," Adira said, remembering that Snape was doing antidotes with them. "Snape won't have time to poison all of us!"

Students will return their bags and books to their dormitories and assemble in front of the castle to greet our guests before the Welcoming Feast.

"Only a week away!" said Ernie Macmillan of Hufflepuff, emerging from the crowd, his eyes gleaming. "I wonder if Cedric knows? Think I'll go and tell him. …"

"Cedric?" said Ron blankly as Ernie hurried off.

"Diggory," said Adira. "He must be entering the tournament."

"That idiot, Hogwarts champion?" said Ron as they pushed their way through the chattering crowd toward the staircase.

Adira was blushing. She and Hermione said in stereo, "He's not an idiot!"

"Yeah," Adira said.

"You just don't like him because he beat Griffindor at Quidditch!" Hermione said. "I've heard he's a really good student — and he's a prefect."

She spoke as though this settled the matter.

"And you two only like him because he's handsome." Ron said scathingly.

Adira blushed even more.

"Excuse me, I don't like people just because they're handsome!" said Hermione indignantly.

Ron gave a loud false cough, which sounded oddly like "Lockhart!"

"And what about me, eh?" Adira said, something in her tone dangerous.

"Er..."

"If you'll remember, I didn't like Lockhart at all."

"But... well, Hermione did. I mean..."

"Wait... are you jealous?" Adira asked him in a whisper. "But," she said, trying to read him better with her empathic sense, "not for my sake..."

Ron looked panicked, as Adira looked between him and Hermione.

Oh ye gods, Al said in the privacy of their shared mind, Ron and Hermione? Eww. Like Hermione would ever stoop so low. I like Ron as a friend, but thinking about Hermione and Ron snogging is like thinking of my sister and a gorilla snogging. Pardon me while I go away to try to rid my mind of that image.

"Never mind," Adira said aloud. "Don't know what I was thinking."

Ever since the sign was put up, things had been going crazy. Rumors flew, which they mostly ignored, since Al wasn't the only one in the collective who wanted nothing to do with this tournament. The castle was getting cleaned to within an inch of its life, and teachers like McGonagall were getting snippy about the presentation of the school and its students. This was, after all, a huge competition among three of the major European schools of magic.

After Neville accidentally switched his ears onto a cactus, and got chewed out about it by McGonagall, Adira started tutoring him on the spell when she could. Neville wasn't the only one to suffer McGonagall's ire, either. Javier had done so poorly with the shield spell in Dueling Club that he'd actually somehow managed to knock Adira and Ernie hard enough into each other that they'd had to go to the hospital wing to make sure they hadn't been concussed. She heard later from Ron and Hermione that she'd given him quite the chewing-out.

Ron kept trying to bring up getting into the Tournament. Adira repeated Al's line about not wanting anything to do with it. They just wanted to watch and let others do the cool and dangerous stuff for once. But Adira wasn't as convincing as Al was, because a part of her kind of did want to enter, and finally be famous for something she'd earned for once. But not if it meant breaking the rules laid down by Dumbledore.

At breakfast on the thirtieth of October, she, Ron, and Hermione went into the Great Hall, where Fred and George were working on something. Adira paid little attention to the resulting conversation between them and Ron. She was about to start eating when Javier came over to their table.

"Adira?" he said.

"Er, yeah. Hi Javier."

SHIT! I haven't written him or spoken with him or anything in over a week!

"Did you want to talk with Al?" she asked. "He, er... he just realized you two haven't communicated in over a week."

"Ah, good. Yes. I mean, I know you've got it hard, so many people sharing one body, but yeah... even when he was communicating, it wasn't much. Busy with schoolwork, I know how it goes."

"Just a moment. Zoey?"

Zoey nodded their head, and soon enough switched their body over to Al's.

"Javier!" Al said, standing up and hugging his boyfriend.

"Ah, is this Al's boyfriend, which we've heard so many rumors about?" George asked Ron.

"Yeah, that's him."

Fred shook his head. "A lion dating a snake. But you lot are weird anyway, so we'll forgive it."

"Sit down, Javier," Al said. "Spare me the banal banter of these buffoons."

George threw a sausage at Al. Al caught it mid-air, astonishing even himself, and ate it.

"You two got any ideas on the Triwizard Tournament yet?" Ron asked. "Thought any more about trying to enter?"

"I asked McGonagall how the champions are chosen but she wasn't telling," said George bitterly. "She just told me to shut up and get on with transfiguring my raccoon."

"Wonder what the tasks are going to be?" said Ron thoughtfully. "You know, I bet we could do them, Al. We've done dangerous stuff before. …"

"Not in front of a panel of judges, you haven't," said Fred. "McGonagall says the champions get awarded points according to how well they've done the tasks."

"Who are the judges?" Ron asked.

"Well, the Heads of the participating schools are always on the panel," said Hermione, and everyone looked around at her, rather surprised, "because all three of them were injured during the Tournament of 1792, when a cockatrice the champions were supposed to be catching went on the rampage."

She noticed them all looking at her and said, with her usual air of impatience that nobody else had read all the books she had, "It's all in Hogwarts, A History."

Al turned to Ron. "How many times do I have to tell you? I would rather eat live skrewts than be a part of that stupid tournament. I want to be a spectator for once."

Ron shrugged. "If you say so."

Al gave Javier a long-suffering look. Javier smiled sympathetically. They began focusing on their food.

"You want to stand by me later when the people from these other schools arrive? I hear we're going to be outside waiting for them."

"Sure, sounds fun."

There was a pleasant feeling of anticipation in the air that day. Nobody was very attentive in lessons, being much more interested in the arrival that evening of the people from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang; even Potions was more bearable than usual, as it was half an hour shorter. When the bell rang early, Al, Ron, and Hermione hurried up to Gryffindor Tower, deposited their bags and books as they had been instructed, pulled on their cloaks, and rushed back downstairs into the entrance hall.

The Heads of Houses were ordering their students into lines.

"Weasley, straighten your hat," Professor McGonagall snapped at Ron. "Miss Patil, take that ridiculous thing out of your hair."

Parvati scowled and removed a large ornamental butterfly from the end of her plait.

"Follow me, please," said Professor McGonagall. "First years in front … no pushing. …"

They filed down the steps and lined up in front of the castle. It was a cold, clear evening; dusk was falling and a pale, transparent-looking moon was already shining over the Forbidden Forest. Al, standing between Ron and Hermione in the fourth row from the front, saw Dennis Creevey positively shivering with anticipation among the other first years.

He looked around for Javier, and soon the younger boy was sidling up next to him, taking his hand. They stood there like that, waiting.

"Nearly six," said Ron, checking his watch and then staring down the drive that led to the front gates. "How d'you reckon they're coming? The train?"

"I doubt it," said Hermione.

"Why not?" asked Al. "Sounds like a good way to get here. They could take a Portkey to London, take the train here."

"Or," Javier said, "they could just Portkey to Hogsmeade."

"Fair point."

"Or," suggested Ron, "they could Apparate — maybe you're allowed to do it under seventeen wherever they come from?"

"You can't Apparate inside the Hogwarts grounds, how often do I have to tell you?" said Hermione impatiently.

"And anyway, Ron," Al said, "they're probably not going to bring their entire school here. If the rules say only 17 and older, than they're only going to bring those along."

"What? The others aren't going to watch?" Javier asked.

"Hmm... that is a good point. Well I don't know, now. But this school isn't big enough for that many students, even if you open up all the spare classrooms, so shortlisting sounds... oh yeah, and I think one of the Ministry people mentioned they were shortlisting their contenders."

They scanned the darkening grounds excitedly, but nothing was moving; everything was still, silent, and quite as usual. Al was starting to feel cold; he snuggled up to Javier best he could. He wished they'd hurry up. … Maybe the foreign students were preparing a dramatic entrance. … He remembered what Mr. Weasley had said back at the campsite before the Quidditch World Cup: "always the same — we can't resist showing off when we get together. …"

And then Dumbledore called out from the back row where he stood with the other teachers —

"Aha! Unless I am very much mistaken, the delegation from Beauxbatons approaches!"

"Where?" said many students eagerly, all looking in different directions.

"There!" yelled a sixth year, pointing over the forest.

Something large, much larger than a broomstick — or, indeed, a hundred broomsticks — was hurtling across the deep blue sky toward the castle, growing larger all the time. Al listened to the younger kids making guesses about it. Javier was staring intently at it.

Right after Dennis Creevy guessed it was a flying house, Javier said with conviction in his voice, "It's a giant carriage carried by Abraxan horses."

Al looked where he was looking. "Interesting guess."

"Not guessing. I can see it from here, quite clearly."

"Oh? I can't see it that well."

Javier shrugged. "What can I say? I have good eyes. I could tell you exactly how many horses there are, if you'd like."

"What is an Abraxan Horse?"

"Flying horses. Like Pegasus, from mythology."

"So why not call them pegasuses, or pegasi?"

"Because Pegasus was the name of an individual flying horse, not a species name."

"Ah, okay."

Sure enough, very soon landed a giant carriage the size of a house pulled by a dozen winged palominos, each the size of an elephant. Everyone stood up a little straighter, including Al, who was wondering why the thing was so huge.

As it turned out, the size of the carriage was explained when out of the carriage stepped a woman so tall and huge that her shiny black shoes were the size of a child's sled. She had to be at least as big as Hagrid, but since he was used to Hagrid, she seemed larger. As she stepped into the light flooding from the entrance hall, she was revealed to have a handsome, olive-skinned face; large, black, liquid-looking eyes; and a rather beaky nose. Her hair was drawn back in a shining knob at the base of her neck. She was dressed from head to foot in black satin, and many magnificent opals gleamed at her throat and on her thick fingers.

"Relative of Hagrid's, you reckon?" Al asked Javier once the hubbub had died down and she and her rather cold-looking students were being seen into the castle.

"Possibly."

Now they just had to wait for Durmstrang to show up. Al was barely listening to the conversation. But he did perk up when Ron heard a sound. Lee soon pointed out the source of the noise was the lake. There were loads of bubbles coming up from somewhere beneath the lake, making it look like it was boiling. Then a gigantic mast came out of the water, the rest of a giant wooden sailing ship reminiscent of a ghost ship came out of a whirlpool. Al had to admit that was pretty impressive.

The ship anchored, then a gangplank hit the ground and a whole bunch of people in heavy furs were disembarking. One of them had furs that were silver, quite a different color from the others. This turned out to be the headmaster, Professor Karkaroff.

Karkaroff had a fruity, unctuous voice; when he stepped into the light pouring from the front doors of the castle they saw that he was tall and thin like Dumbledore, but his white hair was short, and his goatee (finishing in a small curl) did not entirely hide his rather weak chin. When he reached Dumbledore, he shook hands with both of his own.

"Dear old Hogwarts," he said, looking up at the castle and smiling; his teeth were rather yellow, and Al noticed that his smile did not extend to his eyes, which remained cold and shrewd. "How good it is to be here, how good. … Viktor, come along, into the warmth … you don't mind, Dumbledore? Viktor has a slight head cold. …"

Karkaroff beckoned forward one of his students. As the boy passed, Al caught a glimpse of a prominent curved nose and thick black eyebrows. He didn't need the punch on the arm Ron gave him, or the hiss in his ear, to recognize that profile.

"Al — it's Krum!"

"Yes, thank you Ron, ever since I lost both my eyes in that tragic marshmallow accident, I've needed you to be my seeing-eye elf. Keep up the good work, you're doing brilliantly."

He gave Ron two thumbs up. Ron gave two of... another finger... to Al, but the two boys laughed to show no hard feelings.

Al was sad when they got into the Great Hall, because Javier had to go back to the Slytherin table, which is where the Durmstrang students ended up sitting. The Beaxbatons students sat at the Ravenclaw table.

At the teachers' table, Filch had added four extra chairs. Plainly two were for the newly arrived headmasters, but he didn't know who the other two were for. Whoever it was had not arrived yet, though.

Al ate, idly listening to the goings-on around him. Ron wanted Krum's autograph but couldn't because there was nothing to write on. Ron also went gaga over a girl that Al hadn't even noticed, one of the Beauxbatons lot, and was claiming she was a veela. Al thought that sounded unlikely; only humans went to magic school as far as he knew. Though he had some questions about Hagrid, Flitwick, and Madam Hooch. Lupin didn't count; as far as Al was concerned, Lupin was a human with a furry problem. Oh, and then there was Snape, who was quite possibly a vampire.

It was some time before the two extra seats got filled. One was Ludo Bagman, and the other one, he realized with a hiss of dislike, was Mr. Alder, the man who had been creepy to Iliana at the Quidditch Cup.

"What the bloody hell is he doing here?" Al asked with disgust.

"Who?"

"Up there, Mr. Alder. Remember him? He was making Iliana very uncomfortable just before the match over the summer."

"Oh Al, he and Bagman organized the match," Hermione said. "Of course they're here to oversee things."

"Well he'd better keep away from us is all I'm gonna say about it."

They had puddings left to eat still. Once they got through them, and the plates went clean again, Dumbledore got up and addressed them all. Al, whose enthusiasm for this tournament was already in the negative numbers, had been put on alert by Alder's presence. He was carefully keeping his eyes on the man, as well as looking around the room occasionally just in case. But he wasn't paying much attention to anything being said, not even Dumbledore's speech. Though some of the others in the collective were listening for him.

Al's attention came back into focus on the proceedings with the mention of the impartial judge that would be deciding who played, and the revelation that it was the "Goblet of Fire." At those words, he thought he knew what was coming, with a sick feeling in his stomach. And sure enough, the box opened up to reveal a roughly carved wooden cup full of blue-white flames.

"Oh hell no!" Al muttered, groaning.

"What?" Ron asked.

"Chalice of wood, flame within," Al said.

"What?" Ron said, looking confused. Then it clunked in place. "Oh."

"Al," Hermione said with concern in her face. "You saw that in your vision?"

"Yes. I recognize it now. I'm more sure than ever I'm gonna get roped into this stupid tournament somehow. Maybe if I run away tonight, I can escape it."

Dumbledore closed the casket and placed the goblet carefully on top of it, where it would be clearly visible to everyone in the Hall.

"Anybody wishing to submit themselves as champion must write their name and school clearly upon a slip of parchment and drop it into the goblet," said Dumbledore. "Aspiring champions have twenty-four hours in which to put their names forward. Tomorrow night, Halloween, the goblet will return the names of the three it has judged most worthy to represent their schools. The goblet will be placed in the entrance hall tonight, where it will be freely accessible to all those wishing to compete.

"To ensure that no underage student yields to temptation," said Dumbledore, "I will be drawing an Age Line around the Goblet of Fire once it has been placed in the entrance hall. Nobody under the age of seventeen will be able to cross this line."

That's it? Al thought at the others. A bloody age line? Wow, that is perhaps the most insanely insecure form of security they could possibly have thought of. I can already think of several ways past that. Older student puts a younger student's name in. Or wad the parchment up and shoot it into the goblet. Or use an owl, or a familiar, or a freaking paper airplane! Age line, sheesh. Might as well just kill me now, spare me the torture.

"Finally, I wish to impress upon any of you wishing to compete that this tournament is not to be entered into lightly. Once a champion has been selected by the Goblet of Fire, he or she is obliged to see the tournament through to the end, by a geas, that is to say, a binding magical contract. The placing of your name in the goblet thus means you must compete if chosen, or else you will suffer greatly and, I believe, even die. There can be no change of heart once you have become a champion. Please be very sure, therefore, that you are wholeheartedly prepared to play before you drop your name into the goblet. Now, I think it is time for bed. Good night to you all."

"I'm willing to bet you don't have to put your own name in," Al said. "I'm betting that's the loophole some horrible person is going to use to rope me into this crap. I'm going to escape tonight. Maybe if I'm not here when they put my name in, the binding magical contract won't take effect. Damn! Unless me being here now is enough."

"Oh Al, don't be silly, you can't run away," Hermione said. "You still need your education. And besides, Dumbledore has put an age line up, nobody can get past that if they're not 17 or older."

"Yeah, but there's nothing to stop someone 17 or older from putting in a name that isn't theirs. And anyway, I won't run away for long. Just long enough to get away from being roped into this nonsense. Honestly, why I didn't run away last night, I don't know."

When they got to their dorms, Ron followed Al to his.

"What are you doing?"

"You're not really running away, are you?"

"Tomorrow is Halloween. Something bad has happened every Halloween since I started coming to this mad school, and my parents were killed on a Halloween as well. So yes, I'm running away. Don't worry, I'll just go to Hogsmeade and then Floo home from there. Sirius will understand."

Ron stood there, looking concerned.

"You're not going to try to stop me, are you?"

"Er... no. No, in fact, if you're so keen on going, I reckon someone should go with you. And I reckon that someone should be me."

"Not all the way, surely?"

"Naw, just to Hogsmeade. Just til you Floo out."

"Who's going to see you safely back to the castle, though?"

Ron shrugged. "I'll use your cloak. If you let me."

"Sounds like a plan to me," Al said. "Since I'm not gonna be gone long, I'll just leave my trunk here. It's too heavy to carry anyway."

Al went through his things; before long, he had some Muggle clothes (just in case) and his invisibility cloak. He used a silencing spell on their feet and the two of them slipped under the cloak and headed down carefully.

When they got to the portrait hole, Hermione was standing in the doorway looking resolute.

"Move out of the way, Hermione," Al whispered.

"No. You're not running away because of something that might happen. You're being paranoid."

"Doesn't mean I'm wrong. Anyway, Ron is here with me, and I'm only going home to Sirius, via Floo from Hogsmeade. I'll come back once the Champions have been chosen. Unless I'm one of them, then I'll run farther away."

"If you do that, you'll die, I expect. 'Binding magical contract' and all that."

"Fine, whatever. I'll come back if it picks me, since I don't want to die. Just move, please."

"No. But I'll go with you. Someone has to watch Ron's back on his way back from Hogsmeade."

Al smiled, then remembered she couldn't see him.

"Come on under, then," he said, holding the cloak open for her to join them.

It was a tight fit, all three of them under the cloak, but they fit. They crept through the castle carefully. He tried not to think of getting caught, or what they'd do if they gate was locked.

They made it out the front doors without any problems, and down through the grounds toward the gates. Al reflected that if he was an animagus, he could fly or slither or run or something down there by himself and be perfectly safe. But their progress on the Animagus stuff was not any better. Then, despite his worry about the Triwizard Tournament, he suddenly realized they didn't know the anatomy of any of the animals they'd tried to become. They should study animal anatomy, it might help.

Then they got to the gates. Which were closed. The bars were too close together to squeeze through at their present mass. Which gave him another idea.

A thought, some concentration, and then the body had shrunk down to Zoey's form. Before her friends could react, she was out from under the cloak and sliding through the bars of the gate.

"Sorry guys, I'll be fine from here," she said as, with another thought, they grew in size again and became somewhat doglike. It wasn't a very good form, but it was faster than being human. They ignored Hermione's and Ron's cries, and ran down toward Hogsmeade. Freedom! They'd done it! Free-

"YIP!" they cried, as someone grabbed them by the scruff of their neck and lifted them up.

"What're you lot doin' outta bounds a' this time o' night, eh?" said a familiar voice. They whined, but if they were going to be caught by anybody, best it was Hagrid.

"An' lookin like tha', no less! D'yeh realize not evryone knows yeh can do tha'? Yeh coulda been anything, summun could kill yeh with a spell an' not know they was doin murder!"

They whined again.

"Get back to yer normal form, then."

He set them down and soon Al was standing there, fully human.

"So where d'ya think yer goin', eh?"

"I'm scared someone will put my name in that bloody goblet of fire. I was hoping that running back to Sirius, back to London, would make me immune."

"Oh, yeh think distance matters in magic, do yeh?"

"Yes. It has to. Otherwise someone could put, I dunno, Minister Fudge's name in the goblet and he'd have to compete."

"I dunno about that, seein as he's not in school anymore."

"I don't know how smart or stupid that Goblet is."

"Hmm... good point. But cummon, let's git you back up ter the-"

CRACK! went the night. Al had popped his wand into his hand and Disapparated without a license, so strong was his desire to get away.

Hagrid looked down at the ground where Al had been. What he saw made his face turn white.

"Galopin gargoyles!" Hagrid said.

That had not, as it turned out, been a good idea. Al arrived inside the only part of their home that he could without opening the wards, which he hadn't known how to do from so far away. But that wasn't the problem; his problem was he was missing a foot, and bleeding onto the hearth.

"AHH!" he screamed, going down in agony. "SIRIUS!"

He heard someone leap down the stairs and come running into the room. He looked up; Sirius had his wand out and was looking wildly around. He spotted Al, and his face went from panic to confusion to panic and confusion in a very short space of time.

"What the...?"

"Splinched... myself..."

Sirius opened the wards and stopped the bleeding with his wand. The pain was still there, but it was more bearable now.

"Come on, gotta get you to St. Mungo's," Sirius said, taking Al over his shoulder and tossing Floo powder in.

"St. Mungo's Hospital," Sirius barked once they were inside the green flames.

They spun around through the warm darkness, Al in too much pain to get sick, and out into the bright light of what would have been a perfectly normal reception room if not for witches and wizards that Al barely noticed, all in clear distress of different magical varieties.

"Wait there," said the witch at the desk before Sirius had even said anything, pressing a button as she did. "Healers are on their way right now. Where is the missing appendage?"

"Probably at Hogwarts," Sirius said. "Is that right, Al?"

Al nodded. "Outside the gate," he said weakly. "Hagrid is there."

By a lucky coincidence, a Floo fire came up in a nearby grate. Dumbledore stepped through, Al's foot in his hand.

"I believe this is the missing appendage," Dumbledore said mildly, handing it to one of the Healers who were swarming around Al.

Within minutes, Al felt the foot be reattached with a puff of purple smoke. The pain didn't go away entirely, but it felt a lot better, aside from the pins and needles feeling that was spreading through his foot. The Healers gave him some potions, and one of them was putting a soothing salve on the place where the foot had been reattached.

The emergency over with now, the Healers told Sirius and Dumbledore as much. Almost immediately, Sirius rounded on Al.

"What were you thinking? Why did you leave the school? What happened, anyway? Were you attacked?"

"Not yet," Al said weakly.

"Not yet? What do you mean?"

"Chalice of wood, flame within," Al intoned. He heard Dumbledore say 'Ah' in sudden understanding.

"What?" Sirius said. "What's he on about, Dumbledore? I mean, I know that's from his vision, but is there something I'm missing?"

"The Triwizard Tournament began tonight. The Goblet of Fire, which is used to pick the contestants, is made of wood, but is filled with fire." He turned to Al. "So you saw the Goblet and thought it was the one in your vision? But why did that prompt you to run, Alastair?"

"It was the thing I saw in my vision. And I don't want to be part of that damn tournament. Had a feeling... someone's gonna put my name in it. Sh—tuff happens to me every bloody Halloween. People trying to kill me every year. And your 'security' would be laughable if the situation wasn't so serious. An age line, really? I can think of half a dozen ways past that off the top o' my head."

Sirius nodded. "Normally I'd say you were listening too well to Moody, but given that it's you, pup, I guess a little paranoia is understandable. But you should've gone to Dumbledore."

"Couldn't risk him thinking I was overreacting. He might've said no. Adults aren't exactly reliable, in my experience. Except possibly for you, Sirius. And anyway, this wouldn't have happened if Hagrid hadn't caught me. I couldn't get through the bars. Had to leave the Cloak behind. Zoey slipped between the bars. Tier got us halfway down to Hogsmeade before Hagrid caught us."

"Why Hogsmeade?"

"Was gonna Floo over here."

"And you left your father's cloak behind?"

"Not to worry, Sirius," Dumbledore said. "Mister Ronald Weasley and Miss Hermione Granger had it. No, Al, they will not get into trouble this time. Nor will you. I believe splinching yourself would be punishment enough anyway, but given that you were genuinely afraid for your life, I will not punish you, nor your friends for helping you. But I should mention, also, that from what I know of the Goblet of Fire, it would not matter how far you were from it if someone puts your name in, except that there are grave consequences if you run away while under its geas. So you might as well return to school."

"That is completely daft, sir. What if someone put Cornelius Fudge's name in?"

"The Goblet of Fire is intelligent enough to know whether someone is still in school or not. Only those who are students may be selected by the Goblet of Fire. Which I know is no comfort to you, but-"

"Expel me, then. Just for a day or two, or whatever."

Dumbledore sighed, but with a slight twinkle in his eye. "I would love to help you feel more secure, Alastair, I really would. But while I could easily expel you, the process of being reinstated takes rather a long time. Also, such attempts have rarely been successful. It is not a feasible solution, Alastair."

"You sure I couldn't run to the US? Or Australia?"

"I do not know the exact range of the Goblet, Alastair, but it is an extremely old and extremely powerful artifact. I believe it best not to try your luck."

Al sighed.

"The wizarding world is bloody insane, you know that, right?"

"The Muggle world is full of its own insanities. Of course, you must also bear in mind that the Goblet of Fire is hundreds, possibly thousands, of years old. Much has changed in that time. If the Goblet of Fire had been made this past year, those under 17 would not even be able to be considered by it. As it is, I had to put the age line up. But you have pointed out that there are greater securities that have to be put in place."

"How about inspecting every name someone wants to put in before they do it?"

"I'm afraid that such an action would discourage many people from putting in their names. And there is likely some way around that anyway. Also, the Goblet has been unattended for several hours already. Doing such a thing would be no guarantee."

Al sighed. He was glad Dumbledore was taking his fear seriously, even if he wasn't being much of a help otherwise.

Dumbledore sighed as well. "I very much hope your fears turn out to be groundless, Alastair. If you do end up having to participate, the other two school heads will be very angry with me for letting it happen, even though there's little to be done. But we shall cross that bridge if we get to it."

"Couldn't you put, I dunno, a spy spell on the room it's in? I know it might be futile, but it might help, too."

"Yes, I believe I shall indeed do that. If only to ease your mind and mine. In the meantime... am I correct in assuming that the only time you have been unobserved by others since the Goblet was lit was the time between escaping the grounds and getting caught by Hagrid?"

"Yeah. And the minute or two between me Disapparating and Sirius finding me. Why?"

"If we continue to have you under observation, and someone has indeed put your name in the Goblet, we shall be able to provide memories to prove that you could not have done it yourself."

"Er... I'm not going to get spied on in the bathroom, am I?"

"No. Apparating within the grounds can only be done by House Elves. We shall have to conveniently forget to mention that you have a House Elf who is a friend of yours. I do not feel such information would be relevant, after all. And most wizards would not even think of it."

"So does that mean Ron is going to be sleeping in my room? Wait... sleeping? For your plan to work, sir, someone will have to watch me sleep. Which is creepy."

"I can do it, Dumbledore," Sirius said. "I can accompany him as a dog and watch him all night long, so he and Ron can both get some sleep."

"You will be able to do that, Sirius?"

"After tonight's excitement, I don't think I could sleep anyway."

"Then it shall be so. You're registered, but I doubt if many know you're an Animagus. Though you are an awfully large dog, Sirius."

"I'm a loveable dog, though. I doubt I'll scare anyone. And if I do, we can make it up to them somehow."

"Good. Now that's settled, I shall speak with the Healers. It occurs to me now that you may not need to return to the castle, Sirius. The Healers may wish to keep Alastair overnight."

Dumbledore left, and Al turned to look at Sirius. He finally noticed that Sirius was wearing his favorite Grateful Dead t-shirt, purple sweat-pants, and fuzzy green slippers.

"Fashionable," Al said.

Sirius laughed. "I sure am. But don't try to distract me with irrelevancies, Al. I understand your fear, but instead of running away, you should have asked McGonagall if you could fire-call me. If you had, I'd have come to get you right away, and you wouldn't have splinched yourself."

"Oh. Oops. Well, I'll keep that in mind for next time, assuming I live that long."

Sirius leaned over and hugged Al in a tight embrace.

"Please don't scare me like that again, any of you."

Al nodded. "We'll try not to."

"Good."

An awkward silence rose up. Casting around for something to say, Al said, "Green slippers, huh? They run out of pink? I think pink would look good on you."

Sirius laughed. "I'll keep that in mind. I do actually like pink. It's not my favorite, but it's okay. Back in my grandfather's day, pink was the color they dressed little boys in, and blue was for girls. Then at some point, the meanings of the two colors switched. I heard rumors the switch originated in the Muggle world, and spread to us by osmosis."

"Osmosis, eh? I didn't know wizards knew that word."

"I don't think most do. Anyway, you should rest now, I expect. It's late anyway, and you're recovering."

"Okay, Sirius."

As Dumbledore predicted, the Healers did indeed want to keep Al overnight. Sirius stayed in the room as a human, watching Al as he fell asleep. He was still in place hours later, when Al woke up. Al went to the bathroom, and then Sirius saw him down to the reception room of the hospital, where he used the Floo back to Dumbledore's office. Professor McGonagall met Al there and escorted him down to the Great Hall for breakfast.

He had barely sat down when Ron and Hermione came rushing in and sat down beside him.

"What happened, Al? We saw Hagrid running up to the castle with your foot in his hand! He said you'd splinched yourself!"

"You just answered your own question, there," Al said. "Hagrid caught us halfway to Hogsmeade, literally caught us in his hand. When he let me go, probably on the presumption I'd go willingly with him, I Disapparated. I guess I was just that desperate. But it was a bad idea, as you saw part of. Damn, I bled all over Sirius's floor last night before he stopped the bleeding. I ended up going to Saint Mungo's. They put me back together again, and I stayed overnight for observation."

He he continued on with the rest of the tale, what he and Sirius and Dumbledore had talked about, and the plan to keep him under scrutiny so it could be shown he hadn't put his own name in, if it happened.

The tale finished, he went back to his food. But he'd only been eating a few minutes when Fred and George came in looking like the cats who ate the canaries.

"Done it," Fred said in a triumphant whisper to Al, Ron, and Hermione. "Just taken it."

"What?" said Ron.

"The Aging Potion, dung brains," said Fred.

"One drop each," said George, rubbing his hands together with glee. "We only need to be a few months older."

"We're going to split the thousand Galleons between the three of us if one of us wins," said Lee, grinning broadly.

"I'm not sure this is going to work, you know," said Hermione warningly "I'm sure Dumbledore will have thought of this."

Fred, George, and Lee ignored her.

"Ready?" Fred said to the other two, quivering with excitement. "C'mon, then — I'll go first —"

Al watched as they got out the parchments with their names on them, and stepped forward to put their names in. But they didn't get nearly close enough when they were shoved out by a magical force, and grew long white beards, like miniature Dumbledores.

The entrance hall rang with laughter. Even Fred and George joined in, once they had gotten to their feet and taken a good look at each other's beards.

"I did warn you," said a deep, amused voice, and everyone turned to see Professor Dumbledore coming out of the Great Hall. He surveyed Fred and George, his eyes twinkling. "I suggest you both go up to Madam Pomfrey. She is already tending to Miss Fawcett, of Ravenclaw, and Mr. Summers, of Hufflepuff, both of whom decided to age themselves up a little too. Though I must say, neither of their beards is anything like as fine as yours."

"Hey guys," Al whispered, catching them before they left for the hospital wing. "Have someone old enough put your names in. Or use an owl, or a paper airplane. The more people like you who apply, the lesser the chance some berk can get me chosen against my will."

"Gotcha, Al, that's a great idea," Fred said.

"Yeah, I can't believe we didn't think of it ourselves," said George.

Al went back to the table feeling only slightly less anxious. He really hoped Fred or George would get chosen, so he wouldn't. If anyone could do it, they could; they were very clever, and they deserved the money.

Looking around at all the decorations, reflecting that he'd probably actually like Halloween if crazy stuff didn't always happen on it every year, Al led the way over to Dean and Seamus, who were discussing those Hogwarts students of seventeen or over who might be entering.

"There's a rumor going around that Warrington got up early and put his name in," Dean told Al. "That big bloke from Slytherin who looks like a sloth."

Iliana, who had played Quidditch against Warrington, shook Al's head in disgust.

"He'll probably be disqualified on the grounds of being a chimpanzee," Al said.

"Yeah," said Ron. "We can't have a Slytherin Champion!"

"I disagree. It would depend on the Slytherin. Much as I hate the little berk, Malfoy is clever enough to win; he's always right behind Hermione in grades. Anyway, I'd nominate Javier if he wasn't abysmal at dueling."

"And all the Hufflepuffs are talking about Diggory," said Seamus contemptuously. "But I wouldn't have thought he'd have wanted to risk his good looks."

"Lay off Diggory, okay? Honestly, to hate someone just because they won some stupid game," Al said.

"Stupid game-" Seamus started indignantly.

"Listen!" said Hermione suddenly, cutting Seamus off.

People were cheering out in the entrance hall. They all swiveled around in their seats and saw Angelina Johnson coming into the Hall, grinning in an embarrassed sort of way. A tall black girl who played Chaser on the Gryffindor Quidditch team, Angelina came over to them, sat down, and said, "Well, I've done it! Just put my name in!"

"You're kidding!" said Ron, looking impressed.

"Are you seventeen, then?" asked Al.

" 'Course she is, can't see a beard, can you?" said Ron.

"I had my birthday last week," said Angelina.

"Well, I'm glad someone from Gryffindor's entering," said Hermione. "I really hope you get it, Angelina!"

"Thanks, Hermione," said Angelina, smiling at her.

"Yeah, better you than Pretty-Boy Diggory," said Seamus, causing several Hufflepuffs passing their table to scowl heavily at him.

"Don't be a berk," Al loudly said to Seamus, so the Hufflepuffs would hear him. "Diggory has brains as well as good looks, and Hufflepuff deserves some glory." He surreptitiously glanced at the Hufflepuffs; they looked pleased by his words.

"Why are you defending him, Al?" Seamus asked hotly. "And calling Quidditch stupid. You play Quidditch!"

"No I don't. Iliana does. I can barely stay on a broom at all, and even if I could, the game is utterly ruined by the snitch. And anyway, it wasn't his fault he won that one time, it was Iliana's for falling off the broom. And the dementors, for making it happen. Cedric tried to call for a rematch, or did you forget?"

Seamus looked abashed. "Oh yeah, I forgot. Still, I don't get why you're defending him. Unless you fancy him?"

Al felt his face going hot, but it was with anger.

"What do you mean by that?" he said in a deceptively calm, quiet voice, filled with ice.

"I just mean, I've seen you hangin' around with that Slytherin weirdo. Hear he's your boyfriend, too. But then you defend Diggory, so I dunno, maybe you're only with the weirdo snake because you can't have Cedric, since you're a weirdo yourself. I guess birds of a feather flock together."

He glared at Seamus, feeling his blood boil. Maybe it was his fears making him edgy, or something else, but Al wanted to lash out at someone.

"I will not listen to you insult my boyfriend. I challenge you to a duel!" Al shouted.

Seamus blinked, but recovered quickly. "That so? Right, then, Potter. Dean's my second, right Dean?"

"Uh... I guess. Yes."

"Right, that's settled. Who's your second?"

"I am," Ron said.

"Name your time and place, Potter."

"Five minutes from now, out on the grounds by the lake."

"You're on."

They glared at each other, and Seamus stormed off. Al followed him a few paces behind.

"Al, what are you doing?" Hermione asked, worried, as she struggled to keep up with him.

"He angered me. And he called Javier and I weirdos. That's our term, Hermione. He doesn't get to call us that."

A few minutes later, they were in place. Seamus was in front of him. Hermione was refereeing, since she couldn't stop it from happening, try as she might.

"Nothing below the belt," she said resignedly. "Nothing dangerous, right? Just disarm or knock the other person down, or both. Agreed?"

The two boys nodded curtly, glaring at each other.

"Bow to each other. Good. Okay, on the count of three then. One, two, THREE!"

She jumped back. The crowd that had formed around them kept its distance as they circled each other, wands pointing at one another.

"EXPELIARMUS!" Seamus shouted. Al blocked it with a shield charm.

Seamus shot another spell at him, and again he blocked it.

Al just let Seamus do all the offensive magic for over a minute, Seamus using a variety of different jinxes like the tickling jinx, jelly-legs, and Locomotor mortis, Al ducking or blocking easily, his eyes locked on Seamus's eyes the whole time. In fact, Hermione noticed something rather interesting... Al was already moving out of the way or moving into position to shield before Seamus had even begun to form a spell with his mouth, and he was doing it consistently. Almost like he knew what Seamus was going to do before he did it.

After playing with his opponent for nearly five whole minutes, Al struck. Seamus started to mouth a spell, and in the same instant, Al shot a non-verbal spell at Seamus; red spell-light hit Seamus and knocked him to the ground, his wand flying from his hand. Al grinned smugly, bowed to the throng, put his wand away, and walked away through the silent, staring crowd.

He found himself going down toward Hagrid's. Hermione and Ron soon caught up.

"That was wicked! You didn't even say anything! And the way you kept dodging his spells! It was bloody brilliant!"

"Yes," Hermione said, sounding suspicious. "I'm very curious how you managed that. You seemed to be reading his mind."

"Not quite. But the answer is simple enough, if you think about it."

"Oh?" Ron said, confused.

"He's talking about his heart-reading power. He was reading Seamus's mind, or soul, or whatever. It takes an entire second for a command to go from the brain to a limb, and most of our decisions are made by the subconscious mind before we 'decide' consciously to do it. Al would've had plenty of time to react to what he was seeing in Seamus's mind before Seamus could do what he'd planned. Al, that's... I don't know if it's cheating or not, but it feels like it."

Al shrugged. "Dunno. Don't care. I have an advantage. I'm not going to refrain from using it just to be fair. I'm not a Hufflepuff. I'm a Griffindor on the cusp of Slytherin. Anyway, we haven't visited Hagrid in ages, let's go."

Hermione folded her arms and shivered. "I've just noticed it's freezing out here, and I don't have a cloak."

He froze, then turned back toward the school. "Yeah, now that you mention it, I'm a bit chilly too."

"Well that was an education," Al said on their way back from Hagrid's. "So Hagrid fancies Madame Maxime. Interesting."

Ron balked. "If they end up having children, they'll be setting a world record — bet any baby of theirs would weigh about a ton."

Al just nodded absent-mindedly. He was too preoccupied by his fears to comment on this. He was anxious for this day to be over so he could escape these fears. Fears that were eating him up inside. While others were eating sparingly out of excitement and the fact this was the second feast in two nights, he wasn't eating because he felt like his stomach was made of something very horrible and uncomfortable. He had barely eaten at all when the food vanished and Dumbledore was ready to start finding out who was going to be Champion for their respective school.

He didn't chew his nails, but he felt tempted to as the Goblet spat out its first name – Fleur DeLacour, the girl Ron thought was a veela. The other boys and girls of Beauxbaton looked very disappointed. Some of them were even crying. Al almost felt like joining them. He watched as Fleur left for a room behind the teacher's table.

Out came another name: Viktor Krum, for Durmstrang. This bloody goblet was going to drag his agony out as long as possible, obviously. Krum joined Fleur shortly in the room behind the front table.

One last name to come. The Goblet seemed to wait ages and eons to spit this name out, but finally it did; like the other two times, the flames changed color, and out came a scorched bit of parchment.

"Cedric Diggory!" Dumbledore called out, winking at Al.

Al relaxed. He almost laughed with relief. He'd escaped it. His fears had been-

Something was happening. Dumbledore had been mid-speech, clearly also convinced the danger was over, when the Goblet's fire changed color again, and spat out another name.

Al didn't hear the name that came out. He didn't need to anyway, but he couldn't have heard the name being said, because he was too busy being passed out on the floor.