Harry had had enough.
He turned silently, and
began to walk away...
- Goblet of Fire
by JK Rowling
Finding An Exit
Harry Potter's spirits were at a low, low slump. Dragons! How was he supposed to get past a fifty-foot-high, scaly, spike-ridden, fire-breathing monster! Wasn't it enough that everyone in the school now detested him? Again? But this was worse than all the hatred that had been heaped on him during his second-year at the school. Fear clutched his heart. Dragons! How could he survive such a nightmarish beast?
Harry sped along through the night, skirting the edge of the Forest; he had just under fifteen minutes to get back to the Gryffindor fireside and talk to Sirius in the Floo flames, and he couldn't remember, ever, wanting to talk to someone more than he did right now – when, without warning, he ran into something very solid.
Harry cried out as he fell backwards, his glasses askew, clutching the invisibility cloak around him. A voice nearby said, "Owh! Who's there?"
Harry hastily checked that the cloak was covering him and lay very still, staring up at the dark outline of the wizard he had hit. He recognised the goatee ... it was Karkaroff, the Headmaster of Durmstrang, no doubt scouting out the dragons for their champion, Viktor Krum.
"I know you're here!" barked Karkaroff, groping around in the darkness. Harry remained still and silent. Minutes passed. Karkaroff seemed unwilling to give up his search. "Oh, I heard you right enough ... you will not escape me." Harry daren't even look at his watch for fear of making the tiniest sound or revealing an elbow. Surely Sirius would wait for him? Karkaroff continued to stomp angrily around, but perhaps he was now slightly further away – should Harry make a run for it? He dare not, not yet. More minutes passed...
An angry hiss of breath was released, then the footsteps receded in the direction of the dragon enclosure. Harry held on for another half minute before crawling off in the opposite direction towards the castle. Pretty soon he was on his feet and running ... running...
Harry was breathless by the time he'd entered the gloomy Gryffindor common room and had thrown himself in front of the fireplace.
"Sirius! Sirius!" The boy grimaced in anguish. Surely his godfather could have stayed longer? "Come on, Sirius! I need you!" But the flames remained impassive and Harry's hopes faded. He was now utterly alone.
"Who were you talking to?"
It was Ron. Dressed in his maroon paisley pyjamas.
"What's that got to do with you?" Harry snarled. "Just thought you'd come nosing around, did you?" He knew that Ron had no idea what he'd walked in on, knew he hadn't done it on purpose, but he didn't care – at this moment he hated everything about Ron, right down to his stupid, hand-me-down, I'm-so-hard-done-to pyjamas.
Ron sneered, his face reddening with anger. "Yeah, I should've realised you didn't want to be disturbed. I'll let you get on with practising for your next interview in peace."
Harry seized one of the POTTER STINKS badges off the table and chucked it as hard as he could across the room. It hit Ron on the forehead and bounced off, leaving Ron off-balance.
"There you go," Harry said as he shoulder-barged past."Something for you to wear on Tuesday. You might even have a scar now if you're lucky ... that's what you want, isn't it?"
Harry stormed upstairs. He lay awake in bed fuming for a long time afterwards. Apart from Hermione, he was friendless and desolate. Why was he being forced into this Tournament? Even if the dragon didn't kill him, would that stop whoever had put his name in? He rolled over, burying his face in the pillow to try to smother a groan. A tripping jinx would put him at the mercy of the gigantic creature. It did not even need to be the person who'd got him into the Tournament. Anyone could do it, and everyone despised him. There was no doubt that Snape or maybe Malfoy and others would be glad to see him dead.
He sat up. He lay down again. The stress was unendurable. It was a tired, miserable Harry Potter that awoke the next morning. But something had changed during the couple of hours of sleep he'd managed to snatch – a change that had been crucial if he was not to go completely mad. A new attitude had resolved itself in his head. Might he not just walk away from it all? From the Tournament? From Hogwarts and all the bigotry and hate? Not like a runaway who'd done something wrong, but could he walk away head high, properly and legally? Hogwarts had seemed like a second home when he'd been eleven – but wasn't that simply because of the new excitement of magic, not to mention escaping the Dursleys? He had a small fortune in his vault; why could he not be free?
Harry confronted Hermione at breakfast about getting out of the Tournament. He didn't mention leaving the school.
"I don't know, Harry. I was born in the Muggle world. I could look in the library, I suppose, but I doubt there's anything about breaking magical contracts, or the Headmaster would have told you."
The Headmaster was busy most of the morning with the additional complexity of Tournament arrangements. Lunch was the first opportunity. Harry wolfed down a couple of sandwiches then made his way up the winding stair.
But Dumbledore seemed less than sympathetic. "Harry, we have no choice but to accept the situation for what it is. You have been chosen to compete in the Tournament. This, therefore, you must do."
"A magical contract is binding, Harry."
Harry wasn't sure that Dumbledore was being entirely honest with him. "What if I leave Hogwarts?"
"Leave, Harry? As a minor, you must attend school."
"Do not concern yourself. All efforts are being made to ensure the safety of every entrant."
"What if I'm engulfed by flames forty feet long? And Professor Moody said someone wants me dead, so it won't be just a dragon!"
Dumbledore frowned. "You know of–?"
"–And this is just the first task! What else have you got in store for me!" Harry rose to his feet. "So you won't help me get out of this?"
"Harry, I am unable to assist you."
"Then I'll do it on my own," snapped Harry, and walked away.
All through Charms that afternoon, Harry was distracted. What would happen if he simply refused? Would the magical contract compel him to walk into the arena? Force him to deal with a dragon? That seemed unlikely without a mind to control him. Would breaking the contract drain away his magic? Even end his life? But he felt sure now he was so likely to die in a few days' time anyway so what would it matter? He had to take the chance.
Anyway, I'd rather just drop dead than be burned alive. It was almost a relief to have come to a decision even if it meant death. At least he wouldn't be–
Harry blinked and looked around. Everyone was waving their wands about and chanting spells. Hermione in particular had a pile of chalks, quills, and even a wastepaper basket on her desk – with a board duster flying through the air towards her at that very moment.
"Sorry, Professor?" said Harry.
"Concentrate, Potter," said Flitwick. "Remember the incantation: Accio then point and focus on the object you wish to summon and name it, like so: Accio book"
A large volume of Ten Thousand Charms You Should Know sped out of an open cupboard and knocked the little man off his feet causing everybody to laugh. But Harry wasn't in a cheerful mood. He was more certain than ever that he was going to die.
"Stay behind after class, Potter," squeaked Flitwick, rubbing his nose irritably.
Ron, who had kept well over on the other side of Hermione, was one of the first to leave at the end of the lesson. She scooped up her books and, with a backward glance of sympathy, followed Ron. Soon the classroom was empty but for himself and the teacher.
"I'm assigning you extra homework," said Professor Flitwick.
"Professor, may I ask you something?" said Harry, as he walked forward to collect the instructions that Flitwick was holding out.
"What is it? I have another class shortly."
"A student doesn't have to remain at Hogwarts, do they? I mean, when I was eleven, my letter only said I had a place here, and I remember it had: 'We await your owl'. Didn't that mean they were asking for my agreement?"
Flitwick stared at Harry thoughtfully for a few moments. "Schooling is not mandatory in the magical world, Mr Potter, though it is highly recommended. Careers not requiring qualifications would severely limit one's options."
"And how would one arrange that? To leave, I mean?"
"A letter from a legal guardian is all that is required. Addressed to the Deputy Headmistress in the first instance."
"And if that letter were... torn up and thrown away?"
Flitwick gasped. "Surely you don't think–"
"–Just saying 'if', Professor."
Flitwick climbed up onto the pile of books that lay on his chair and sat down. He barely moved his hand but several sheets of parchment flew to it. For almost half a minute he incanted a complex charm upon them before handing the parchments to Harry. "Whatever is written on any of these parchments will appear on all three. One of them registers with Ministry records and will alert the business section of Magical Law Enforcement if either of the other two is tampered with or destroyed. The third copy is for... your friend."
"Thank you, Professor." Harry could hear students gathering outside, a couple of sixth-years peered in the doorway. One jeered softly.
"I would advise strongly against this action, Mr Potter."
"You think I should remain in the Tournament and be eaten or burned alive?"
"Every precaution has been taken to–"
"–Professor, whoever put my name in that Goblet wants me to die. What precaution could possibly save me if I just happened to fall at the wrong moment? Or my voice silenced, my wand lost, my eyesight blinded? Easily done from the sidelines and no one the wiser. What then, Professor? Could you save me? Could anyone?"
Flitwick had no answer except to say, "I urge you to reconsider."
"What happens if I break a magical contract?"
"Out of the question! You would never be party to any magical contract ever again. Think about it, Potter! One day you might need a loan to buy property, and many careers require such a contract. Even a marriage contract will no longer be possible."
"Professor, I don't expect to live long enough for any of those to be likely."
Stunned into silence, Flitwick watched the boy walk away.
"Nothing, Harry. I'm really sorry." Hermione wearily patted Harry's arm, but it didn't help his feelings of hopelessness. He'd still held a faint hope of remaining at Hogwarts. Glumly, Harry stared at the mountain of books before them in the library.
"Nothing at all in this lot about changing contracts? Challenging unlawful contracts which have been forced on you by some git who you don't even know? Nothing about being in a contract while still underage?"
"Well, technically I suppose the Tournament contract regards you as an adult because well, by definition, it's impossible for you not to be. I'd consult a law firm if it were me."
"A law firm..."
"Harry, you're on your own as it stands. A law firm could manage your affairs for you. Be good to have someone like that in your corner. There's a list of professionals in ... this book here." She pulled one out of the stack and handed it to him. "Better check your bank vault though – advice doesn't come cheap. Gringotts can help you there. They offer all kinds of financial guidance not just storage, you know."
Harry looked around at the other students as they pored over books and scribbled away with quills like they had nothing more to worry about than how many inches of History essay they needed to complete. All of them had parents they could turn to if anything serious happened, Harry realised. He had nobody but the Dursleys. And that was it. That was the nux of the matter. Suddenly, all was clear.
"Right. Thanks, Hermione. I know what I'm doing now."
"Yes. I'm going to write some letters."
Ragnok the goblin scraped his claws across the letter before him. His jaws parted in a nasty grin, revealing a row of sharp little teeth. "Griphook! In here."
A goblin stomped in. "Sir?"
Ragnok handed over the letter. "One of our better clients now wishes to use more of our services than merely allowing his wealth to accumulate. Set up the necessaries. Advise him. Inform him of what is available. Report your progress directly to me."
Griphook looked at the signature on the letter and released gas before hurrying off to carry out his superior's orders.
Not very distant from Gringotts, Paul Dither was consulting his partner. "Yes, it's the Potter boy himself right enough. We need to be ultra discreet with this one, Jack, and no slipups else the publicity would be disastrous. Give him anything he wants and for Merlin's sake keep him happy! The lad's had a raw deal so do everything you can for him."
Jack Dodge nodded, smiled, and reached for his quill.
Meanwhile, at St. Mungo's Hospital, an isolated cleaner was Scourgifying the grime from a corridor window frame. She leaned back on her mop and sighed as an owl alighted on her newly cleaned sill.
"Hey, owl, the hospital wards are on the other side but you'll need to pass through the–"
–Her eyes had locked onto the name written on the scroll attached to the bird's leg. It was her name – her professional name: Mercy Fuller. That could only mean one thing: the chance of work! Real work! She opened up the scroll. Her eyes widened as she began to read. They'd almost popped out by the time she'd finished.
Far away in Little Whinging, Petunia Dursley used an antiseptic wipe on an envelope she'd removed from the freak's owl before carefully opening it at arm's length. When nothing strange happened, she began to read. Slowly her eyes began to crinkle. Her horsy mouth twitched into an evil smirk. She pressed the letter down on the kitchen table and rubbed her hands together with joy before reaching for a ballpoint pen. "Vernon! Vernon, in here! We need to sign this!"
At Hogwarts the very next day, Professor McGonagall reached into the in-tray that a house-elf was filling with the morning's mail. Her fingers instantly sensed something different about the envelope she was touching: paper. She winced. Paper often meant a Muggle parent complaining about something or other, but perhaps this time it was from Mr Granger; he was usually very polite.
She used a spell to retrieve the letter from within, then began to read as she took a large quaff of her morning tea...
The little elf, who was just vanishing off to perform other duties elsewhere in the castle, left an elven-faced mist of hot tea floating down where the Deputy Headmistress had spewed her drink. McGonagall wiped her mouth. "Merlin! Albus will not like this one little bit."
"Harry, this is, I confess, a great shock." Professor Dumbledore peered over the Dursleys' letter handed to him by McGonagall only a minute before. She'd stood back, expecting a stronger reaction from him.
"I'm no longer happy here, Headmaster." Harry had rehearsed a few responses and was hoping to fit them in where he could. "Every year I've had to put up with abuse and bullying and hatred as well as being drawn into all sorts of dangerous situations. Even in first year I..."
Harry's gaze turned inward for a moment. "Ron once asked me if you meant me to go after the Philosopher's Stone, and I've wondered ever since. It was just a test, a game like... like this one. This year is the worst. It seems to suit your purpose perfectly: stand aside while I suffer. ... Quite honestly I've had enough. I'm scared. If I had parents, they'd have pulled me out of Hogwarts long ago."
Dumbledore glanced at Professor McGonagall who was stood well to one side, thin-lipped as ever, but attentive. He tilted the letter towards Harry. "How did you persuade them to...?"
"I told my aunt and uncle they need never see me again. That was more than enough to get their signatures on that."
Dumbledore frowned for a long time before speaking. "You intend not to return to your home? Where will you live?"
"I shall get my own place now, with a professional guardian."
With a shake of his head, Dumbledore leaned forward. "Harry, it is important that you remain with–"
"–I've never had anyone to really help me before. I mean, other kids have parents to turn to for advice. Now I've found people to help me too and manage my affairs safely. They can provide a property and secure it for me. I want my own personal manager who will take care of me, my life, and my education properly."
McGonagall had clutched at her heart. Harry wondered if she were going to collapse. Dumbledore looked as if he wished her to leave but he drew up a chair with a hand gesture and she sank gratefully down upon it.
Still Dumbledore hesitated. He looked very weary. Finally he spoke. "When I left you with the Dursleys I knew you would be protected from Voldemort by the magic of your mother's sacrifice, because her blood runs in your Aunt Petunia. If you no longer regard her home as your own then I fear you may have already broken that protection. I wish you had come to me sooner, I would have–"
"–I DID come to you!" shouted Harry. "I came to you for help and you turned me away!"
"–And you lied to me! You said a magical contract is binding.–"
"–It is, Harry."
"But you didn't tell me what would happen if I broke it! It was as if there was no choice but to compete in an entertainment where we know someone is trying to kill me! There WAS a choice! And it was MINE to make, not yours!"
"–I told you I'd find a way myself, and I have. There's no reason for me to remain at Hogwarts to be... to be hated and reviled, and poked fun at and having to face death for everyone's... amusement."
He threw one of the POTTER STINKS badges onto the desk. "I suppose you think that's a silly prank not worth your attention? Certainly none of the teachers stopped it. Why didn't you make an announcement? You could have told everybody I didn't put my name in the Goblet! What about the lies in the newspaper? Have you no influence anywhere?"
Harry sagged in his chair, deflated, appearing as exhausted as the Headmaster looked beaten. He had to force himself to stand, and he made sure to scrape and bang his chair as much as possible.
"All that doesn't matter anymore. I will now have something I never had before: people to look after me decently. People who care not just about rules and regulations but my happiness as well."
Dumbledore watched him leave. His heart was heavy. He knew the boy was right. They had all failed him.
Three chapters already being polished - around 10,000 words short story.
Did you spot the tiny change from book canon? Harry cried out when he bumped into Karkaroff instead of keeping silent. That delayed Harry longer so he missed Sirius's moral support from the Floo fireplace in the Gryffindor common room, and so eventually Harry cracked and decided enough is enough and decided he wanted to quit.
Many thanks for all comments and reviews. These are most welcome and very encouraging. Let me know of any weaknesses or faults — I'm always trying to improve my writing so feedback is really useful. :)