Playing by the Rules
A/N Some months back, I was invited to join a Facebook group - Harmony & Co. While this is currently a closed group, I have it on good authority it will be open to all followers of Harmony in a matter of weeks. I am really enjoying my time there, reading lots of recommended Harmony stories I previously didn't know existed. The reason I'm mentioning this here is I, along with many authors in the group, was invited to write something to celebrate Harmony & Co. reaching a membership milestone. At the time, real life didn't allow me to take part - but I also had this story idea in my head. 'Playing by the Rules' is my contribution to the group - and everyone else who wants to read it too.
This story will be shorter than my others, and hopefully a bit different. I'm aiming to post a daily chapter until it's complete - targeting next weekend for the final chapter - but haven't finished writing the story yet.
Chapter 1 - The First Task
Sitting on a bench at the back of the massive tent McGonagall had led him to, Harry could barely remember the walk down from the castle. His Champions' robes weren't wet, so Harry supposed it was okay to assume it wasn't raining. That everyone within Hogwarts had been staring at him no longer bothered the Gryffindor, he'd become desensitised to the whispers, stares and actual taunts after a while.
It was one thing to plan for this but, now the task was upon him, Harry just hoped all that training and careful planning paid off - and he didn't balk from what he had to do. Harry then took a moment to study his three competitors.
The French champion wasn't looking so cool at the moment, Miss Delaclour clearly knew what was in front of her today. If anything, Krum was even more surlier than usual. While this could in no way be considered as evidence the Bulgarian knew there was a date with a female dragon in his immediate future, Harry just couldn't imagine Karkaroff not telling his prize student what he would face today.
A glance at the Hogwarts champion, who was pacing up and down as if too nervous to sit, saw a smile being sent back in his direction. While Cedric would be going all out to beat everyone today, that didn't mean he didn't have time to send Harry a grateful smile. The more Harry was around Cedric, the more he grew to like the wizard.
Harry heard the whispered call, but couldn't see where it was coming from. He also recognised the voice.
"Psst, behind you."
Turning, Harry spotted a dainty hand sticking out a split in the tent, a split he could have sworn didn't exist moments before. Holding the offered hand, Harry shifted closer as they spoke in whispers.
"Hermione, what are you doing here? You're supposed to be in the castle, well away from this."
"I won't go near the stadium, I'll just sit out here and wait on you finishing. You'll need someone to walk back to the castle with, I'll be that person."
"You know what I'm going to try and do, and how dangerous it will be for you to be near me if this works."
"Harry, the rest of the school might have deserted you but I never will."
Their heads were only inches apart, separated by a mere piece of canvas. As the split that allowed them to hold hands crept up the tent, they could then see each other. Spotting the tears in the corner of those brown eyes that had come to mean so much to him, Harry couldn't help but close those few inches separating them.
Seeing what Harry was going to do, Hermione leaned in too. It was their first kiss and Hermione could swear there were flashes going off around her.
A voice Harry hated soon explained the reason behind those flashes. "Oh Harry, you've found love. I can hear the crash of young hearts breaking up and down the country. Introduce us to the witch who has stolen your heart." The smile on Rita's face was pure predatory as her photographer moved closer to get a better picture.
Kissing Hermione had instantly banished his nerves, Harry ignored Rita's jibes while he and Hermione rested their foreheads against each other. As Bozo lined up to take another picture, this one from about six feet away, Harry's wand was a blur as a piercing hex shattered the camera - just missing the photographer's head after passing straight through his equipment.
Raging Rita was ready to give this little shit a piece of her mind, now there would be no pictures to hang her latest exclusive off. "That's wilful destruction of Daily Prophet property, Mister Potter. What have you got to say for yourself?"
It was now a cool and calm Harry Potter who easily dealt with those accusations. "Well, since the press are specifically banned from this tent, then I couldn't possibly have destroyed anything belonging to the Daily Prophet." Using that same reasoning, Harry's next piercing curse reduced Rita's floating notepad and acid green quill to confetti. That Harry still hadn't turned around, yet his aim was so precise, shocked everyone there.
"As Tri-Wizard Chapmpions, the tournament rules give us a lot of leeway on task days. This is a task day, and you are in an area specifically set aside for Champions. My next curse might go anywhere, and the aurors couldn't touch me for it. Here's some free advice, Miss Skeeter. Fuck off and leave us alone." As Harry's wand tracked to point at Bozo, the photographer took the hint and bolted out of the tent the same way they'd entered. Rita tried to calmly walk from the tent but her rushed footsteps fooled no one.
Harry's wand disappeared as he returned his attention back to Hermione.
"There's a part of me that want's to scold you for your language but, if there's anyone who deserves to be told to fuck off, then it's Rita Fucking Skeeter." Seeing Harry smile was worth throwing her no swearing bias in the bin - for now.
They managed to steal one more kiss, before the bad guys arrived.
"Remember, we've done the research. It has to be this way."
Harry smiled to his best friend, now hopefully his girlfriend, and took a deep breath. Nodding to show they were in total agreement, he gave Hermione the parting comment she needed to hear. "It's time for the bait to bite back."
Turning his attention once more to the room, Harry saw Bagman had led the three headmasters and Crouch into the tent. The man was wearing an old Wasps jersey from his playing days. This was a very important day for all involved, and he was a head of department at the Ministry, yet Ludo turned up looking like a reject from a folk concert.
"Well, now we're all here — time to fill you in!" said Bagman brightly. "When the audience has assembled, I'm going to be offering each of you this bag" — he held up a small sack of purple silk and shook it at them — "from which you will each select a small model of the thing you are about to face! There are different — er — varieties, you see. And I have to tell you something else too … ah, yes … your task is to collect the golden egg!"
( Excerpt From Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire )
Harry remained where he'd been sitting as Bagman held the sack out to Fleur to choose, claiming 'Ladies First'. The model of the Welsh Green she drew also had a number two around its neck, indicating she would go second. Her headmistress moved over and rather gently placed a reassuring arm around her champion.
Krum brooked no further delay as he shoved his hand into the sack before anyone else could move. His Chinese Fireball with number three around its neck wrought no emotional response at all from the Bulgarian. A curt nod of acknowledgement past between headmaster and his student. Harry couldn't imagine either of these two ever getting 'touchy-feely'.
Cedric at least had the decency to look at Harry, before a nod from the youngest competitor saw the Hogwarts champion draw a Swedish Short-snout and pole position. Dumbledore just stood there, wearing a wide smile while his eyes twinkled like Christmas tree lights.
"And now for our youngest champion…" Bagman held the purple sack out but Harry didn't move. After waiting a moment or two, Harry eventually broke the resulting silence.
"Lets stop the pretence I actually have a choice here. The greatest dark wizard catcher this country has ever known told everyone here I've been placed in this tournament so I could be killed - and you all went along with it anyway."
"Harry my boy, we didn't have a choice…"
Cutting Dumbledore off, Harry stared right at the old wizard. "Can I ask you something, Headmaster? Do your eyes twinkle more when you tell lies?"
Albus had been worried about this, the first task being a step too far for a fourteen year old wizard. "I know you're worried about what awaits you through those doors, Harry, but this attitude helps no one…"
Again, Harry cut Dumbledore off. "I managed to get a copy of the original rules for the Tri-Wizard Tournament. They were in French, since every copy in English was bought up months ago. Fortunately my girlfriend reads and speaks French fluently."
Harry could see that got a reaction from Dumbledore, not so much Crouch. The man was like a robot. This discussion though was clearly over Bagman's head. "What does it matter if you got a copy of the original rules? We changed them. Just put your hand in here and draw your dragon."
Shaking his head, Harry was struggling to hold his temper. "This fucking idiot is actually a Department Head at the Ministry of Magic? Tell me, Mister Bagman, if you changed the rules then how come a fourteen year old wizard is standing here? Didn't your rules say that couldn't happen? When you used the Goblet of Fire, the Tournament was bound by the original rules that were embedded into that very powerful magical artefact. An artefact so powerful, it can strip a witch or wizard of their magic if they break those rules. Do you think such an artefact gives a fuck what the British Ministry of Magic says?"
Ludo was livid at this skinny little wizard calling him out, but also needed Potter to win the tournament to pull him out of a financial black hole caused by the bets he took for the World Cup. "I earned my place at the Ministry, sonny, and Barty said you needed to compete. That's good enough for me. Old Barty here knows the rules inside out, now pick your dragon so we can get on with this."
"Oh I certainly believe Mister Crouch knows the rule book back to front, and I'm certain Headmaster Dumbledore knows every single rule in the book too. Isn't it funny then that neither of them mentioned there was a method for redrawing the champions in the event of there being more than three contestants? After all, it's called the Tri-Wizard tournament for a bloody good reason. There's only supposed to be three champions!"
As all eyes focused on Dumbledore and Crouch, it was always going to be Albus who broke first.
"If you have indeed read the rules, then you must know that ship has sailed. There was such a very short window where anything could be done…"
For the third time Harry cut his headmaster off. "Oh, we know that. I just wanted you to admit to everyone here that you are a lying bastard. A liar who's going to deliberately send a fourteen year old student - supposedly under his care - out to face a fucking dragon alone. I have one more thing to do and then I'll play your game and stick my hand in your sack."
Harry's wand was in his hand again, but pointing straight up as he called on his family magic. "I am Harry James Potter, the last of my line. I call on my family's magic to judge those who have entered me in this tournament, with the sole aim of ending the Potter line. Should they be successful, I call on the Potter family magic to see justice is done to those who have wronged us. So mote it be."
The instant Harry had called on his family magic, a golden glow had surrounded him. The second he finished his call for justice, a pair of golden globes of energy slammed into Dumbledore and Crouch. Three others zoomed out the tent to destinations unknown.
The power Albus just felt was staggering, especially coming from a fourteen year old wizard. "Harry, was that really necessary?"
Harry placed his hand in the sack and drew his dragon. Not even looking at it, he tossed the model at Dumbledore's feet. "Yes, it was. I now know some of those plotting against me - and so does everyone here. Magic will judge you, Headmaster, just as magic is forcing me to compete in this farce. You allowed the entire school to turn against me, and again did nothing. We will see what happens when it's your magic that's on the line, and the entire country finds out just how big a bastard you really are. At least Voldemort just wants to kill me, you like to play with your toys and drag out their agony - before getting someone else to destroy them for you."
As Harry moved back to the bench he'd been sitting on and laid down, Albus was left standing there flabbergasted. Albus thought he knew the boy lying there well, it would seem he was mistaken. He also noticed everyone else had left without saying a word to him, and the other three champions were looking at Albus as if he'd just shit in his his robes.
Albus Dumbledore turned away and left the tent without saying another word.
It was only moments later that Cedric's name was called to compete. Before he left though, Cedric walked over and shook Harry's hand.
"I'll put a stop to those badges being worn by Hufflepuffs."
"Cedric, don't worry about it. Your entire concentration needs to be on what's waiting for you out there. Focus on that."
Nodding, Cedric strode out of the tent to face his challenge.
While trying to follow the advice he'd just given Cedric, Harry's thoughts kept drifting over what was undoubtably the worst three weeks of his life, ever since his name came out of that flaming goblet. Hermione had been the first to smell a rat, discovering there were no copies of the original tri-wizard rules to be found anywhere. His brilliant new girlfriend - when he next got a moment to ask her if she wanted the position - had asked Hedwig to fly to a bookstore she was acquainted with in the magical section of Paris.
Their joy at obtaining a copy of the original rules soon disappeared when Hermione discovered that the window to get Harry out of the tournament had long since closed. Had the Hogwarts library held a copy, Hermione would have ferreted that clause out in plenty of time to get Harry out from under this burden. Even if any of the bookstores in Britain had held a copy, there was a chance they could still have met the deadline. The time wasted checking all those stores meant the deadline had passed before Hedwig had even taken flight to Paris.
Neither Harry nor Hermione could accept that Dumbledore didn't know this rule, and Hermione's respect for authority figures crashed and burned immediately after reading that. It was Harry though who came up with using the rules of the tournament in their favour.
Hermione was originally against this plan, until she heard the first person saying that they hoped the cheater got what was coming to them. With some people, mainly Slytherins to be fair, openly saying they hoped Harry died during the tournament - her attitude soon hardened to match Harry's.
Since his attitude was now 'fuck every one of them, and the hippogriffs they rode in on' then they had really studied the rules - just to see exactly what Harry could get away with. He wasn't joking earlier when he'd threatened Rita. She was trespassing on an area reserved for champions on a task day, and accidents could happen. Harry had practiced relentlessly, especially after Dobby had told Harry about a wonderful training room. The room actually provided a copy of the rules written in English, saving Hermione having to translate every line to him, as well as many, many other helpful tomes of knowledge.
He was rather rudely shaken out of his musings by someone tugging on his arm. Harry hadn't noticed Fleur or Victor leave, or presumably his name being called - it was time to pay the piper.
Harry entered the stadium, ignoring the boos and catcalls. His first impression was of a quarry pit, with quidditch stands towering above it to give the spectators a great view of everything that was to happen within. Harry noticed that most stands were filled along house lines, but also noticed parents had attended too. Seeing Lucius sitting beside his mini-me clone of a son brought to mind a young first year girl who almost lost her life because of that bastard. That Hermione ended up petrified in the infirmary because of Lucius too certainly made his mind up.
Dragons are very intelligent creatures, and the Hungarian Horntail had seen three other nesting mothers pushed into this place. That one of them had lost some of her young had this dragon on high alert, she would kill anyone or anything threatening her eggs.
Harry stayed well away from the dragon, out of range of its fiery breath but also in plain sight. He used his wand to transfigure a piece of rock he'd picked up into a small rubber ball. Sticking to being as unthreatening as possible, he then transfigured another rock into a white west highland terrier.
Bouncing the ball a couple of times, Harry then gently threw the ball underarm, and away for the dragon. The small dog shot after the ball, catching it in its mouth before enthusiastically returning it to Harry. Bouncing the ball as the dog scurried around waiting on it being thrown again, Harry once more gently tossed it away from the dragon.
Howls of derision grew in number and intensity every time Harry threw the ball for the little dog to fetch. He didn't care, the only thing Harry paid attention to was the dragon. Sensing no danger, as each of her eggs were at least twice the size of the little dog, she was content just to watch for any developments.
As the crowd grew more and more restless and downright hostile, the dragon appeared to be doing the same as Harry and ignoring them. After at least a dozen tosses of the ball for the dog to chase, Harry's wand surreptitiously cast a spell on the rubber ball. Keeping all his moves slow and casual, he turned and lobbed the ball to the dragon. "Catch!"
The dragon had watched the little dog run around with the ball in its mouth and sensed no danger from this tiny object in the split second it had to decide. When the ball touched the dragon however, all hell broke loose.
The dragon felt itself being jolted away, landing on top of a rickety wooden structure. As the human below casualty strolled toward her nest, the Hungarian Horntail exploded into action. Her fire bounced off the wards erected to protect the spectators, except the dragon was now outside those wards and amongst those very same now unprotected spectators.
Harry's portkey had landed the massive dragon on top of the stand full of Slytherins, and both Malfoys. While the roof had been constructed to protect the spectators from the ravages of November weather in the Scottish Highlands, it might as well have been made of tissue paper when faced with a massive enraged dragon. It crumpled and gave within seconds of the Horntail landing on it. Claws and that vicious tail were reducing the entire stand to nothing more than matchwood, with spectators diving from the stand to the relative safety of the ground. Broken bones could be fixed, there wasn't any hope for anyone if the Horntail got hold of them.
Like potting the eight ball off a side cushion into the bottom pocket, the dragon's fire bounced off the wards and headed straight for the stand holding the judges and commentator. Bagman had been repaying Harry for his earlier slur by publicly berating his non-existent efforts to retrieve his golden egg. With his voice still amplified, the people of Hogsmeade must have heard his frightened screams. It took the three headmasters working together to save them all from being barbecued, but that was only the initial assault.
The dragon handlers were slow to react, and they were also inside the ward. By the time they got organised, they ran into absolute chaos. The dragon had tried a different angle, landing on another stand to see if it could slaughter the puny wizard who dared approach its young. With literally hundreds of students and parents sensibly running away from the dragon, the handlers were having to fight their way through this sea of panicked humanity before they could get anywhere near their charge.
The only person in the entire area not running around like a headless chicken was Harry. Seemingly unconcerned with the carnage happening all around him, and now the only person protected by the wards, he strolled casually over and collected the golden egg. As he walked away with the prize under his arm, the screams from all around the stadium were just background noise to him. Out of necessity he'd learned to ignore his tormentors, Harry just applied the same technique here. They'd all came today to see blood spilled, preferably his. Well it looked like at least one part of their wish had been granted.
Not knowing what he was supposed to do after he collected the golden egg, Harry walked back into the tent. He wasn't surprised to see Hermione waiting on him. Harry held out his hand and led her over to the bench he'd been sitting on earlier. The tent had been silenced so they couldn't hear how the other champions tackled the problem. The peace and quiet was a welcome change after the recent madness so neither spoke. Still holding hands, Hermione leaned over and rested her head on his shoulders. Both knew once order was restored, they would eventually be found. Rather than try to head back to the castle, they decided to just sit here and wait. Harry did break the silence for a moment, to ask Hermione if she would be his girlfriend. He counted her kissing him on the cheek as a definite yes.