Author's note: I don't usually start with a note but thought it warranted one this time. I have to apologise for this being so late, a confluence of events, distractions and the like really just sapped my energy for this. I can't fully promise where I am at with it, and to be honest I got really frustrated with some pointlessly negative reviews, even though I could rationalise them and they lacked any actual substance, it still hit my enthusiasm something fierce.

I also realised while trying to pull this chapter together I am not that great at writing arguments! But even though I don't think the first part of this chapter is very good, I decided I needed to just suck it up and move past it. So here we are, a new chapter! Hopefully it helps me get over the roadblock and get more out.

Chapter 27

Harry's first thought on entering the quiet Gryffindor common room was, strangely, that Ludo Bagman should give up gambling. There was no party, not even much good cheer typical following the Halloween feast. Instead it was replaced by harsh glares and, somehow worse, complete dismissal, the students deliberately giving him the cold shoulder. Harry almost wished for screaming, cries of indignation or accusation. He moved through the room, dodging the gazes of his fellow Gryffindors and gratefully found Hermione sitting on the stairs to the boys dormitories.

"Harry! Thank goodness, are you okay?"

"I've been better, Hermione." He shrugged, not particularly wishing to dwell, especially not here with so many watching. "Can we go up?"

She nodded and stood. But before they could make their escape a voice called from the crowd.

"How did you do it Harry? How were you chosen?" Angelina asked, her voice heavy and accusatory. She had been one of the more popular picks for champion, particularly in the house of the brave and probably had expected to be representing their school.

"I didn't do anything." He answered primly, bristling at the implication. "I didn't write my name on any parchment, I didn't get past the age line, I didn't put my name in the goblet."

"Yet your name came out of it all the same!" Angelina grumbled, volume rising.

"As much to my own surprise as yours. But it's not the first time something has happened concerning me that I had no part in. Am I a dark wizard again? Is that it?" He shot a dark look at the crowded room, some of the students even had the good sense to look bashful at the accusation.

"I don't think you're a dark wizard, Harry, but I don't think that you're my champion either." Harry never wanted to be a champion in the first place, rather, he hated the idea of participating. And yet, Angelina was his quidditch teammate, someone he liked and trusted more than almost anyone at this school. So despite his fervent dismissal of being a champion, the rejection hurt more than probably anything else she could say.

"Is that it then? Is that how you all feel?" There were a mix of reactions, angry states, forlorn looks, shamed glances, but no support. "And if Fred and George's potions worked? How would you feel if they were chosen? If I was a cheat, I should have just cut you all in on it? Hypocrites." He hissed and marched up the stairs, uninterested in any reply they might muster.

Hermione rushed up the stairs behind him, grabbing his sleeve. "Harry, wait!" Urgency clipped her tone, sharp and demanding.

"What, Hermione?" He growled, but quickly regretted his temper. "Sorry I…"

"It's okay, I understand, I just thought you should know." Her focus shifted up the stairs for a second and the reason for her concern was revealed. His best friend was always as open as the books she loved.

"He's jealous again? Isn't he?" Harry asked, stomach in his throat. He could deal with the school's ire, he had before, their gossiping behind his back, staring, mocking. But he'd had his friends, Ron and Hermione both, people who believed in him, that he wasn't hurting people nor lying about it.

"He thinks you entered, that you found a way around the age line." She answered, wringing her hands in worry. "He's jealous, but I think, maybe, he's actually more hurt that he's been left out."

"Because he thinks I'm a liar, a cheat and some sort of glory seeking prat, just like he is!" Harry huffed. Later he would be sad, he was sure, but for now he railed against the unfairness of not only his circumstances, but the behaviour of those around him. He was tired and irate and sad, and if Ronald Weasley wanted to have it out, out it would be had.

"Maybe that's the top level accusation, but deep down I think he thinks you are going off and doing things without him that you used to do with him. That you worked out a way past the age line in the classes he doesn't attend, making that giant tree with Neville and later asking for my help. Possibly even Daphne, n-not in the same way…" She stumbled, turning a bit red. "Just that things are changing in ways he can't keep up with and he feels left out."

"So what, I am meant to just put up with him and wait him out, be how he wants me to be rather than who I want to be?" Harry shook his head. "No Hermione, he's going to have to learn that the world doesn't revolve around him."

Without waiting for his bushy haired friend's reply, Harry turned on the stairs and marched up to the fourth year boys dormitory. Inside he found the situation almost exactly as he might have expected it. Ron was talking at a reluctant looking Seamus and Dean in a hushed urgent tone while Neville looked on worriedly. All bar Ron jumped in surprise as Harry stormed in. The other boys shot him apologetic looks but Harry only had eyes for the glower of his prat of a best friend.

"Finally got away from your adoring fans then?" Ronald opened his salvo, leaving Harry with little doubt about the mood of the youngest male Weasley. The boys' robes may be red yet it seemed green was tonight's theme.

"Had to make my escape so I could leave some for you, good thing too since you seem pretty desperate for them!"

"And what's that supposed to mean?" The redhead's cheeks rouged. He never did well being confronted regarding an inadequacy.

"Exactly what it sounds like, you clearly want people to pay a good deal of attention to you, well, I'm paying attention, what is it Ron?"

"You, you, ugh, you wouldn't understand! You have everything." Ron spluttered, clearly caught off guard by Harry confronting him so directly.

"Oh this again. I'm truly blessed aren't I? No parents or siblings, scrapes with death with the scars to show for it and great reliable friends!"

"You're rich, everyone knows who you are, girls throw themselves at you!" Gestures accompanied his tirade as he built up a head of steam. "But that's not the end of it, oh no, not for the great Harry Potter! No, you're a Potter after all, so you get to be a quidditch star, the next Merlin with your scribbling! And now you're our triwizard champion, of course."

Harry stared at his friend, waiting for him to finish. An awkward silence descended as he mulled over his response. "So that's it then, you're just angry that I'm me, for all the things good and bad that I've no control over, what am I meant to do with that?"

"It's not that! It's not the same, you've changed, it used to be the three of us! Now it's just you, going off for hours alone, going after Sirius Black, showing off your patronus. Now you're into the Triwizard Tournament, got past those squiggles with your own no doubt. All by yourself, Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. You'll be all over the Prophet again no doubt, once just not-"

"So, what? You're just angry like the rest of them down there? Think I'm a liar and a cheat yet wanted to do exactly the same as you're accusing me of?!" Harry turned to the rest of them. "The rest of you agree with him? Think I'm a liar?" The other male occupants of the room looked varying levels of ashamed, crushing the fire in Harry slightly. "Well tell you what Ronald, next time I'm in a life threatening situation, I will let you tackle it, you can dive in head first regardless of how prepared you are. If you come back out of it alive I will tell everyone how well you did. How does that sound? Shouldn't even take all that long."

"You, you bloody berk, are a liar. Running round with that snake, don't think I don't know, not that you had the stones to tell me yourself!" Weasley roared in anger

"I didn't know I had to check with you who I am allowed to spend my time with. But now I know I'll be sure to give you a call when I need permission!"

"What the ruddy hell is a call!"

"Who cares!" Harry shouted back, not really understanding where the argument was going anymore but wanting nothing else than to escape it, which he did by turning around and storming off back through the Common Room and out to the seventh floor corridor.

The silent stillness, with only snoring portraits lining the hallway, was a welcome change to his night. With a flick of his wand and a quiet. "Lumos." The tip of his wand lit the empty hall. The portraits grumbled in discontent as he walked, the light disturbed their sleep.

"Students out of bed at all hours, knew better in my day, a few smacks with a whomping willow branch would set him right lickety split." One particularly surly renaissance era wizard, who was wearing a large burgundy chaperon stuck with a phoenix feather, muttered. Harry wondered briefly if he had picked up the phrase 'lickety split' after becoming a portrait, but decided it didn't matter and waved his wand briefly at the painting in retaliation. "A duel is it?!" The portrait declared.

"You're a painting, just go back to sleep." Harry answered, rolling his eyes, moving on. Hogwarts was a weird place. Even when all he wanted to do was cry or break something or both, it managed to throw absurdity at him.

Harry absentmindedly made his way to his study and called for Dobby, asking if he might find a bed somewhere. The little elf disappeared with an annoyingly understanding and consoling glance. He appreciated that the elf was on his side, it at least made one person, so why could his friends not be?

A bed popped out of nowhere in the corner of the room, fully made with blue and silver sheets. He was thankful they weren't red and gold. Harry's pyjamas were folded neatly at the end. Ignoring them completely he fell on the bed and was asleep before he could say. "Nox."

Despite being a Tuesday, Hogwarts had the day off. The teachers understandably did not expect much of their students each year the day following Halloween, as the feast often transfigured into parties, although the years since Harry's arrival at Hogwarts had not held such frivolity. This year, however, Harry could not have been more grateful for the reprieve from classes.

All he wanted to do was stay in bed, curl up, and leave everything alone for a while. With such a plan in mind, it was only natural that there was a furious feminine knocking at the door. He ignored it, hoping Hermione would understand and go away. But, after a brief pause, the rapping continued.

So, with a sigh, he pushed back his shield from the outside world and went to the door and opened it. "Hermione, I would really rather…" To find not brown bushy curls but dark red wavy hair flying at his chest. Too shocked to move, Harry just accepted the hug. Then, very quickly, reality returned to him and his cheeks flared to life. He was in a secret room, in his pyjamas, being hugged by his secret girlfriend.

"Er, um, Daphne, ah…" He stumbled over his words embarrassingly.

"Are you okay?" She asked, pushing him back to arms length to check him over.

"Oh you know, just another day in the life." He answered, making glib not wishing to worry her. "But um, do you think I might go, um, get dressed?" She turned scarlet and turned around, hiding her face.

"I'll just, give you a moment, sorry." She mumbled and made her escape back out into the stairwell to the abandoned classroom.

Harry dressed quickly and took a moment to wash using a basin of water on the desk Dobby had dropped off with some towels before he had even woken up. He needed a raise, or at least something he might accept like an extra good Christmas present.

"You can come back in now!" He yelled, and the door was flung open once more.

"Answer me honestly this time!" She demanded, hands on hips and a prominent frown.

"I'm fine, honestly, everyone hates me but that's not so unusual." He didn't feel fine, but there wasn't really anything she could do about it. If anything he rather she would just leave it.

"Everyone doesn't hate you." Harry shot her a look. "Okay people aren't well pleased. There wasn't talk of much else in the Great Hall this morning. Malfoy was fluctuating between irate and gleeful."

"Malfoy can go join a mandrake choir." she giggled slightly and no small amount of pride welled up in his chest. But the joviality didn't last, and Daphne returned to sombre.

"What are we going to do Harry?" She asked, taking the big red seat by the fireplace and dropping a backpack next to it, she only perched upon the edge of the seat b with anxious energy. He noticed then that she was dressed in her overalls, usually reserved for the greenhouse on weekends. It must have been the excuse she gave her fellow Slytherins.

"There's not really much to do." Harry said, taking the seat across from her and rubbing his tired eyes behind his glasses. The night had not been restful despite having fallen right to sleep. "There is no way out and in typical wizarding enigmatic fashion they told us nothing about the first task. So all I can really do is wait."

His girlfriend rolled her eyes in a deliberately over dramatic way. "You, Potter, are such a Gryffindor. All I can do is wait." She huffed mockingly. "Cheating is a time honoured tradition in the Triwizard and it behoves us to honour our traditions from time to time."

"Cheat? The whole school already thinks I'm a cheat!"

"So? Who cares what they think?" Harry deliberately avoided bringing up their secret relationship and let her continue. "You're fourteen, competing against a seventeen or eighteen year old Quidditch World Cup finalist and veela. Cheating isn't just expected, it's practically a necessity. Besides, you know they will be too. So drop the honourable streak for when it's needed and let's get to work." She picked

"I wouldn't even know where to start."

"Good thing I do then!" She perked up and leaned down to open her bag. From it she pulled tome, after tome, after tome. Some were near as large as the bag itself, while others were little more than notebooks. The bag must have been just like his trunk, and he had to hold himself back from inspecting it rather than the books.

"These are everything I could find on previous Triwizard Tournaments in the library this morning. I thought we might better understand the tournament and see if there are any common threads." She seemed quite proud of her haul, it must have been her entire allowance of check-outs. He could only imagine how pinched Pince's lips would have been.

Picking up one of the smaller books he found it was a journal rather than a laborious historical chronology. The life and times of Boronius Malfoy. He raised an eyebrow at her.

"What?" She took the book off him, looked at the cover and shrugged. "He isn't lying when he said that he comes from an old family. They weren't all as useless as Draco."

"I guess we will find out." Harry commented, taking the book from her again and opening it. Only for Daphne to lean over and close it.

"I will get started, you, Potter, have to go the the Entrance Hall, or Mister Black is going to start tearing the school apart.

"WHAT!" Harry shot to his feet, making for the door. "Why didn't you say that earlier!"

"Albus, where is he! I'll go find him myself if I have to!" Sirius Black, looking far more filled out and healthy than even the last time Harry had seen him, demanded in the middle of the Hogwarts Entrance Hall. His godfather had had his hair cut at some point and was now sporting a longer pompadour cut as well as a rough stubble. The man's new look certainly had the roguish appeal Harry knew Sirius wanted to exude. He wondered if the rogue pureblood had been spending some time in the Muggle world, as it was not a look typical of wizards.

"And as I have said, a few students have been tasked with locating Mister Potter and informing him of your arrival. I am sure he will attend us momentarily." The ever calm Headmaster responded.

"Sirius, I'm here." Harry announced, rushing over from the grand staircase, in hopes of avoiding any further embarrassment.

"Harry! Thank Merlin." Sirius reached out and pulled him in for a hug, a gesture Harry was still not all that comfortable with from grown adults. So he stiffened uncomfortably and returned the hug with a few awkward pats.

"Can we go somewhere…less public?" Onlookers were whispering to each other and staring. Something Harry was all too useful. A group of Beauxbaton students were giggling behind their hands, which was new to him.

"Of course, follow me if you will." Dumbledore turned and strode off with his typical quick pace. Sirius, being quite tall himself, easily kept up. Harry though felt, as usual when with the Headmaster, like he was being rushed along.

They ended up in front of the gargoyle which guarded the Headmaster's office.

"Caramello Koalas." The statue jumped to life and moved out of the way to reveal a spiral staircase leading up to the office, which occupied an entire tower by itself. The many portraits of headmasters past were all sleeping when they entered, all except for one.

"Ha!" The dark haired man dressed in robes that looked to be from the 1800s, barked. "If it isn't my little lost descendant! If I was to say I am surprised to see you here even after graduation, I'd most certainly be lying. Although you've yet to return home."

"Hello Phineas." Sirius replied, appearing quite stiff and uncomfortable.

"Azkaban hasn't made you any less of a disappointment I see."

"Even more of one I expect." Sirius returned and then walked past. Harry knew he didn't get along with his family, but that was very like his own life with the Dursleys. A home life Harry might relate to made him suddenly feel much closer with his godfather, and it impressed him how easily Sirius shrugged off the jab from the painting.

"Might I offer you a lemon drop?" The old wizard asked, sweeping around his desk in a few strides. Fawkes chirped from his perch and Harry made sure to give the brilliant bird a quick scratch. His trill in response soothed Harry, letting the tension from his shoulders drop

"What are we going to do about this Albus?" Sirius started, ignoring the other man's offer entirely and declining an offered seat also.

"I'm afraid there is nothing we can do, the Goblet has chosen and now Harry must compete."

"How did his name even get in there? This was meant to be for students of age." Harry turned away from the phoenix, interested in Dumbledore's explanation.

"Unfortunately the slip burns up shortly after selection, however the name must be honestly written, so nobody could have simply written Harry Potter on a piece of parchment. It had to have come from his own hand."

"But someone else might submit my name if I wrote it?" Dumbledore nodded at Harry's question and popped a small yellow candy into his mouth.

"My chief suspicion is an assignment."

"You think a teacher?" Sirius jumped to a conclusion, leaning forward.

"Or somebody broke into an office." Dumbledore rebutted. "We are looking into it and I will be sure to inform you of any developments."

"So I can't do anything?" Sirius asked, looking strangely devastated. It was Harry who was entered into a blood sport against his will, not him.

"You can do exactly as we all will, and support Harry through this trial." Dumbledore responded calmly, which seemed to perk the former inmate up a bit. Sirius stood and walked over to Harry and put a hand on his shoulder, squeezing it slightly.

"We will get you through this, and catch whoever put your name in that Goblet." Sirius said with more severity than Harry had ever seen from him. "You aren't alone."

"Very true. You have all of Hogwarts and its not inconsiderable resources behind you Harry." Dumbledore said in support. "I wish I could do more, however as a judge I am honour bound to remain impartial. However, you are a remarkable young man, with experiences from your first year and beyond which will prove invaluable in the tasks ahead, I've no doubt."

Harry smiled wanly, not feeling particularly invigorated by either man's promises or encouragement. He also felt very much like Hogwarts and its not inconsiderable resources were anywhere but behind him, though he decided not to say as much. Instead he just nodded slightly and turned away again to pet Fawkes.

"It'll be okay." Sirius said softly. Though it seemed to Harry like his godfather was trying to convince himself most of all.

The next few days Harry spent hiding from most everyone while not in classes. He spent the time convincing himself he was working on his study of the vanishing cabinet, and he was making strides in understanding the spells and construction of the item, but in truth he was hiding. He was hiding from the staring, whispering and mocking students. Malfoy's stupid badges and Ron's angry glares only made things worse.

Hermione and Neville, who had apologised for not standing up for him in front of the other boys, did their best to distract him. Which was nice. While Daphne did her best to force him to focus on the impending doom of the tournament he wanted no part of. Which was less nice but probably necessary.

So, by the weekend, he found himself with his girlfriend, who finally convinced him to read the history books she had borrowed.

"So the only trend I have found thus far is that the challenges often seem to test different virtues. In this case it will be bravery as you have said." She pushed back some hair behind her ear and pulled out a large book. Wizarding Sports - 1700 to 1800 was possibly the driest book he had ever looked at about something that was meant to be fun.

"Which means it will be dangerous but likely straight forward." Harry completed her thought, parroting a conclusion both she and Hermione had both come to.

"Quite, which suggests confronting something dangerous. Which is not an uncommon theme also. In 1803 the champions were required to milk a manticore, all three died. In 1745 the champions had to fight a yeti, they all survived, though one was deemed unable to continue."

"Not helping Daphne." Harry groaned, sinking further behind his book.

"I am sure it won't be so bad as all that. It's not the 1800s anymore."

"No it's the 1900s and we are still holding the bloody same event." He grumbled in response. I do appreciate your helping, really, but maybe can we skip the morbidity?"

"Right, sorry." She went crimson and returned to her book.

There was a lull in conversation, as both continued to read and hoped to avoid awkwardness. Harry was reading the memoir's of Draco's ancestor, where he rather pompously describes how his family's motto, Sanctimonia Vincet Semper, helped him riddle out some potion clue, in a very forced insertion of pureblood nonsense, when something occurred to him.

"You really think it will be a creature?" Daphne looked up from her book and shrugged her shoulders.

"I can't say for certain, the other bravery themed challenges have been less common and mostly revolve around some type of leap of faith. Why do you ask?"

"It's something Dumbledore said. 'Experiences from your first year and beyond will prove invaluable'." Harry repeated. "Why emphasise first year? There has been plenty that happened every year at this school, this one included."

"Was there something you encountered that year that stands out?" Daphne asked, closing her book and looking at him with interest.

"Well, there was the troll of course, and a unicorn but it was dead, centaurs but that seems unlikely. There was also Norbert and Fluffy."

"Norbert and Fluffy?" She asked in clear confusion. Hagrid's naming style was certainly something that could accomplish such a response from most people.

"Norbert was a baby dragon and Fluffy a full grown cerberus."

"Oh right, a dragon and a cerberus." Daphne deadpanned. "What in Merlin's beard were two highly dangerous magical beasts doing around a school, my school!"

"One was only a baby." Harry defended, but then waved her away. "That's not the point though, the point is that Dumbledore might have been trying to point me at one of those creatures."

"Well a troll, centaur or a unicorn seem unlikely. They can be dangerous but wouldn't really test the bravery of a competent grown wizard." Harry could agree with that reasoning, having had renewed experiences with both creatures the summer before last. Though his back twinged slightly at the thought. "So a cerberus, or a dragon."

As soon as she said that though he knew in his heart it wasn't going to be a cute, albeit very large, dog that would fall asleep to some music. It would be the fire breathing deadly great lizard, really what else would it be. They would put him in the ring with one of the most deadly magical creatures alive, because of course they would, someone was out to kill him after all.