Harry let out a quiet sigh as he listened to Ron's snoring rising above the general din. He'd pretended to turn in early, but as soon as he pulled closed the curtains around his bed, he had the Marauder's Map out. Watching it with a very faint Lumos spell under the covers gave him some idea of what was going on.
By the time he activated the map, Throckmorton and Umbridge were in Dumbledore's office, along with the headmaster and Professor McGonagall. They didn't appear to be moving around very much, so they were probably seated. This went on for over an hour before Throckmorton and Umbridge's names moved to the edge of the office and disappeared from the map. They had obviously left using the headmaster's Floo connection. Harry watched McGonagall's name leave the office and make its way to the professors' quarters.
Harry ground his teeth when the deputy headmistress stopped briefly at the door to Remus Lupin's suite. Harry ignored her name as it then proceeded to her rooms. He instead followed Remus's name as it traced McGonagall's path back to the headmaster's office. It only stayed there a quarter of an hour before leaving.
Harry opened his curtains. The dormitory was dark, if not so quiet. The largesse of the Welcoming Feast was pretty effective at sedating teenage boys. He carefully slipped his shoes on and pulled on his Invisibility Cloak. Harry slipped out of the room without waking anyone. The common room itself was largely deserted; a few upper years were dozing over their textbooks. Harry guessed they were hoping to get a head start on their NEWT preparatory classes. No one noticed the Fat Lady's portrait slide aside for a moment.
Harry heard the shuffle of Remus' footsteps well before the man came into sight. And what a sorry sight it was. With no one to witness it, the genial professor was the picture of dejection. Harry swallowed as his worst fears were confirmed. He edged away as the man fumbled with his door. He paused once he was over the threshold, and Harry could imagine him surveying his modest rooms with a note of despair. He was able to slip in behind the man before he turned to close the door.
Remus sat down at his desk, opened a bottom drawer, and pulled out a bottle that Harry recognized as a Christmas present from Sirius: a decanter of Ogden's Finest. As he worked on the seal, Harry cleared his throat and flipped back the hood of his cloak.
Remus gave a violent start and nearly dropped the bottle. "Good heavens," he gasped, "what on earth are you doing here?"
"Well," Harry began, "I was up to no good this evening."
"Ah yes," he murmured, "the map. Well, no matter, I'm sure word would have reached you within a day anyway."
Harry shrugged. "A notorious bigot visits the headmaster, who suddenly sends for you. Not hard to guess."
"Yes, well, I don't know if they did background checks on everyone as part of the tournament, or if someone tipped them off. Either way, my condition is recorded at Saint Mungos from when I was bitten, and the Ministry doesn't want anything that could… besmirch Hogwarts' reputation."
"Load of old tosh," Harry snapped.
"Nevertheless, I find myself without a job now. I understand that Madam Umbridge will refrain from alerting the press as long as I leave quietly."
Harry ground his teeth. "And you're just going to let her run you out? Call her out!"
"Harry, my affliction is a matter of medical fact. Stating it is hardly grounds for a duel."
"What about patient confidentiality?" Harry asked, "Your healer-"
"Was merely obeying the law. Healer confidentiality is not quite like it is in the Muggle world," Remus explained, "and in any event the Ministry makes a specific exception for reporting lycanthropy."
"They're just using the laws to justify being filthy bigots," Harry snapped.
Remus peered at him. "Possibly. The headmaster thinks the gentleman from International Cooperation just wants to avoid any possible problems. Madam Umbridge, on the other hand, struck him as… quite zealous… in the pursuit of her duties. Why are you so worked up about this?"
"Because it's not fair!" Harry all but shouted.
"Harry, I knew this would happen if my secret ever got out. I'm almost surprised it took this long – I thought I might even break the curse on this position."
Harry took a deep breath and blew it out. "What are you going to do now?"
"Well, I suppose I need to look for work. I've got a bit saved up, so I should be fine for a while."
Harry shook his head. "You don't need to search," Harry said.
"Harry, I appreciate…"
"How's your Occlumency?" Harry asked.
Remus blinked. "Not that great," he admitted. "It appears that my condition may make it a little more difficult to master…"
"Well, now you have time to work on it," Harry said quickly. "Go see Padfoot, he might be able to help."
"Harry, I don't need charity, I can…"
"Padfoot needs walking," Harry cut in, "among other things. See if you can find a way to circumvent the wards around The Burrow, then plug the holes. Come up with exercises I can use for the Duelling Association. Look for a certain rat. You are too clever, too hard-working, and too devious to let your talents go to waste." Harry paused. Time to play dirty. "Remus, I need every advantage I can get if I want to live past graduation. Do you really want to tell me no?"
By the end, Remus was staring at Harry with his mouth hanging open. He slowly closed it. "What are you not telling me?" he finally asked.
Harry shook his head. "Nothing Padfoot can't tell you when the time is right. Can you trust me that long?"
Remus slowly nodded.
Harry let out a sigh of relief. "Good. Do you want some help packing?"
Harry was more than a little bleary the following morning. Between helping Remus and dashing off a quick note for Hedwig to take to The Burrow, it was quite late before he finally made it to bed. He was dragging all through breakfast, and nearly fell asleep harvesting Bubotuber puss in Herbology. By lunch time he had a dull, pounding headache behind his eyes that made it difficult to focus on Charms that afternoon. By the evening meal, he was focused on eating as quickly as possible and going to bed early.
He was in fact so fatigued that it took him a moment to realize that Professor Dumbledore had stood up to make an announcement. With his attention finally drawn to the Head Table, he also noticed a familiar grizzled head of hair amongst the faculty. Moody.
"Unfortunately, Professor Lupin has had to withdraw from Hogwarts for personal reasons," Dumbledore announced. Harry supposed that was technically true. "He will be sorely missed, but I am pleased to introduce our new Defence Against the Dark Arts teacher, Professor Moody."
The retired Auror rose to his feet, both eyes surveying the silent Great Hall.
"I'm sure you will all make him feel welcome as he assumes his new duties," Dumbledore continued, blithely ignoring the dubious looks coming from many of the students. The Slytherins in particular seemed distinctly uneasy. Harry didn't need to wonder why. He imagined in 'certain families' misbehaving children were warned that if they didn't mend their ways, Alastor Moody would get them. Harry smiled a little at that thought, and soon had Ginny elbowing him with a questioning look.
"It's nothing," he murmured. "I just think Defence is going to be… interesting… this year."
The week passed quickly, especially after Harry got caught up on his sleep again. He was especially looking forward to Defence, as he'd actually never had this class taught by the real Professor Moody before. Whatever expectations he may have had, an empty classroom wasn't one of them. None of the Gryffindors who'd had him earlier that week would talk about their first class, at Moody's request and backed up by the prefects. Harry was intrigued enough to play along, so he didn't make an effort to find out ahead of time. Hermione, he noted, was practically tied in knots: her desire to know and be prepared was warring with her distaste for breaking the rules. She 'compromised' by reading through the entire fourth year textbook before setting foot in the classroom. Harry didn't think it would help much, but he wasn't about to tell Hermione that.
Wanting to be ready for anything, Harry urged his friends to all take seats in the left front corner of the classroom. He had a feeling Moody would want to make an impression on people for the first lesson, and he already knew the man's favourite saying.
As they sat down, Harry palmed his wand and murmured "Homenum revelio" as he swirled it around. He smiled after twitching it toward the back corners of the room. "There's someone in the back left corner," he murmured.
Hermione looked like she just barely caught herself before she turned to look. "Disillusioned?" she whispered back.
Harry nodded. "Get ready to take cover," he advised. The remaining students filed in, looking around curiously until the bell rang for the start of class.
Harry barely caught the flash of light as the red jet of a stunning spell shot out of thin air towards his seat. He dived for the floor with Ron, Hermione, and Neville following a half-second behind. With a jab of his wand, Harry flipped the desks behind them into the air. Two more stunning spells hit the ancient wooden desks and dissipated. Hermione was raising an area shield while Ron and Neville sent their own stunning spells toward their unseen assailant.
The rest of the class dissolved in to a panicked mob as students scrambled for cover. Seamus had the bad luck to leap to his feet right into the path of one of the stunners, and hit the floor out cold. Lavender and Parvati let out shrieks as they cowered down in their seats.
Hermione's wide area shield held up for three hits before it went down, leaving her panting. Harry sprayed the back corner with a slightly over-powered Aguamenti, and for an instant saw a figure outlined in the flying water. Ron and Neville saw Harry's spell and instantly switched from stunners to freezing charms. The overlapping charms left a rime of frost on the floor as the conjured water froze. Bits of ice fell from where they had frozen in mid-air. Harry used this to aim a Wind Charm that sent loose papers and quills flying toward the back of the class.
It also triggered a loud thump and a muttered curse from the back of the room.
Harry was starting to smile when he felt a tingle and his robes suddenly became extremely heavy and confining. He toppled over onto his side before he realized his outer robes had been transfigured into stone. He tried to change them back as a stunning spell made an awkward wobbling arc that brought it over Hermione's recast shield and down onto her shoulder. She fell and Ron, distracted, joined her a second later.
Neville was almost hit, but he got his shield up in time. But their unseen assailant didn't give him a moment's respite, and stunning spells kept up a constant pounding as Longbottom gritted his teeth and reinforced his shield charm. Harry felt his robes soften and shift back as Neville fell to his knees. Harry debated whether it was wise, but finally decided he couldn't take any chances. He gathered his strength as he raised his wand, a blasting charm on his lips—
"Alright, that's enough," a voice rasped from the back of the nearly empty classroom. The rain of stunners stopped and Neville took a deep, gasping breath. Harry made an effort to relax, forcing his magic back down as he felt sparks of static snap from his hair and fingertips.
Harry sat up, wand in his hand, still facing the back of the room as Neville revived Ron and Hermione. There was a shimmer and Mad-Eye Moody appeared, damp but grinning like a madman. Students began to shuffle back into the room, and out in the hallway Harry could see some seventh year prefects, along with several suits of armour.
Professor Moody revived the other students as Harry and his friends took their seats again. The upended desks were righted with a few flicks of Moody's wand.
By the time everyone was settled, Moody was back in front of the class, his robes dried and his eye spinning wildly. "Can anyone guess the purpose of this exercise?" he asked.
Hermione's hand was up first. At Moody's nod she spoke: "Always be aware of your surroundings?"
He nodded. "Yes, and always be ready for what could happen. I always told my trainees the most important thing about being an Auror. Do you know what that was?"
Hermione shook her head. Moody had everyone's attention now; Harry was really tempted to answer, but it would raise too many questions.
"CONSTANT VIGILANCE!" the grizzled old Auror thundered, making everyone jump. Harry couldn't help but smile.
The class went well after such a dramatic beginning. Harry enjoyed it, even though he was dreading the end of it.
Sure enough, Moody asked him to stay behind for half a mo.
"Yes, Professor?" Harry asked as the last of the fourth years filed out. He knew his friends would be waiting for him out in the hallway.
"Potter. care to explain what I saw here today?"
Harry nodded. "A lot of people have been taking shots at me since I returned to the Wizarding World," he said. "We've been training self-defence and tactics in our spare time. We're also getting tutoring during the summers as well."
"Your friends as well?" Moody asked, looking sceptical.
Harry shrugged. "They know if they hang around me, they are likely to be targets as well. I'm just chuffed they feel I'm worth it."
Moody nodded. "Fair enough. I understand you are also involved in the school's Duelling Association?" There was a noticeable hint of contempt at the end.
"Sort of. Professor McGonagall approves the curriculum. We're a little more focused on practical applications."
"So you say. Maybe I'll have to come have a look. In the meantime, take 20 points for you and your friends. That was the first time I didn't have a clean sweep, ever," he added sourly.
Harry played it straight and didn't warn Ginny or Luna before their first class with Moody, though he did say it was "interesting". He was questioned about this rather closely after the Friday class with the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff third years. From what Harry gathered, when Luna entered the classroom she simply walked up to the disillusioned Moody and said good morning. This lead to an uncomfortable meeting after class with Moody and McGonagall, until Harry cut to the chase and swore a magical oath that he had not revealed the ambush to Ginny or Luna.
At that point, Luna mentioned that professor McGonagall always started her first year classes disguised in her Animagus form, to give her new students a surprise. When she didn't see Professor Moody in the classroom, she wondered if he might be doing the same. She also pointed out that his disillusion charm didn't cover the aroma of the pickled herrings he'd had for breakfast.
Harry remained silent during her explanation. He didn't think he'd ever heard Luna Lovegood sound quite so irritated. From the wide-eyed expression on Ginny's face, Harry didn't think he was the only one, either.
In the end, the gruff retired Auror apologized to all of them and gave Luna twenty points for her observational skills. Then he started asking them about the Duelling Association and what they'd be practicing in there. By the end of the hour, Harry felt a little wrung out, but between him and Hermione they'd filled four feet of parchment with ideas for group exercises. Moody had also volunteered to co-sponsor the club. The gleam in the old man's eye made Harry worry a bit, but he couldn't really see a gracious way to demur.
Harry's first letter from Remus eased any concerns he had about his spur of the moment offer. He dutifully reported that Padfoot was responding well to the extra walking, and was trying to teach Remus himself a new trick or two. It was a bit of work, but he expected he'd pick it up soon enough. Some more ideas for the Duelling Association were included as well. He hadn't found anything he could exploit in the wards, but he didn't expect to so soon. Molly and Arthur were both fine and sent their love as well.
On a separate issue, a private barrister had been secured to look into the matter of the trial records of Sirius Black, or rather why there weren't any. The Ministry was dragging its feet, of course, but it was at least a start. One point in their favour: Bartemius Crouch, Senior, was looking at a long sentence in Azkaban for abetting a jailbreak, and his influence in the Ministry was a thing of the past. In fact, some parties that were previous stonewalling against any inquiry were now in favour – just as long as any blame would be laid on Crouch and not them.
That last development didn't exactly please Harry, but he would take what he could get. There were things going on that he didn't really understand, but he didn't really have anything he could do to change that. It was rather annoying, and he wondered privately how much it annoyed his friends in first and second year when they were in the same position. He wondered how they made it through without wanting to hex him. On second thought, he was sure they all did at some point.
At least they had plenty to keep themselves busy. Between Moony and Moody's contributions, the Duelling Association was breaking new ground. The retired Auror favoured group exercises that Harry was fairly certain were cribbed straight from Auror training courses. Professor McGonagall wondered aloud at the need for such things, only to have Moody sourly ask how likely it was for the students to be attacked by Dementors in Hogsmeade. Harry cut his eyes downward so he didn't have to see her face, but her clipped acceptance of the retired Auror's point still made him wince. He wondered if the old man had a death wish, or really was round the twist like everyone claimed.
Either way, Moody won the argument, and the Duelling Association exercises became much more complex. To be honest, Harry found them to be both challenging and fun. This was something he'd never really had a chance to study before, and he was hooked from the start. They did make him cringe occasionally as the lessons highlighted some of the mistakes made by his future self, but what could he expect if he'd been thrown into a war with little to no training? He tried to redirect these surges of chagrin and self-loathing with limited success.
All said, it was probably for the best that Professor Dumbledore didn't attend the Duelling Association meetings.
Harry could draw some comfort from the realization that at least now he knew better. And he doubted his future enemies were training like this.
At least he hoped they weren't.
"Hagrid, do you really think this is a good idea?" Harry asked.
"Got special permission to do this," the half-giant beamed happily, "as a special project for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures." He coughed into a massive hand and then murmured under his breath. "Professor Dumbledore thought it would look right proper to have something new to show those other schools."
Harry blinked as he looked down at the (currently) tiny Blast-Ended Skrewts. "Well, they certainly are different." While he supposed it made some kind of mad sense to try and show off for the visiting schools, it also meant he had absolutely zero chance of talking Hagrid out of cultivating the ruddy menaces. He glanced over at Hermione who had a rather sickly grin on her face as Hagrid rambled on about his newest "misunderstood, but really interesting creatures". She shook her head slightly, so Harry guessed she didn't have any ideas either.
Finally October drew to a close and the day came for the Beauxbatons and Durmstrang contingents to arrive. Harry was growing increasingly nervous. Although he'd been interrupted during the welcoming feast, Professor Dumbledore didn't make any further announcements regarding the Tri-Wizard Tournament.
A couple of days after seeing to Remus Harry heard Fred and George plotting to enter the tournament and stopped short. There had been no mention made of age restrictions for the champions. He almost wanted to ask to see if they had just forgotten to mention them, but that could be a little awkward to explain… especially if they had been discussed, but discarded. The last thing Harry needed was accusations of using listening charms.
It was inconceivable that Professor Dumbledore would have let the lower years plot and plan for this long if he was still planning to institute an age line like Harry remembered. So it seemed likely there would be no age restrictions, as in previous tournaments. The champions would most likely still be seventh years, assuming the goblet chose based on magical knowledge, power, skill, or some reasonable combination of those.
But that just begged the question. Why was this different? And if this was different, what other changes could Harry expect? And were these minor deviations, or a sign that everything was starting to go off the rails? All these questions and uncertainty were making Harry acutely uncomfortable as he and his friends lined up to await the arrival of the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang.
As before, the French contingent arrived first, their flying carriage drawing shouts of awe from the students lined up in front of the castle. Harry smiled, admiring the huge winged horses, each the size of an elephant. No less impressive was the second person to exit the carriage (after the carriage boy in blue robes that unfolded the steps), Madam Maxime was easily as large as Hagrid, but was dressed to the nines in a smart outfit of black satin and opals that made Dumbledore look almost provincial in comparison.
But as the students followed their Headmistress out of the carriage, there seemed to be more than the dozen or so that Harry remembered from before. He didn't doubt that the inside of the carriage was larger than the outside – no more than a handful would have fit alongside Madam Maxime otherwise. Rather than just the oldest, there was a smattering of younger students as well. If there was any question remaining about the age restriction, that removed it. It wasn't hard to pick out Fleur in the crowd; he still remembered consoling her after the news about Bill. His older self was one of the few men in the Order of the Phoenix that could get near her when her emotions were running riot. It probably helped that he himself was so dead inside.
Harry shook himself a little as he pulled his mind back to the present. Some of the other students looked familiar, but that was probably just lingering recognition from their 'first' visit. Harry felt the tension rise in his neck and shoulders as he gazed in the general direction of the lake. The next arrivals would be noticeably less pleasant to deal with.
He sucked in a breath as a disturbance formed in the glossy black surface of the lake. The bubbles gave way to a whirlpool with a squelching sound. Soon a mast appeared as the Durmstrang ghost ship rose from the deep. Harry looked over at Hermione and grimaced. She knew enough details from their talks to know something was wrong, and by the way she was worrying at her lower lip, Harry knew she was also trying to figure out the reason for the changes.
Harry already knew from the Daily Prophet about Snape's ascension to headmaster, but it still sent chills down his spine to see the sallow-faced man standing on deck in a sable-furred cloak. His black eyes glittered as he led his students off the deck, their own, shaggier cloaks making them seem to loom larger than life.
"Oh bloody effing hell!" Ron suddenly snarled, his voice quiet, but angry enough to make the students around him flinch. McGonagall sent a quick look in their direction, but Harry didn't think his friend even noticed.
"Ron," Hermione whispered, "we knew Professor Snape would be back. Why are you-?"
"It's not him," Ron snapped, "look behind the git."
"Oh hell," Harry groaned quietly. McGonagall looked like she was about to go for her wand, but that was the least of his worries at the moment. The figure immediately behind Snape coming down the gangplank sported hair of a rather distinctive shade of pale blond. One that Harry would rather not encounter again. Draco Malfoy had found a way to return to Hogwarts.
As the Hogwarts students followed their new guests into the castle, McGonagall approached them looking less than pleased. Ron, however, was having nothing of it. No sooner had she pulled them into an antechamber before he spoke up.
"Professor," the redhead asked with noticeable heat, "what is Draco doing here?"
McGonagall seemed a little off-balance that Ron was opening the discussion. "He is a Durmstrang student, and thus eligible to attend." She paused. "I also enquired as to the… suitability… of his presence. I was informed that tournament by-laws do not permit any student be denied access to the hosting school, upon penalty of forfeiture. I understand that was codified to prevent the hosting school from exercising an unfair advantage by barring the visitor's best possible contestants."
"Draco, a Tri-Wizard champion?" Ron scoffed.
"As improbable as it might seem," the stern professor allowed, "we cannot bar him from the wards until after the Goblet has made its choice."
Ron looked a little mollified. Harry still had a bad feeling about this. Malfoys never played by the rules. While he hadn't seen Draco in well over a year, the boy he saw trailing Snape didn't seem like the arrogant git he remembered. He was a lot quieter, for one thing, not speaking once that Harry could see, merely glancing impassively about.
"We understand that Professor Dumbledore might not have had a choice," Hermione began in a conciliatory tone, "but it would have perhaps been nice to warn Draco's, er, victims beforehand. I understand that in a Muggle school they would have been given advance warning and perhaps been allowed to skip functions where they would meet."
"I don't need to run from him," Ginny added, a little irritably.
"I know," Hermione agreed, "but it would have been nice to give you a choice. Or some advance notice."
McGonagall sighed. "We did not receive the final lists until last night. Had I more time, I would have been happy to provide such notice," she said in a clipped tone.
"I see," Hermione replied. She turned to Ron. "This is clearly just an unfortunate situation. Surely you can see that?" she asked, clearly trying to play the peacemaker before Ron said something to alienate their head of house.
Ron reluctantly nodded.
"We will be keeping an eye out to make sure everyone is on their best behaviour, Mister Weasley," Professor McGonagall added, "and that includes Draco Malfoy when he is on school property."
"I'm sure Professor Moody is looking forward to that," Harry added with a smile. He was pretty sure he didn't imagine the alarmed look that flashed across McGonagall's face for a split-second, displacing her normally stern expression.
"Professor Moody will likely have other responsibilities guarding the Goblet of Fire," she declared.
Luna looked up from where she was writing on a scrap of parchment. "Has it been officially declared that Draco will leave if he is not selected?" she asked in an innocent tone, "I'd like to make sure I get it correct. Daddy will be very interested."
Harry sighed. "She's right," he agreed. "There's no way the press won't pick up on this. Expelled former Hogwarts student returns for Tri-Wizard Tournament. It's too juicy a story to ignore, and I'm sure he'll be more than happy to tell his version of events."
Ron shuddered. "Wait till my Mum hears about this!"
Their conversation with Professor McGonagall, unsatisfying as it was, at least ended quickly enough for Harry and his friends to be seated in the Great Hall with no fuss. Unsurprisingly, he saw the Durmstrang students sitting at the enlarged Slytherin table. They were clustered near the end closest to the High Table. Throughout its length Draco was being treated like a returning hero, a sight that re-ignited the spark of anger burning in the pit of Harry's stomach.
The Beauxbatons students, however, rather than sitting at the Ravenclaw table as Harry remembered, were gathered at one end of the Gryffindor table. It was the end furthest from the High Table, and he wondered if it was a coincidence that it put them as far as possible from the Slytherin and Durmstrang students. Traffic was slowed for the Gryffindors, and Harry subtly steered his group clear of those who'd been slowed or outright dazed by the sight of Fleur Delacour. Harry smiled a little when he noticed Ron and Neville were largely unaffected by the half-Veela's charms. He wondered if it was Occlumency or something else.
Once they were seated, Harry glanced back down the table. The Beauxbatons students were all sitting in a cluster, making Harry wonder again if they were purposefully avoiding the Slytherins or the Durmstrang students. He frowned. There was a tall girl sitting next to Fleur that bothered him for some reason. She seemed younger, but was just as tall as the willowy platinum blonde, built noticeably sturdier with dark hair drawn into an elegant chignon. She was mostly solemn, but when she smiled once in response to something Fleur said, there was a sarcastic tilt to her mouth that seemed all too familiar.
Ginny's nudge made Harry aware he was staring. He looked down and then shook his head. "Does something seem odd about the girl sitting second from the end?" he whispered.
"I think the one on the end is the weird one," she replied tartly, "are you sure it isn't her you are staring at?"
Harry scowled. "No, I'm talking about the brunette sitting next to your future sister-in-law," he whispered.
Ginny's gobsmacked expression was a little satisfying, but Harry also wanted to reassure her he wasn't interested in Fleur. Getting to do both at once was just a happy efficiency.
Ginny snorted after a moment then glanced back up the table. "She's tall, but I think she's closer to our age than the blonde."
Harry pondered this a moment, then turned and stared. "Millicent?" he whispered.
Ginny blinked. "She's been through some changes then."
Harry nodded, and then looked away. Fleur was glancing around again, and he didn't want to be caught staring. Up at the High Table, he could see Cuthbert Throckmorton and Ludovic Bagman sitting with the professors and the heads of the other schools. While he supposed that Dolores Umbridge was the driving force behind forcing Remus out, the role Throckmorton played did not leave Harry well-disposed toward the man. Ludo was still the affable idiot that Harry remembered from the Quidditch World Cup, albeit a popular one.
The meal continued and Harry ate pretty much on autopilot as his mind churned. Snape was fairly impassive, his facial expression unchanging as he glanced around the room, including his former students. Professor Slughorn was seated next to him, clearly trying to start a conversation with little success. Harry wondered if that arrangement made Snape uncomfortable, being next to his replacement. Of course, Harry remembered, Slughorn had been the man to introduce Snape to potions, and been his former head of house. Maybe Dumbledore put him there so they could talk about brewing? Either way, Snape was having none of it.
With a silent Snape to his left, Dumbledore had a far more convivial dinner companion on his right. Madame Maxime seemed to be enjoying the change of scenery and a conversation with both Dumbledore and McGonagall. Here, the Triwizard Tournament seemed to live up to its promise of fostering greater international cooperation. Harry frowned when he couldn't recall what the seating arrangements had originally been, then decided he was likely overanalysing the whole thing.
It did make him smile to see Moody perched on the far right end of the table, as geometrically far from Snape as it was possible for him to be seated. Probably not by accident.
Finally, as the dinner concluded, Dumbledore stood and introduced the guests at the High Table. Sure enough, the celebrated former beater for the Wimbourne Wasps garnered far more applause than Throckmorton. This seemed to annoy the goateed man to no end. Got to love Quidditch fans, Harry thought. But after dumping Percy like that, he really deserved no better. Harry felt his mouth quirk. It still seemed a little unreal to feel so defensive about the occasionally prickly Weasley, but he'd really come around from Harry's memories of before. He had a good feeling after he got the news about the offer from Madam Bones – he thought working for her could be the best thing that could happen for Percy. Harry just hoped he could stop things from getting to the point where she is targeted again.
Harry shook his head when he realized he was wool-gathering while Dumbledore had Filch unveil the Goblet of Fire. The headmaster then began explaining the judging of the tournament tasks. He forced himself to listen closely and see if anything had changed. It all seemed as he remembered up until the end. The omission of the age line he expected, but for some reason the applicant slips from Durmstrang and Beauxbatons were being dropped into the Goblet of Fire by Snape and Maxime, respectively, who had evidently collected them ahead of time. It seemed like a minor change, but it left Harry wondering what had caused it. The Hogwarts students still had twenty-four hours to submit their names. Perhaps one of the other headmasters had suggested this at the last minute. Still, it was curious.
It wasn't long before they were all dismissed for the night and the foreign students made their way back to their respective conveyances. Harry wondered if he'd get a chance to see how Millicent was doing as a Beauxbatons student. As they made their way back to Gryffindor Tower, Fred and George were talking about setting up a betting pool on who the goblet would select for each school and how they would fare in the tournament. As they were entering the common room, Fred asked him if he was thinking about putting his name in the cup.
Harry frowned. "I'm not sure a fourth year would know enough to compete with seventh year students. At least, not without making a fool of myself."
"I don't know," George replied, "I think you'd make a pretty good show of it myself."
"All things considered," Fred added with a sly grin, "I think we'd get pretty good odds on you, too."
Harry rolled his eyes at the twins. Businessmen to the end. Trust them to leverage knowledge of a possible future apocalypse to beat the bookmaker's odds. "I rather think I'd prefer to have a nice quiet year myself," he shot back. No use making it easy for someone trying to resurrect Voldemort, after all.
"I think you're selling yourself short there," George argued before letting the matter drop.
But this conversation sparked an even bigger discussion in the common room regarding who would try out and who they thought might from the other houses. Harry stayed quiet through this, but listened avidly as he went through some of his old transfiguration essays and notes. Part of it was curiosity, and part of it was a desire to keep an eye out for other potential changes. Hermione, who was sitting next to him organizing her charms notes, frowned at his inattention. Funny enough, Cedric Diggory's name did come up in the discussion of likely seventh years, but most of the room dismissed him as "the Pretty-boy Hufflepuff" to Harry's amusement.
Towards the end, Colin Creevey asked Harry what he thought.
"I don't know," Harry answered, "but I think Cedric might do all right."
Colin frowned. He started to say something, but was cut off when one of the prefects reminded everyone they needed to go to bed. Harry shrugged as he began picking up his papers. Hermione fussed at how disorganized he was.
Harry sighed. "It's not like I'm planning to bind each year's notes together and publish them as study guides, unlike some people I know…"
"And why not?" Hermione asked. "Maybe Ginny or Luna could use them? Or even your own children one day…"
Harry smiled at the implied optimism. "One, I know Ginny and Luna will be receiving a copy of your notes to use as a reference. Two…" He said as he picked up an essay for McGonagall's class and handed it to Colin, "Colin, can you read that?"
Colin peered at the paper and paused. Harry could see his lips move as he tried to decipher the cramped script. He looked up at Harry and gave a sickly grin. "Er, yes… I think."
Harry handed him another sheet of paper. "How about that?"
Colin peered at it. "Is this some sort of code?"
"Right," Harry said and turned back to Hermione. "My handwriting is complete rubbish. I have to work at it to make it legible for letters or things I have to hand in. When I'm taking notes, in a hurry… I doubt anyone else can decipher it."
Hermione just made a discontented sound as she gathered up her own papers and headed up to bed.
The following day was Saturday, and like half of Gryffindor, Harry and his friends decided to make an early go of things and headed down to the great hall rather than having a lie in. He was pleasantly surprised to see that the Beauxbatons students were also early risers, but the Durmstrang students were nowhere to be seen.
Everyone was eyeing the Goblet of Fire, burbling away atop the stool normally used for sorting new students. Harry could have sworn it should have been in the entrance hall, not the great hall, but otherwise nothing else seemed amiss.
Harry noticed none of the French students looked particularly anxious or excited. He paused near their end of the Gryffindor table. "Bonjour," he said, raising his voice slightly. When they looked up he continued. "Waiting to see who enters?" he asked.
The girls all glanced at Fleur, who seemed to be their unspoken leader. "Oui," she answered after a moment. "From 'ogwarts. Madame Maxime and ze headmaster from Durmstrang, have already placed ze names in ze goblet."
Harry frowned. He was still was curious about that change. "Ah, pardon me. I am Harry and these are my friends Hermione, Ron, Neville, Ginny, and Luna."
"We know," Fleur replied. She gave a half-smile toward the girl sitting next to her. "How do zey say? Ze reputation, it precedes you?"
Harry gave a theatrical sigh as he raised the back of his hand to his forehead. "Alas, I hope some of it was good?" he asked in a quavering voice.
That was good for a few giggles around the table. The brunette at Fleur's elbow rolled her eyes. "You know, I was just getting this lot to stop making fun of my accent," she replied sourly in distinctly not-French-accented English.
Hermione's eyes widened. "Millicent?" she gasped. "Is that you?"
"Yes, it's me," Millicent shot back, sounding a little defensive.
"Er, you look great, I mean, happier, too…" Hermione added, clearly trying to avoid giving offence.
"Maybe this isn't the best place to hold that conversation," Harry added quietly, looking around. He didn't see any unfriendly eyes, but there were a lot of people around, especially for a Saturday morning.
"We are planning to have a light luncheon at ze carriage," Fleur suggested, "Perhaps you could join us at noon?"
"That would be our pleasure," Harry agreed, the others nodding, before taking their own seats for breakfast.
Harry ate slowly as his friends talked in low voices. They all stopped to clap for Angelina Johnson when she entered her name. Everyone looked up when the outer doors banged open and the Durmstrang students marched in. Draco was still unnervingly quiet as they filed in. Again, Harry wondered what he'd been up to over the last year. A Malfoy with the self-control to keep his mouth shut was a dangerous curiosity.
Ron's eyes narrowed as he watched the procession of blood-red robes approach the Slytherin table. Then they widened. "Bloody hell," he gasped in a whisper, "look Harry, that bloke next to Draco, isn't that Victor Krum?"
Harry nodded. "You didn't see him last night?"
"No," Ron admitted. "I saw Draco and the rest was just a nasty blur."
"Maybe you'll get a chance to talk to him when he's away from the others?" Harry suggested.
Ron shook his head. "Not unless I can think of something better to say than 'Hey, I saw you at the World Cup!'. I mean, it made me really uncomfortable last term, after that whole 'Heir of Gryffindor' crap, when people I didn't know would just walk up to me and start blathering on about it. I wouldn't want to do that to someone else."
Harry blinked. "That's… pretty perceptive of you, Ron."
"Try not to act so surprised."
"In my defence," Harry shot back, "I have good reason to think you might."
"Good reason?" Ron asked, and then cringed. "Oh no, tell me I didn't... didn't, you know…"
"Gush?" Harry asked. "Like a broken water main."
Ron pushed back his plate and covered his face with his hands. "Oi, sometimes you are a terrible friend to have, Harry."
Harry just grinned and took a sip of pumpkin juice as Hermione patted Ron on the back and asked him what was wrong.
As Harry suspected, the Beauxbatons carriage was bigger on the inside than the outside. A lot bigger. The body of the carriage itself formed a vestibule with several doors that opened into corridors that stretched to who knows where. Fleur and Millicent were waiting for them, and led Harry and his friends to a small dining room, complete with a light brunch spread. Many of the other students were sitting scattered at various tables, chatting over pastries and small sandwiches.
"We find ze food at 'ogwarts, ah, heavy?" Fleur explained as they filled their plates.
"It's necessary to survive Scottish winters," Millicent replied. "I'd started to forget how cold it was here."
"You look like Beauxbatons climate agrees with you," Harry offered cautiously.
Millicent snorted in a rather unladylike fashion, making Fleur roll her eyes as the other girls tittered. "I'm just glad I missed the Dementor invasion," she shot back.
Most of the casual conversation in the room died at that point. Ron looked down and flushed when he noticed some of the French students eyeing him.
"It was not a lot of fun," Harry agreed quietly. "I am a little surprised you wanted to come back."
"I didn't, not initially anyway," Millicent agreed. "But my sponsor said I should be willing to face my past, or some nonsense like that."
"It iz not nonsense, mon ami," Fleur shot back. "You will show your enemies zat you are not afraid of them, zat you have allies now who will stand by you, and zere is nozzing zey can do about eet!" Harry noticed Fleur's accent got noticeably stronger when she was angry or maybe just passionate about something.
"Sponsor?" Hermione asked mildly. Ginny's grin showed she wholly agreed with Fleur's sentiment.
"It's a lot easier to do that now that my family is safely on the Continent," Millicent shot back at Fleur before turning to Hermione. "And while I may have had my tuition and expenses paid by my anonymous benefactors," Millicent explained, giving Harry a quick glance, "I still didn't know three words of French and I was starting over in a new school. Madame Maxime saw fit to assign me as a 'special project' to one of her prefects,"
"It was no hardship," Fleur said quietly. "I got a chance to practice my English, and as Madame Maxime said, ze added responsibility looked good on my application for Head Girl."
"You're the Head Girl at Beauxbatons this year?" Hermione asked, clearly impressed.
"She is," Millicent confirmed proudly. "But I don't think makeovers were included in what the Headmistress had in mind,"
"It ees difficult to do ones best, if you don't look your best," Fleur replied loftily. "A small change of diet, less of zat heavy English food, some cosmetic charms, and the services of a 'air-dresser and robe-maker zat actually want you to look good… zese are very small zings. But ze confidence, ze poise, zat is all you, mon ami."
"Yes, well…" Millicent said, flushing a little. Harry had to admit that her hair drawn back, emphasizing the strong lines of her face, was far more flattering that the hanging mess she almost seemed to be hiding behind at times.
"And zis Parkinson, she does not recognize you yet?" Fleur asked innocently. "She is ze one with ze tiny nose that turns up?"
"Yes, and I don't think she will unless someone points it out to her," Millicent answered sourly.
"Bon. 'opefully, when she does, you will get to see her, how do they say… eat her liver out? Yes?"
:Oui, Fleur," Millicent said, cracking a smile that seemed to transform her face. Harry noticed some of the Beauxbatons boys straightening a bit in their seats and had to suppress a smile of his own.
The meal was surprisingly pleasant. Fleur was much friendlier than Harry expected, and he suspected Millicent had a lot to do with that. Hinting at Harry's role in getting her transferred to Beauxbatons seemed to leave the French witch well-disposed toward Harry and his friends. As things progressed, the atmosphere relaxed even more and some of the students began asking about the so-called Battle of Hogwarts last term. At one point, Luna even pulled out her wand and demonstrated her corporeal Patronus that took the form of a duck-billed platypus, delighting many of the younger students.
Hermione and Fleur got into a detailed discussion of the differences between their two schools and how they approached the various subjects, with Hermione also interested in what being a head girl was really like. Harry had little doubt that was one of her goals for her own last year at Hogwarts.
Some of the Beauxbatons boys were curious about the whole mess with the Dementors and gradually drew Ron, Neville, and Ginny into a discussion of it, with Harry offering the odd bit. Ron was more than willing to discuss the small-unit tactics they used to initially repulse the incursion, but grew oddly reticent when it came to the climax of the battle.
Neville ended up doing most of the explaining regarding the Sword of Gryffindor, while Ron blushed from some of the awestruck looks he was receiving. One of the Beauxbatons fifth years, a lad named Sebastien, asked why he was being so modest.
"Not so much modest," Ron finally admitted, "as I don't remember what I was thinking at the time. I wasn't thinking, not really. I ran into the stupid thing because I couldn't think of anything else I could do, and I wasn't about to let it eat Hermione. I only reached into the hat to get Harry to stop shouting at me. After that it was just kind of automatic. I mean, if you had one of those things in your face I bet you'd want to stab it too."
"And taunting the rest of the horde?" Sebastien asked avidly.
"Er… too angry to think straight?" Ron offered weakly.
"Ah, but he saved Hermione from ze fiends," Sebastien's friend Amalthea added, "tres romantique!"
Ron, who had just started to drink from a goblet of some unnamed, but tasty juice concoction, broke down coughing. Neville resorted to thumping him solidly on the back to help clear the redhead's airways.
"We don't talk about that," Ginny explained. "Ever."
Harry and his friends lingered over some extremely good chicory coffee as the afternoon wore down. He was more of a tea drinker himself, but the dark aromatic liquid, served with milk and some sort of thick honey that broke down quickly under heat, was tasty enough to turn even his loyalties to tradition. Harry mused that they'd spent an afternoon fulfilling the avowed purpose behind reviving the whole tournament, and it hadn't even started yet.
Of course he was under no illusion that many of the people participating had other, less laudable motives. The ministry personnel seemed to be more focussed on maintaining the appearance of propriety and pushing their own agendas. Their treatment of Remus Lupin was a prime example of this. If he truly was a hazard to the students, the past year showed it was far less of one than that posed by the Ministry itself. And while the Beauxbatons students seemed friendly enough, there were no encouraging signs from their counterparts at Durmstrang. Harry feared that with Snape in charge, he wasn't likely to see any either.
Nonetheless, as they made their way back into the castle, it was fun to marvel at the elaborate Halloween decorations, and ask Fleur and her friends how Beauxbatons celebrated the holiday. It seemed that they didn't have anyone on staff that threw themselves into the decorating to the degree that professors Flitwick and Hagrid did… and Fleur seemed just fine with that after an animated Jack-O'-Lantern caught her off guard, eliciting a startled shriek.
Soon enough they were settled down in the lavishly-decorated Great Hall awaiting the Halloween feast. Harry wasn't particularly hungry yet, but the Great Hall seemed like more of a neutral ground than the Gryffindor common room. He wasn't even precisely sure if he needed to get permission from McGonagall to allow visitors, to be honest. He doubted she'd mind, but better to check first just in case. He certainly hadn't expected relations to be this warm after only a day. Of course, he had Millicent to thank for that.
The former Hogwarts student stayed by Fleur's side, solidifying Harry's impression that they were close friends. That wasn't something he'd ever anticipated, but it was probably all for the better. Knowledge of future events was a useful advantage, but he needed to remember that he was here to change things, and inevitably that meant his foreknowledge would eventually become less and less accurate. It was just hard sometimes, Harry admitted, to let go of a lingering sense of wrongness when things didn't follow his future memories. But it was something he was going to have to get used to if he was going to succeed here. It also didn't help his insecurities when he noticed some of those memories growing vague with respect to certain details. It was hard to discern whether that was due to the normal passage of time, or something else, and that made him even more nervous.
With an effort, Harry forced these speculations from his mind and rejoined the conversation as his friends settled at the Gryffindor table next to the Beauxbaton's students. Now was not the time to drive himself round the twist and he didn't want to give offense to their French guests by seeming aloof or preoccupied. Besides, they were discussing Quidditch and the dismal performances of both the French and English teams during the previous World Cup.
As Harry and Ron worked out the tentative details of arranging a pick-up game with Jean and Claude for the following weekend, Harry looked up at the additional students filing into the Great Hall and realized it was nearly time for the feast. He stretched a little, grimacing at how stiff he'd become sitting and talking the afternoon away. Harry excused himself to visit the necessary, but on the way back he ran into Hermione waiting for him in the corridor.
"You never mentioned being so friendly with the Beauxbatons students," she said in a quiet, but direct manner.
"That's because I wasn't," he admitted.
Her eyes widened. "You mean-?"
"Uncharted territory," Harry confirmed.
Hermione frowned and he noticed her teeth worrying at her lower lip. Sometimes Harry wondered if she was more dependent on his foreknowledge than he himself was. "But why?" she finally asked, "They seem perfectly nice to me."
Harry shrugged. This was hardly unexpected. Hermione was quite avid about picking apart the differences between the timelines and tracing back the causes. "Millicent is definitely a factor. They were…always… nice enough, I suppose. I got to know Fleur better later on. But initially, maybe a little standoffish." He grinned. "It didn't help that upon first meeting me, someone dismissed me as a 'little boy'."
Hermione's face purpled as she struggled to stop the giggles that erupted. "I can't see anyone doing that," she finally said with a commendably straight face.
"Of course," Harry agreed in as dry a tone possible.
Hermione sighed. "I meant that, you prat. You can be rather… well, intimidating to people that don't know you better."
Harry blinked. "What do you mean?" he didn't think he was acting that different, but how could he tell?
"Well," Hermione temporized, "you can be very direct, even with authority figures, if you think you know better. That's not a bad thing, per se, but I almost had a heart attack when you lit into my father when he was talking about taking me out of Hogwarts."
"It would have been a disaster, for you and for them," Harry protested.
"I agree," Hermione replied calmly, "but you were rather, ah, forceful when you were making your point. Father later said he hadn't had a wigging like that since he left the Royal Marines."
Harry blushed. He hadn't realized it at the time, but he'd probably gone overboard when he panicked.
"Don't apologize, Harry," Hermione added like she was reading his thoughts. "It was probably the only thing that stopped him. My father can be rather… well… emotional if he thinks me or Mum are in danger. Before we found out I was a witch, he nearly went spare trying to figure out if there was something, well, wrong with me when I started doing accidental magic." She smiled. "You and Ron and the others sticking up for me, well, you know I haven't really had a lot of friends in my life before Hogwarts. My parents were always rather concerned about that, so it really made an impression on them."
Harry swallowed and gave a rather sickly smile. "Well, I guess that's all right then."
Hermione nodded. "I'm not trying to make you self-conscious, Harry. If you are different than you remember being, that's only natural, and all to the good, I think. And you can be quite intimidating when you are angry. Of course that only makes sense."
Harry frowned. "How so?"
"It's common among powerful witches and wizards," Hermione replied. "When they are emotionally agitated, their magic reacts, and others can feel it. I've read about the effect, in extreme cases what they describe sounds similar to a strong electrical charge in the air. Anyone sensitive to magic can feel it, even if they don't know what's causing it."
Harry recalled the feeling in the air when Remus tried to test him against the Boggart. That was a bit more than Hermione described, but his unusual corpus magi could account for it. "Wait a minute, what about Professor Dumbledore? I don't think I've ever noticed that around him." Of course, in some of the more extreme situations in his future memories, he doubted he could have noticed a subtle anything.
"I thought about that as well," Hermione admitted, "I think that he has spent a great deal of time and effort making sure his emotions aren't easily agitated. With enough self-control, the book says, one can stop this process before it starts."
Harry supposed this was possible. The occasions where he himself had been calm enough to notice were ones where the Headmaster probably wanted to keep himself firmly under control. Other times, like the aborted duel with Voldemort in the Ministry of Magic, the magic was so thick in the air you could cut it with a knife. He doubted all of that was just coming from Voldemort. "That makes sense," he conceded.
"And it can be useful," Hermione added. "While no one is likely to underestimate you, it might also discourage others from, ah, opposing you, in the future."
That brought Harry up short. "That's… an interesting idea," he finally said. "I'm going to have to think that one over. In the meantime, we should probably get back to the Great Hall."
Hermione nodded and they left to join their friends.
Harry was glad they'd had a light lunch as they partook of the second Hogwarts feast in two days. He noticed the Durmstrang students were also sitting where they had the previous night. Tonight though, they seemed even friendlier with the Slytherins. Harry glanced up at the head table, but if Professor Slughorn had any feelings about this development, he wasn't making them obvious.
Conversation also seemed muted from the previous night, perhaps in anticipation of the drawing of the names. The Goblet of Fire had been moved, and was now sitting at the head table, simmering in front of Professor Dumbledore's place. Harry considered the innocuous-looking artefact as he lingered over his treacle tart.
Without Harry or Barty Crouch, Junior mucking things up, it would be a three-way race between Cedric Diggory, Fleur, and Victor Krum. Fleur hadn't fared that well, as Harry recalled, and he didn't see how her being friends with Millicent would change that. That meant it was likely down to Diggory or Krum, and Harry didn't think he was being overly sentimental when he favoured Cedric for the win. While it was true that Victor had been interfered with on the third task, Diggory was still more likely to beat him to the cup. Of course, whether that bit of history would repeat itself was anyone's guess.
Finally, the plates were cleared and Dumbledore rose to his feet.
"Well," the aged headmaster announced, "I see the goblet is almost ready to make its decision. I estimate it will require one more minute. When the champion's names are called, I'd like them to please come up to the top of the Hall, walk along the staff table, and go through that door into the next chamber, where they will receive their first instructions."
With that, Dumbledore gave a sweep of his wand that extinguished most of the candles in the room. With Hagrid's pumpkins providing the sole illumination in the cavernous Great Hall, the blue-white flames dancing above the lip of the Goblet shown as bright as day. In a moment, the audience in the dimly-lit hall gasped as a long tongue of red flame erupted from the Goblet of Fire. A charred scrap of parchment fluttered from it into Dumbledore's outstretched fingers.
"The champion," he announced, "for Durmstrang is Draco Malfoy."
A storm of applause and cheering erupted in the hall, much of it coming from the Slytherin table. Harry found that fortunate, because it drowned out the anguished "Bloody Hell!" that erupted from Ron's lips. Hermione twitched next to the horrified redhead, but to Harry's surprise didn't remark on his language. There was a scattering of polite applause from the Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw tables. The Beauxbatons students started to applaud, but it trailed off into a confused silence when they noticed the Gryffindors sitting mostly silent and stony-faced next to them.
Harry was still trying to figure out why the goblet would pick Draco Malfoy over Victor Krum. As he watched the blond silently stalk up the aisle and the leave the room, Harry felt a frisson of unease. There was no strutting or smiling for the new champion. Draco was utterly expressionless as he made his way out of the room. Something was wrong here…
As the noise died down, the goblet turned red again and a second slip of paper emerged.
"The champion," Dumbledore announced, "for Beauxbatons is Fleur Delacour."
This time, the applause and cheering was much more widespread. Harry clapped hard, and the whole Gryffindor table erupted with cheers. Fleur rose with a smile and the applause grew louder. Harry noticed the other Beauxbatons students didn't seem as upset as he remembered. He wondered if this Fleur was on better terms with her classmates or if it was something else. At least in this case, the Goblet of Fire seemed to be working normally.
Finally, the goblet turned red a third time. Harry found his eyes drawn to the Hufflepuff table as Dumbledore retrieved the third slip.
"The champion for Hogwarts is Harry Potter."
Harry's head snapped around to stare at the headmaster. As applause erupted around him, he couldn't help but echo Ron's earlier epithet.
"Bloody buggering hell."
Author Notes: Well now, history repeating itself. Fancy that.
As always, many kudos to Runsamok and Kokopelli for awesome beta work. Any delays in the production of this chapter rest solely on my shoulders (or rather my gimpy foot). I'd also like to thank my awesome supporters for helping make this continuation happen. They are also reading my original novel, Rhiyen's Deal (which they helped rename). I'm listed on as Viridian Dreams. There's even a real life picture of my face, so be warned…
As always, any questions can be addressed best on the Viridian Dreams forums because for every question you have, I bet ten fellow readers are asking the same thing. So feel free to register, wave hello to the captcha as it snares spam-bots, and say hello!