A/N As usual, big thanks to everybody at DLP – Inky, Shezza88, Giovanni, jbern, MadBiologist, ip82, Fuegodfuerza, and Shuujaku – for their comments on the draft.


The week after the weighing of the wands was rather tedious for Harry, mainly because of the article that appeared in the Daily Prophet the day after Rita Skeeter had tried to interview him.

Rather than a story on the tournament, the article she'd published was a twisted version of Harry's own history, with an emphasis on his "unstable personality." Blaise and Tracey had both gotten a good laugh out of that.

With the article once again making him a hot topic for the Hogwarts rumor mill, Harry had spent the majority of the week going through the book he'd gotten from Karkaroff. Blaise had gotten a glimpse of the book earlier in the week, and after careful consideration Harry had decided to let his friend in on this one little secret. Of course, once Harry had told him, he had insisted on seeing it for himself.

When the weekend finally rolled around, Harry decided to let him. He walked into the Slytherin common room and saw Blaise sitting in their usual corner. Crabbe and Goyle followed him into the room looking slightly confused, and Blaise raised an eyebrow in their direction as Harry made his was towards him.

"Uh oh, it's Dark Lord Potter," Blaise said, smirking slightly. "And it looks like you've already recruited your first henchmen," Blaise continued, gesturing towards Crabbe and Goyle.

"Those two?" Harry snorted and made his way over towards his friend. "Come on, the article said I was unstable, not stupid."

Blaise laughed. "Fair enough. 'An unstable teenager, cracking under the pressure of his tragic life, lashing out in anger at anyone who tries to get close.'" He smirked. "Sound about right?"

"Don't forget glory seeking," Harry added. "Or the part where she insinuates that I entered the tournament because I couldn't stand letting anyone else be the center of attention."

"Yup, looks like she's got you pegged," Blaise said with mock sincerity.

"Sod off," Harry grumbled. Blaise just laughed as Harry surveyed the rest of the common room. "Where's Tracey, anyway?"

"No idea," Blaise replied. "I actually thought she might be with you."

Harry shook his head. "I haven't seen her since charms."

Blaise shrugged. "She does disappear from time to time. She's probably in the library or something. Speaking of which," he looked at Harry questioningly. "Where were you last night? We ended up in the library and couldn't find you anywhere."

"Yeah, I was working on a few spells in an empty classroom," Harry replied easily.

"What spells?"

"Nothing special," said Harry, giving Blaise a meaningful look. "Just a few things out a new book I picked up."

Blaise's eyes widened almost imperceptibly. "Any progress?" He asked in a low voice.

Harry nodded. "A little. I'm going back tonight, if you want to come."

"Yes," Blaise nodded emphatically. "Definitely yes."

Harry smirked. "I figured. I was going to ask Tracey too, but…" He trailed off and looked around the room again before shrugging. "Well, no time like the present, I guess."

"Ok, let's go." Blaise packed up his things and followed Harry out of the common room and out into the dungeons.

"This way," Harry said, starting up the stairs.

Blaise followed as Harry led them through a couple different corridors before finally stopping in front of a large oak door.

"This is where I've been practicing," Harry said as he opened the door to reveal a large but nearly empty classroom.

"Kind of bare, isn't it?" Blaise asked, surveying the room.

"Yeah, but I like it better that way," Harry answered, summoning one of the room's three chairs and placing it behind the only desk. "This way I can be sure that nobody else is using the room for anything, and nobody will know that I'm using it either."

"How refreshingly paranoid," said Blaise as he scourgified one of the remaining chairs and sat down opposite Harry. "So, what's in the book?"

"There's a lot of standard material in it, actually," Harry said, pulling the object in question from his pocket and enlarging it. "Tips on silent casting and its strategic value, a couple of standard shields and a number of both curses and countercurses." He flipped to a page near the back of the book. "Then there's this."

"Shield Surpassing Casting?" Blaise read out loud. Suddenly he snapped his fingers. "Wait, I've heard of that. They call them something else too, right?"

Harry nodded. "They call them sliders, it's written here in the margin," he pointed to the book.

"Sliders!" Blaise exclaimed. "That's right, I've heard my dad talk about Aurors using sliders before, but I never knew what they were." He looked at the book for a moment before looking sheepishly at Harry. "So…what are they?"

"They're exactly what they sound like, actually," Harry replied wryly. "It's a way of casting spells that slide around any shield they touch and attack the caster. Essentially, they surpass shields by sliding around them, or at least that's what it looks like."

"What do you mean, that's what it looks like?"

"Well, here's the thing," Harry said, turning to indicate a passage in the book. "A slider isn't really a spell until it hits a shield. The spell doesn't really slide around the shield, it just looks that way because the spell is actually being created by the shield. You follow?"

"Absolutely not," Blaise answered.

Harry sighed. "Ok, let's see if I can explain this better. If I cast a slider at you and you don't put up a shield, you know what happens?"

"Unless your aim is as bad as this explanation, I'd get hit," Blaise said wryly.

Harry shook his head. "Wrong. Nothing happens. Nothing at all. By itself, a slider is worthless, it doesn't have any power."

Blaise frowned. "Then how-"

"It gets its power from your shield," interrupted Harry. "Think of the slider as the spell you intend to cast, say a stunner." He held up his right hand in a fist. "To cast it, you have to put some power behind it, right?" Blaise nodded. "Well, what a slider does is basically cast the spell, but leave the power out. So what you have is an unfinished spell flying through the air. "Then I put up a shield," Harry held up his left hand, palm open, and brought his two hand together. "The unfinished spell hits the shield, but since it doesn't have any power behind it, the shield can't repel it. Instead, the slider takes power from the shield," he spread his right hand out. "So your stunner uses the energy from my shield to form itself into a complete spell, and by the time it's completely formed, it's already bypassed the shield and hits me directly." He slapped himself in the chest with his right hand. "You see?"

"I think so," Blaise said slowly. "So can you make any spell into a slider? Why do we cast any other way?"

Harry shook his head. "It doesn't work like that. Whatever spell you cast, the amount of power you can put into it is limited by the amount of power it can drain from the opponent's shield, which, according to the book, isn't very much. It's enough for a stunner, or a light to medium curse, but if you tried to use it with anything heavy, an unforgivable, say, the spell would fizzle out before it could form because there isn't enough power."

"So it's really more of a strategic skill, then," Blaise said shrewdly. "You cast three spells, one of them is a slider, and I don't know which."

"Actually, you can tell, if you look close enough," Harry answered. "He turned the page in the book and pointed to an illustration. "No matter what spell is chosen, its color will be muddled by small, black holes that appear when it's cast. It gives the spell a sickly looking color to it. It's not easy to spot, but it's there."


Harry shrugged. "Probably something about their being no power behind it, but I don't know for sure."

"I don't know if I'm satisfied with that explanation," Blaise said, frowning slightly. "I don't suppose you can cast one yet, can you? I'd like to see what it looks like for myself."

Harry shook his head. "I can't, but I can tell you for a fact that what the book says about the color is spot on."

Blaise looked at him quizzically. "How?"

"I've seen one," Harry said simply.

"What?! When?"

"When I dueled Snape, last year," Harry answered. "He used one on me. Of course, at the time I didn't know what the hell was going on; I thought he found a way around my shield."

"What did it do?" Blaise asked, looking at Harry intently.

"Screwed my arm up really good," Harry answered ruefully. "I think it was some sort of limb numbing hex, since I couldn't use that arm for the rest of the fight, and Madame Promfrey said she had trouble healing it."

"Sounds nasty."

"It was," Harry nodded. "Useful though. If he'd hit my wand arm I would have been in real trouble."

Blaise grunted his agreement as he studied the Durmstrang textbook. After a moment he looked up and grinned.

"So, any ideas on how you cast one?"

Harry shrugged noncommittally. "A few, but nothing that works yet." Suddenly he frowned. "There's another problem, too. I asked Sirius if he knew anything about the shield surpassing technique, and he said that casting any spell as a slider is the same as using dark arts, and that the technique is restricted to Auror use only."

"They're dark arts, but aurors can use them?" Blaise asked skeptically.

"Yeah, that's what I said," Harry replied. "It's stupid too, because it's not even a specific spell. It's just a different way of casting spells you already know. I could cast a cheering charm as a slider if I wanted to, so I don't get it." He sighed. "As much as I don't want to, I think I'm going to have to ask Karkaroff, I'm just not sure how."

"I won't stop you, obviously," said Blaise.

Harry snorted. "Of course you won't, you want to know how to cast one as much as I do."

"Too true," Blaise replied, smirking slightly. "So get out there and learn so you can teach me, lackey."

Harry smirked back. "Well, how about I teach you this one," he asked, pulling his wand. "Apud Metus," he muttered, slashing his wand in a roughly circular pattern around Blaise.

"Potter, wh-" Blaise's mouth suddenly clamped shut, seemingly of its own accord, and he began to look around the room wildly.

"What the hell is that?" He asked, sounding panicked. He continued to whip his head around the room frantically for a moment before he began to curl up into a ball on the floor and shiver violently.

"Finite," Harry muttered, giving his wand a quick flick. As quickly as the panic had come, it vanished, and Blaise looked confused for a moment before glaring at Harry.

"What the hell was that, Potter," he ground out, dusting himself off.

"That was what you get for calling me lackey," Harry said casually. "As far as I can tell, it imitates the effects of having a dementor nearby, although it's not as strong. It's actually cast on an area, not a person, which is why I thought it was interesting."

"I could barely move, you know," Blaise said, still glaring.

Harry shrugged. "You said you wanted to learn. Tell you what, if you get it right, you can cast it on me. Who knows," he grinned slightly, "maybe you could use it on Daphne sometime."

Blaise's glare suddenly turned into an evil grin. "Deal."


Harry and Blaise spent the rest of Saturday and most of Sunday trying to figure out how to successfully cast a slider, but to no avail. Harry had actually had more progress when he had attempted earlier in the week without using his wand, but of course he couldn't tell his friend that. After their Sunday study session, Harry decided he would have to bite the bullet and talk to Karkaroff.

Harry spotted him Monday morning at breakfast, and decided to approach him. He waited until the Durmstrang headmaster was finished eating before following him out of the room and into the Entrance Hall.

"Headmaster Karkaroff," called Harry. Karkaroff turned just as he was about to exit onto the Hogwarts grounds.

"Yes, Mr. Potter, what is it?"

"I was hoping you could answer some questions for me, sir," Harry said respectfully, pulling his wand to put up a silencing charm around them.

Karkaroff looked at Harry approvingly. "You work quickly, Mr. Potter, but I expected no less. What is your question?"

"In the book you gave me, there is a section on a technique called shield surpassing casting. I understand what the technique is used for, but I was told that only aurors are allowed to use it."

Karkaroff's expression darkened. "Says who?" He asked coldly. "Your Ministry?" He shook his head. "No, shield surpassing is a technique, an art, if you will. It is not a spell to be restricted, and even your Ministry cannot forbid it outright." He scowled. "They can, however, restrict its teaching so that the only place in England it can be taught is at the Auror Academy, which is what they have done."

"So it's illegal to learn, but not to use?" Harry asked skeptically. "That doesn't make any sense."

"It's illegal to teach, not to learn," Karkaroff corrected. "Tell me, Mr. Potter, why would your Ministry do such a thing? Can you think of a reason?"

Harry's brow furrowed for a moment, but Karkaroff chose to answer his own question.

"Could it be that they wish to give their aurors an advantage over the populace?" Karkaroff asked rhetorically. "Are they, perhaps, afraid that some normal citizens would be more powerful than their police force, and cause trouble because of it?" He snorted sharply. "I'm afraid it is nothing more than a corrupt practice to stunt the growth of young wizards in order to allow weak officials to remain in power. How else would such a weakling like Fudge become Minister? It certainly was not through his achievements as a wizard."

Karkaroff paused before shaking his head slightly. "But I digress, you asked about the shield surpassing technique. As I said before, shield surpassing is as much an art as it is a skill. It takes intense concentration and an extremely thorough understanding of the spell you wish to cast. You are, in essence, separating the spell into separate parts, and even the slightest miscalculation could prove disastrous."

Karkaroff looked over his shoulder for a moment before continuing. "Most students find they cannot master more than one or two particular spells enough to cast them as sliders." Suddenly he grimaced. "Sliders. A crude name for such a complex technique, but I suppose it cannot be helped." He eyed Harry shrewdly. "For a fourth year to learn this technique is unheard of, but if you wish to try, I believe I have some other materials that can assist you." He paused. "You understand, of course, that the technique is best utilized with spells of a somewhat…darker…. nature that you are accustomed to."

"Why is that?" Harry asked.

"Simple strategy," Karkaroff answered. "Because the technique can only be used with less powerful spells, the spell must have a stronger effect to provide an adequate attack. You would not attempt to win a duel with tickling charms, would you?"

Harry thought about that for a moment. "I see your point," he said slowly.

"Good," said Karkaroff. "I will send a student to you." He nodded sharply and turned to leave.

"Headmaster?" Harry asked. Karkaroff turned around with one eyebrow raised.


"You seem rather interested in helping me considering we've never met before," Harry said. There was no accusation in his tone, only curiosity.

Karkaroff was silent for a long moment, looking at Harry thoughtfully. "We are beset by a culture which bastardizes the ideals of magic," he said finally. "I do not believe that it is the destiny of the wizarding world to become the equivalent of a children's playground, where its citizens are capable of little more than using simple wand movements to perform the most basic of spells. Magic cries out to be understood, not just to be used," he said, his eyes burning. "I believe that you, Mr. Potter, have the potential to become a true sorcerer, and therefore I offer my assistance." He paused for a moment before continuing in a lower voice. "I can do no less." With that, he turned around and made his out onto the grounds and towards the Durmstrang ship.

Harry frowned and considered Karkaroff's words for a moment. Although he still found it hard to believe that the Durmstrang headmaster had no ulterior motives in teaching him such advanced magic, Harry had to admit that what he said made sense. Of course, this only made him frown harder.

"I need to fly," he muttered, heading back to the dorms to grab his broom.

A few short minutes later, Harry was soaring in and out of the clouds above the forbidden forest, marveling once more at the total freedom he felt when he was in the air.

He spun into a tight corkscrew dive and pulled out just as he reached the tree line, skimming the uppermost branches with his feet as he passed. Laughing to himself, he shot into a vertical climb and then fell back off his firebolt into a free fall, summoning the broom back underneath him as he fell. It was his favorite move, partly because he liked the feeling of free falling, and partly because it was supposed to be impossible.

He knew that his firebolt had anti-summoning charms on it, and he also knew that they were far from weak, leaving him at a loss to explain how he was seemingly able to summon it at will. The only thing he could come up with was that it didn't feel so much like he was actually casting a charm to summon the broom so much as he was asking it to come to him. He never felt like he was actively casting a spell when he summoned the broom, almost as if it was the magic in the broom that was doing the work. At least, that was the best explanation he could come up with. All he really knew was that it worked.

As he flew back onto Hogwarts grounds and started to circle down towards the pitch, Harry noticed a group of people that appeared to be clearing a section of the forbidden forest at the edge of the school grounds. It was obvious that they were preparing for something that would require a lot of room, but Harry couldn't imagine what it would be. He was, however, almost certain it had something to do with the first task. Smirking to himself, he decided it that tonight might be a good night for a walk.

That night, after everyone had gone to bed, Harry made himself invisible before slipping quietly out of the common room and into the halls. He made his way swiftly up out of the dungeons and out onto the grounds before heading towards the spot in the forest he had observed earlier. Despite the fact that it was a very cold night, Harry found that he enjoyed the peaceful quiet that permeated the grounds. It was very calming for him, and he found himself thinking he should do this more often.

When he reached the edge of the forest, he could vaguely make out what sounded like very heavy breathing from somewhere in front of him. Careful to remain quiet, he crept slowly through the underbrush towards the clearing,

"..all night?" He heard someone mutter. "It's not like they're going anywhere, they're out cold."

"You'd rather leave them unattended right next to a school full of children?" Another voice asked incredulously. Harry thought it sounded familiar, but he couldn't quite place it.

"I suppose not," the first man grumbled. "I still don't see why we had to make such a large clearing here, though." Harry slowly circled around the voices to get a better look, but just as he entered the clearing, he froze.

Lying on the ground in front of him, limbs and wings strewn about haphazardly, were four very large dragons. Each appeared to be in a very deep sleep, and Harry realized that what he had heard before was actually the dragons' snores. Turning to his right, he saw that the voices he had heard belonged to two wizards who were currently sitting in large armchairs, each sipping a hot drink. One was middle aged and balding, and Harry was certain he'd never seen him before. The redhead, however, was far more familiar.

"They're going to put up a special arena just for the task," Charlie Weasley answered. "Something like a mini Quidditch pitch, with stands and everything for people to watch." He gestured towards the school. "Entrance over there, walls and wards for about 50 feet all around to protect the spectators."

"What's the actual task, anyway?" The other man asked. "Do you know?"

Charlie nodded. "They're going to put an extra egg in with the others, a special gold one, and the champions have to successfully get it out."

"They have to steal an egg?" The balding man asked incredulously. "From a nesting mother?" He whistled. "I don't envy them, especially whoever has the misfortune to go up against the Horntail. You know she almost got Randall with her tail last week."

Charlie nodded. "I heard. But knowing him, he deserved it." The other man laughed. "Still," Charlie continued. "I'm not sure what they expect us to do if things really get out of hand with her. Extinguishing spells are all well and good, but if any of the kids get hit by that tail…"

"I hear you brother," the other man said. "But we don't make the decisions. Just hope somebody good gets her, I guess."

Charlie nodded mutely, but still looked concerned. Harry watched for a moment longer before moving to inspect the dragons. He spotted the Horntail easily enough, since it was the only one a tail lined with giant spikes. He recognized one other as a Welsh Green, but the other two were unfamiliar to him. Of course, he was far from an expert on dragons, having only read one or two short chapters on the creatures.

When he was satisfied that he could remember the distinguishing features on the other two, he crept silently out of the clearing and made his way back to the school. As he slipped into the halls leading back to the dungeons, he sighed. He absolutely refused to put on a show for Dumbledore and the rest with regard to the tournament, but he wasn't about to become dragon food either, which meant he would have to spend most of the following day researching each of the four great beasts.

Deciding it was better to be safe than sorry, Harry spent all his free time the following day in the library. He was engrossed in The Great Book of Great Dragons that afternoon when a thought suddenly occurred to him, and he abruptly packed up his things and walked swiftly out into the hall, making his way towards the Hufflepuff common room.

He was about halfway there when he spotted Hannah Abbott and another girl he didn't recognize walking in front of him.

"Excuse me," he called loudly. The girls turned around, looking startled. When they saw Harry, Hannah smiled slightly but the girl next to her paled and began to glance around furtively.

"Sorry to stop you," Harry said, stopping well short of the two just to be safe. "I assume you're going to your common room?" Hannah nodded. "I was hoping you could do me a favor and tell Cedric Diggory I'd like to talk to him."

"Uh, sure," Hannah replied, obviously confused. "You'll just, erm, wait here then?" Harry nodded and the two girls took a few steps backwards before turning and continuing towards their common room a little more quickly than before.

When they turned the corner ahead, Harry followed them slowly, careful to stay far enough behind them that they wouldn't notice. When the entrance to the Hufflepuff common room was in sight, he leaned against the wall to wait.

Cedric exited a short time later and, seeing Harry, made his towards him.

"Hey Harry," he greeted. "What's up?"

"I have a hypothetical question for you," said Harry. "Say that someone found about what the first task is going to be, and offered to tell you. Would you want to know?"

Cedric barked a laugh. "You already found out?" He shook his head in amusement. "Somehow that doesn't surprise me…" He trailed off and began to look thoughtful. "I don't suppose you know if Fleur and Krum know also, do you?"

Harry shook his head. "No, I don't. Sorry."

Cedric frowned and appeared to be debating the issue heavily before he finally sighed and grimaced slightly. "If everybody else knew, then I'd say yes, but if you're not sure," he paused before his face took on a determined expression. "I'd have to say no, I don't want to know. If I win, I want it to be an honest victory."

Harry nodded. "I expected you'd say that, but figured I'd give you the option."

"I appreciate it," said Cedric. "Do I even want to know how you found out?"

Harry shrugged. "Blind luck, actually. I was in the right place at the right time."

"Fair enough, I suppose," said Cedric. "Well, I guess I'll find out for myself tomorrow."

"True," Harry turned to leave. "Well, I'm sure you're busy preparing, so I'll leave you to it. Until tomorrow."

"Tomorrow," Cedric agreed. He turned and walked back into his common room and Harry made his way back to the library to finish his research on dragons.


The next morning the entire school was abuzz with speculation about the first task and how the champions would fare. Harry, being used to such treatment, simply ignored it. From their nervous expressions, the other three champions did not seem to be faring as well.

The champions were excused from their morning lessons to give them and the judges ample time to prepare for the start of the task. Snape had handed Harry a piece of parchment at breakfast telling him when and where he was to meet the other champions that morning, scowling heavily as he did so. Harry was reasonably certain that his head of house was supposed to escort him there personally, but since he was quite sure that neither of them wanted that to happen he didn't say anything.

As he left breakfast, he saw Row jump up from the Ravenclaw table and approach him.

"So, got your plan all set?" She asked, grinning slightly. "You know Jack's coming out, so it better be good."

"It's nothing fancy," warned Harry. "But it should be amusing, at least." He leaned closer and lowered his voice. "Just be sure you're all sitting in the visitor's section farthest from the beast."

"Beast?!" Row squeaked, suddenly looking nervous.

Harry smirked. "You'll see once you get out there."

"Harry-" Row growled warningly, but he was already walking out of the hall.

He made his way out of the school and out onto the grounds, taking nearly the same path he had when he'd discovered the dragons before. As he approached the area they had been held in, Harry could see that a very large tent had been erected directly in front of the forest, obscuring the dragon holding area. Behind the tent, he could just make out the outline of a large structure that he assumed would be the arena that Charlie Weasley had mentioned two nights previous.

"Ah, Harry!" A loud voice suddenly startled him back to the present and he saw Ludo Bagman approaching. "Good to see you, my boy, good to see you. Now," he said, lowering his voice. "Got everything worked out, no problems?"

"I'll be fine, Mr. Bagman," Harry replied, glancing towards the open tent.

"Come now, call me Ludo," Bagman said jovially. He leaned forward conspiratorially. "And if you need anything, anything at all, you just let me know. Now then," he straightened up and began to lead Harry toward the tent. "Time to join your fellow champions, eh?"

Harry followed Bagman into the tent and found the other champions already there, each looking significantly more flustered than normal. Cedric was pacing animatedly around the outside of the tent, muttering to himself while Fleur seemed to be unable to decide whether she should be standing or seated, and couldn't stop fidgeting. Krum was looking surly, as usual, but Harry could tell that he looked much paler than normal, and there was sweat on his brow. Harry himself felt only a mild sense of anticipation, and that was more because of the inherit uncertainty that came from dealing with dragons than from any desire to perform well in the task. In fact, he was planning to do quite the opposite.

"Well then, if all the champions are here then Mr. Bagman will explain the rules," Mr. Crouch said as he entered, followed by the rest of the judges. Harry thought his voice sounded strange, certainly much more robotic than the last time he'd heard him, but shrugged it off as nerves. The tournament was obviously a big deal to the man, and he'd already screwed up once.

"Too kind of you, Barty old boy," Bagman said, grinning. "Now then, in a moment, I'm going to ask each of you to draw an item of this bag I'm holding. There are different, er, varieties, you see." He held up a small silk sack. "Now, once you've drawn the item containing your number, we'll go in that order until everyone has had their chance. Now, the task, for each of you, is," Bagman paused, presumably to build suspense, but Harry noticed that only Cedric seemed anxious to hear what the man had to say. "To collect the golden egg!" Bagman suddenly roared. Fleur and Krum continued to look resigned and nervous, while Cedric just looked confused. "Now then, ladies first," Bagman said, holding the bag out to Fleur.

Fleur reached into the bag and pulled out a tiny replica of a Welsh Green dragon with the number two around its neck. Harry's suspicions were again confirmed by the fact that she showed absolutely no sign of surprise. Krum was next, and drew the bright red Chinese Fireball that Harry had researched the day before, bearing the number three. He, too, showed no sign of surprise, and simply sat back down and stared at the floor.

Cedric shot an incredulous look at Harry before he put his hand into the bag and pulled out the replica of the blue-grey dragon that Harry had identified as a Swedish Short-Snout, the number one hanging around its neck.

Amazed at his luck, Harry reached in and pulled out the final replica; the Hungarian Horntail bearing the number four. Bagman and the other judges seemed to be looking at him nervously, but Harry was actually quite pleased with his selection. The Horntail was easily the most dangerous of the four dragons, and out of the four champions, Harry was certain to have the strategy least likely to put him in any type of direct danger.

"Well, then, there we have it," Bagman said. "Mr. Diggory, you may enter the arena when you hear the whistle. Good luck to you all and-" Bagman suddenly stopped as he spotted Harry's raised hand. "Uh, yes Mr. Potter, what is it?"

"Is there a time limit for the task?"

"Uh," Bagman turned to look at Dumbledore questioningly. "Well 45 minutes should be enough time, I suppose, but-"

"Forty five minutes?" Harry asked. "Ok, just wanted to make sure."

"Yes, well…. Right then," Said Bagman. He looked around dumbly for a moment before he turned and followed the rest of the judges out of the tent. When they had gone, Cedric immediately whirled to face Harry.

"Dragons! Merlin!" He exclaimed, resuming his pacing. "If I had known, I would have wanted to know, you know?" He babbled.

"Yeah, it looks like they both knew, too," Harry said, indicating Fleur and Krum. "They didn't look surprised at all."

"Merlin, what am I going to do?" Cedric asked worriedly. Suddenly he stopped pacing and took a deep breath. "Ok, this is stupid," he reprimanded himself. "Right then," when he turned back to Harry, his face was set in determination. "Good luck, Harry."

"You too, Cedric," Harry replied, watching as his friend turned to stare at the exit. Suddenly a whistled sounded and Cedric took another deep breath before he began to walk determinately into the arena.

Harry turned and flopped down in the nearest chair, looking bored. He caught Fleur's eye and she looked at him incredulously. She looked like she was about to say something, but suddenly decided against it.

"What is it?" Harry asked, locking eyes with her. She glared at him and continued to fidget.

"Suit yourself," Harry said, shrugging. "But you really should calm down."

"I am perfectly calm," Fleur replied. She suddenly stopped fidgeting and began to look much more confident. Harry might even have believe her if she hadn't responded so quickly. Still, he had to admit he was impressed by her ability to mask her feelings as well as she did.

"Of course you are," Harry said agreeably. "I mean, you've had plenty of time to prepare for this, and you have a plan that you know will work if you do it right, so what's there to worry about?" He shrugged. "It can't be the first challenge you've ever faced."

Fleur's face seemed to darken for a moment. "Certainly not," she said.

"So like I said, you've got nothing to worry about," said Harry. He wasn't quite sure why he was helping the French girl, other than the fact that it looked like she needed it. Then again, he was bored, and it definitely beat listening to Bagman's undoubtedly exaggerated commentary. "Concentrate on your goal, and everything else will fall away."

Fleur looked at Harry strangely, her face a mask of indifference. The two locked eyes again and remained that way until Fleur's entire body seemed to relax slightly and she looked away. "Thank you, 'Arry Potter," she said finally, her voice steady. She looked like she wanted to say more, but again decided against it, and gave Harry a respectful nod before taking a seat near the front of the tent.

A few short minutes later, there was a loud roar from the crowd outside, and Harry could hear Bagman exclaiming that Cedric had captured the egg. The noise died down as the judges scores were displayed, and there was a slight pause before the whistle sounded again and Fleur began to make her way toward the doorway. She paused right before she exited and looked back at Harry, who was still looking bored, before her eyes lit up with determination and he slipped out into the arena.

Harry looked over at Krum as Bagman began his commentary again ("ooh, that was daring" and "it doesn't get much closer than that!" Being his two favorite exclamations), and saw that the sullen expression on his face had not changed, nor had his eyes moved away from the same spot on the ground. Shrugging, Harry flopped back in his chair and tried to make out what was happening in the arena.

After about five minutes, the crowd again began to roar with approval as Fleur captured her egg. Harry was slightly surprised, since she had to have beaten Cedric but almost ten minutes. Finally, the whistle sounded again and Krum jerked to his feet and walked into the arena. Watching him, Harry had to respect his all business approach. Once he was out in the arena, the Durmstrang champion took even less time than Fleur, and soon enough Krum had received his scores and the whistle blew a fourth time, signaling Harry's turn.

Harry stood and made his way leisurely to the exit before throwing the flap open with a flourish and walking out into the arena. It was just as Charlie Weasley had described it: a near perfect circle about 50 feet in diameter, with grandstand seating all around. Harry paused as he entered, feeling for the wards that were there to protect the spectators, and he respectfully noted that there were quite strong. Much stronger than anything he could manage, certainly.

At the opposite end of the arena was, as expected, the Hungarian Horntail. The dragon was currently hunched over its eggs and was eyeing Harry suspiciously, but had not yet made any overtly hostile action, which suited Harry just fine.

Harry glanced around the arena, taking in the expectant faces of both students and parents, and smirked. He pulled his wand with a flourish and leveled it at the Horntail, causing the crowd to gasp, before he lowered his hand to waist height and began to move his wand back and forth in an extremely intricate pattern. As he did so, it became clear to the hushed crowd that he was conjuring something, as two long, silver bars began to appear. Harry continued to move his wand about, his face a mask of concentration, as the object began to form. The crowd waited with baited breath, many a patron on the edge of their seat, to see what weapon Harry Potter would summon to battle the great beast.

The silence was so tense you could have heard a pin drop, and it was all Harry could do to keep from laughing out loud. The wand movements were completely unnecessary, of course, but he wasn't adverse to some theatrics if they helped him get his point across. He flashed his wand upwards before bringing it down viciously in a slashing motion. There was a small pop and a flash of light, and every person in the arena leaned forward to get their first glimpse of Harry Potter's conjured weapon. There was a collective intake of breath as the light receded to reveal….

A lawn chair.

For a moment, confusion seemed to ripple through the crowd, but it was quickly dispelled when Harry flopped down happily in his new creation before flicking his wand towards the castle.

"Accio cooler and books," he said clearly. The crowd began to mutter as two objects hurtled over the arena wall before stopping obediently next to the lounging Harry Potter. Harry reached into the cooler and grabbed a plastic bottle of muggle soda before leaning back and placing it in his right cup holder. He reached into his pocket and withdrew a pair of sunglasses, leaning back comfortably as he opened the soda. He raised the open bottle towards the dragon like a toast before taking a long pull and letting out a satisfied sigh.

"Yeah, that's good," he said to himself. Across from him, the dragon continued to hunch over its eggs, its head continually scanning the arena for threats to its potential offspring.

It took almost a full five minutes for the booing to start. It began with the Gryffindors, of course, but it wasn't long before most of the arena had joined in.

"Time for the fun part," Harry whispered to himself. "Avis," he muttered, flicking his wand slightly. A group of six bright yellow birds emerged from the tip of his wand and began to circle the air about him. He repeated the spell twice more before he enlarged each of the birds slightly, finishing with a group of eighteen yellow birds about the size of a seagull. With another flick and a mental command, he sent the birds towards the Horntail.

The assembled crowd had stopped booing, and was now watching the birds as they approached the dragon. A few of the spectators were openly laughing at such a futile attempt to distract the dragon, but of course, they hadn't spent the entire day previous reading about the habits of this particular species.

As it was, the nesting Hungarian Horntail had a trait that was relatively common in dragons in that it absolutely refused to allow any other creature to occupy its airspace. Whether it was big or small, threatening or harmless, the Horntail didn't care. If it got close, it was dealt with. And for Harry, the manner in which it was typically dealt with should prove highly entertaining, especially with a booing crowd.

Harry sent another mental command to the birds that were now spread out in a line slightly in front of the dragon. He had to concentrate to do it, since the distance was rather long, but immediately three of his birds obeyed the command and dove straight toward the Horntail's left flank. The dragon snapped its jaws in warning, and the birds scattered for a moment before they began to dart in and out of the vicinity. As the Horntail began to get visibly agitated, Harry sent three more birds directly towards it from the same side. The dragon let out a loud roar and reared its head back before letting loose a vicious jet of fire at the offending birds. Two of the birds were able to escape the blast while the other four were incinerated almost instantly, but Harry hardly noticed. He was watching the spectators.

As he'd hoped, the Horntail's position at the far side of the arena made it possible for the dragon's fire to directly impact the shielding wards that had been placed above the walls. The spectators, seeing a vicious blast of dragonfire heading straight for them, naturally began to panic, and the students began to scramble over each other to get out of the way. The fire impacted harmlessly on the wards surrounding the arena, which, although they shuddered slightly, held firm. Harry smirked when he saw that at least one of the Weasley twins had ended up sprawled in the aisle as a result of the chaos in the stands. He knew it would be a good idea to target the Gryffindor section first.

With another mental command, Harry ordered the entire flock to engage from all sides, resulting in an extremely agitated Horntail that began to lash out in nearly every direction, including directly at the judge's booth, which was situated behind it. Harry laughed out loud when Ludo Bagman shoved Rita Skeeter into Barty Crouch before diving behind Dumbledore. It would only work once, Harry was sure, but once had certainly been worth it.

By the time the seventh blast hit the wards, Harry noticed that they seemed to shudder much more than he was comfortable with, and reluctantly dispelled his four remaining birds. He supposed it was just as well, since he was no longer getting the same reaction now that everybody in range had been targeted at least once. A number of spectators, especially the parents, were glaring at him with disapproval in their eyes, but he simply ignored them and returned to his soda.

Ripples of outrage began to make their way through the crowd as Harry pulled out one of the books he'd summoned and began to read. He checked his watch and saw that he still had twenty minutes remaining until the time limit was up, and wondered if they would have the guts to start booing again.

When the time limit had finally been reached and none of the judges had made an announcement, Harry caught Bagman's eye and tapped his watch impatiently. Bagman looked like he had just swallowed something distasteful as he turned to Dumbledore, who slowly got to his feet and amplified his voice.

"I'm afraid the time limit for this task has been reached," he said loudly. "Mr. Potter will now receive his scores from the judges."

Harry popped up to his feet and vanished his conjured chair, throwing his empty soda back in the cooler as he did so. He turned to face the judges, and waited.

Madame Maxime held her wand in the air first and fired out what appeared to be a silver ribbon that formed itself into the number 1. Mr. Crouch was next, and he shot up a 4. The crowd began to mutter angrily, but behind Crouch, Harry could see Mad Eye Moody nod slightly. Next was Dumbledore, who was looking at Harry with a mix between amusement and disappointment. He put up a 1. After Dumbledore came Bagman, who looked visibly nervous before suddenly letting out a jovial laugh.

"Well, can't say it was the best effort I've ever seen, but it was certainly the most entertaining!" He said loudly, shooting up a 7. The crowd roared with disapproval and began to shout at Bagman as Karkaroff raised his wand and put up a 1 as well.

"I still came out of that with 14 points?" Harry laughed softly to himself as he headed back towards the champions tent. He looked up toward the visitors section and found Jack and Row, still red faced from laughing, and waved. Nodding, they started to make their way out of the stands and down towards the champions tent to meet their brother.

"Harry, that was brilliant!" Jack exclaimed, slapping Harry on the shoulder.

"Oh, I think I laughed so hard I cried," Row said, wiping her eyes slightly. "Did you see Bagman?"

"How could I miss it?" Harry answered with a wry grin.

"…utterly disgraceful display," an old woman said loudly to her companion as she passed the group. "He should be ashamed of himself!"

Harry chuckled. "Think they'll believe I didn't enter myself now?"

"Yeah, I think you made your point," came the voice of Cedric Diggory as he approached the siblings from behind.

"You didn't do so bad yourself, man," Jack said, shaking Cedric's hand.

"I didn't exactly do well, though," Cedric said wryly. "Third place with 39."

"Really?" Harry asked. "What were the other scores, anyway?"

"Krum's in first with 42," Row replied. "He hit the dragon right in the eye with a spell and grabbed the egg straightaway. Whatever he hit it with must have hurt, because the thing started stumbling around in agony and squashed a few of the regular eggs. The judges took points off for that."

"Fleur is second," Cedric put in. "I actually have no idea exactly what she did, but she used some sort of trance spell to put the dragon to sleep. It worked really well, but it started snoring and let out a burst of fire that got her. The judges gave her 41."

"Forty two, huh?" Harry said thoughtfully. "So, think I've still got a chance?" The rest of the group laughed.

"Uh oh, incoming," Jack muttered. Harry looked up to see Dumbledore and the other judges approaching him.

"Impossible!" Madame Maxime was stuttering. "'E should be disqualified!"

"The rules are clear," Crouch replied immediately. "He must continue, no exceptions."

"Well then, I suppose we should give him the egg," said Bagman.

"Do you honestly think that will make a difference," said Karkaroff in a bored tone. "Mr. Potter has been rather adamant in his desire to remain as detached from the tournament as possible, despite your efforts to the contrary."

"I don't know what you're talking about," Bagman said, harrumphing loudly. "I just want to see a fair competition-"

"He must be given the egg," Crouch interrupted. "The rules demand it."

Dumbledore looked at Crouch strangely for a moment, and Crouch seemed to relax slightly.

"I apologize," said Crouch. "I have been rather stressed of late. It is clear in the rules that each champion must have equal opportunity to prepare for the tasks, ergo Mr. Potter must be given the egg." Dumbledore nodded and turned his gaze back to Harry.

"Well, there you have it," Bagman said, coming forward to hold out the golden egg to Harry, who took it. "That was an entertaining little stunt, Harry," Bagman continued. "But don't think it will work twice! Next time you'll have to do a bit better!"

Harry looked at the man skeptically for a moment, but said nothing. Bagman cleared his throat uncomfortably before he spotted someone he knew and made a hasty exit. The rest of the judges bid Harry a good day before they, too, left and continued up towards the castle. As they left, Mad Eye Moody stepped out from behind the champions' tent and walked towards Harry.

"Potter," he said gruffly. "I was hoping I could have a word."

"Certainly, Professor," Harry said, following the ex-auror into the champions tent.

"Quite a little show you put on there, Potter," Moody said gruffly. "And damn fine thinking, too. Whoever put your name in the cup certainly couldn't have been expecting that."

"My thoughts exactly, sir," Harry replied.

"I assume you've got something similar planned for the other two tasks?" Harry nodded. "Well, like I said, I like the way you think. Still, whoever put you in for it might try something else. It wouldn't be hard with all the excitement."

Harry frowned. "I hadn't considered that," he admitted.

"Constant vigilance!" Moody barked. "Always be looking ahead. The headmaster has asked me to be on the lookout as well. To watch your back, as it were." His blue eye began to spin around menacingly. "Believe me when I tell you there's not much can get past an old watchdog like me."

"I appreciate that, sir," Harry replied. "Thank you."

"No need for thanks, boy," Moody grumbled. "If you see anything strange, anything at all, you let me know straightaway." He said seriously.

Harry nodded and left the tent to rejoin his friends.

"What did Moody say?" Cedric asked curiously as they made their way back towards the castle.

"Basically the same thing I've been saying," Harry replied. "He believes that somebody entered me for a reason, and thinks they might try something different if they don't like the fact that I'm not really competing."

"Maybe somebody entered you to get a laugh," Jack suggested. He chuckled. "You certainly put on a show today."

"But what are you going to do for an encore?" Row asked.

Harry shrugged. "I'll figure something out." He snorted. "Of course, I'll start by completely ignoring whatever this clue is."

"Sounds like a plan to me," said Jack. He glanced at his watch. "Well, looks like my magic time is up for today," he said reluctantly.

"So soon?" Row pouted.

Jack nodded. "Yeah. But don't worry, it's not long until Christmas," he said as Row gave him a good-bye hug.

"That's true," Cedric said, shaking Jack's hand. "We should plan something over the break."

Jack shrugged. "You know I'm in. Who knows, maybe we can even drag this guy out with us," he said, punching Harry lightly on the shoulder.

"Depends on who's going to be there," said Harry as he and Jack shook hands.

"Well, I'll get on it then," Jack said. "Later." He gave the group a wave as he turned and started to walk back towards Hogsmede. The other three resumed their walk back towards the castle before splitting up to join their respective housemates for the rest of the free day.

As he approached the Slytherin common room, Harry wondered what sort of greeting he would receive after the show he had put on during the task. He'd never caused the dragon to target the Slytherin student section, mostly due to the fact it was significantly out of range, but he was sure his performance still wouldn't sit well with some of the older members of the house.

At least that's what he thought. The cheers he received when he walked into the common room definitely said otherwise.

"What's all this?" He asked Blaise, waving confusedly at the numerous students trying to congratulate him.

Blaise smirked. "Anybody who can send the Gryffs into that much panic, and in public no less, deserves a hero's welcome."

"Bloody brilliant Potter," a sixth year said, clapping Harry on the back. Harry nodded politely back before turning to his friend and frowning.

"I know what you're going to say," Blaise cut him off. "But it doesn't matter why you did it, the fact is that you had the 'brave and noble Gryffindors' scrambling over each other to save their own asses, and that's a move every Slytherin has to respect."

Harry thought about that for a moment before nodding slightly. "I suppose you're right," he said thoughtfully.

Blaise shook his head. "You remember what I told you on your first day?" He asked. "I told you that Slytherins have to stick together. You just reminded them of why you belong here, that's all."

Harry really had no reply to that, and settled for a grudging nod. The two walked over to where Tracey was seated and took seats on either side of her.

"I'd congratulate you, but it might be cliché by now," said Tracey, grinning slightly. "It was a good show, though. Anybody who still believes you entered yourself in the tournament is either an idiot or a Gryffindor."

"There's a difference?" Blaise asked jokingly.

"Of course not," Tracey answered. "I was just being thorough."

"Thorough or not, I just hope you're right," said Harry.

"Meh, what does it matter?" Blaise asked lazily. "Let idiots be idiots, I say."

"Idiots with wands can be dangerous," Harry muttered. "Never underestimate the power of stupidity."

"Well, that's what we have Karkaroff's book for," Blaise said, lowering his voice slightly.

Tracey frowned. "I still don't think you guys should be using that thing," she said slowly. "I'm not exactly a Dumbledore fan, but I certainly trust him more than somebody from Durmstrang."

"I don't know about that, actually," mused Harry. "The last time I talked to him I asked him why he was helping me, even though we'd never met."

"What'd he say?" Blaise asked interestedly.

"He said he thought I deserved to know," Harry said shrugging. "He said he doesn't like the fact that Dumbledore limits our education at Hogwarts because it produces weaker wizards, and doesn't allow the stronger ones to realize their full potential."

"That's actually a pretty old controversy," said Blaise. "In fact, it's part of the reason behind the pureblood supremacy attitudes of guys like Malfoy. They claim that muggle blood dilutes the power of our magic, making us all weaker."

"That's total bollocks, though," Tracey said quietly.

Blaise shrugged. "It's never really been proven, one way or the other."

"I don't think he was talking about blood at all," said Harry. "He was talking more about culture. In fact, he said that he believes that all wizards, regardless of birth or blood, should be held to higher standards of wizardry. Essentially, only the strongest wizards deserve to actually be considered wizards."

Blaise shook his head. "Karkaroff might claim to believe that, but remember, he did follow the Dark Lord, so unless his philosophy has changed, he still at least partially believes that muggleborns should be exterminated."

Harry frowned. "That's true, but I get the impression that the he became Death Eater because he respected Voldemort's power." He paused thoughtfully. "I think it all comes down to power for him."

Blaise shrugged. "He wouldn't be the first. The wizarding world has always placed a high value on magical power. In some circles you can still legally settle disputes with a duel between opposing parties."

"But if he only cared about power, why would he help you?" Tracey asked skeptically.

Harry's frown turned thoughtful. "I can't say for sure, but I think he feels obligated to," he said slowly. "He said something about how he takes his job as an educator much more seriously than Dumbledore does, almost as if he feels it's his duty to teach those he considers worthy." He shook his head. "It's a little confusing, and I still think he's up to something more, but at the same time…" He trailed off. "I guess I just get the feeling that he's telling the truth, and not to brag, but my feelings are usually right."

"Look at it this way," Blaise broke in. "He's not asking you for anything, and the book he gave you is standard issue at Durmstrang anyway, right?"

"According to him, yes."

"And it's not like there's anything really nasty in it," Blaise continued reasonably. "It's got some dark curses in it, sure, but they're more attack spells than anything else. There are no torture curses in there, or anything that requires any type of sacrifice, so I don't see the harm."

"It's a slippery slope, though," Tracey cut in. "That's the harm."

Blaise shrugged. "Well, I guess that's what we have you for." He snapped his fingers. "I knew you were good for something!"

Tracey hit him playfully. "You're such a prat."

"You'll get no argument from me," came the voice of Daphne Greengrass as she approached the group.

"How about no words at all, can we get that?" Blaise asked.

Daphne just smirked at him before turning to Harry. "Can I talk to you for a minute, Harry?"

"Sure," Harry said. He got to his feet and followed Daphne a short distance away from his friends.

"Brilliant performance today, by the way," Daphne said as they stopped.

"Thanks," Harry replied. "I wasn't quite expecting such a warm welcome from the house, though."

"Well, that's kind of what I wanted to talk to you about," Daphne said hesitantly. "I mean, you've always been kind of an outsider, which was a good thing when Malfoy was running things, but now…" She trailed off uncertainly and took a deep breath.

"What?" Harry asked, perplexed.

"It's just that a lot of our housemates would like to be friends with you, Harry," Daphne said slowly. "I know you've never been one to care about your reputation, especially since there are so many false rumors about you, but..." she shrugged helplessly. "I just really think it would be good if you talked to them."

Harry's brow furrowed in confusion. "Of course I'll talk to them. I don't see the problem."

Now it was Daphne's turn to look confused. "But, I thought you told Zabini to keep other Slytherins away from you."

Harry's eyebrows rose. "What gave you that idea?"

"Well, I just assumed," Daphne stammered, looking flustered. "I mean, he's been like your ambassador since you got here, and he's always the one saying who can and can't talk to you…" She trailed off and looked at the ground. "I'm sorry, I didn't mean to insult you or anything."

Harry was silent for a moment, looking at her intently. "You don't have to apologize, Daphne," he said finally. "I was just surprised, that's all. Is it ok if we talk about this later?"

"Sure Harry, whatever you want," Daphne said. She gave him an apologetic smile before making her way back across the room and up towards the girl's dorms.

"What was all that about?" Blaise asked when Harry returned to his seat.

Harry considered his friend thoughtfully. He had been thinking about broaching the subject of Daphne Greengrass with Blaise on more than one occasion, but he hadn't yet decided how much to reveal to him.

"Just Daphne being Daphne," Harry replied at last. "She threw a couple of good insults at you, of course."

Blaise snorted. "Of course. Anyway, when did Karkaroff say he was going to give you those new materials?"

The two continued to talk about the spells from the Durmstrang textbook, but Harry knew he had only postponed the inevitable. Eventually, he was going to have to decide how to resolve the Daphne Greengrass issue, and he was going to have to decide soon.

"Well, I think I'm going to head to bed early," he said with a yawn when the conversation had hit a lull. "I'll need my rest if I'm going to avoid all the ridiculous prank attempts I'm sure to get from the Gryffindors tomorrow."

Tracey laughed. "That's probably true, good night, Harry."

"Good night," Harry replied. He made his way up to the dorms and set the wards around his bed before crawling in, doing his best not to think about what the Daily Prophet would write about his little stunt the following morning.


Amazingly, the next morning's Prophet made no mention of Harry, and other than a botched attempt to slip something into his potion during the next day's class, the Gryffindors left him alone. All in all, it seemed that the rest of the school had finally accepted that fact that Harry had meant it when he said he wanted nothing to do with the "damn tournament."

Two days after the first task, a Durmstrang student approached Harry in the library and gave him two more books devoted completely to the theory and strategy of the shield surpassing technique. After another round of thorough detection charms, Harry and Blaise spent the next week trying to make sense of them.

By the second week in December, neither had successfully used the technique, although Harry had made significant progress, and could now cast spells that would begin to draw power from a shield before fizzling out.

"Well, at least it's improvement," Blaise said as they talked about it over breakfast. "I can't seem to do it at all."

"Well, it's supposed to be too hard for most students," Harry replied. "Which is bollocks, but it does mean it will probably be harder than anything else you've ever tried."

"I think I'm going to concentrate on the theory more," Blaise mused.

"That's one of the reasons I chose a Reductor Curse to start with," said Harry. "No sense in using a spell you don't know." He didn't tell Blaise his other reason for starting with the Reductor Curse, namely that it was a lesser blasting curse, and that he hoped the technique would be the same if he used it with similar but more powerful blasting curses later.

Blaise grunted in agreement and Harry was reaching for his pumpkin juice when a large brown owl landed directly in front of him and extended its leg. Puzzled, Harry took the letter and fed the owl a scrap of toast before opening it.

As his eyes scanned the letter, he frowned.

"What is it?" Blaise asked.

"Dumbledore wants to see Sirius and I this afternoon after class," Harry said slowly. "It doesn't say why, just that I should come to his office."

"Something to do with the tournament?"

"Maybe," Harry replied. "I did ask him to come up with a solution to make sure this doesn't happen again, so maybe that's it."

"Or Karkaroff set you up," Blaise said.

Harry nodded. "I was thinking that too. Well, I'll find out soon enough, I guess."

When classes ended later that day, Harry made his way to Dumbledore's office and gave the password to the gargoyle. He ascended the steps quietly before knocking three times on the large door.

"Come in, Harry," came Dumbledore's voice. Harry opened to the door and saw that his godfather was already there. "Lemon drop?"

"No thank you," Harry politely declined.

"Very well, if you would have a seat," Dumbledore gestured to a chair and Harry sat down next to his godfather, who was looking somewhat upset.

"Now then," Dumbledore began, leaning back in his chair. "It has come to my attention that Headmaster Karkaroff has taken an unusual interest in you, Harry. For what reason, I cannot say, but I think it is important that you understand the true nature of who you are dealing with."

"I already told you, Harry's not dealing with him," Sirius said sharply. "He already knows all about what Karkaroff is."

"Actually, I don't," Harry said slowly. "I know he was a Death Eater, but I don't know why. He doesn't seem like a pureblood supremacist and he does seem rather anxious to talk to me, and I really don't know why." He looked at Dumbledore. "If you could tell me what you know about him, I would really appreciate it."

"Wait, you mean he's actually approached you?" Sirius asked angrily. He turned to glare at Dumbledore. "I don't know why you even let him come here, but if he's after Harry-"

"Calm yourself, Sirius," Dumbledore interrupted serenely. "I am quite sure that Karkaroff has made no attacks on Harry."

"How do you know?" Sirius asked hotly. "He could be the one that put Harry's name in the goblet and made him enter the tournament!"

"I assure you, Igor Karkaroff did not approach the Goblet of Fire," said Dumbledore.

"How can you be sure, though?" Sirius asked skeptically.

"You're having him watched, aren't you," Harry said suddenly. "You have someone tailing him when he's in the castle."

Dumbledore turned to regard Harry thoughtfully.

"A most excellent deduction, Harry," he said carefully. "You are, in fact, not far off."

"That's how you knew he had approached me as well, isn't it?" Harry asked.

Dumbledore nodded. "It is. Although I do not believe that he harbors any ill will towards Hogwarts or its students at this time, Igor Karkaroff is not a man to be trusted, regardless of what position he may hold."

"Tell me about him," said Harry. "How is it that a former Death Eater is able to become the Headmaster of a school like Durmstrang?"

Dumbledore was silent for a moment as he considered his answer. Finally, he sighed.

"Igor Karkaroff was a Death Eater, that is true, but, as you have already so keenly observed, he does not hold the stereotypical Death Eater ideals."

"He's nothing more than a murderer, no matter what robes he wears," Sirius spat disgustedly.

"It is true, he has no doubt committed numerous murders in his lifetime," Dumbledore acknowledged. "His decision to sacrifice others to his cause is what I consider to be his greatest downfall, in fact."

"What cause is that?" Harry asked. "If it wasn't for Voldemort, then what was it for?"

Dumbledore sighed. "You will find, Harry, that there are those in our world who, for lack of a better term, believe that 'might makes right.' Essentially, that magical power should be the only determining factor in who deserves to rule. Igor Karkaroff is of this opinion."

"He mentioned something like that to me," Harry said cautiously. "He said that he believed that wizards were becoming weaker, and that they should be held to higher standards."

Dumbledore nodded. "He has always held that belief, even when he was young. The idea is an old one, that it is better to have 2 master wizards than 20 merely competent ones. It is also an idea I have strongly opposed."

"Why is that, sir?" Harry asked.

Dumbledore leaned back slightly. "You will find, Harry, that the statement "power corrupts" is just as true for wizards as it is for muggles," he said slowly. Suddenly he stood and made his way over to Fawkes's perch. "You are familiar with the rest of the saying, I assume?"

Harry frowned but nodded. "Power corrupts, and absolute power corrupts absolutely."

Dumbledore nodded sadly as he stroked Fawkes's plumage. "Now tell me, Harry, can you think of any greater corruption than for us to decide who is worthy of leaning magic and who is not? Is this not putting absolute power over magic in the hands of a chosen few? Can you imagine what the world would be like if those in power decided precisely who would be in power next?" He shook his head slightly. "There is no wizard wise enough to know who is truly worthy of learning the ways of magic and who is not, and simply because one wizard is more powerful than another does not make him more qualified to make such a decision. Magic is a wonderful tool, Harry, but the ability to cast great and powerful spells is not the same as the ability to make good decisions. I cannot stress this enough, Harry: it is not power that makes a great wizard; it is how he wields it."

Harry was silent as he considered the headmaster's words.

"If that's really the way he thinks, why would he join You-Know-Who?" Sirius asked, frowning.

"That is a question I myself would like answered," Dumbledore admitted quietly. "I can only assume that Lord Voldemort offered him something significant in return for his service."

"I still wish you would restrict him from the school," Sirius muttered, glancing worriedly at Harry.

"I'm afraid I cannot," Dumbledore replied. "Without proof, my decision would no doubt be overturned by the board of governors, with whom Karkaroff has somewhat of a rapport."

"I hardly think that's necessary, anyway," Harry broke in. "Obviously I don't trust him, but he's been nothing but polite to me so far. I don't see any reason to ban him from the castle just because you have an idealistic disagreement."

"You are quite right, Harry," Dumbledore replied gravely. "But although he may seem polite and honest to you, consider this: since Igor Karkaroff has been Headmaster of Durmstrang, he has expelled no less than 14 students, citing no specific cause. Additionally, there have been 7 documented cases of students being injured so severely during classes that they are no longer capable of performing magic. Karkaroff himself has personally put 16 different students in the hospital for more than a week as a result of dueling demonstrations. One of those students was a 13 year old girl who has now been in a coma for almost a year."

Dumbledore's eyes had no trace of their usual twinkle as he continued to look at Harry gravely. "I am also nearly positive that it was Igor Karkaroff who led the attack on the Jones family during the last war, and that it was he who personally killed their twin three year old daughters." Seeing the question in Harry's eyes, he held up his hand. "I will not reveal the source of this information. Suffice to say it was an inside source that served us well many times during the last conflict." He paused for a moment while Harry gave a grudging nod. Finally he sighed heavily.

"I do not tell you this to make you hate or fear him, Harry," Dumbledore continued. "I tell you in the hope that it will give you more insight into the man that you are dealing with. Igor was, at one time, merely an idealist, and our disagreement merely academic. However, that time is past, and he has crossed a great many lines since then. Do not be fooled by his refined demeanor, Harry. He has killed for his ideals before, and I have no doubt that he would do so again, should it suit him."

Harry was once again relegated to silence as he tried to resolve this image of Karkaroff with the one so anxious to help him. After a few moments he exhaled and gave the headmaster a solemn nod. Sensing that everything had already been said, he gave Dumbledore a questioning look and, at his nod, stood and made his way out of the office with his godfather. He broke from Sirius at the stairs in the entrance hall and headed down to the Slytherin common room, still deep in thought. No matter what the real story was behind Igor Karkaroff, one thing was certain: Harry had a lot to think about.

A/N Ok, there we go. I know I said that the Yule Ball would get announced this chapter, but it's already 12k words so I decided to cut it and deal with that and the second task next chapter. As always, thanks for reading.