He blinked. He blinked again. He tried for a third time, but nothing changed. It was like some strange dream. He tried to make a fist, and drive his fingernails into his palm. The stinging pain he felt made him confident that it was no vision or dream. Yet, the still smoldering piece of parchment was proof to the contrary.
Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore lifted his eyes from the smoldering parchment and looked around the Great Hall to all the students who sat silently, waiting to hear the name on the last piece of parchment that had been shot out by the flaming goblet. The silence was so heavy, the Hogwarts headmaster could feel it on his shoulders, pressing them down.
Never in his over one hundred twenty years could he have ever imagined this exact situation, as he stared at the neat scrawl on the singed parchment in his weathered old hand.
Staring disbelievingly at the burnt scrap in his hand, the old man felt his chest constrict tightly. It just wasn't possible, and yet, he had the proof in his very hand. Someone else knew that the boy was alive. All of his work, and plans and they were for nothing. Someone knew the boy was alive and they seemed determined to bring him out of hiding.
Harry Potter had been entered into the Triwizard Tournament.
Albus Dumbledore, Headmaster of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry was completely flummoxed as to how young Harry's name got into the Goblet of Fire, which had been tasked with selecting the very best candidates to participate in the tournament. Dumbledore was quite proud when Cedric Diggory's name had emerged from the Goblet. Diggory was a very popular seventeen year-old Hufflepuff, and would have been captain of his House Quidditch team that year, had not the tournament taken president.
But then young Harry's name had emerged after the other school champions had been selected. This was very bizarre, especially considering that Harry Potter did not attend Hogwarts. In fact, as far as most of the world was concerned, Harry Potter had not survived that fateful night thirteen years ago.
Dumbledore, remembering that everyone was watching him, clutched the scrap of parchment into his hand and led the others responsible for the Tri-Wizard Tournament into a small room just off of the Great Hall where the three champions now waited for their instruction.
Once everyone was locked inside the small room, glittering with shining trophies from past Hogwarts students, Dumbledore turned to face the other judges, and the two ministry officials, Barty Crouch and Ludo Bagman.
"Vat does it say, Dumbledore?" Igor Karkaroff asked, looking quite irritable.
"It appears that someone has tried to pull some kind of prank." Dumbledore spoke calmly. "A fourth champion has been selected."
"A fourth? 'Ow is zis possible?" Madame Maxime, the head of the French Wizarding school, Beauxbatons asked, looking down on them all, as she was easily several feet taller than them all. Her young charge, and champion for her school, Fleur Delacour looked very confused as she came to her headmistress' side. "Zere are only three schools competing. Unless of course your ministry has failed to inform us of a fourth school."
"No other schools were contacted about participating, I assure you, Madame Maxime." Ludo Bagman flashed what he felt was one of his most charming smiles. The impossibly tall French headmistress merely gave a nod that she'd heard him.
"I am unsure. Though I theorize that the name was put under a fourth school, how else could it be chosen. What is more upsetting is the fact that this person is under the age set under the new rules. He is only fourteen." Dumbledore said, looking imploringly at Crouch who was in charge of the entire tournament.
Crouch, and tired looking man with a pencil thin moustache and basset hound eyes began shaking his head.
"This is most disturbing." He said as he began to pace. "The Goblet of Fire represents a binding magical contract, even if someone else submitted the name, this person must compete or risk losing their magic. Who is this new champion, Albus?"
Dumbledore clenched his fist a bit tighter.
"Are you sure they must compete? Is there no way to release them from this obligation?"
"You know the rules as well as I do." Crouch said firmly. "The new champion will need to be contacted and brought here to take part in the tournament."
"What if they are dead?" Dumbledore asked hopefully.
"Then their name would not have been selected. Dumbledore, you already know all of this. What is going on?" Ludo Bagman asked. Ludo was a stout man with a barrel chest and a charming smile. He'd once been a champion Quidditch player in his younger days, and still held a bit of popularity to this day, despite his obvious ego and the dirty little secret, which wasn't as secret as he thought. Ludo Bagman had a serious gambling problem.
"The name selected…" Dumbledore took a breath before continuing.
"Was Harry Potter."
There was a collective gasp from nearly all of the inhabitants of the room.
"But he…" Cedric Diggory stammered.
"That's not possible." Crouch took several steps away from Dumbledore.
"Mon Dieu." Madam Maxine and Fleur Delacour said simultaneously.
Both Karkaroff and his school's Champion looked rather indifferent at this news, while Ludo Bagman's nearly permanent smile began to fade from his face.
"Rumors of the child's demise were greatly exaggerated to protect him." Dumbledore sighed. "I was one of a very few who knew the boy was alive, and as far as I know, I am the only one who knows his current whereabouts, which I had wished to keep a secret."
"But he will need to return here." Crouch said, looking up from the chair he'd stumbled into. "He must compete in the tournament for whichever school he attends."
"But they were not contacted." Karkaroff shouted. "It is the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Not the Quadruple. This is a flagrant disregard of the rules we all worked so hard to agree upon. This fourth school was not present for the negotiations, so why should they be allowed to participate?"
"It is not an entire school." Maxime shouted the Bulgarian Headmaster down. "It is but one child. One, who if you recall, is now being forced to participate against his will. He did not submit his own name. And Dumbleydore said he was not of age. 'Ow is 'e expected to manage against three wizards much older and more educated than 'e?"
"Thank you for your understanding, Madame." Dumbledore gave a small bow.
"Dumbledore, you must bring the boy here immediately so that he can compete. The consequences for him should he not will be dire. He could die from the loss of his core." Crouch said urgently.
"I still can't believe the boy's alive." Bagman said. "We all thought that he'd met his fate along with You-Know-Who, and now you're saying that he's actually alive? Think of what this will do to the morale of our country, Dumbledore!"
Dumbledore gave the softest of smiles as he inspected the mysterious scrap of parchment once again. A tense silenced filled the small room for a moment, broken when Bagman cleared his throat.
"Why keep it a secret? Why not let us all know that our savior was alive?" Bagman pressed. Dumbledore merely shook his head.
"Do you not remember how things were then, Ludo?" Barty Crouch said tensely. "His followers would want vengeance, and not a single one of them was above killing a child. I think it was a smart move. I just wonder when you were going to let everyone know the truth, or if you even planned to."
"I had hoped that I would never need to. It was better for him to grow up away from the fawning and whispers and whatever else he might have had to endure from our people. To be famous for something he would never be able to recall and to have thousands throwing themselves at him with praise and worship. Would you have chosen differently for the child who was barely able to walk on his own?"
Barty Crouch shrugged and then after a moment shook his head. He knew the old Headmaster had chosen correctly for the boy, and if he'd been in the same position, Barty hoped he would have put the child's needs ahead of his own.
"Very well," Dumbledore said, his voice sounding much stronger than it had since that last name had emerged from the Goblet of Fire. "As it seems clear that we have no alternative, I shall contact mister Potter, and have him join us here to participate in the tournament. It is getting late, and I am sure the champions would like to get back to their fellows, who are no doubt waiting to congratulate them."
Dumbledore ushered everyone out, listening to their conversations. Karkaroff was clearly agitated over the news that a fourth champion would be joining the tournament. He was speaking in rapid Bulgarian to Viktor Krum, the Durmstrang champion. Madame Maxime had been a bit more understanding of the situation, which Dumbledore was most thankful for. He had always gotten on well with the French Headmistress.
Both Crouch and Bagman were discussing what it meant that Harry Potter, the savior of the Wizarding world was not only alive, but returning from oblivion to compete in the tournament.
Dumbledore turned to face Cedric, who was still in shock. Dumbledore could only guess what this young man might be feeling. He would have been three or four when a baby managed to stop the most powerful Dark Wizard in a hundred years. He would have grown up hearing stories about the death and devastation Lord Voldemort wreaked upon their world. And then one day, for no apparent reason, he had sought out a child. A defenseless babe, and had somehow been destroyed, along with the entire Potter family.
Only Dumbledore and a very select few knew the truth of what had truly happened that night.
"Yes, Mister Diggory?"
"Is it true? Is Harry Potter really alive? Is he really going to be coming here to Hogwarts?" Cedric asked, looking truly awed by just the thought of it. There was no doubt that like many children, Cedric would have heard the story of the brave Potter family and the sacrifice they made to save them all from suffering. Dumbledore himself was still puzzled how the story had gotten out in the first place, but it had, and it was one of the most famous stories in wizarding history.
"It would seem so. But I urge you to not let your imagination get the better of you. He is only a boy, not to different from yourself a few years ago. He will be leaving everything he knows behind, and will likely be quite alone here. He may need a friend. Someone who might understand what he's going through."
Cedric nodded his understanding. Harry Potter would most likely need a friend, though Cedric doubted the legendary figure would be lacking for friends. Still, Cedric was willing to try and help out a fellow champion if he could. After all, the tournament was supposed to be about creating bonds of friendship, wasn't it? "Am I allowed to tell anyone?"
Dumbledore actually smiled, and patted Cedric on the shoulder. "I think I would be very hard pressed to prevent this news from getting out. Yes, Mister Diggory, you may divulge what you have learned. I will be making a formal announcement at breakfast tomorrow morning. Now, you'd best be getting back to the Hufflepuff Common Room. It is nearly curfew, and I expect the rest of the Hufflepuffs are waiting to congratulate their champion."
Cedric nodded with a smile and headed away, presumably to celebrate his selection and to let all his Housemates know that Harry Potter would be coming to Hogwarts.
Dumbledore began the trek to his office, where he would need to begin making arrangements. If he were honest with himself, he should have seen this coming. It was only three years ago that the first signs that the Dark Lord was trying to rise to power again. Had it not been for himself and his trusted potions master, then Lord Voldemort would have indeed managed to come back to power. Thankfully, the wards they had set had alerted them to Quirrell's presence near the Stone, and they had managed to rob Lord Voldemort of his vessel.
The following year had seen the release of Slytherin's great beast. The school had very nearly been closed as student after student was petrified by the Basilisk's stare. Thankfully no one had died, thanks mostly to the bravery of Young Ginevra Weasley coming forward and admitting that it had been she who had opened the Chamber of Secrets. As it turned out, the girl was not at all responsible for her actions, as she had been possessed by the spirit of Tom Riddle, whose spirit resided in diary, now locked in Dumbledore's office, while he tried to solve it's mystery. Young Miss Weasley was doing much better these days thanks to regular visits with the Headmaster, and had even led the Gryffindor House to a great Quidditch Victory the previous year.
But this was truly troubling. How did anyone know that young Harry Potter was alive? Were they simply taking a chance, hoping that it paid off, or did whoever behind this scheme actually know Harry was alive? And what was the purpose of entering him in the tournament?
Dumbledore remembered the sudden reemergence of Lord Voldemort's faithful followers at the Quidditch World cup this past summer. Was it coincidence, or was something far more fiendish in the works. As optimistic as Dumbledore could be, he felt that he was most likely correct in assuming the worst.
Unfortunately, there was only one way to learn of the plot, and that was to bring Harry Potter out of seclusion and back to his home country.
In truth, he was rather excited to meet the young man himself. He had of course received reports on the boy's upbringing. It had been a part of the agreement he had with Sirius Black, the boy's Godfather.
Dumbledore remembered the last time he had actually seen the child, that night in the ruins of the house.
He had arrived shortly after the alarms in his office told him that the wards had been breached on the Potter home. The house was barely standing, and there were small fires about. Dumbledore quickly extinguished them as he progressed deeper into the ruin. His eyes stung when he came across the body of James Potter near the door. It was clear he tried to protect his wife and child, but had not succeeded. Dumbledore hoped that the Dark Lord had been quick with his sentence.
His old heart leapt into his throat when he heard the wailing of the child coming from upstairs. Taking care as he climbed the staircase, the next thing he saw gave him pause, as it had been he last thing he expected to see.
Lying as if thrown very violently from a great distance, lay the ruined, mangled and bloody body of Lord Voldemort. His deep red eyes opened wide in a look of purest surprise. Dumbledore stepped over his body and followed the sounds of crying into what had been the nursery. There, upon the floor in front of the child's crib, was Lily Potter. She had placed herself between the Dark Lord and her only child.
And then, standing in his crib, blood caked on his little face which was contorted with his grief, or anger, was baby Harry Potter. His chubby little arms reaching for his mother desperately.
Dumbledore lifted the crying babe, recognizing the voice of Sirius Black. The man who had been the secret keeper to the Potters, the only one who could have given away their hiding place. Dumbledore pulled his wand and prepared to deal with the traitor.
Dumbledore found Sirius sobbing over the body of James Potter.
"Are you pleased with your handiwork?" Dumbledore said accusingly. Sirius looked up and suddenly Dumbledore was conflicted. This was not the face of a man who had just betrayed his lifelong friend, though he had no proof that it was not Sirius who had divulged the secret to the Dark Lord.
"I wonder what it was that the Dark Lord bestowed upon you as a reward for your betrayal." Dumbledore said scathingly.
"It was Peter." Sirius said through his grief. Tears spilled down the man's cheeks as he looked up at the leader of the light, not really surprised that it had been Dumbledore to arrive first. "I'm going to find that rat and kill him myself."
"Peter?" Dumbledore's wand fell to his side. "Peter Pettigrew? But you were the Secret Keeper." The old man eyed the younger one, who was getting to his feet, his grief being replaced by outrage.
"We switched. I felt it would have been obvious that I would be the Secret Keeper. Lily didn't want to put me in that kind of danger. Both James and I knew I'd be targeted anyway. This way, they'd get nothing from me. I convinced James to use Peter. I figured no one would even bother thinking of Peter. The man can barely transfigure a teacup." Sirius broke down once again.
Dumbledore couldn't believe what he'd just learned. It hadn't been Sirius who had betrayed them all, but Peter Pettigrew. The young man everyone seemed to believe incapable of deceit. He looked at Sirius, who was still staring at the body of his best friend, his brother in all but blood. Sirius looked as if he was steeling himself to go seeking his own vengeance. It was then that the idea popped into Dumbledore's mind. He had a chance to save more than just one person on this night.
"Sirius, There is something far more important you must do. Lord Voldemort is dead."
Sirius looked up at Dumbledore. "What? He asked incredulously. "Are you joking?"
"I assure you that I am not. I have seen his body myself. Go up the stairs if you wish. But I tell you, he is dead. But more important, your godson is alive."
Dumbledore held out his arm a bit where Harry lay, now still, contented to be held by someone. Sirius came at once to the old man's side, and took Harry into his arms. The baby smiled as he recognized Sirius. Sirius held the child closely, tears of happiness falling from his eyes now.
"He must be protected Sirius. Lord Voldemort's followers will be looking for revenge. You must take him far away from here, and raise him as James and Lily would have. He must be kept safe, for I fear that this war is not truly over."
"What are you talking about?" Sirius looked, at the Headmaster's words. "If the bastard's dead, than why shouldn't the war be over?"
"Lord Voldemort delved deeper into the Dark Arts than anyone witch or wizard before him. While trying to find a way to defeat him, I learned many of the things he researched and now I believe that he may have somehow secured himself to this world, and one day might return and attempt to bring our world under his control once again. If that is true, Harry Potter may be the only person capable of saving us all."
"This isn't funny, Albus." Sirius said sternly.
"As you can clearly see, I am not laughing. I know that James told you the real reason he and Lily were forced to go into hiding. Did they ever tell you why?"
Sirius shook his head, trying to wipe his tears, while holding onto the sleeping babe. "I think they wanted to tell me, but I think they felt the less I knew, the better for me. They did tell me Snape had warned you to protect them."
"He did indeed." Dumbledore nodded. "He thought only of saving Lily and her son. Despite everything, all the torment your four put him through, he still tried to save his greatest rival's child. He tried to do what was right."
"Then I owe him more than I can ever repay." Sirius sighed, tightening the thin blanket around Harry a bit more securely."
"Sirius, I want you to take Harry and flee the country. Tell no one where you are except me, so that I may contact you should any emergency arise. Protect his identity at all costs."
"One day he'll want answers. What do I tell him?" Sirius nodded towards the boy in his arms, who was now beginning to yawn.
"I leave that to you." Dumbledore said sagely. "But remember this, this boy deserves to have as normal a life as can be afforded. I have a dreadful belief that he has just taken his first step on the path that fate has been lain before him."
Sirius nodded, and gathered his coat around the child. "I'll be in touch." He said before mounting a large motorcycle. Several loud pops sounded, and both men turned towards the sound.
"Go!" Dumbledore urged, and Sirius kicked the motorbike into gear, and tore off into the night. Dumbledore watched in amazement as the motorcycle rose into the air and disappeared behind the clouds.
Dumbledore saw the approaching shadows. He saw that they were aurors led by Barty Crouch. Dumbledore strode to meet them. In a few hours, word would spread about the defeat of the Dark Lord, and the child saviour, Harry Potter, the Boy-Who-Lived. He cringed ever so slightly hoping that moniker didn't come back to haunt him in the future.
Sirius had done as he had been ordered, and wrote the old Headmaster, keeping him up to date on the goings on in Harry's life. When the boy turned eleven, a serious decision had to be made. Whether it was time for the boy to return to England and attend Hogwarts, or stay away and attend another institute of magical learning.
It was ultimately decided that it might be best for the boy to be educated abroad, as he would not be well known, and could in fact be an average young wizard in training. Sirius had cultivated a new identity for the boy and registered him at the Salem Academy in America, and according to the yearly reports, was doing quite well in all subjects, especially Charms, Defensive Magics, and Transfiguration. It appeared that he would be in the top of his class by his seventh year.
But it seemed that fate had other plans for the young man, and an echo of a prophecy made at a private meeting so many years ago repeated itself in Dumbledore's mind.
The one with the power to vanquish the Dark Lord will be born as the seventh month dies…
With a great sigh, Dumbledore knelt before his fireplace and cast a handful of floo powder into the merrily crackling flames. He was not looking forward to this, but it had to be done. He did not t Harry to lose his magic, especially if his suspicions were correct. Harry still had a part to play in the war, though what it was was still unclear.
"Salem Academy of Magic, Headmistress Blaylock's office."
There was a long pause as the floo connection was made. Dumbledore hadn't expected it to be instant, as connections across the ocean sometimes took a good deal of time. Finally, a rather tired looking woman, much younger than Dumbledore, her auburn hair quite wild as it was clear that she had just been awoken.
"Albus Dumbledore?" The woman asked, her voice scratchy and hoarse. She was a thin woman with silver gray hair and a very pointed chin and sharp brown eyes.
"I am deeply sorry for disturbing you at this hour, but I have something rather important to discuss with you, and it can not wait, I'm afraid."
"Of course. It has been a rather long time since we spoke last. How may I help you?"
Dumbledore went on to explain about the Tri-wizard Tournament, which had not been held in a very long time. Headmistress Blaylock's eyes widened a bit at this news but her shock over that news was nothing compared to the news that one of her students names had emerged from the Goblet of Fire. The American Headmistress wished to know how it was possible, to which Dumbledore could only shrug, making him look quite like the fool that so many of his political enemies often likened him to.
"Needless to say, This student will need to come to Scotland to compete, or suffer great consequences." Dumbledore sighed.
"Why do I get the feeling that we're talking about James Black?" Headmistress Blaylock asked, pinching the bridge of her nose.
"How ever did you guess?" Dumbledore asked, a smirk twitching his mouth.
"Maybe it's the fact that you've checked up on him twice a year for three years, not to mention it was you who personally met with me about admitting him before his first year. Despite what some might think, I'm no idiot."
Dumbledore began to laugh along with his American counterpart.
"Well, I'm afraid he's not in school at the moment." Headmistress Blaylock said when she got herself under control. "We've only just started our autumn break. The students aren't scheduled to return for two more weeks."
"I see." Dumbledore nodded. "Very well, I shall have to contact him directly. I should warn you that young Mr. Black may not return to your fine institution. I had already been considering bringing him back to attend Hogwarts before this little incident. Now it seems I have no choice. Though, while he's competing in our tournament, he will still be representing your school."
"I can think of very few better choices. If I can help him in anyway, please let me know. He will be sorely missed by many here."
"I am sure of that." Dumbledore smiled. "Thank you Headmistress."
Dumbledore pulled his head out of the green flames, and brushed the soot out of his beard. Rising to his feet Dumbledore heaved a great sigh. Dumbledore had hoped that he would be able to bring Harry here through the floo and have the boy there by Breakfast, but it appeared that fate had other ideas. It was clear that Dumbledore was about to go visit the United States. Well, at least the students would have something to look forward to. There was no doubt that by breakfast, the whole school would know that Harry Potter was alive, and he was returning to Hogwarts.