Disclaimer: J.K. Rowling owns Harry Potter. I'm just playing with it for funsies.
As he walked to the little room off to the side of the Great Hall, Harry couldn't help but think of what his parents would have thought of this. It was the anniversary of their death; even with the tournament, it was still heavy on his mind. He still would have skipped the feast had it not coincided with the selection of the champions. He hoped that his parents would have been proud of him.
"So um, hi. Erm, Bonjour. Zdrasti," said Harry awkwardly as he entered the side room where the other champions had already entered.
"But who are you?" asked Delacour, the French champion.
"I'm Harry, Harry Potter, I'm the Hogwarts champion," said Harry.
"But you are just a boy!" said Fleur.
"Well, yeah, but so's Krum," said Harry.
Krum raised his eyebrows at this.
"This is unexpected," was all he said.
"You are truly ze best that your school 'as?" asked Delacour.
"Apparently," said Harry, flushing a little.
"Ah, what a farce," said Delacour. "I suppose you are ze one zat caused ze trouble earlier."
"Yep, that was me," said Harry.
"And you cink zat you can best us?" asked Fleur.
"Yeah," said Harry. "Yeah, that's the plan."
"I hope you make for good competition," said Krum. "It would be pity, otherwise."
Harry didn't have a chance to respond, as most of the evening's occupants of the head table entered the room.
"Harry James Potter!" Professor McGonagall said the moment she laid eyes on him. She looked about as severe as he had ever seen her.
"Sorry Professor," said Harry, ducking his head under the ire of his head of house.
"Mr. Potter," said Professor Dumbledore, "you admitted to circumventing the protections on the goblet to enter the tournament this morning. But can you think of any reason why your name would issue forth twice?"
Harry blinked a few times, unprepared for such a question.
"Um, did it?"
"Answer the question!" snarled Professor Snape.
Harry scowled. "I put my name in the Goblet of Fire. I did it once. So, there's one. As for the other, someone else must have done it. Death Eaters have been active lately, so I guess one of them thought making sure my name came out of the Goblet of Fire might be a good way to kill me." He looked right at Karkaroff as he said it.
"Preposterous!" thundered Karkaroff.
"Of course he is lying," said Madame Maxime.
"I'm not lying!" said Harry indignantly. "I mean, I'm speculating… but I'm doing it in good faith!"
"You don't get to play the martyr, Potter, not when you've already admitted to flaunting the rules for your own gain," said Snape.
"Still not lying," said Harry. "I wouldn't even know how to go about getting my name to come out twice."
"I believe you," said Professor Dumbledore.
"But zis ees absurd," said Madame Maxime. "He 'as already cheated to get in."
"I didn't cheat!" said Harry. "I may have broken the rules, but I was picked fair and square."
"I've worked with Potter long enough to know that it's beyond his skill levels," said Professor Moody. "It's not enough to get his name in a second time. You have to bamboozle the Goblet into thinking that there are four schools instead of three. Potter's a powerful wizard, but he doesn't have the control he'd need to do a confundus charm like that. Only a few of the people in this room could do it."
'Gee, thanks,' Harry did not say out loud.
"Per'aps an older student 'elped him," Delacour still said.
"How did you get your entry slip in, Harry?" asked Professor Dumbledore.
"Well, I guess it would have been simpler to bribe an older student," said Harry, who was still annoyed that that had worked for Hermione. "But, I transfigured my slip into an origami mouse. I animated it to climb up the robe of a seventh year that was entering, and once they were past the age line, it jumped in."
"Quite ze trick," said Delacour, sounding faintly impressed.
"There are simpler ways, I think," said Krum. "The age line is limited."
"So how does this impact the tournament?" asked Harry.
"It means someone's out to get you, and you've made their job easier!" said Professor Moody.
"The tales are true then," said Karkaroff with a wicked grin. "You aren't happy unless you've found six murder plots before breakfast. Why, you would think it a plot if the boy got a splinter," sneered Karkaroff
"Depends on what's on the splinter," said Professor Moody, "but then, you have a friend who knows lots about poisons." He was looking right at Snape when he said it. Did Snape and Karkaroff know each other?
"Enough," said Professor Dumbledore, "I believe Harry was asking about the gameplay. Barty, you know the contract that they are bound to the best. What are the ramifications of being twice a champion?"
"In this case," said Barty Crouch stepping forward, looking vaguely ill, "it is all in the semantics. This is certainly a situation we did not plan for when we came up with the wordings. But unless I am much mistaken, the third task will not be much changed at all. The second, well there will be a small inconvenience for Potter, but it would certainly be manageable. The first, now there is the problem. His challenge will be doubled, and thus the danger will rise exponentially."
Harry was starting to think he should be getting nervous, when he noticed how everyone was looking at him and he frowned.
"Well don't look at me like I'm dead already," he said. "The Goblet chose me for a reason."
"More than one reason," grumbled Professor Moody.
"However this situation came to be can be addressed at a later time," said Professor Dumbledore. "For now, Ludo, I believe you had some instructions for the champions."
"That's right!" said Ludo, faltering only for a moment to remember. "The first task…the first task is a test of your bravery, so perhaps the Gryffindor champion will not be at such a disadvantage. But it is bravery in the face of the unknown, so we shan't be telling you what it is. It takes place on November the twenty-fourth. And, let's see, ah yes, you are only allowed to start with your wands."
Crouch took over. "The champions are not allowed to ask for or accept any help from any of their professors for these tasks. You will receive information about the second task upon completion of the first. And lastly, due to the demanding challenges of the tasks, you will be exempted from end-of-year exams."
"And there you have it, ladies and gentlemen," said Ludo, "the first Triwizard Tournament of the twentieth century is at hand."
The meeting broke up after that, with Ludo Bagman and Madam Maxime leaving with Professor Dumbledore for a nightcap. Professor McGonagall marched up to Harry and gazed down at him.
"I hope you know that I expect you to come through this with your life and the cup both," she told him sternly.
"Yes, professor," said Harry, rubbing the back of his neck awkwardly.
"And I'll be telling Mr. Filch to be giving you quite the detention tomorrow," she said before making her own way out of the room as Harry cringed.
"Potter!" said Professor Moody, now approaching himself. "Have I taught you nothing?!"
"You've taught me lots," said Harry. "That's why I wanted to test myself."
"All I ever do is test you," said Professor Moody. "And I do it without putting your life on the line, or putting your skills in the limelight."
"Exactly," said Harry, "it's always in a controlled environment."
"The tournament may be more dangerous, but that doesn't make it realistic. The whole thing is a ridiculous game for school children to show which school makes the craziest students. Well congratulations, you're in the lead already."
Harry scowled. "You think I can't win?" he asked.
"Of course you can win," said Professor Moody. "And show everyone just how powerful you've become. Not on my watch. You want to play this silly game, then you play by my rules. No spell chains, no swordplay, no knives, no martial arts. If you come in leagues ahead of the other champions, then you'll have me to answer to. The point is that the next time you come face-to-face with Voldemort, he'll underestimate you."
"I know better than to show off," said Harry, looking at his feet.
"You could have fooled me," growled Professor Moody.
Professor Moody escorted Harry to the tower, telling him all the while to go nowhere without his friends, and reminding him to eat nothing without checking it first.
There was a party going on in Gryffindor tower. No one seemed at all concerned that Harry's name had come from the goblet twice. Hermione approached him just as Lee Jordan was finishing tying a Gryffindor banner around his neck.
"I suppose you're happy then," she said.
"Well I was, but then everything got complicated," he said back. Still, he grinned sheepishly. "There's trouble afoot."
"Then you must be happy," said Hermione.
Harry rolled his eyes. "Not when I don't even know what the exact trouble is."
"So you didn't find a way to enter your name twice then?" asked Hermione.
"It never even occurred to me to try," said Harry. "It's not really fair, is it."
"I didn't think you had, but ~~~~~"
"What?" Harry asked over the noise.
"I said…" Hermione shouted. "Nevermind." She shook her head to drive the message across. "I'm going to bed," she said, pointing at the staircase. "Congratulations!" She gave him a hug and left.
Harry spent a little time going around the party, accepting people's well-wishes and looking for Ron as he did. He wasn't used to being the center of attention like this without Ron by his side. He found the twins, who were ecstatic that Harry had been chosen, but also admonished him twice to make sure he didn't get himself killed.
The party was actually kind of fun, though it didn't quite have the thrill of a quidditch after-party (Harry hadn't won anything yet). But eventually, Harry kept to his bedtime and made his way up to the fourth-year boys' dorm.
Finally, he found Ron, who was trying to bring some order to his messy trunk.
"There you are," said Harry.
"I was wondering when you'd show up," he said.
"I looked for you downstairs," said Harry.
"Figures," said Ron, still tending to his trunk. "You get your soul food in?"
"Oh shoot," said Harry. "Yeah, I should have done that before the feast. I mean, I did write in my journal earlier today, but that's it. You won't tell on me if I just meditate a little before bed."
"Your secret's safe with me," said Ron.
"Thanks," said Harry, tugging at the banner tied firmly around his neck.
"You um, you could have told me, you know," said Ron, pausing in his work.
"Told you what?" asked Harry.
"That you'd found a way to make sure you'd compete. I wouldn't have tried to stop you."
"I mean, I might have tried to talk you out of it. Like, if you're not ready, you're not ready."
"Ron, I didn't," said Harry.
Ron finally turned to look at him. "What?" he asked.
"I'm probably going to have to say this a few dozen times, but I only entered once."
"Really?" asked Ron.
"Yes, really," said Harry, a little testily.
Ron shot him an irritated look. "It wouldn't be the first time you went off and did your own thing without telling me."
"Yeah, well, this time I didn't," said Harry, a little frustrated with Ron, but, he had to admit, also with himself. It wasn't exactly an unfair assessment.
"Okay," said Ron.
"Okay," said Harry.
"So, that's not good," said Ron.
"Yeah, I figure," said Harry. "So does Professor Moody."
"We shouldn't have entered, should we have," said Ron.
Harry shrugged. He was having mixed feelings about it himself.
Ron huffed. Apparently, Harry wasn't the only one who would have liked a year without evil afoot. "What do you think's going on?" asked Ron. "There is a Death Eater running around the school."
"I know, but, I don't know why he would. He doesn't seem stupid, and everyone says he'd have to be stupid to go back to Voldemort."
"Maybe he has his own agenda," said Ron. "But it all comes down to what they're trying to accomplish."
"Let me get killed, I think," said Harry. "Or make sure I get killed."
Ron shrugged. "Could be. But I don't know. There's a lot of factors, aren't there? The tournament's this whole big thing. We don't even know all the ramifications yet. There's probably a few different angles we should be looking at this from. Like, maybe one of the tasks takes place in the Forbidden Forest, and they want to get you out there to abduct you."
"Oh yeah," said Harry. "Or heck, it could just be a lark, like at the World Cup. You know, like they just wanted me to make a fool out of me in front of everyone."
"Well, I mean, then the jokes probably going to be on them," said Ron.
"Nah, jokes on me. Crouch says that the first task is going to be 'exponentially more dangerous' for me because my name came out twice."
"How's that work?" asked Ron.
Harry shrugged. "Something about 'contracts' and 'semantics.' The long and the short of it is, I think, that they're going to have to make it twice as hard, because I'm like, one person, but two champions."
"Shite," said Ron. "You know, Hermione didn't even think of that."
"She probably will have by morning," said Harry. Knowing Hermione it would shock her awake at three in the morning.
Ron sighed. "Well, this all sucks."
"Yeah," said Harry. "Too bad I entered. Maybe we could have both been champions."
Ron grinned. "I was still voting for Hermione."
"Hermione wouldn't have thought it was fun," said Harry.
"It would have been fun," Ron agreed. "I was kind of dreaming about being the champion last night."
"Woah, I was too, actually," said Harry.
"I think most people in the castle were," said Ron. "Oh, I just realized."
"Everyone's going to be super pissed with you if you lose," said Ron.
"Oh, you're right," said Harry, frowning. "Eh, I've had worse."
"Pff, yeah," said Ron in agreement.
"You better not die," said Ron.
"Ron…" said Harry.
"I mean it. I can't handle a repeat of second year. I mean, obviously, it's dangerous from the get-go, but you don't have any call to be making it more dangerous or anything."
"I won't," said Harry, but a heavy pit had settled in his gut. Because there was only one Horcrux left. There was only one left, someone had forcibly entered him into the Triwizard Tournament, and they were no closer to finding a way to rid Harry of the Horcrux within him without killing him. But Harry had been thinking of ways to make sure he was killed only after Harry had landed a killing blow on Voldemort first. It might all be over by the end of the tournament, and then Harry would be a liar to his best friend.
"I won't," he said again anyway.
"You better not," said Ron. "Come on, it's bedtime, and you still need to meditate. I won't tell Hermione if you don't brush your teeth either."
"Ew, no," said Harry. "But do you suppose she'd take it personally if I didn't."
"Her parents are dentists," said Ron. "Best not chance it."
"Yeah, I'm not gross, so I wouldn't anyway," said Harry. "You're the one who's planning not to brush."
"Too tired," said Ron, giving an exaggerated yawn and stretch. "Past my bedtime, night Harry." He dove into his bed.
"You're gross!" Harry called after him before Ron could set up a silencing spell around his bed.
"You're gross," said Ron. "I know what you do in the shower."
"No you don't!"
The bad news was, most people thought that Harry had found a way to game the system to make sure that his name was chosen at least once. Gryffindor was quick to take his word for it that he hadn't. But while people thought that he had been chosen Hogwarts champion fair and square, there was some sentiment that he was a cheat for having his name come out a second time. It was far from the worst thing to ever be said about Harry during his stay at Hogwarts, but there was a certain lackluster enthusiasm from Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw, who Harry would have expected to support him, that took some of the wind out of his sails.
Another annoyance was his detention with Filch. Harry had had to scrub clean the docks and cave walls where the first-years' boats always came in. There had been a lot of cold wet algae for Harry to scrub away, and it had been a miserable task that took most of his Saturday. For whatever reason, Filch had stayed to leer at him, and make nasty comments as he made sure Harry finished the task to his satisfaction. Harry thought that Filch was very happy to lord over the Hogwarts champion. Meanwhile, Harry had still not forgotten when Filch had been the one to first accuse Harry of murder.
Other than that, everything was going swimmingly, actually. Well, Snape was being a worse git than usual, but that was to be expected. But no, with no quidditch, Harry had a little free time now. Granted, he spent a lot of that time flying, but it was refreshing to have so much time to fly without having a taskmaster like Oliver over him. Plus, there was already talk of having some pick-up games over the weekends. Professor Moody, though, was working him harder. He wasn't directly helping him to prepare for the tasks, but there was nothing saying that he couldn't step-up Harry's old training regimen.
Harry was enjoying training with the Professor's new sentinels. They didn't just move a little and shoot a few spells. They moved on their own now, almost like a real combatant, using a large mix of spells to really fight. It was almost like still having the gauntlet to run through.
Harry was also enjoying watching Ron and Hermione develop their own unique fighting styles. Neither of them focused on dual wielding sword and wand like Harry did. Hermione, though, was getting very good at manipulating her environment to dart into her opponent's space to overpower them. Ron was excelling at marksmanship, both with wand and knife. His throws were getting even better than Harry's. Ron had a very casual way of slinging spells about and, in spite of himself, Harry often found himself letting his guard down in the face of it.
"Like them, Potter?" asked Malfoy outside of the Potions classroom.
"You do a lot of arts and crafts in Slytherin?" asked Harry disinterestedly, as he examined the button on Malfoy's robe that read: Cheater Potter.
"You never did have much school spirit," Ron said with a roll of his eyes, for once not looking all that concerned with Malfoy.
"Oh, I'd be happy to support an honest Hogwarts champion, who could play by the rules. See?" He tapped on his badge, which changed to read: Support Integrity.
Hermione snorted, perhaps at the thought of Malfoy being so concerned about ethics.
"Would you like one Granger?" asked Malfoy, holding a button out. "Only, be careful, I'd hate to get any mudblood on me."
"Why you!" shouted Ron, going for his wand. Malfoy was going for his own. Harry was faster.
Malfoy's wand dropped out of his hand as his fingers all locked together.
"What is going on out here?" asked Snape, who of course chose now to arrive.
"Professor, Potter cursed my hand," said Malfoy quickly.
"Well it's a jinx, but yeah," said Harry, glaring at Malfoy.
A lazy flick of Snape's wand freed Malfoy's fingers. "Let's see, shall we? Fifty points from Gryffindor and a detention should about do it," he said gleefully. It cannot be stressed enough that Snape hated that Harry was the Hogwarts champion.
They were brewing antidotes that day, and Snape announced, "Of course, Potter, as school champion, you'll have no problem brewing the antidote, so we can test yours on you at the end of the class."
Harry was certain that this was against the school rules, but he was saved from having to find out. He had never been so happy to see Colin Creevy in his life, as he had been when the boy came in to announce that Harry was required at the Weighing of the Wands Ceremony. He had, in fact, seen Snape angrier than he was then, but not by much.
Colin gushed all the way to the ceremony, and Harry was certain he had volunteered for the task. Then, somehow, on the way up there, Harry had agreed to let Colin sing along the next time Harry practiced his fiddle in the common room. Harry was certain that it was a moment of temporary insanity.
Harry was the last champion to arrive at the ceremony. Fleur and Krum were there with Ludo Bagman, as well as a witch and wizard Harry didn't recognize. A flashbulb on the wizard's camera went off as Harry entered the room. Harry instinctively felt about for any malevolent magics, but found none.
"Harry Potter," said the witch excitedly.
"Ah, Harry," said Ludo Bagman. "Good, good. This is Rita Skeeter, a Prophet reporter here to do a small piece about the Wand Weighing Ceremony."
"Not so small, I should hope," said Ms. Skeeter, offering Harry her hand. Harry took it daintily, wary of the rings on her fingers from which he could sense unknown magics. "Since we're all still waiting, how about I do a quick interview with Hogwarts's youngest ever champion!"
"Oh, I don't see a problem with that," said Ludo Bagman.
"Actually," said Harry, who had not been ready at all for a reporter, "I'm not supposed to talk to the press without my legal guardian present."
"Oh, but you don't have one," said Ms. Skeeter.
"Well, the school is," Harry said awkwardly, "but that basically means like, Professor McGonagall; or Professor Dumbledore in a pinch."
"Splendid, the old chap's on his way here now. Not to worry, Rita," said Ludo Bagman.
Ms. Skeeter didn't look worried, but neither did she look pleased.
Harry was still taken a little aback. The press hadn't come when there was a basilisk set loose; why were they here now for a game? He was not at all prepared. What if she thought he'd cheated too? What if she asked about his 'mystery trip' at the end of summer. What if she asked about skinny-dipping in the Amazon? Harry had never quite figured out what he wanted to present to the press, as Bill had once suggested. Could he just be himself? He wasn't even sure who that was.
Professor Dumbledore came in with the other school heads, Mr. Ollivander, and Mr. Crouch, and he quickly set about getting everyone into their places. Everyone was sat at a velvet topped table, the campions on one side, the judges on the other, with Mr. Ollivander at the head.
"May I introduce Mr. Ollivander, the premiere wand maker in England. He will be checking your wands, to ensure that they are up to the challenges ahead. Harry, I do hope you have taken good care of his creation."
"Oh, yes sir," said Harry, deciding not to mention the time he had stuck it up a troll's nose.
"Mademoiselle Delacour, if we could begin with you?" asked Ollivander, holding out his hand.
Fleur handed her wand over, and Harry shivered a little. He didn't want someone he barely knew handling his wand, even if it was the wand's creator.
Fleur's wand was apparently in excellent condition, though it occasioned the comment that there was a Veela hair at the core, a gift from Fleur's grandmother. That…explained things. Krum was next, and his wand occasioned little comment, except for a hint that Ollivander did not approve of the rival wand maker's methods.
Next was Harry, and the way Ollivander lit up as he described Harry's wand, Harry felt a moment of dread that the man was about to reveal that the wand shared something in common with Voldemort's. But what he said instead was, "Well it is still in fine working order. Though curious, Mr. Potter, have you recently dis-."
"Yes, thank you Mr. Ollivander," said Professor Dumbledore, "but our students must be getting to dinner."
"Oh, but we've forgotten pictures," said Ludo Bagman. "Gather round, everyone, champions, judges. They want some good pictures for the paper tomorrow."
"Let's not forget individual portraits," chimed in Ms. Skeeter.
Harry would have very much liked to have skipped to dinner. He'd never minded having his picture taken when he was on vacation, but the whole process seemed very stuffy and off. It might have had something to do with Karkaroff being in the room. Finally, though, it was done, but Harry was in the midst of his escape when he was once again cornered by Rita Skeeter.
"Oh, Professor Dumbledore," she called, waving him over. "You have a very well behaved student over here. Why, he said he simply couldn't do an interview without your permission."
"Rita, my dear, how lovely of you to show such an interest in our academic game of international brotherhood."
"She wants to interview me, sir," said Harry, hoping that the Professor would pick up on how much Harry didn't want to do that.
"Well, Harry does need to run along to dinner; we want him in tip-top shape for the first task. But I don't see why he couldn't give a quick statement about how he feels being the school champion."
Skeeter frowned but turned to Harry. "Well, Harry, the world is dying to know, I'm sure."
"Oh," said Harry, feeling a little relieved. That wasn't too hard. "Well, I'm honored of course. And I um, hope to show the world that Hogwarts is the best school around, because they've really done right by me. And, I'm very excited to try and bring the cup to stay at Hogwarts until the next tournament."
"Lovely," said Rita, "now about this dual championship-."
"Terribly sorry, my dear," said Professor Dumbledore. "But I'm afraid he simply must be allowed to go to dinner. Off you go now, Harry."
Grateful, Harry bade them a good evening and made his escape.
Sirius growled at the book below him as he rubbed the bridge of his nose. It wasn't half as useful as his mother had always made it out to be. Nature's Nobility. All of the old pureblood lines. It was supposed to be thorough and detailed, but unfortunately, the Slytherin line was hard to trace.
Granted, Sirius had never been sure if he bought into the story that Voldemort was Slytherin's heir. Just because he was a parseltongue was no guarantee, after all. The Talent had sprouted spontaneously in the Slytherin line; there was no reason it could not do the same in another. The metamorphmagus Talent had sprouted in five distinct family lines from across Europe to Southern Asia. Meanwhile, it was only in the last three generations that the Potters were known to be preternaturally gifted at flying.
But Slytherin was the only lead that Sirius had left to follow, so follow it he did. At the very least, Dumbledore seemed to think it was worth looking into. Or Harry thought Dumbledore did. It didn't help that his best leads were the jumbled notes of a thirteen-year-old, but then the journal had led Sirius to two Horcruxes already. It just went to show that Sirius had an awesome, if slightly murderous, godson.
But now Sirius was reaching his limit of what he could accomplish with the resources he had at hand. If he wanted to make progress, he would need to venture out into the broader wizarding world. It was time to visit Knockturn Alley.
Dear Konda Jin,
Greetings from the UK! How are things in Kyoto? Is it very cold? It's getting positively frigid here. How was Abe's birthday?
So, it's probably going to make Witch Weekly, and Hizuru or Shimizu will find out. I'm the Hogwarts champion for the tournament! Professor Moody is not happy with me at all, but I am still very excited. I want to test myself. And I know it's just a game, but it's meant for seventh years, and it's dangerous, so, I don't know. I'll be seeing just what I can do. Only Professor Moody says I can't use any boeimaho budo. I get that he doesn't want me showing off exactly what I can do, but I feel bad that I won't get to put Sensei's teachings to use.
Anyway, I still think I got this, but maybe go say a prayer for me at the shrine. I'm sure Shimizu would think its funny if I go out and make a fool of myself, but I really don't want to let everyone down.
I hope high school's going well for you. I'd hate to have had to start a new school this year. What are you learning about?
Tell everyone I miss them.
P.S. They don't just draw pictures of me in Japan. Here is a drawing my dorm mate Dean made after one of my games last year.
P.P.S. By the way, someone also entered my name into the tournament based on a fake fourth school against my will, and my name came out twice, and we don't know why they did. And it makes the tournament more dangerous. So maybe definitely please go say a prayer for me at the shrine.
The Daily Prophet ran Rita Skeeter's tournament article the day after the weighing of the wands. To Harry's chagrin, it was all about him, rather than focusing any attention onto the other two champions, who were mentioned only briefly at the end. Somehow, Skeeter had seen no value in covering the quidditch star turned school champion, nor the quarter veela who was the greatest of Beaubaton's offerings.
Skeeter had taken the view that Harry had contrived to force his name out of the cup one way or another, framing it as a desperate bid to prove himself to his dead parents. Colin Creevey was quoted as saying that Harry had a history of missing the Halloween feast in their memory, which was accurate, but no one else's business. There was little focus in the article though for accuracy, and Hermione had somehow been named as his girlfriend, to both their embarrassment.
At the very least, Skeeter had used the quote that Harry had provided her, though she managed to expound on it far more than Harry would have thought possible, going into how Harry had become a ward of the castle under mysterious circumstances. The article went so far as to write, "It is only fitting then, that the Son of Hogwarts, the Boy Who Lived, should take his rightful place as the school's champion." It almost felt right even, if not entirely fair. If nothing else, Harry couldn't stomach another title.
It was all very sympathetic towards him, but Harry hated it. For a change, he couldn't complain about being in the limelight, but still. He supposed that Bill had been right about the media making things up about him, in the absence of anything else. He was determined to be ready for the next time he was approached by a reporter, though he still wasn't sure what such a strategy would look like.
Skeeter's article had been the source of a lot of laughs at Harry and Hermione's expense. It was annoying, but they had both dealt with far worse. Compared with being labeled the Heir of Slytherin or a mudblood, the mild teasing was trivial. Certainly, Malfoy and his ilk tried to make a big deal of it, but they'd take anything and try to make it something. Harry focused on his training, leading him to approach his Head of House after class a couple of days after the article came out.
"Very good work today, Mr. Potter," said Professor McGonagall.
"Thank you, Professor," said Harry. "Do you have some time?"
"I certainly do, if you and your friends would like to walk me down to the Great Hall. It would not do for the Hogwarts champion to be skipping meals with the first task oncoming."
The rest of their classmates were filing out the door, happy to leave academics behind for their lunch break.
"Oh, sure," said Harry, following the Professor out of the classroom with Ron and Hermione.
"Now, what is it that I can help you with? I dare say, you are well ahead of your classmates with the current material."
"Um, it's animation, Professor. I haven't gotten a lot of performance out of the animation charms, but I'm doing a bit better working it through transfiguration. Just, not as well as I'd like."
"It is rather advanced for a fourth year," said Professor McGonagall, "but you've been equipping yourself rather well of late. Particularly with your entry method to the tournament."
"Well that was pretty basic, but I've sort of plateaued there."
"It is still decent progress," said Professor McGonagall. "But I will ask you: Have you ever been a mouse, Mr. Potter? A piece of folded paper, perhaps" asked Professor McGonagall.
"Erm, no," said Harry.
"Then why are you using that to learn animation?"
"Um," said Harry.
"It may have been handy to learn some of the basics," said Professor McGonagall, withdrawing her handkerchief. "But if you wish to develop greater talent with animation…" She transfigured it into a figurine that bore a strong resemblance to Harry himself and handed it to him.
"Animate him to defend himself from attack with his hands and feet."
"But I haven't gotten that far yet," said Harry.
"Mr. Potter, did you come to me for advice simply so you could ignore it?"
"Erm, no Professor, sorry. Um. Piertotum Locomotor!" he cast at the figurine in his hand, envisioning as he did that it would defend itself as he himself would.
"Ow!" he cried out as the figurine kicked him in the thumb and dove off his hand, tucking into a roll on the floor. It struck up a defensive posture. Its movements were wooden and choppy, but it had worked.
"Oh cool!" said Ron, grinning as he crouched down in front of it. The figurine turned to face him. Ron pulled a quill out of his bag and poked at it. The quill point was kicked to the side by the figurine, which then fell to the side, Harry's spell already worn out.
"Oh, that was very good," said Hermione.
"A little too good," said Harry, frowning at the small bruise sprouting on his thumb.
"When learning something new, it is best to stick close to what you know already," said Professor McGonagall. "Particularly with animation. You are dominating the transfigured object, telling it not just what to be, but how to be. Build up your skills with figurines of yourself, and branch out from there."
"Got it," said Harry.
"Now, tell me how you have been doing with your extracurriculars," said Professor McGonagall.
"Oh, I think we're doing really well," said Harry. "Professor Moody has been a lot of help."
"I hope that you are not letting him push you too hard," she said.
Harry pondered that for a moment. Sure, Professor Moody was often pushing Harry to his physical limits, but he was also the one keeping Harry from trying things he wasn't ready for yet.
"It would be hard for Professor Moody to push us any harder than Harry already does," said Ron.
"Hm, that's what I'm worried about," said Professor McGonagall. "I do hope you'll be sensible about it." That comment was almost certainly pointed at Hermione.
"We're being careful, Professor," said Hermione.
"I hope he's not been focusing any attention on the tournament," said Professor McGonagall.
"No, we've just been going on with the training like I'm not going to be competing," said Harry. "That's the way I like it, actually. It's the kind of test you're not supposed to revise for."
"I don't believe that there is such a thing, Mr. Potter," said Professor McGonagall. "But I am glad that there will be no accusations of cheating. Though, do feel free to continue coming to me for help on your school work. Now, with that, I will leave you to your lunches. And Mr. Potter, do remember what I told you. The Cup and your life."
There was a Hogsmeade visit that weekend. Harry had thought nothing of going to enjoy the rare day off, but wound up retreating beneath his invisibility cloak after the third time he was approached by a reporter. It was as though there was a competition for them to get an interview with him. There had been two representing Teen Witch, and another from the Daily Prophet. Harry still hadn't settled on how he wanted to interact with the press, so he settled for dodging them.
Hagrid had known Harry for too long to be fooled though, and tracked Harry down at the three broomsticks later that day by simply approaching Ron and Hermione. After a few pleasantries, he addressed the space between them, and asked Harry to meet him at his cabin at midnight with his invisibility cloak.
Harry trusted Hagrid, he really did, but he had grown a little paranoid somewhere between the various attempts on his life and his tutelage under Professor Moody. So, just in case, he borrowed the invisibility cloak he had gifted to the twins and arranged for Ron and Hermione to follow after him from a distance. He didn't want to give up the twin's game with it though, so he kept mum when asked as to its origins. A charmed coin in Harry's pocket allowed his friends to tail him.
"Oh, good, yer here," said Hagrid when Harry arrived. "Keep yer cloak on. Don' want anyone seeing yeh. C'mon now."
"But what's this about, Hagrid?" asked Harry, following Hagrid.
"You'll see," said Hagrid. "It's qui' the surprise."
Harry sighed, and followed Hagrid, with growing puzzlement to the Beauxbatons carriage. Madam Maxime, who seemed equally in the dark, accompanied Hagrid arm in arm off towards the forest, with Harry secretly in tow.
They were flirting.
Harry was witnessing Hagrid and Madam Maxime flirt and take a moonlit stroll across the grounds. What was his life?
Eventually, they were coming to round a copse of trees, when Harry heard a great roar and shouting men. Harry's first instinct was alertness, searching for danger. But then came understanding. The first task was two and a half days away, and there was some new beast secretly on the grounds. And Hagrid, kind supportive Hagrid, who had only gently chided Harry for entering the competition, was giving Harry a heads up on what was ahead. Well, Hagrid never could keep a secret.
Only, for once, Harry wasn't looking to find out the truth. The first task was to be bravery in the face of the unknown, and that's exactly what Harry intended to do. Harry turned around and walked away, leaving Hagrid to his date.
Ron and Hermione met up with him on the way back.
"So what was all that about?" asked Ron.
"I think Hagrid was trying to show me what the first task was," said Harry.
"And you didn't let him?" asked Ron.
"Nah," said Harry. "I don't want to spoil the first task."
"You don't think Madam Maxime is going to spoil it for Fleur?"
Harry shrugged, forgetting that his friends couldn't see him.
"Harry, you do realize that the reason Hagrid wanted to show you, is because he thinks the creature is very dangerous, and he's worried about you."
"Um," said Harry.
"Hagrid," reiterated Hermione, "thinks that that creature is dangerous."
"You know, I hadn't considered that," said Harry.
"You going to go back and check it out?" asked Ron.
"Nope," said Harry. "I can handle it."
"Yeah, I sure hope so," said Ron, sighing heavily.
"So Harry, did you get this from the twins?" asked Hermione, changing the subject to the cloak she and Ron were wearing.
"What? How'd you figure that out?" asked Harry. He'd tried to be sneaky about it.
"You thought I wouldn't?" asked Hermione.
"Tell me you didn't give this to them in the first place," she said.
"Okay, I won't tell you," said Harry.
"Sweet Merlin, you did what?" asked Ron.
"Why would you do something so irresponsible?" asked Hermione.
"I thought it would be funny, and it was."
Ron had a hard time sleeping that night. He'd spent a good part of his summer break on a dragon preserve. He knew exactly what a dragon's roar sounded like. Rule one, according to Bill, was you never interact with a dragon single-handedly. 'A lonely dragon handler is a dead dragon handler,' read one sign posted at the reserve. Harry was facing two. Ron didn't get much sleep the next night either.
Hermione tossed and turned that night. What did they still need to do? Whatever Harry was facing, it was a big creature. She listed possible beasts in her head. How to combat them? Were there any spells that Harry could learn before Tuesday to prepare? They were going to be so busy.
Harry didn't sleep well that night. He felt like he was about to fly out for a big game, but it was the First Task, and it was over two days away. He supposed that quidditch was a lot less dangerous than whatever they had planned for him. Still, a lot less dangerous than Voldemort, so Harry figured he shouldn't be too worried.
At the very least though, he usually didn't have so much time to anticipate his death-defying adventures. Plus, Harry had to admit, that roar had been intimidating.
The day of the First Task dawned with clear skies. Harry, Ron, and Hermione spent the early morning doing some last minute preparations, while trying not to stress out. They did some calisthenics, ate a lite breakfast, and went to their respective elective classes.
They were all anxious that morning. Whatever Harry would be facing, it had been deemed exponentially dangerous in an already risky tournament. Even Harry had wondered if it hadn't been crazy of him to pass on finding out what the first task was. A nervous energy had settled in his gut and hadn't been relaxed since he had heard that roar. In the end, he had not been stubborn enough to resist when Hermione had insisted they focus more on spells useful for combatting large creatures.
Finally, it was time for lunch, which would immediately precede the first task. The three of them met up in the Great Hall.
"Well at least eat something," Hermione wound up saying a couple of times.
Harry wound up having some juice and half of a ham sandwich to appease his meagre appetite. All too soon, Professor McGonagall was retrieving him to take him down to the staging area, far off into the grounds.
"About what I've told you," Professor McGonagall said when it was just the two of them.
"I know," said Harry. "You expect me to win."
"Make it through the day in one piece, and I will be quite pleased, Mr. Potter," said Professor McGonagall brusquely.
Harry frowned at her in askance. "It can't be that bad, can it?"
"You are in far too much danger today, Harry. It is dangerous enough for the other champions. Do not focus on points or impressive feats. Just focus on getting through."
"Er," said Harry. "Well, I won't let you down."
"See that you don't. I would be very cross if anything were to happen to you."
They reached the champion's tent in silence. The other two champions were there already.
Upon their entry, Fleur and Krum looked at Harry with looks that were nearly indecipherable, before Harry realized that they were worried. Worried for him. He supposed that they both probably knew what Harry would be facing two of. He was starting to think he really should have followed after Hagrid after all. Professor McGonagall said her goodbyes and departed, leaving the three champions on their own.
Fleur and Krum, whatever their concern for Harry, both turned away from him, seemingly focused on their own mental preparations. With nothing else to do, Harry sighted a table of refreshments and, after checking for curses and poisons, helped himself to a glass of water with lemon. He was as ready as he was going to be.
Finally, Mister Bagman entered the tent, pleased to see that all of the champions were present.
"Well now, to start off, I'll be telling you that soon, when the audience is all assembled, you will be drawing something from within this bag," he said, holding up a purple silken bag. "A small model of the thing that you will be facing. There are different varieties, you see. And lastly, you will be needing to collect the golden egg."
Harry frowned in thought. On the list of creatures large and mighty that laid eggs, he could not think of a single one that he would want to face two of.
They settled in, listening to the crowd bustling about outside on their way to the stadium, as Mr. Bagman began explaining the difficulties that Harry had caused.
"It all comes down to the wording of the original contract between the three countries. You three are referred to in two different manners: as champions, and as participants. It would be less bother had the drafters created the same definition for both, but they did not. A good example of why you should not have so many people working on the same document. But what it boils down to, Harry, is that you are a champion twice, and a participant once. As a champion, you must face two of what are within this bag. As a participant, you only get one go at it, so you have to face them simultaneously. Which is not very good news for you. On our end," he complained good-naturedly, "you as a participant may only reach into this bag one time, and may only withdraw one figurine, thus, we had to find matching sets of each, which was no mean feat, I'll tell you. We had to scrap some of our early plans." He went on, explaining that Harry, as two champions, would have to retrieve both eggs. Eventually, too soon perhaps, or not soon enough, it was time for them to each reach into the bag to reveal the task.
"Ladies first," said Bagman, holding the bag out to Fleur.
Fleur reached daintily in and looked not at all surprised to pull out a model of a dragon.
A fucking dragon, which incidentally, was at the top of the list of things that Harry did not want to fight two of.
"Yes, Dragons!" exclaimed Bagman. "And you will be facing the Antipodean Opaleye! A stunning creature, Ms. Delacour, appropriate perhaps that you chose it. We had to go to some pains to find a pair of them, but of course, you'll be facing only the one."
Krum was next. He pulled out a Sweedish Shortsnout.
"I'm afraid, Mr. Potter, that this leaves the last for you," said Bagman, as Harry pulled out the last figurine. "A Peruvian Vipertooth, two nesting mothers, to be precise. Both with their own golden egg. They are the smallest dragons here today, though, well, there is a reason why the Confederation once tried to exterminate them."
He gave a few more platitudes before leaving the tent to take his position at the judges' table, leaving the three champions once more alone.
"They are fast and venomous," said Krum to Harry after a moment, "and they eat people. That is vhy the Confederation vanted them gone."
"Er, thanks," said Harry, who hadn't memorized the various dragon breeds. He noted that Krum made no mention of what made the Opaleye dangerous.
Very soon, it was time for Fleur to go out and face her dragon.
Harry and Krum could hear the booming commentary made by Bagman, though he gave away nothing to indicate what was actually going on, except for a general sense of how Fleur was doing. Eventually, he crowed about her victory. Soon, Krum left, and Harry was alone with his thoughts.
Two dragons. Two vicious blood-thirsty dragons. Nesting mothers, and Harry had to go into the nest.
He could do it. He had to do it, so he would do it.
The commentary this time was all a blur in Harry's head. One moment Krum was walking out, the next moment Harry's name was being called. It was time. Harry walked out, feeling as though he was on auto-pilot. Out of the tent and into the open air. Out of the shade and into the sun. Through the entryway to the arena. There they were.
They were small only compared to other dragons; they still dwarfed Harry. They were already looking at him.
Dragons had ridiculously tough skin, which made them hard to get with spells. If Harry remembered correctly, their eyes were their most notable weak points. A quick jinx there, and Harry would have the advantage. The trick, he thought as he took aim, would be to get the second one after the first one was hit.
The dragon on the left, the dragon that he was sighting on, stared back at him defiantly, and Harry was aiming directly for those glinting eyes.
Harry sighed. It was a rotten thing to do, he supposed, jinxing a mother protecting her eggs. Well, he didn't come to do things the easy way.
Harry cast a strength enhancing charm on himself, followed by a speed enhancing charm. He followed them up with a flame freezing charm, just in case the enhancement charms weren't enough to keep him safe.
He couldn't take both dragons on at the same time, not up close and personal. So he'd need to keep at least one busy. He figured, the only thing going for him was that the dragons both had to defend their eggs; he just had to use that to his advantage.
Harry took a deep breath, and centered himself on the feat that he wanted to accomplish. Taking a knee, Harry stuck his wand into the ground.
A jagged line of earth sprung up from the ground, connecting Harry and the dragon nest on the right. With a sharp and loud clang, a metal dome sprung up over the eggs.
Immediately upon realizing what Harry had done, the mother dragon let off a shriek that grated like fingernails on a chalkboard and let out a jet of fire that came nowhere near reaching Harry, before she started clawing desperately at the metal shield. Harry spared a moment to feel bad about it; it perhaps was not much kinder that jinxing her in the eyes, but he had a job to do. He sprinted forward, and his world blurred with his speed.
There was a cacophony of noise from around him, the crowd, Bagman, but Harry took none of it in, his entire focus was on the dragon in front of him, the dragon on the left, who was watching him, and shrieking her own warning cry. He took note of how far it could shoot a jet of flame, and stopped short outside of that range, driving his wand down to the ground again. Again he went for the nest, but this time, he drove a large cone of earth up into the air, scattering the eggs in all directions. Harry wasn't overly worried about damaging any of them; one thing he did remember from his time with Norbert was that dragon eggs were very hardy.
Much like the dragon on the right, this mother rushed to tend to her eggs, perhaps nine of them. Harry had eyes for only one, and he darted in towards the golden gleam. The dragon swung its tail at him, and Harry used his speed and strength to vault over it, rolling into place near the golden egg, scooping it up. He had to dodge quickly to the side to avoid being pinned to the ground by one of the dragon's clawed wings. He took off sprinting towards the other dragon nest.
Harry fell to the ground when he was bathed in dragon flame.
It didn't burn really. It didn't exactly tickle either. Rather, it was like plunging into a hot tub, in that it was an uncomfortably hot shock to his system, and he couldn't breathe. Harry rolled over as the flames were letting up, in time to see the mother dragon lunging towards him, mouth wide open.
Harry sunk into the ground a good meter and a half.
He took in a deep breath, having brought a little air with him.
The ground shook, Harry's little alcove threatening to collapse.
"Merlin!" Harry croaked to himself.
The ground shook again. Harry figured the dragon was pouncing on it with all her weight. He didn't have long. He needed an out.
He wished he could just fly away. The speed enhancement had nothing on his firebolt.
But then, why couldn't he?
"Accio Firebolt!" Harry incanted, feeling the pull through his wand to his broom. Feeling it drawing closer, and closer.
The ground shook once more, and Harry shouted, "Erumpent," and he rocketed up in a spray of dirt.
Getting his bearings in the air was nearly impossible, until a familiar shaft of wood slapped into his hand. Harry went off in a flash. The dragons, both of them now, tried to shoot him out of the air with fire, but Harry was too fast, weaving around their blasts of flame. The second nest was open, the dragon's tough claws having torn through the metal dome. Harry took up a position a good distance away as that same dragon spread its wings and took to the air.
Harry snagged a ripped piece of his school robe and tore it off, quickly transfiguring it into a satchel, stowing the heavy golden egg into it. He'd need both hands for this.
Harry had to wonder if this was how the snitch felt, as he was chased by the enraged mother dragon, trying to avoid claw and flame. If it was, then he didn't feel at all sorry for the snitch; this was exhilarating.
He set his eyes on the second nest, the golden egg gleaming in the sun. Both nests were being guarded by the other mother dragon, but her eggs were still scattered. Harry sighted on one of them and dove towards it, swinging wildly to avoid dragon fire (he was fireproof, but his broom was not).
The dragon on the ground raced to intercept him, but Harry had no interest in the egg he was gunning for. As the dragon in front of him was planting herself down to stand her ground, Harry banked sharply in a wide sweeping dive at the second nest. Both dragons roared, and Harry thought his ears might be bleeding, but he pushed on, skimming the ground.
He would not have been able to pull it off without the strength enhancing charm, but holding onto the broom with just his legs, fighting the centripetal force, Harry reached out and snatched up the golden egg before bringing up a hand to grab the broomstick and corkscrew, a little wildly, to dodge a tail (he was not even certain which one at this point). He flew up, knowing he could gain altitude faster than the dragons.
Bagman was shouting in excitement, something about Harry's flying and being fast, as dragon handlers swarmed out to subdue the dragons. There was cacophony from the crowd, cries of "Potter" and "Hogwarts."
Already, Harry couldn't believe that he had just done that. He saw some familiar figures running out onto the field, and he flew down to greet them: Hagrid, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Moody.
"Excellent, Harry, absolutely fantastic!" cried Professor McGonagall with more exuberance than Harry had ever seen from her.
"I don't know," said Professor Moody, "I'd have liked for you to have thought of your broom in the first place."
"Bah!" bellowed Hagrid, dismissing Professor Moody's critique. "Yeh did it, Harry! An' ye know Charlie said how vicious the Vipertooth are."
"Oh is Charlie here?" said Harry quickly, to keep Hagrid from saying anything he shouldn't. To be fair, he actually hadn't known that Charlie was there. He looked back at the field where the dragon tamers still were, and sure enough, there was a familiar shock of red hair attached to Ron's brother. "Ron'll be happy to see him."
"Are you hurt anywhere, Mr. Potter?" asked Professor McGonagall. "You can go to the healing tent before they call your scores.
Harry shook his head. "I'm good."
"Are you certain?" asked Professor McGonagall, reaching out to tug on a tuft of Harry's hair, which crumbled in her hand.
"Oh no!" said Harry, his spare hand going to his hair, feeling singed bits fall away.
Moody barked a laugh. "Better your hair than anything else," he said.
"Do I still have my eyebrows?" asked Harry, remembering how ridiculous Seamus had looked on occasions when he had accidentally blasted his own away.
"Yeh got yer eyebrows," said Hagrid, pulling Harry into a chest bursting hug.
"Do be gentle with the boy," said Professor McGonagall. "Come along now, I'm certain his friends and classmates would like to see him."
"Harry!" cried Hermione, nearly throwing herself upon him. "Never, ever do that again."
"I um, I promise not to fight two dragons at once ever again," said Harry.
"Don't laugh," Hermione chided Ron, who was doing just that. "That was terrifying to watch."
"Yeah, you had us on the edges of our seats," said Ron. "When it got you with its fire, and you disappeared? Everyone was freaking out!"
"Wait, you guys thought I'd been what, burnt to a crisp?"
"That's what it looked like," cried Hermione, smacking him on the forehead with what Harry noted to be a program for the event.
"Ah! Sorry," said Harry. "Didn't mean to freak everyone out."
"Mind, you made up for it with that comeback," said Ron.
"That was bleeding awesome!" cried Dean, who had joined them without Harry noticing, and then it seemed like everyone was there around him. At one point, Angelina approached him to let him know that had Oliver been there, he would have probably kissed Harry for his flying, before murdering him for putting the Gryffindor seeker at such risk. A number of people, actually, wound up admonishing him, generally good-naturedly, for having scared them so much.
Things only calmed down when the judges were ready to give their scores. Again, there was a wrinkle due to Harry being twice the champion. He would receive one score for each dragon. Madame Maxime went first. A silver ribbon streamed from her wand and created an eight in the air, followed by a red ribbon that made a nine.
Ron gave a triumphant roar from beside him. Harry figured that the lower score was due to his getting singed. Mr. Crouch was next, and he gave Harry an eight and a ten. Professor Dumbledore came next, and he must have had a similar thought process to Mr. Crouch, because he gave the same marks. Bagman came next, looking nervous he cast up a seven and an eight.
"Well that doesn't seem fair," said Hermione from beside him. There were mutters from around them that seemed to be in agreement, but it was nothing compared to when Karkaroff gave him-
"A five and a six?!" cried Ron furiously. "He gave Krum a ten!"
Harry couldn't say he was surprised that Karkaroff would grade him so unfairly, but that didn't mean he wasn't just as outraged.
"Still," said Hermione, "that puts you in the lead, Harry!"
"Does it?" asked Harry.
"Dude, you were the best!" said a sixth year Ravenclaw whose name Harry couldn't remember.
"Huh," said Harry. He was a little surprised. He let himself bask in the crowd's cheers. But as he beamed with pride, he looked at his friends and came to a resolution. He knew things were coming to a head; he would be facing Voldemort sooner rather than later. He could feel it. And his friend's needed to know beforehand, they deserved to know, everything. It was time to tell them the truth.
A/N: So, super long time since I've updated. Sorry for that. New job, new town, and all that. I hope you're all still enjoying the story.
Before I forget again, I've been meaning to make a shout out to to the guest reviewer whose idea it was that Harry go to see the Todaiji temple with all the wandering deer seeking treats from the visitors, a couple chapters back.
As always, I greatly appreciate all the feedback I get from you guys :D