Roger stepped out of the emerald green flame into a great stone room adorned with tapestries. Against his better judgment, he kept his wand tucked within his robes. He knew the man he had come to see could be unpredictable—and dangerous. If he had had the slightest inkling that election to the Wizards' Council would involve this sort of duty, he'd have turned it down flat.

The man growled an oath. He had been seated at the far end of the room, but like a great cat, he had sprung to his feet as soon as Roger entered the room, a dagger suddenly in his hand. As Roger had planned, the two men were alone. Behind him, the flame in the fireplace extinguished itself.

"G-good evening, Your Majesty."

King Edward said nothing, but warily approached. He stood head and shoulders taller than Roger, and though he was over fifty years old, he exuded an aura of unrestrained vigor.

For his part, Roger was uncomfortably aware of his own unimposing presence. He was at best of average height, with weak, beady eyes, a longish nose, and an overbite. His reddish-brown hair and maroon robes were dusted with ash and Floo Powder. He was certain an armed guard stood watch just beyond the door to the king's private apartments. He wasn't entirely convinced His Majesty couldn't dispatch him quickly enough without it—wand or no wand.

Roger cleared his throat and began again. "The Wizards' Council bid me salute Your Majesty." He paused uncertainly. "As you may recall, the Wizards' Council—"

"I remember your Wizards' Council," the king said, his brow furrowed. Something in his tone suggested he wished he didn't. "Nearly twenty years ago. That insufferable blowhard..."

"Barberus Bragge," Roger offered. The former Chieftain had been more interested in broom sports than in governing—a fact that endeared him to many wizards and led others to dismiss him as an incompetent fraud. "It is…ah…customary for the Chieftain of the Wizard's Council to introduce himself to the new king on the occasion of his coronation. Simple courtesy, really. We wizards prefer to keep to ourselves, of course. But from time to time it is important that we advise Your Majesty of matters that may affect his Muggle—that is, his non-magical—subjects."

King Edward eyed Roger skeptically. "Surely you don't mean to tell me that you are now the country's chief wizard?"

"Oh, heavens no!" Roger protested. "My name is Roger, Roger of St. Catchpole. I'm merely a member of the Council. The Chieftain is currently abroad, but the Council bids me to inform you—"

"Abroad, you say?" The king's eyes narrowed to slits. "He's not in Gascony, by any chance?"

Roger's face began to flush. "As a matter of fact, Your Majesty, Chieftain Edelbert is in consultation with his counterpart in Gascony. Given the circumstances…"

"The circumstances!" King Edward thundered. Roger drew his hand toward his chest, but resisted the urge to draw his wand. "King Philip invades my overseas territory, campaigns throughout the spring while I struggle to launch a counter-offensive, and now, not three weeks ago, openly proclaims that he has confiscated Gascony and brought it into direct subjection to the French crown. And all you wizards can do is consult with each other?"

Roger sighed. He knew before he arrived this meeting was not likely to go well, but he had at least hoped to discuss his business civilly before His Majesty demanded answers about Gascony.

"Your Majesty, I'm sure you realize that King Philip also has wizard subjects. If all of us were to become actively involved in the affairs of our Muggle sovereigns…. Well, I doubt Your Majesty would care to see what might happen."

The king furrowed his brow.

"You may not be aware, but the Wizards' Council has offered you such assistance as it has deemed prudent: some of us travel with Your Majesty's troops, applying their skills in the healing arts, communicating over long distances, interrogating French prisoners through the distinctive means at our disposal. Others who are gifted with Sight make known to your generals whatever divinations or prophecies might be relevant to Your Majesty's interests. But we cannot use offensive magic in your cause, Your Majesty, or the French wizards would surely do the same. You cannot imagine what devastation that would bring upon both our countries."

The king considered this, but apparently without being persuaded. "Even so," he finally said, "you'll forgive me if I find your bloody Council's support a bit wanting."

"As I said, Your Majesty, we prefer not to make our presence known. That would cause too many problems both for you and for us."

There was an uncomfortable silence. King Edward sheathed his dagger, for which Roger breathed a prayer of thanks.

"W-with all due respect, Your Majesty," Roger pressed on, "I wasn't sent here to discuss the situation on the continent. Although I assure you it has been a matter of much discussion at Council."

"I'm listening," the king said.

"Well, Your Majesty…" Roger struggled to find a less objectionable way to say what he had to say. In the end, he hoped King Edward would respect the direct approach. "The Council wish to inform you that it will shortly be transporting a number of dangerous creatures into the country." The king's eyebrows arched. Roger pressed on quickly. "I assure you, they'll be under the constant supervision of trained handlers. We really don't expect any problems, mind you, but the Council thought it b-best for you to know."

Roger could see the king's mind racing, connecting the dots. "Dangerous creatures? You mean…magical creatures?" The word "magical" seemed to leave an unpleasant taste in the king's mouth.

"F-for a…a sort of tournament, Your Majesty. A competition among the best and brightest young wizards in Europe. It is scheduled to commence this fall, and Hoggewartes is honored to be the host."

"Hoggewartes, who is bloody Hoggewartes?"

"Not who, Your Majesty. What. Hoggewartes is a school of witchraft and wizardry, the finest there is. It's located in Scotland."

"Scotland?" the King said. "Does King John know about this?"

"My understanding is that the Scottish Wizards' Council intend to discuss with him the matter of the magical creatures. Perhaps they already have. I don't know what they may or may not have told him about Hoggewartes, Your Majesty. But it is not properly a Scottish institution; it serves young witches and wizards from throughout the Isles."

"The Isles, you say. But not my rightful holdings in France?"

Roger bit his lip. "The French have their own wizarding school, Your Majesty. Although I believe a fair number of your Gascon subjects send their sons and daughters to Hoggewartes."

"And you find it advisable to proceed with this competition, despite the war?"

Roger sighed. "We have been planning this tournament for several years now, Your Majesty. I'm afraid it would be quite impossible to back out now—a terrible loss of face for British wizards."

King Edward glared at Roger but merely grunted, which the wizard interpreted to mean he was finished talking.

"As I said, Your Majesty, we really don't expect any problems, my visit was a matter of simple—"

"Simple courtesy, yes," the king said with a scowl. "Was there anything else?"

"N-no, Your Majesty. By your leave, I'll just…uh…"

Roger bowed deeply and backed toward the fireplace. He pulled his small box of Floo Powder from inside his robes, fumbled it open, and tossed a pinch on the wood. It immediately erupted into brilliant green flames. Roger bowed himself into the flame and vanished.

Only then did he realize he had neglected to tell the king what sorts of dangerous creatures the Wizards' Council would be importing. But he was also grateful the king hadn't bothered to ask whence the contestants in the first Triwizard Tournament would come.

• At 6' 2" (188 cm), King Edward I of England was remarkably tall for men of his era. His imposing height earned him the nickname "Longshanks."

• Gascony was the last portion of France controlled by the Plantagenet kings of England. King Philip IV of France invaded Gascony in January 1294. On 14 May, he announced the province's return to French control.

• In 1292, Edward resolved a succession crisis in Scotland by favoring John de Balliol over Robert de Brus as the next king of that country. As a condition of his arbitration, Edward demanded Scotland recognize his feudal overlordship, and constantly sought to undermine John's authority throughout his brief reign.

Author's note: Ms. Rowling places the first Triwizard Tournament "seven hundred years" prior to 1994. Although this could easily be understood as an imprecise estimate, setting the event in 1294 precisely lends itself to what I hope will be an interesting story setting.