Tracey nervously wrung her hands as she awaited Pomfrey's orders. She was dressed in medical garb which consisted of a butcher style apron and hideous protective boots. Potions were splashed around everywhere and any incidental contact had the potential to be hazardous. Emblazoned across the front of her apron was a red cross and then just above it was a smaller insignia. For her, it was the silver and green serpent of Slytherin.

"Now remember what we've learned so far. You will not administer any potions or treatments today, but you will attempt to diagnose the injuries and severity of the problem. You will be graded not only for the accuracy of your analysis, but your demeanor and thought process as well. I should not need to remind you, but the spell to detect anomalies is Egritudo."

Madame Pomfrey had been quite clear that they were to perform no spells under threat of expulsion. This was to be a crash course in identifying injuries and maladies and it was also their first instance of live patients. Almost everything up to this particular point had been theory and charmed dummies. The class had been surprisingly fast paced. Pomfrey spent no time reciting rolls of parchment for them to memorize. They were expected to do that as homework. Instead, she regularly tested them on questions they obviously did not have the answers to. Tracey quickly figured out that she needed to know much more than the requisite reading if she were to not look foolish in class.

Today, they were to assist Pomfrey in helping the wounded after their most recent Battle class. Their teacher had administered to them first and as none of them had relatively serious injuries, they were ready to begin whilst the others waited in the Hospital Wing. Making it all the more terrifying was the fact that they were supposed to diagnose their own classmates instead of other years.

"There will come a time when you will have to treat someone you know and it is important to remain objective. Hopefully, there will be someone else that can treat them, but we Healers are on short supply and we do not always have the luxury of avoiding the ones we know."

Draco readjusted the straps of his boots next to her, his normally perfect hair disheveled and full of dirt and mud. He cast her a sidelong glance and after a moment, commiserated with a sympathetic expression. Tracey still felt guilty about tripping Granger's trap and it wasn't for the first time that the Gryffindor had gotten the best of her. Perhaps it was that feeling of failure that was written all over her face.

"Just a little blood on our hands, right?" Draco asked.

"Just a little," she answered.

Madame Pomfrey opened the doors to the Hospital Wing and Tracey was immediately assaulted by the odorous mix of sterilization and pain. Blood and mucus were seeping from some of the students and she rocked steadily on her feet, the lightheadedness threatening to topple her. A hand steadied her and Tracey was grateful that Draco was discreet enough not to attract attention.

"Thank you," she said.

"Look alive," Draco whispered back.

Their first patient was Millicent Bulstrode and Tracey almost vomited at the sight of her mangled ankle. It was bent in an almost ninety degree ankle from the usual position and it was most certainly fractured at some point. Tracey tried to recall endless notes of the particular bones in that region, but her thoughts deserted her. There was blood dripping down the side of the sheet from another wound, but it was Millicent's moans that would remain in Tracey's head for the rest of the night. It was so pained, filled with anguish.

"Alright." Pomfrey clapped her hands together, her stern face bearing the facade of business as she addressed their small group. "What is your initial diagnosis? You don't have to get bogged down in the technical terms, but I expect you to have an idea of what you're looking for."

It was hard to concentrate as several other people were still voicing their pains around the ward. Pomfrey looked at them expectantly and Tracey had a feeling that their reaction to the situation was just as important as how they answered. In all honesty, there was no way that any of them would be able to deliver a proper diagnosis, but she buckled up and tried to answer truthfully.

"I would perform Egritudo. I - uh - can see that she has likely fractured her tibia or fibula, I think. From what I know, fractures are usually set by….um…"

Tracey wished that Pomfrey would stop looking at her with that damning expectation. The heat rose to her pale face and whilst she didn't blush easily, she imagined that even Weasley would have been impressed by how red the tips of her ears were.

"Cosano ossum," Draco added. "You have to make sure that your wand movements are precise or else it might set the break incorrectly and cause further damage down the line."

She shot him a grateful look, and he nodded back at her. Pomfrey narrowed her eyes at the pair of them but nodded her head in confirmation that their initial diagnosis was correct. Tracey shot him a grateful smile and his face distorted as if he couldn't decide which emotion to portray, but Draco eventually shrugged as if to say, "No worries."

Down the line they went as Madame Pomfrey took turns eviscerating them when they were off the mark and praising them when their thinking was correct even if they didn't apply the perfect solution. Tracey grew numb to the different injuries as she tried to distance herself from the patient and the person she knew to be her friend or enemy. That was, until they arrived at Harry.

Promptly, Pomfrey detoured and moved onto the next patient, skipping Harry entirely. Their teacher did it without so much as a blink of an eye and immediately started asking questions of the blisters on Ernie MacMillan's arm. Tracey glanced back towards Harry and saw that he was still asleep, no doubt recovering from the exhaust of magical output.

"Know that there is a form of magical blisters in which the wizard or witch will react negatively if exposed to certain types of magical spheres. It goes hand in hand with the magical conservation principle. There is a definite finite amount of magic to each wizard or witch and you are more susceptible to massive internal damage should that level become too low," Pomfrey lectured in the middle of the Hospital Wing.

Tracey glanced back at Harry again, wondering why Pomfrey had skipped over him without even a glance toward her best friend. He looked almost peaceful in his sleep, his eyes closed and his brain hopefully resting from what had already been a tiring year for him. She looked longingly at his smooth face, so youthful until he opened his eyes and she saw the turmoil within. Not for the first time, she wondered whether or not he was taking on too much in too little time.

"Remember that your end of the year project will take a considerable amount of research so I suggest you don't dwell and take your experiences from today and think about the potion you want to create from the advanced level books. Think about how you could use it in this sort of setting and it's applications and cons."

Their small group murmured in agreement and Pomfrey broke them down to return to their dormitories. Tracey purposefully took a route back towards Harry's bed. She looked over her shoulder to see that Pomfrey was busy attending to someone else and stepped closer to Harry. She ran her hand over his face, a shakiness in her stomach from being so close to Harry and seeing him so unresponsive.

"I'll watch your back," she whispered, knowing that he would never hear and that he might never know how much she truly cared for him.

Harry had no time to lick his wounds from what amounted to be a draw among all the Houses. He set another schedule for yet another late night training session, yet this time he let Draco, Blaise, and Tracey be in charge of it. Leaving them with instructions on what maneuvers and spells they should practice, Harry also informed that he would arrive halfway through the practice but had other matters to attend to. Draco was smart enough to not ask what he was up to whilst he told Blaise and Tracey that he needed to return to the cave.

Hermione had called for him through their shared coin and it must have been somewhat important if she was trying to raise him during the evening without at least a full day's warning. Trying to not to hurry to the dungeons and the area underneath the staircase, Harry was surprised to find the cave much different than he had previously seen it

"You two have been busy," Harry said.

Indeed, Luna and Hermione had sectioned off three areas of the cave. Raised dividers signified the divisions and a large table was located within each partition. Luna was waving her wand idly at the table on the far left, her eyes closed and humming an unknown tune. Hermione watched the Ravenclaw with a deep scowl on her face and turned when she heard Harry's voice.

"You like it?" she asked.

"Sure," Harry offered. "What is it?"

"Test area." She pointed towards the leftmost table. "QA area." The middle. "Production." The table on the right, closest to the small pool.

"We've actually made a surprising amount of progress replicating the Battle Room, but there are a few areas in which we're lacking. We can, for example, replicate us in the cave using a radial sensor that works as a sort of radar and then transfiguring the crystals within to project an image."

Hermione nodded at Luna and the younger girl tapped the side of the table and Harry watched, impressed, as three personas appeared in what looked to be a shadowy replica of their positions. It wasn't the uncanny valley of likeness that was projected in the Board Room, but it was obviously a good foundation of their work.

"Luna has actually been somewhat helpful with some of her ideas," Hermione reluctantly admitted.

"She's right there you know," Harry said.

"I don't think she hears me half the time."

Harry and Luna made eye contact and grinned at the same time.

"There are still six or seven ideas I want to try going forward," Hermione said.

"Actually, you have forty-seven," Luna corrected.

"Roughly." Hermione rolled her eyes. "And we've had some difficulty trying to figure out how they have everyone communicating with each other. We both thought it would be a rather simple sending and receiving protocol. Maybe place some Charms on a couple of objects, but it turns out that it isn't that simple. Frankly, there's not an easy to way to have that communication system. That was until I read a little further…"

Hermione opened one of several books stacked in a perfect pile on a spare desk. Flicking through the pages, she landed upon one that she had no doubt memorized. Her face lit up as her finger scanned across a line on the page.

"If you implement some sort of magical symbol upon everyone, that would help facilitate the process. At that point we could just tie the device towards the magical symbol and I think that could be a possible solution."

"What? Like a tattoo?" Harry questioned.

"Yeah," Hermione nodded to herself. "Sort of. I think that would be the easiest way unless I magically learned as much Charms as Flitwick."

Luna suddenly spoke up. "I have some reservations against that idea. It's well known that magical symbols negatively affect your aura."

Hermione gave a very petulant eye roll as soon as Luna started speaking. Ignoring the Ravenclaw, Hermione pushed on with the idea. "It sort of works as a master/slave connection. One person would hold the reins so to speak and everyone else could communicate using the the host as a conduit."

"I don't quite understand."

"If we were go to go through with the magical symbol, then whoever would be the host would have to transmit through everyone. All the traffic would have to flow through you, Harry."

"Which is another reservation to have against this. There are several things you are overlooking with this idea, Hermione. It is not something that I think we should progress with." Gone was the usual floaty lilt in Luna's voice. Instead, there was a deep seriousness that usually evaded her. Hermione was oblivious to it as she usually was when someone disagreed with her, but Harry could detect that Luna had some serious concerns.

"Why are you so against it, Luna?" Harry asked.

Her face was blank, not a hint of a smile or whimsy about it. "I forget sometimes that you two were raised by Muggles. Either way, you two should know that there is a very dark history in using magical symbols. Wizards and witches should not be linked together like that."

Hermione shook her head and Harry recognized the onset signs of frustration. Her hand would start to reflexively clench in a fist and she bit her lip to prevent a more caustic set of words from escaping her mouth.

"It doesn't have a dark history. There are instances when it is used negatively and there are instances when it is used positively. Nothing is inherently dark. It just depends on how you use it," Hermione argued.

Sensing the top was about to blow off this particular pot, Harry offered a temporary solution. "Why don't we give this a rest for tonight? I have to get back to practice and you two should probably get some fresh air."

The suggestion seemed to have tempered Hermione for now, but Harry knew that he would have to keep a closer eye on their interactions. Luna, from what Harry had seen, was not one to easily stand up to ridicule and abuse and Hermione, though her intentions were never malicious, sometimes took on the role of a freight train.

As Luna left ahead of them, Harry pulled Hermione aside.

"You need to be easier on her. I know that she can help," Harry hissed, suddenly angry with Hermione.

Hermione's eyes flashed as she exhaled heavily through her nose. "I do not deny that she has been helpful. I don't even deny that she has some very good ideas, but you're not the one that has to work with her. You stuck me with her and the way I'm operating is that she is helping me. She doesn't have explanations for her concerns. Sometimes she says that it's just wrong! What am I supposed to deduce from that? How am I suppose to work off that? Luna is maddening sometimes."

"Maddening she may be, but you need to cool off. What's gotten into you lately? Tossing your name into the Goblet of Fire? Did you really need to make such a show of it?"

"That's rich coming from a drama queen like yourself."

"What's that supposed to mean?"

"Don't be an idiot," she snapped. "Your lightning bolt in the sky. Last year in the forest. All of this Commander nonsense. People respect and fear you because create this picture and theater of what you should be. Do you know how frustrating it is losing to you all the time? I plan each battle out, adjusting variables for each scenario and then running simulations of what could happen, yet time and time again, you throw all of that out of the window because someone won't attack you out of fear. So I think I've earned just the tiniest bit of leeway when it comes to doing something dramatic."

"You sound a little bitter."

"Yes, I'm very bitter! I should be beating you."

Harry shook his head, disappointed at her lack of perspective. "Contrary to what you might believe, people aren't just pieces of a chess board. They will react differently to what you tell them to do. Maybe you should take that into account in your simulations. I know you're a genius, Hermione. You know you're a genius. Guess what? Everyone else knows too. You don't have to prove that you're so much smarter than everyone because, frankly, you're not that likeable."

Her mouth dropped and Harry felt a pang of pain, but he was too angry to stop and she really needed to hear what he had to say on the matter. He had been treating her softly ever since her parents had died, fearful of driving her away, but Harry realized that she almost had no one to be driven away to.

"Appearances matter, Hermione. You might not like it, but you don't get to win just because you're smarter."

Hermione's lip was quivering and Harry realized that he might have gone a step too far, but she had been unbearable of late. What ended last year as a shaky friendship had turned into a very dysfunctional partnership. Harry could easily classify his Slytherin mates as his soldiers and Tracey and Blaise as his best mates, but he had no words to call his relationship with Hermione. She stormed off without another word and Harry was left with nothing but the stinging and angry air around him.

After a positive practice, Harry had to make one detour before heading to bed. As he entered the Great Hall, he found that he was not alone though it was nearing midnight. Harry knew who it was even with her back turned. She seemed to radiate an addictive ambiance. It was hard to tear his eyes away from her and the way the swell of her hips could be seen in back light of the fire from the goblet.

She must have heard his footsteps as she turned around, her blonde hair swirling and dancing in the low and flickering light. Their eyes met again and Harry felt a flutter of a presence in his mind. Curious, he tested it by bringing up his Occlumency shields but found no sign of intrusion. Whatever she was doing, it wasn't Legilimency. Harry cautiously approached the Goblet of Fire and felt no nervousness despite the fact that she did not break eye contact with him.

"Hello," she said, her French accent soft and pleasing.

"Bonjour," Harry responded. That was one of two French words he knew. Yet, she smiled at him, a practised sort of smile perfected from hours in front of the mirror that was disarming and charming at the same time. Everything about her was seductive. And dangerous.

"I'm guessing you put your name in then?" Harry made an attempt at small talk, eager to try and break the hold she had on him.

"Of course. I did not travel all this way to just look upon the sights, pleasing as they may be."

Now, in all of Harry's short lifetime, he knew many things that those of his age shouldn't. He could moderately pass in his attempts at Occlumency and Legilimency. He had created a spell, a feat that most wizards could not achieve in a lifetime. He was a veteran of almost one hundred duels and battles, a knowledge base of spells that could inflict harm, distract opponents, and even heal others.

Yet, he was uncertain if she was flirting with him.

"My name then," Harry said lamely, wondering where his persona had gone as he held the small piece of parchment with his name scrawled over it.

"Harry Potter," she read, though he had no doubt that she knew who he was.

"And Fleur, is it?" She nodded, confirming what he already knew.

"It is strange, non? Our fate will be decided not by a biased or unbiased panel, but an objet that we do not know. How does it work? What powers it? Who decides who plays and who doesn't?" Her English was fairly competent. She interjected and drew from her own language, but it was fairly clear that she had studied and spoke from an early age and knew how to contort her mouth to make her easier to understand.

"I suppose that's how they've always done it," Harry said.

"Oui. Histoire. How it has been and how it should be are usually different. Mais, I will do what I can for my school. My friends expect that of me. But what about you, Harry? Why are you doing this?" Fleur asked, her sparkling, blue eyes looking into the emerald fire.

"I guess you can say the same." And the fact that Hermione had ruined any chance of nonparticipation. What would everyone think if she put her name in for contention and I did not?

"I suppose that's what everyone expects of the great Harry Potter." Her lips turned up into a smile and she gave him a knowing look out of the corner of her eye. It stoked a fire within him and he felt silly for becoming so excited just by a simple look.

"I don't know about great," he responded.

"Modeste. If half the stories of you are true, then I expect I will see you in this tournament."

"You're pretty confident of getting in then."

"Confidence is not something I lack. I suspect that you don't lack it either."

"I guess we'll see in a couple of nights then." Harry smiled at her, feeling less self conscious. There was a mutual appreciation of each other's talents and now that he stood next to her, Harry found her a little less frightening.

"Well go on then," she gestured towards the goblet.

Harry looked down at his name scribbled down on the parchment and took a deep breath. He tried to convince himself that this was exactly what Snape wanted him to do. Another test to throw at him. But he could not in good conscience let Hermione do this alone should she be picked. A pain she may be, but she was his pain.

He tossed the parchment towards the fire, but Fleur's slender hand struck out like lightning to grab it. Harry watched as she held the parchment delicately. He tried to make eye contact with her, but all of the quarter Veela's focus was on his written name. Slowly, she brought it to her lips and gave it a lingering kiss. Harry was close enough to see the skin of her lips attach ever so slightly to the ink, the skin holding onto his name as she pulled away. He didn't realize how quick he was breathing or how quiet the Great Hall had become. Fleur finally tossed his name into the fire, and the flames within flashed a different color to signify acceptance.

"I will be seeing you," Fleur said, smiling at him as she slinked away into the darkness.

If she could disarm him so easily with just a smile and a kiss, Harry only wondered what she could do with a wand.

Try as he might, Harry could not get his mind off the night he, or rather Fleur, tossed his name into the fire. It was only just one more day until the goblet made its choices and Harry had found himself growing restless with the endless routine of practicing and battling. Other classes broke up the monotony, but Slytherin had become such a well oiled machine that Harry found himself giving less and less instructions. Instead, he stared at the Board Room, alternating between paying attention and letting his mind wander into that forbidden territory of fantasies.

Draco and Blaise had taken over relaying commands to their smaller groups as they were now comfortable taking directives instead of just following orders. Harry spent most of his time studying Hermione's habits and found himself impressed by the level of detail she tried to manage with every battle. She micromanaged to the point of insanity, trying to direct each individual student into their place. Ever since their argument outside the cave, Harry found her much more challenging. It was either that or the fact that the Gryffindors obeyed her orders with less argument. Perhaps her little act had inspired some confidence from her classmates.

Still, Harry bested her most of the time, but his numbers were dropping. Gryffindor would score a victory every now and then whilst Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw toiled in last place. Tracey had informed him that there was some palpable dissention amongst the Ravenclaw camp as they saw Terry unfit to be in the Board Room. Snape had made it clear that his choices for the Board Room had been influenced by whoever was selected into Theory, but he made no argument against replacements. Soon, it was Padma Patil that joined them in the Board Room and Harry found it amusing that he was the only male left to deliver orders.

Hermione had also not invited him back into the cave and Harry found it an appropriate time to cool off from each other. Those small victories might have assuaged her competitiveness for a few moments, but Harry knew that like a ticking clock, her mind would wander back to the mistakes and she would retreat within herself to find the answers yet again. He could only hope that Luna had learned something and stood up to the monstrosity sometimes known as Granger's brain.

At long last, the night where the thirteen champions would finally be revealed arrived. Their whole year had submitted their names into the goblet with the exception of Draco, Goyle, and Daphne. Daphne didn't fancy dying. Goyle reckoned that he would be more useful if he didn't have to concentrate on the tournament. Draco claimed that he was likely to be the the Malfoy heir with his father in prison and wanted nothing to jeopardize that. There was an obvious anxiousness in the air as the four Houses and the two invited schools settled within the Great Hall for dinner.

Instead of announcing the names to start the feast, Snape, and a host of other faces Harry did not recognize, waited until the end of the dinner to reveal the participants of the Tournament of Champions. Tracey told him as best she could who the other people were. There was Ludo Bagman, Chair of Magical Games. There was Barty Crouch Sr., head of the Department of Magical Law enforcement. Those were the two names that were easily recognizable to her. Blaise informed them that the others were also Ministry officials, but in lesser positions whilst Harry also spotted an elder Weasley, Percy if he could recall, at Crouch's side.

Harry could barely eat his dinner as he waited for time to pass by. He didn't know if he wanted his name to be called out or not. If Snape was not lying, and that was never an assurance, then the headmaster would have no control in whom the Goblet of Fire called. Still, Harry was not without an ego and he watched expectantly as Snape stood and hushed the crowd. He made some small pittance to the Ministry for allowing and supervising this glorious event, but that was not what everyone wanted to hear.

Finally finishing with the proper introductions, Snape stepped towards the Goblet of Fire and prepared to first call the names from Beauxbatons. Each Durmstrang and Beauxbatons had brought a contingent of twenty to thirty of their best students. There would be many who were not called, but they would still stay at school and participate in some sort of assisted learning program to coincidence with their studies at their respective homes. It was of no surprise to Harry that the first name the goblet spit out was Fleur Delacour.

The beautiful blonde smiled and Harry gave her credit for not trying to look abashed or surprised. Clearly, she expected to be called and accepted Snape's invitation to the tournament willingly as well as kissing Madame Maxime on each cheek. Fleur made eye contact with him and he visibly clapped for her. He swore that her smile was meant for him. A few other names were called.

"Petra Vale!" A tall brunette with short hair.

"Emma Robert!" A short girl that almost ran towards Snape in her eagerness to receive her invitation.

"And finally," Snape held a moment just for suspense, "Karim Tireur."

It was the lone male that had come with Beauxbatons. Hermione had told him in passing that Beauxbatons was initially an all female academy and that their integration had only been somewhat recent. There was a distinct lack of male students still, but apparently this one had made the cut. His skin was darker than the rest, most likely Morrocan by his features, with an already bald head and sharp, dark eyes. Karim still carried himself with grace, like the rest of the Beauxbatons students, but there was an extra pep of confidence in his step. Harry noticed that Luna, especially, was watching him with interest.

They clapped for all of the Beauxbatons students but outside of Fleur, he did not know what to expect of them. From years of dueling, he had instinctively tried to classify them but found without any prior knowledge, he did not know a single strength or weakness to each of them. The clapping ended as Snape began the honors for the Durmstrang Institute. Again and unsurprisingly, Viktor Krum was the first name out of the fire. The giant man walked over to shake Snape's hand and Harry found some small amusement to see the headmaster wince ever so slightly. Viktor might have been a bit of a showboat, but that earned him some points in Harry's book.

"Georgi Tomak!" A bulky, if not slightly round, boy accepted his invitation with a rare smile from the Durmstrang side.

"Anton Velick!" Another very sturdy student stepped forward as his mates congratulated him by banging on the table. Indeed, Harry noticed that almost everyone from Durmstrang was solidly built, certainly quite larger than the average Hogwarts student. He filed that mental note away for future use.

"Alexandra Petrov!" One of two girls selected for Durmstrang, she was far more physical than any of the Hogwarts girls and truthfully, Harry doubted he could take her in a fist fight. Dudley would have fit in well with this crew.

"And finally...Hogwarts."

Students from all four tables sat straighter at the sound of their school's name. He could hear Blaise taking bets and odds for who would be picked, but he tuned him out, focusing only on Snape's voice and the green fire of the goblet. The first name shot out of the goblet and Snape caught it deftly, already practised from the twenty-six times he had done the task prior.

"Cedric Diggory!" A raucous cheer rose from the Hufflepuff table as their prized pupil sheepishly walked towards the front of the Great Hall to join the other champions. It took a while for the Hufflepuffs to settle down until Snape summoned the next name.

"Fred Weasley!" One of the Weasley twins jumped up on the table, bowing in every which way direction. He picked up a goblet from a random Ravenclaw and drank it as he strode towards Snape. Harry had to laugh as the Weasley twins were one of the few people in Hogwarts that went out of their way to mock the usual doldrums of the fastidiously serious school.

"George Weasley!" Trying to outdo his twin, George did a merry jig, on the bench, coercing several girls to do a quick dance as he joined his brother.

"Roger Davies!" Harry remembered the older Ravenclaw from his impromptu duel while he defended Luna from another round of bullying. With much less fanfare than the Weasley twins, Roger joined the other Hogwarts champions, shaking Cedric's hand and shaking his head with a hint of mirth at the twins.

"Cho Chang!" Another roar from the Ravenclaw table as a the pretty girl gave Cedric a hug when she stepped towards the Head Table.

"Angelina Johnson!" The black girl from Gryffindor was the first to look genuinely surprised when her name was called but rushed up to the front with a quick gait. Her body was lean and athletic and she looked to be close friends with the Weasley twins.

"Stephen Stebbins!" The seventh year Hufflepuff pumped his fist in the air and jumped off the bench at the same time, such was his excitement. Cedric gave him a hearty handshake and Stebbins ruffled his hair, an ear to ear smile etched on his face.

"Marietta Edgecombe!" Harry grit his teeth as he saw the girl bounce up to join the rest of her housemates. She immediately started speaking with Cho and while Cho was very pretty, Harry's impression of her dampened at the sight of what appeared to be a close friendship between her and Marietta.

"Lee Jordan!" The Gryffindor boy with dreadlocks did not give a gregarious display like the Weasley twins, but he took his time walking towards the podium and laughed when Fred and George pretended not to acknowledge him.

Four Gryffindors, three Ravenclaws, two Hufflepuffs, and no Slytherins, Harry sadly thought. All Fifth Years and above.

"Heather Locklear!" She was a seventh year Hufflepuff that was regularly hovered around the top twenty of the Master List, but Harry knew nothing else besides that.

"Marcus Belby!" Harry was surprised to see the fifth year Ravenclaw join the champions. He had always been a bit of a clumsy boy from what Harry had seen and regularly doubled his portions at dinnertime.

Eleven, Harry counted off in his head. It seemed to be an age as the goblet decided the next name and, indeed, there was an unusual moment of silence that had not existed so far that night. The flames eventually made their choice and the small bit of parchment landed in Snape's outstretched hand. As Snape read it, Harry instinctively knew what was about to be said. It was the first time Snape had given pause before reading the name aloud.

"Harry Potter!"

Harry could hear the cheers around him and the congratulations from Tracey even as she squeezed his arm in a death grip. Blaise clapped him on the back, their enmity temporarily forgotten, as the other Slytherins stood up in unison to applaud him as one of their own was finally selected to represent Hogwarts. Harry was in a bit of a daze as he walked towards Snape. He made eye contact with the headmaster and prepared himself for a mental intrusion that never came. Fleur gave him another one of her beautiful smiles and clapped her hands together twice. The Slytherins were still cheering even as the last name shot out of the goblet, even the older ones who tried to ignore Harry.

Harry's eyes flicked towards Snape and he watched as the headmaster visibly frowned as he looked down at the last piece of parchment. The expression was wiped in an instant, but Harry had learned that it would take something very unusual for Snape to show any sort of emotion. The headmaster licked his lips, almost hesitating, as he checked the name one more time.

It has to be.

"Hermione Granger…"

Snape trailed off, lacking the unusual pomp that he added when announcing the names. There was a strange silence as everyone looked towards the last champion of Hogwarts. Even Hermione was stunned to have been chosen, as she quickly looked to Harry for confirmation. When he nodded, she stood up, the scrape of her plate screeching loudly in the oddly quiet Great Hall. She took one step before normal service resumed.

"GRANGER!" Fred and George Weasley yelled, stomping and dancing as Hermione approached them. The rest of Hogwarts finally applauded and the Durmstrang and Beauxbatons folks joined in, unsure as to why there was hesitation.

She took slow steps, almost as if she were unsure that this was not a joke. Harry had known that her prime motivation for throwing her name in the goblet was to inspire confidence for her from her fellow housemates. Yet, here she was, standing by his side. Snape strode forward and gestured with a large sweep of his arm towards the thirty-nine people at the front of the Head Table. With his back turned towards the majority of the populace, Snape stopped with his gaze firmly on Hermione and though they were in front of the school for everyone to see, Harry put a comforting hand on her back for just a few seconds as Snape stared at her.

"Ladies and gentlemen," Snape boomed out, his voice suddenly amplifying as the gravitas of the moment reached its peak.

"The Tournament of Champions."

"Do you need any more signs that perhaps you have underestimated her?"

"I am not foolish enough to think that she would be powerful enough to bewitch the goblet, but she has proven herself very resourceful."

"And it seems that the goblet also knows that the boy is strong enough for this tournament."

"I am not fond of when we are not in control. That was a gamble relying on the founder's magic with the goblet. But now that it has picked the right people, we will see if the boy can handle it."

"What do you think he will do? He has to worry about the Board Room. He's trying to recreate it. He will still be in regular battles. He will be competing in the tournament. He will be contending against those who wish him ill. Is this enough to break him?"

"That is intent, to see if he will reach a shattering point. Yet, I think we need to accelerate the schedule still. There are a myriad of dangerous challenges ahead, but he needs to start learning who he will be fighting against. We need to start focusing the weapon."

"Have you seen more from the map? Did he pop up again?"

"No. I don't know if it was the trick of the eye, but I have not seen it appear again and despite who created the map, it is an accurate piece of magic. That does not matter. I want to keep the boy motivated. The challenges can never stop."

"And the girl? What will you do with her?"

"Perhaps there is hope for her yet. I have only met one Muggleborn in my lifetime that has matched my expectations. What do you think would happen to the boy if she…"

"You can not extrapolate what you felt for his mother to him. I know it is what fuels you, but do you not agree that there is a possibility that she will help him?"

"I am not worried that she will be incompetent. I have seen enough to realize that she will have her uses. I worry what would happen to him if anything were to happen to her. Without her, he would still be able to do what we ask of him. So she might help him. She might be very useful to him, but we risk...catastrophe. I, of all people, know the devastation that can cause."

"And here it looks like we might not have a choice. Whether you like it or not, she has found a way into our plans."

"And when have you been so accepting of alterations? We will see what role she will play. In the mean time, preparations need to be made. As every day goes by, we will have less and less influence on the situation at hand. The boy will need to know the enemy."

"That is what I worry."

"And why is that?"

"Because I am not like you. You grew up in the darkness. You were accustomed it and accepted it. When I stared into the black death of the night, it took me a while to realize that I was not alone."

"And you worry that the boy will flinch when he sees what he has to face?"

"No. I worry that when he stares into the black, he will embrace it."

A/N: Projected update time: 22 days