Harry returns for the start of his fourth year, and the Tournament starts.
Igor Karkaroff was a very frightened man as he went down to the Headmaster's Dining Room to greet his staff. The news from the World Cup had frightened him, but even worse, he had already been approached by two of the escapees from Azkaban, who would have dearly loved to torture him to death.
They had given him a choice -- cooperate and work his way back into the Death Eaters, or die horribly.
Karkaroff had given in. He was handed an enchanted journal. His was to be a watching brief -- when he arrived at Hogwarts, he would report everything of interest, especially about Severus Snape and of course Harry Potter. If given orders, he would carry them out. Those orders could come from the Dark Lord himself, or from an agent who was also watching Hogwarts.
Karkaroff knew nothing else, except that he should have somehow run much further away.
A few time zones away, Draco Malfoy was made to empty his trunk and repack it in front of his cousin. No one wanted a repeat of the previous year.
The cousin wondered at Draco's demeanor. The teen was too quiet. 'I wonder if the little shite has learned something this summer, or if his bride gave him a difficult time last night?'
In truth, Draco's cowed demeanor was caused by Pansy, but not in any way the cousin could have guessed at.
As soon as they had been alone in the cottage after their brief marriage ceremony, Pansy had dropped to her knees and begged Draco to kill her. She was under numerous oaths, and could reveal very little, but what little she could tell Draco of her life as the Dark Lord's handmaiden and the bum-girl of any Death-Eater passing through, was enough to frighten and enrage him.
Still, Draco 'did his duty', despite Pansy's begging. Neither realized that this would merely open up another way for Pansy to be abused.
Reading between the lines of Pansy's often incoherent speech (made so mostly by the oaths she was under), Draco knew that there was once again a plot against Harry Bloody Potter. He was determined to root it out, and then help it along, gaining credit for himself in the process.
The idea that he might have more to gain by revealing what little he knew to Potter or Dumbledore never entered Draco's mind. Neither did the concept that if he did too much snooping, he might interfere with the plot, which would be a disaster for him, especially if the plot therefore failed.
"But you promised!" Lucius half whimpered and half pleaded.
"And we will keep our promise," Agathon said with a shrug.
"Make it stop!"
Agathon noted that the Dark Mark on Lucius' forearm was throbbing with Dark magic. "First of all, you should have called us in sooner. Second, how would you like to not only clear the Malfoy name but have a chance at real political power?"
Lucius looked at Agathon through the pain with hope.
"I can put you under a set of spells. The Dark Lord would not be able to read that you tried to betray him, and will continue to betray him. They will even prevent the Cruciatus Curse from fully affecting you. You will help bring him down, and will reap the political rewards." Agathon smiled. "Or do you think he can still conquer the world?"
"No," Lucius admitted. He seemed torn.
"We will, of course replace the money your son lost you," Agathon said of-hand.
"And this?" Lucius moaned, referring to the Dark Mark.
"If I eliminate the pain, Voldemort will know you are lost to him. However. . . ." Agathon pulled out a wand, and with a wave lessened the pain by more than half. "That is permanent, by the way, and Voldemort will never know, unless you tell him."
Lucius Malfoy was hungry for power, and more greedy for wealth more than he was afraid of failure. "You'll protect Narcissa and the children?"
"If she and they stay here," Agathon agreed. "Your other son is on the front lines."
With just a slight pang, Lucius said, "Then I agree."
Hermione had been excited at Luna's insight. The Brotherhood shared with her their studies on souls and ensoulment, which would, along with her other extra studies, keep her busy for the school year.
Harry was happy that Hermione now had some hope, and also happy that he, Hermione, and Luna where mostly left alone on the train ride, although numerous people stopped in to say hello. Draco, fortunately, was not one of them. Ginny was with her Ravenclaw friends, and had contented herself with making eyes at Harry when she thought no one was watching. The twins where hoping to go into the mail-order joke and gag business, and Ron was acting as their sales rep, walking the train with various prank candies for sale, until he reached Harry, who bought him out. Harry was curious if he could catch Sirius or the Brothers with any of the Wheezes. Still, it was a quiet train ride.
Harry and Hermione were about the only two students not surprised at the appointment of Alastor 'Mad-Eye' Moody as the Defense Professor. Nearly as many students had been surprised at the announcement of the Triwizard Tournament.
Back in the common room, many of the Gryffindors were amazed at Harry's indifference about the Tournament. "Okay," Harry retorted,"how many of you had ever even heard of this thing. I know Ihadn't."
About a fifth of the hands went up, including Hermione and Luna's."The history buffs, and those who are most interested in traditions" Harry pointed out. "So much for eternal glory and all that muck. Just a little footnote in the history books."
"Couldn't the same be said of you and Quidditch?" a seventh year demanded.
"If I played the game just to get my name on the trophy, yes,"Harry agreed. "I don't. The Quidditch Cup doesn't mean much to me. Playing and winning does, not the record books."
The murmurings seemed to indicate understanding, although not total agreement, so Harry went on. "Second, yes, a thousand Galleons in a lot of money . . . for a student. What's the total tuition and fees here for a year? Eight hundred and ten Galleons, plus extra for some courses? Add in the cost of two sets of robes and new books, and that's over nine hundred. You're risking your life for a year free at Hogwarts, plus lots of spending money."
"So, if the age line wasn't there, you wouldn't enter?" Fred demanded.
"Hell n. . . ow!"
Language," Hermione corrected.
"Fine," Harry said, rubbing his upper arm where Hermione had elbowed him. "No. I have no interest in participating." He glared at all of them, making a few shiver. "And if anyone tries to enter me as a joke, they'll regret it."
Harry didn't move for a second, then cocked his head to the left, and smiled.
"I've shown the Imperius Curse doesn't affect me," Harry said coldly. "Please don't do it again."
Harry scowled, and Moody started to sweat as the tip of his wand slowly moved from Harry's chest to Moody's temple. "I asked nicely," Harry commented.
It was supposed to be impossible to cast an Unforgivable without speaking it emphatically, and infusing your negative emotions into the curse as well. Potter had either done so, or, equally impossible, Potter had reversed the curse.
'Moody' felt his jaw trying to move, and knew, if he spoke, it would be the Killing Curse. The Dark Lord might have inspired deeper fear, but this was an entirely new type of fear.
"Harry," Hermione said quietly. The pressure on 'Moody's' mind eased off. She had shaken off the curse with a bit of effort earlier, but her face was hard. "Harry has been trained to take out anyone who attacks him, especially those who use illegal curses. Surely the Headmaster informed you?"
"Might have," Moody panted. "Didn't really believe it."
"Do you now?" Harry asked.
Moody nodded, and said, "Class dismissed."
"Come on, Nev," Harry said to the still shaken Neville.
Barty Crouch Jr. took a swig of his Polyjuice potion, wishing it was something stronger.
He wondered if Potter would need any help winning the tournament after all.
The weeks passed without incident. Hermione was deeply involved in her studies, Harry equally involved with his training. They encouraged each other in their work, and generally enjoyed themselves. They enjoyed coaching Luna and Neville, and made certain they spent some time in the regular common room each night. The Gryffindors were slightly louder than usual, in part because of the boasting of those who would be eligible to try for the Triwizard -- each trying to claim they would be the one chosen for Hogwarts. The common room was also noisier because the Weasley twins, hoping to some day open their own joke and prank shop, were keeping things lively.
The other three common rooms were quieter than usual. The Hufflepuffs were quieter as they debated amongst themselves who should be the one Hufflepuff to enter. Only one would be the best, showing the rest of the school what it meant to be Hufflepuff, what it meant to be a Hogwarts student.
The events at the Cup and the escape from Azkaban had evened out the balance of power in Slytherin. If any of the pro-Voldemort students had had the guts to take the lead, they might have again dominated the House.
None dared. The Druids (and the Brothers, still in Druid habits)still patrolled the grounds and around the common rooms. Parkinson was long gone. Harry Potter had demonstrated that a second of the Unforgivables did not work against him.
The pro-Voldemort students were keeping their eyes open, their mouths shut, and their owls busy.
The Ravenclaw common room was nearly always quiet. Making enough noise to disturb anyone's studies was swiftly dealt with. However, one group within Ravenclaw, the Ravenclaw Coven, spread throughout the castle when they weren't studying, watching everything. Few of them knew, however, where their reports were going.
As the great carriage from Beauxbatons moved out of the way, but before the Durmstrang ship arrived, Albus Dumbledore surveyed the crowd of students and staff (the Druids and Brothers were present, but hidden along the far shore and the periphery of the crowd). The Headmaster was impressed at how mixed the students were. 'I've never seen the students so mixed across Houses,' Dumbledore admitted. Looking closely, he could see some exceptions, of course. The most obvious was a knot of some seventeen around Draco Malfoy-- but even that group was actually fourteen Slytherins and three Ravenclaws. There was also a group circling around some of the older Ravenclaw witches, but again, there were a few Slytherins and Hufflepuffs near them -- all male, of course.
Dumbledore slightly smiled under his beard as the mast of the Durmstrang ship broke the surface of the lake and the students nearly all went 'Oooo!', or variations on that sound. He was particularly pleased to see that Harry and Hermione were acting their age, and were as impressed as anyone.
Dumbledore noted with interest that Harry, unlike the other males in close proximity, seemed unaffected by the quarter-veela from Beauxbatons. As he went through his spiel about the Goblet of Fire later that evening, Dumbledore split his attention between the tables -- other than the Hufflepuffs. They had decided on Cedric Diggory as their candidate, hoping that if only one 'Puff entered, he would have a better chance than candidates from other Houses that were competing amongst each other. An interesting strategy, as well as a typical Hufflepuff response.
A few of the underage sixth year students looked intent on trying to break his announced age line. That should prove interesting, especially as it looked like the Weasley twins were interested. They might come up with a good idea.
Dumbledore was especially happy that Harry in no way looked interested in breaking his announced intentions NOT to participate. Dumbledore's goal here was to produce a Hogwarts champion who would be able to draw the students together, a leader for a year or so, who would then leave school -- and leave a more united Hogwarts for Harry to lead in his final two years if necessary, and perhaps after then as well.
Afterwards, Dumbledore went to sleep early, wondering who might be caught by his age line. The few students he would have worried about tampering with the Goblet were all underage, and therefore, no one should be able to get to it.
When the Goblet spat out Cedric's name, Dumbledore was inwardly very pleased. Cedric was just the solid but somewhat charismatic teen he had hoped would be the Hogwarts champion, and there was aslim chance that a Hufflepuff might get all the Houses behind him. Nobody was really surprised that Viktor Krum was the Durmstrang champion, but Dumbledore admitted to himself that he was a bit surprised that the Delacour part-veela was Beauxbatons'.
It was then that the Goblet released an unexpected fourth name.'No,' Dumbledore said to himself. 'It can't be.'
Still, although shocked by having a fourth name, he was not surprised to see the name. "Harry Potter!"
The murmuring starting.
Harry stood up. "What? I didn't put my name in the Goblet!"
"None the less, you seem to be entered."
"No! I did not put my name in!"
Barty Crouch came over and waved his wand over the burnt piece of paper, while the crowd's mutterings got louder.
"I swear on my magic, I did not enter my name, or ask anyone to enter me!" Harry declared.
That silenced the crowd. Barty Crouch looked up. "None the less, whomever entered your name meant for you to enter. You are bound to compete."
"Can't something be done?" Harry demanded.
"No," Crouch declared.
"Can't you declare the contest a draw and redraw. . . ?"
"No," Crouch stated. "There must be a winner, or the contestants must either be dead or otherwise unable to compete."
"Sounds good so far," Draco muttered a bit too loudly.
"Two points from Slytherin," Dumbledore snapped. He looked back at Harry and saw he, Hermione, and Luna were whispering. "Mister Potter! Mister Potter!!"
Harry stood straight. "I'll participate under protest," he said."And if, by some chance I win, who ever comes in second should get the prizes." With that, Harry went to join the other champions, his head held high.
"Did one of you do this?" Harry demanded hotly.
The Brothers and Druids all denied entering him. "And we all feel . . . well, rather stupid," Jason admitted.
"We were blinded by the fact that you didn't intend to enter," one of the Druids admitted.
"We should have seen this as an avenue to attack you," Scorpion agreed.
"You handled yourself well, Harry," Zara told him, placing a hand on his shoulder.
"We all had to promise not to help you," Scorpion complained.
"But we made certain to state it that way," Cobra added. "We will not help you win at your tasks."
"Nothing to say that we can't give Hermione some suggestions,"another Druid said with a smile.
"Thanks," Harry said sincerely. "It would be difficult to get through this without you."
The population of Hogwarts was surprised the next morning when the Gryffindors entered for breakfast en masse.
"What are you pulling, Potter?" Draco Malfoy demanded before anyone else could.
"You can read, can't you, Malfoy?" Harry retorted. He tossed Draco a metal disk, which said, SUPPORT CEDRIC DIGGORY, THE HOGWARTS CHAMPION. "I may be competing, but I am not the Hogwarts champion."
"Do I want to know where you got the photo of Diggory?" Draco sneered.
"I have photos of just about everyone at Hogwarts!" Colin Creevy said brightly. Nearly all the Gryffindors, and a third of the rest of the Hogwarts students, rolled their eyes.
"Does that answer your question?" Harry asked.
"Yes," Draco had to admit, putting the pin on, "I have to say it does."
Harry was competing, albeit against his will. This made the Gryffindors happy. Harry was deferring to Cedric, which made the Hufflepuffs willing to tolerate Harry's competing. Most of the Ravenclaws and Slytherins who were choosing to root for one of the two were going for Cedric as well. Still, except for those few who already disliked Harry, there seemed to be no hostility towards him on this score, and even Malfoy was mostly keeping quiet. Harry found that he had more than enough support from his friends that he didn't mind half the school supporting Cedric and perhaps a third supporting him (with the rest being more or less neutral).
The question was, what would be the first task?
"Dragons! Did any of you know we'd be facing bloody dragons!"
"Of course we did," Jason answered for the group.
"Remember," Zara reminded Harry, "you are not expected to FIGHT adragon."
"Perhaps you ought to study," Cobra suggested. "Hermione might help you." With that, the Brothers left the small office they had taken over a few weeks before. They might give Harry some hints, but as they had said, they had had to promise not to directly help.
"Come on," Hermione said, leading Harry over to a set of book shelves. "These have all sorts of books on dragons."
By the next evening, Hermione had worked out all the reasons by females with eggs had been brought. The odds on favorite was that they would be guarding something, most likely egg-shaped, which the champions would have to retrieve. These of course, should be resistant to any summoning spells, "Although you might as well try it," Hermione had concluded. "Is there anything in Cobra's books on Parsel-magic?"
"Not really," Harry grumbled. "I can communicate with dragons with a combination of spells and Parseltongue, but they tend not want to talk back. That's especially true of mothers brooding on nests, and especially true of two of the species. . . ."
"The Horntail and the Fireball?"
'No," Harry said with a twisted smile. "The Short-Snout and Fireball. Horntails tend to be offended when talked to, and attack Speakers. And Welsh Greens only like being talked to by wizards who think in Welsh." Harry frowned in puzzlement. "How they know that when the last known Parselmouth who successfully had aconversation with them was Merlin, I don't know. I mean, even if I spoke Welsh, it wouldn't be Merlin's Old Welsh. Maybe the dragon just liked him."
"Well, you can try it," Hermione said doubtfully. "Especially if you go first, before they all get upset."
"If I go first and don't get the Horntail," Harry agreed. "My name was the fourth name out. I don't know if that means I choose adragon last, go last, or both."
"They won't leave their eggs, well, not more than a few yards,"Hermione pointed. "Could you summon your broom and . . . no, that's pretty dangerous."
"Dragons are pretty dangerous," Harry pointed out. "We might have to go with the least dangerous idea, as opposed to something safe."
"True," Hermione had to agree.