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Harry Potter and the Invincible Technomage
Year Four — Autumn Term
A/N: I do not own Harry Potter. Nor any of the Marvel Comics Characters mentioned herein. But, you knew that.
"Oh my," Padma said as she opened the door to their carriage to find Harry in the midst of a staring contest with what appeared to be a miniature dragon sitting on his lap.
"It's not what it looks like," Neville said. "It's so very much weirder than what it looks like."
"Oh, hi Padma," Harry said, breaking his eye contact with the creature on his lap. "This is Lockheed, he's not a dragon, at least not an Earth dragon. He's from space, and he's a jerk."
"I… see," she said as she entered the compartment, pulling her trunk behind her.
"I've got that," Harry said, standing and dumping the mini-dragon onto the floor.
In retaliation, Lockheed waited until Harry was lifting the heavy trunk onto the storage rack before slapping his tail into the rear of the boy's left knee, causing the knee to collapse and Harry to fall to the floor, pulling the trunk down on top of himself.
Padma just stood round-eyed in her horror of what had just happened.
"Damn it!" Harry swore as he struggled to get out from under Padma's trunk.
"Language Harry," Hermione intoned, never looking up from her letter, now on her third re-reading.
Neville managed to keep from laughing as he lifted the trunk off his friend and put it into the storage rack before helping Harry back to his feet.
"Thanks, Nev," Harry said before turning to face the mini-dragon. "I'm going to change you into something small and fluffy," he growled. "You won't know when, you won't know where, but it's coming, and soon."
"Hrmph!" the miniature dragon scoffed, a wisp of smoke issuing from his nostrils giving a clear impression that his response was something along the line of 'bring it on, mammal.'
"Don't give me that you evil little monster," Harry thundered, shoving the dragon aside so he could return to his seat. "When you least expect it, expect it!"
Padma delicately seated herself next to Harry, before speaking. "I assume there is a logical explanation for your little friend being here?"
"I got shanghaied into babysitting the little menace," Harry explained.
"I said I'd do it," Neville interjected.
"And I'm the one who would have had to explain to your Gran what happened when you ended up fricasseed," Harry snorted. "I'm sorry Mrs. Longbottom, but Neville took one look at Kitty's bum and…"
"Kitty?" Padma asked.
"A friend of Harry's," Hermione said, folding her letter and putting it back into the envelope with a contented sigh. "She showed up with Lockheed there and sweet talked Harry into taking care of him for her. You'll be happy to know that Harry told her that her flirting wouldn't work because he had a girlfriend, sort of."
"Sort of?" Padma asked Harry with a single raised eyebrow.
"Am I in trouble because we haven't really talked about the boyfriend/girlfriend thing and I was being presumptuous, or because I said sort of?" Harry asked.
"Why couldn't it be both?" Hermione asked helpfully.
Lockheed jumped on to Padma's lap, and the cat sized dragon curled up for a nap. "Oh!" the girl exclaimed. "He's… he's so cute."
"Oh, you little jerk," Harry said, prodding the mini-dragon with his forefinger. "When you least expect it… Expect it.
The door slid open and the four students looked up at an ear-piercing squeal.
"A Crumple-Horned Snorkack!" Luna Lovegood shrieked from the doorway before all but diving to kneel on the floor in front of Padma and stroke the miniature dragon on the older girl's lap.
"His name is Lockheed and he's an alien from outer space," Harry corrected her.
"Harry Stark," the strange little blonde said indignantly. "I haven't spent as many years as I have as an amateur cryptobiologist to not recognize a Snorkack when I see him."
"Hrmph!" Lockheed vocalized before rolling over and offering his belly for scratching.
"So, what is your problem with Lockheed anyway, Harry?" Hermione asked.
"He's a jerk," Harry asserted. "And he talks, but only when no one is around but me."
"He talks to you?" Neville asked.
"Not so much to me, as at me," Harry explained, fully aware of how insane he must be sounding. "And no one will believe me."
His friends all nodded.
"Just like now," Harry sighed.
"Harry," Luna said gently, "everyone knows Crumple Horned Snorkacks can't talk. You're being silly."
Yes, Harry reflected. It was going to be a long trip.
"I think you all should know…" Harry said, only to be interrupted as the door opened once again.
"I swear Hannah, you'll be late for your own funeral," Susan Bones said as she entered the Compartment.
"You say that like it would be a bad thing," Hannah responded happily. "We're here aren't we? Hello everyone…" she looked down at the miniature dragon on Padma's lap. "Is that?"
"It's not a dragon," Hermione said. "His name is Lockheed, and he's one of Harry's Hero friends."
"He just looks like a dragon," Padma suggested.
"Nonsense," Luna said from her place on the floor, tickling Lockheed under his chin. "He's a Crumple Horned Snorkack. You can tell by his easily identifiable crumpled horns."
"Whatever he is," Neville interjected as he shoved the newcomer's trunks into the storage racks, "he evidently talks, but only Harry can hear him."
"It's not that only I can hear him, it's that he only speaks when no one else is around."
"Whatever you say Harry," Hannah laughed.
"Ok, listen," Harry said trying to change the subject. "There's going to be some kind of dangerous contest this year, and unless I can stop it, I'm going to be forced to enter."
"A contest?" Neville asked. "What kind of contest?"
"That's a bit of a stretch, Harry," Hermione said doubtfully. "There hasn't been a contest of any significant kind at Hogwarts the whole time we've been at the school."
Hannah and Susan exchanged a look, "Harry," Hannah asked quietly, "are you sure?"
"Of course he's sure," Luna said from her place on the floor petting Lockheed. "It's obvious he's talking about the Triwizard Tournament."
"Triwizard Tournament?" Harry echoed.
"How did you know about that?" Susan demanded. "Auntie Amelia said that it was hush hush and that only those high in the Ministry could be trusted with the knowledge."
"Daddy has an article coming out in next week's Quibbler," Luna said with a shrug. "It tells all about how Minister Fudge is using the Triwizard Tournament to hide his campaign to convert Goblins into pies. I typeset it myself, and corrected all of his mistakes. Daddy is terribly conservative."
Several moments of silence filled the compartment while the inhabitants attempted to digest Luna's story. Hermione then reached into one of her enlarged pockets and withdrew her personal copy of Hogwarts: A History.
"The Triwizard Tournament," she read, "is a famous contest between the schools of Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons. It originated in 1223 A. D. as a friendly competition between the three schools. Each school took turns hosting the Tournament, which took place every five years. The judges for the Tournament included the heads of the three schools and members of the host nation's magical government."
"The Triwizard Tournament consists of a series of tasks designed to test the champions in many different ways: their magical prowess, their daring, their powers of deduction, and their ability to cope with danger. Cheating was also considered a normal, traditional part of the Tournament."
Hermione looked up from her book, clearly more than slightly disturbed by what she was reading, before she continued. "The contests were extremely dangerous. In 1792, a cockatrice the champions were supposed to be catching went on the rampage and all three school heads were injured. The Tournament was discontinued as the death toll mounted, with the last one taking place at Beaubatons in 1817."
The bushy haired girl shook her head. "They're bringing THIS back?"
"They are," Susan confirmed. "How did you find out about it, Harry, and what makes you think you'll be entered? You're too young; the age limit is going to be 17."
"A seer predicts I'm going to be entered," Harry explained. "And she's annoyingly right a whole lot of the time. I'm hoping letting Dumbledore know about it ahead of time might stop it from happening."
"Hoping, but not counting on it?" Neville asked.
Harry shrugged. "Dumbledore has never been particularly helpful to me," he admitted.
Would you please hurry up, Harry?" Hermione asked looking back toward the coach.
"Quiet woman," Harry responded as he closely examined the carriage's left limber, and removed a small box from the strut. "I'm doing science here."
"And what 'science' are you doing Harry?" Padma asked as she joined him at the front of the carriage.
"After our talk last year about how the carriages moved, I started wondering about that, so I built an accelerometer rig to monitor the motion on the ride from the station," Harry explained, as he manipulated the controls of his device while balancing the miniature dragon on his shoulder.
"Of course you did," Susan sighed. "More Ravenclaw Jibber Jabber."
"You be quiet too," Harry laughed. "The motion study I got off the accelerometer matches a horse drawn carriage almost perfectly."
"And that means… What?" Neville asked.
"That means we're missing something," Harry explained. "If the carriage's movement was completely magical, it would be smooth throughout the range of the spell. But my data shows that the motion is a series of rhythmic jerks, the same as it is when a pair of well-trained, though oddly proportioned, coach horses, pulls a similarly sized carriage."
Harry paused, and then ran his hand down the length of the carriage's left limber. "There are tack fittings here that are invisible. Sort of like traditional horse tack, but…" He traced the tack upwards to the space between the limbers, his hand finally settling on something large and… moving. "Okay, that's just freaky."
Neville's hand joined Harry's on the invisible something. "It's breathing," The Gryffindor said stepping back, "whatever it is. No hair, sort of… leathery."
"Yeah," Harry agreed, pocketing his device and heading toward the castle. After a short hesitation, the others joined him.
"So, what does it mean?" Hannah asked.
"It means an invisible something, or multiple invisible somethings that roughly match the size of a pair of horses are pulling the carriages," Harry explained, packing away his gyroscopic assembly. "Mystery solved."
"Mystery solved?" Hermione asked. "We still don't know what's pulling us."
"No, but we now know something is pulling us," Harry pointed out. "That's what concerned me, really. Was it magic, or was it some kind of magical animal we don't know about? Now we know, it's a magical animal we don't know about. Presumably, someone else will, Hagrid, if no one else. Next time I see him, I'll ask."
"You are so weird," Hermione declared. "I wonder if Luna would know what they are, she's always going on about creatures no one knows about."
"Hello Professor," Harry said as he approached his Head of House.
"Mr. Stark," Flitwick nodded, "why aren't you in the Great Hall… Bloody Hell?" the small man's wand was in his hand in a split second, and the weapon pointed directly at Harry's head.
"Take it easy Professor," Harry laughed gesturing to his shoulder. "This is Lockheed, despite what he looks like, he is not a dragon."
"Not a dragon?" Flitwick asked, his eyes never leaving the cat sized creature. "What do you need, Mr. Stark?"
"I need to see the Headmaster," Harry explained. "It's important."
Filius Flitwick thought for a moment. His first reaction was to tell the boy that the Headmaster was busy, and that he would schedule an appointment in a few days. However, this was the boy who scoffed at the legend of Harry Potter, who stood up to the Wizengamot, who had somehow managed to at least partially defang Severus Snape, who brought him a horcrux to dispose of, and who had been kidnapped into outer space yet had somehow managed to come home.
At some level, he dreaded finding out what this boy might think was important.
"Come with me, Mr. Stark," the small man said.
"Problem Filius?" Looking up from his notes for his welcoming speech, Dumbledore asked as the Charms Master entered his office until he spotted who was accompanying Flitwick into the room. "Mr. Stark?"
Minerva McGonagall's mouth firmed into a hard line, her displeasure at the disruption of her schedule clear.
"Headmaster," the boy nodded. "I believe you are planning on announcing the Triwizard Tournament at the Welcoming Feast?"
Fawkes the Phoenix shot across the room, lighting on the back of the chair Harry was standing in front of craning his long neck to be eye to eye with Lockheed. The two stared at each other for several seconds before the Phoenix began to sing and the miniature dragon crooned along.
"Oh, great," Harry sighed. "Now you're singing."
The old man's brows rose to his hairline. "I can't say that I've ever seen Fawkes behave like this, Mr. Stark. From his reaction, it's obvious that your little friend isn't a dragon, might you enlighten me as to what it is?"
"He's an alien sapient," Harry explained.
"Dragons are not on the approved pets list, Mr. Stark," McGonagall sniffed.
"As I said, he's not a dragon, he's an alien. He just looks like a dragon," Harry pointed out. "As far as the approved pets list goes, in my time here, I've seen crups, nifflers, tarantulas, at least one hamster, and a rat, and no one had anything to say about any of them. Besides, he's not a pet, he's a fellow sapient."
"And how did you come by the information about the tournament, Mr. Stark?" Dumbledore interrupted, changing the subject. "The fact that we are restarting the Triwizard Tournament is supposed to be almost a state secret."
"I was contacted by a Seer who let me know that I was going to be entered into a contest against my will this year," Harry explained. The security on this event isn't nearly as tight as you apparently think. When I mentioned a contest, a fellow student with links to the popular press supplied the name of the Triwizard."
"Which, of course lead you and your house mates to start researching it," Filius nodded. "I am surprised in your faith in the Seer who contacted you, after you pronounce Divination to be a 'load of crap' during our interview about your elective choices."
"Madam Web has the annoying habit of being right," Harry explained with a sigh. "And Professor Trelawney's reputation precedes her. I'm not a fan of things that cannot be measured, but even I have to admit that it can work."
"But magic cannot really be measured, Harry," Flitwick said gently.
"Of course it can," Harry disagreed. "It's energy, and it has an effect on its environment. There is a lot more to magic that simply manipulating quanta via force of will and stick waving."
The three professors shared an amused glance and Harry fought off the urge to show them the modifications to his wand.
"At any rate, there is a prediction that I will be entered into the Triwizard Tournament, Headmaster," Harry said. "I wanted to deliver this letter from my father concerning that, and to have the chance to state for the record that I will not be entering, I do not want to compete, and that I expect you to prevent such a thing from happening."
"No need to worry, Mr. Stark," Dumbledore said with a smile. "Ample protections will be in place to prevent unauthorized entries, not the least of which is the requirement that the participants be 17."
"You'll have to forgive me, Headmaster," Harry said. "But my life has demonstrated repeatedly that blithe assurances aren't worth the paper they're printed on. I'll say it again. I haven't entered into your tournament, I won't be entering into your tournament, and I expect you to ensure that I am not covertly entered into your tournament."
"Mr. Stark," McGonagall said coldly. "You will show the Headmaster the respect he deserves."
"Professor, a contest with a history of death and destruction is being announced in a few minutes, a Seer with an unfortunate history of accuracy has prophesized that I will be entered. Adding to that, when you consider that a small herd of Death Eaters, a group with no great love for me because the Headmaster broadcasted his theory of how a toddler might go about defeating a Dark Lord, made a public appearance less than three weeks ago after more than a decade of absence... You'll have to forgive me for doubting casual assurances that I have nothing to worry about."
"Your protection will be seen to, Mr. Stark," Dumbledore said calmly. "You have my promise. Now then, I will need to speak with your Seer… Madam Web, I believe you said."
"You don't contact Madam Web," Harry explained. "She contacts you. That being said, there is no reason for you to speak with her Headmaster."
"Mr. Stark, I'm afraid I must insist," the Headmaster demanded. "There are things you are unaware of and anyone who might interfere with your education must be…"
"Headmaster," Harry sighed, "no. Just no. Madam Web has contacted me as needed, and each time while I was home. She offers no distraction from my education, and indeed, if I were honest with you I would tell you that she is the reason I am attending Hogwarts. I turned down the offer that came from Professor McGonagall, and I told you I was not interested, if you recall. It was only after Madam Web contacted me for the first time I was convinced that I needed to come here to study. She has predicted that I will be pulled into the Tournament. I came to you in the hope that you can prevent it. I am hoping that you don't end up disappointing me again."
Sirius looked about the lounge of his ancestral home and nodded. "You've done an excellent job Tappy."
"Tappy thanks Master for his kindness," the elf said with a bow. "The work progressed much quicker once Kreacher Elf received his reward. Kreacher Elf was very old and could no longer work as an Elf should."
Sirius nodded. "Thank you for explaining that to me," the wizard looked around the room and ran his fingers through is hair. "I just though he was being an evil toerag, I had no idea he was suffering so."
"Master will be bringing Mistress home?" Tappy asked hopefully.
Again, the wizard nodded, regarding the row of shrouded portraits cautiously. "In deed, Tappy, it's time for her to meet the family."
Padma hummed to herself as she hung her robes in the wardrobe.
"You seem pleased with yourself."
Turning, she found Hermione standing in her doorway, leaning against the jam. "Maybe a little," she admitted.
"Something to do with Harry?"
"Yes," Padma admitted.
"All right, what's going on?" Hermione asked as she entered the room and sat on Padma's bed. "What has Harry done that's made you so happy? Was it when he told his friend Kitty that he had a girlfriend?"
"No, not that," Padma said shaking her head. "Though it didn't hurt. Parvati and I are twins."
"No, really?" Hermione said sarcastically.
"When we were staying with Harry this summer," Padma continued, ignoring Hermione's jibe, "we went out for a day with his friend Franklin and Harry. Just the four of us, and we had a good time."
"And Parvati was bored by Franklin and after he left pretended to be me with Harry," Padma explained.
"That wasn't nice," Hermione observed. "I hope you let Harry know."
"I didn't need to," Padma said, a wide smile on her face. "He can tell us apart. Even when she was wearing my things, Harry knew she was Parvati. I've never seen her so angry."
"Well…" Hermione said, clearly confused, "that’s nice, I guess."
"You don't understand," Padma sighed. "You don't know what it's like to be a twin, people always unable to tell us apart. Parvati had 'borrowed' some of my jewelry and was masquerading as me, and Harry could tell she wasn't me without me being in the room."
"How could he tell?" Hermione asked.
"I don't know," Padma admitted. "Mum can always tell us apart, but even Daddy can be fooled when Parv does her pretend to be Padma thing. The how does not matter, Hermione, what matters is I have a boyfriend; he doesn't care about my sister who everyone thinks is prettier than I am, and he can tell us apart."
"That's good, I guess," Hermione said.
"I always thought that if I ever had a boyfriend, it would be someone that Parv didn't want," Padma whispered. "I never dreamed it would be someone who wasn't interested in Parvati, but did want me."
A month into classes, an owl landed in front of Harry at Breakfast.
"Hey, fella," he said, "are you sure you've got the right student? I don't get much mail."
The owl offered a glare that suggested Harry might be insane.
"So, that's a yes, you're very certain you've got the right student, then?" Harry asked laughing at himself. "Well, thank you then, may I?"
The owl offered its left leg, to which was tied a long shipping tube, that Harry was almost certain had not been there when the bird had landed. How did owls transport packages anyway?
Adding another topic to his list of things that needed researching once he had the chance, he reached out and released the owl from its burden.
"Thank you," Harry said. "I feel like I should offer you something, but I don't have any small rodents, would you like a piece of sausage?"
The owl ignored the offering, instead locking its eyes on the rasher of bacon on the boy's plate.
"Ah," Harry said in understanding. "Bacon it is. You are obviously an owl of impeccable taste. Here you go."
The owl accepted the tribute, and took wing to consume it in private in the way of its kind.
Harry shook his head at the near human intelligence that magic had gifted these special animals as he inspected the address label on the shipping tube, and then opened the tube, wondering what Kitty Pryde might have sent him.
Unrolling the contents produced a smile on Harry's face.
"Why do you have a Shadow Cat poster?" Hermione asked settling in the seat next to him.
"That's… indecent!" Padma exclaimed when she caught sight of the poster.
"Kitty sent me a poster as 'payment' for watching Lockheed," Harry explained, wondering where the mini-dragon might have wandered. "And how is this indecent, Padma?" He rolled up the poster and restored it to its shipping tube. "Kitty's covered from head to toe; the only flesh you can see is her eyes, around her mouth and her hair."
"But, that outfit is so tight, you can see everything !" His girlfriend insisted.
"It is fairly graphic, Harry," Hermione agreed. "Are you planning on hanging that up in your room, you perv?"
"Hmm," Harry hummed. "Is that the sound of hypocrisy I hear there, Hermione? Don't forget, I've been to your room at your house, and I've seen your life-sized shirtless poster of Captain Britain. And for the record, no, I'm not going to keep the poster."
"That Captain Britain poster was for charity!" Hermione protested. "Are you giving this one to me?" she asked shyly.
"Fat chance, Ms. Pervert. Hey Neville!"
The Gryffindor diverted from his path to his house table to join the Ravenclaws. "What's up?"
"Here," Harry said extending the shipping tube. "A little something to remember Kitty by."
Neville accepted the tube guardedly. He had far too much experience with 'gifts' from the Weasley twins to avoid being suspicious. "Why would your friend send me anything?" he asked.
"She sent it to me," Harry sighed. "I'm giving it to you, because if I don't, Ms Hypocrite will try to steal it."
"I would not try to steal it!" Hermione protested. "I like Nightcrawler better anyway!"
"Kurt will be happy to hear that," Harry snarked.
"Bloody hell!" Neville gasped after he unrolled the poster.
"Language, Neville," Hermione chastised.
"Yeah, language, Neville," Harry laughed. "You don't want to be offending Ms Pervert."
"Thank you, Harry," Neville said, still examining his newest possession closely. "I mean it, thanks a lot Mate."
"A house no one can see," Greer said as #12 Grimauld Place appeared before her. "Bill collectors must really hate that."
"It does have its advantages," Sirius admitted as he helped his pregnant wife up the steps. "This has been my family's home for generations, now that you've made an honest man out of me; there are some people you need to meet."
"Sirius," she said as she stepped over the threshold and into the house, "you told me that your parents are dead, that your only living relatives are some cousins."
"Lots of cousins," Sirius admitted, "lots and lots of cousins. Harry says the family trees of Magical Britain resemble a knotted rope, even he and I are cousins a few times removed. That being said, being dead doesn't prevent a magical from meeting new relatives."
"Are we going to have a séance?" Greer asked.
"Nothing so mundane," Sirius laughed. "Besides, séances don't really work. Any ghost will tell you that to speak with those who have passed over you need to control a Hallow."
"Ghosts will tell you?" Greer asked.
"Oh, I forgot to tell you, ghosts are real, and magicals can see and speak with them. They are specters who, for whatever reason, haven't passed over to what some call the afterlife, or perhaps, the next great adventure."
"You forgot to tell me?" the woman known to the world as Tigra asked.
"Well, it never really came up," Sirius pointed out. "I'm fairly sure you haven't told me about everything you cat people can do that us normal folk can't."
"Whatever else you are," Greer said affectionately, "normal folk is not a description that anyone would use to describe Sirius Black."
"Ain't I somethin'?" He laughed, leading her into the Parlor, and gently guiding her to stand before a pair of shrouded portraits. "Brace yourself, this could be nasty."
Greer watched as Sirius concentrated for a moment, seemingly centering himself, before he raised his wand and opened the shroud on the leftmost portrait, exposing a sleeping older man with Sirius's features and hair, but his beard was flecked with salt and pepper highlights.
The superhero's eyes widened when the painted man opened his eyes and spoke. "Son," he said simply. "How long has it been?"
"Almost fifteen years Father," Sirius said quietly.
"I see," the man nodded. "So what world ending situation brings you to see me after all this time?"
"A question and some news," Sirius responded.
"News is always welcome," the man nodded. "Ask your question."
"Why was I not disowned?" Sirius asked.
"Disappointed?" the portrait asked.
"And well you should be," the man laughed. "Your mother insisted that I cast you out, and in her inimitable way made my life ever so interesting when I put her off. Then when that upstart Voldemort who she supported so actively murdered Regulus, my refusal insured that the family would survive the murder of your brother… assuming, of course, you survived your incarceration at Azkaban. Not even Walburga wanted the Black family to fade into the obscurity of Lestrange family or worse yet, the Malfoys. How is it you are free? You seem entirely too young to have served your life sentence."
"The fact that I was innocent is a major part of it," Sirius started.
"Of course you were innocent," Orion Black interrupted. "You would have sooner murdered your mother and me than harm a single hair on the head of James Potter, anyone with any brains at all would know that."
"My unfortunate incarceration aside, I notice that you did not actually answer the question, Father," Sirius pointed out. "Why was I not disowned?"
The elder version of Sirius set his lips into a firm line. "Such disrespect," the portrait said, shaking his head. "You have not change a bit since you were a child. Fine, you wish to know, I will tell you. You are my son, my first-born. I married your mother at the direction of my father, showing a level of obedience that you have never managed at any point in your entire life. I never cared for Walburga, I certainly never loved her, but I did my duty to my family and produced an heir. On that night in April when I took you from the midwife's arms and held you in my own I finally knew what love was. It did not matter what a disappointment you were, you were my son. You will understand this yourself if you ever have a child of your own. No force on Earth, not even your mother's interminable nagging could make me disown my own son."
The portrait's eyes moved to Greer, the young woman felt as if he was looking into her soul. "Is it possible that you have already made this discovery?"
"Father," Sirius said, standing a bit taller, "this is Greer, my wife. Greer, this is my father, Orion Black."
"Greer?" The Portrait asked, with a single raised eyebrow. "I can't say I've ever heard of a witch using that name."
"I'm not a witch, Mr. Black," Greer said, wondering why she did not feel silly about speaking to a painting of a man.
"You bring a Muggle into the Ancient House of Black?" Orion asked incredulously. "If you are trying to kill your mother, you are far too late."
"As attractive an idea as that would have been at one time," Sirius sighed, "that is not why I am here. I am the head of the family now, a family composed of me. My cousins have all married outside the family; mother's favorite Dark Lord murdered Reggie, my heir until two days ago was my Godson. Our Ancient family was about to die, until this good woman decided that I was worth loving. She is carrying my son. Your heir."
Greer watched as her husband locked eyes with the painting of his father. "Your son?" The painting asked.
"Your heir," Sirius agreed.
"Will you be raising the child in the traditional ways of the family?" Orion demanded.
"Hell, no," Sirius laughed. "The traditional ways has left the family with a single member still bearing the name. Bellatrix allowed herself to be branded like a farm animal and is in prison for life, Narcissa is married to another branded fool who escaped prison only by throwing her dowry money around like water, and Andromeda was expelled from the family because she fell in love. What is it about the family traditions that I should be carrying on?"
Silence filled the room for several moments until the portrait broke it.
"Young woman," the image of Orion Black said. "Do you love this fool?"
"I do," she admitted. "I was as surprised as anyone."
"Lovely," Sirius sighed.
Orion's image returned his attention to Sirius. "For a man who claims he is going to ignore the family's traditions, I find it odd that you sought me out to make this announcement in accordance with the traditions you so disdain. You have always followed your own path, my Son. It is time you told your mother."
"Yeah, I know," Sirius said, looking down at the carpet between his feet. "I don't suppose you could…"
"I could, but I will not," Orion said in tones that offered no doubt. "Watching you tell her, and seeing her joy and reaction to the news will likely be the most fun I've had since I woke up in this frame."
"Fine," Sirius said, raising his wand to open the shroud around his mother's portrait, bracing himself for what was to come.
"Well," Harry sighed as they made their way back into the castle. "That was a waste of time."
"Oh yes, Harry," Hermione said drily. "Witnessing firsthand the methods of magical travel used by other nations was such a waste of time. You can be so insufferable sometimes."
"Well, it was fairly boring," Padma suggested.
"Hermione, are you trying to tell me that you would have willingly waited an hour and a half in the dark to see a horse drawn carriage," Harry demanded."
"Of course not," Hermione said with a shake of her head.
"Then claiming that witnessing a team of abraxan pulling a carriage was worth your time is just silly," Harry disagreed. "They're horses, pulling a carriage. They have wings and they're freaking huge, but they're still just horses. I'll grant you that watching Durmstang's magical submarine surface was moderately interesting, at least what little we could see. If they open the ship to tours and explain their propulsion and navigation charms I'll be first in line, but as it stands, tonight's assembly was hardly worth the wait."
The trio made their way to the Ravenclaw table and took their normal places. Harry was somewhat surprised to see that while the Durmstrang students were unsure about where they should sit, the students from Beauxbatons were joining them at the Ravenclaw table. The French students looked around the Great Hall with glum expressions on their faces. Several of them were still clutching scarves and shawls around their heads.
"It’s not that cold," Hermione noted. "Why didn’t they bring cloaks?"
"Don't be so hard on them, Hermione," Padma said gently. "From what I understand, Beauxbatons is in the south of France, the weather they're acclimated to is more than a bit warmer than here."
There was a bit of a fuss from over at the Gryffindor table before the Durmstrang students settled themselves at the Slytherin table. From his seat, Harry could see Draco, Vinnie and Greg looking very smug about this for some reason.
"Is this Krum guy someone important?" He asked.
"What do you mean?" Hermione asked.
"Everyone seems to be making a fuss over him," Harry noted.
"Are you serious?" the seventh year to his right asked incredulously. "That's Viktor Krum. The Quidditch star."
Harry stared at the older boy blankly. "Professional I take it?"
"How do you not know Viktor Krum?" the older boy demanded.
"I don't follow Quidditch," Harry said with a shrug before returning his attention to the Durmstrang students. "They look to be a lot happier than the Beauxbatons gang," he noted.
The Durmstrang students were pulling off their heavy furs and looking up at the starry black ceiling with expressions of interest; a couple of them were picking up the golden plates and goblets and examining them, apparently impressed.
When all the students had entered the Hall and settled down at their House tables, the staff entered, filing up to the top table and taking their seats. Last in line were Professor Dumbledore, Durmstrang's Professor Karkaroff, and Beauxbatons' Madame Maxime. When their headmistress appeared, the French pupils leapt to their feet. A few of the Hogwarts students laughed at that, but the Beauxbatons party appeared quite unembarrassed, and did not resume their seats until Madame Maxime had taken her seat at Dumbledore’s left-hand side. Dumbledore remained standing, and a silence fell over the Great Hall.
"Good evening, ladies and gentlemen, ghosts and, most particularly, guests," said Dumbledore, beaming around at the foreign students. "I have great pleasure in welcoming you all to Hogwarts. I hope and trust that your stay here will be both comfortable and enjoyable."
"The tournament will be officially opened at the end of the feast," said Dumbledore. "I now invite you all to eat, drink, and make yourselves at home!"
He sat down, and Harry saw Karkaroff lean forward at once and engage him in conversation.
The plates in front of them filled with food as usual. The house-elves in the kitchen seemed to have made every effort to impress; there was a greater variety of dishes in front of them than Harry had ever seen, including several that were definitely not British.
"What’s that?" Padma asked, pointing at a large dish of some sort of shellfish stew that stood beside a large steak-and-kidney pudding.
"Bouillabaisse," said Hermione.
"It’s not bad," Harry noted, "It will never replace a good steak, but it's not bad."
"If you say so," Padma said, not looking at all convinced as she selected from among her favorites of Hogwart's normal fare.
For some reason, Harry found this to be hilarious, though he was smart enough not to laugh at his girlfriend's food choices. He resolved to expand her horizons a bit if he got the chance. Not that he himself was very interested in the bouillabaisse.
At that moment, a voice said, "Excuse me, are you wanting the bouillabaisse? There is none at our end of the table."
The speaker was one of the girls from Beauxbatons who had been so bothered by the cold. She had finally removed her scarf; displaying long silvery-blonde hair fell almost to her waist. For some reason Harry couldn't help but notice that she had large, deep blue eyes, and very white, even teeth. There was something familiar about her.
It took him a second to regain to realize that no one has answered her. Harry glanced between his friends and the still untouched bouillabaisse.
"Yeah, you can have it," he said, pushing the dish toward the girl.
"You have finished with it?" she asked.
"Oh, yes," Hermione nodded. "You can take it."
The girl picked up the dish and carried it carefully off to her end of the table.
Harry realized he was starring after her, and noticed that most of the rest of the young men in the Great Hall were also watching how she gracefully moved as well.
"Did there seem to be something familiar about that girl?" He asked. "I could swear I've seen her somewhere before."
"She’s a Veela." Cho Chang said from two seats to Hermione's right. "I'd heard that they had a Veela in their 7th year there, and look, every boy in this place is starring at her like an idiot."
"Hmm. That sounds like it would be a pain," Harry said, returning to his meal, still trying to remember where he knew the French girl from.
"What do you mean by that?" Hermione asked.
"You've read as much about Veela as I have Hermione," Harry said. "Constant attention from men, near constant hostility from women. That means you could never be sure that any relationship you had was real." He looked over toward the silver haired girl who had taken her seat at the table and was speaking animatedly with the Beauxbatons students around her. "She seems to have dealt with it, though."
"Should I be concerned that you're that empathic toward the difficulties of being beautiful and desired?" Padma snarked.
"My cross to bear," Harry grinned. "So, a professional Quidditch player and a Veela. I guess I know who my competition will be."
"Your competition?" Cho asked. "Harry, your enthusiasm in cute and all, but there is a minimum age for the tournament. You're too young. It will be a 6th or 7th year, like my Cedric."
"Harry's under a prophecy, Cho," Padma explained. "A seer predicted that he would be entered against his will."
"I let Dumbledore know about the prophecy, and that I wanted nothing to do with the tournament," Harry said. "He's promised that he will keep it from happening. So, I'm planning on ending up in the middle of it."
"That's not very nice, Harry," Hermione pointed out. "What makes you think it will be the Quidditch player and the Veela girl who will be chosen?"
"You saw the fuss his Headmaster was making over him outside, right?" Harry pointed out, "He has front runner written all over him. Moreover, the stand out from Beauxbatons would be the silver haired Veela girl. If this were a movie, the two of them would have been sent down from Central Casting."
"Central Casting?" Cho asked.
"It's a Muggle thing," Hermione said, never turning her attention from Harry. "So this casts you as the hero then?"
"Again," Harry grinned while clutching his right hand to his chest dramatically, "my cross to bear. I'm sure that someday I'll be portrayed on the screen by some heartthrob who will kill himself getting my rugged good looks right."
"Oh, Merlin," Padma said looking to the enchanted ceiling.
"Hey," Hermione laughed, "you're the one dating him."
"An 'Age Line', Headmaster?" Harry asked from one of the doorways to the Entrance hall. "Seriously? This is your method of dealing with my concerns?"
Dumbledore looked up from his work in surprise. "Mr. Stark," he said in way of greeting, "If I am not very much mistaken, it is past curfew, should you really be out and about in the halls?"
"Apparently, I should," Harry suggested as Professor Flitwick stepped into view. "My Head of House agreed to accompany me to see the Goblet."
"What defenses are you offering beyond your age line Headmaster?" Filius asked.
"An age line is the traditional method of preventing young witches and wizards from magical objects they should avoid, as you well know Filius," Dumbledore said with a grandfatherly smile. "I assure both you and Mr. Stark that it is more than sufficient."
"Uh huh," the boy said, still standing in the doorway. "It's really hilarious that you actually think that I'm worried about a fellow underaged student enrolling me into your tournament."
"You aren't?" the old man asked.
"Not in the slightest. Right now in every common room in the castle there are students plotting to circumvent your age line, not to enter me, but to enter themselves. All because they've bought into the legend you wove for them telling tales of eternal glory and fortune, Headmaster."
"You disagree with the idea of glory, Mr. Stark?" Dumbledore asked.
"Outside of some of the more compulsive among the Ravenclaws," Harry laughed, "not one of them will be able to name the last winner. This will prove to any that think about it that the glory isn't all that eternal."
"And the fortune, Mr. Stark?" Flitwick asked.
"A thousand galleons is a nice chunk of change, but it isn't a fortune, and is hardly worth risking your life for. Still, the whole idea of an age line is hardly an obstacle to anyone who gives the problem a little thought."
"I suspect that you would find it more of an obstacle than you think," Dumbledore sniffed.
"Are you familiar with the Mundane sport basketball, Headmaster?"
"I am aware that is exists, Mr. Stark," Dumbledore nodded. "What is you point?"
"I believe you said that the prospective candidates should write their names on a sheet of parchment and deposit in into the Goblet?" Harry asked, producing a sheet of parchment and scrawling 'Not It' on it sloppily.
"Yes," Dumbledore nodded.
"And I believe you and I can both agree that I am under 17, outside your age line and indeed more than 10 feet from the line, yes?" Stark asked as he wadded the parchment into a tight ball.
"Yes," Dumbledore agreed, wishing the boy would get to his point.
In a flowing move, Harry launched the parchment ball toward the Goblet of Fire. Dumbledore watched in openmouthed shock as the wad of parchment fell directly into the Goblet at the end of its arc.
"Yes!" the boy cheered, "nothing but goblet. I was worried I would miss and spoil my point."
From his robes, Harry drew another sheet of parchment and again scrawled 'Not It' on the sheet. "A method suited those under aged, but not familiar with mundane sports, perhaps?"
Harry crossed the entry hall and drew his wand, with a swirl and flick; a silken thread connected the wall to the tip of his wand. Holding the thread taut, the folded the sheet of parchment in half and tented it over the thread, before slowly walking the away from the wall with his wand held high. The thread stretching behind him, Harry positioned himself on the far side of the room, with the thread passing directly over the flaming Goblet. Once in position, Harry lowered his wand and the parchment slid down the inclined thread until it was directly over the Goblet, when he ended his spell, causing the thread to vanish and the sheet of parchment to fall into the flames.
"That's two ways of getting something past your age line Headmaster," Harry pointed out. "I could do more if you like. Professor, would you mind putting my name into the Goblet?"
"Why, I wouldn't mind, Mr. Stark," Filius said jovially, "I wouldn't mind at all."
"You've made your point, Mr. Stark," Dumbledore growled. "How do you suggest that we protect the integrity of the process?"
"Well," the boy said tentatively, "rather than simply announce that only those seventeen and older could enter, you could have put that into the International Agreements that control the contest?"
"That might have been the wise thing to do," Dumbledore admitted, "but the decision to exclude those who have yet to reach their majority wasn't made until after the agreements had been agreed to."
"If absolutely nothing else," Harry suggested, "You could station several of the sentient portraits you control around the Goblet as sentries, to monitor for the more obvious methods around your age line."
"And having all entries be inspected by a staff member would prevent Mr. Stark, or any other under age student, from being entered by someone else," Flitwick suggested.
Surrendering to the inevitable, Dumbledore nodded. "Both sensible suggestions. I will be implementing both of them.
"Good," Harry nodded. "My father has already been contacting law firms that practice before the Wizengamot to take up the case if I selected to participate even after all this."
"Which firms has he contacted, Mr. Stark?" Filius asked.
"All of them."
The room lit only by the light of his laptop, Harry deeply wished he had the time to throw together a decent image search program capable of facial recognition. As it was, he was paging through image after image of young blond women of the appropriate age grouping.
My, but there was a lot of porn.
He reset the filters again to exclude the latest hits leading to distraction. He was not adverse to pornography unto itself, but the mystery that was Fleur Delacour had been nagging at him since he had seen her at dinner.
He knew he had never met the young woman before, but, somehow, he recognized her.
It was annoying.
His returns were bringing in too many strawberry blonds. Tighten the search terms, add 'Blue Eyes', new search.
Another few thousand images presented in thumbnail form. Harry sighed and glanced at his computer's system clock. 2 am. Another four hours he was never going to get back. He moved to close out his session when the fifth thumbnail on the third row caught his eye.
He clicked on it to enlarge the image to full screen, and found himself looking at a photo of Fleur Delacour, dressed in what appeared to be a man's suit, cut to fit a woman, walking down a catwalk while giving off an air of supreme boredom.
Harry nodded and verified the photo's source. The Vanessa Bruno fall line, model: Fleur Delacour. The connection his mind had been looking for was made. While the Patil Twins had been visiting, Parvati had insisted on watching a review of the fall fashions, Harry and Padma had joined her, offering color commentary about the models and how much each of them really wanted a good meal. When Fleur had been on camera, Harry had suggested that she wanted nothing more than a good greasy bacon cheeseburger.
And now, he felt bad about that.
Dumbledore caught the piece of parchment as it fluttered in the air.
“The champion for Durmstrang,” he read, in a strong, clear voice, “will be Viktor Krum.”
“Well, you were right about Krum, Harry,” Hermione sniffed. "Though I still don't think your 'central casting' theory was very nice."
"Not interested in being nice, Hermione," Harry explained as Durmstang's headmaster and students congratulated their new champion. Krum rose from the Slytherin table and disappeared through the door into the next chamber.
The applause and conversation died down as everyone’s attention was focused again on the goblet, which, seconds later, turned red once more. A second piece of parchment shot out of it, propelled by the flames.
“The champion for Beauxbatons,” said Dumbledore after he snatched the parchment from the air, “is Fleur Delacour!”
“Okay," Padma sighed, "Now its official, he's going to be impossible to live with.”
Harry just shook his head as the purported veela got gracefully to her feet, shook back her sheet of silvery blonde hair, and swept up between the Ravenclaw and Hufflepuff tables.
When Fleur Delacour had also vanished into the side chamber, silence fell again, but this time it was a silence so stiff with excitement you could almost taste it. The Hogwarts champion next…
The Goblet of Fire turned red once more; sparks showered out of it; the tongue of flame shot high into the air, and at its apex Dumbledore captured the third piece of parchment.
“The Hogwarts champion,” he called, “is Cedric Diggory!”
“ YES !” Harry cheered loudly, "Take that, Prophecy!"
Harry's outburst earned him a few odd looks before every single Hufflepuff had jumped to his or her feet, screaming and stamping, as Cedric made his way past them, grinning broadly, and headed off toward the chamber behind the teachers’ table. Indeed, the applause for Cedric went on so long that it was some time before Dumbledore could make himself heard again.
“Excellent!” Dumbledore called happily, as at last the tumult died down. “Well, we now have our three champions. I am sure I can count upon all of you, including the remaining students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang, to give your champions every ounce of support you can muster. By cheering your champion on, you will contribute in a very real…"
The Headmaster suddenly stopped speaking, and it was apparent to everybody what had distracted him.
The fire in the goblet had just turned red again. Sparks were flying out of it. A long flame shot suddenly into the air, and borne upon it was another piece of parchment.
Automatically, it seemed, Dumbledore reached out and snatched the parchment. He held it out and stared at the name written upon it. There was a long pause, during which Dumbledore stared at the slip in his hands, and everyone in the room stared at Dumbledore. Then Dumbledore cleared his throat and read out;
Dumbledore's voice echoed in the newly silent Great Hall as he announced the fourth participant of the Triwizard Tournament.
"Oh, God Damn it!" Harry swore.
"Language, Harry," Hermione admonished him.
Harry set his jaw in anger, as he became the focus of attention in the huge chamber. He slowly stood up, glaring at the Headmaster. "You," he declared in a tone that carried throughout the Great Hall, "had one job. I told you this was going to happen, and you ignored me with your normal meaningless platitudes. I will say it again. I did not enter this contest. I do not want to be in this contest. What do I have to do to get out of it?"
The three older champions watched in silence as their school Heads and the representatives of Britain's magical government exited the reception room, still arguing furiously, leaving them alone.
"Well," Viktor Krum said after several moments of silence. "At least this will not be boring."
"True," Fleur Delacour agreed, "But I find that I must ask the question, Cedric is it?"
"Yes," Diggory nodded, while trying very hard to remember he had a girlfriend.
"I could not help but notice that you did not appear to be terribly surprised when the Potter boy was selected to join us as a 4th champion," the girl asked innocently. "I know that cheating is a time honored tradition in the Triwizard Tournament, is Hogwarts taking it to a whole new level?"
"Stark," Cedric corrected her, "Never Potter. He's very specific about that. No, as far as I know Hogwarts isn't cheating, and no one was as surprised as I was when I was selected."
"But the Stark boy?" Krum prompted.
"Well…" Cedric hesitated, wondering what he should tell these foreign competitors, before deciding that the truth could not possibly hurt. "He's Harry Stark. I mean he killed a Dark Lord before he was two, everyone knows that. When he was a first year he fought a troll…"
"Impressive," Krum interrupted, "but hardly…"
"Fought a troll, and won," Cedric continued. "I saw the results of that fight, a huge hole was blown out of the side of the castle, and the Aurors carried out the bottom half of the troll, because that was all that was left."
"Half?" Fleur asked incredulously. "What spell did he use?"
"No idea, whatever it was it landed him in the hospital wing for a couple of days," Cedric explained. "Then we found out that he had been tutored by Agatha Harkness, since he was 6 or 7, do you know who she is?"
"Everyone knows Madam Harkness," Viktor breathed.
"Yeah," Cedric agreed. "Then he ended up in front of the Wizengamot for some reason, and the Norse God Thor showed up to tell them to cut it out. The next year he arrived at the train with a giant green woman who all the Muggleborn seemed to know, and just last year he and a collection of his friends ended up being kidnapped by aliens from outer space before the escaped, and returned on their own."
Cedric looked up to see the looks of incredulity in the eyes of his competition. "Look, I know it sounds crazy, but I was there, and I've seen, if not the actual events, then the aftermath of most of it. So, no, I'm not surprised that Harry Stark's name came out of the Goblet. The only thing I found surprising about it is that his wasn't the first name out."
"Perhaps," Fleur allowed, "I shouldn't have called him a 'little boy'."
Albus Dumbledore left the room to get away from the screaming and the threats. A pounding headache had formed behind his eyes an hour before and showed no sign of abating.
"Nothing quite like a meeting of the Wizengamot and the finest legal minds of Magical Britain, eh, Albus?"
Albus looked up in surprise to find Sirius Black lounging with a drink in his hand.
"When Young Harry suggested his adopted father might have hired all of the legal firms that practiced before the Wizengamot I thought he was exaggerating," the old man sighed.
"Harry did exaggerate," Black smirked. "Tony only hired about half the firms. I hired the other half."
"Why?" Albus asked.
"Harry's my godson," Sirius pointed out. "I owe it to him to help protect him as best I can."
"But why are you and Stark doing this?" Albus asked again. "Why not just let Harry compete?"
"Why not just let him compete in a competition intended for students with three years more training than he has?" Black asked incredulously. "In a competition that historically kills the competitors often enough that it was stopped? In a competition where the first task is to retrieve an egg from a nesting dragon?"
"How did you find out about that?" Dumbledore demanded.
"Bagman squeals like a pig if you squeeze hard enough," Sirius shrugged.
"Be that as it may, you cannot release that information to the public," Albus warned. "It would destroy the integrity of the Tournament."
"I'm fairly sure the so-called integrity of this Tournament was destroyed as soon as Harry was drafted into it against his will," Black said flippantly. "Have you figured out how your safeguards failed yet?"
"No," Dumbledore admitted. "The portraits I stationed to monitor the Goblet saw nothing, a Staff member inspected each entry before it was submitted to the Goblet, and no one saw anything out of the ordinary."
"And of course neither Snape nor Karkaroff are suspects, despite both showing alarming levels of hostility to my Godson, and both being former Death Eaters."
"Severus Snape has my utmost trust," Albus sniffed. "And Igor is…"
"I bet," Black agreed, interrupting the Headmaster with a casual roll of his hand. "The fact remains that we both know that Harry was nowhere near the Goblet, and he didn't enter. Your security failed to protect your student, and you refuse to investigate the two most likely suspects."
Albus did his best to project the air of disappointment that had always been so effective against Black in the past. For all the effect it had, he need not have bothered.
The door opened to his knock.
"Good morning Professor," Sirius Black said with a smile. "You're right on time."
"I haven't been your professor for almost two decades, Sirius," Filius laughed. "Please, call me Filius."
"Hi Sirius," Harry said, as he entered the room, before the boy's face brightened. "Dad! I didn't know you would be here."
Filius could not help but feel that James and Lily would be overjoyed to see the love between the boy and the man he called 'Dad' as the two rushed together for a hug.
"I think this would be the best time to excuse myself," Filius said. "Family business isn't for the eyes and ears of outsiders, after all. I'll be down at the bar until Harry is ready to return to the school."
The other two adults in the room exchanged a look before Sirius shrugged.
"There is no reason for you to leave, Professor," the elder Stark said. "Nothing we're going to discuss here is a secret, and will likely be common knowledge at Hogwarts by the end of the day."
"And besides, it's likely you could answer some questions better than I could," Sirius laughed.
"If you're sure," Filius said, wondering what was going on, but unwilling to ask. "I will stay."
"Harry," Sirius interjected, changing the subject, "You have to compete."
"I figured," Harry sighed.
"The Ministry's Experts," Tony said, making air quotes to emphasize his opinion of said experts, "claim that if you refuse to honestly compete, the magical contract might kill you. I've spoken with Agatha Harkness and she isn't sure. She told me that she doesn't really know what violating a magical contract will do, but she suggested that it might be best to not take any chances."
"Lovely," Harry said again. "So, I'm against three older, better trained competitors, with a major possible penalty if I don't give it my best effort. Professor, how would the judges react if I were to start doing magic wandlessly by evoking demons and minor gods?"
Filius' eyes went wide at that question. "Are you serious, Mr. Stark?"
"No, that's him," Harry said, pointing to his godfather and heading off the older man making the bad joke, "but yes, I have been trained in that style of magic. It has its uses, and in some ways it is more powerful than wanded magics. Madam Harkness always hated when I used it in front of her."
"I would take her reaction to be the normal response of our society, Mr. Stark," Filius said, hoping he was being clear enough.
"Figures," Harry shook his head.
"On the plus side," Sirius interjected, "we got some concessions."
"Concessions?" Harry asked. "What kind of concessions?"
"Several," his father said with an evil grin. "The first task will require you to take a faux egg from a nesting dragon. The biggest concession we got there is that you can use armor ."
"They agreed to that?" Harry asked incredulously.
"No!" Filius shouted. "You can't wear a suit of armor against a dragon! I know the Muggles have stories about knights fighting dragons, but Mr. Stark, that is the surest way to die I know."
Harry and his father shared a private smile, while Sirius attempted to calm Harry's Head of House.
Harry entered the small classroom, wondering what exactly 'wand weighing' entailed. So far, no one had notice the modifications he had made to his wand, most of those who had paid attention and chosen to comment on them assumed that they were nothing more than the decorative modifications common among school age wizards.
The classroom's desks were stacked in the back of the room, leaving a large space in the middle. In the center of the room, a long table was setup, and covered with a long length of blue velvet. Five chairs had been set behind the velvet-covered desks, with Ludo Bagman was sitting in one of them, talking to an unfamiliar witch in magenta robes.
Viktor Krum was standing in the corner to the right of the door, and offered Harry a nod. Cedric and Fleur were in conversation. The French girl appeared to be a good deal happier than Harry had seen her so far; she kept throwing back her head so that her long silvery hair caught the light. A paunchy man, holding a large black camera that was smoking slightly, was watching Fleur out of the corner of his eye.
Bagman suddenly spotted Harry, got up quickly, and bounded forward.
"Ah, here he is! Champion number four! In you come, Harry, in you come… nothing to worry about, it’s just the wand weighing ceremony, and the rest of the judges will be here in a moment…"
"My wand weighs 119.068 grams," Harry said quietly. "Is there a point to this?"
"Grams?" Bagman blinked. "Oh, I see, no, in the Weighing of the Wands we don't actually… well… weigh the wands. We have to check that your wands are fully functional, no problems, you know, as they’re your most important tools in the tasks ahead," the fat man explained. "The expert’s upstairs now with Dumbledore. Then, there’s going to be a little photoshoot. This is Rita Skeeter," he added, gesturing toward the witch in magenta robes. "She’s doing a small piece on the tournament for the Daily Prophet…"
"Maybe not that small, Ludo," the reporter said, her eyes on Harry.
The woman's hair was set in elaborate and oddly rigid curls that contrasted oddly with her heavy-jawed face. Jeweled spectacles covered her eyes. The thick fingers clutching her crocodile-skin handbag ended in two-inch nails, painted crimson. There was something about this woman that set off all of Harry's alarms.
"I wonder if I could have a little word with Harry before we start?" she said to Bagman, but still gazing fixedly at Harry. "The youngest champion, you know… to add a bit of color?"
"Certainly!" cried Bagman.
"Nope," Harry said, shaking his head. "Not going to happen." Harry reached into his pocket and extracted a pair of cards, handing the first one to the reporter. "All of my public announcements are coordinated through by my publicist. Contact her." He said.
"That will hardly be necessary," Rita Skeeter said, in a second, she had Harry’s upper arm in a surprisingly strong grip, and she was attempting to steer him out of the room again and opening a nearby door.
"We don’t want to be in here with all this noise," she said.
"And this card," Harry said passing it to the woman while stubbornly holding his ground, "Is for one of the many law firms under my father employ. Coincidentally, this one specializes in Libel law. You know, the kind that sues reporters for everything they own and ensure they never, ever, make a living writing, ever again?"
That brought the woman up short.
"I… see," she said, giving him a death glare.
"Sorry, Ms. Skeeter," Harry said with a shrug. "Your reputation precedes you. And just in case you get the idea that you can claim that I'm lying about our interview…"
In the air in front of them, Skeeter's face appeared, the image shifting from an expression of surprise to one of anger, "I… see," it said.
"I record pretty much everything around me, all the time," Harry said with a smile. "So, not only will my Solicitors be able to call you a liar, but they'll have proof."
Harry leaned forward and continued in a whisper. "I am the son of a very wealthy man; I've had dealings with the press before. Write all the true stories you want, lie and I'll destroy you. Don't mess with me, Ms. Skeeter."
Before Rita Skeeter could say a word, Albus Dumbledore was standing next to them.
"Dumbledore!" cried Rita Skeeter, with every appearance of delight, and more than a little relief. "How are you?" she said, holding out one of her large, mannish hands to the Headmaster. "I hope you saw my piece over the summer about the International Confederation of Wizards’ Conference?"
"Enthrallingly offensive," said Dumbledore, his eyes twinkling. "I particularly enjoyed your description of me as an antediluvian dingbat."
Rita Skeeter somehow failed to look remotely embarrassed.
"I was just making the point that some of your ideas are a little old-fashioned, Dumbledore, and that many wizards in the street…"
"I will be delighted to hear the reasoning behind the rudeness, Rita," said Dumbledore, with a courteous bow and a smile, "but I’m afraid we will have to discuss the matter later. The Weighing of the Wands is about to start."
Harry moved to join the other champions who were now sitting in chairs near the door, taking his place next to Cedric. Four of the five judges, Professor Karkaroff, Madame Maxime, Mr. Crouch, and Ludo Bagman were all sitting at the central table, while Rita Skeeter settled herself down in a corner to take notes.
"May I introduce Mr. Ollivander?" said Dumbledore, taking his place at the judges’ table and speaking directly to the champions. "He will be checking your wands to ensure that they are in good condition before the tournament."
"Mademoiselle Delacour, could we have you first, please?" said Mr. Ollivander, stepping into the empty space in the middle of the room.
Fleur Delacour swept over to Mr. Ollivander and handed him her wand.
"Hmm…" he said, twirling the wand between his long fingers like a baton and it emitted a number of pink and gold sparks. Then he held it close to his eyes and examined it carefully.
"Yes," he said quietly, "nine and a half inches… inflexible… rosewood… and containing… dear me…"
"A hair from the head of a Veela," said Fleur. "One from my grandmother."
Harry nodded at the confirmation that the French girl was a Veela. He made a mental note to tell Hermione and Padma that Cho had been right.
"Yes," said Mr. Ollivander, "yes, I’ve never used veela hair myself, of course. I find it makes for rather temperamental wands… however, to each his own, and if this suits you…"
Ollivander ran his fingers along the wand, apparently checking for scratches or bumps; then he muttered, "Orchideous!" and a bunch of flowers burst from the wand tip.
"Very well, very well, it’s in fine working order," said Mr. Ollivander, scooping up the flowers and handing them to Fleur with her wand. "Mr. Diggory, you next." Fleur glided back to her seat, smiling at Cedric as he passed her.
"Ah, now, this is one of mine, isn’t it?" said Mr. Ollivander, with much more enthusiasm, as Cedric handed over his wand. "Yes, I remember it well. Containing a single hair from the tail of a particularly fine male unicorn… must have been seventeen hands; nearly gored me with his horn after I plucked his tail. Twelve and a quarter inches… ash… pleasantly springy. It is in fine condition… You treat it regularly?"
"Polished it last night," said Cedric, grinning.
Ollivander sent a stream of silver smoke rings across the room from the tip of Cedric’s wand, pronounced himself satisfied, and then called for Krum.
Viktor Krum got up and ambled the wandmaker in an odd loping gait. He thrust out his wand and stood scowling, with his hands in the pockets of his robes.
"Hmm," said Mr. Ollivander, "this is a Gregorovitch creation, unless I’m much mistaken? A fine wand-maker, though the styling is never quite what I… however…"
He lifted the wand and examined it minutely, turning it repeatedly before his eyes.
"Yes… hornbeam and dragon heartstring?" he shot at Krum, who nodded. "Rather thicker than one usually sees… quite rigid… ten and a quarter inches… Avis!"
The hornbeam wand let off a blast hike a gun, and a number of small, twittering birds flew out of the end and through the open window into the watery sunlight.
"An excellent wand, my compliments to its maker," Ollivander said returning Krum's wand. "Which leaves… Mr. Stark."
Harry rose to his feet and approached the table, handing his wand to Ollivander.
"Merlin's beard," Ollivander exclaimed, his pale eyes suddenly glinting. "What have you done to my wand?"
"My wand," Harry corrected him. "I have made modifications to it to suit my own needs."
"Yes," Ollivander said hesitantly, "Your wand, of course. Holly and phoenix feather, eleven inches long, with a fine wire of some unknown metal wound around the grip and spiraling around the shaft. What metal is this Mr. Stark?"
"Wakandan Vibranium," Harry answered, relying on the old man not knowing what Vibranium was, nor that it might come in varieties.
Ollivander spent much longer examining Harry’s wand than any of the others. Eventually, he moved to cast with it. A spray of liquid issued from Harry's wand, quickly running out of control, drenching everyone sitting at the judges' table.
Harry snatched the wand away, causing the wine creation spell to stop.
"I couldn't stop it…" a clearly shocked Ollivander said, starring at the drenched tabletop before looking up into Harry's eyes. "What did you do to my wand?"
"My wand," Harry corrected him again.
"Thank you all," Dumbledore interrupted, standing up at the judges’ table and attempting, along with the others to clean up the mess. "You may return to your lessons now - or perhaps it would be quicker just to go down to dinner, as they are about to end…"
Feeling that at last something had gone right today, Harry got up to leave, but the man with the black camera jumped up and cleared his throat.
"Photos, Dumbledore, photos!" cried Bagman excitedly. "All the judges and champions, what do you think, Rita?"
"Er… yes, let’s do those first," said Rita Skeeter, whose eyes were upon Harry again. "And then perhaps some individual shots."
"Any individual photos will need to be run past my publicist," Harry said quietly.
The photo session took an exceedingly long time, mostly due to the heads of the three schools jockeying for position coupled with the photographer's unending efforts to have Fleur front and center of each of the shots. Finally, they were over.
Harry gathered his things and headed for the door and his dinner, only to find himself joined by the other Champions.
"So," Krum said, "You have Publicist?"
"Since all this started," Harry nodded, "yeah. My Dad thought it would be a good idea after he got a look at the popular press in Magical Britain."
"Very smart," the Durmstang student nodded. "Most Professional Quidditch Players do not bother and end up paying the price. Because I was so young, only 15 when I entered the league, some of the older players decided to… what is the term? Hold my hand? Yes. Hold my hand through my first contract signing. My Publicist has protected me from my stupidity many times."
A flutter of wings announced the arrival of Lockheed. Harry felt the weight settle on his shoulder before turning his head to look the mini-dragon in the eye. "And where have you been?"
"Hrmph!" the mini-dragon responded before turning his attention pointedly toward the two foreign students.
Harry looked to the pair to find them backing away, drawing their wands.
"This is Lockheed," he said, "he's not a dragon, he just looks like one."
"Not a dragon?" Fleur asked, her eyes even wider than normal.
"I had the same reaction the first time I met the little guy," Cedric said. "He followed a pair of the fourth years of my house to our table for breakfast the third day of classes, and we all freaked out. They scolded us for acting like children while rubbing the little guy's belly and feeding him bacon. Lockheed is harmless.
"Hrmph!" Lockheed responded, puffing out a small cloud of smoke.
"Just ignore the little jerk," Harry suggested, "I do. Look, I know I've told all the teachers and government people I could, but I don't remember if I told you guys," Harry said. "I didn't enter into the tournament. I don't want to be here taking attention away from you, and if my Dad's lawyers could have gotten me out of it, I would have been out of your spotlight so fast your heads would have swam."
"So the eternal glory and fortune of the Triwizard Tournament does not appeal to you?" Fleur asked.
"Eternal Glory?" Harry laughed. "You've been listening to our Headmaster. A quick quiz. Who was the winner of the Triwizard in 1812?"
His answer was silence, which caused Harry to nod. "That glory isn't all that eternal is it? Besides I'm famous enough as it is, and mostly for something I have no memory of. Viktor is world famous for his Quidditch prowess; you, Ms Delacour have been making some extreme waves on the catwalks of the Parisian fashion scene. Cedrick isn't famous yet, but he likely will be, on his own for his own achievements."
"You know about my modeling?" Fleur asked in surprise.
"I saw you on television," Harry explained. "You're hard to miss. As far as fortune goes, a thousand galleons is a nice chunk of change, but it isn't a fortune, and it's certainly not worth dying for."
"The secret," Cedric laughed, "is not to die."
"Is true," Viktor agreed. "Dying would ruin all my sponsorship deals."
"In the legal hoo haa that went on over my being inducted into the tournament, my father found out what was involved in the first task. We're going to have to take an egg from a nesting dragon. And not from this little guy either. A real full sized, likely extremely angry and out four our blood, dragon."
"Bloody hell," Cedric breathed.
"Yeah, my thought exactly," Harry agreed.
"Why did you tell us?" Viktor demanded.
"Why not?" Harry shrugged. "I know and can prepare. I have no reason to want any of you hurt or killed in this stupid game. I'm proposing a partnership. In the actual games we compete against one another with everything we've got. In preparation for each of the tasks, we cooperate and help each other."
The trio of older students exchanged looks, expressions of indecision etched upon their faces.
“Mr. Krum?” the Ministry official said from the tent flap. "It's time."
Victor nodded and rose from the bench. He nodded to Harry and slouched toward the exit.
"Good luck, Viktor," Harry said.
"Thank you, my friend," Krum said as he exited the tent.
All alone in the tent, Harry started up a systems check. He wouldn't power the armor fully until absolutely necessary, but knowing that everything was working before he had to face the dragon was only common sense.
He wondered if the plan was going to work. Several long phone calls to the Baxter Building had presented certain possibilities… now all he had to do was hope that it worked.
He felt much more aware of his body than usual; very aware of the way his heart was pumping fast, and his fingers tingling with fear… yet at the same time, he seemed to be outside himself, seeing the walls of the tent, and hearing the crowd, as though from far away.
“Very daring!” Bagman was yelling, and Harry heard the Chinese Fireball emit a horrible, roaring shriek, while the crowd drew its collective breath. “That’s some nerve he’s showing… and… yes, he’s got the egg!”
Thunderous applause shattered the air; Krum had finished… it would be Harry’s turn any moment.
Standing up, Harry noticed that his legs seemed to be made of rubber. He paced back and forth, waiting.
“Mr. Stark?” the Ministry official said from the tent flap. "Your turn."
Harry nodded and made his way to the tent's exit. He paused, drew a deep breath and pulled the flap open. Knowing that leaving the tent meant he would be risking his life beat down on him. Harry was aware that he had risked his life before, but those days, when he and Franklin were running with the Power Pack were more of a game than anything else.
Lacking any other choice, Harry Stark squared his shoulders and exited the tent.