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Storm clouds brewed on the ceiling of the Great Hall. Lightning flashed above Harry’s corner of Gryffindor Table; its thunder rippled out across the whole hall like waves across a dark sea.
He propped his book up between Ron and his rack of toast, munching bites between turning the pages. It’s going to be a good day.
The Goblet of Fire burnt with good cheer at the far end of the hall. The blue flames flickered in the corner of Harry’s eye, reflecting on the inside of his glasses.
‘Ten sickles says it’s Angelina,’ Seamus muttered.
Dean spared Hermione a wary look. ‘You’re on. It’ll be Diggory or that uppity Ravenclaw for sure.’
Ron swallowed a huge mouthful of bacon. ‘He won’t pay you. Seamus still owes me for the house-elf bet.’
‘Don’t remind me.’ Dean shuddered. ‘And keep it down, Hermione’s not remembered to try foist badges onto us today yet. Let’s try and make it last?’
Harry looked up from his book. ‘Badges?’
‘Yeah.’ Seamus glowered. ‘It’s your damn fault. That rubbish you fed her about house-elves at Hogwarts set her off in search of the kitchens and now she’s gone and started an enslaved magical people’s rights group.’
‘I just wanted to stop her attempts to force feed me.’
‘Well it worked, but we’re all paying a high price for it,’ Dean said.
Harry shrugged. ‘She hasn’t tried to sell me one.’
‘You haven’t exactly been around, mate,’ Ron groused. ‘We’re living dangerously, we are.’
‘Yeah, any more refusals and she’ll realise we don’t agree with her,’ Dean said.
Seamus grinned. ‘Or worse, we might end up like Neville.’
Harry raised an eyebrow.
‘Hermione’s sold him about ten badges already, but he keeps forgetting them. She thinks he’s doing it on purpose and has taken to harassing him about wearing them every time she sees him.’
‘Better him than us,’ Dean said. ‘Better him than us.’
‘Too true.’ Ron glanced down the table to where Hermione’s bushy hair stuck out of her textbook. ‘She went mental on Lavender when she refused to wear one because it didn’t go with her lip gloss.’
Seamus laughed. ‘Best refusal yet. Hermione was absolutely livid that lip gloss could be considered of equal importance to her anti-slavery movement.’
‘Someone needs to tell her about the differences between keeping house-elves and having slaves,’ Ron grumbled. ‘It’s growing well beyond a joke.’
They all turned to look at Harry.
‘I don’t actually know myself,’ he said. ‘Have you tried leaving books about it lying around near her? She’ll see them, read them, then maybe stop. Once she’s learnt a bit more, she’ll realise she’s wrong and move on. Hermione hates being wrong, she’ll give it up.’
‘That’s a good idea, mate,’ Seamus said. ‘Cunning. Worth the trip to the library too.’
Ron threw a long look at the goblet. ‘Do you reckon they’ll announce the champions today?’
‘Dumbledore said he would,’ Dean replied.
Harry buried his nose in Salazar’s crumbling, ancient charms book, flicking through pages of illegible, smeared text until he found a readable section. The water conjuring charm. Probably useful.
He pinched Ron’s goblet and pointed his wand tip into it. ‘Aguamenti.’
A dribble of water trickled into the bottom of the goblet.
Simple enough. Just needs practice. Harry turned the next clump of bile-plastered pages until he found another legible paragraph. The shield charm is a heavily intent based ward, adapted from basic hex deflection into a more practical defence. As such it can only be penetrated by spells cast with stronger intent and focus. The ultimate example of which is the Killing Curse that has such a potent level of intent it cannot be shielded against.
‘A shame there’s not much of this book left.’ He squinted at the tattered cover, but found no sign of either title or author. ‘It’s quite good.’
He pored over the few legible pages, munching on toast, and practising the wand motions for the stunning spell.
A strange prickle crawled down the nape of his neck and along his spine.
Harry focused on the book, but the sensation persisted.
He glanced up.
Every pair of eyes in the Great Hall stared back.
The bottom dropped out of his stomach. I missed something important. His heart sank. Which usually means something has gone unexpectedly, horribly wrong.
‘Good book, Harry?’ Professor Dumbledore called from beside the goblet.
He nodded and a titter of laughter rippled round the room.
Harry’s gut knotted itself into a tangle. What the hell is happening?
Professor Dumbledore gestured toward the small door at the end of the hall. ‘Would you mind joining the others, Harry?’
I suppose it can’t be worse than being stared at in here. Harry rose from his seat.
His friends’ faces stared up all along the table, twisted into grimaces and scowls. Pinched lips, dark glares, and muttered insults followed him down the hall. Professor Dumbledore crumpled a burnt-edged piece of parchment in his fingers.
Oh. Harry froze mid-step, his blood turning to ice. Oh, this is not seriously happening, is it? He turned Professor Dumbledore, but the headmaster’s stern expression stopped him in his tracks. I didn’t even want to watch the tournament, let alone take part in the bloody thing.
Harry fixed the goblet with a cold glare and stalked into the antechamber. Cedric Diggory and a silver-haired French girl leant against the wall within. Victor Krum paced the floor like a caged tiger.
‘What is it, Harry?’ Diggory asked. ‘Do they want us to go back?’
Harry blinked. What the hell am I here for if he’s the champion? He managed a hint of a smile. Seamus owes Dean ten sickles.
‘This is unprecedented,’ a loud voice boomed. Ludo Bagman stomped into the room. ‘A fourth champion.’
‘He is going to compete?’ The silver-haired girl turned her nose up. ‘Vraiment?’
‘He has to.’ Mr Crouch’s dry, tired voice echoed from the corner of the room. ‘Entering your name in the goblet represents the creation of a magically binding contract.’
Of course it does. Harry clenched his jaw and seethed. Every year. Every single year. There’s always something. I shouldn’t even be surprised.
He sighed. ‘What if you didn’t put your name in and happened to find yourself here anyway?’
‘Are you suggesting that you did not enter your name, Mr Potter?’ Professor Dumbledore swept into the centre of the room, trailed by Professor McGonagall, Professor Moody, and Snape.
‘I wasn’t suggesting it, sir. I can say with complete certainty that I didn’t consciously do so, nor did I get another student to do it.’
‘He’s lying,’ the French girl said, tossing her hair over her shoulder. ‘How else did his name come out?’
‘It does seem unlikely, Harry,’ Professor Dumbledore said.
Harry shrugged. Whatever, then. I’m stuck in the bloody thing either way.
‘We would like an extra champion,’ Beauxbatons’ enormous headmistress demanded. ‘Hogwarts cannot have two when we only have one.’
‘Hogwarts has only one champion,’ Harry said. ‘Diggory put his name in and was chosen. He’s the representative of the school.’
‘You have to compete,’ Mr Crouch said. ‘Else you’ll likely lose your magic.’
‘I know.’ Harry scowled. ‘I don’t have to belong to a school, though. I’ll turn up and take part, but I won’t be earning any extra points for Hogwarts when I never even wanted to compete in the first place.’
‘If that is what you wish, Harry.’ The twinkle faded from Professor Dumbledore’s eyes.
Ice tightened around Harry’s heart. It’s your fault, you old coot! Your age line was meant to stop stuff like this. But just like last year and both years before, I’m the one who gets stuck in the middle of all your mess!
‘Is that acceptable?’ Mr Crouch asked the other champions.
‘It’s not like he will earn any points anyway,’ the French witch said.
Krum and Cedric nodded.
‘Then it’s settled,’ Bagman cried. ‘We’ll come and fetch you before the wand-weighing ceremony at the start of the tournament.’
The other champions filed out past Harry, Beauxbatons’ champion glaring at him through her veil of silver hair.
I don’t think she likes me.
‘Stay here please, Harry,’ Professor Dumbledore said.
Professor McGonagall thrust the door shut. Snape sneered. Professor Moody’s magical eye fixed itself on a point right between Harry’s ears.
‘I didn’t expect this from you, my boy.’ Professor Dumbledore shook his head. ‘I won’t pretend to understand why you entered, but you have to take part now and you’re at a great disadvantage. The tasks were designed for sixth and seventh year students, not fourth years.’
‘I didn’t enter my name.’
‘I see,’ Professor Dumbledore murmured.
Ridiculous. Harry choked down a cold ball or fury. What do I have to do for people to trust me? Kill two basilisks? Whoever put my name in this stupid tournament is going to regret it.
He turned and wrenched the door open, stalking round the corner toward the common room. Whispers and barbed comments dogged his footsteps.
At least my friends will believe me once I tell them.
Stark silence fell over the Gryffindor Common Room.
‘I can’t believe you, Harry.’ Ron launched himself out of his seat. ‘You said you wouldn’t put your name in! You promised you’d be watching alongside us!’
Hot, angry eyes stared from all parts of the room.
‘You could’ve at least told us how you managed it so we’d have a chance as well,’ Seamus spat. ‘Your word doesn’t mean much does it?’
They turned their backs when he opened his mouth to speak. Hermione looked away and folded her arms.
The little point of ice in Harry’s chest tightened like a vice. Why won’t they listen?
He turned to the trio of chasers. ‘You girls believe me, right?’
‘You told us you weren’t going to enter,’ Angelina snapped. ‘But your name came out, didn’t it?’
Harry searched a sea of cold faces. So that’s how it is. He tightened his hands into fists. So much for house loyalty. He spun and stormed toward the Chamber of Secrets before any of the words slipped up from the ball of cold fury in his chest to his tongue. Salazar was right. I should’ve made better friends.
He marched past Myrtle’s cubicle and down the stairs, tore his wand from his sleeve, and unleashed every violent spell he knew. Red, purple, and white magic hissed through the air. Serpent effigies shattered, throwing dust and sharp stone fragments across the chamber. A sharp piece of stone sliced a line of fire through his cheek and a hot drop trickled down his chin and neck.
Why? He hurled magic into the basilisk’s impenetrable hide. Why? Why? Why? Harry slumped down against the wall and pounded his fist into the stone chips and dust until the pain swallowed his rage. Why do I never get to keep things?
‘Stupid, bloody idiots.’ He picked bits of stone out of his hand and tossed them away, smearing blood down his robes. The small point of ice in his chest melted into a numb, hollow void. ‘They should know better. When have I ever wished to be in something like this?’
Harry repaired the damage he’d done to the walls, vanished the blood off his robes, and crossed into the study.
‘What were you doing?’ Salazar asked him.
Salazar’s brows drew together. ‘What happened?’
‘My name was chosen for the Triwizard Tournament. I didn’t even enter, but nobody will listen to me, let alone believe me. My housemates and friends certainly don’t.’
‘I do,’ Salazar said.
‘What does it say about my friends that the only one who trusts me is a thousand year old portrait?’ Harry demanded.
‘It says Godric and Helga would both be very disappointed. Tell me about the tournament.’
‘It has tasks. Three of them. There’s a champion from each of Hogwarts, Durmstrang, and Beauxbatons, then me.’
‘Is it dangerous?’
‘It was cancelled because the contestants kept dying.’
‘Something worth winning, then,’ Salazar said.
‘I’m competing with much older students; the best in their schools.’
‘You’re my heir. You’re a prodigy at transfiguration, proficient at duelling, and you’re powerful in your own right. You can win. You will win.’
‘Why would I even want to win?’ Harry asked. ‘It’s a stupid bloody idea. Let’s stick a bunch of children in a death-trap and watch what happens. Sounds like great fucking fun.’
‘The hat nearly put you in Slytherin, yes?’
‘Then use some of that ambition you must have lurking inside you and prove yourself better. Silence your doubters and former friends by winning the damn thing.’ Salazar’s lip curled. ‘They’ll come flocking back to you afterward, I guarantee it.’
‘What if I don’t want them back?’
‘Make better allies, then.’ Salazar’s wand let out a spurt of green and silver sparks. ‘You wanted to be stronger. Accomplish it. Winning this tournament will prove you really have bettered yourself.’
I need to be better. Harry swallowed a stab of yearning. I’ve watched too many wishes slip through my fingers. How many can there be left now?
‘What should I do?’ he asked. ‘How can I win?’
‘Cunning. They’ll underestimate you and focus on the other champions. Ignore your pride and use theirs against them. A serpent strikes from hiding.’ Salazar stroked the snake looped round his shoulders. ‘Do the rituals. The first is more of a risk if you carry it out before adulthood, but its benefits will be greater because of it. The second is virtually risk free. It will encourage your body to improve itself more quickly, though that’s a very simplistic explanation. Neither will bring you incredible power, but they’ll help close the gap between you and the others. Tom Riddle profited greatly from these, though he took them many steps further afterward on his own.’
Harry scowled at the painting. And look what happened to Tom Riddle. More monster than man.
‘Intent is the most important part of magic,’ Salazar said. ‘There’s no such thing as light or dark, only the intent with which power is wielded. You might not like it, but Albus Dumbledore is not famous and admired because he’s well-intentioned. He’s famous and admired because he intended to do great things and was powerful enough to accomplish them.’
Damn right I don’t like it! Harry clenched his jaw and struggled for a retort. But he’s right. Professor Dumbledore could probably do anything Riddle’s done, he just chooses not to.
He took a deep breath. ‘Fine. I’ll do it.’
Salazar nodded. ‘A man who’s not afraid to open his mind to things he doesn’t like will always go further than one who covers his ears and refuses to listen.’
Faint footprints marked the ladder up to where Salazar said the books about rituals were. The feet were too large to be Ginny’s, about the same size as Harry’s own.
Harry scuffed the marks away with his feet.
‘First two in the book,’ Salazar said. ‘They’re not very complex, just dangerous if you do something wrong.’
Harry dropped two battered books down atop a dust-covered copy of Secrets of the Darkest Arts and clambered down the ladder. Sheafs of parchment stuck out of the pages of the large, black tome.
Tom Riddle’s homework, no doubt.
He picked up his books and turned to the painting. ‘Am I likely to do anything wrong?’
‘Not with me here. Now take me out into the chamber. You’re not drawing runes all over my tidy study.’
Harry sighed. I hate carrying this painting. Whoever cast the anti-levitating charm on it was a sadist of the highest order. It was probably Salazar himself.
‘Use the flagrate spell.’ Salazar sketched runes of green and silver fire in the air from the tip of his wand. ‘Like that. It’s best to have nothing but your own magic involved in the ritual.’
Harry tapped the tip of his wand on his palm and peered at the green flames in the cracked paint. Flagrate’s just conjured fire. I wonder if I can change the colour.
He pictured purple flames and flicked his wand through the air. Indigo fire traced after it. Harry grinned.
‘What was wrong with green?’ Salazar crossed his arms. ‘Green is the best colour.’
‘I prefer purple.’ Harry etched the runes from the book onto the floor until he crouched within a seven-pointed star and triangle of violet runes.
‘No.’ Salazar jabbed his wand at the last runes. ‘Do that bit again.’ He cocked his head. ‘In fact, the first part and the runes by your left foot need to be more like the book, too.’
Harry glanced between them. They could not be more identical. He did them again. Whatever. Just in case.
‘A few drops of blood at each of the points of the star and triangle,’ Salazar said. ‘If you were some half-rate wizard instead of my descendant, we’d have to be careful and do these separately, or even use a triangle instead of the star.’
Harry drew his wand tip across his palm, splitting the skin, and a thin line of red welled up and tricked into his cupped palm. He let a few drops fall onto each of the points. ‘What happens now?’
‘You stand exactly at the centre.’ Salazar pointed his wand at the middle of the star, his snake mimicking the motion with its tail. ‘Then you channel a little magic. The ritual will help you reach your magic more easily when you cast, as well as increasing your power by a small fraction.’
Harry folded his arms.
Salazar sighed. ‘Fine. I’ll embellish. Think of your magic as a bubble. When you’re born, you’ve got a tiny bubble, but, like all magical creatures, you have the ability to absorb magic and then use magic in some fashion. As you grow toward maturity, the bubble gets bigger, taking in magic from the world. You can force the bubble to get bigger by straining it in your formative years, but this is risky as too much strain and stress can warp how you use magic and even rob you of your control all together. This ritual, to use a limited metaphor that doesn’t require a lot of study to understand, changes the consistency of the bubble a fraction. You will draw magic in or out more easily, which makes casting spells more efficient, reduces the risks of strain, and lets you grow a little more powerful as a bonus.’
‘And if something goes wrong?’
‘Your runes are perfect, so unless you’re interrupted, nothing will happen.’
‘Your bubble changes too much and does something very interesting. It’s a virtually non-existent possibility. I’ve checked your runes.’
‘And the other ritual? Any nasty surprises there?’
‘If you drew the triangle incorrectly or unevenly the effects might only be limited to certain parts of your body or certain aspects of improvement. You could simply redo it to correct things.’
Harry fingered his glasses. ‘Will it fix my eyesight?’
‘No.’ Salazar shook his head. ‘It pushes your body to make the best use of what it’s given, but it won’t affect any pre-existing problems with the template of your anatomy. It’ll likely only give you the body of an athletic fourteen year old and perhaps speed up puberty.’
That’s a shame. They’re always falling off or misting up. It’s frankly a miracle it hasn’t happened at a more inconvenient moment, like in the presence of something highly dangerous.
Harry frowned. ‘I don’t have to be naked, do I? It’s chilly down here. I think we’re right under the lake.’
The snake buried its head in Salazar’s robes.
‘Only a very precise and advanced ritual would be affected by clothing like yours. Fortunately for both of us, these two are neither. You should probably leave your wand outside, though, just in case.’
Harry placed his holly and phoenix feather wand outside the edge of the runic star. ‘I suppose I’d best get started.’
I won’t turn back. He watched the glyphs begin to glow and drew himself up. I won’t even look back.