Actions

Work Header

And the Unethical Binding Contract

Work Text:

Voldemort doesn’t even think of the philosopher’s stone, not here, not in this timeline, with Quirrell talking on and on about the Triwizard Tournament. It’s too well protected, too well guarded, in the Flamel’s hand, compared to the Tournament. (He still knows of the stone, of course, how could he not, with all his research into immortality, but right now he has a better option. He’s already immortal anyway, he just needs his body back.)

So. A lost young wizard, easily impressionable and eager to please – eager to learn -wanders into the Albanian forest on holiday. It’s been a while and he’s still weaker than he’d like, but Voldemort hasn’t completely lost the charm that had made him so deadly in the first place.

Quirrell falls easily, and tells him all about the Tournament, and how it’s almost time for Harry Potter – the Boy Who Lived – to start his first year at Hogwarts.

And the thing is, Voldemort’s done a lot of research, before he lost his body. There’s this ritual…

Well, you know the story. Flesh of the servant, bone of the father, blood of the enemy.

He’s got Quirrell now, thoroughly wrapped around his metaphorical fingers. He knows where to find his father’s bones. (He should. He’s the one who killed him, after all.) All he needs is Potter.

Wouldn’t that be fitting, almost poetic, coming back into the world as Harry Potter leaves it, the Dark Lord returning with the Savior’s death?

Tom Riddle certainly thinks so.

.

Harry gets to school young and curious and as eager to learn as he is worried that he doesn’t belong. But he gets sorted into Gryffindor without a hiccup and sits alongside his new friend Ron as the headmaster tells them all about the Triwizard Tournament Hogwarts will be hosting that year.

He’s only just learned magic exists at all, and now he’s learning of other schools in other countries, of the culture and traditions of a world that could have been his, had it not been for Voldemort.

Some of the younger students complain at the mention of an age restriction, and even Ron shares a few day dreams, but they’re eleven and haven’t even learned their first spell. None of Harry’s yearmates seem to think much about it, not as a real possibility. (Except for Draco Malfoy, but then, he’s an arrogant bully who’s probably bluffing. Harry doesn’t think he’d last two minutes.)

As the older years gossip and plot, life for the first years largely remains the same. McGonagall still impresses them all by turning her desk into a pig and Hermione still does the best at turning her match into a needle. Flitwick still squeaks in delight when he reads Harry’s name at the roll call and Harry still leaves potions absolutely convinced that Snape hates him without knowing why. He and Ron still visit Hagrid at the end of their first week for tea and Hagrid is still shifty about why Snape might possibly hate Harry.

Harry and Ron still don’t get along with Hermione. Draco Malfoy still bullies every other first year but his fellow Slytherins.

There’s no quidditch this year but there’s still flying lessons. Still a forgetful Neville with a Rememberall from his Gran. Still a frazzled Madam Hooch more worried about her student with a broken wrist than the twenty-odd first years with brooms they don’t know how to use properly.

Harry still catches Neville’s Rememberall before it hits the ground, McGonagall still takes him to see Wood, and Harry still wonders if he’s going to be beaten or expelled.

But: “We’ll have to get him on the team next year,” McGonagall insists.

Wood is circling Harry and nodding and talking about seekers and quidditch and the Triwizard Tournament and how just because quidditch is cancelled this year doesn’t mean they can’t have weekly practices anyway. Weekly practices that Harry, apparently, is now a part of.

He doesn’t break the rule about first years on house teams, and McGonagall doesn’t buy him a broom, but Harry doesn’t know about the way things could have been and he rightly wouldn’t care if he did. Flying, quite frankly, is wonderful.

Hermione is still a little frustrated at his reward for breaking the rules and Draco still jealous and Neville still grateful, so it’s not really that different from what might have happened in another life after all. The rest of the first month carries on much like how it would have in another world, with one key, subtle difference:

Quirrell, still nervous, still stuttering, still hesitant, is a little bit warmer. Less the bumbling fool and more the overly-cautious teacher. He still needs to be unobtrusive, as forgotten as possible, hidden in the background – he’s brought the Dark Lord into Hogwarts, after all – but he also needs Harry to live.

(They don’t need Harry to win, not technically, not on his own. They only need him to survive long enough to enter the maze. Quirrell can take care of the rest. But if Harry’s going to survive then he’s going to need to learn something in Defense Against the Dark Arts.)

September fades into October and the other schools arrive. Their entrances are even more impressive to the young first years who’ve had little opportunity to see much magic and Ron – among many others – still fawns over Viktor Krum, international quidditch star.

Hermione is still friendless and Neville still bullied. Ron and Harry are still as thick as thieves. They still sneak out at midnight to meet Draco for a duel, and he still fails to show, and they still find themselves running down Hogwarts’ dark halls with Hermione and Neville by their sides. This time the corridor they escape down is not a forbidden one. There is no three-headed dog waiting for them behind a locked door.

Halloween comes. The feast is warm and fun and uninterrupted – there is no troll in the dungeons this year, no need to test the castle’s defenses or distract the other professors. Quirrell and Voldemort already know that the castle’s defenses will be weakest during the third task, with visitors on the grounds and monsters roaming the maze. They already know that the easiest way to get Harry off the grounds is to take advantage of a portkey that will already be in place, rather than create one of their own that could be discovered.

Hermione is still fighting back tears from Ron’s insults, two months into magic school and still friendless, but she doesn’t hide in a bathroom today: the Triwizard Champions are going to be announced.

Fleur Delacour’s name is met with polite applause and disappointed murmurs from several of her classmates.

Viktor Krum’s name surprises no one, not even Harry, who’s only just learned how to play quidditch. There is more than one Hogwarts student who claps loudly alongside those from Drumstrang.

Cedric Diggory’s name nearly triggers Hufflepuff house into rioting, and most of the rest of Hogwarts is just as enthusiastic. Harry knows nothing about the boy – man, technically, at seventeen – but he claps loudly between Ron and Seamus. It’s certainly better than anyone from Slytherin getting in, though it would have been nice for their champion to have been a Gryffindor.

But then the goblet flares again and Dumbledore neatly catches a fourth piece of paper in his hand.

“Harry Potter.”

The hall falls silent.

Harry blinks, not quite understanding what’s happening. It’s too implausible, too farfetched, for his name to have come out of the goblet. Surely he’s not in the Triwizard Tournament. The three names have already been called.

“Harry Potter,” Dumbledore says again, looking unusually grave.

Low murmurs swirl over the crowd. Harry blinks again. He does not move to stand. He looks over at Ron, who looks equally as shocked. (Even Hermione, ever the rule follower, is too shocked to hiss at him to stand.)

Harry doesn’t know what he’s supposed to do. How could his name have come out of the goblet?

“Would Harry Potter please come forward?” Dumbledore requests, and his tone is both gravely serious and terribly gentle.

Ron nudges him. Harry shakes his head. “But I didn’t… I can’t…”

“You have to go up there, Potter,” an older student says lowly from further down the table. It might have been Percy. Harry’s not really sure.

He stands.

When he makes his way to the front of the room the murmurs that follow him are not scornful this time. There are few whispers of cheating, of the privileges of being the wizarding world’s hero.

“He’s so small.” Harry hears instead. “Does he even know any spells yet?”

(That is not to say there is no one who reacts with jealousy or anger, no one who thinks that he has been given something he does not deserve because of who he is, but this time – in this universe – these students are far outnumbered by those wondering how an eleven-year-old is going to be able to compete against three seventeen-year-old legal adults in a tournament that was previously discontinued due to the death toll.)

At the front of the room, Dumbledore kindly directs Harry toward his fellow champions. His eyes are heavy with grief but his smile is gentle.

The other champions stare at Harry when he enters the room. Not one of them considers the possibility that he is there to join them, as one of their number.

“Potter?” Cedric asks with a bemused frown. “What are you doing here?”

Harry can’t speak. He’s still not entirely certain of the answer to that himself.

Ludo Bagman enters, and claps Harry on the shoulder, but, in this universe, he isn’t beaming. Even Bagman, fun-loving and prone to gambling, can’t see what good could come of letting an eleven-year-old compete, wizarding world’s savior or not.

“Welcome, welcome,” he says to the room, a bit more subdued than normal, “and congratulations to the Triwizard Tournament’s four champions.” His fingers tighten on Harry’s shoulder at the words – it’s hard to tell if it’s mean to be a reassuring squeeze of if Bagman really is that anxious.

Cedric and Viktor and Fleur stare.

“You cannot be serious?” Fleur asks incredulously. “He is just a little boy!”

In this universe, Harry does not feel affronted by that, or at least, not nearly so much.

“Nevertheless,” Crouch says slowly, having entered the room behind Bagman, “his name came out of the goblet. I’m afraid the rules are very clear.” His gaze meets Harry’s firmly, something like sympathy deep within them. “He will have to compete.”

There are no further bursts of outrage – not from Harry or anyone else. They are all simply too stunned.

“Harry,” Dumbledore says gently, bending over slightly to look him properly in the eyes. “I’m afraid I must ask you – did you put your name in the goblet?”

Harry stares at him. “No. I don’t want to compete,” he answers strongly. He hadn’t even managed the levitation spell in Charms today, for Merlin’s sake! (As Ron is fond of saying.) How can he compete in a magical tournament against wizards with six years of magical experience?

“I’m afraid you must,” Crouch says firmly but softly.

Harry searches Dumbledore’s eyes but the headmaster does not refute the man’s words. He swallows as Dumbledore straightens where he stands, a heavy pit in his stomach. He doesn’t want this.

There are more words of protest, of course, more attempted arguments, from multiple people, but the contract is magically binding. Harry will have to compete.

Not one person argues that it isn’t fair that Hogwarts will have two champions.

.

Harry makes his way back to the common room on lead feet, numb to the world around him. The first years haven’t paid as much attention to the tournament as the other students but Harry knows well enough why it was cancelled, all those years ago. The possibility of him dying before he even becomes a proper wizard is all too real, and horrifying.

There is no party waiting for him when he gets back, just a common room slightly more crowded than usual. A few people congratulate him, even more wish him well, but for the most part the room is stunned.

Faced with all those eyes on him, murmuring about his size and lack of magical knowledge, Harry feels very small indeed.

Ron – a Ron who’d spent five minutes thinking of the fame and glory and money the tournament could bring before remembering that Harry hadn’t done any better than him in Charms that morning – is waiting for him just inside the portrait. He and Harry hurry up to their dorm room, which is thankfully empty.

“Did you –?” Ron starts to ask, as soon as they’re alone.

Harry’s heart plummets, wondering if he’s lost his first and only friend. “I tried to back out,” he says quickly, “but they said, they said I had to compete.” He’s going to die in this tournament, he thinks with certainty in that moment. “I need to learn magic,” he says.

There’s determination in Ron’s gaze when they lock eyes again. They can both think of someone who loves to learn.

(In this universe, Harry has not yet come face to face with Voldemort and remained steadfast against him. He has not battled a basilisk with a sword or fended off a hundred dementors with a spell grown witches and wizards sometimes struggle with. Ron has no reason to think him capable of actually winning and every reason to wonder if his friend might die. How can jealousy stand, in the face of that?)

.

Hermione is not at all reluctant to help them study, though she does look one part triumphant that they came to her at all and nine parts terrified for Harry. She, more than any of their other classmates, really seems to understand the seriousness of the situation. But then, Harry figures, she’d probably researched the tournament as soon as the opening feast had ended. She probably knows exactly how many people had died before they’d decided to shut it down.

If she does know though, she doesn’t tell him. Instead she piles him with books to read and drags him to the library after classes every day.

After a week of this, no matter that she thinks she’s helping, Harry rebels. Maybe he has picked up one or two things from the books she’s having him read but he wants to learn magic. He needs to learn magic, if he’s going to survive this. Ron, who hasn’t stopped complaining about Hermione even as he grudgingly follows Harry every step of the way, feels similarly.

Harry has an outburst ten days into November. He’s scared and the murmurs floating around behind his back aren’t helping.

(This school, in this universe, does not turn on Harry for entering the tournament. He’s only eleven, they whisper behind his back instead. Sometimes, when he walks down the corridors to class, it feels like he’s attending his own funeral. It is not a pleasant feeling.)

Hermione flinches backward at his frustrated shout and startles quite badly, stammering as tears spring to her eyes, but she seems as equally as furious as Harry, if that’s even possible.

“Of course you don’t know what to do!” she shouts back at him. “You shouldn’t even be in the tournament! I’ve been pouring over the rules and regulations –”

“The ministry already tried that!” Ron shoots back, but his words aren’t harsh.

Hermione deflates and Harry realizes that her exhaustion comes not just from trying to help him learn magic but from all the research she’s been doing into the tournament itself. She too has entered a new world of magic only to be let down by what she’s found. “I know,” she says, “I just thought…”

But she takes their words to heart and instead of giving Harry chapters to read she starts finding spells he might be able to use. (Hermione is only eleven, and Harry and Ron are her first ever friends. She does not quite know how to teach someone yet. But she learns quickly.)

Halfway into November the three of them are spending every other afternoon in an empty classroom, practicing spells. All three of them have mastered the leg-locker curse and Harry’s already cast the full-body bind successfully twice. Slowly, the bickering between them starts to fade into friendship.

What use any of these spells will be against whatever is coming is impossible to say, but it’s better than nothing they all reason (and hope).

It is not quite a friendship forged from facing down a mountain troll together, but it is a friendship fueled by a need to survive what’s coming. Even Ron doubles down and starts reading about old tasks as Harry practices spell after spell.

.

The students aren’t the only ones who treat Harry differently, after Halloween. McGonagall spends about five minutes being sympathetic, offering to help him if he ever needs anything, and then becomes stricter than ever, watching him like a hawk during class. Flitwick hovers too, scrutinizing every wave of Harry’s wand, noticeably favoring the practical over the theoretical as the year ticks onward. Binns doesn’t notice, of course, but Sprout is much friendlier and Sinistra practically tells Harry that he’s free to slack off in Astronomy, if he wants.

Snape… Well, Harry is still convinced that Snape hates him. But he hesitates sometimes, or stares at him when no one’s really looking – Harry’s caught him twice at dinner – which makes Harry think that Snape’s as unsettled as the rest of his teachers at the prospect of an eleven-year-old in the Triwizard Tournament. (The thought doesn’t help much. Potions certainly doesn’t get any easier.)

Harry doesn’t notice anything odd about Quirrell, doesn’t have the context of another world in which he plays an idiot remarkably well, but DADA for the first years focuses a bit more on what to do when you find yourself in an unknown situation than it otherwise would have. They cover minor hexes and jinxes, major magical creatures, and the importance of dodging.

.

Some of the older students try to give Harry advice. Most of it, however well intentioned, is either completely useless or simply flies over Harry’s head.

Some of them seem to think he’s some kind of ultra-powerful wizard, keeping his talents hidden, and that’s how he defeated Voldemort. (You-know-who, they say in hushed tones, but worrying about saying Voldemort’s name is the last thing on Harry’s mind.)

A few – a rare few, at least – seem to think he’s only in it for the glory.

Cedric actually checks in on Harry a couple times, stopping by the Gryffindor table during dinner one night, joining them at a table in the library for a few minutes another. He looks worried every time – stressed, more accurately – but Harry supposes that makes sense, given what they’re both facing.

The thing is though, he spots Fleur staring at him across the dining hall a couple of times, and Viktor lingering near the Quidditch pitch during his practices with the Gryffindor team (a waste of time, Hermione argues at first, until she sees the way flying relaxes him) and both of the other champions have the same worried frowns on their faces.

Harry knows he’s no real competition, but it still takes him until Cedric worriedly asks if he’s doing okay before Harry realizes they’re not worried about him, they’re worried for him. (“How’s everyone treating you?” Cedric asks, staring at a group of fourth years in the library who are muttering behind their hands as they risk glances in Harry’s direction. Harry’s pretty sure one of them has said ‘that poor boy’ at least three times now.)

Ron and Hermione, of course, have demonstrated their own worry through the hours they’ve spent studying together. And even Neville and Seamus and Dean have tried to offer some advice – or, at least, they’ve offered to let him copy their homework. But it’s still a bit of a surprise for him to realize people are worried about his safety, especially the people he’s competing against (little competition though he may be).

It’s an odd feeling, having the older students worry for him, and it’s something that Harry isn’t completely convinced he isn’t imagining it until the champions have their photoshoot.

Ollivander takes each of their wands first, remarking on the quality, the shine, the components, but the room falls even more silent than before when Harry reaches upward and hands the older man a wand he’d bought only months ago. Ollivander doesn’t seem to think anything strange about the situation but Harry can feel the eyes of the other three champions boring into his back.

When they go to actually get their photos taken, Cedric hovers near Harry, never straying far from his side. When Rita Skeeter approaches, looking eager, Viktor steps into her path. When the photographer spends a little bit too long on the individual shots for Harry, Fleur tosses her hair and sidles closer to him, successfully distracting him from Harry.

In this universe, Rita Skeeter never gets Harry into a broom closet. In this universe, there is no resentment between Viktor and Fleur and Cedric about a fourth champion in their midst.

The article that Rita Skeeter publishes in the end is… Well, it’s not kind, but even she knows enough not to probe too deeply into certain aspects of an eleven-year-old’s life. A sizeable amount of the article still focuses on Harry’s tragic past – with great extrapolation, considering the only things she knows about him is what everyone else already knows as well. She does not misspell anyone’s names this time, and there’s an entire paragraph where she speculates whether or not Harry is looking up to Cedric as the big brother he never had.

Harry tries to apologize, next time he runs into the older student, but Cedric only waves his apologies aside.

“Rita Skeeter will twist anything you say, or do,” Cedric warns him. “You have to be careful around her.”

Harry doesn’t actually really know anything about Cedric – they aren’t close – but in that moment, for the briefest of seconds, with Cedric cautiously warning him away from danger with concern in his eyes, Harry wonders if this is what it feels like to have an older brother after all.

.

Harry doesn’t have his invisibility cloak – not yet – but Hagrid still takes him to see the dragons. How could he not?

In another world, where a fourteen-year-old boy has already faced down Voldemort twice in his time at Hogwarts, slain a basilisk and pushed back hundreds of dementors, Hagrid is rightfully indignant on his behalf, but more accepting of the circumstances. What comes, comes, and they can do nothing but face it with all the strength they can muster.

Here, Harry is eleven. Hagrid has already stormed up to Dumbledore’s office twice this year, after Harry’s weekly visits to his home with Ron and Hermione, demanding that the headmaster do something, to no avail. Harry doesn’t know this of course, but that doesn’t change the facts.

So of course Hagrid still sneaks Harry through the forest, still shows him the dragons. He still has a crush on Madam Maxime too, but this Harry does not have his invisibility cloak and has never ventured even a short way into the Forbidden Forest. He sticks close to Hagrid and the half-giant doesn’t wander.

Of course, Harry’s stomach still drops in horror at the sight in front of him, his mind still blanks in panic as his limbs freeze. He has no idea of how he’s supposed to face down a dragon. Hagrid tries to be reassuring but it doesn’t help much.

Harry returns to the common room to find Ron and Hermione waiting for him and fights the urge to break down right then and there. Instead they huddle together in a corner of the common room, whispering urgently. None of them have the first idea about how to steal from a dragon but Harry’s friends refuse to allow him to give up.

.

Maxime and Karkaroff both see the dragons, that doesn’t change, so Cedric is still the only one who doesn’t know. The next time he checks in on Harry, as they pass each other in the hall, Harry asks if they can talk privately for a moment. Looking worried, Cedric leads him into a nearby classroom. With Ron and Hermione looking on, Harry tells him about the dragons.

Cedric looks stunned at the revelation but Harry has class to get to – potions, in fact – so the Hufflepuff doesn’t get much chance to say anything other than a mangled thank you before the three first years are hurrying away.

If anything, he checks up on Harry even more frequently after that.

.

So. Harry still learns of the dragons early, as do all the rest of the champions, but Cedric is the only one who knows that Harry is actually aware of the first task. Harry might actually be the only one who knows that everyone else knows, he considers – he’s not even sure that Karkaroff and Maxime saw each other, skulking around the edges of the forest clearing as they had been.

And Harry is only eleven, and Cedric is not the only one who worries for him. That weekend, Viktor waits for him after quidditch practice, asking for a private word – the team looks on worriedly but Harry tells them it’s fine – and tells him about the dragons.

Not wanting to get Hagrid in trouble, Harry doesn’t tell the other champion that he already knows, only thanks him. Viktor looks as worried as Cedric does sometimes, but he doesn’t go so far to ask Harry if he’s got anything planned.

Fleur corners Harry after dinner that night, and tells him the same thing. Harry thanks her too, wondering why they’re all risking the championship by telling him.

(He did not grow up loved. It is a strange and pleasant sensation – people worrying about him – that does more to offset the feelings of panic and fear than Harry thought possible.)

.

Neither Harry, Ron, or Hermione have any idea of how to get past a dragon, and they don’t have much time to find out. They also don’t think that Harry will ever be able to master any upper level spells in the time he has, though none of them says this aloud.

Instead they try to figure out possible ways to use the spells they do know against a dragon. Most of what he has learned is utterly, utterly useless. As if Harry’s meager full-body bind will affect an actual dragon.

 “Their scales are impervious to all but the most powerful spells,” Ron tells them glumly – not knowledge he’s gained from a book but something he’s heard from Charlie.

It is not encouraging. Little about the situation is. But Harry has never been the type to give up, whether at eleven or fourteen, and in this world he has both Hermione and Ron at his side, even if they haven’t fought mountain trolls and the traps protecting the philosopher’s stone and everything else they still might face someday.

The teachers go even lighter on homework for all the first years as the first task draws closer, as if to lighten Harry’s load without showing any obvious favoritism. (Well, most of them do. Binns is as oblivious as always, and Snape still shows few signs of caring.)

Every waking hour that isn’t spent in class or the dining hall is spent either in the library or an empty classroom.

They can’t beat the dragon using power, Hermione reasons logically, which means Harry will have to be clever.

The only problem is, what does clever mean, compared to a dragon guarding her nest?

It’s Ron who inadvertently gives Hermione her ideas. His head hits the table they’re sitting at one day in despair as a low moan escapes him. “It’s too bad you’re not going against gnomes,” he complains unhappily, exhausted and terrified for his friend in equal measures, “then you could just get them a bit dizzy and nip right by.”

This comment flies right over the heads of muggle-raised Harry and muggleborn Hermione, but after a bit of explanation Hermione lights up.

And that’s where they get the idea not to fight the dragon, but to distract her. The idea renews their hope and they double down and get back to work.

Harry can’t quite make fireworks or anything like that with his wand, but a burst of light, a loud sound? He can do that.

(Hopefully it will be enough.)

.

Two days before the first task, Harry approaches Fred and George to ask for Dungbombs. He does not want to get the third-years in trouble and so does not tell them why he wants them, but even if they don’t know about the dragons the twins seem to understand something.

At any rate, they exchange glances, more serious than Harry’s ever seen them, then proceed to hand over every Dungbomb in their arsenal.

“Anything you need, little Harrikins,” Fred says with a smirk that doesn’t quite meet his eyes.

“Anything,” George echoes solemnly.

Harry can only nod, touched by their offer, and hurries off to ask Ron the best way to use the Dungbombs properly.

.

Harry’s stomach ties itself into knots the morning of the first task. He doesn’t eat a thing for breakfast, no matter his friends’ urging. He doesn’t think he’s imagining the eerie silence in the hall either.

All eyes seem to be on him. Most of those who wish him luck seem to do so solemnly. A few seem to think he’ll have no problems facing whatever they might think is coming. But the majority of the Hogwarts population does little but stare at him from a distance, as if wondering if he’s going to be dead at the end of the day.

(Even Draco seems paler than normal as he watches Harry, and the smirk on his face seems to be plastered on through great effort. His insults don’t have their usual bite.)

But Harry has his supporters too, and half the first-year class – all of the first year Gryffindors – and the entire Gryffindor quidditch team, and Percy Weasley, and others, crowd around him and help him to the champions tent on the grounds.

Everyone branches off from there, going to the stands with worried looks on their faces, and it is only with great difficulty that Ron and Hermione manage to tear themselves away from him and do the same.

(The animosity that had been between them at the beginning of the year is long forgotten. Their investment in helping him survive has given Ron an appreciation for Hermione’s intelligence and taught Hermione a little bit more of how to be herself, without worrying so much about impressing people.)

Inside the tent, Cedric, Viktor, and Fleur meet Harry’s gaze easily, with grim faces.

Harry nods at them, not trusting himself to speak. His hands are clammy and shaking, his mouth dry. He doesn’t just have butterflies in his stomach – instead it feels like every insect in the world has taken up residence in his gut.

They have a plan – he has a plan – but he’s not sure he can do this.

He has to do this.

Harry still pulls the Hungarian Horntail, in this universe. The looks on his fellow champions’ faces are even graver at the sight of it. Even Bagman can barely put on a brave face. But he claps Harry on the shoulder nevertheless and leaves the four of them in the tent.

Cedric, after casting worried looks at Fleur and Viktor, makes his way over to Harry’s side. “Do you have a plan?” he asks him in a low tone.

“It’s clear he’s worried about Harry, but also clear he doesn’t want the students from the other schools to think they’re cheating.

Harry swallows nervously. He doesn’t want to get Cedric disqualified. The older student actually wanted this, after all, chose to enter the tournament. “Run,” he says shakily.

Cedric looks even more worried at that though and Harry can’t help but try and make him feel a little better. His plan is at least a little more complicated than running. He shows the Hufflepuff the Dungbombs in his pocket.

“Fred and George gave them to me,” he admits.

Cedric grimaces.

“That will only make her angrier,” Viktor says from a few feet away. He does not seem pleased by the prospect, even though it means he has one less competitor to worry about. Then again, Harry knows he’s not much competition anyway.

“Here,” Fleur approaches him too, taps her wand against the Dungbombs and murmurs a word that Harry doesn’t know.

Cedric straightens, turning toward her, and even Viktor is glaring. Fleur bristles defensively and turns to face Harry fully.

“Now they will smell like something the dragon likes,” she assures him. “Throw them far.”

Harry’s grip tightens against the Dungbombs in his hands, but Fleur’s spell seems to have given Cedric an idea. He taps his wand against them too and speaks his own spell.

Still a few feet from them, Viktor nods approvingly at the magic. “Good idea,” he says gruffly.

“They’ll last longer now too,” Cedric explains to Harry.

Half of Harry feels buoyed up by their support, even through his nerves. The other half is still very much afraid. “I’m not supposed to get help from older students,” he says, wondering if it’s even safe to use the Dungbombs now. It was bad enough that Fred and George had given them to him. (On the other hand, if it means he’ll live…)

All three of the other champions scowl. Cedric gently pushes Harry’s hand back toward his pocket.

“Too bad,” the Hufflepuff says. “You’re using them. If anyone asks, you bought them mail-order.”

Harry nods hesitantly, returning them to his pocket. The trumpet sounds and Fleur makes her way to the front of the tent.

“I didn’t put my name in the goblet,” Harry says defiantly, before she leaves.

They’re all helping him, making sure he stays alive, risking disqualification for him. The least he can do is make sure they know he didn’t mean to be here.

Fleur only gives him a warm smile before she ducks out of the tent.

“I never thought you did,” Cedric says strongly, staring at the spot where Fleur vanished.

Viktor grunts his agreement.

Then the waiting begins.

.

It does not go perfectly. It does not even really go well. Harry is eleven, and he can throw his dragon attracting Dungbombs and blind the dragon with lights from his wand, but that only gets him so far.

The thing that saves him is not that his Dungbombs are perfectly thrown or that his light is perfectly timed. The thing that saves him is that he is scrawny and a rather good runner, and the terrain provides plenty of crevices and boulders to hide behind.

He throws himself out of the way of a jet of flames and tosses two more Dungbombs, ignoring the scrapes and bruises he surely gains as he hits the ground. He jerks sideways at the last second, nicking his shin on one of the sharper boulders but narrowly missing the dragon’s claws as she reaches for him.

(This is just like Harry Hunting, he thinks to himself hysterically as he flees, filled with barely contained panic, only if Dudley were a dragon. It’s not really a funny thought, but it gets him through it.)

Harry is the most battered of the champions at the end of it all, the lowest scoring, but he gets his egg.

That’s enough for him, to have made it through to the next day.

.

Ron and Hermione still crowd around his bedside at the end as Madam Pomfrey, scowling something fierce and muttering angrily, hands him a calming draught before all else, but they’re not alone. The other champions come too, only Viktor unscathed.

Their expressions are stony, critical, as they sweep their gazes over him, and for a moment Harry wonders if they’re mad at him, if he’d done something wrong.

Then Cedric tries to cast his own healing charms on some of Harry’s scrapes and a shrill Madam Pomfrey forces both him and Fleur back to their beds. Cedric ruffles his hair before he leaves (“Great job, Harry.”); Fleur squeezes his hand for a moment, smiling warmly (“Well done.”).

Madam Pomfrey tries to usher Viktor back to his bed too, but he stares her down unflinchingly. “I am uninjured.” After a moment, she relents, if reluctantly.

He doesn’t say much, but Viktor stands like a silent guardian at Harry’s bedside as Ron and Hermione gush over him, Hermione close to tears and Ron honestly not that far behind, and Harry appreciates his presence.

Not mad, he revises in his mind, worried.

.

The school seems to take a deep breath after the first task, relaxing for the first time in months. It’s over, they seem to collectively think. No one died.

Harry can’t stop thinking about the egg sitting in his dormitory. He’d taken the weekend to rest and recover – as ordered by Madam Pomfrey and encouraged by Ron and Hermione and Cedric and Fleur and Viktor – but then the trio of Gryffindor first years had gotten right back to work.

Harry’d gotten luck with the first task, as odd as that sounds, despite how close he’d come to death. At least he’d had something he could run from, something he hadn’t had to face head on. There’s no guarantee the second task will be anything remotely similar.

He and Ron and Hermione listen to the egg a hundred times and come up blank after each instance, continuing to learn spells and study old tasks in the meantime.

December blows in, cold and snowy this year, and McGonagall asks Harry to stay back after class one day. Ron and Hermione linger in the doorway. McGonagall gives them a stern look, then seems to soften somewhat.

“Very well,” she gives in, without so much as a word from any of the three of them, “you two can stay as well.”

Harry feels a momentary wave of comfort from the professor’s thoughtfulness before McGonagall destroys the emotion completely with what she says next.

A ball. A Yule ball, on Christmas day. It was originally supposed to be only for the older students, but, well, Harry’s a first year. They’ve decided to open it up for the whole school. (Harry does not know this, but some of the teachers and judges argued for restricting it to perhaps fifth year and up, or maybe third or fourth, but several others had put their feet down and said that if Harry had to come then he and his date would not be the only eleven-year-old students present.)

Harry doesn’t mind so much that it’s over Christmas break. However different this year is from what his first year might otherwise have been there is no change at Hogwarts that could make Harry want to go home to the Dursleys during break. He never had other plans.

But… A ball. Harry leaves Transfiguration nearly struck dumb, speechless and deaf, unable to think of a thing to say or process the world around him. Ron and Hermione gently herd him onward but all he can think about is the fact that he has to get a date. He barely even knows any of his fellow classmates, as caught up in studying for the tournament as he has been.

“I… who do I take?” he ends up asking his friends in a choked voice, sometime later in the day.

Ron and Hermione exchange glances. They’ve already managed to talk about this, when Harry was lost in thought.

“You can take me,” Hermione says haughtily, tossing her hair (it is nerves, not pride, that makes her do this – the fear of rejection has always been Hermione’s worst). “I doubt many first years will want to go anyway.”

(It is not that Harry and Ron have not noticed girls at their age, or that they do not know what it means to date (or, at least, they think they do) but they are eleven and at this point in their lives the idea of dating a girl sounds rather dull and pointless and all too much work. Ron is more jealous at the idea of Harry and Hermione going to the ball without him than he is about Harry going with Hermione.)

Harry glances between his two friends. If he takes Hermione, Ron won’t be there, and he doesn’t want to have to make it through the night without either of them. “What about you?” he asks Ron.

Ron grimaces. He is jealous, yes, but Harry is his best friend. His best friend who was entered in a contest against his will that might just kill him. And Harry doesn’t want to participate in the Yule Ball. That much is obvious. He shrugs.

“I dunno,” Ron says, “I could keep working on the egg?” he offers hesitantly.

In the end, after a few tense arguments, this is the plan they go with. Harry needs a date but doesn’t want to go, and Hermione is really the only girl he knows. (It does not occur to him to invite Ron as his date, or to perhaps invite both his friends. He is eleven, and that kind of thinking was not allowed in the Dursley household.)

.

Cedric still takes Cho, of course, and Fleur still snags a random Hogwarts student, half-shunned by her own classmates at Beauxbatons.

Viktor does not even consider asking Hermione. He is seventeen and she is eleven and though he feels admiration and respect for her when he sees her digging through books in the library to help Harry, there is no brewing romance between them. He takes a girl from Durmstrang instead, someone not too dark and not a sycophant of Karkaroff’s and not too infatuated with his fame. It is not serious, not the way he’d genuinely wanted to date Hermione, but it is comfortable.

(Viktor does not approach Hermione in the library to ask her out on a date, but he does approach her one day when he sees her muttering furiously to herself, alone.

She’s studying the rules and history of the Triwizard Tournament, she admits to him in frustration, trying to find some precedent, some exception, that can stop Harry from being forced to participate.

Viktor blinks at her. “You are a good friend,” he says.

Hermione blushes, and that is about the extent of their interaction.

Though, when Viktor leaves the library that day, it is with a few more books than he was planning to check out.)

.

Christmas morning dawns brightly, without a cloud in the sky. The gifts that Harry receives barely change. Mrs. Weasley still sends him a sweater and some fudge, Hagrid still sends him a flute. Each of them feels more strongly for him than that other world, perhaps, but they don’t have much to give.

Ron still marvels over the measly muggle money the Dursleys send Harry, and Harry still gets the invisibility cloak from a mysterious and unknown person.

Except, in this universe, he and Ron immediately spend time brainstorming how the cloak might one day save his life – how it might be able to get them into the restricted section of the library – rather than the mischief it might help them cause.

.

The Yule Ball, in this universe, the world with an eleven-year-old champion, goes quite differently. Harry does not ignore his date and Ron does not sit sullenly in a corner and Hermione is not a bundle of nerves as everyone gapes at her transformation.

The first dance is still the only dance that Harry participates in though.

He and Hermione leave as early as they can. They do not see Hagrid’s confession in the bushes, as Harry and Ron might have had things been different. They do not hear Karkaroff telling Snape the mark is getting darker. They do not see the beetle listening in on these conversations.

(But the conversations themselves change little. Hagrid still has a crush and Voldemort is still returning and growing stronger and Rita Skeeter is still eager for any juicy scoop she can get her hands on. Perhaps even more eager than normal, given how she’s had to tone down her stories on account of Harry’s age.)

Instead Harry and Hermione return to the mostly empty common room – the younger students asleep, the older ones at the ball – where Ron is pouring over books, if a bit more petulantly than normal. They join him easily, and try to put the dance behind them.

.

Classes continue for the first years. Draco continues to sneer at and insult Harry in the halls, but Harry does not notice it nearly as much as he might have otherwise, lost in cracking the secret of the egg. And perhaps even Draco, also only eleven, no matter that he has grown up at his parents’ knees, is not so eager to insult someone his own age who might very well not make it to the end of the school year.

Neville, meanwhile, grows a bit bolder than he otherwise might have, doing his best to support Harry, even if he doesn’t quite know how.

Hagrid’s secret still comes out, and he still locks himself in his home, and Harry still marches down there and demands that he rejoin the world, if in a tone more pleading and optimistic than his fourteen-year-old-self might have been.

The other champions still seem to check in on Harry from time to time, Cedric most of all, and Cedric is still the one to give Harry a hint as to how to decipher the egg’s clue, no matter that Barty Crouch Jr. is not yet free.

(And if Cedric gets the idea himself from a particular DADA class, carefully tailored by Quirrell and his master to hint at what the egg might contain, well, Cedric never puts that together.)

.

Harry does not waste any time waiting to follow up on Cedric’s not-so-thinly veiled hints about putting the egg in water, especially not when Viktor asks Harry if he knows how to swim one day after watching the Gryffindor quidditch practice again and Fleur not-so-subtly asks Harry whether or not students ever swim in the Black Lake.

He and Ron and Hermione have a bit more than a few days, this time around, to work on the clue. They dismiss muggle scuba gear as too impractical, human transfiguration as too difficult. Even the bubble-headed charm is deemed too advanced for mere first years (as are most of the useful spells they come across).

They search and they search and they search – with a little bit of help from Neville, and Fred and George, and, now that Christmas is passed, the invisibility cloak.

“It’s a pity it won’t help you underwater,” Ron says regretfully one night, but it certainly does help all three of them sneak into the restricted section of the library from time to time.

They come across the idea of Gillyweed on their own and, taking the idea from what Cedric had said about the Dungbombs back before the first task, Harry sends Hedwig out with an order and a few galleons. The Gillyweed arrives with three days left before the second task, but there isn’t enough to test it out beforehand.

Harry takes to carrying it around with him, and the trio’s research shifts instead to what he might encounter in the lake.

Ron is still taken as the thing that Harry would miss the most, and Fleur’s little sister and Cho Chang as well, but Hermione remains on land, the girl who’d accompanied Viktor to the Yule Ball taking her place underwater.

Harry still feels incredibly nervous and out of place as he stands above the lake, staring into its black depths. He still feels foolish when the bell rings and everyone else jumps in and he takes a moment to shove the Gillyweed in his mouth and chew, hoping against hope that there are parts of the wizarding world that are as wonderful as he’d once hoped it would be and that breathing underwater is a certainty of his future.

He falls into the water gasping for breath and dives twenty feet before he realizes he no longer feels like he can’t breathe. The Gillyweed works.

With no other plan in mind, Harry starts to swim down.

He stops after only a few minutes, when the light from the surface is only barely noticeable. It’s dark in the murky water but the Gillyweed is helping him see clearly.

It would have been hard to miss the three shapes in front of him anyway.

Viktor is half shark, and it’s difficult for Harry to know for certain that that particular shape is him at first, but Cedric and Fleur are readily distinguishable even with the air bubbles over their heads.

Harry hesitates and all three of them throw wary glances in each other’s directions as they do the same.

(Harry does not know this, but each of them wishes to help him and does not want to be the one who swims away and leaves him with one of the others. At the same time, they entered this competition to win it and working together as a group – all four of them – is not something any of them really wants either. Still. Harry is only eleven. They couldn’t help him with the dragon, but they can make sure he lives through this.)

After a long pause, in which nobody really moves besides the motions necessary to remain floating in place, Cedric points at Harry and gestures onward. Harry glances between Viktor and Fleur, then follows. After a moment, Viktor and Fleur do too, and the four of them make their way through the lake together, three of-age witches and wizards flanking their untrained counterpart.

Nothing much happens, not with all four of them in a group, with Viktor’s shark head and Cedric and Fleur’s wands. They fight off any underwater creatures that dare approach them, and swim toward the song that echoes through the depths.

It is only when the mermaids come into view that the group breaks ranks. Viktor and Fleur surge forward, toward the eerie figures floating tethered to the lake bed. Cedric isn’t far behind them, with only a glance backward and a reassuring smile as a farewell.

Harry doesn’t find that he minds so much. They’d entered this tournament, after all, and he’s still very much puzzled by the fact that they’d traveled with him as far as they had. With as little support as he’s getting from the teachers and the ministry, forced to participate in a tournament he knows nothing about, his fellow champions are almost more than making up for that. He doesn’t understand that – not yet – but he’s starting to accept it.

He swims forward, a little bit slower than the others, and stares in horror at a sleeping Ron as Viktor already surges toward the surface, his own treasure held safe in his arms. Harry glances around wildly, searching for something to cut the rope with, and in this universe too, practicality takes over.

He does not know any spells to help, and isn’t even sure if he could use them underwater, but he dives downward to seize a rock from the lakebed and hacks at the thick seaweed rope holding his best friend down.

Cedric and Fleur both make it to the surface long before him, but Harry doesn’t care about that. He’s safe – he’s made it through another task – and Ron’s safe too. That’s all he cares about.

Ron stays in the shallows with Harry until the Gillyweed wears off, and Hermione hugs them both fiercely when they finally stagger to shore. Any animosity that had existed between the three of them at the start of the year has long since been forgotten.

Viktor is in first place, with Cedric and Fleur both not far behind him. Harry’s in dead last. He doesn’t much care about that either.

.

Not much happens, in between the second and third tasks, not for this Harry. This Harry does not know much about Voldemort, he has few suspicions about Death Eaters or Karkaroff or Snape. Barty Crouch Jr. is not wandering about freely, does not have the ability or need to hex his father.

His scar still aches sometimes, but he tells no one, and there is no one to tell him that it means Voldemort is getting stronger.

Hermione continues to research the tournament. Ron continues to teach his friends wizard chess. Rita Skeeter continues to snoop, but there’s only so many things you can say about an eleven-year-old. She focuses most of her attention on the other champions, in between stories about Harry’s stoic heroics that are blatantly false.

For the most part, Harry focuses on learning as many spells as he can to prepare for the third task. When they learn it is a maze he will have to navigate, all three young Gryffindors throw themselves into defensive and offensive spells, ignoring Charms and Transfiguration.

Cedric and Viktor and Fleur continue to check up on Harry periodically, and his teachers continue to be either a bit softer or a bit stricter on him in lessons.

At one point, after a night in the restricted section, after the three first years have returned to the common room, Ron even stares at Harry’s invisibility cloak and offers to go with him into the maze.

“That would be cheating,” Harry says, astonished by the offer.

“So?” Ron blurts out. “It’s not like anyone else is playing fair, letting an eleven-year-old into the tournament.”

The pressure of the tournament – the danger of it – is affecting more than just Harry. It’s not the first time Ron’s said something like that, nor Hermione either.

“We can both go with you,” she blurts out before Harry can respond to Ron. “The cloak’s big enough for the two of us.”

In the end, Harry manages to talk them both out of it. He won’t let his friends – his only friends, his first friends – risk their lives for him. But he’s more touched than he lets on.

.

(The night before the maze, Cedric and Viktor and Fleur meet in an empty classroom, away from prying eyes. They do not tell Harry.

“What are we going to do?” Cedric asks plainly. They do not have to ask what he means. “You know I want to win as much as both of you, but…”

But not like that. Not if winning means Harry might die. They’d helped him a bit in the first task, and heard the screams of the crowd as he’d narrowly escaped death – they’d seen him trembling in his hospital bed afterward. They’d guided him through the second task, at an unspoken agreement between the three of them, until the end had been in sight.

The third task is not an individual fight, or a race with a goal at the end. The end is the goal, and if they make their way there together the task will turn into nothing more or less than who can sprint the fastest at the end of it.

“This is not right,” Viktor says grimly.

“He is only a little boy,” Fleur agrees, anger tinged with helplessness in her tone.

They want to win this. They’d entered the tournament to win it. And yet…

“What if… what if we let Harry win?” Cedric asks, surprised at the words coming out of his own mouth.

The other two stare at him for a moment. Fleur bristles. “So that Hogwarts can still have the win?” she asks, affronted.

“He’s eleven,” Cedric cuts her off before she can get started, “he barely knows the stinging hex. Do you really think he can handle whatever’s in that maze?”

Not quite true, with as much as Harry’s been studying, but true enough. Fleur deflates.

“You are suggesting we forfeit?” Viktor asks. His tone is carefully blank, giving away no hint of how he feels about this.

Cedric squirms. “Not… quite like that. Look, if you two really want to charge for the center, fine, but I’m sticking by Harry.” He’s made up his mind. He’s already decided to give up his chance for glory.

Up until this point, his mindset has always been ‘I want to win, but I don’t want Harry to die’. Now, Cedric has made his choice. He’s putting Harry’s safety over winning, even if his fellow champions don’t, even if doing so gives them a better chance to win.

But you have to remember, the Goblet chose these three for a reason. It was not because they might have been looked up to by their peers, or for any particular skills or abilities, or because of the magical strength they held.

It was because they were already champions.

It was because the Goblet could see a Viktor who would pull his wand out at the sight of anyone wearing Grindlewald’s symbol and demand that they remove it, and a Fleur who might one day see her future husband ferociously wounded and love him all the more fiercely for it, and a Cedric who would have stared at a chance for glory, and an injured fourteen-year-old Harry too far away to claim it, and step back, giving up the chance to win. Because winning like that… was it really winning?

Harry will live, if Cedric fights by his side, and that would still give Viktor and Fleur the chance to win on their own.

But would it really be winning?

“It is not right,” Viktor repeats slowly, “that he was forced to compete. Perhaps it is only right that he wins.”

Fleur blinks at him, frowning, and glances between the resolute men in front of her. She wants to win so badly, wants to prove to her peers who’ve scorned her that she is more than capable.

“The purpose of this tournament,” she decides, “was to ‘foster international relations’.” She pauses and looks between the other two again. She remembers the way Harry had come up to her and a shaking Gabrielle after the second task, thanking her, asking if her sister was alright. “I do not think this is what they had in mind.”

Cedric grins. Viktor nods.

Three young men and women have just given up their chance at glory for a boy who was forced into something he didn’t want to do.

They might not win, but they are already champions.)

.

The day of the third task, the champion’s families are still invited. Harry still expects no one to show and Mrs. Weasley still surprises him. Neither Bill or Charlie are at her side – Bill’s still in Egypt, Charlie Romania – and she’s never met Harry in person besides at King’s Cross in September, but she isn’t going to let him go through this alone.

.

Viktor enters the maze first. Then Cedric. The Fleur.

Harry goes last, trembling, a bundle of nerves and determination. He doesn’t care about winning. He just wants to live long enough to make it out at the end.

He doesn’t know about the plan the other three champions have put together. He doesn’t know that Viktor and Cedric and Fleur are waiting just a few turns into the maze, spread out a bit so they don’t miss him as he starts his own journey.

Quirrell and Voldemort though… Well, they hadn’t known any more than Harry, at the beginning of the task, but they’re patrolling the edge of the maze, ready to help Harry make it through to the center by destroying anything in his path – including the other champions. So he’s nearby when Viktor and Cedric and Fleur meet up and decide who will head which way. He hears Cedric double check that everyone’s still willing to go along with the plan.

It would be wrong to say that Quirrell relaxes in relief in response to the news – he was never nervous about what he had to do – but something in him eases all the same. It’s one less thing to worry about, provided the champions keep their word, and gives him more time to prepare for his own exit once Harry reaches the end. Besides, if the other champions are clearing the path for Harry, that’s less sabotage he has to do on his own, and less of a chance of him getting caught.

The fourth cannon fires. Harry swallows, wiping sweaty palms on his robes, and wishes for the briefest of moments that he’d let Ron and Hermione talk him into them coming with him. There’s no telling what awaits him in the maze and he is painfully aware that he is woefully unprepared.

But his fingers still as he sets out and his hand grips his wand with fierce determination. Harry is not prepared to give up. I don’t have to win, he reminds himself, I just have to stay alive until someone else does.

In that regard, starting last can only help him. He slows slightly as these thoughts run through his mind. He does not need to hurry through the maze – doesn’t need to run towards danger. He just needs to stay alive.

What would they do, he wonders for the briefest of moments, if he just turned around and waked right back out of the maze? He’s almost certain that’s not allowed, and Hermione’s found enough research on what would happen if he broke the magically binding contract that he doesn’t really want to, but he considers it all the same. (Except, and this is a truly terrible thought, even if Harry doesn’t think so, he’d rather be dead in the maze than forced to return to the Dursleys, aware of magic but unable to use it for the rest of his life.)

Only a little way in, Harry comes across Fleur. For a moment, they only stare at each other. Fleur whispers something and waves her wand and a silver streak shoots out of it.

Harry flinches backward, raising his own wand, wishing desperately that he’d mastered the shield charm that Hermione had found, but whatever spell Fleur had cast doesn’t head for him, slipping on by instead and disappearing into the maze.

“I have no desire to harm you,” Fleur says plainly. She’s eyeing his raised wand, but not like she’s worried about it, and Harry’s never felt more ridiculous.

Like he could ever be considered a threat.

“I… I’m not trying to get in your way,” Harry manages to get out through dry lips and the lump in his throat. His heart pounds furiously in his chest. What if Fleur decides he is a threat, however small? Can the champions attack each other, now that they’re all in the maze together?

Harry doesn’t know, but Harry’s been living in a wizarding world in which few people seem to have a problem with letting an eleven-year-old compete in a tournament that was cancelled because of the death toll. He’s been living in a world that was more than willing to throw him to the dragons, or kidnap his best friend and force Harry to swim to the bottom of a lake to get him back. He’s been living in a world which sent him to the Dursleys.

Anything’s possible, in that kind of world.

But Fleur blanches. “I am not going to attack you,” she says affronted.

“None of us are,” Cedric says, coming up behind them, breathing slightly heavier than normal as his approaching jog slows to a walk.

Harry, already jumpy and on edge, flinches backward at the words, turning to see the Hufflepuff properly.

“What?” he asks, not so much out of a lack of understanding of what the words mean but of why they’re being said.

The other champions might have already decided that Harry should be the one to win, but they know the young boy well enough by now not to simply say that. Harry would never accept that.

“We thought, that perhaps we might work together,” Fleur explains hesitantly, “for a short while.”

Harry hesitates still, eyes flicking to Viktor as he emerges from behind another turn in the maze.

Viktor meets his gaze calmly. (There is no sign of his inner turmoil on his face as he stares at the eleven-year-old in front of him, so utterly unprepared.) “It has been decided already. We are going together,” he says simply. “You can come with us or not.”

It is a smart tactic, one that makes Harry think that the decision is not about him. After yet another moment, Harry agrees. Even if he’s not sure if he should trust them, not sure if he should trust their motives, he calms slightly as they journey through the maze together, his trembling ceases.

There are obstacles, of course, creatures to fight off and spells designed to trap them and tricks of the maze, but they were obstacles designed to be faced individually. Viktor gets thrown back against the hedges once, breath knocked out of him. Cedric narrowly dodges the sword swing of an enchanted knight, ankle twisting slightly behind him. Fleur’s wrist gets snapped and bruised during one attack, but she’s capable enough with healing spells to mend the bone, at least.

Throughout it all, the three protect Harry, who stands by hopelessly almost every time, wondering what the meager spells he has in his arsenal would do against the enemies they face.

With each obstacle they clear, each crisis averted, Harry looks at the other champions with him and expects them to leave. Surely they must be close now, surely they’ll want to part ways?

He thinks this every time, his earlier anxiety slowly returning, until they round a corner and see the trophy before them – and all four of them are still together. Harry freezes, wondering what comes next. Cedric and Fleur and Viktor have all been kind to him, throughout the entire year. They’re the reason – them and Ron and Hermione – that he’s still alive right now, that he’s made it through each task so far. But part of him still wonders if this is the moment when they all turn on each other.

Harry braces for an attack. But the adults are exchanging glances, wondering how to tell Harry the truth, not paying attention to their surroundings, and it’s Harry who notices the coming attack. It isn’t from any of his fellow champions.

“Get down!” he cries out, diving for Cedric, who’s closest to the approaching spider, nevermind his smaller size and weaker magic. (Harry has never seen an Acromantula before, but he knows these are not just regular spiders.)

Viktor casts a spell above their heads as they fall and ice coats the spider’s legs on one side. Its pincers click together angrily as it stumbles, but Fleur is there ready for it. With a flick of her wan a thin silver ribbon wraps itself around the legs on the spider’s other side, much stronger than it looks, bringing the creature to the ground entirely.

Cedric stands, glances back at the other two, and then nods. The three of them cast a stunning spell together that stills the spider’s angry twitching.

Harry pushes off the ground, scrambling to his feet, heart racing. He stars at the fallen spider for a moment, far too close to him. Then he realizes where he is. His tumble, his mad leap to save the Hufflepuff who’d been kind to him all year, has separated him from the others.

He’s the closest to the trophy now.

“Take it,” Viktor says. There is no indignation or irritation in his tone, only acceptance.

“We’d be dead if not for you,” Cedric adds, when he sees Harry hesitating. Not quite true, perhaps – some of them, at the very least, would have survived the Acromantula, and they wouldn’t have even been there together if not for their decision to help Harry – but it’s true enough.

But Harry doesn’t move. He looks at Fleur and Viktor and Cedric and knows that, as much as he’s needed Ron and Hermione this past year, he would be dead thrice over if not for the other champions.

“No,” he says. He shakes his head. “I didn’t do anything. I didn’t even… You fought all the obstacles, not me. You’re the champions.”

The tournament is vastly unfair, and Harry should have never been allowed to participate – he knows that well enough from Hermione’s rants and Ron’s fervent agreement on the topic – but Harry’s never been the type to focus on ‘getting even’.

The three in front of him are the champions and he won’t take a trophy he hasn’t earned. It’s over. He’s survived. He doesn’t need to win too.

“Harry, you earned it just by participating,” Cedric says. “You never should have been a part of this.”

“Which means I should be the one who wins,” Harry replies stubbornly, a single eleven-year-old facing off against the three bloodied adults who’d fought tooth and nail so that he could reach the end of the maze with them.

Fleur takes a step forward, tossing her hair out of her face, and stares down at the little boy in front of her. “I will not be the winner of a tournament that thinks this is acceptable.”

Viktor and Cedric are quick to echo her.

Harry’s resolution wavers. And Harry… He’s only eleven. He is not a leader, not a skilled wizard, not a hero – not yet. But he’s still a champion, in his own way. Still brave and kind and just.

The hat had never considered Hufflepuff for him – too reckless, too eager to prove himself, too eager to absorb all he could about the wizarding world, but if it could see him now… Well, it might just have had to reconsider.

“All of us,” Harry declares, the same way he might have in another lifetime, staring down a Cedric stepping away from the trophy. “We all win.”

Viktor and Fleur and Cedric exchange glances.

“Or none of us do,” Cedric replies softly.

Fleur and Viktor both nod solemnly at the words, and all three turn back to Harry.

“Alright then,” Cedric agrees. “All of us.”

Together they step forward and take a hold of the cup.

.

It is a grand moment of course. A beautiful gesture. In another world it might have been lauded. Maybe in another world it might have changed the rules of the tournament entirely. It might have fulfilled the tournament’s purpose, and fostered international cooperation stronger than anyone had expected.

It might have done none of these things, which would have not made the moment any less grand.

This is not that world.

Four young magicians (nevermind that three of them are legally of age, they are still so young) grasp hold of the trophy together and are whisked off of Hogwarts grounds with no one the wiser.

No one but Quirrell and the deranged wizard he serves, who quickly hurry off to greet their captive as soon as they get the acknowledgement of the Portkey’s activation.

.

The four champions reappear in a graveyard, old and decaying. Their wands are still out and they cluster together almost unconsciously.

“Do you think this is part of the task?” Cedric asks, fully of uncertainty.

Viktor grunts a non-answer, equally unsure.

“It must be,” Fleur says haughtily, tossing her hair again. There’s a tremor in her voice that makes her confidence ring false.

(It has to be part of the task though – how else could a portkey make its way onto the grounds of Hogwarts?)

There is no Peter Pettigrew waiting for them with a fragment of Tom Riddle’s soul cradled in his arms. Wormtail has not yet had any reason to leave the safety of his animagus form.

Quirrell too, is not there yet. He is still making his way off Hogwarts grounds, sneaking off under the excitement of the tournament. Voldemort has no loyal followers left to do his bidding.

But then, he’s never needed them, has he? Not completely.

There is an Imperioused wizard waiting for someone to appear by Portkey at the place where Voldemort’s father is buried. His instructions are vague, enough so that he won’t fight too much against the enchantment. He does not know it is Harry Potter he will be subduing, does not know that Voldemort – through Quirrell – is behind his enchantment. He is lost in a haze of false complacency and contentment, confident in the belief that everything is okay, that nothing he is doing is wrong.

He casts a stunning spell at the group, and Viktor falls to the ground in a flash of red light. (Forcing people to kill through the Imperious curse is very much possible, but why risk it, with Quirrell not on site in case this man manages to break through? Besides, the other three are unexpected. The man has no instructions besides subdue, so that is what he attempts.)

Fleur blocks the second stunner with a strong shield charm as Cedric steps in front of Harry.

Harry would not have stood a chance, but he’s not alone.

Their foe shoots off a third stunner that Fleur’s shield still blocks and Cedric, who’d hesitated, uncertain and unsure of himself and what was going on after the first volley, responds with a stunner of his own. The Imperioused wizard had not expected to need to fight back, hadn’t been told to.

He falls to the ground.

For a moment, silence settles in the graveyard. Harry has his useless wand out, staring at the unconscious man, but it doesn’t take long before his eyes flicker to Viktor.

“Is he…?” (He’s never seen a stunner before, and though Hermione had found the spell in the course of his studies that year, he’s never managed to cast it. With everyone casting nonverbally so far, he doesn’t know what hit the other champion.)

“Just unconscious,” Cedric quickly reassures him. He frowns at Fleur. “Do you remember –?”

A loud crack cuts him off and Harry and Cedric and Fleur all startle, turning toward the sound and the figure that has just appeared.

It is Professor Quirrell, of course, with Voldemort on the back of his head. He freezes for a moment, startled at the sight of four instead of one, of Harry unrestrained and his unwilling accomplice unconscious, but he’s quick to adapt.

“Professor Quirrell?” Cedric asks uncertainly. They relax slightly, at the sight of a familiar face – at the sight of a Hogwarts teacher – but not completely. Little about the situation makes any sense.

“Mr. Diggory,” Quirrell responds smoothly, no trace of a stutter in his tone. “I did not expect to see you here.” His gaze sweeps over the rest of the group but the truth is he only needs Harry – what does it matter if the rest are there?

Cedric glances back at Harry and Fleur, then toward his professor again. “What do you mean?” he starts to ask.

But Quirrell is already clapping his hands, once, twice, three times, and ropes spring to life around the three champions still standing, wordless, wandless magic. Quirrell was never a Slytherin – he was always a Ravenclaw, hungry not for power but for knowledge. And he was always rather good at finding it – and using it.

Cries of alarm escape the champions’ mouths as the ropes squeeze them. Wands clatter to the dirt as arms are pressed into their sides. For a moment, it looks as if Cedric might topple to the ground, but the ropes themselves seem to keep him upright.

(Quirrell may have fallen for Voldemort’s charm, but it was never the ability to terrorize others that ensnared him. He doesn’t care about their safety, but it’s not in his nature to mindlessly kill or torture the spare champions.)

“Let me see him,” a sibilant voice whispers, demands, echoing over the gravestones.

He has been drinking the blood of unicorns all year without being caught, with everyone too distracted by the tournament. Quirrell does not warn his master about his lack of strength. He moves to unwrap his turban.

The champions watch, struck silent by their uncertainty and their circumstances and the strange (terrible) voice. Harry’s scar, which has been aching since Quirrell’s appearance, sends a jolt of pain through his skull. He winces, eyes screwed shut for a moment at the pain, but the ropes digging into his robes keep him upright.

He has the same thought then that he would have in another life, underneath Hogwarts’ halls as he tried to protect the philosopher’s stone – he does not want the turban to be unwrapped, does not want the thing underneath to be revealed.

The sight of Voldemort’s face still terrorizes Harry into momentary silence. Fleur lets out a strangled gasp of horror – if her wand had still been in her hand she would have dropped it in her shock. Cedric’s mouth parts silently, his body frozen in fear.

Voldemort talks to Harry, of course, says much the same things he would have if they’d been meeting for the first time in front of the Mirror of Erised, gloats the same way he would have if Harry had been fourteen and had bested him three times already.

Tom Riddle’s cruelty and desire for power are fearsome things, but his charm… Well, he knows how to talk to people. Knows how to tempt them. Knows how to make them doubt.

Harry, of course, talks back, shaken from his terror by his rage. That hasn’t changed, at least. There was never a chance that Voldemort could bring any one of the champions to his side, least of all Harry, who was welcomed into a world of magic by being forced to participate in a tournament for adults but has nevertheless still managed to find a family, and a home.

Quirrell claps his hands again, and Harry’s bindings fall free.

“Come,” he beckons cruelly, gesturing to the gravestone where he plans to tie up the young wizard. (Quirrell, like Voldemort, knows about more than brute force.)

“Harry, run!” Cedric cries out.

Quirrell idly flicks his wand. Cedric hits the ground hard, mouth opening in a shout of pain and surprise, but no sound escapes his lips. Harry flinches. (Fleur straightens, but keeps her mouth shut.)

“You won’t get far,” Quirrell says. It’s not a threat. It’s stated as a fact, as indisputable.

Cedric’s eyes on the ground still scream at Harry to run, through the pain that is bringing tears to his eyes, but Harry knows what would happen to the other champions even if he did get away. He’s only eleven, and he’s never faced down a murderer before, but he’s seen enough in his short life to know that, at least.

He steps forward on shaky feet, aching to pick up his fallen wand but knowing better.

Quirrell directs him to the proper gravestone, twirls his wand, and ropes once more bind Harry in place. With his back to Harry – Voldemort softly taunting the reason for his downfall – Quirrell gets to work preparing the potion that will restore his master’s body.

In different circumstances, the process would be much quicker. But Quirrell’s been stuck at Hogwarts and Voldemort would never entrust the making of such a potion to an Imperioused slave. He’s starting almost from scratch, as Voldemort monologues.

The Imperioused wizard in question lies on the ground, limbs askew, forgotten for now. So does Viktor.

The ritual eventually proceeds much as it would have otherwise. Quirrell prepares the potion, then adds in a bone from Tom Riddle Sr. Then he moves to forcibly take the blood of an enemy.

Except, you must remember, in this universe, Voldemort has not seen Harry Potter since the day he tried to kill him. He has not yet learned of Lily Potter’s protection, he does not have the buffer of Wormtail’s flesh between them. He inhabits Quirrell’s body still, not prepared to leave it until the potion is complete, and so Quirrell too is affected by the magic of Lily’s sacrifice.

He goes to grab Harry’s wrist, knife in one hand, prepared to roll up his sleeve and slice a tear in his flesh, but he lets go almost instantly, hissing in unexpected pain.

Harry too flinches backward (as much as he is able) at the contact, wincing.

“What are you doing?” Quirrell demands of him harshly, though he doesn’t seem to expect an answer. Perhaps he sees the confusion on Harry’s face too. He reaches forward again, as though a firmer grip will overcome the problem. The grip he has on Harry’s wrist would be painful enough on its own but all that he and Quirrell (and Voldemort) can focus on is the first that seems to race across their skin with every contact.

Harry lets out another strangled groan of pain, clenching his teeth. Quirrell holds on for a moment longer than before, as if determined to outlast the pain, but he pulls back quickly before too long, teeth gritted and eyes tight.

Voldemort hisses his dissatisfaction (and his own pain) from the back of Quirrell’s head. “You fool! All we need is his blood!”

Quirrell steels himself, readjusting the grip on the blade in his hand, and Harry’s eyes widen.

He’s not looking at Quirrell though.

Behind the two wizards temporarily locked in one body, behind the simmering cauldron resting on flickering orange flames, Viktor Krum is struggling to his feet, wand in hand.

There’s fear on his face as he takes in the situation, his eyes wide and disbelieving, but he doesn’t move to run. His eyes are locked on Harry. Voldemort, even on the back of Quirrell’s head as he is, is too focused on the situation, too focused on the potion, to notice anything amiss at first.

But he notices when Viktor stands tall enough to raise his wand at them. He hisses a warning and Quirrell spins around, knife raised instead of a wand. It’s more than enough of an advantage for Viktor to cast first.

The Durmstrang champion jabs his wand with fierce determination. The spell misses Quirrell entirely.

But then, it was never aiming for him. The ropes holding Harry back fall free just as Quirrell manages to raise his own wand, releasing the young boy from the gravestone. Voldemort shouts another warning but Quirrell is about to cast at Viktor and spells, once started, are not so easily stopped.

Harry, seeing his fellow champions, maybe even his friends, in danger, does the only thing he can think of. He leaps for Quirrell’s back, unable to look Voldemort in the eyes, and clamps his hands to either side of his professor’s head. They tumble to the ground in a tangle of limbs and pain. Someone screams – it might have been Harry, might have been Quirrell. Harry certainly doesn’t know. He’s barely aware of anything but the pain.

It is agonizing, a fire inside his flesh, but Harry doesn’t let go. The world fades to black.

.

Harry wakes, much as he would have in another life, three days later in the hospital wing. Dumbledore is there to talk to him, and tells him the story of his mother’s sacrifice. He also tells Harry of Tom Riddle, born, yes, to a muggle father. A father he killed. But he still does not want to burden Harry with too much information at such a young age. He leaves it at that, at the fact that Voldemort is still out there, and will undoubtedly attempt to return again someday, but that that day is not today.

Ron and Hermione are next, of course, and Harry tells them everything, and asks for details from them in return. The other champions are alright, they tell him. Cedric had some broken ribs but he’s already out of the hospital wing. It had been a sight, Harry’s friends tell him, when the four of them had reappeared on Hogwarts’ grounds: Cedric with an arm over Fleur’s shoulders, barely able to stand; Harry, cradled in Viktor’s arms, unconscious; all four of them touching the trophy in one way or another.

All three champions told the same story about what happened in the graveyard: Viktor freeing Fleur and Cedric after Harry, Fleur racing forward to pull Harry off of what was left of Quirrell, Viktor destroying the potion.

“We… we should have gone with you,” Ron just barely manages to say, paler than usual. “Into the maze. We could have –” He swallows, shakes his head.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione cries, clutching his hand tightly.

There was nothing they could have done, and they all know it, but Harry is warmed by the offer as much as he is terrified by the thought of it.

Cedric and Fleur and Viktor are the next to visit, when Madam Pomfrey deems it proper. They give him his share of the winnings somberly, none of them much caring about the money, and hover close to his bedside. They don’t offer apologies, not right away, but Harry can see the guilt in their eyes. He feels similarly.

“I’m sorry,” he blurts out, when the tension becomes too much. “I was the one who suggested –”

“No,” Fleur is quick to interject, shaking her head. “It is nobody’s fault but that professor. We could not have known.” Her words are firm, resolute, but the guilt still lingers in her eyes.

(They were going to let him win on his own, after all.)

“She’s right,” Cedric says, not nearly so convinced but clearly trying to be. “But, about that… How much have you heard?”

.

It’s a terrible tragedy, everyone says, that a Hogwarts professor could go so mad without anyone noticing. Absolutely insane, actually, considering that he actually thought he was working for You-Know-Who, even though everyone knows that He-Who-Must-Not-Be-Named died a decade ago when he tried to kill the Boy-Who-Lived.

Fudge, of course, is still minister. He is not any more likely to believe Harry here, despite the three extra witnesses. The press follows his lead.

It’s terrible, absolutely terrible, people mutter. And how horrible is it that Quirrell was so convinced of his delusions that he managed to convince the champions as well?

Hogwarts is a bit less in denial than the wizarding world at large – disbelieving a Harry they thought entered on purpose is one thing, but disbelieving all four Triwizard champions? There are more than a few students who go home with sinking feelings in their guts, wondering what comes next, believing Harry and the others when they say that some form of Voldemort is still out there.

.

Despite the constant terror that had been his first year at school, Harry still leaves Hogwarts with a fierce melancholy, dreading returning home and separating from his friends.

But he’ll be back again next year, and not only Ron and Hermione but also Cedric and Fleur and Viktor have all promised to write, and he clings to these thoughts tightly as the train pulls away from the station.

Despite the horror of the situation, Harry’s still found his family.