And here's the seventy fourth chapter of "A Year Too Soon"! Enjoy!

* Review Response:
DarkRavie, magitech, nkh1, kazikamikaze24, Yaw613, Luiz4200, Tertius711, erbkaiser, N. A. Wennerholm, GenieM, TuxedoMac (guest), D.J. Scales, thank you for your reviews, folks!
BMS, that sounds like something Umbridge would've done if she needed to poison common people against Harry at the time of Tournament's start. Maybe in some other story?
Brockster550, Ron indeed would think that Harry had cheated himself into the tournament, if only because Harry is a Slytherin here. And Slytherins always cheat - as far as Ron is concerned, at least. Hermione, meanwhile, would trust the results of the questioning under Veritaserum and pick the 'Harry is innocent' side. Ginny? I honestly don't know. Probably remain on the fence for the time being.
Vampireking40, guess I really need to do something to refine my writing. I though that it was written rather explicitly that the one who ordered and orchestrised Harry's unwilling inclusion into the Tournament is Barty Crouch Jr., who is doing this for his self-devised plan to resurrect Voldemort.

* AN: This chapter has not been beta-read.

Disclaimer: I DO NOT own "Harry Potter" franchise. No profit is being made. Same goes for any books, video games, anime or manga I may or may not use for ideas.

written text

A Year Too Soon
Chapter LXXIV: Weighting of Wands

Sirius sighed as he put down the copy of the Daily Prophet he had stolen from some wizard who had had one too many shots of Ogden's finest. Apparently, Harry got forced into whatever the hell this Triwizard Tournament was. History was never Sirius's strongest subject - not helped by Binns only ever talking about Goblin Rebellions - so he didn't know much about this competition.

What he did know about it was that it was supposed to be dangerous. The newspaper had stressed it repeatedly throughout the article, along with the fact that young Mr. Potter wasn't a willing participant and was instead entered into the Tournament by an unknown and malicious third party.

And therein lay the core of Sirius's current issue. He still hasn't gotten over the fact that Harry had ended up a slimy evil Slytherin. But he was still his sworn godson. And as such, it was his duty to shield him from dangers and evil(er) wizards wishing harm upon him. Even if he was a slimy evil Slytherin.

A slimy evil Slytherin who got together with a pair of twins.

Sirius was adult enough to admit that he was totally jealous of that one. He had had his share of conquests during his Hogwarts years, but he never once managed to get even a single night with twins, much less what looked like a steady relationship. Yes. He was totally jealous of his godson. And also a tiny little bit proud of him. Though he certainly would've preferred it if the twins Harry was dating weren't Carrows.

Anyway… Back to this Triwizard Tournament mess.

Regardless of his opinion on Harry's Hogwarts House or choice of life partners, Sirius was more or less duty-bound to do whatever he could to help his godson. But what could he actually do? He was an Azkaban escapee with Aurors hunting him down through the countryside. Him showing up in Hogsmeade would only make things worse, for both of them.

And if he stayed where he was right now, what could he actually do? He didn't know a single thing about what was going on at Hogwarts and the occasional copy of the Daily Prophet he could get his hands on wasn't exactly a wellspring of helpful information either. And even if it was, could he really just send Harry an owl and not have his letter destroyed before it is actually read? After all, people believe him to be a Dark wizard and a traitor who had led the Dark Bastard to the Potters home. Even though it was actually that rat Pettigrew and not him.

So, yes, Sirius had absolutely no idea what he should do next. And it was making the already very troublesome situation he was in even worse.

~/ *** \

The next few days were rather uneventful for Harry: the general excitement about the Champions selection and him being the fourth one was starting to die down and the normal daily life full of classes and homework was taking over. Well, it was actually more 'normal' than usual since he even had to put his weekly Magical combat lessons with Professor Flitwick on hold as those would run afoul of certain Triwizard Tournament rules.

And speaking of the Tournament: while there still were those who thought he had somehow cheated his way into becoming one of the Champions, these people thankfully were an annoying and ultimately ignorable minority, consisting mostly of his fellow students - in a rather rare show of professional and objective journalism, the Daily Prophet had made it very clear in their articles about the Triwizard Tournament that he had been forced into the competition by a yet-unknown third party.

Then, one morning the Daily Prophet dropped a huge bomb announcing that one of the men behind the revival of the Tournament, Bartemius Crouch Sr., was found dead in his office within the Ministry for Magic the previous afternoon. The investigation was still ongoing, so the DMLE refused to comment on this beyond confirming the man's death, but there were rumors that he had committed suicide.

Harry wasn't sure whether he actually believed that, but… He knew that Madam Bones was looking for whoever had leaked technical information pertaining to the Goblet of Fire to the 'bad guys' within the Ministry, so this sudden death of the Tournament organizer indeed looked rather suspicious. Even if he couldn't think of a reason why Mr. Crouch would be doing that.

Glancing up at the Professors' table, Harry could notice that the adult there seemed to have come to a conclusion similar to his own. Headmaster Dumbledore, especially, had a rather deep frown on his face. And there certainly was a reason for that.

Implications that Mr. Crouch might have been the one who had supplied the people behind the Champion selection fiasco with the information and now committed suicide - willingly or not - to keep the DMLE investigation from discovering that aside, his sudden death created quite a few problems for Tournament. For one, his replacement will need time to get up to speed, doubly so because Mr. Crouch liked to do things personally without delegating them to his underlyings. And then there was the matter of swearing in a new judge representing the Department of International Magical Cooperation of the British Ministry for Magic. Which was also not exactly a trivial matter.

Elsewhere, away from the Hogwarts castle, another man had his mood greatly soured by the news of Bartemius Crouch Sr. 's untimely death. The reason was quite different, however.

Crouch Jr. held very little love towards his late father, but he certainly found him to be a big convenience for his plans to resurrect the Dark Lord. With the old bastard now gone, he no longer had access to the insider information about the Triwizard Tournament. And with the DMLE swarming over the Crouch manor, the man's 'secret' stash was now out of his reach as well.

This certainly would make his plan far more difficult to execute. Still entirely possible, but… He certainly hadn't expected that the order to kill himself if anyone was about to discover this little scheme he had given to his old man would trigger so soon. At least the Ministry should be still unaware that he was alive and scheming.

It was still very annoying. Especially since it wasn't even the first setback he had suffered over the past few days. Even if the other one was very minor and inconsequential. Indeed, while his ultimate goal of resurrecting the Dark Lord would be achieved either way, Crouch Jr. would've strongly preferred it if the general public believed the Potter brat to be a cheating gloryhog rather than a victim of some conspiracy who is forced to compete in the Tournament against his will.

The fact that the boy somehow managed to convince people of his innocence was unfortunate but didn't really endanger his plans in any meaningful way. It was still annoying, though.

Shaking his head, Barty focused on thinking up the way to go forward from where he was now. His plan should still be good, though some minor adjustments to account for the loss of his father's resources might be needed.

Soon. Soon, his Master will be back, greater and more powerful than ever before! And as the one who brought him back, he, Bartemius Crouch Jr., will be honored beyond all other faithful!

~/ *** \~

Harry didn't really pay much attention to the DMLE investigation into Crouch Sr. 's death, so the next few days were once again rather uneventful for him. Well, as uneventful as it could be for a prefect and an unwilling Triwizard Champion. Professor Dumbledore and the other Headmasters were still looking into the ways to remove him from the competition he shouldn't be a part of in the first place, but thus far they haven't found a way to do so without putting him at a great risk.

Then, just a little over a week before the First Task, the Weighting of Wands happened. Harry actually learned about it when a younger Gryffindor student interrupted his Transfiguration lesson and informed Professor McGonagall that the Champions had been summoned by the Tournament officials for wand inspection, to make sure that their main tool was in a good working condition.

Harry didn't need a Magical sight to see that Professor McGonagall would rather he didn't leave until the bell rang. But apparently that wasn't an option. So with a sigh she let him go. Giving her a quick 'Thank you', Harry packed his things and left the classroom.

"Lead the way." He told the Gryffindor boy then. The boy - Colin was his name? - nodded and headed off towards one of the normally-unused classrooms on the fifth floor of the castle. Getting there took a little while, so Harry was quite relieved when he saw that he wasn't actually the last one to show up. That 'honor' would go to Cedric, when the Hogwarts Champion finally arrives. In the meantime, he went to join Mr. Krum and Ms. Delacour in the corner of the room.

Neither of them, nor Harry himself really, were all that eager for a conversation, so the three of them ended up surrounded by a rather awkward silence. Which was made even worse by a certain Daily Prophet reporter - a blonde witch in rather-pompous magenta robes - talking loudly to Ludo Bagman about the Tournament just a few feet away from them. And by the looks of it, even a public man like Bagman found her endless stream of questions annoying.

Thankfully for everyone present, sans Rita Skitter, it wasn't long before Cedric Diggory arrived, followed shortly by Headmaster Dumbledore and the one and only Mr. Ollivander, who then took an offered seat at the velvet-covered table and unpacked his arcane instruments.

"The Weighing of the Wands will begin now." The Hogwarts Headmaster announced. He then shifted his attention towards the old wand-maker. "May I introduce Mr. Ollivander? He will be checking your wands to ensure that they are in good condition before the Tournament." The said man gave a curt nod, before focusing his attention on the four Champions.

"Mademoiselle Delacour, could we have you first, please?" Ollivander asked then. The French witch nodded and approached him, presenting her wand for the inspection.

According to the wand-maker's comments, her wand was made of rosewood and actually had veela hair for its core. Fleur confirmed that and even added that the said hair was her grandmother's. So, yes, Blaise had been right: she was a part-veela. Meanwhile, Ollivander finished the wand inspection by perfectly conjuring a bouquet or orchids. He then declared it to be in a fine working order and returned it to Fleur.

Cedric Diggory was the next one to have his wand inspected, and it was much more mundane in comparison. Aside from being one of Ollivander's own creations, which he didn't miss a chance to point out. Even spoke about the unicorn from which he had plucked the hair for the wand's core. He then produced several rings of silvery smoke, before announcing that this wand too was in a good condition.

Victor Krum was next. His was, likewise, rather mundane when it came to its materials. It was made by someone named Gregorovitch - apparently a rival of Mr. Ollivander - as the wand-maker made a few not-so-flattering comments about its styling. Still, the wand was in fine order and after confirming that with an Avis Charm, he returned it to Krum and asked to see Harry's wand next.

"Ah, yes, another one of mine." The wand-maker said. "Fir and dragon heartstring, ten and a quarter inches, rather springy. I hope it has served you well so far."

"It did." Harry nodded in response.

Mr. Ollivander continued to inspect the wand for any normally-unnoticeable defects for another minute. Then he conjured a glass and filled it with water, before turning it into wine. Judging by the ease with which he did it, the wand was indeed functioning well.

"Your wand is in good working order, Mr. Potter." The man announced before returning the said wand to its owner.

"Thank you all." said Dumbledore, standing up at the judges' table. "I believe this would be all for the Wand Weighing ceremony. For our Champions, if-..." He was about to dismiss them, but got interrupted by one Rita Skitter:

"But what about the interviews, Dumbledore? People are dying to know what our Champions think about being a part of this historical event." She said. Though, knowing her reputation, it was rather unlikely that she would publish those interviews without changing at least a few things to make them more 'interesting'. Even if it meant heavily-distorting the truth. "And the photos. We need to take photos. All the judges and champions. The readers will love it."

The photographs took a long time. Especially since there were quite a few disagreements on who should get the most attention. Dumbledore insisted on the three actual Champions being at the front with Harry off to the side to make it clear that he wasn't a willing participant and didn't represent any of the schools. Ms. Skitter on the other hand would rather have Harry at the forefront since, as the fourth Champion, he was the most 'interesting' person in the room. Her photographer meanwhile wanted to focus on Ms. Delacour to the exclusion of everyone else. So, yes, the group photo alone took a lot of time and effort. And then there were separate shots of the Champions…

At least, with how much time got wasted on that, Harry had a ready excuse to get out of giving an interview to Rita Skitter: he was a prefect and had his duties that he couldn't neglect any longer. Cedric promptly copied him.

~/ *** \~

A couple of days later, Harry and the other fifth year Slytherins were having an Astronomy class. Their topic for the night was Saturn and its moons, but Harry couldn't quite focus on it and instead had his mind drifting back to the Triwizard Tournament.

He still hasn't heard from the organizers about any real progress in finding a way to remove him from the competition he shouldn't be participating in. And with the First Task now only a little more than a week away, he was starting to really worry about how he will perform. Sure, his main goal was just surviving, but a Slytherin in him actually wanted to win - if you're doing something, you should do it to the best of your ability. And for the competition, it meant winning.

But could he really? Not just because he was competing against older and more experienced students, who were the best of the best for their respective schools, but also because he still had absolutely no idea what the First Task will be.

Letting out a sigh, Harry pulled back from his telescope and glanced down at the dark forest. And by pure coincidence, he did so just at the right time to witness huge spurts of fire flash among the trees. It was way, way too big to be produced by those questionably-legal hybrids - Blast-Ended Skrewt, according to those few who took NEWT-level Care for Magical Creatures - Hagrid was breeding behind his shack.

In fact, it looked more like someone let loose a powerful fireball spell. Which, given the fauna of the Forbidden Forest, could've been a justified action. Still, why would anyone go in the forest in the middle of the night?

Then it occurred to Harry that there were fire-breathing Magical creatures who could produce fires this big. And while hiding a fire-breathing beast in the middle of a forest wasn't exactly the smartest thing to do, Forbidden Forest was a good place to keep even such creatures away from prying eyes.

The creature in question? - A dragon.

And it was secreted away into the Forbidden Forest because it was a part of the Tournament, the mysterious danger to test the Champions' daring and courage in the First Task.


"Mr. Potter!" Professor Sinistra called him out.

"Sorry, Professor." He replied without bothering to give her the reason for his sudden and expletive exclamation. The witch just shrugged and went back to teaching the class.

"What was that about, Harry?" Flora asked him while her sister leaned towards them, also curious about what was going on.

"I think I saw what the Tournament's First Task will be about." Harry told them. The twins leaned in towards him a bit more, clearly interested in what he had seen. "I think it will involve dragons."

"Wow… What makes you think that?" Flora asked.

"I saw a flash of fire in the Forbidden Forest." He told them. "And I don't think it was some wizard that randomly decided to practice the Incendio Charm there. Which leaves us with Magical creatures. How many fire-breathing ones do you know? Of ones that can produce fire big enough to be seen through a forest from a couple hundred yards away?" Apparently, not many.

"I see…" Hestia breathed out. There was a long pause, before she spoke again: "If the Task indeed has something to do with dragons… Please promise that you will be very careful. I… We don't know what we will do should something happen to you, Harry."

"Of course, I'm not leaving you." He tried to reassure them. There was another long pause. "This all makes me wonder whether Tracey is actually a seer." He said then, completely changing the topic. "And for her sake, I hope she isn't. Because if the Second Task will indeed involve people diving into the Black Lake, I'm going to strangle her." He wasn't actually serious about this.

Whatever was going to be said next got interrupted when Professor Sinistra asked the three of them whether they were paying attention to her lesson.

That's all, folks!
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