The other schools stopped their polite clapping as soon as they realized the Delphi students weren't cheering. No, they weren't cheering, they weren't clapping, they weren't happy or excited at all.
Annabeth sat for a second, frozen. Stupid, she thought, so stupid. Her punishment wasn't watching Percy go through the tournament, it was watching him watch her go through it. She took a deep breath and started to stand.
Percy took her hand and pulled her back to him, putting his arms around her in a tight hug. "I love you," he whispered. Annabeth no longer felt the eyes on her back, she no longer cared. It was safe in Percy's arms.
"I love you too."
He pulled his head back and kissed her. "I'm sorry," he said against her lips.
"It's not your fault." And she pulled away.
She could feel the agitation in the room, the restlessness. She needed to go. She didn't want to. She wanted to yell at the sky and call Hera names and scream that this wasn't fair, that after all she'd put them through, they should get a break. She fought hard against tears as she walked along the designated path. It was a strange atmosphere, the silence of the hall. The wizards were confused as to why the Delphi students seemed to think it was a punishment rather than an honour. She felt the teachers' confused stares on her neck, felt Chiron's sadness. She knew he hadn't wanted this anymore than the rest of them. She made it to the door and went through, trying to control her shaking hands.
You're a child of Athena, she told herself. You've faced Titan lords, giants, Hell itself. You can do this.
She calmed herself as her eyes adjusted to the room. She moved over to the fireplace where the other champions were standing. She looked at the flames lapping the burnt logs. In her anxious state, she didn't see a roaring fire as they did, she saw a raging river. Her chest tightened with fear. She couldn't breathe. Percy, she thought. Percy, her source of comfort, the only other person who understood. He's going to suffer, she thought. He's going to suffer and it's my fault.
She turned when Viktor Krum spoke, thankful for the distraction. "Viktor," said the Durmstrang champion, holding out his hand.
"Annabeth," she replied, shaking the outstretched hand, proud that her voice sounded calm and collected as opposed to shaking with terror.
"Fleur." Upon shaking Fleur's hand. Annabeth realized that she and this other blonde would be seen as the underdogs, the girls. She thought that maybe Fleur was thinking the same because the handshake became stronger, more firm. The two would have to prove themselves.
"Nice to meet you guys," Annabeth said. "So, now what?"
Harry sat there, aware that every head in the Great Hall had turned to look at him. He was stunned. He felt numb.
He was surely dreaming. He had not heard correctly. There was no applause. A buzzing, as though of angry bees, was starting to fill the Hall; some students were standing up to get a better look at Harry as he sat, frozen, in his seat.
Up at the top table, Professor McGonagall had got to her feet and swept past Ludo Bagman and Professor Karkaroff to whisper urgently to Professor Dumbledore, who bent his ear toward her frowning slightly. The only teacher who didn't seem surprised was Professor Brunner of Delphi, who had only sighed when Harry's name was drawn and made eye contact with his students.. Harry turned to Ron and Hermione; beyond them, he saw the long Gryffindor table all watching him, open mouthed.
"I didn't put my name in," Harry said blankly. "You know I didn't."
Both of them stared just as blankly back.
At the top table, Professor Dumbledore had straightened up, nodding to Professor McGonagall.
"Harry Potter!" he called again. "Harry! Up here, if you please!"
"Go on," Hermione whispered, giving Harry a slight push.
Harry got to his feet, trod on the hem of his robes, and stumbled slightly. He set off up the gap between the Gryffindor and Hufflepuff tables. It felt like an immensely long walk; the top table didn't seem to be getting any nearer at all, and he could feel hundreds and hundreds of eyes upon him, as though each were a searchlight. The buzzing grew louder and louder. After what seemed like an hour he was right in front of Dumbledore, feeling the stares of all the teachers upon him.
"Well . . . through the door, Harry," said Dumbledore. He wasn't smiling.
Harry moved off along the teachers' table. Hagrid was seated right at the end. He did not wink at Harry, or wave, or give any of his usual signs of greeting. He looked completely astonished and stared at Harry as he passed like everyone else. Harry went through the door out of the Great Hall and found himself in a smaller room, lined with paintings of witches and wizards. A handsome fire was roaring in the fireplace opposite him. The faces in the portraits turned to look at him as he entered. He saw a wizened witch flit out of the frame of her picture and into the one next to it, which contained a wizard with a walrus mustache. The wizened witch started whispering in his ear.
Viktor Krum, Cedric Diggory, Fleur Delacour, and Annabeth Chase were grouped around the fire. They looked strangely impressive, silhouetted against the flames. Krum, hunched-up and brooding, was leaning against the mantelpiece, slightly apart from the other two. Cedric was standing with his hands behind his back, staring into the fire. Fleur Delacour looked around when Harry walked in and threw back her sheet of long, silvery hair. Annabeth was the only one facing away from the fire, as if she could not bear to look at it. She stood strong and tall and menacing, studying the room as if finding escape routes. But there was something in her eyes, something dark and haunted. Something familiar, because he saw it in himself, yet different, because her eyes were much, much darker than his.
"What's up?" Annabeth asked. "Where're the teachers?"
"Do zey want us back in ze Hall?" Fleur asked.
Now, all four of them were looking at him, staring him down. He felt small and rightfully so - they were all seventeen.
There was a sound of scurrying feet behind him, and Ludo Bagman entered the room. He took Harry by the arm and led him forward toward his fellow competitors.
"Extraordinary!" he muttered, squeezing Harry's arm. "Absolutely extraordinary! Gentlemen . . . ladies," he added, approaching the fireside and addressing the other four. "May I introduce — incredible though it may seem — the fifth Triwizard champion?"
Viktor Krum straightened up. His surly face darkened as he surveyed Harry. Cedric looked nonplussed. He looked from Bagman to Harry and back again as though sure he must have misheard what Bagman had said. Annabeth Chase was unaffected by the revelation. Fleur Delacour, however, tossed her hair, smiling, and said, "Oh, vairy funny joke, Meester Bagman."
"Joke?" Bagman repeated, bewildered. "No, no, not at all! Harry's name just came out of the Goblet of Fire!"
Krum's thick eyebrows contracted slightly. Cedric was still looking politely bewildered. Fleur frowned.
Strangely, Annabeth still didn't seem surprised. "Tough luck, kid," she muttered so only Harry could hear. She was looking at him with sympathy, as if she too, did not want to be part of the tournament, like it was out of her control. He looked at her, the questions flying around in his brain written across his, but she just gave him a small, sympathetic smile.
The door behind them opened again, and a large group of people came in: Professor Dumbledore, followed closely by Mr. Crouch, Professor Karkaroff, Madame Maxime, Professor Brunner, Professor McGonagall, and Professor Snape. Harry heard the buzzing of the hundreds of students on the other side of the wall, before Professor McGonagall closed the door.
Professor Brunner went directly to Annabeth, pushing his wheels fast. Harry shouldn't have, but he listened to their conversation while Fleur questioned his eligibility.
It is as I feared, Annabeth," Brunner whispered. "Someone put Harry's name in."
"Oh Hades," Annabeth muttered. "Everything just got ten times harder, didn't it?"
"I'm afraid so. Come to my quarters after all this with the others, we need to talk over this. I was expecting it to pick you or Percy, so there's no adjustment there, but-"
"I get it." Annabeth cut him off. "I'm already working on a plan."
Harry shivered. Someone had put his name in so he would compete. Someone had put his name in.
Something else ate away at his mind; "Everything just got ten times harder," Annabeth had said. They were at Hogwarts for more than just the tournament. He really needed to get out of the room and to his friends.
Professor Dumbledore was now looking down at Harry. "Did you put your name into the Goblet of Fire, Harry?" he asked calmly. (Emphasis on CALMLY)
"No," said Harry. He was very aware of everybody watching him closely. Snape made a soft noise of impatient disbelief in the shadows. Brunner and Annabeth were still whispering to one another, but it was much quieter and much more discreet.
"Did you ask an older student to put it into the Goblet of Fire for you?" said Professor Dumbledore, ignoring Snape.
"No," said Harry vehemently.
"Ah, but of course 'e is lying!" cried Madame Maxime. Snape was now shaking his head, his lip curling.
"He could not have crossed the Age Line," said Professor McGonagall sharply. "I am sure we are all agreed on that —"
"Dumbly-dorr must 'ave made a mistake wiz ze line," said Madame Maxime, shrugging.
"It is possible, of course," said Dumbledore politely. "Perhaps, when I cast the spell and then made the single exceptions for Piper McLean and Jason Grace, I miscalculated, make a mistake."
"Dumbledore, you know perfectly well you did not make mistake!" said Professor McGonagall angrily. "Really, what nonsense! Harry could not have crossed the line himself, and as Professor Dumbledore believes that he did not persuade an older student to do it for him, I'm sure that should be good enough for everybody else!"
She shot a very angry look at Professor Snape.
"Mr. Crouch . . . Mr. Bagman," said Karkaroff, his voice unctuous once more, "you are our — er — objective judges. Surely you will agree that this is most irregular?"
Bagman wiped his round, boyish face with his handkerchief and looked at Mr. Crouch, who was standing outside the circle of the firelight, his face half hidden in shadow. He looked slightly eerie, the half darkness making him look much older, giving him an almost skull-like appearance. When he spoke, however, it was in his usual curt voice.
"We must follow the rules, and the rules state clearly that those people whose names come out of the Goblet of Fire are bound to compete in the tournament."
"Well, Barty knows the rule book back to front," said Bagman, beaming and turning back to Karkaroff and Madame Maxime, as though the matter was now closed.
Harry's ears rung. He would've been perfectly happy to be told it was a mistake and that he didn't have to compete.
Karkaroff had begun yelling about how his school wanted to re-do the selection and how they weren't going to be competing in the next tournament. And then Moody came in the room and told him off, but not before something quite unusual happened.
As Moody entered, Harry saw Annabeth freeze and something washed over her. She looked up directly at Moody in a strange combination of fear and fascination. She turned right back to Professor Brunner. "Do you see..?" She trailed off.
"Yes, child." Brunner was not visibly fazed by Moody, but his voice shook in the slightest.
"We will discuss this later, Annabeth."
"He's got to compete," Moody was saying, "They've all got to compete. Binding magical contract, like Dumbledore said. Convenient, eh?"
Moody limped toward the fire, and with every right step he took, there was a loud clunk.
"Convenient?" said Karkaroff. "I'm afraid I don't understand you, Moody."
Harry could tell he was trying to sound disdainful, as though what Moody was saying was barely worth his notice, but his hands gave him away; they had balled themselves into fists.
"Don't you?" said Moody quietly. "It's very simple, Karkaroff. Someone put Potter's name in that goblet knowing he'd have to compete if it came out."
"Evidently, someone 'oo wished to give 'Ogwarts two bites at ze apple!" said Madame Maxime.
"I quite agree, Madame Maxime," said Karkaroff, bowing to her.
"I shall be lodging complaints with the Ministry of Magic and the International Confederation of Wizards —"
"If anyone's got reason to complain, it's Potter," growled Moody, "but... funny thing... I don't hear him saying a word..."
"Why should 'e complain?" burst out Fleur Delacour, stamping her foot. " 'E 'as ze chance to compete, 'asn't 'e? We 'ave all been 'oping to be chosen for weeks and weeks! Ze honor for our schools! A thousand Galleons in prize money — zis is a chance many would die for!"
"Maybe someone's hoping Potter is going to die for it," said Moody, with the merest trace of a growl.
"Hey, uh," came Annabeth's voice from the back, accent seeming very strong. "I know we're new here and all, but I'm sure if you asked Harry, he'd tell you that he doesn't want to compete. Gods, I don't even want to compete. But we have to, and that's what Mr Crouch has been trying to tell you all. Fleur, you might be right about the glory of winning, the honour of getting to compete, but I've been through a lot and I'm perfectly happy to sit on the sidelines. I'm sure Harry feels the same way."
The last part about sitting on the sidelines didn't seem to be pointed at the room, but Harry nodded, agreeing with her.
Annabeth continued,and a hard edge slipped into her words, "Moody's right and you all know it. Someone wants Harry dead and they've decided that this tournament is the best way to do it because guess what? No one would notice, just another name on the death toll of this game." Annabeth paused, letting her words sink in. "You had all better make sure that this person doesn't get what they want, because you can be damn sure that I am not losing anyone else this year."
Her words had the desired effect. All around the room, stunned faces looked at her, this girl who had put them all to shame.
Karkaroff shook it off quickly. "We all know Professor Moody considers the morning wasted if he hasn't discovered six plots to murder him before lunchtime," said Karkaroff loudly. "Apparently he is now teaching his students to fear assassination too. An odd quality in a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher, Dumbledore, but no doubt you had your reasons."
"Imagining things, am I?" growled Moody. "Seeing things, eh? It was a skilled witch or wizard who put the boy's name in that goblet. . . ."
"Ah, what evidence is zere of zat?" said Madame Maxime, throwing up her huge hands.
Annabeth sighed loudly and slumped down on a chair. All eyes were on her again at the disruption. Harry understood the sigh's meaning; nobody would listen to her unless she made them.
Annabeth feigned surprise at the looks she was getting. "Oh, no, please. Do go on," she said, the sarcasm evident. Professor Brunner eyed the room, daring them to keep talking. "I get it, don't listen to the blonde girl because what does she know?" Annabeth stood. "What do I know? A lot, actually, but how could you guys know that. I'll rephrase my previous statement," Annabeth looked directly at Karkaroff. "I am not going watch another kid die when I can do something about it. Moody, tell them your theory because this is getting tiring."
For a moment, nobody spoke. Annabeth commanded the room the way a war general would and that brought some questions. McGonagall was looking at her with sheer respect, Snape was scowling, Madame Maxime and Karkaroff were stunned. Dumbledore smiled to himself and at Professor Brunner. Harry gave Annabeth a look that he hoped said "Thank you". She nodded at him.
"Thank you miss…?"
"Chase. Annabeth Chase."
"Well, thank you miss Chase. One would have needed an exceptionally strong Confundus Charm to bamboozle that goblet into forgetting that only three, now four, schools compete in the tournament... I'm guessing they submitted Potter's name under a fifth school, to make sure he was the only one in his category..."
And that continued for a bit, Moody explaining and Karkaroff and Madame Maxime ignoring Annabeth until Dumbledore finally broke it all up and decided that there was no use in fighting about it, it was the way the tournament was going to happen.
"Oh, have you stopped arguing now? Good," Annabeth said as she got up, casting innocent smiles at Karkaroff and Madame Maxime. Harry noticed McGonagall hiding a smile with her hand.
Barty Crouch moved forward into the firelight. Close up, Harry thought he looked ill. There were dark shadows beneath his eyes and a thin, papery look about his wrinkled skin that had not been there at the Quidditch World Cup.
"The first task is designed to test your daring," he told Harry, Cedric, Annabeth, Fleur, and Viktor, "so we are not going to be telling you what it is. Courage in the face of the unknown is an important quality in a wizard... very important...
"The first task will take place on November the twenty-fourth, in front of the other students and the panel of judges.
"The champions are not permitted to ask for or accept help of any kind from their teachers to complete the tasks in the tournament. The champions will face the first challenge armed only with their wands. They will receive information about the second task when the first is over. Owing to the demanding and time-consuming nature of the tournament, the champions are exempted from end-of-year tests."
Mr. Crouch turned to look at Dumbledore. "I think that's all, is it, Albus?"
"I think so," said Dumbledore, who was looking at Mr. Crouch with mild concern. "Are you sure you wouldn't like to stay at Hogwarts tonight, Barty?"
"No, Dumbledore, I must get back to the Ministry," said Mr Crouch. "It is a very busy, very difficult time at the moment... I've left young Weatherby in charge... Very enthusiastic... a little over enthusiastic, if truth be told..."
"You'll come and have a drink before you go, at least?" said Dumbledore.
"Come on, Barty, I'm staying!" said Bagman brightly. "It's all happening at Hogwarts now, you know, much more exciting here than at the office!"
"I think not, Ludo," said Crouch with a touch of his old impatience.
"Professor Karkaroff — Madame Maxime — a nightcap?" said Dumbledore.
But Madame Maxime had already put her arm around Fleur's shoulders and was leading her swiftly out of the room. Harry could hear them both talking very fast in French as they went off into the Great Hall. Karkaroff beckoned to Krum, and they, too, exited, though in silence.
"Harry, Cedric, I suggest you go up to bed," said Dumbledore, smiling at both of them. "I am sure Gryffindor and Hufflepuff are waiting to celebrate with you, and it would be a shame to deprive them of this excellent excuse to make a great deal of mess and noise. Miss Chase, if you and Delphi want a room to celebrate, that can be arranged."
"That's okay, Professor. We're all itching to get rid of our jetlag, so I think we'll be crashing pretty soon."
And Professor Brunner and Annabeth left the room.