Harry Potter was left on a doorstep in the middle of the night. He wasn't loved or even liked by what was supposed to be his family. But someone noticed, yet it wasn't those who should have. Now he was returning as a stranger to what should have been his home.

Disclaimer: I claim no rights to Harry Potter.

AN: Assume cannon only withholding Harry Potter after the age of five, and that is basically the background for the Wizarding World. Any inconsistencies will be explained throughout.

Chapter One – The Announcement

Albus Percival Wulfric Brian Dumbledore, regarded as one of the greatest Headmasters that Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry had seen in many years, walked purposefully out of his office and down the spiraling staircase. He moved past the stone gargoyle, which jumped spryly out of his way, and across the hall to a little looked at painting. It was one of hundreds of portraits that lined the walls of Hogwarts, however it was one of few that depicted a landscape rather than a person. It was also one of the only paintings in all of Hogwarts that did not move.

Dumbledore raised his knotted wand, a wand many would love to have as their own, if only they knew which wand it was. He had not always been the owner of this fabled wand, but as circumstance had revealed, his duel with his once dear friend, Gellert Grindelwald, ended with it finding its way into his possession. The wand had chosen him to be its master, how long it would stay with him, Dumbledore could not know. But for now, as it had for the past fifty-two years, it remained loyal to him and glowed a light purple color at the tip with his silent spell.

The still portrait came to life at once. The unmoving waves began to lap against the marshland shore. The gray clouds rolled across the sky and lightning flashed ominously in the background. A single window in the small dark cottage at the edge of the painting lit up and then the front door slowly started to swing open. The portrait itself, at that moment, also swung inwards revealing a passageway that not even the infamous and happily graduated Weasley twins were aware of. This secret passage lead from the seventh floor all the way to the staffroom on the ground floor. Without this most secret of passageways, to the students at least, Dumbledore could only imagine how long it would take him to get to dinner every night. After all, he wasn't a spry young man of a hundred anymore. He was especially thankful for it this night however, as he was running late for the year's Welcome Feast. He wasted no time in moving through it.

Scant minutes later, Dumbledore stepped out from behind the wardrobe in the staffroom, which cleverly hid the staircase behind it. He came to a startled stop to see his perpetually black clad Potions Master, Severus Snape, standing stoically by the door with his arms crossed over his chest. Dumbledore kept his well-practiced composure, not letting the younger man see that he'd been surprised by his unsuspected presence. He walked further into the room, a greeting on his lips and nearly jumped out of his robes when his Deputy Headmistress, Minerva McGonagall, spoke up from the other side of the wardrobe.

"The first years have been sorted. The start of term notices have been given. You have not missed a sorting in twelve years. Twelve years! What on earth has kept you, Albus?" The stern woman asked indignantly as she stood gracefully, straightening out her deep green robes. "There are whispers already spreading among the students that you have fallen ill and you left me nothing to counter them with!"

Dumbledore quickly recovered from his momentary fright, as his Head of Gryffindor ranted. Minerva was as sly as her Animagus form and as quick to irritate. He blatantly ignored the amused smirk that came from his Head of Slytherin and stepped forward before the woman could go further. "Now, Minerva, you cannot expect me to be on time for everything, I am an old, old, old man after all," he said in a commiserating sort of way.

Minerva snorted. "You may be one-hundred and sixteen this year, Albus, but no one will see you as old for another forty years at least."

"At least," Severus muttered in agreement, his amused smirk still firmly in place.

Dumbledore looked between the two. He didn't know how to counter that, but he wasn't about to let them know. Besides his tardiness came with a very good and exciting excuse. He pulled out an envelope from his robes. "The Board has finally replied," he said, completely and effectively changing the subject.

The two quickly came to attention at that news. "They have? Well, Albus, don't keep us in suspense, what did they say?" Minerva practically demanded when Dumbledore didn't go on.

Dumbledore smiled mysteriously and then swept passed Severus and left the room. "Albus?" the man said inquiringly, following immediately after him, with Minerva on their heels. "Did they say yes or no, Albus?"

"Ah, now you take an interest, Severus," Dumbledore said airily, a smile hidden well on his lips. "And here I thought you didn't care either way. You certainly said so yourself," he reminded as he walked towards the Great Hall.

"The decision was not mine to take an interest in, Albus, but of course I… care," Severus sneered the word distastefully. "If they said no, I have little to worry about. If they said yes, the Dark Lord will have reason to interfere."

Minerva frowned when Dumbledore halted suddenly, causing the other two to stop as well. He turned to look at the younger man, his smile gone from his face and his eyes altogether. "You informed me that Lord Voldemort was not yet aware of the challenge. Was this a lie?"

Severus' posture visibly stiffened. Dumbledore hated having to question his Potion Master's allegiance yet again, but Voldemort was as charismatic and persuasive as he'd ever been and Severus had not had to confront the likes of the Dark Lord in many years. Dumbledore honestly worried for the younger man, and he constantly found himself questioning his own decision of asking Severus to be his spy again. He was concerned that the temptation would eventually be too much.

"At the time he was not aware," Severus assured calmly, showing none of the bitterness, Dumbledore knew was there. "However, Draco came to me when he arrived this evening. Lucius it seems saw the challenge on Minister Bones' desk yesterday. It is only a matter of time before the Dark Lord is made aware that I withheld this information from him," he said solemnly. "And we all know that Lucius will make it known that it was deliberate. He is desperate enough to get anyone other than himself in the Dark Lord's line of fire after his removal from the Board, including me."

Dumbledore just kept from pinching the bridge of his nose as he felt a headache coming on. He'd refrained from telling even his Order of the Phoenix about the challenge before it was made public. Minister Bones had agreed to keep it just as secret until the Board came to a decision. Only the Hogwarts Heads of House were made aware, and even then, they had been given very little details of where the challenge had come from. Voldemort's attacks worryingly had increased over the last year, but he'd still abstained from attacking more than Muggles and Muggleborn families, with the major exception of his attack on Azkaban last Halloween. He was being careful this time, more secretive, which meant it was getting increasingly harder to know what his plans were.

"We will come up with something," Dumbledore finally decided on, and then continued on into the Great Hall. This was not a conversation he wanted to continue where young ears could at any moment become present.

Students across the hall turned to look at the three when they arrived. Dumbledore smiled at them all as they moved to the top of the hall and the staff table. The rest of his professors, both new and old, were looking at him curiously. Minerva had of course been correct about him not having missed a sorting in twelve years and he did regret missing this one. Minerva and Severus both took their usual seats on either side of his, but Dumbledore remained standing stoically in front of the four Hogwarts houses. The students of Hufflepuff, Gryffindor, Ravenclaw, and Slytherin, quickly fell silent and turned to look up at him expectantly.

Many of the faces looking up at him had the resemblance of other children Dumbledore had once had the privilege to teach, so alike, and yet so different they were to their parents before them. Dumbledore always looked forward to seeing the ever-changing faces again at the new term, and even more so, the new faces that arrived every year, but to Dumbledore there was always a sense of wrongness in the hall on that first day, and had been now for seven years. A student was missing and he wasn't the only one who felt it.

After a moment to let the chatter settle, Dumbledore smiled brightly at all of the inquisitive faces. The sorting had revealed an almost even number of nervous and excited first year students joining each of the four long tables. With his regular start of term announcements having already been said for him and dinner still on many of the plates, most who hadn't yet tucked into desert, the students were obviously curious about what Dumbledore had to say. Normally, he would have left them to their meals, but he knew that the news he had just received would only leave further opportunity for discussion, and he was more inclined to let them speak over their dinner and dessert rather than have them late to bed with classes so early the next morning.

"Thank you for your attention and I must apologize for my tardiness and interrupting your meals, however I have just received some news that I believe you all should be aware of." The students perked up more at that and the Heads of House subtly moved to sit on the edge of their seats in anticipation as well. Dumbledore pretended he didn't notice.

"About one week ago, I was made aware of an unusual inquiry from our Minister of Magic about the reinstatement of the long held tradition of the Dueling Tournament. Many of you may remember from your History of Magic classes that Dueling Tournaments were banned from Hogwarts for security reasons during the war with Grindelwald and was never reinstated. I therefore was curious why our Minister would suddenly be so interested in reinstating a tradition we have done without for many years now. It was then that I came to learn that the reason for the inquiry came in the form of a formal challenge sent from a school in North America to all of the European schools, through their respective ministries."

At this, many of the students started to mutter excitingly to one another. It was expected given the climate of things, anything new to keep their young minds off the impending war. Dumbledore had so far tried to keep the shadow of the dark conflict building within the Wizarding world, outside of Hogwarts' walls. But he knew that the students still felt it, some more than others. He glanced briefly at the Gryffindor table, but kept the sadness out of his eyes.

Dumbledore raised his hand after a moment and the students again fell silent. "I'm sure you are all as fascinated as I was at the prospect of this challenge. But I had an insight that dampened my excitement some. After all, it was not our ministry who banned the tournament, but the Hogwarts Board of Governors," he said with false graveness.

The students grumbled, mostly the older students and Dumbledore allowed it. He shared in his students' annoyance with the Board at times as well. Especially, after they were denied the chance to host the Tri-Wizard Tournament three years ago, in a large part due to Lucius Malfoy's interference. It had been decided by the ministry that the tournament was to be held at Hogwarts as a political maneuver to promote the unification of the European Wizarding nations. The decision had come on the eve of a Death Eater raid at the Quidditch World cup, one where many were killed and many more were injured.

The ministry didn't want to lose the rest of Europe's support if indeed the Death Eaters were going to become active again. They needed their allies if it were to escalate to war and even as, then Minister Fudge had denied the return of Voldemort, he wasn't stupid enough to believe they had a chance if Europe turned their backs on them. However, Lucius singlehandedly turned the board member's minds away from the idea of hosting the tournament, forcing their disappointed Ministry of Magic to concede to allow Durmstrang to play host; and hadn't that been a toiling affair.

In truth, Lucius had done it so that the Ministry of Magic would be looking elsewhere while Lord Voldemort and his most loyal followers helped themselves to not only a prophecy orb deep within the Ministry of Magic, but also a piece of old magic that eventually lead to the Dark Lord gaining back his life. When the board had finally found out what Lucius had done, they'd dismissed him from the Board of Governors and would have had him arrested, but the man had technically done nothing illegal. He'd used no spells, only words, hadn't even accompanied the Dark Lord to the Ministry. The Malfoy's had always been very careful not to openly show their true allegiances.

Dumbledore pushed those thoughts aside for later. "So after some personal deliberation, I took it upon myself to write the Board," he continued. "And I have just now received their reply." He held up the letter in front of his face adjusting his half-moon spectacles as he did. "It says here, that since neither Durmstrang nor Beauxbatons felt that they could be ready to host such a challenge in the allotted time that it only seems right that Hogwarts should take up the challenge on behalf of all of the European schools." Dumbledore lowered the letter. "Therefore, I am pleased to announce that starting the first of November to the time term ends for the winter holidays; we will be hosting thirty students from Runes Academy of Magic for the first Dueling Tournament in over fifty-two years. And as this challenge was issued not only to us, but Beauxbatons and Durmstrang as well, we will be inviting thirty students of their choosing from each school, to stay with us for the duration and be allowed to compete."

The hall was silent for a moment as they digested this and then the excited chatter began anew as the news sunk in. Dumbledore again let them speak for a long moment before holding up his hand and the students dutifully fell silent. "Since only thirty Hogwarts students will be chosen to compete, we will be holding our own competition over the next month to choose those thirty. The victors chosen at the end of September will then have to sit a Dueling and Dueling Etiquette class with Professors Snape and Black over the next month –"

"Headmaster," Snape abruptly interrupted, something that rather shocked Dumbledore, not that he showed it even as the student's eyes widened, and they looked between them. "Did you just say that Black and I will be hosting this class, together?"

Dumbledore turned slightly to look at his Head of Slytherin. He smiled. "I had told you to take an interest," he said cheerfully and then turned back to the students, continuing as if he'd not been interrupted. "Which will continue until winter holidays. So if you are not prepared to take on the extra class, I would suggest not competing. For those of you who wish to compete, a sign-up sheet will be available tonight in all of your common rooms."

The gossip began as soon as Dumbledore finished and moved to take his seat, but it wasn't so much the student's reactions that the headmaster sought out, but that of his Potions Professor and new Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor. Severus had a look of shock, confusion, eagerness, and indignation on his face. Sirius Black just seemed pleased to have been chosen. Dumbledore smiled and then laughed all together when it finally sunk in for Severus and the man glared at him. It would all work out in the end he was sure.

Halfway across the world, in another time zone completely, the dining hall at Runes Academy of Magic was as always, a cacophony of sound. Lunch was by far the busiest time of day since the students who commuted to school joined with the resident students for the meal. Large round tables were loaded down with food and books alike as students ate, studied, and did last minute homework in the one hour between classes.

At a table to the back of the hall, the Dueling Defenders, thirteen seventh year students who were the top ranking dueling students at Runes, could be seen determinedly practicing complicated wand movements with their hands or pencils, while their peers watched on, sometimes correcting them.

Among the thirteen, Harry Authland, Dueling Champion, Captain, and elected School President, flipped through a thick book that was large enough to take up a good portion of space at the table. His sister, Celesta, second in rank among the Dueling Defenders, leaned on his shoulders, stopping him every other page to study a technique or simply laugh at one.

"You tried to poison me!"

"No I haven't!"

"You put it there!"

"No I didn't!"

Movement and talk came to an abrupt halt at the table and eleven pairs of eyes moved to look at Andrew and Ian Denison, fifth and eleventh rank respectfully. The two twins stopped their glare at one another and looked to their staring classmates.

"Trying to kill each other again?" Eron Mortison, twelfth in rank, asked quite seriously. "If he dies, can I get his broom?"

"I'm not going to die!" Andrew gasped out. "And no you can't have my broom!" He practically hissed at Eron.

"Of course you're not going to die," Ian said reasonably. "Because you haven't been poisoned."

"Then what is that on my plate?" Andrew demanded, pointing at a green something in the middle of his mash potatoes.

The others all leaned forward to look at the boy's plate and then smirked at each other. Celesta shook her head over her brother's shoulders. "I don't know, Har, what do you think? Is it poison?"

Harry looked gravely at the plate. He breathed out dramatically. "Well, we haven't gotten too far in Practical Poisons, but we have covered the most poisonous plants, and I have to say…" he paused theatrically and looked up at Andrew intently. "I'm pretty sure that broccoli isn't one of them."

Andrew looked down at the unassuming vegetable and then pushed his plate away with a blush staining his cheeks. "All the same, I still don't trust it."

The others laughed at that, shaking their heads as they went back to what they were doing.

"It's been over a week, given three days for the owl to arrive, we should have heard something by now," Emily Alexandre, tenth in rank, spoke up with a scratchy voice from the other side of the table.

"It's just their first day of school Em, they probably haven't decided yet," Mellisa Julson, ranked thirteen, said while not looking away from her book. "And you should take a Pepper-Up potion before you get worse," she reminded.

"I want to take a Pepper-Up, really, but my mom says I should get over this on my own, without the aid of magic," Emily grumbled miserably and then blew her nose into one of several tissues on the table. The others sitting near her subtly scooted away from her. "Something about developing my immune system."

"Forget the broccoli, its Em who's going to kill me," Andrew muttered to Ian, who snorted, and nodded, this time agreeing with his brother.

"Have you explained to your mother that potions are so much more effective than Muggle means and that they fight the cold by boosting your immune system to the point where the cold can't survive?" Harry asked in between page turns.

Emily nodded morosely. "She doesn't trust them because she can't take them. My dad keeps telling her that she's only making me suffer, but she says non-magic people have been getting over the common cold for centuries without the aid of magic and that there's no reason I can't too."

"Did you tell her that the common cold in Witches and Wizards can lead to random bouts of accidental magic that could cause serious damage to her precious Muggle home?" Cargon Lockwood, sixth in rank, asked quickly and rather crassly as he waved his butter knife in perfect imitation of the Blasting Curse as if to prove a point.

Emily glared at the purist. "Cargon, I might not be from an old pureblood family, but even I know that's a load of bull."

"I'm being serious," retorted Cargon as if affronted, none of them believed it for a moment. "This kid at Salem told me that his little brother just twelve years old got a cold and ended up blowing up his kitchen when he sneezed."

Emily looked uncertain at that for a moment before Cargon smirked at her. "You're such an a–"

Whatever Emily was going to say was cutoff when Knox Smith, ninth in rank, nudged her in the side as the Provost and President of the school board, Diana Hunter, walked into the dining hall, stopping just over the threshold and not twenty feet from their table. She didn't look their way, but towards the door. The thirteen all perked up and stopped what they were doing again, to eavesdrop on the conversation she was still having with someone who hadn't enter into the hall yet.

"… But I'm not sure the Defenders know what they've gotten themselves into with this challenge," the familiar voice of the other person, said just loud enough for them to hear, as he entered beside the Provost. Emmanuel Kane, the Dueling Master and instructor surveyed the students at the various tables, and clearly made it a point to look towards the thirteen. They all pretended to go back to what they were doing very quickly.

"Perhaps not, but it should be an interesting experience for them," Provost Hunter said. "And they need this challenge after last year," she added softly, shaking her head sadly. She looked towards their table as well, but none of them made eye contact, still listening very hard. "He's not going to like our decision though," she said more quietly.

"I wonder what decision that is?" Celesta muttered to Harry.

"Cel, be quiet," Harry shushed his sister so he could here. They were talking about him.

Master Kane nodded. "Certainly not, and I'm sure he'll do everything in his ability to compete."

"That is my nephew for you. Have you ever seen him give up on anything?" the provost said and Harry smiled lightly.

"No," the Dueling Master agreed. "He'll be trying to the last minute though."

"That he will. Well, I think they've been eavesdropping long enough. Do you wish to make the announcement or shall I?" Provost Hunter asked and then the thirteen all hid their faces with their arms or books in embarrassment.

"Allow me. I want to see the look on all their faces when they realized just what they've gotten themselves into." The provost giggled lightly as the Dueling Master walked purposely to the front of the hall.

Not many looked up from their meals or books, in some cases both, but the thirteen leaned into one another, starting to whispered excitedly. Master Kane smirked at them until he reached the slightly raised dais and then after schooling his face into a neutral mask, he turned on his heel to fully face the hall, allowing his deep blue robe to swirl about his feet impressively as he did.

Master Kane crossed his arms over his chest and then said simply, but loudly, "Attention," in a clipped tone. The hall immediately fell silent and every student turned to look up at him. "Thank you," he said. "As you know, the Dueling Association participated last year at the Rocky Mountain School of Magic in our annual winter tournament. We all are aware of the results of that tournament and the deplorable circumstances that followed."

Some of the students whispered quietly to one another and looked back to the table of thirteen, but most remained silent as Master Kane continued. "In light of the incident, the Rock has elected to withdrawn from competition until they deem that their students have been instilled once again with the proper amount of decorum befitting such tournaments."

Many of the students looked meaningfully at one another. It wasn't often that a school withdrew from competition entirely and it hadn't happened in more than fifty years when the European schools withdrew because of the World Wars.

"Many of you may have already come to the conclusion that the Salem Witches Institute would be next to host the tournament as they were chosen for the summer challenge next year. Regrettably, they have expressed the desire to withhold from competing this winter, sighting that the majority of their best duelists graduated last year and they do not feel that two months is a sufficient amount of time for training and that they hadn't planned on competing this winter."

The thirteen attempted to cover snorts of amusement as the Dueling Master rolled his eyes, clearly showing what he thought of the other school's training regimen. Provost Hunter coughed purposefully from across the hall and Master Kane continued on before his Defenders could submit any comments on his teaching methods, though they all smirked at one another. The Dueling Master practically led them like they were an army and he always had at least ten other prospective duelers in his sights should any of them need to step down for any reason.

"We have contacted the other four schools in the America's. However, none of them feels that they can be ready either. This of course, leaves us without a host school and an opponent for this year's winter tournament." The majority of the students verbally expressed displeasure at this, especially the members of the Dueling Association, who were beginning to look really disappointed.

"He's not finished," Harry suddenly spoke up loudly and the group around him laughed as he blushed in embarrassment as the Dueling Master glared at him. "Sorry," he said sheepishly, ducking slightly.

"Indeed," Master Kane said. "I am not finished. The seventh year Dueling Defenders and their Captain took it upon themselves to fix our little dilemma. They have issued a formal challenge to the three European schools of Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, Beauxbatons Academy of Magic, and Durmstrang Institute. And I am happy to announce that Hogwarts in Great Britain has accepted the challenge on behalf of all three schools and agreed to play host to the tournament this November."

"All three?" Harry asked forcefully and with slight panic. His voice echoed over the hall followed by sniggers from several tables, including his own.

"Yes, Captain, all three," Provost Hunter repeated smugly and all the students turned to look at her. "Thirty students from each school will compete this year. And I know that the Defense Association will rise to the challenge as they always do. At the end of it, though, not only will this year's Dueling Champion take home the trophy and the honor of being named Champion, but also one-thousand galleons in prize money graciously funded by the British Ministry of Magic."

The hall clapped encouragingly and excitingly at that and Harry sat back as the other Defenders reached out to pat him on the shoulders or shook his hand. "This is going to make things interesting," Harry said with a shake of his head.

"Well you did say you wanted a competition," Celesta said dryly. "And you certainly got one."

"Now all you have to do is convince Aunt Diana to let you compete," Shane Edwards, third in rank, reminded on Harry's other side.

"And Dad to let you go," Celesta added.

Harry dropped his head onto the table with an audible thud while the others laughed around him.

AN: Any thoughts?