The Challenge: potter8668 over on FFN story 9732979 issued a challenge in which Harry and his (female) love interest return to Hogwarts for 4th year and prevents the Goblet of Fire from choosing champions. Sounds like a setup for a One True Pairing and time travel, doesn't it? Think again! The Luan half of my nickname means Chaos. Does that sound like someone who's going to go along with the expectations of a challenge? No no no… I don't respond to challenges so much as screw with them.
Characters don't belong to me, trademarks don't belong, challenge doesn't belong, blah blah blah.
The Challenge of the Goblet
September 1, 1994. Harry was on train, returning to Hogwarts. Again. He had the strongest feeling of déjà vu, like he'd made this trip before. But that was almost expected, what with the dreams or visions or whatever had started right after Harry got to the Dursleys' house at the beginning of summer.
"Listen, I'm going to visit around the train and try to get a head start on telling the older students what's coming and why they don't want to be in it." Harry had already told Hermione and the Weasleys part of the story and they didn't need to hear it again.
Harry tried to remove Hedwig from where she slept. She'd been very busy the last part of August, flying a constant stream of messages between Harry and the ministry, and now had claimed his left shoulder as a sleeping perch while they went up to Scotland together. She growled at him when he tried to move her, so he shrugged his non-perch shoulder and left the compartment. If his owl was going to ride on his shoulder like a parrot, he could dress up like a pirate sometime when he needed to goof around and blow off steam. Maybe for Hermione's birthday. "Yarrr! Happy Birthday, matey!"
Finding a receptive audience – or at least an audience who didn't chase him out right away – in a compartment of sixth- and seventh-year Ravenclaws, Harry made his pitch:
"You know how every year there's some danger at Hogwarts and some of us almost die?"
"Yes, though that's only been the past three years. Hogwarts was safe before that, except for Snape's temper."
"Well, have you ever heard of the Triwizard Tournament? Beauxbatons, Durmstrang, and Hogwarts each pick a champion to compete and see which is the best school. They canceled it a century or two ago because too many students were dying. They're bringing it back this year, and Hogwarts will be hosting it."
"A competition to show who's best? That would be one of us, I'll bet. Ravenclaws always get the top grades and lead the school in every way that matters."
"No! You're not listening to me. People die in these tournaments. Not every time, but sometimes all three champions die. Do you think the chance of winning the prize is worth the chance of dying in some contest?"
"I don't know. How much is the prize?"
"They hadn't decided yet, a couple weeks ago, but it'll probably be around a thousand galleons."
"A thousand! That's enough to pay expenses while I get a mastery. Maybe that is worth it. How is the champion selected? And who's allowed to enter?"
"I don't know about the selection, but the Ministry person who told me about it said only the older students would be allowed to enter. And you still weren't listening. People die in these things."
"Where'd you hear about this? Who is your 'Ministry person'?" a heretofore silent witch asked. "It's not that I don't believe you, but we always check our references before we believe anything."
"I don't want to say who it is because he wasn't supposed to tell anyone. I don't want to get him in trouble. 'Him or her' I should say." Harry didn't remember where, but somewhere he had picked up the advice, Never burn your sources. He also didn't want to admit that the only reason Bagman had given him advance notice was because the man had a serious case of Boy-Who-Lived worship. That was embarrassing enough coming from a preteen girl. Coming from a middle-aged man, it was just plain wrong.
And Harry especially didn't want to admit that Bagman's information at the Quidditch World Cup was only confirmation of something Harry had already half-known from the dreams earlier in the summer: visions of an enchanted cup and of course Harry getting dragged into the middle of it.
"Fair enough, but you realize we can't take your word for it without anything to back it up."
"That's OK. I'll bet Dumbledore will announce it at the opening feast tonight, or soon, anyway. All I'm trying to tell you is that it's coming to Hogwarts and it's really dangerous and you shouldn't enter. You can do your own research before the selection if I haven't convinced you."
This conversation was repeated with minor variations half a dozen times on the long ride up to Scotland. By the time he debarked in Hogsmeade, Harry felt he had made an honest effort at thwarting the summer's visions.
On the other hand, he wasn't very optimistic that he'd accomplished anything. Wizards (and witches) were so stupid! Couldn't they see that their lives were worth more than a thousand galleons? Not even that – they were worth more than a one-in-three chance at a thousand galleons?
Finally returning to the compartment with his trunk and his friends, Harry changed into his school robes, then put Hedwig back on his shoulder. He hadn't ruled out transfiguring his robes and yelling "Avast thar, ye lubber!" if Dumbledore started in on his senile babbling again.
"What's got into you, Mate?" Ron asked. "You told us what the mysterious person told you about the tournament – and I'll tell you, it's no fair that I can't enter. And you told us that you were sure it was going to land on you somehow, and I can't say you're wrong about that. But what's with all this running around? Just sit here and relax. Things'll be all right."
"Just sitting back and letting things happen is too dangerous. Think about the basilisk: we just sat back and trusted the teachers, and look what happened. We almost lost Hermione! And Ginny, too, sorry, Ginny. If we'd started researching after the first petrification, I'll bet Hermione would have figured it out right away and we could have saved a whole lot of trouble. No, from now on, I'm keeping my eyes open and I'm always going to have a plan when it looks like trouble is coming."
Harry hadn't told his friends about the visions. Hermione would have scoffed and Ron would have told him to tell Dumbledore. Maybe it was just the effects of the visions or maybe it was thinking about Sirius's imprisonment and Dumbledore not having done anything about getting him a trial, almost three months later, but Harry was no longer so firmly in the headmaster's camp.
Harry also hadn't told his friends that he had more than one plan. He had a plan: keep the students from entering the tournament, to throw off the vision. He had a backup plan: bring the ministry in to keep an eye on the Hogwarts staff. He had a backup to the backup: bring up legal obstacles to endangering the students. He had a backup to the backup's backup: publicize the danger, so all of the families of the students knew what their children faced. He even had a backup to the backup's backup's backup. He hoped he wouldn't need that one.
September and October went by in a blur for Harry. He was so busy!
As expected, Dumbledore had announced the tournament the first night of school. The headmaster was rather surprised that the students didn't express more surprise at the news, but he trundled along regardless.
Harry set a record by losing points during the Welcome Feast. (Strictly speaking, Ron's and Harry's flight up two years ago was before the feast.) "Excuse me, Headmaster. You said that under-age students will not be able to enter. How are you going to keep them – I mean us, and especially me – safe?" Perhaps if he had left it at that, Gryffindor's point total would have been left intact, but Harry wasn't satisfied with Dumbledore's "You don't need to trouble yourself about that, my boy. The safety of the students is foremost in all of our minds." Harry's persistent grilling resulted in points taken by McGonagall because Harry was not showing proper respect to the headmaster, points taken by Flitwick because Harry pressed him on his qualifications as a master warder, points taken by Snape because he was a dick, and points taken by Sprout for no better reason than because she wanted to jump on the bandwagon. The reverence the Weasley twins paid to Harry mostly made up for the annoyance of the rest of their house for starting the year a hundred points in the hole.
Aside from the first night mess, Harry kept busy, talking to as many of the older students as would talk to him.
"You're an only child, aren't you?" he asked one Year Seven wizard. "I'm sure your parents would be very upset if anything happened to you, like dying in a pointless tournament."
"But think about if I win! Not even counting the prize money, I'd be famous! I'd have my pick of jobs and I'd be able to find a better wife than would be interested in an ordinary wizard."
It seemed hopeless to make wizards think, but Harry persevered. After about the tenth failure he was driven not so much by a sense of duty to his peers as by a desire to invalidate the summer's visions. He'd prevent the tournament from going off if it was the last thing he did.
Hermione helped, taking time from her heavy course load and independent study. She had endless facts about the mortality rate of earlier tournaments, including the grisly ways in which some of the champions died. There was the drop bear imported from the newly-discovered land south of China. No one had realized at the time that drop bears go berserk at the sight of light-colored hair. It was just bad luck that two of that year's champions were blonde.
Or take the single stupidest contest Hermione had found, swimming into the Black Lake in the middle of a Scottish winter. Honestly! The tournament organizers must have had no sense at all. One of the champions had frozen and drowned in the lake, one had died of the chill a day later, and the lucky one had "only" gotten so sick that he was unable to perform the last task and had consequently lost his magic because of violation of the tournament's magical contract. (He had then been murdered by his pureblood family, but that wasn't part of the event and therefore did not count as a Triwizard Tournament fatality.)
Hermione was using the data she gathered and the success rate of Harry's talks for a trifling monograph: On the Ability of Humans Raised in Magical Society to Use Logic and Evaluate Risks. But that is a tale for another time.
Aside from talking to the students, Harry kept his best girl busy flying to London and back as he continued to seek assurances from the Ministry that they would not allow students to be put at risk. Hedwig logged more miles in a month than she had in the previous year, but it was all for naught. The Department of Sport and Games referred him to the Department of Education. The Department of Education apparently did not exist. The Department of Magical Law Enforcement referred him to the Department for International Cooperation. The Department for International Cooperation referred him to the Department of Education.
Harry's next approach involved getting a lawyer to throw up obstacles, anything to delay and deter the scene from the visions. It was an idea he'd gotten from one of Vernon's rants. Grunnings had wanted to expand their operations, which meant expanding the parking lot to accommodate the new employees. The plans had to be abandoned because of endless picky objections by lawyers hired by "concerned" persons. Vernon had had plenty to say about that. "There's nothing like a lawyer to keep you from doing what you want to do."
Hedwig made a few more trips down to London, but no progress was made. One wizarding solicitor wanted five thousand galleons up front, in cash, as a retainer before he would lift a finger. Even if the amount weren't ridiculously high, Harry had no way to get down to Gringotts to get the gold from his vault. Another lawyer's response was even less helpful: "Mr Potter. In regards to your request that we seek an injunction against the running of the Triwizard Tournament, we wish to thank you for the best laugh we've had all year."
Old Harry would have just thrown up his hands and stopped trying at this point. No, that's not true. Old Harry wouldn't have tried to do anything in the first place. Old Harry wouldn't have pressed Bagman for as many details as he could get, back at the Quidditch World Cup.
New Harry, the Harry who had lived through dreams or visions or memories over the summer, set his jaw and got to work on his next plan.
Old Harry just let things happen. He'd coast along, goofing around with Ron and bumming homework help from Hermione, until a crisis broke and people were about to die. Old Harry never looked into things when he heard only part of a story. Old Harry never thought about possible consequences, especially bad consequences, especially threats to him and his friends, from things that happened.
"Relax, Mate. We barely see you anymore except in class. Sit down and take a break and look at my new quidditch magazine."
New Harry had more important things to do than read magazines and play chess. He put his time and energy into foiling the vision he'd seen. He was trying to keep himself alive, dammit!
The next approach was to let all of the parents know that their children were at risk. Even if the students – teenagers, and not known for the smarts to keep themselves safe – thought of the tournament as a great opportunity, their parents should be much more cautious and protective. Even if only half of the parents of the older students were concerned enough to contact Dumbledore or the ministry, that should be more than enough.
Of course, Harry couldn't contact all of the parents in the time remaining before the champions were selected. Not even Hedwig, Super Owl though she may be, could do that. The thing to do was reach them all at once, so Harry wrote an article on the Triwizard Tournament's history, emphasizing the deaths and injuries. It was the hardest 1500 words he'd ever written, but well worth the effort.
… And the Daily Prophet didn't run it. Instead, his article was fodder for their puff piece on the opportunities presented by the tournament. "Even Harry Potter is excited and has been researching past tournaments. We at the Prophet wish the Boy Who Lived the best of luck in being selected as the Hogwarts champion.
The only things that kept Harry going were two girls. Hermione supported him and his efforts, even after he revealed the "extremely woolly" visions that were driving him. And Hedwig. No matter how much he asked her to do, she always came back to him, always ready to do more, or to just sit on his lap and be petted.
The Halloween feast finally arrived. Harry just collapsed at the table next to his best friend. Best human friend, anyway. Hedwig's Herculean efforts and unswerving constancy won her the top spot, though Hermione's curving contours kept it an open contest.
"I noticed you were tired in class all day, Harry. You weren't in the common room last night. Were you out causing trouble all night?"
"You know me better than that." Hermione was unable to stop her snort of disbelief, though she did it in such a cute way that she was definitely back in the Number One position. "OK, you do know me. I was out trying to prevent trouble, not make it."
Before Hermione could respond, Dumbledore got up and announced that the Goblet of Fire was ready to make its selections. The students and staff of three schools watched attentively as a spray of confetti burst out and covered the headmaster. No one was quite sure what to make of that. Was the Goblet getting in on the festivities? Students started to giggle at Dumbledore's less-than-dandy appearance.
Hermione, no dummy, noticed Harry's smug look. "What did you do?" There was enough tumult that she didn't have to whisper it, nor conceal her suspicious glare.
"What do you mean? I didn't do anything." Harry didn't know why everyone seemed to think they could tell whenever he told a lie. Learning to lie with a straight face was a survival trait, given his childhood. People, especially teachers, thought he was lying when he was telling the truth, but that was their fault, not his.
Hermione speared him with Skeptical Look #1. "Don't give me that. Have you forgotten with whom you are speaking?" She had a good point. His highly developed skills at dissimulation were of no use against Hermione. Of all the six billion humans on earth, she was the one who knew him best. They'd been through more together than any observer would expect, knowing nothing more than that they'd been friends since exactly three years ago.
"OK, fine. You know I was standing guard over the Goblet yesterday, right?"
"Of course. Several of the older Gryffindors mentioned in the common room that you were persuading aspirants not to put their names in."
"Well, I'd planned to stay there all night. Partly I was making sure no one entered me and partly I was talking other people out of entering – call that my service to the magical world for this year – but McGonagall came up and told me to 'be off with you, Mr Potter'. She said some students complained that I wasn't letting them put their names in the cup, but that's a total lie. I didn't stop anyone, I just talked them out of entering. It's not my fault if not one of them wanted to enter after I gave them my talk."
Harry didn't tell Hermione, and perhaps didn't realize himself, that while his words were mere persuasion, his body language was that of an eleven-year-old who'd grabbed a possessed professor by the throat and held on until he was dead. The stance of a twelve-year-old who'd thrust a sword upward in the face of certain death.
"So McGonagall told me to go away, so of course I did, because you know I always do what I'm supposed to do. I learned to obey the professors from you, right, Miss Steal-boomslang-skin-so-I-can-brew-polyjuice-potion?"
"Ha ha. So what was your next approach, Mr Leave-the-castle-even-though-I-don't-have-a-Hogsmeade-permission-slip?"
"What McGonagall didn't realize was that I'd already taken care of the cup. The goblet, I mean. Talking to the other students was just the first line of defense."
"Very good, Harry. I had previously mentioned that I was impressed by your new-found ability to plan. Allow me to say I'm very impressed by your ability to create multi-layered plans. What did you do to the Goblet of Fire?"
"Two things. The simple one, which I expected someone to find pretty quick, was a shield charm over the goblet. It was like an upside-down bowl over the top, with a hole in the middle. You could still put your name in, but you'd have to hold your hand right over the fire."
"Interesting. You weren't preventing entrants, merely dissuading them. Very subtle, at least by your normal standards."
"Ha ha. But you're right, I have to admit. The second thing was a paper shredder."
"Harry! You didn't! You didn't destroy everyone else's names and prevent them from entering?"
"I did. You know as well as I do that this is going to turn into another Dumbledore Disaster, and that people will die if we don't prevent it, and Dumbledore and the rest are going to ditch their responsibilities, just like every year."
"I'm sure you're overstating the case. Fairly sure, at any rate."
"Maybe. Better safe than sorry, the way I figure it, since I'm always pulled into the mess. But if you're sure the responsible adults will take care of it, would you like to make a little bet on whether things will work out well this year or will go to hell without us?"
"Language, Harry. And, no, I wouldn't care to place a wager. Some of the older girls have told tales about the depraved things boys have demanded after winning a wager, and I'm not yet ready for that with you."
Harry wasn't sure whether to be offended by "depraved things" or inspirited by "yet". He set it aside for later and continued with his tale. "I couldn't get the shredder to work the way I wanted – I think I'd need to know how to enchant it to make it grind whenever anything landed on it – but it worked well enough. I fire-proofed it up in the dorms, then put it in the bowl. I'd measured the size ahead of time, so it fit right in. Then I hovered up above on my broom all night, under my cloak. Nobody looked up and saw me, not even Moody. So much for 'Constant Vigilance!'
"Once people noticed the shield charm and Moody took it down, when they put their names in, they sat on the shredder. After they left and the hallway was quiet, I hit one of the little arms with a banisher and the shredder spun and tore up the paper. And you can see it worked."
"Crude but effective. But how did you put the shredder in? And how did you take it back out? You didn't ask for help from an older student, did you?"
"Nah. I just flew my broom over the age line. I found out it was only about five or six feet high. If I didn't have my broom I could have used a stepladder."
"And my respect for authority figures takes another hit. A head-high age line was the only protection against under-age students entering? Well done, Headmaster."
The two were so intent on their private discussion that they hadn't noticed the noise level in the Great Hall dropping and then rising again and then dropping to dead silence. They didn't notice every eye staring at them.
They hadn't noticed that Dumbledore had called Harry's name three times, not until Ron gave Harry's shoulder a hard shove.
"What's your problem?"
Ron didn't reply. He simply scowled at Harry and gestured toward the Head Table.
"Harry Potter, please come up here."
"Your name has come out of the Goblet of Fire. Your name is the only one to come out of the Goblet, making you the only champion in the Triwizard Tournament."
Harry couldn't speak for a moment. All of his plans – his layers of plans – had let him down?
His momentary silence was taken as a sign – no, as proof – of guilt by the students – no, the sheep – around him. "That bastard." "I should have known it was a trick to make sure he was selected." "Glory hound." "That's the last time anyone will listen to him."
Hermione didn't give Harry a chance to deny having entered. "You lying, promise-breaking bastard." The venom in her voice was even more shocking than her words.
"L-l-language, Hermione!" What else could Harry say? After all they'd been through, was it possible that Hermione would abandon him over this?
"Oh, be still, Harry. I object only to the casual use of profanity. There is a time and a place in which only profanity, obscenity, and scatology can express one's disgust with a situation, and if this cluster-fuck isn't that time and place then I don't know what could be.
"And you, Dumbledore. I know what you're trying to pull, Assmaster. I know you're going to tell Harry that he has to take it up the ass again. Well, you can't have it. Harry's ass is my property."
"Miss Granger!" McGonagall's face was white with shock, or perhaps envy. "That will be twenty points for utterly inappropriate and extremely suggestive language. From you, of all people! Never in all my years teaching–"
"Fuck you, you worthless twat! I mean it, go get fucked. Maybe you'll be less worthless if you got laid more than once every fifty years."
Hermione paused to turn a malevolent glare on every student in the Great Hall. "And as for the rest of you moronic, inbred shits, if you haven't figured out by now that Harry Potter does not seek the limelight, then you're too stupid to live. Harry should have let you enter your names for the contest so that at least one of you would be eaten by a dragon, or whatever idiotic challenge the assmaster—"
"Cram it, you cunt. Your head is so far up your ass that no one can tell the difference.
"And the rest of you: Every one of you little shits who is so fucking retarded that you think Harry entered his own name should just blow a hole in your stupid head so the stupid can run out. Let me know if you need help blowing a hole in your fucking head. Just call Harry a cheater where I can hear it. That will do it."
Harry didn't let his admiration for Hermione's vituperative virtuosity get in the way of his signaling for his final backup plan to start.
To keep everyone's attention on him rather than on the Goblet of Fire (or on Hermione, who, outrage spent, was shrinking under the collective glares of the entire room), Harry finally stood up and spoke up. "Professor McGonagall, last night you gave me a detention for doubting the assmast– I mean, headmaster's ability to keep underage students' names out of the cup. May I assume you'll be canceling that detention?"
McGonagall's shrewish face didn't look receptive to the suggestion, but her answer was lost. With all eyes on Harry or McGonagall or Hermione or the assmaster, no one except Harry noticed a dark grey package dropping from the rafters toward the Head Table.
Oh, they noticed it now. The sparks and ring of fire coming out of the goblet whooshed into a blazing white brighter and hotter than any fire anyone had ever seen. Five kilos of powdered iron oxide and five kilos of powdered aluminum oxide – Thermite, in a word – would do that. The fire burned so hot that it overcame centuries-old enchantments. It burned so hot that it scorched hair ten feet away.
Dumbledore was much closer than ten feet away.
Everyone was too busy scurrying away from the Goblet of Inferno to notice Baldus Dumbledore's new look, but that was OK. Tomorrow was soon enough. Not even his eyebrows would have grown back by breakfast.
Only a magical post owl could carry so much weight. Only an exceptionally intelligent post owl could nail a small target from all the way up near the rafters.
As he watched The Goblet of Fire melt into The Blob of Brass that Burned Through the Staff Table and into the Floor, Harry smiled. He could always count on Hedwig. He loved that owl.