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I don't own Harry Potter.
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Chapter 3 - Small, Slow Steps

The students gathered in the Great Hall gasped as one as Dumbledore announced Harry's name. As the crowd began to murmur amongst itself, Harry sighed exasperatedly and stood up, following Dumbledore to the waiting room for the champions.

“Vhat is it?” Viktor Krum asked, standing up as Harry as well as the various Headmasters and Ministry representatives came into the room. “Do they need us back outside?”

“I still don't really believe this,” Ludo Bagman said, rubbing his hands together and shivering in barely contained delight, “but it seems that we have a first in Triwizard history: two champions!” he continued gleefully. The anger from the two foreign Headmasters was immediately evident.

“Zis iz an outrage!” Madame Maxine exclaimed in her thick French accent. “Zis boy cannot possibly compete; `e is far too young!”

“I agree,” Harry said, surprising everyone in the room. “Professor, may I please see that note?” he asked Dumbledore, holding out his hand. Frowning in confusion, the wizened man handed Harry the scrap of parchment. Harry then made a show of inspecting the note.

“Vhat is he doing?” Igor Karkaroff snapped testily.

“This isn't my handwriting,” Harry said finally, handing Dumbledore back the note. “I refuse to participate in a contest that I could very well die horribly in when I didn't even enter my own name in.”

“I'm afraid that it doesn't work that way,” Barty Crouch said. “The magical contract operates on the person's name, not their signature.”

“So you're saying that anyone with a quill and parchment could put my name into the Goblet, without my permission, and I can do nothing about it?” Harry asked, his eyes seemingly glowing as his anger surfaced. Crouch's silence had all but answered Harry's question. “Great,” he said sarcastically, “just fan-bloody-tastic. If you need me, I'll be in the Gryffindor Common Room,” he said as he walked out of the room, leaving the shocked adults behind him. Cedric Diggory recovered first and ran after Harry.

“Harry, wait!” Cedric yelled as he quickly caught up with his significantly shorter competitor. “For what it's worth, I believe you.” Harry smiled softly and nodded at the older Hufflepuff.

“Thanks, Cedric, that means a lot to me,” Harry said, before lightly patting him on the arm. “May the best man win,” he added before walking back to Gryffindor Tower. When he entered the Common Room, he found it completely empty except for Hermione reading a book, Crookshanks purring softly on her lap.

“What're you reading?” Harry asked, causing her to look up.

Hogwarts, A History,” Hermione said, setting the book down next to her. “I've been trying to find some loophole to get you out of this tournament, but I haven't found anything yet,” she continued sadly.

“Well, Crouch said that the contract works with the name, not the signature,” Harry said as he sat down next to her, “so it looks like I'm stuck.” For a moment, they sat in silence, only Crookshanks purrs and the fireplace crackling making any sound.

“You didn't seem particularly surprised when Professor Dumbledore called out your name,” Hermione said, breaking the silence, “why is that?” Harry sighed, running his hands through his messy hair.

“Can I tell you tomorrow? I don't really feel like explaining everything right now,” he said tiredly. He breathed a sigh of relief when Hermione nodded silently. “I take it Ron's not too pleased with me right now,” he said, more as a statement than a question.

“No, he's not,” Hermione confirmed. “He thinks that you somehow managed to trick the age line, and is upset that you didn't let him in on the secret.”

“Yeah, I figured that he would,” Harry said bitterly. “Might as well get it over with now; I'll see you tomorrow, Hermione,” he said, hugging Hermione goodnight before walking up to the boy's dormitory. As he had expected, when Harry walked into the fourth-year dormitory, Ron was sitting in his bed, glaring at him.

“So, how'd you do it?” Ron asked coldly. Harry raised his eyebrow at the red-haired teenager.

“If I said I didn't do it, would you believe me?” he questioned. Ron did not answer, but glared at Harry evilly. “Didn't think so,” Harry quipped as he changed into his pajamas and crawled into bed. Ron huffed angrily and slid the curtains surrounding his bed closed.

When Harry awoke early the next day, he saw that Ron's curtains were still drawn closed. Briefly thinking about what Mara had said to him about cutting off his ties with Ron and Ginny, Harry changed into his robes and walked down the stairs to the Common Room and found Hermione waiting for him.

“Can we go somewhere a little more private?” Harry asked, looking around cautiously. When Hermione nodded, Harry took her by the arm and led her down to the seventh floor and stopped in front of a blank section of wall. Releasing his hold on Hermione, Harry paced back and forth in front of the wall three times while thinking the words, I need someplace to talk to Hermione. When he heard Hermione gasp in surprise, Harry opened his eyes to see the dark, ornate door that led to the Room of Requirement. Harry held the door open for Hermione, then walked into the room itself.

In contrast to the rather excessive way that the enchanted room had fulfilled his previous requests, this room was rather plain. The walls were painted a dark blue, as well as the carpet and furniture. The room was furnished with a pair of large overstuffed chairs and sofas, as well as a large glass case containing a variety of beverages, both alcoholic and non-alcoholic.

“Umm...want something to drink?” Harry asked awkwardly. Hermione shook herself out of her shocked stupor and looked at Harry.

“Just tea, thanks,” she muttered as she began gawking at the room in shock again.

“Want any sugar or anything with that?” Harry asked as the room produced a teacup for him.

“Just a bit of lemon, please,” Hermione said as she sat down in one of the chairs. “Wow, this is really comfortable. How'd you find this place, Harry?” Harry didn't answer immediately, but instead finished preparing Hermione's tea and grabbing a butterbeer for himself. 

“Hermione, if I told you something so incredibly strange, I couldn't possibly be sane, would you believe me?” Harry asked as he passed Hermione her tea.

“Of course, Harry,” Hermione said, frowning in concern. “Harry, what are you trying to say?” Harry fidgeted nervously as he sat down.

“Well, I'm not quite what I seem to be anymore,” Harry said cryptically. “Firstly, I'm from the future. Secondly, I'm...dead,” he said, hesitating as he mentioned his death. Hermione was sipping her tea when he spoke, and nearly choked on it when he said he was dead.

“What?” she sputtered, still coughing. Harry then launched into his story, about what had happened in the next three years, as well as how he had died, and the conversation he had with Mara. However, he carefully omitted the detail of Hermione being his soul mate. When he had finished, Hermione was simply sitting in her chair motionless, her now cold tea forgotten.

“Well,” she said finally, “that's certainly a strange story.” Wordlessly, she stood up from her chair and sat back down next to Harry. Without warning, Hermione suddenly pounced over and wrapped Harry in a hug. “I'll help you, Harry,” she whispered, tears trickling from her eyes, “anything you need, I'll help you get it. I'll always be there for you.” Unsure how to respond, Harry awkwardly pulled her into his arms, patting her on the back comfortingly.

“Thanks,” he whispered softly. For several minutes, they held each other tightly, until their arms got tired and they had to relinquish their holds on each other.

“So...how are you going to break things off with Ron?” Hermione asked as they both lounged in one of the fluffy sofas.

“I don't know,” Harry admitted as he took a gulp of butterbeer. “It would look suspicious if I just suddenly stopped talking to him for no reason after being best mates for three years. I don't know, I'll think of something.” Harry spared a moment to glance at his watch, and realized that they had been holed up in the Room of Requirement for almost two hours. “It's a good thing that today's a Saturday, or else people might miss us,” he said casually.

“Yeah,” Hermione said absently as she read a book that the room had conjured for her. “I just can't believe that I fell for Ron,” she muttered so low that Harry almost didn't hear her.

“Oh, who did you have your heart set on, then?” Harry asked teasingly.

“Just some boy,” Hermione said, shrugging indifferently, although Harry noticed that she seemed to falter slightly when he asked. “We better show ourselves to the world before people start thinking we're off snogging in some broom closet somewhere,” she said as she pulled herself out of the chair. Chuckling nervously, Harry pulled himself onto his feet and held the door open for Hermione.

“I've got something I need to do first; I'll catch up,” Harry said as Hermione began to walk away. Once she had left, Harry walked back into the room and contorted his face in concentration. I need someplace to hide something, Harry thought, and the room shifted into the large, cluttered room that Harry had hidden Snape's potion book in his sixth year. Grinning triumphantly, Harry requested a cloth sack and grabbed Ravenclaw's Diadem, quickly stuffing into the sack before the Horcrux could exert its influence on him. Pushing aside some random debris, Harry laid the sack into a corner of the room and shoved the junk back so that, while he could clearly see where it was, it would remain hidden to anyone else. Satisfied with his work, Harry walked out of the room and watched as the door melted back into the wall.

Harry casually walked back up to Gryffindor Tower and grabbed a quill and parchment, preparing to write a letter to Sirius.

Hey, Padfoot. Wherever you are, I hope things are better than they are here.

Someone got me into the Triwizard tournament...as a fourth champion. Apparently, there was some fine print that stated that the contract that runs the Goblet uses names instead of signatures, so I'm stuck. Lucky me.

Could you do me a favor? Could you call your old house elf and ask him to bring the silver locket that no one can open from your grim old place to you, in a thick cloth sack? I know that your opinion of your old place and your elf are rather low, but it's really important. I can't explain it in a letter, but it's really important. And please TRY to be nice to your elf; karma has that nasty habit of coming back to bite you in the ass if you're not careful. Thanks.

Harry

Satisfied, Harry stuffed it into an envelope and sealed it, leaving the front blank. Slipping it into his pocket, Harry walked up to the owlery, where Hedwig swooped in with a mouse in her beak.

“Hey, girl, want to deliver a letter for me?” Harry asked. Hedwig immediately dropped the mouse from her beak and hooted in affirmation. Harry grabbed a piece of string and tied the letter to Hedwig's leg. “It's for Sirius,” Harry whispered as he carried the snowy owl to the window, “so be careful.” Hooting haughtily, Hedwig swooped out of the window and into the gray sky, eventually disappearing completely. 

Harry sighed to himself. He had told Hermione about his resurrection; he had started collecting the Horcruxes; he had asked Sirius to get the second Horcrux, so what was left? Oh yeah, homework. He had three years of extra experience, so he figured that there was no excuse to get such low marks this time around. Well, he better head back to Gryffindor Tower; that homework wasn't going to do itself.
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I hope that you enjoyed that.

While I have my problems with the nagging bitch phase that Hermione was going through during the first third of Deathly Hallows, and hold nothing short of utter contempt for Kreacher, Hermione did have a point in saying that it was Sirius' own mistreatment of Kreacher that ultimately lead to his death.

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