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I don't own Harry Potter.
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Chapter 5 - Slight Differences

Knowing beforehand what the Triwizard tasks would be, Harry concerned himself little with studying for the dragon that he faced…not that he was supposed to know that; Harry was still waiting for Hagrid to invite him to “discover” the dragons. Instead, Harry placed his efforts towards improving his studies. While the general idea for most things came to him easily, having done them hundreds of times before, such things like definitions, as well as the detailed explanations required for his essays still eluded him, and he quickly found himself residing in the library nearly as long as Hermione, which was driving a larger wedge between the rift that had already existed between him and Ron.

As Harry hit a block on his Transfiguration essay, his thoughts drifted to his former best friend. While initially reluctant to simply discard his friendship with the redhead like Mara had suggested, the more that her words about his jealousy made sense. Harry ultimately decided to give the redheaded boy a second chance, but he would no longer tolerate his jealousy, and he would also be wary around Ginny. The news about the love potion had hit him hard, even if he had not initially shown it.

“How are you doing on the essay, Harry?” Hermione asked as she dropped a stack of books onto the table before pulling out her quill and ink as well as a roll of parchment.

“Slowly,” Harry groaned, pushing aside his parchment and laying his head in his arms. “I think I've fried my brain; I can hardly concentrate on anything anymore.” Hermione sighed and reached over to grab his parchment.

“Might as well correct what you've already got down,” Hermione said as she analyzed the contents of Harry's incomplete essay, jotting down a few marks here and there. “I'm impressed, Harry, hardly any errors,” she said, obviously pleased with him. “Your handwriting could still use some work though.” Harry snorted and looked up at her.

“Four years of correcting my homework and you still can't read my handwriting?” he asked, mock glaring at her.

“I didn't say I couldn't read it,” Hermione scoffed back in response, handing back his essay, “I just said it needs work.” Rolling his eyes, Harry opened his book and began scribbling down his notes.

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Harry breathed in the crisp autumn air as he and Hermione walked through Hogsmeade village. So far things had been going well. Several days before, Hagrid had taken Harry out into the forest under the cover of night to show him the “adorable” dragons. And just as before, Hagrid had neglected to mention that the show doubled as a date with the Beauxbatons Headmistress, Madame Maxine. The next day, Harry had discreetly sought out Cedric and warned him of the dragons. A couple of days later, the fake Moody had cursed Malfoy into a ferret like before, which had elicited a few chuckles out of Harry. Now, Harry was going to enjoy the last Hogsmeade weekend before the first task, and headed straight for the Three Broomsticks. Harry and Hermione sat down at the bar and drank a few butterbeers before Hermione had to use the lavatory. As Harry continued drinking the warm, soothing drink, he vaguely saw someone sit down next to him from the corner of his eye, but paid it no mind until he heard a familiar voice.

“I'll just have a bowl of chicken soup, and a glass of water,” the patron requested, and Madame Rosmerta nodded before walking away to take more orders. Harry turned his head to see Mara sitting next to him, grinning cheekily at him. “Surprise,” she said.

“Mara?” Harry asked in shock. “What are you doing here?”

“I'm ordering lunch,” Mara said nonchalantly. “What else are you supposed to do in a place like this?”

“But what are you doing here?” Harry repeated himself. “I thought you had clients to watch over, like myself.” Mara just shrugged indifferently.

“I've got someone else watching the rest of my clients, and I'm here with you right now. I trust you're not going to do something reckless in my presence now, are you?” she asked, raising an eyebrow threateningly. Gulping nervously, Harry shook his head slightly. “Good boy,” she said sweetly, thanking Madame Rosmerta as her soup arrived. “Besides, now that you know what's going to happen, my life has been much easier so far.” Mara blew on her soup, cooling it down before consuming several spoonfuls, followed by a gulp of water. “Now, I take it that you have a few questions for me?”

“Yeah, like is the last…” Harry paused as he realized he almost spoke of the Horcruxes in public. “Do I still have the…you-know-what in my head?” he asked, leaning closer and whispering softly.

“Yup,” Mara said, drinking more of her soup, “I figured that you'd need the extra shield.”

“But if it's still in me, how am I going to get it out?” Harry asked, slightly panicked. Smiling knowingly, she leaned in to him and he leaned towards her.

“Let me worry about that,” she whispered conspiratorially, before leaning back. “So, anything else?” she asked in a normal tone.

“Yeah, I don't have to do anything like try to keep Malfoy from turning dark or anything like that, do I?” Harry asked. Mara, who was taking a drink when he had asked, choked on her water, coughing loudly for several seconds.

“No,” Mara coughed after she had regained her composure. “I suppose you could try if you really wanted to, but I doubt that it'd help. I think that the best that you could do is get him into a position where he won't spend the rest of his life in Azkaban, but I don't think you'd get much further than that. Despite what Dumbledore thinks, some people simply don't change.” Mara gulped down the rest of her soup and threw a few coins onto the counter before standing up. “Well, Miss Granger should be returning from the loo soon and I need to get back to work, so I'll see you later, Harry,” she said as she patted Harry on the shoulder. “Take care of yourself. Try not to die for the next couple of minutes,” she added as she walked out of the pub and integrated herself into the crowds of Hogsmeade. True to her prediction, mere moments after she left, Hermione returned from the lavatory and reclaimed her seat by Harry's side.

“So, did anything exciting happen while I was gone?” she asked as she picked up her butterbeer bottle.

“Not really,” Harry said, shaking his head lightly, taking a gulp of his own butterbeer.

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Soon, Harry stood in a tent alongside his fellow champions mere minutes before they were to face their respective dragons, and Harry felt the fear and anxiety that gripped him the first time returning. Soon, the Headmasters, along with Ludo Bagman and Crouch Senior walked into the tent, Crouch clutching a small purple satchel in his hands.

After the pre-game speech to the champions, Crouch opened the satchel and beckoned everyone to reach in and pull out their respective dragons. Cedric drew a Swedish Short-Snout bearing the number one. No surprise, Harry thought. Fleur reached her hand into the sack and carefully pulled out a Welsh Green bearing the number two. As the bag was passed to Harry, he reached in and pulled out his dragon, confident that he would pull out the Hungarian Horntail like last time. Therefore, he was unpleasantly shocked when he saw a scarlet, serpentine figurine of the Chinese Fireball hissing at him, a three hanging from its neck. Krum reached in and pulled out the final dragon, the Horntail Harry expected to have. Resigned to his fate, Harry sat down on a bench and awaited his turn.

As Cedric and Fleur clashed against their dragons, Harry was frantically trying to change his strategy. Simply summoning his Firebolt was no longer and option, since Chinese Fireballs were flightless. They were also smarter than the Hungarian Horntail; not significantly smarter, but smarter nonetheless. They were also fiercely protective of their treasures…and their eggs. All too soon, Harry's name was called, and the young man drew his wand and held back his fear, stepping out of the tent with his head high.

As Harry walked out of the side cavern protecting the champion's tent and into the main field, Harry scanned his surroundings nervously. He couldn't see the dragon, but there were enough large rocks scattered around that it could be laying low, waiting for him to appear. Harry carefully navigated the terrain, walking slowly and deliberately. Unfortunately, he was not deliberate enough, for he slipped and knocked over several pebbles. The ground rumbled ominously for several seconds before the giant dragon towered over him, growling ferociously. Both human and dragon stared at each other for several tense seconds before the dragon released a blazing fireball, Harry jumping out of the way just in time to avoid the flaming projectile, exploding against the rock like a mortar.

Harry hastily cast a disillusionment charm on himself before mentally berating himself for not considering the possibility of getting a different dragon, then tried to sneak past it. However, the Fireball turned towards his direction and blasted another projectile at Harry, who had to dodge it again. This course of action repeated itself for several minutes until Harry realized that the Chinese Fireball must sense the body heat of its prey like a snake. Cursing himself for not learning the spell for the bluebell flames that Hermione was so fond of using, Harry hastily turned a few stones into torches before lighting them and throwing them away from his position, the heat and movement distracting the dragon.

Taking his chance, Harry canceled the disillusionment charm and made a mad dash for the egg cluster, snatching the golden egg in mid-run and sprinting into the secondary cavern leading to the victory tent just as the dragon realized what was happening, and Harry managed to barely dodge one final mortar-like fireball from his adversary before slowing down to a jog as he entered the victor's tent, holding the egg up triumphantly.

After several minutes of getting cleaned up and being given a clean bill of health by Madame Pomfrey, Harry was escorted by Hermione up to the spectator's stand to await his scores. Ludo Bagman raised his wand and fired a ribbon from its tip, shaping itself into a ten. Crouch fired his wand and gave Harry a nine. Dumbledore gave Harry a ten. Madame Maxine surprisingly gave Harry a ten as well. Karkaroff raised his wand and gave Harry a four, eliciting groans and cries of protest from most of the crowd, not that Harry was surprised.

Later, during the victory party in Gryffindor Tower, Harry was approached by Ron, who was looking at his shoes nervously.

“Look Harry, I know I've been a bit of a prat lately…” the taller boy started before trailing off awkwardly.

“A bit,” Harry agreed.

“…But I just want to say that I'm sorry, and hope that we can be best mates again,” Ron continued, holding out his hand. Harry looked down at the offered hand, but did not take it.

“Ron, what you did hurt me very badly. I would think that being my best mate, you would have believed me when I said I didn't put my name in the Goblet of Fire.” Harry felt a twinge of guilt at the shameful look on Ron's face, but pressed on. “I'll tell you what, I'll forgive you this time, but pull a stunt like that again, and I may not be so accommodating. I would hate for our friendship to be thrown away over jealousy.” Harry waited for Ron to absorb this information before the redhead nodded. Smiling, Harry shook his hand. “It's good to have you back,” he said.

“So Harry, open the egg!” a random Gryffindor that Harry didn't know shouted. Suddenly, Harry's smile left his face as he looked down at the egg in his arms. Sighing heavily, he placed his hand on the clasp on the top. Mentally bracing himself, Harry twisted the clasp, opening the egg and filling the room with the cries of pain from his classmates mingling with the piercing shriek of Mermish song.
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No, this is not me having a change of heart regarding Ron; this is me making what I feel is a more realistic story (well, as far as realism goes in this fic). Ron may be forgiven, but he's on thin ice; this is essentially his last chance.

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