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it's an uncivil war

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“Ah, yes, this is nice and cozy.”

Harry’s been shoved into enough cupboards in his time (well, mostly the one cupboard) that it doesn’t even occur to him to protest, like it maybe should have when Skeeter declared she was getting an interview from him. She didn’t ask, but that didn’t surprise Harry; adults rarely ask if he wants to do anything in the first place.

Anyway, he allows Skeeter to shove him into a broom cupboard and close the door, but she doesn’t get any further than pulling out and lighting some candles before someone knocks on the door.

That’s weird. What’s weirder is that the knocking doesn’t let up. Skeeter gets out a notepad and a quill and sits ready to start her interview for about a minute, before she finally gives up and opens the door.

There’s another student out there - a girl, Slytherin, older than Harry. Maybe the twins’ year?

“Did you need something?” Skeeter says, sneering. The girl pales a little, but she stands her ground.

“I was just wondering why you dragged Potter into a broom cupboard, is all.”

“He’s giving me an interview. So if you’ll excuse me--”

“In a closet? Did he consent to be interviewed?” Slytherin or not, this girl might be Harry’s new hero; he catches her eye and shakes his head no while Skeeter’s distracted with sputtering. “And even if he did, why not use an empty classroom? God knows there are plenty of them in this hallway alone.”

Well,” Skeeter huffs. “If you know so much, perhaps you’d like to give me a statement instead?”

“No, thank you. I’d like you to stop sitting in a closet with an underage student who didn’t agree to be here with you.”

Skeeter gives up, dousing and packing up her candles with a wave of her wand before stalking out of the cupboard. Harry waits until she’s gone before he gets up; the girl casts a spell he doesn’t recognise, muffling the sound around them.

“Did she hurt you?” she asks.

“What? No, I - she just said she wanted a statement for the paper. She didn’t even get that before you got there.”

The girl sighs. “She’s not going to give up, either. She’s too much of a tabloid journalist for that. Is there anyone of age you can ask to stick with you when she circles back around?”

Harry just kind of shrugs helplessly. In Hogwarts, there isn’t really anyone - maybe if Professor Lupin were still here, but he’s not. Sirius can’t exactly turn up to advocate for him without being arrested on sight. For the purposes of this conversation, the Dursleys might as well not exist.

The silence stretches out for several tense moments before she sighs again, heavier this time. “Oh, what the hell. My birthday’s in a few weeks, I’m nearly old enough to count. Would you like me to help you?”

Harry blinks. “You - what? Why?”

“Because if anyone else had actually looked at your face the night they announced the Champions, they’d know you didn’t put your own name in. Besides, she dragged you into a broom closet to interview you without your consent. If no one else is willing to stand up for you, I might as well do it.”

Something about the way she keeps circling back to the cupboard sits funny with Harry, but he can’t put his finger on it. Still, nobody offers him something for nothing. “What’s the catch?”

“Just… try not to die in this stupid tournament, if there’s really no way to get you out of it.”

“Okay. I mean, that was my plan anyway.” Harry hesitates. “I don’t - I don’t know who you are, though.”

“...Right. That would have been helpful. Adele Greenwood.”

“I - well, you know who I am.” The entire school knows who Harry is, much as he wishes they didn’t, most days. “And thanks. For helping.”

Greenwood smiles a little. “I’m pretty sure knowing your name and knowing who you are are two different things, but you’re welcome.”

***

Potter’s name comes out of the Goblet of Fire after three Triwizard Champions have already been named, and Adele immediately knows this entire tournament is buggered before it can even begin.

She was glad for the age restriction, not least because it meant she had a valid reason not to put herself forward - not that she couldn’t handle anything the tournament might throw at its participants, but she’d rather not advertise like that. The fact that someone tried to circumvent it just to give that poor kid more trouble than he already attracts is… well, it’s stupid, and she’d like a word with whoever thought that was a good idea.

She doesn’t know why everyone thinks Potter is the one who cheated, either. The look on his face when his name was called was dread and resignation - not the reaction of someone who actually wants to be part of a potentially deadly tournament where no one’s officially allowed to tell you anything until you’re doing it. It is the reaction of someone who thought he’d have a year off from being the center of everyone’s attention.

Adele expects that to be the end of her thoughts on the matter. But then she has a free period while the wand thing is happening, and sees Rita Skeeter shove Potter into a broom cupboard, enter it herself, and shut the door behind her.

Alarms go off in her head. She’s moving before she realises it (it’s her responsibility to make sure nothing like this ever happens again), but no one else seems interested in figuring out why a reporter just shoved an underage kid into a closet. She knocks on the door.

There’s no answer, not right away. Adele only hesitates for a second before she decides it’s time to be a complete Hufflepuff about this. She can’t let the matter drop until she knows he’s safe.

Potter looks surprised that anyone cared to step in on his behalf, which is just depressing, but also pretty normal in Adele’s experience. He more or less confirms that by shrugging when she asks if there’s an adult he can keep around for when - not if - Skeeter circles back around to try hitting up the Boy Who Lived for an interview. At the very least, he should feel like he can turn to Professor McGonagall for that as his Head of House; she wonders what breach of trust happened there.

Her parents would tell her to back off and leave it at that, that it’s none of her business. Her parents would have told her it wasn’t her business in the first place. Her parents would tell her not to associate with a Half-blood troublemaker.

Whose life will you be living, Adele Greenwood? Yours, or theirs?

She sighs, and offers Potter a choice. From the way he reacts, she may be the first person older than him to do that in far too long (also pretty normal, in her experience).

After he accepts, Adele drops the privacy charm and continues on to the library like nothing happened. Once she gets there, she starts reworking her extra study schedule to squeeze in as much as she can about the Triwizard Tournament, and spare moments to make sure Potter actually gets in there with some useful skills under his belt.

She’s still no good at speaking up for herself, not after the disaster that happened when she was ten, but she can damned well speak up for someone else.

***

Harry Potter, the youngest and easily most famous Triwizard Champion, refused an interview. Next time, dear readers!

Harry rolls his eyes and puts the newspaper aside. He doesn’t want there to be a next time, even if Skeeter probably will try again. Also he’s pretty sure Viktor Krum would have a thing or two to say about that ‘easily most famous’ bit. Harry might have the edge within Britain, but Krum’s the one who was just in the Quidditch World Cup.

Greenwood waylays him at lunch to ask when his free periods are, and then teaches him the privacy spell she used when she rescued him from that would-be interview. “Use it everywhere,” she says. “I don’t care how alone you think you are. Skeeter has a way of getting scoops no one should logically have been around for. I don’t trust her as far as I could throw her.”

“I - all right.” Not that Harry has many people to talk to right now, especially since Ron’s being a prat about the Goblet. Still, he’s not going to deny its usefulness.

“Let’s meet Friday afternoon. You can bring your friends, if you want. I’m trying to find - well, frankly, a way to get you out of this stupid tournament, but failing that, as many useful ways to keep yourself alive as I can.”

Harry’s breath catches in his throat. He really doesn’t understand why Greenwood’s going to this much trouble for him when they barely know each other. “You think you can get me out?”

“I’m not making any promises, but there’s got to be some kind of loophole for people who were entered against their will. I honestly don’t know why everyone else is taking it for granted that there isn’t one.” Greenwood sighs. “The Triwizard Tournament is ancient - possibly older than Hogwarts - and would’ve been a great way to dispose of a political enemy if there’s no restrictions on entering someone else.”

“But there’s no sense in not preparing for that loophole not being there,” Harry says, trying not to sound as glum as he feels. There probably isn’t a loophole, not the way his luck goes. “Wait, isn’t NEWT DADA on Friday afternoons?”

“I’ve been getting better and more effective Defense lessons from one of the portraits in our common room since my first year. Well, Professor Lupin might’ve been about equally effective. Considering the stories I’ve already heard about this year, I have no regrets in not sticking to the official class.”

That’s… that’s remarkably sensible, really. Harry kind of wishes he wasn’t obligated to deal with Professor Moody at this point.

“It’ll probably just be me,” he says. “Maybe Hermione, if I can drag her out of the library. Ron’s… being stupid about the whole thing.”

“Sometimes people are like that. Either he’ll get over it, or he won’t.”

“Thanks, I think.” She probably meant it to be comforting advice, and maybe it even would be, if Ron’s jealousy hadn’t picked the absolute worst time to rear its ugly head.

The twins flank him at dinner. “Interesting lunchtime kidnapping you had,” the one to Harry’s left says (he’s pretty sure it’s Fred).

Harry shrugs. “Yeah, well. She offered to help, so.”

George nods sagely. “You could do a lot worse. She can be bloody terrifying. Definitely better to have Greenwood and her knife collection on your side than against it.”

“Knife collection?” Somehow he doesn’t squeak that.

“She put one in Lockhart’s shoulder, round about Halloween that year,” Fred says.

“And told him to keep his distance if he didn’t want a matching set. Somehow I don’t think she got much detention for it.”

“Right,” Harry says, feeling a bit faint. He’s definitely inclined to agree that someone with a knife collection is a better ally than enemy, but he’s also wondering what he got himself into.

***

Written information about the Triwizard Tournament is dry as dust.

It’s also mostly in dead languages, but for Adele that’s not a problem. She can read Latin - both the regular version and the school-spells version, which she’s more and more certain is a magical dialect that everyone’s forgotten isn’t the original language. It’s a matter of not falling asleep over the texts. At least no one’s looking at her work closely enough to notice the abrupt new rabbit hole; all of Slytherin is used to her weird academic fixations by now.

Potter’s first question on Friday manages to surprise her. “Fred and George said you stabbed Lockhart.”

“I hope you’re not going to say he didn’t deserve it,” she says. She had been sorely tempted before he got overly familiar, just for his blatant lack of qualifications.

“Oh, no, I’m sure he absolutely did. I just - I guess I was wondering why you stabbed him instead of hexing him.”

“He got into my personal space. At that point, it was a reflex.”

Adele expects a quip about appropriate social distance, or something. What she gets is another surprise: Potter just looks at her for several moments, then says, “Did someone hurt you?”

“He’s no longer a concern,” she says, once she finds her voice again. They both know it means ‘yes.’ “Anyway, about the tournament. I’m still working my way through the old rules - I don’t think they’ve changed much, but it’s better to be certain - and in the meantime, we have to figure out what the first task even is if you want half a shot at preparing for it.”

“Easier said than done when none of the teachers are allowed to tell me anything about it.”

“None of the teachers. That leaves an entire school and bits of two others to pick up gossip from. Have you heard anything unusual lately?”

“Well, people accusing me of seeking attention or causing trouble isn’t exactly unusual.” Potter sighs and leaves it at that for a while. “Oh, but Fred and George also said their brother Charlie wrote and said he’s going to be here for a while.”

“Charlie, Charlie… he was Gryffindor’s Seeker my first two years of school, but we didn’t really talk. All I know about his career is he left the country for it.”

“Yeah, Romania. He works at a--” Potter breaks off abruptly, and his face goes ashen. “At a dragon preserve. It’s dragons.”

Oh God, the people running this tournament are even more insane than Adele thought.

***

They spend the rest of Friday afternoon trying to think of literally anything the first task might involve but dragons, but Harry thinks it’s a lost cause from early on in the brainstorming session. If it were most other types of magical creature, they could just leave Hagrid in charge of it and not bring in outsiders. There’s no other reason for Charlie to be coming to Hogwarts for the first task.

In the end, Greenwood sighs and agrees with him. “Fireproofing spells first,” she says. “We can worry about how you’re going to outrun a dragon once we’re sure you won’t burn to death in the process. The rest is probably going to be a mystery until the day of, but at least we can work with this much.”

Harry finds Cedric and tells him about the dragon thing before dinner; it doesn’t feel right leaving him in the dark. Cedric looks troubled, but thanks him anyway.

Ron keeps trying to get Hermione’s attention all through dinner. She ignores him until it’s nearly dessert time, and even then he doesn’t get any further than, “Tell Harry--” before she stops him.

“I’m not an owl, Ronald, and Harry’s right here. If you want to tell him something, tell him yourself.”

Ron turns red and scowls at his plate for so long that Harry thinks he’s not going to say anything after all. “Charlie wrote,” he finally mutters, still not looking up. “He’s gonna be visiting at the end of the month.”

“Yeah, I know,” Harry says. “Fred and George mentioned it.”

Maybe he should be glad Ron still cares enough to say something about it, too, and on one level he is. But mostly, Harry’s still annoyed. Ron can’t even look him in the face to say it. If Ron really wants to be any kind of help, he’s going to have to get over himself and apologise first.

Hermione’s eyes nearly bug out of her head when she hears that, though, and so Harry’s not at all surprised when she drags him to the library the next morning. She parks Harry at a table, goes to the card catalog, disappears into the stacks, and returns with an armload of books. “If Charlie’s visiting, it’s got to be--”

Harry stops her long enough to get the privacy spell up. He doubts he’d really need it in the library of all places, but Greenwood said not to take any chances, so he isn’t. “Dragons, I know. I worked that out yesterday. Is that fireproofing spells or ‘how to outrun a dragon’?”

“A bit of both, but mostly fireproofing. I think your best bet for getting away is going to be flying.”

“They won’t let me take my broom in. They already said we only get to start with our wands for the first task.”

Start with your wand,” Hermione says, sounding remarkably like Greenwood did when she pointed out the usefulness of the school’s gossip network. “That doesn’t mean you can’t call your broom to you from the arena. You’d have to get very good at the Summoning Charm very quickly, but with dedicated practice I think you could do it. And where did you learn that privacy spell? I’ve never seen it before.”

…Well, this was going to come up eventually, and it’s probably better here than just about anywhere else in Hogwarts. “Greenwood. She - I’m still not really sure what happened, but she asked the other day if I wanted a nearly-adult in my corner.” He mostly said yes because she asked, rather than assuming he’d be okay with whatever she did.

(He’s also more sure of what happened after yesterday - he froze up when Skeeter decided a closet was a good interview spot, and she didn’t want to let anything inappropriate happen if she could do something about it - but that’s Greenwood’s personal information. She’d probably stab him if he said anything about it. Besides, he’s still not convinced he’s actually worth the trouble.)

“Oh, is that where you went yesterday? I was worried that you weren’t taking this tournament seriously.”

Harry snorts. “I don’t think I’ve ever taken anything this seriously in my life. I don’t care about winning, but dying doesn’t sound like a fun time.”

“All right, good. You’re sure you can trust her?”

“As much as I can trust anyone right now, yeah.”

Hermione nods, hands Harry a book, and leaves it at that.

The first book isn’t very useful; it’s potion-based fireproofing, and Harry would really rather not steal ingredients from Snape if he doesn’t have to. (Hermione breaks into giggles when Harry questions the existence of powdered hen’s teeth, of all things, but she doesn’t explain why.) The next few books aren’t much better, but they do find a few promising spells.

As Hermione’s copying them down, Harry says, “You should come along next time I go meet with her.”

“I - are you sure I’d be welcome?”

“She already said as much. Besides, between the two of you, I’d have a terrifying and efficient practice schedule inside of an hour. We both have Monday mornings, Wednesdays for an hour after lunch, and the end of Friday afternoon free.” He’d wanted to do more on the weekends, too, but Greenwood said they should both take a little time for their homework.

Sure, like he’s going to be able to concentrate on that at all.

“I can’t on Wednesdays, that’s Arithmancy. But I can do Fridays and most Mondays, if I don’t have homework I need to work on.”

Harry laughs. “Hermione, by that point you don’t need to work on your homework - you’re just doing it because you can’t bear to leave anything out.”

“Is that such a problem?”

“Not in the slightest.”

***

On Monday, Potter has company with him.

That’s not a surprise, since Adele said he could bring his friends along; it’s also no real surprise that Weasley’s apparently still being too much of a prat to help. As seems to be standard with Potter, the surprise comes from an unexpected corner, in this case the rushed introduction he gives as soon as the privacy spell is up.

“Wait a second,” Adele says, as Potter’s hauling out the notes he and Granger brought along. “And - before I start, this is not a failing on either of your parts, but on the school’s. I’m not shocked your friend doesn’t know how to do a more formal introduction, but I am surprised no one bothered to teach you.”

Potter shrugs. “Non-magical relatives, remember? If Aunt Petunia ever knew, she definitely wouldn’t talk about it. The teacher I talk to the most is Hagrid, and I don’t think he’s exactly an etiquette authority. Otherwise, no one’s offered.”

“You’d think there would be a class on magical culture,” Granger adds, looking every bit as miffed as she sounds. “Instead, they just dropped the lot of us in to sink or swim! I wonder how many Muggleborns have given up on the magical community after they finish school, since they weren’t taught the cultural rules but are expected to follow them anyway.”

The answer, Adele’s willing to bet, is more than zero. While there’s no school-wide class, those lessons quietly circulate in the Slytherin common room, making sure every year’s handful of Muggleborns can blend in successfully by Halloween. It works so well that Adele, still deep in her parents’ beliefs in her first year, didn’t even notice there were Muggleborn Slytherins until they started teaching the batch that came in in her second year.

Well, she can make up for her past stupidity now. “Do you want to know how to do the thing properly?”

Yes,” Granger says, with all the fervor of a fellow academic. Potter just nods, but he does look interested.

“All right then. To properly introduce someone, you slow down long enough to give as much of their name as you know, for one thing, and usually the reason why you’re introducing them. There are people who say that blood status should be a factor in determining the order of introductions, but it really doesn’t matter. If anyone still had their titles, that would be another story.”

Potter frowns. “There are magical families with titles?”

“There used to be, but since the Statute of Secrecy went into effect they haven’t been acknowledged. My family used to have one in Yorkshire. I don’t know if the Potters ever did, but Somerset certainly used to fall under a magical title.”

Given that Potter’s already looking at Adele like she gave him a gift - God, she may have just given him more useful information about his family than anyone’s ever bothered to, if ‘I don’t know about this’ can be called useful - she decides to leave off the fact that one of those title holders, as far as she can tell, was Godric Gryffindor.

Then Potter squares his shoulders, smirks a little, and immediately puts the lesson into practice. “Greenwood, this is Hermione Jean Granger,” he says, probably deliberately introducing Granger first. “She’s the smartest person I know and one of my best friends. Hermione, this is Adele Greenwood. She offered to be a nearly-adult in my corner for this mess.”

Adele smiles; Potter pretty well nailed it on the first try, once he had the tools in hand. “Pleased to meet you, Granger.”

“You as well,” Granger says, and then her eyes narrow. “Nearly adult?”

“My birthday’s not until after the first task, but… well, no one else seemed to be stepping up, and Skeeter tried dragging him into a broom cupboard to interview him.” Maybe Skeeter really didn’t have any truly untoward motivations - not that Adele can really bring herself to believe that - but the resulting interview would have been a load of rubbish at best and outright libel at worst. “If I can get him out of the tournament entirely, that’s the ideal plan, but in the meantime there’s no sense in not making sure he’s prepared.”

Granger nods. “We found a few fireproofing spells in the library, though I’m not really sure which one is going to be easiest, and I think the best way for Harry to keep himself safe from a dragon otherwise is going to be Summoning his broom.”

“People better appreciate that I’m going above and beyond the expected curriculum for my age here,” Potter says, finally handing Adele the notes. “These are all OWL-level spells. I should’ve had another year before I needed to know this.”

“You should have,” Adele agrees. “But just in case, we’ll make sure you’ve got them down in the next couple weeks.”

***

Between Hermione and Greenwood, Harry has a workable practice schedule figured out before he goes to his first class of the week - and a bonus inkling that something dire happened to Wizarding Britain’s Latin, if the argument over the correct form of the Summoning Charm is any indication. The parts of the argument that he can make any sense of are interesting, but he’s lucky if he understands half of it. Languages aren’t really his thing, unless there are snakes involved.

On Tuesday, he sees some of the Slytherins - Malfoy and his usual cronies, mostly - sporting badges in support of Cedric. That’s fine; he also supports Cedric. ‘The True Hogwarts Champion’ is a little unnecessary, though, and the ‘Potter Stinks’ animation is - look, Harry can laugh at himself with the best of them, but he prefers being in on the joke.

By Thursday, the badges are gone, and Malfoy looks incredibly sheepish about something. He considers asking Greenwood what that’s all about, but decides against it. There’s only two weeks until the first task, after all. He has bigger things to worry about.

Like not being eaten or roasted by a dragon while doing… whatever it is the tournament people want him to do. For all he knows, not being eaten or roasted is the entire objective. The judges would probably think that was too easy, though.

Greenwood double-takes when she joins them in the spare classroom they’ve grabbed for practicing on Friday. “Wait, are you two dating?”

Harry blinks. “What? No. Why?” He’s not even sure whether he’s interested in girls romantically or not, but Hermione’s the closest thing he’s ever had to a sister.

“It’s just - in magical circles, leaning on each other like that is usually taken as intent to snog. It’s beginning to fade out of practice, but a lot of people still won’t get that close unless they’re actively courting.”

Hermione doesn’t quite spring away from Harry, but she does shift so that she’s not leaning directly on him anymore. Then she frowns. “...Is that why half the common room thinks we just had a messy break-up with Ron?”

“Probably.” Harry sighs. “Nice of him to bloody well tell us that.”

“He really should have done, yes,” Greenwood agrees. “Then again, I’m terrible at noticing when someone’s flirting with me myself, so it’s possible he just hasn’t done due diligence on knowing how not to give the impression that he is.”

“I can’t see Mrs. Weasley not telling him.”

Hermione rolls her eyes. “I absolutely can see Ron deciding it wasn’t important and tuning the lecture out, though. Anyway, I asked Fred and George about what kind of dragons the preserve Charlie works at has on site, and I think you’ll need to practice two fireproofing charms, just in case. They’ve got at least one Chinese Fireball, and Asian and Polynesian dragon fire can cut through the charms that work on most European breeds.”

“Great, double the work, my favorite.” At least they can take the fireproofing spells for African and American dragons off the list, but that doesn’t mean Harry has to be happy about it. “If we knew exactly what they were bringing, we could just plan for me to face off against whichever one has the worst temper, but I doubt we’ll know that before the task starts.”

“Not unless we stumble across wherever they keep the dragons until the task,” Greenwood says. “How’s the Summoning Charm coming along?”

Harry sighs. “Terribly. I can’t get my head around the actual-Latin term, but accio sounds too much like I’m sneezing. I think it’s breaking my concentration.” He’s even tried to do it non-verbally, but that’s extremely shaky; he’d rather not bet his life on getting that right when he’s in front of a dragon.

Greenwood’s quiet for several moments. “You could try convocar. It’s Spanish.”

“Would I have to do the rest of the spell in Spanish too? I don’t have time to learn another entire language for this.”

“No, or no one in Britain would be able to Summon anything. But that’s at least something to try that doesn’t sound like sneezing.”

“And remember to be specific with what you’re summoning,” Hermione adds. “You can’t just say ‘broom’ or you’ll get the useless school brooms out of the storage shed long before your Firebolt.”

Harry rolls his eyes - that’s not the part he was struggling with - but thanks her anyway. The fireproofing spells turn out to be ridiculously easy to get his head around, and the Spanish variation of the Summoning Charm helps immensely.

When the task finally comes around, Harry’s not even surprised when he does end up with the dragon with the worst temper. He wants to be, but he isn’t. Hermione sneaks into the tent to wish him (and Krum, apparently) luck before they go out, which he appreciates more than he can say.

He’s the last competitor, leaving him with nothing to do but look at his tiny model dragon and try not to have a panic attack while he’s listening to the others’ progress. He can do this. He thinks. He can probably at least get out without dying, and that’s really all he cares about. He doesn’t care if he loses the whole tournament - he didn’t even want to be in it in the first place!

If having to outrun a dragon doesn’t snap Ron out of his jealous snit, there’s probably nothing that will. That’s almost more depressing than the rest of this, but Harry can’t help holding out a little hope.

When he’s called out, Harry takes as deep a breath as he can manage and steps into the arena. Fuck, but he hopes he’s not about to cast the wrong fireproofing charm - he’s blanking on which one is for European dragons - but even a wrong fireproofing charm should help some. Then he Summons his Firebolt, hops on, and gets himself in the air before considering the situation.

Take an egg from a nesting mother. Yes. Sure. Nothing could possibly go wrong. Greenwood’s going to stab whoever came up with this ludicrous task the second she thinks she can get away with it, Harry’s sure.

But then he thinks: No one said he had to get close to the dragon to take the egg. And he can see the glint of gold down among the less shiny natural eggs. What if he just… Summons the golden egg? The dragon’s not even touching it.

So he does, and gets the hell out of there as quickly as he can. Somehow that leaves him tied with Krum for first place, which he doesn’t understand in the slightest; everyone else’s performances sure sounded a lot more dramatic than his.

Gryffindor throws him a party that evening, which Harry would feel a lot better about if most of them hadn’t spent the last month convinced he cheated the goblet for a shot at glory. He just smiles and nods and pretends it’s a Quidditch party; those are for something he at least wants to be doing.

The only good part of the party is when Ron finds him. “Harry, I - I’m sorry. I just… I’m sorry. I got stuck in my own head and I wasn’t thinking right.”

Harry closes his eyes in relief. “I forgive you, Ron. But you’re going to have to get your head around the fact that one of the two people who actually helped me get ready for this was a Slytherin and you’re going to have to do it fast, because I’m not going to stop talking to her now.”

Ron splutters, and Harry might have backed down in their first year, or last year, or even before the tournament started. But he can’t back down now. Greenwood made sure he got through that alive, along with Hermione. She asked if he wanted her help, and he doesn’t think she would’ve been offended if he’d said no. He’s not going to let go of a useful ally, and possible friend, just because Ron has a bias.

“I’m tired of fighting with you,” he says. “I want my best friend back, but I’m tired of changing to suit other people, too.”

Ron sighs. “I’ll try. You and Hermione can deck me if I’m a prat about it, all right?”

Harry lets out a breath he hadn’t realised he was holding, and laughs. “All right.”

***

Adele stares at the page of tournament rules she just read. She reads it again, just to make sure she has it right.

Then she drops her head down onto her arms, resting on the table, and screams.

“Is everything all right over there?” Professor Slytherin says from his portrait, in the tone that means he knows damned well everything isn’t all right but it’s Adele’s choice whether she wants to elaborate. She glances around the common room to see whether anyone else is around and finds it blissfully empty, then packs up her books and moves over to the sofas by the fireplace. After that nasty shock, she’s not going to get any more work done tonight anyway.

“I just found the thing that could have got Potter out of competing in the Triwizard Tournament - at literally any point before yesterday. But now he’s actually competed, which means he’s acknowledged as proxy for whoever did enter him into the tournament in the first place, so now it actually is his magic on the line if he backs out.” Adele sighs. “Happy fucking birthday to me, I guess.”

She has a momentary flash of guilt about swearing in front of a teacher, portrait or no, but Professor Slytherin only raises an eyebrow. “I hadn’t realised you were so close to Potter, but I’m glad someone’s trying to help him with this disaster in the making. I wish you’d mentioned this research path sooner, though. I read the tournament’s rules once, for… something. Can’t recall what.”

“Would you have remembered that without prompting, though?” Adele says, trying to keep the bitterness out of her voice. Professor Slytherin’s memory issues aren’t his fault - he suspects poor preservation charms or perhaps a painter with malicious intent. And even with that problem, he’s one of the most effective teachers she’s ever had.

That doesn’t mean it’s not frustrating, but right now Adele’s frustration is reserved for the tournament rules. Well, no, it’s reserved for the headmaster, who’s the one who really should have looked for this information on Potter’s behalf. She hasn’t even been a legal adult for 24 hours yet. This shouldn’t have been her job in the first place.

“Perhaps not,” Professor Slytherin allows. “But you don’t have to do this alone any more than he does. How did you get mixed up in all this to begin with?”

“Rita Skeeter thought a closed broom cupboard was an appropriate place to interview an unaccompanied minor. I can’t - I didn’t let her. And then I asked if he wanted someone to help.” What she really wants is to introduce Potter to a competent Defense professor, but Professor Slytherin can’t leave his portrait, and she probably can’t bring Potter into the common room without starting a riot.

“They’re not even supervising his interactions with the press?” Professor Slytherin mutters something under his breath that Adele strongly suspects is swearing, but her Spanish isn’t quite that good. “This is an even bigger mess than I thought.”

“You’re telling me. Why is it so much easier to advocate for someone else than it is for yourself?”

“Because your parents raised you to believe your needs come second to their wants. If they were any kind of decent people, they’d know it works the other way round. Instead, they taught you that your concerns will never be taken as seriously as they deserve to be, so there’s no point in raising them in the first place.”

Adele sighs, but she knows he’s right. Her father dismisses her problems outright, and her mother expects her to fix them on her own. That does remind her she needs to write to her aunt and make preparations, in case Skeeter decides Adele’s involvement with Potter is gossip-worthy enough to write about. Her parents aren’t going to like that at all, and if worse comes to worst, she’d rather have a safe place to retreat to.

A safe place where she has a door that she can fucking well lock, and no one will barge into her space unless she invites them.

Potter finds her on the way to breakfast the next morning, and hands her a wrapped package. “I know your birthday’s sometime around now, so happy birthday. I would’ve gone for a book, but for all I know you already have everything I could get in Hogsmeade. And that reminded me of you for some reason, so.”

Adele opens the package to find a bottle of shimmery purple ink - one she’s had her eye on for a while now, but couldn’t quite justify the expenditure - and can’t help smiling. “Oh, thank you, Harry.” Then the smile drops away as she realises her faux pas. “I’m sorry, was that - did I overstep?”

“No? It’s fine, I don’t really… I mean. I’m just Harry.”

“Well, I’m just Adele, then.” She double-checks the privacy charm before continuing; might as well rip off this particular bandage now. “My birthday was yesterday. And I also found the clause that could have gotten you out of the tournament if I’d found it before you actually competed. But since I didn’t, I’m afraid you’re stuck in the thing until it’s over now.”

To her surprise, Harry laughs. “Well, doesn’t that just figure. Thank you for trying, Adele, really. It means a lot that somebody did.”

***

They took Friday off so Harry had a chance to actually recover from outrunning a dragon, so on Monday morning, he cracks the golden egg open for the first time, and immediately regrets it.

“That was Mermish,” Adele says, once Harry’s ears stop ringing from the god-awful screeching. “I can try asking the merfolk if they know anything, but no promises. In the meantime, stick that thing under water if you want any hope of actually understanding it.”

Hermione frowns. “The second task is at the end of February. They’re not really going to make everyone go for a dip in the Black Lake in February, are they?”

“Anti-hypothermia charms.” Adele starts a list as Harry tries not to panic. He doesn’t know how to swim; the Dursleys were hardly going to waste money on lessons for him. Would it have been that hard for whoever set up this stupid thing to at least double-check that?

“Later,” he finally manages to say. “I’ll worry about the egg later. I’d rather just panic about the Yule Ball for now - I’d just as soon not go at all, but apparently I have to.” Apparently he has to lead the first dance, which also means he needs a date. Why this.

Adele winces in sympathy. “In that case, I’d say go, put in whatever appearance you’re obligated to, and get out as quickly as you can.”

“Yeah, just… find someone willing to put up with me shoving them under the spotlight for the first dance and then disappearing on them. That’ll be easy.”

“Easier if you explain the situation rather than letting them build up the expectation in their own mind of something you can’t actually deliver.”

“True.” Harry sighs. “Hermione, I don’t suppose you’d be willing to?”

Hermione blushes furiously. “I - if Viktor hadn’t already asked me, I would,” she says, “just so you had some company that understands the situation.”

Krum?” Once the initial shock fades, though, Harry can kind of see it. Krum probably likes being able to talk to someone who doesn’t care about his fame as much as Harry does. “Well, good for you. That’s going to be entertaining when Ron finds out.”

“And if he has anything rude to say about it, I’ll hex his bollocks off.”

“I’d recommend a spell for that if it wasn’t permanent,” Adele says. “And no, Harry, you don’t want me on display with you. I don’t do well with large crowds, and I don’t think the school’s ready for quite that much inter-House unity yet.”

“As entertaining as Malfoy fainting over it would be, you’re probably right.” Besides, Harry doesn’t want to be on display himself, so he’s hardly going to make her do it.

“Start within the dorm,” Hermione says. “We can put out feelers with the Ravenclaws and Hufflepuffs from there, but I think Neville or Parvati would understand the situation, if you’re up front about it. If you’re not, you fully deserve whatever vengeance you get.”

***

Adele knows Rita Skeeter isn’t one to give up without getting her interview. Even if what she writes usually bears no relation to what anyone actually said, she prefers twisting people’s actual words to inventing remarks out of whole cloth.

Her tournament coverage has gotten more and more snide about Harry’s ability to dodge sitting down for an interview, even as she throws in terribly invasive commentary about the other three participants. Adele takes that as confirmation that Harry’s being diligent about using the privacy spell, and she’s glad for it. But it doesn’t change the fact that Skeeter still has eyes, and considers anything she sees to be newsworthy.

Knowing Skeeter was going to strike back doesn’t make it any easier when the blow finally arrives on Wednesday morning.

Instinct, or maybe Professor Slytherin would call it untapped Divination potential (but she sure won’t be asking Professor Trelawney about it any time soon), tells Adele to open the paper before the letter that arrives with it. She probably would have done anyway; the letter’s from her parents, and they rarely have anything to say that leaves Adele feeling good about her life.

Skeeter’s chosen to write about Triwizard Tournament relationship drama in the run-up to the Yule Ball, including quite a bit of speculation about the “love triangle” between Harry, Granger and Krum. The article all but makes Granger out to be a complete slag, which Skeeter can sadly get away with more easily because Granger’s family isn’t established in the magical community - but the real kicker is what she threw in at the very end.

Harry Potter has also recently been seen in the company of the youngest member of the Greenwood family. Who knows what intentions that young lady has for Wizarding Britain’s hero!

Adele’s appetite completely deserts her.

She makes herself at least eat a piece of toast, rather than face her morning classes on an empty stomach, and watches across the Great Hall as a snowy owl descends toward the Gryffindor table. It’s Harry’s owl, she knows that - the whole school knows that - but she hasn’t really thought about what that means before. If the whole school knows Harry Potter owns an incredibly distinctive owl, it’s safe to say the rest of Wizarding Britain does too, which means it’s a bloody miracle if no one’s ever tried to steal Harry’s mail before.

Before going to her first class of the day, Adele scans her parents’ letter, only reading deeply enough to confirm they didn’t believe Skeeter’s implied accusation of impropriety. Other than that, the article left her with enough wiggle room to avoid true trouble from them, though she’s glad she already decided to stay at Hogwarts over winter break for the ball.

Her aunt’s owl finds her at lunchtime, restoring both her spirits and her appetite. She doesn’t need to worry about summer, to the point of Aunt Fi promising to come pick her up from the train station; she doesn’t need to worry about the few prized possessions she can’t justify keeping in her Hogwarts trunk, as they’ll safely move houses over Christmas. But the true relief is in the postscript: I’ll handle the paper.

That gives Adele the fortitude to properly tackle her parents’ letter, which she’s in the middle of doing when Harry finds her after lunch. “I love how a reporter I’ve never talked to knows more about my dating life than I do,” he says as he sits down. He pulls up the privacy spell before he says anything else, but then he frowns in Adele’s direction. “Are you all right?”

“I barely came up in that article, Harry.”

“That didn’t answer the question. Besides, Hermione said Skeeter was basically accusing you of…” He leaves the thought unfinished, for which Adele’s thankful. Skeeter’s willingness to stoop to that kind of speculation doesn’t make her feel any better about the broom cupboard incident at all.

“I’ll be fine. My parents - I don’t intend to do as they say, mind you, but my parents want me to stop associating with you.”

Harry goes quiet, and Adele looks up to find him suddenly on the verge of a panic attack. She can’t think why, but that’s not important; what’s important is that it’s happening.

How is she supposed to snap him out of it? She doesn’t want to touch him, solely because she’d react poorly to someone touching her in that state. She doesn’t have any Calming Draughts on hand and isn’t sure Harry would trust one from Professor Snape regardless. Getting him to the infirmary would require touching him, but she’s also not sure it’s that bad yet.

“Harry? What’s wrong?” she settles on saying. Even if he can’t or doesn’t want to explain, it should at least remind him he’s not alone in his own head.

He draws in a sharp breath. “I don’t - I don’t want to get you in trouble.”

“With my parents?” Harry nods, and Adele only doesn’t roll her eyes out of long habit. “Harry, the useful adults in my life are my aunt, Professor Snape, and a portrait. The kindest thing I can say about my parents is that they did not knowingly allow me to be assaulted. Besides, the article doesn’t say that we’ve met more than the once - I can tell them the truth about why I got you out of that broom closet, and they’ll let it drop from there.”

Of course, she doesn’t plan on responding one way or another to their demand that she stop talking to Harry. They’ll take the lack of response as meek obedience, probably right up until she goes to Aunt Fi’s house for the summer hols.

“I’m not worth it, though,” Harry says, so quietly that Adele wouldn’t have heard him if not for the privacy spell.

“Would you be saying that if your relatives told you not to talk to me?”

“No! But - that’s different, and my aunt and uncle will probably never find out you exist.”

Adele smiles. “I don’t think it’s all that different. Let me decide what risks are worth taking, all right?”

After a very long pause, Harry nods. “Okay. I - okay.” Then he gathers himself enough to look at Adele’s pile of books. “What did you bring to read?”

“Animal-safe glamour charms. If I know you own the only snowy owl in the school, so does everyone else, and it’s not far from them telling their parents. Or, say, a nosy reporter who can’t get dirt on you any other way.”

Harry manages to get even paler, which is impressive, since he’s still bouncing back from that panic attack. “Oh. Shit. I hadn’t even thought of that. I don’t think Hermione’s even thought of that.”

“Well, has someone tried to get into your post before?”

“Not that I’ve ever noticed. Which… is probably why Hermione hasn’t thought of it. I’m pretty sure that’s not legal in Muggle Britain, so it might not have occurred to her that someone could try.”

Adele smiles. “Well, it’s a bit of a detour from tournament stuff, but you already said you’d rather panic about that after the ball. Let’s make Skeeter’s job more difficult for her.”

The next morning’s paper includes a small, grudging retraction of any implications that might have been made about the Greenwood family’s intentions toward certain Triwizard Tournament participants. Adele resolves to get Aunt Fi the best Christmas present she can afford as thanks.