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The Train to Nowhere

Chapter Text

“Potter,” was the first word Tom said to him when he arrived. And then, right after: “Harry.”

“Hi,” Harry said, looking at the room he was in – a surprisingly cosy living room with large windows, wooden walls, and thick, soft carpets on the floor. One of the windows was slightly open, letting in a refreshing breeze. “Where are we?” This was nothing like the cold and dark castle of gloom that Harry had pictured in his head.

“One of my houses,” Tom replied, not caring to elaborate. The man narrowed his eyes suddenly, eyeing Harry suspiciously. “You’re… taller than the last time I saw you.”

“I’ll be fourteen in a few months.”

“Impressive,” Tom said, not impressed. Sweet Circe, fourteen? By that age Tom had two murders under his belt. “Leave your bag on the floor – a house-elf will take it to the room you’ll be occupying this week. Sit down anywhere. Tea? Coffee?”

“Does this have anything to do with the Triwizard Tournament?” Harry wanted to know, sitting down on one of the soft chairs in the room. A house-elf appeared to set down a tray of tea and biscuits on the table, before grabbing Harry’s bag and disappearing with it.

“It could,” Tom replied, sitting down as well, and only then did Harry notice the giant snake peeking from a half-opened cabinet. “You need to be recommended by someone in order to become a potential champion. Do you have anyone you can count on to recommend you? Your father, perhaps?”

“No,” Harry replied, feeling foolish all of a sudden. He had been pretending to have a shot at being officially nominated without having a single guaranteed recommendation. The boy’s green eyes were fixed on Tom, trying to read the man’s thoughts somehow. He couldn’t. “No one.”

“Take something to eat or drink,” Tom said, waving towards the tray, and warily Harry did as told, trying to ignore the feeling of being stared at. “This is going to take a while, and you will think better if you’re not hungry.”

“Thanks,” Harry said, moving to pour himself a cup of tea. He didn’t take a biscuit.

“I will recommend you,” Tom said, “and I can guarantee that my recommendation will get you to Hogwarts after the summer. I’ll even teach you a trick or two – after all, if you do get selected, I wouldn’t want you to embarrass me.”

“And in return?” Harry wanted to know, numerous possibilities running through his mind. “What could I offer you in return for all of that?”

‘Obedience would be a good start,’ Tom thought, and attempted a comforting smile.

“What’s your face doing?” Harry asked, squinting at him. Tom rolled his eyes, ignoring the loudly expressed amusement from Nagini.

“Let’s talk about you first,” Tom replied. “You and your special ability… the one I discovered quite a while ago. I don’t forget things like these. What I want you to do first is to explain precisely what it is that you do, and then I will ask you to use your talent to do a small favour for me.”

‘Just one?’ Nagini hissed, but was ignored. Instead, Tom continued:

“You will be safe, of course, no matter what.” No matter what, within reason. “I won’t force you to do this.” Maybe.

“Can I think about it?” Harry said, and Tom’s smile was anything but pleasant.

“Explain your power to me first, and then I will tell you what I want,” the Dark Lord said. “And then you can go think about it for about ten seconds before you agree. Is that acceptable?”

“Apparently it has to be,” Harry replied, looking down at his almost empty cup of tea. He was clearly hesitant, and Tom knew that the boy wasn’t stupid enough to feel comfortable. “Sure.”

“Pretend I remember nothing from what you told me before,” Tom said. “What is it that you can do, and how can you do it? What are your limits?”

“Basically,” Harry started slowly, “there’s this… station. When people die, they go there for a while until they can move on.”

“A limbo, you mean?”

That term had never occurred to Harry, though it did seem to fit the train station perfectly. “Precisely,” the boy said, nodding. “A limbo of sorts. It’s like a train station, and dead people come in, then they get into the trains and go to whatever afterlife they’re meant for.”

“How long do people stay in that… train station?”

“Most leave quickly, as soon as their trains come.”

“And the rest?”

“Some wait,” Harry said, thinking of Albus. “They wait for their loved ones, I guess.” Tom made a sound that was meant to perhaps encourage Harry to talk faster, but sounded more like a snigger.

“Nobody has tried to come back?” the Dark Lord wanted to know, and Harry frowned, thinking.

 “No,” the boy answered. “I don’t think that’s possible. I can do it just because I’m never really there, you know? I’m still solidly alive and anchored so that pulls me back. I don’t know if anyone has tried but I can’t imagine anyone succeeding.”

“What do you do there? Aside from speaking with dead people you shouldn’t be talking to.” Like my mother.

“Nothing,” Harry replied. “There really isn’t anything to do. I can’t board any of the trains. I tried once… after my mum died. But I was stopped.” Tom nodded, not bothering to come up with anything comforting to say about the boy’s mother’s death.

Tom watched Harry quietly for a few moments, before finally speaking.

“Someone inside my ranks is killing my generals one by one,” he said calmly, keeping a sharp eye on Harry’s reaction. The boy’s eyes widened and he sat straighter, a small frown appearing on his face.

“Your godfather is safe,” Tom assured him, pleased to have found yet another way to convince Harry to help him. “Though for how long, I cannot say. Several others have either been subjected to attempted assassinations, or simply found dead. No one has seen anything suspicious.”

“No one alive,” Harry said immediately. Tom nodded, pleased and reluctantly impressed.

“What I want,” Tom told him, “is for you to go to this ‘limbo,’ look for the ones who died, and find out what happened. In return I will not only make sure that you will be one of the chosen nominees, but I will also help you prepare for the tournament. Can you do that?”

“In theory, yeah,” Harry admitted. “But the train station… it’s incredibly crowded. I’ll need to know exactly who I’m looking for, of course, and I’ll have to go there more than once. How long ago did they die? People don’t stay there for long.”

“Next time someone dies, I’ll tell you right away,” Tom promised, unable to stop a small smirk from appearing. Harry’s disapproving expression only made the Dark Lord more amused.

“I have a quick meeting to attend,” he then said, standing up. “In your room – Nagini will take you there – you will find a stack of files. They have all the information you’ll need to know about the assassinated generals. Work hard, my pet will keep you company.”

‘It’s cute how you still think that I’m the pet in this partnership,’ Nagini hissed. Harry eyed the giant snake with a considerable amount of apprehension.

“She gets nervous easily,” Tom lied with a small grin on his face. “So don’t do anything unpredictable. And if she eats a house-elf, pretend you’ve seen nothing. Nagini doesn’t like being judged.”

*

Being called back to the war front for a mission once again was nothing but a relief to James. Anything would be better than the empty hours that filled his days and left the taste of firewhisky ingrained in his mouth. Here, despite the horrors of war, James could at least focus on something else: survival.

Though why he bothered, James wasn’t sure. Most of the time survival didn’t seem worth the effort.

“James,” a familiar, irritating voice said. James knew before he turned around that Peter would be there, watching him with his watery blue eyes. As unpleasant as he found the sight of the grey, dying trees and masked Death Eaters, the sight of Peter Pettigrew remained even less preferable.

“What do you want,” James said, not managing to sound quite as annoyed as he felt. Somehow even expressing his feelings seemed to require so much energy and effort lately.

“I’m surprised to see you here,” Peter said, hurrying to walk by James’s side. “Considering what’s going on with your son.”

“Harry?” James stopped abruptly, and turned to grab the shorter man’s collar. “What the hell are you talking about? I know he’s alright, he’s safe. Else the school would have contacted me—”

“Oh, he is safe,” Peter assured him quickly, struggling to make James let go of him. “For now.”

“I really don’t have the patience to play mind games with you,” James said angrily. “How do you even know about what Harry’s doing? don’t know what he’s doing, and I’m his father.”

“Not a very good one, though,” Peter said, his words leaving James breathless for a second. He then let go of the shorter Death Eater, and turned away. Without a word, James returned to marching quietly.

“You’ve heard of the Triwizard Tournament, I believe?” Peter asked, hurrying after the man. “It’s a dangerous contest where champions from different school compete for glory and fortune.”

“What does that have to do with Harry?” James asked, dreading the answer, knowing already what it would be. “Harry doesn’t want glory or fortune.”

“Maybe not fortune,” Peter said. “But to a boy who is practically parentless and hasn’t been acknowledged by the people he used to look up to, glory matters.”

‘Well,’ James thought, ‘if this bastard isn’t quite good at twisting the knife in sore wounds.’ “Harry wouldn’t.”

“Harry has,” Peter said bluntly. “I know a teacher who works at Durmstrang – I know it’s the truth.”

James fell silent again, walking through the mud and stepping over the scattered bones and body parts, thinking of what he had just heard. If Peter was right – and James didn’t want to believe him – then Harry was in danger. He’d be getting hurt, and the mere thought of that made James panic.

Harry could be getting hurt seriously, permanently. Physically or mentally. Every fiber of his being went against allowing his son to take the risk of participating in this tournament. Could he stop Harry from competing, though? He should ask for details, but Peter was the only person who’d know and was nearby.

“You can’t stop him,” Peter answered. “It’s magically binding.”

“Then I can help him,” James decided, his heart beating heavily in his chest. Perhaps this would be the chance he had wanted – the opportunity to fix what had gone wrong between him and Harry. “I could train him. Make sure that he’ll know how to defend himself.”

“That sounds great,” Peter said, the tone of his voice implying the opposite. “But you do realize the risks?”

“What?”

“You don’t have to believe me, of course, but do think of what I’m about to tell you carefully,” Peter continued. “If you go there and help him now, what will he think? That you didn’t deem him worth your time until he started seeking fame and glory?”

“That’s— He wouldn’t think that!” James exclaimed. “My son knows I love him—”

“I’m sure he does,” Peter said calmly. “But if anything goes wrong now, if you go to him and mess up, it will destroy him. Can you honestly say that you can just go there, fix everything, and save the day, James? Can you say that, with your track record?”

The words were cruel, and yet James couldn’t help but believe them. He had let Harry down so much already; he didn’t want to become a burden to his son. On the other hand he just couldn’t do nothing, now could he? He couldn’t just stand aside and let Harry take part in a dangerous tournament without even trying to help him!

“I know you want to be of use to him,” Peter said. “But by going to him you will destroy whatever routine he has. He won’t be able to concentrate because he’ll be too focused on saving you from the bottle. You’ll be putting his wellbeing at risk just to alleviate your guilt. You want to help him, James, but you can’t do that by being there with him. Stay out of his life, my friend. The most helpful thing you can do for him is to let him go for good. Don’t pull him down with you.”

“He’s my son,” James insisted, guilt and insecurity making his words hollow and full of doubt. “He wouldn’t… He couldn’t want me there?”

“James,” Peter sighed, sounding sorry. “Look at yourself. Are you a father anyone would want to have?”

*

“My lord,” Thorfinn Rowle said, kneeling in front of the Dark Lord. “Our prison in Turin was attacked. Several prisoners managed to escape.”

“Odd, isn’t it,” Tom drawled, “how a few short days ago you were assuring me that the situation in Italy is under control. And now, turns out, it wasn’t.”

“M-my lord—”

Crucio.” Somehow though, even Rowle’s pain didn’t make Tom feel any better. His prison in Turin had been one of the most guarded, and yet the Rebels had managed to break in? This wasn’t a matter of a simple mission gone wrong anymore – this was far more serious.

“I hope,” Tom said, lifting the curse, “that you had the sense to bring proper reports on what happened with you.”

“Yes, my lord,” Rowle wheezed, trying to subdue the shaking of his body. “I have—”

“Put them on the table and leave,” Tom ordered, not in the mood for putting up with unnecessary chatter. “And tell all units to alert me immediately if anyone of significance is killed. Go back to Turin and investigate; make sure that every prisoner who hasn’t managed to escape is killed. Then hunt for the fugitives. Retrieve them alive if you can, but if that’s not possible just kill them.”

“Yes, my lord,” Rowle said, and after another bow that made him nearly topple over, he left as fast as his shaking limbs could carry him. Tom scowled, reaching for the reports Rowle had given him. How on earth had the Rebels managed to pull that off? It wasn’t a lucky shot, it couldn’t be. Whoever was killing his generals within his ranks was also very likely tangled up in this one.

Browsing through the quickly written reports, Tom couldn’t help but feel like there was something amiss in the whole operation. Another report, written by Lieutenant Colonel Gibbs had explained some parts of how the attack and the following escape had happened, and there was something almost familiar in the tactic used.

‘This feels like something I should remember,’ Tom thought, sighing. ‘Have I seen this tactic used before? I believe so… but where? When? By whom?’ The Rebels had managed to blow up both of the prison’s entrances to keep the guards busy. The anti-apparation wards had held, and the magic-limiting wards had been untouched as well. Yet the few guards that had not rushed to the entrances of the prison had claimed that the hallways had been filled with fog to an alarming degree.

No spells. Someone must have used smoke bombs. This wasn’t a small thing; the Rebels hadn’t been aiming for subtlety of any kind. The iron bars of the fugitives’ cells had been opened with no signs of force – someone had gotten their hands on a key or found a way to fool the magic-limiting wards. Some of the escaped prisoners had been too wounded to move, most of them barely conscious. They must have been carried out.

It wasn’t a sophisticated plan, and yet it had been successful. The familiarity of the whole operation bothered Tom greatly, and the more time he spent in his office trying to figure it out, the more annoyed he became. In the end he decided to return back to the cottage where Harry and Nagini were.

Returning somewhere, knowing that someone was inside waiting for you, was perhaps one of the oddest feelings Tom had ever experienced. He wasn’t used to it – doubted that he ever would – and couldn’t help but feel slightly bitter about it. And though Harry wasn’t making any noise, the cottage didn’t feel as quiet as it had before.

“Have you eaten anything yet?” Tom asked, stopping in front of the open doorway of the room that Harry was occupying. The boy shook his head, looking up from the papers in front of him. He stared at Tom for a few moments and then frowned.

“What’s bothering you?”

“Nothing that concerns you.”

“It doesn’t have to concern me,” Harry said, pushing the papers aside. “It sometimes helps to just talk about your problems.”

“What are you doing?” Tom asked, narrowing his eyes. “Are you trying to do that whole supportive and comforting song and dance?” Harry eyed him blankly for a moment, before the boy sighed and shook his head.

“Maybe.”

“Stop. I don’t do those emotional connections.”

“You did when you hugged me when my mother died.”

“Hold up,” Tom said, “firstly: I didn’t hug you. Secondly: even if I did hug you, it wasn’t… whatever you’re trying to do now.”

“Being emotionally supportive really makes you uncomfortable,” Harry said, clearly fascinated. “And you did hug me. I was crying on you and you let it happen.”

‘Ooooo,’ Nagini hissed, and Tom felt as if, had the snake been able to, she would have whistled.

“If you ever say that again,” the Dark Lord said, “I will make sure you spend the rest of your short life crying.”

“Of course you will,” Harry sighed, and much to Tom’s horror he realized that the boy sounded fond rather than afraid.

*

Dear Luna,

It has been quite a while since I wrote to you, and I’m sorry about that. I truly am. Life has kept me busy, like it tends to do these days. And while I wish I could say that this letter has no other purpose but to be a casual reminder of your friend abroad, I’m afraid the matter isn’t quite so pleasant.

I know that your silence is guaranteed, and so I won’t ask for it, my friend. Prying eyes are keen, however, and it’d put my mind at ease to know that you have destroyed this letter after reading it.

After the summer, a Triwizard Tournament will be held at Hogwarts. There is a chance that I will be participating, which would land me there for the school year. I’ve heard plenty of the four Houses there at Hogwarts, but I’d like to know more of the people who matter. The people I need to keep an eye on.

Have there been any significant conflicts between the Houses? Are there some unwritten rules I need to know? What about the staff? Ron has complained about several staff members, but as you perhaps know, his word isn’t particularly reliable in such matters – though a good guy, Ron’s quite biased. Then again, most of us are.

I’m currently preparing for the tournament with an acquaintance of mine. He has kindly offered to help me, and with no one else available I saw it necessary to accept his offer. I’m worried, though, for so many reasons. You can possibly guess why – all the stress, all the complications in my life right now. I hope you’re having a better time than I am.

How is Draco, do you know? I suppose that aside from you and Ron, he’s the only other person I may end up spending time with during my stay at Hogwarts, unless one of my friends here from Durmstrang is sent with me.

Most importantly: how are you? How have your days been? I miss you terribly and I can’t wait to see you again. One of the things I’m definitely looking forward to after the summer is spending more time with you.

Yours truly,

Harry

*

“We could house the Beauxbatons students with the Ravenclaws,” Sirius said, walking through one of the hallways of Hogwarts. Frederick Yaxley, the Headmaster of Hogwarts, sighed tiredly and nodded. “Durmstrang students can be comfortable with the Gryffindors. Whatcha say, Fred?”

“I say, don’t call me Fred,” Yaxley snapped. “We’re not putting students from Durmstrang with Gryffindors, Black. We can give them their own quarters.”

“Then we will have to arrange for the Beauxbatons students to have their own quarters as well. Merlin knows this place is big enough.”

“Have you confirmed the judges yet?”

“Of course,” Sirius said. “You, Karkaroff and Madame Maxime, the headmistress of Beauxbatons will be there of course. Then Araminta Meliflua - you know her, she’s on the school board – and Bellatrix somehow muscled her way in as well. I really can’t wait to see who the champions will be. You guys are lucky you don’t have to pick nominees like the other schools. They— oh ho, Snivellus!”

“Circe, no,” Yaxley groaned, noticing the Potions Master heading towards them. “Black, stop provoking him, he can poison us both whenever he wants to. Don’t give him a reason to do it.”

“Black,” Severus Snape said, his tone somehow turning a name into an insult. “Yaxley.”

‘It’s completely normal to feel nervous around him,’ Yaxley reminded himself. ‘It doesn’t make me any less of a man. I wasn’t in Gryffindor – for a very good reason.’ “Snape! How do you do?”

“How do you do, really?” Sirius sniggered. “Old Fred and I were talking about the Triwizard Tournament.”

“The headmaster doesn’t seem to appreciate being called old,” Snape said, eyeing Yaxley’s face with no small amount of contempt.

“He just doesn’t like the name Fred,” Sirius said dismissively. “As wonderful as the name is, it pales in comparison to Sniv—”

“You can hex him into silence,” Snape told Yaxley. “It doesn’t make him a better person, but it does make him slightly more tolerable. The less conscious he is, the better. The more permanent the lack of consciousness is—”

“What dragged you out of the dungeons, anyway?” Sirius asked. “Nobody is being sacrificed to ancient gods at the moment. We’re merely discussing the Triwizard Tournament that will take place here after the summer. More teenagers to brighten up your day, Snivellus!”

“You were telling me,” Yaxley hurried to say, trying to make the atmosphere slightly less murderous. “About the nominees from other schools?”

“Well, nobody knows who will be chosen yet,” Sirius said. “But Hogwarts doesn’t have to worry about that. My godson will—”

“You’re not letting him take part in the tournament,” Snape said, the expression on his face changing from bored to appalled. “Lily’s son is not even fourteen yet.”

“He’ll be fine,” Sirius claimed. He had his own concerns, definitely. He had entertained the thought of talking with Harry about it; however, hearing Snape claim that Harry wouldn’t be fit for the tournament… well, that was just not acceptable. “He’s a talented fellow.”

“It’s not a question of how talented he is,” Snape hissed, glaring at the other wizard. “You will not be pitching a child so young against seventh year students.”

“I didn’t know you cared about his safety.”

“I don’t, but I foolishly thought that you do.”

“Harry will be just fine,” Sirius insisted. “Besides, who knows, he might not be selected as the competing champion anyway!”

“How can you be so irresponsible?” Snape sneered, shaking his head. “Aren’t you tired of being the reason for the deaths of so many—”

Baubillious!”

Protego!”

“Not in the hallway!” Yaxley shrieked, hastily backing away from the two wizards. “Bloody hell— StupefyPetrificus Totalus! Stop destroying my school! Black, I swear to Circe—”

*

“The portkey will take you back to Durmstrang at five,” Tom said, handing Harry a small stone. “Carry on with your studies and whatever else you usually do at school. Once your summer holiday begins, I’ll contact you.”

“All right.”

“Go to that train station of yours regularly, try to find the people I assigned for you. Whenever a fresh corpse turns up, I’ll send you the head.”

“A picture will be good enough, thanks,” Harry said. “Don’t send me a head. If you send me a severed one I’ll—”

“You’ll what?” Tom asked. “Stare at me disapprovingly? You’re an embarrassment—”

“I can put the memory of you hugging me in a pensieve,” Harry said. “And show it to you every time we meet.”

“I despise you.”

“I’m sure you do.”

“Focus more on your studies, and less on having feelings,” Tom told him. “Think of the tournament. You’ll be going there to win, not just to survive. The list of nominees will be out in a few weeks. I’ll send my recommendation mid-May.”

“Thank you,” Harry said. “I wouldn’t have known what to do without you.”

“You and the rest of the world.”

“Exaggeration is a nasty habit to get into.”

“It’s the simple truth,” Tom said, watching Harry read through the notes he had scribbled down earlier. “What do you do when you think you’ve forgotten something, and you really should be remembering it?”

“What?” Harry asked with a confused frown, looking up at Tom. “Say that again, using different words, because none of that made any sense.”

“It’s because you’re not as smart as I am,” Tom told him, and sighed heavily. “Let’s assume, hypothetically, that the Rebels did something.”

“Hypothetically. Uh-huh.”

“And their method of operation is very, very familiar.”

“But you can’t figure out why it’s familiar? Maybe it happened before and you just forgot,” Harry guessed. “Knowing how your memory works, it’s likely that you’ve somehow deliberately made yourself forget it.”

“And why would I—”

“Considering your self-esteem issues—”

“I don’t have self-esteem issues!” Tom said, clearly appalled at the mere thought of that.

“I’m pretty sure that having too much of it is also an issue,” Harry told him. “Anyway, taking into account your arrogance and inflated sense of self-importance—”

“Anyone else would be bleeding through their pores for that, Potter.”

“—it would make sense if you got your ass kicked previously the same way. Just think of all the wizards and witches who managed to pull one over you during the past few decades.”

Tom scowled, eyeing Harry with a sneer on his face. As much as he hated to admit it, the boy’s logic did somehow make sense to him.

“Consider it an exercise in humility,” Harry said gently, reaching for his jacket and preparing to leave for Durmstrang. “You need plenty of those.”

“Get out,” Tom huffed. “Go annoy someone else. Live in the library and study.”

*

And study Harry did.

A few weeks after returning from the Easter break, Harry and all of his classmates were trying to simultaneously study, prepare for the rapidly approaching exams, train, and find time to sleep. The summer break would start in a month, and Harry was certain that he wasn’t the only one waiting eagerly for it.

The tournament-related info session Professor Lyuben had mentioned was held on the sixteenth of May, an hour after dinner. Harry had insisted on dropping by the library to return a few books before it, and the others had promised to save him a seat. On his way to the classroom where the info session would be held, he bumped into Viktor Krum.

“Hi,” Harry said, smiling happily. “How’s our resident Quidditch star?” Krum flushed red and seemed to suddenly find the floor interesting.

“Hello Harry,” he said. He spoke slowly, pronouncing each word carefully. It was quite endearing and Harry found himself smiling again. “Are you heading over to hear about the Triwizard Tournament as well?”

“Yeah. Though the tournament isn’t the only big event I’m interested in. The Quidditch World Cup, you know? I heard you’ll be playing.”

“Yes,” Krum said. “The Bulgarian National Quidditch Team has… accepted me. We hope to make it to the final round this year. Our team has been successful in its other matches.”

“I hope you guys will get to the final,” Harry agreed. “My friends and I already got the tickets to watch it. It’s in England this year and it’d be amazing to watch you play.”

“Uh, I,” Krum stammered, his face becoming even redder. The older boy seemed torn between disappointment and relief when they finally entered the classroom where the info session was held.

“It was nice to talk with you,” Krum said. “I will… see you again?”

“Sure,” Harry promised with an easy smile, and moved to sit between Truls and Björn. Clemens was sitting right in front of Harry, and turned slightly to greet the boy.

“Think Hogwarts is going to be fun?” he whispered, and Harry grinned.

“I sure hope so.”

“It’d be brilliant to go together,” Truls said. “Though the odds of that happening are quite low.”

“Want to bet on that?” Björn asked, just as Headmaster Karkaroff entered the classroom with a few other professors in tow. The man hadn’t changed at all from when Harry had first seen him, nearly three years ago. The students fell silent right away, and nervously waited for the Headmaster to begin speaking.

“I’m glad to see so many of you here,” the Headmaster said. “So many talents, eagerly wishing to represent our school in this international tournament.”

‘I wonder how many really care about the school,’ Harry thought, ‘and how many are doing it for personal gain.’ He knew that he belonged to the latter group, and felt slightly guilty about it.

“From all the people who applied,” Headmaster Karkaroff started, “seven will be chosen. The names of these seven will be revealed in a month at the final feast. During the week that follows the end of the school year, these seven will receive an envelope with several documents, all of which are of importance. The first thing you do once receiving this envelope is to look for the confirmation form, fill it, and send it to me personally.”

‘I hope I won’t need James’s signature for that one. I wonder if Tom can help me with that, somehow…’

“You will be given your customized study schedules and your English language skills will be tested. You will go through a few physical and psychological evaluations. Your study schedules will also be given to you, and I suggest you do quite a bit of pre-reading to ensure that you won’t be falling behind. You will, after all, represent the whole school out there.

You will attend some of the classes with the students of Hogwarts – classes such as Potions and Transfiguration – while the rest will be taught to you by your Durmstrang Professors. Our superior standards will not be made easier for you, regardless of the circumstances.”

‘Thank you for the pressure.’

“Hogwarts has offered our representatives private quarters, so you needn’t worry about the lodgings. I, your headmaster, will accompany the selected students to Hogwarts along with Professors Heiner and Wieland. Deputy Headmaster, Professor Thomas Lyuben, will be overseeing the school in my absence.”

‘Pity… I prefer dealing with Professor Lyuben rather than anyone else.’

“This is an opportunity,” Headmaster Karkaroff said. “This is your time to shine. Should you be so lucky as to be chosen – not only to be part of the envoy, but as the Durmstrang Champion – you’ll be given an opportunity everyone else has been deprived of. Show us – show everyone – that you are worthy of this chance.”

*

Dear Harry,

The possibility of you coming to Hogwarts for a full year makes me very happy. There is so much you haven’t seen yet – I know that you will find the Hogwarts Library to be particularly enjoyable. I don’t know what Durmstrang is like, obviously, but we often get muffins during breakfast here. If that isn’t done in your school, you will have something to look forward to.

I'm sure that you're well aware of the friendly rivalry between Gryffindor and Slytherin. Your friend Draco Malfoy is one of the biggest contributors to that rivalry, though he has calmed down significantly since last year. These days the only time when the two Houses are openly hostile to one another is directly tied to whether or not there’s a Quidditch match happening soon.

Your friend Professor Lockhart has made quite an impression on everyone in the school. He’s popular, and many students are happy to have him. Of course he has expressed how much happier he’d be if he could have Mr. Crouch Junior instead, but as per your advice, I have elected to not listen when he starts singing.

Nobody here has heard of this tournament you mentioned. Gossip spreads quickly here at Hogwarts, and I’m sure that Ginny would have told me something if she had heard anything…

*

“Finally,” Harry huffed, shrinking his trunk and putting it into his pocket. “I’m done.”

“About time,” Truls said with a grin. “How come you left your packing until the last minute this time, anyway? Usually you’re the first one done.”

“I don’t know! It just happened. Probably your fault, somehow.”

“Blaming the innocent, Potter? Shame on you!”

“Innocent, my arse,” Harry grinned. “We probably should get going, though. Dinner has probably started already and I don’t trust the others to actually put anything aside for us. I wouldn’t put it past Björn and Clemens to try and eat as much as they could, just to not leave us anything. You know what their understanding of pranks is. Not very funny.” 

“Preach,” Truls agreed. “Say, would you like to meet a few days before the World Cup final? I think it’d be great to just, you know, spend time together.”

“Merlin, yes,” Harry said readily. “I feel like for the past few months I’ve barely seen you. Do you have anything planned for the beginning of the break?”

“Not really,” Truls admitted. “I think I’m going to spend the next two weeks sleeping and eating. Unless I get picked for the Tournament, of course. And you?”

“Probably the same. I’m pretty nervous about who will get picked today, though. Has Björn said anything about the betting pool he has going?”

“Anthony Lestrange seems to be a favourite, but you knew that already.”

“Yeah,” Harry sighed, thinking of the older British boy. He had never directly interacted with Lestrange, and didn’t particularly feel the need to do so either. From what Harry had seen, the other boy was arrogant, often to the point of being outright rude. “I’m just kind of… worried about the pressure.”

“I know what you mean,” Truls said. “Soon we’ll find out, though.”

“Hi guys,” Filippa said cheerfully, waving them closer. The girl already had some potato salad on her plate, and only then did Harry realize how hungry he was.

“Feels like I haven’t eaten all day,” the boy said, sitting down and pulling Truls to sit next to him. “Björn, I don’t think that that tray of spring rolls has your name on it.”

“It does!” the redhead claimed, pulling the mountain of spring rolls closer. “It’s mine! All mine!”

“Guys, shut up,” Heidi sighed, rolling her eyes. “Just eat and let’s hope that Headmaster Karkaroff will soon tell us who will be going to Hogwarts after the summer. This is so exciting!”

“What if Nikolai goes and you don’t?” Clemens asked. “Will you cry?”

“What if Harry goes and you don’t?” Heidi snapped back. “Will you cry?”

“Why would he?” Harry wanted to know. “Honestly, you guys are so strange sometimes.”

“Hearing that from you is so ironic,” Heidi said, but her smile took the edge off the words. “By the way, when are we going to meet this summer? I think we should have some specific meeting place before we go to the Quidditch Cup final.”

“I agree,” Petronella said, pushing her bowl of soup aside. “We should decide where we’re going to meet.”

“If Harry’s okay with it, we can meet at his place around noon on that day,” Clemens suggested. “My uncle can make a portkey that will take us to where the match will be held.”

“I’m cool with that,” Filippa said, nodding, and none of the others showed any signs of disagreement.

“Alright,” Harry said, smiling. With any luck, his dad wouldn’t be home on that day anyway. “Twenty-second of August. Come whenever, but not before nine o’clock please.”

“Like most of us could wake up that early anyway,” Heidi said. “Noon is good. I’ll get myself there, then.”

Eventually, once the students had finally finished their dinner and the food had vanished from the tables, Headmaster Karkaroff stood up. As he was in the habit of doing, he began a rather long-winded speech, reminding the students of their importance, reputation, and responsibilities. Usually the students would have zoned out by the end of it, however this year each person was listening avidly.

The Headmaster fell silent for a moment, eyeing the students, before a rolled piece of parchment began levitating in front of him. Harry took in a deep breath, feeling nervous. Truls’s hand found his under the table, and he clutched his friend’s fingers tightly between his own.

‘Here goes,’ Harry thought.

“I know we all have been waiting for this,” Karkaroff said. “Amongst numerous applicants, seven were selected based on their grades and the recommendations we received during the past month. The students whose names I will mention shortly will be contacted later on by me personally. Nothing is expected of you until then.”

The wizard then reached for the rolled piece of parchment to open it. Harry was certain that never before had the whole student body been so quiet – not even during the exams. The faint rustle of the paper was the only sound that could be heard, and somehow rolling the parchment open seemed to take forever. Finally though, Karkaroff was ready to read it.

“The following students have been chosen to be part of the envoy that will go to Hogwarts next September,” he said, his voice loud and clear in the hall. “From the students who will be starting their seventh year next September: Ingrid Malte.”

‘Who?’ Faint whispering had begun, and a tall girl with long blonde braids let out a loud gasp.

“From the students who will be starting their sixth year: Mette Erling, Viktor Krum, and Anthony Lestrange.”

‘Oh, Viktor will be going! Maybe I’ll get the chance to spend some more time with him there,’ Harry thought, leaning against Truls. ‘Björn’s crush will be going. I didn’t know that she had even applied.’

“From the students who will be starting their fifth year: Maria Rurik.”

“That leaves two,” Filippa hissed nervously. “Two left.”

“From the students who will be starting their fourth year,” Karkaroff said, glancing up briefly. “Harry Potter and Truls Kettil.”

*

“Well, that’s yet another bloody year left behind,” Thomas Lyuben sighed. “What an end, though.”

“I expect we’re all equally baffled by the same thing,” Ulrich Dietmar, the professor of Dark Arts, said. “Who is Harry Potter, really? I thought he was practically a nobody.”

“Obviously he’s not,” Karkaroff sneered, “if the Dark Lord himself recommended him. I just cannot figure out how that could have happened! I know the boy’s godfather – Sirius Black is part of the Inner Circle but he isn’t that important.”

“The boy doesn’t seem particularly impressive either,” Lyuben admitted. “He’s good, obviously, and doesn’t seem to struggle with his studies. But there are plenty of smarter students. Better students.”

“I suppose we simply have to trust the Dark Lord’s judgement,” Professor Elis said softly, with a humourless smile on his face. “He obviously knows something about the boy that we don’t.”

“What matters is whether or not his… whatever it is that has made him worth noticing, is important enough that we should be aware of it.”

“I say we don’t even look into it,” Lyuben said reluctantly, after a moment of contemplation. “If the Dark Lord knows, I’d rather not do anything that could accidentally bring his wrath upon us. For all we know he could have picked the boy at random.”

‘The thing is,’ Karkaroff thought. ‘The Dark Lord does nothing at random.