Albus sat there in shock. Everyone was staring at him. No one clapped; no one said anything. He felt confused; he must have misheard McGonagall. How could this happen? he thought. How the hell can I be a champion? He felt numb. He couldn't move. Only one thing registered in his brain: He, a mere first-year, was the school Champion.
He looked at his father, who stared at him, open-mouthed. His face reflected shock, confusion and... fear. Aunt Hermione looked as frightened as his father, her eyes wide. She had her hand on her mouth. Professor Longbottom looked pale, and he was staring at the Headmistress as though she were mad. Albus looked at his cousins and brother. They bore looks of bewilderment. James was looking at him, stunned. Albus turned towards his friends. They were gaping at him in disbelief.
"I didn't do it," he whispered. "I swear I --"
But before he could say anything more, Albus head the noise of wood on stone somewhere near the front. Looking up at the staff table, he saw his father get up. Without looking at anyone, he walked straight up to Albus. The younger boy stared at him -- he looked so different. He wasn't the Harry Albus knew. His face was grim and impassive -- an expression that Albus had hardly seen on his father's face.
Without warning, Harry grabbed Albus' upper arm and pulled him towards the doors. Too shocked to protest, Albus allowed himself to be led away. He hardly registered the surprised looks the others shot at him as their eyes followed father and son out of the door. He barely heard their hushed whispers.
"How did it happen again?"
"Do you think -- You Know Who -- ?"
"How could someone fool the Age line again?"
"He must have cheated, like his father." Albus had heard enough to realise this remark was from a Slytherin.
The moment they were out of the Great Hall, Harry stopped. He turned Albus around and made him face him. Before Harry could begin, however, Albus said, "I didn't do it, Dad."
Harry paused for a second. "I wasn't about to ask you whether you did it or not," he said, frowning. "I... I already knew you didn't do it. You couldn't."
A wave of relief swept over Albus. At least his father believed him.
"Albus, something's terribly wrong here," Harry said in a tense voice. He looked miserable, as though the world were falling apart around him. His hair was more messed up than usual, and his arms were slumped uselessly at his side. "It was not supposed to happen like this. This tournament was supposed to be the safest; we had taken so many measures to ensure that! But..." he ran his hand through his dishevelled hair. "Clearly, someone's trying to... to hurt you."
"I don't want to compete, Dad... I'm scared!" Albus wasn't ashamed to admit his fear in front of his father. He knew Harry would understand.
In one swift motion, Harry bent down and swept Albus into a hug. Albus closed his eyes and hugged Harry back. Had James seen them, he would have taunted Albus for the rest of his life. But Albus knew that, now that his father was there, he would fix everything. He was Harry Potter, the saviour of the Wizarding world! He was Albus' hero. Most importantly, Harry Potter was Albus' father.
There was a slight rustle of a cloak behind them. Albus broke away from his father and looked up to see Professor Longbottom. Albus had never seen him so solemn before.
"Albus, Harry..." he said, looking at both of them desperately.
"Neville, I won"t let Albus compete," Harry said. Albus noted that his voice was slightly broken.
"Harry, we'll definitely figure something out. Right now, they want Albus back in the Hall."
Albus nodded, his throat too tight to say anything. His legs felt like jelly. How he managed to follow Harry and Neville back inside the Hall, he had no idea, but a few moments later he found himself face to face with McGonagall.
The Headmistress looked at him with... pity. She handed him the charred slip of parchment to see. Albus took it from her and read it. He was completely stunned to see what was written on it. There, in his own handwriting, was his name:
ALBUS SEVERUS POTTER.
"Go through the door, Albus," she said. She added in an undertone, "We'll sort things out, don't worry."
Albus nodded and stumbled towards the large, wooden door. He couldn't walk. He looked back at his father, who was still looking at him with an expression that made Albus' insides cringe with fear -- not because his father looked scary, but because of what he felt lay ahead of him. With one last look at the Hall, where everyone had eyes only for him, he walked through the door.
He was now in a smaller room, which had lots of paintings along the walls. There was a roaring fire in the fireplace on the stone wall opposite him. The other two champions were there: Fahim was leaning against a wall, his arms crossed across his chest, and Stephanie was sitting cross-legged in front of the fire, looking determinedly at it. Neither spoke.
Albus cleared his throat. The two champions looked up at him.
"What's up?" asked Stephanie.
"Um, I," stammered Albus. "I've been -- I mean, I -- I am --" He didn't know how to say it, how to explain that he, a first year, was the Hogwarts Champion.
Fahim smirked. "Don't tell me -- you're the Hogwarts Champion, like your dad!"
"Um... yes, actually."
The two champions looked at him in silence, then --
Stephanie laughed. "Nice joke, kid. Now really, why are you here?"
"It's true, I --"
They heard footsteps, and immediately the judges entered, along with Professor Longbottom. They seemed to be arguing heatedly about the issue, their voices echoing loudly. Harry, however, was absolutely silent. He still bore that same expression on his face. Without even glancing at Albus, he strode over to a window and gazed out of it.
Mr Bowman spoke first. "Mr Raiyan, Miss Erickson?" he looked at the other two Champions. "This is the Hogwarts champion." He gestured towards Albus.
"But how's that possible?" Stephanie asked, looking confused.
"How can this kid be a champion?" asked Fahim incredulously. "Dada, I thought champions had to be in their fourth year at least!" He looked at his Headmaster.
"Indeed, Fahim, they did," agreed Professor Sobhan. "How did this boy get to be champion, Professor McGonagall?"
"I... it must be like last time," Professor McGonagall mumbled, looking at Harry.
"You mean like when Lord Voldemort was trying to kill Harry?" asked Mrs Weasley, turning pale. "In our fourth year?"
"Yes," McGonagall replied shortly.
"But Lord Voldemort is dead," said Mr Bowman, laughing nervously. "Who'd try to kill Mr Potter now?"
"I have no idea," replied Professor McGonagall, looking helpless.
"He won't be competing," Harry whispered, speaking for the first time since he entered the chamber. His eyes had a fierce look in them. Those green eyes seemed to be on fire. He was no longer the carefree father Albus knew; he was Harry Potter, the man who had defeated Lord Voldemort. A strange yet very powerful energy seemed to be radiating from him. Albus now knew why his father was known as the Boy Who Lived, the Chosen One -- one of the most powerful men in the Wizarding World. He would fix everything. For a minute, Albus felt relieved as he thought that his father would bail him out of this mess.
He went towards where everyone else was standing. "I will not let my son compete in this tournament," he said, loudly and clearly, as though daring anyone to object.
They all stared at Harry. "But--" Mr Bowman protested. "Harry, according to the rules --"
"I know what the rules say, Nigel," Harry stated calmly. "But Albus will not be competing. I don"t want to risk anything about my son."
"But Harry, I'm afraid that's not possible," Professor Longbottom reminded him, moving towards Harry. "You know the rules. Even you had to compete."
"But this is outrageous!" interjected Professor Faerie angrily. "We will not allow a first-year to take part in this tournament!"
"We have to, Professor," Professor McGonagall replied. "It had happened with Harry here, and we had to accept it." She gestured towards Harry. "At least there is only one Hogwarts champion this time."
"I'm sorry, Professor," Mr Bowman interrupted. "Once a champion is chosen, he or she cannot back out. There is no other choice. Potter has to compete in this tournament as the Hogwarts Champion."
"I don't want to compete!" Albus said loudly, annoyed that no one was taking his opinion into consideration.
"Yes, let him out," Mrs Weasley insisted. "He's too young!"
"It's not possible, Hermione. He has to," replied Mr Bowman. Albus groaned.
"But, Nigel --" Harry started to argue, but Mr Bowman cut him in.
Harry, let out a sigh of anger, and turned away from the rest once again. Albus' heart sank. He had been so sure his father would fix everything.
"Is that fine with everyone?" Mr Bowman asked.
Professor Faerie did not say anything, but nodded curtly.
"Apparently there's nothing we can do about it," he replied, shrugging. "Though I am absolutely against this, I have no choice but to accept it."
"Albus, is it fine with you?" Professor Longbottom asked, looking at him.
Albus thought of the whole thing. He was only a first year, and he couldn't even do proper magic yet! He would surely lose, or even die. He could not compete, he just couldn't.
But then he heard James's voice somewhere deep in his mind, saying, "What's life without risk? Do everything risky to enjoy, no matter what happens." Slowly, knowing that he'd regret it later, he nodded.
"Very well," said Mr Bowman, clapping his hands together. "Now that everything is set, I'll tell you about the arrangements. The first task will be held on the 21st of October. We will not be telling you anything about the task except that it is meant to test your courage. You will know what the task is on the day of. Is that clear?"
The champions nodded.
"Very well, that is all. You may go and rest now. Good bye!" With that he left. Professor Faerie nodded brusquely and went out with Stephanie. Professor Sobhan also nodded, put a hand on Fahim's shoulder, and led him out. Once they were out of the room, Albus heard them start speaking in rapid Bengali.
"Well, Al," said Professor Longbottom, coming up to Albus and crouching down so he was face to face with Albus. "We know that you didn't put your name in the Goblet. But do you have any idea as to who could do it? Anyone who has a grudge against you?"
Albus thought about it. No one occurred to him, so he shook his head.
"Are you absolutely sure?" Mrs Weasley asked, coming up behind Professor Longbottom.
"Yes Aunt Hermione," Albus replied, nodding.
"Very well," the Professor said, standing up. "We have to investigate the whole thing thoroughly."
Albus looked at his father. "I'm sorry, Dad," he said, lowering his head.
Harry looked towards Albus, confused. "Sorry? Why are you sorry?"
"I am putting you through so much worry. I was chosen as the champion even though I am only a first year, so you all --"
Whatever Albus wanted to say was left untold, because Harry had swept him into a hug for the second time. "There is no need for you to be sorry, son. I am sorry. This is all happening because of me. But whatever you decide, remember that we are always with you."
They broke apart. Harry stood up. "I have to go now. I have to tell your mother the news. Al, you might face a lot of trouble at Hogwarts, but don't lose hope. Do what you have to do, okay?"
"Be a good boy for me, won"t you?'
"Yes, Dad," Albus repeated.
"I'll walk you up to Gryffindor tower."
Harry hugged his son again. He got up, and walked towards the door. Albus followed him. Before going out, Harry shook Professor Longbottom's hand, hugged Hermione and said good bye to Professor McGonagall.
"Will James be angry?" Albus asked his father as they walked up the staircase.
"I don't know, Al," Harry replied. "Your brother is really unpredictable. No one knows what he will think."
"I'm scared," Albus said quietly.
"About how everyone will react."
Harry stopped walking, and so did Albus. He crouched down in front of him so that their eyes were level. "Let me tell you something, Al. When I was chosen as champion, everyone hated me -- even Uncle Ron." He chuckled as Albus looked at him in amazement. "Everyone thought that I had cheated. Scorpius' dad made it even worse." Albus smiled slightly as Harry told him about the 'Potter Stinks' badges. "Don't take it out on Scorpius, though. In any case, after the first task, everyone started supporting both me and Cedric." He looked at his son and smiled. 'What I'm trying to say is, don't be too hard on yourself just yet. Wait for later, until at least the first task. Decide whether to be miserable or not then, not now." They started walking again, and neither spoke before they reached the portrait of the Fat Lady, who was slumbering in her portrait.
"Well, this is it," Albus said.
"Go on, I'll wait until after you go in," Harry said, gesturing towards the portrait.
"Castor Oil," Albus told the portrait.
The Fat Lady woke up, grumbling, "Is this a time to come in?" She swung forwards, still mumbling to herself.
"Bye," Albus said to his father, and walked in.
"Goodbye, son," Harry whispered, as the door swung shut and Albus disappeared into the Common Room.
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