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Harry Potter and the Nightmares of Futures Past
Quidditch World Cup
The remainder of the term was everything Harry had hoped for – quiet. Or at least quieter, anyway. Rita was quite adept at reading between the lines. She could see the political windfall that could be collected by the anti-Muggle factions and had no desire to annoy her primary source for so many juicy stories. Mentions of the strange men seen in Hogsmeade grew fewer and fewer in the ensuing coverage, while she focused on the idiocy of having Dementors around Hogwarts in the first place. It seemed that Dumbledore’s plan was working for now.
One Hogsmeade weekend, a thoroughly-coached Ron reluctantly met with his father and Rita for an exclusive interview. Harry didn’t know if it was the practice interviews, or Rita experiencing a triumph of common sense over her predatory instincts, but either way the ensuing article painted a picture of an earnest, brave, but modest young man. There were a few stares and a bit of whispering in the halls after it was published, but the school’s mild reaction was a pleasant surprise to Harry and his jaded memories. Even the Slytherins kept their snarky comments to a minimum, which he attributed to Slughorn’s admonitions to “act like real Slytherins, if you please”.
Lingering outside the potions lab after class one day, he overheard a brief snippet of conversation when Pansy Parkinson asked why he was “sucking up to the Gryffindors so much”.
“Young lady, do you see the sum I have written on this slip of parchment?”
“Yes. I mean, yes professor.”
“That may or may not be around the sum I am paid, on a yearly basis, to fulfil my employment contract with Hogwarts. I made roughly three times as much for a dozen or so hours of work last term… merely for being polite to someone you have dismissed as being worthless to know. Now which one of us is the better Slytherin?”
Harry made sure he was out of sight before Pansy entered the corridor.
After repelling a Dementor invasion, even winning the Quidditch Cup seemed to pale a bit. Cedric Diggory and his Hufflepuff teammates made a valiant effort, but Oliver Wood was not to be denied his last chance. The Gryffindor keeper moved like a man possessed, taking every shot on goal as a personal affront and managed a full shut-out before Harry found the snitch and mercifully ended the drubbing. With the score 270 to nil, Gryffindor posted a full sweep of the field, and a weeping Oliver presented the cup to his head of house one last time. Harry joined the celebrations, but he was more grateful that the focus was on Oliver and the more senior players that started with him.
June brought the end of term examinations, but they were nothing unusual. Hermione kept everyone focused, and Harry let himself relax a little more with respect to displaying his knowledge. The brunette just smiled a little wider, studied a little harder, and still managed to beat his scores. Memories didn’t make him smarter than she was, and Harry didn’t mind her desire to prove this to herself. At the same time, she became a bit less strident about wanting to discuss and dissect the exams after they finished each one – for which her friends were grateful. At the last Duelling Association meeting they announced the decision to forgo an end of year tournament in favour of more practice time for everyone on the Patronus Charm. Harry wondered if it was his imagination that some of the older students looked relieved at that.
The highlight of the leaving feast was a presentation of a Special Award for Services to the School. Harry was pleased that it was presented to all six of them as a group, rather than singling out him or Ron for recognition. The plaque also mentioned their work with the Duelling Association that year, and not just the battle against the Dementors. Harry thought he saw Professor McGonagall’s hand in this, but stayed quiet as all six of them stood while Professor Dumbledore made the announcement. Neville was almost as red in the face as Ron and Ginny, while Hermione maintained her composure until later in the Common Room when her head of house handed her an embossed copy of the award to bring home to her parents. At that point she burst into tears and hugged Professor McGonagall, startling the normally reserved woman. Ginny and Luna stepped in immediately as the transfiguration professor awkwardly patted her shoulder. Harry glanced around the room, but none of the Gryffindors looked askance at the display of sentiment. Harry himself wondered if her breakdown was from built up emotion, or actually having something concrete from her accomplishments to bring home to her parents.
The following morning, everyone was glad Hermione nagged, er, reminded them all to get their packing done early. They slipped away from the chaos early and boarded the Hogwarts Express while it was still nearly empty. It didn’t take long for the six of them to spread out in the compartment and let Crookshanks out of his carrier. The enormous cat soaked up absent-minded stroking from the reading girls while Ron and Neville played chess and Harry dozed. He spelled the door shut after the Prefects made their first rounds. If they came back before he lifted it, he’d pretend it was just stuck. With things like they were, Harry was of no mind to leave the door unlocked when he wasn’t on guard.
Fortunately, nothing untoward happened on the trip. Funny how he almost missed Draco’s little visits – he kept expecting someone to show up to irritate them. Harry supposed the battle with the Dementors, not to mention Slughorn’s leadership of Slytherin, may have discouraged the more vocal of their detractors. However, Harry wondered if they had just become more subtle, which was worrisome. He hadn’t forgotten that they never found out for certain who stabbed Melissa Bulstrode.
There was, however, a surprise waiting for them at Platform 9 ¾, albeit a pleasant one. Their assembled parents and guardians were waiting in a group, and Mr. Weasley announced that they were there to share a meal and discuss summer plans together. Harry was glad to see the adults all getting along so well, even if it might make some things trickier to manage. But he was increasingly distracted by Ron’s discomfort.
The disembarking Hogwarts students all knew who Ron was, and had time to get over the news of what happened with the Sword of Gryffindor. The same could not be said of the parents and family members meeting them on the platform. There was more than a fair bit of staring and finger-pointing, not to mention a not-so-low buzz of whispers. Harry’s friend looked increasingly uncomfortable, with his face ducked down and his ears reddening. His Mum fussing over him didn’t help matters. But when she moved on to the twins, Ginny nudged Hermione, who stepped up beside Ron and dragged him over to speak to her parents. Harry didn’t know if that made Ron any less nervous, but it did seem to distract him. The noticeably warmer greeting from Mr. Granger no doubt helped as well. Harry wondered if Hermione or someone else told the dentist exactly how much danger Ron put himself in when he grappled with a Dementor. Either way, it seemed clear that he was satisfied that Ron would place his daughter’s well-being above his own. Harry mused that Ron’s demeanour also made it clear that he didn’t feel he was owed anything for his actions. It looked like Hermione could think strategically as well as Ron, if she was building a foundation for the future.
Harry turned and caught Ginny’s eye. The smile they shared made it clear that he wasn’t the only one who had noticed that either.
Their schedule for the summer months was rather full. At the Leaky Cauldron, the Gryffindor Six and their guardians worked out the details, but they would mainly be staying with what worked the previous summer. They’d be working together, mornings at The Burrow, evenings at the Grangers, five days a week, with the weekends reserved for rest and family time. The adults all seemed pleased, or at least content, with the results. Their grades as a whole were great. Some, like Mr. Granger in particular, were not happy with the dangerous situations that seemed to keep happening, but at least the extra training had kept them safe.
So far, at least.
However, a complication presented itself when Harry, Luna, and the Weasleys flooed to The Burrow. No sooner was Harry steady on his feet than his Godfather had grabbed him in a tight hug. They’d traded missives over the term, thanks to Mrs. Weasley, but Harry knew the man had nearly gone spare after learning of the battle with the Dementors. Harry accepted the fussing without complaint, and was happy to note that Sirius had lost most of the scarecrow thinness he’d acquired in Azkaban.
After Mrs. Weasley settled everyone down with some tea, Sirius asked Harry about their summer plans. Harry’s overview brought a slight frown to the man’s features. “I was hoping we could fit some Animagus training in there,” he admitted.
“Isn’t that illegal?” Mrs. Weasley asked in a concerned tone.
“Only if you don’t register,” Sirius admitted. “And many who achieve it do not. The registry is public record, and anyone can look it up. I imagine most people who manage it would rather keep their abilities concealed.” He paused. “I’m glad I did, or I wouldn’t be here.” Mrs. Weasley looked thoughtful as he spoke, finally nodding at the end.
“Of course, it might have been harder for Peter to escape or hide,” Harry countered. He wondered if the Dementor attack had made this Molly a little more cynical regarding the Ministry and its laws.
Sirius made a face. “He could have Apparated away just as easily, or hid as a Muggle in another country.”
“True,” Harry admitted. ”I suppose we could give up the morning martial arts practice. We’ll still be working on it at the Grangers, and I don’t want to miss any time with Mr. Ishimura.” Mr. Granger’s friend owned a string of dojos and occasionally stopped by while they were training and gave them a few pointers. “We mostly just spar in the mornings anyway. What brought this on? Weren’t the Marauders older than this when they became Animagi?”
“We were fifth years,” Sirius agreed, “but we were also learning it on our own. Add in all that spell training you lot have been doing, well that helps too.”
“How so?” Harry asked.
“Magic is like any other part of you,” Sirius replied, “the more you use it, the stronger it gets. Magical cores aside, you can also get better and better at focusing what you have. That’s likely the only reason Peter made it in the end.” He frowned, then shook his head. “Anyway, that’s what being an Animagus really comes down to. It’s a total self-transfiguration, so it requires focus, visualization, and a lot of power.”
“Well yeah,” Sirius replied lazily after taking a sip. “Transfiguration normally requires a bit more in the power department than other branches of magic. A squib can make most potions, or rather they could if they were allowed to. You can under-power a charm and still have it work to some extent. Cleverness and dexterity will get you farther there, but I’m not saying it’s all a doddle. But transfiguration has fairly rigid power requirements. That’s one reason McGonagall is so strict in class. She tells the first years that it’s the most dangerous branch of magic they’ll ever learn at Hogwarts, and that’s not too much of an exaggeration.” He smiled at Harry. “Also, think about the two Transfiguration Masters you know. What do they have in common?”
“Masters?” Harry asked.
“I’ll give you a hint,” Sirius added with a smirk, “you have to be an accredited master to teach Transfiguration at Hogwarts.”
“Dumbledore and McGonagall?” Harry guessed.
“Quite right, Godson,” Sirius confirmed, “and I wouldn’t want to go up against either of them in a dark alley.”
Harry paused and took another sip of his tea. “And you think we are ready to meet the power requirement?” Harry asked.
“Possibly by the end of summer,” he agreed, “or I wouldn't have brought it up.”
Animagus training was not what Harry had expected. To be honest, he wasn’t really sure what he was expecting, but a guided meditation was not it.
Sirius said he was pleased to note that their prior training in Occlumency made it easy for them to meditate. He then led them through various exercises in visualization and what he called “getting in touch with your inner animal”. He explained that an Animagus’ alternate form was a reflection of their personality in some way. Sometimes the connections were obvious, and made Harry grin when he used James Potter’s bravery and leadership reflected in the stag. Harry supposed it also supported some of the arrogance he’d reportedly outgrown as well. He’d long ago made peace with the James Potter he’d seen in Snape’s memory. No one was perfect, and people could change if they wanted to. The fact that Lily Evans went from visibly loathing him to marrying James a few years later was proof of that.
Each session, Sirius’ deep voice guided them deeper and deeper into the trance state. At his patient direction, they were to discard conscious thoughts and try to get in touch with their instinctive sides. This, according to Sirius, was where their inner animal dwelled.
Harry found the meditation sessions refreshing after their morning calisthenics. The later stages proved to be more challenging though. Once Sirius was satisfied that everyone was able to reach their ‘inner animal’ to some extent, he moved on to the more active part. Basically, for your first transformation you flooded your body with magic, like you were planning to do a large scale transfiguration with yourself as the target… only you gave over control of the change to your ‘inner animal’ and it would guide you to its idealized form.
Harry thought the whole thing sounded a bit barmy, and Hermione’s expression was equally dubious. But Sirius himself was proof that it worked, so they stuck with it.
That was when the pain hit.
It was the last week in July, the first time Harry tried to ‘flood his body with magic’. Instead of the tingle his godfather described, he felt a searing pain in his chest and almost passed out before he could stop it. He let out a muffled groan that had Sirius by his side in an instant. The pain faded as soon as Harry released his focus, but it came back just as strongly when he tried again.
Sirius looked like someone had just cancelled his Christmas. To his credit, he continued working with the others while coaching Harry on trying to get past this latest stumbling block. When nothing else worked, Mrs. Weasley bundled him off to St. Mungos and Healer Stanhope. Harry was concerned enough to go without protest. He figured that Healer-Patient confidentiality aside, he wasn’t outside the law unless he actually succeeded and then failed to register.
The healer presented him with mixed news. On the one hand, his peculiar fused core was growing together and slowly stabilizing. On the other, he couldn’t explain why Harry was experiencing such excruciating pain. It was possible that he was simply supplying too much energy to the mix, but his attempts to hold some energy back didn’t seem to make a difference. The pain was just as excruciating as before.
Harry tried not to let his frustration show as his friends began to experiment with transforming portions of their anatomy, trying to follow the trail blazed by their inner animals. He wasn’t used to being left behind in any sort of academic or training pursuit. The duelling tournament was one thing, win or lose at the end, he still made a respectable showing. But now he felt like Crabbe or Goyle trying to do an advanced transfiguration exercise for McGonagall. It wasn’t a welcome feeling, and made him all too aware of the extent of his own ego. Compounding this, he felt like he was letting down both Sirius and his long-dead father by failing at this.
His and Neville’s birthdays were a welcome distraction. Harry managed to convince Mrs. Weasley to keep things smaller this year, much to her dismay. While he appreciated her efforts to make his first birthday party spectacular, she didn’t need to continue to make up for the Dursleys.
Molly just hugged him and sighed. She then held him, hands on his shoulders at arm’s length. After a moment she spoke. “Harry, dear, I’m not trying to make up for anything that happened in the past. Don’t you think you deserve a party?”
Harry shrugged. “Not particularly. I don’t think I deserve a big to-do.” He looked down. “Maybe a small gathering, just friends and family?”
“We can do that if you like,” Mrs. Weasley replied easily, “but everyone I contacted last year leapt at the chance to come celebrate with you. No one felt compelled or came out of a sense of obligation, I’ll have you know.”
In the end, they compromised on a slightly larger gathering, which was a sharp contrast with the following day’s soiree at the Longbottom Estate. That was formal dress and had far more adults trying to curry favour with Augusta Longbottom than actual friends of Neville. Said friends almost unconsciously formed a cordon around their besieged ally as he greeted the guests that came by to introduce themselves.
One noticeable effect of the new understanding between Neville and his grandmother was the way Neville’s friends were not shunted aside for anyone. Luna in particular seemed almost possessive as she held onto his elbow most of the night. Harry wasn’t sure, but her gaze seemed very direct with any guests that had mentioned visiting Neville the previous summer. One young lady, Melinda Hawkshorne, Harry recalled had spilled the beans regarding Augusta’s matchmaking attempts. She seemed visibly amused at all this, and gave Luna a wink as she departed.
If Augusta Longbottom was perturbed by this turn of events, she gave no sign of it as she and Neville bid their guests good night. Harry and crew loitering around until the very end also passed unremarked. Harry knew they were sailing on uncharted waters here, so he indulged his paranoia.
The following week, Harry continued meditating while his friends worked on their Animagus forms. Disappointment aside, he was curious about what each of them would change into. However, according to Sirius it was tradition to wait until a new Marauder had completed their change before “The Great Unveiling”. Harry wasn’t sure how three previous teenagers constituted a “tradition”, but he decided to indulge his godfather for now.
Another piece of good news came when Arthur arrived home from work and announced that he’d secured tickets for everyone for the Quidditch World Cup.
He’d spent most of the day assisting Otto Bagman with his enchanted lawnmower. Technically, the old push lawnmower predated the relevant laws, depending on when it was ensorcelled. The rookie Auror, one Nymphadora Tonks, wasn’t aware of the loophole when she’d called Arthur in. Since the Bagman residence was warded against Muggles and Otto had only enchanted the old push mower after he injured his back, Arthur exercised some discretion. He could do this in good conscience as it was clearly never intended to pass into Muggle hands where it could raise dangerous questions. So Arthur gave him a pass and grandfathered in the mower, but made a point of thanking Auror Tonks for calling him in for the consultation.
When Arthur returned to the office, Otto’s younger brother, Ludovic Bagman with the Department of Games and Sports, dropped by and asked Arthur if, as a department head, he’d like to purchase his World Cup tickets from the Ministry box. Realizing the security would be even better seated near the minister and other officials, he accepted the unspoken thank you from his colleague.
While the Weasley males cheered, Molly and Ginny were even more enthused that Charlie and Bill both had taken time off and would be joining them.
While Sirius was thanking Arthur for not giving his cousin’s daughter a hard time, Harry began plotting. This was a golden opportunity to capture Barty Crouch, Jr. and expose the senior’s misdeeds. He’d rob Voldemort of a potential servant, and get Sirius a little delayed revenge. It might even give Rita enough leverage to finally force an inquiry into his lack of a trial. He just needed to make the whole thing look accidental and not staged. He really didn’t want to set off Dumbledore’s suspicions…
This time he got all of his friends involved in the planning stages. They didn’t say anything outright, but he could tell they appreciated his new approach, especially Hermione and Ginny. Neville had already accepted an invitation to join Luna and her father in the press box, and it was decided that they were better off staying there than risk rearranging the seating in the Ministry box by adding more people. The Quidditch World Cup was something that hopefully wouldn’t be impacted by the changes he’d already made, so they had an opportunity to think through the whole thing. The Death Eaters demonstrating after the match was a different matter.
On one hand, Lucius Malfoy had more reasons to keep his head down than in the previous timeline, and Harry thought it was likely that he was the organizer for that nasty bit of Muggle-Baiting. On the other hand, he might be even more motivated to don his robes, if only to show his peers that he was still to be feared. If someone else had originally suggested it, even that thinking would be flawed. There is also the matter of Harry’s actions during the match. If he and his friends got Barty, Jr. captured, would the extra Aurors present deter the purebloods from demonstrating?
In the end, Harry concluded that the second event was impossible to predict, and the others agreed. Hermione tried to do some elaborate arithmantic probability calculations but in the end gave it up as sheer guesswork, with too many unknown variables. They would plan for capturing Crouch, and deal with anything afterward as best they could.
Charlie was just as Harry remembered him, stocky and friendly. He brought pictures of Hagrid’s darling, Norbert, who according to Charlie, was fast becoming a favourite on the reserve in Romania. He supposed being raised from an egg by Hagrid might make the juvenile dragon a little friendlier toward humans. Maybe.
Nothing much was said about various secrets after Charlie arrived, but Harry noticed he spent a good part of his first evening back out at Arthur’s shed. He didn’t think they were discussing plugs, either. He was totally unsurprised the following afternoon when Charlie volunteered them both to go collect some apples from the orchard.
“So…” Harry began rather lamely, hoping to break the ice as they began to fill the basket.
“Right,” Charlie said. “Dad, well, when I first left for Romania, he helped a lot with Mum. She didn’t like me working so far away, but Romania was the first reserve with a position open in almost two years. He stood up for me, told me I needed to follow my dreams. You know how Mum is, so you know that wasn’t easy. When I left, I told him I owed him one, but he just laughed it off. Few months ago, I got a parcel from him, a book on Occlumency, and a note saying he hoped I’d study it, that it was important. Family important.”
Harry nodded slowly. “Did he tell you why last night?”
“That he did,” Charlie confirmed. “Right bloody mess, it is, but I can’t see any way the Weasleys would stay out of it.”
“I reckon not,” Harry agreed. “Did you have any questions, you know, about stuff?”
“I figure I probably got killed in the fighting after what happened at Hogwarts,” Charlie said, “but there is one thing I want to know.”
“What’s that?” Harry asked.
“What are you playing at with my little sister?” the dragon-handler asked in a hard voice. Harry also noticed the muscles in the stocky brother’s arms ripple as his hands gripped the basket. “I’ve seen you two looking at each other,” he added, “so don’t try denying there is something going on there.”
“I… well,” Harry faltered. “She’s important to me,” he said. He hadn’t expected this. The rest of the Weasleys’ hadn’t objected as he and Ginny sort of danced around each other. He had enough trouble trying to sort out his own feelings, so he never did anything that might raise concerns. Just his luck that the most protective brother was uncomfortably observant as well.
“You and she… before?” Charlie asked.
Harry nodded. Not liking where this was going one bit.
“How old were you?” Charlie asked.
“We started dating toward the end of my sixth year,” Harry answered. “Her fifth year. We were sort of on hold, while I left to, er, take care of something. That was when the bastard attacked Hogwarts.”
“And you finally got him for that.”
“Yes. It… it took a while, but yes. But it took too long. Too many people died, too much was destroyed.” Harry swallowed. “It was all a mess by then.”
“Don’t you think you are a little old for her?” Charlie asked in a cold tone.
Harry shrugged. “In a way, maybe. Part of me is, but that part merged with an eleven year old me. So I’m not really sure what the hell I am doing.”
“Maybe you should try with someone else, someone a little older,” Charlie suggested, but his tone wasn’t as harsh as his words could have been. “Maybe someone you dated afterward?”
Harry shook his head. “There was no one else,” he objected, “no one after she… died.” His voice cracked on the last word as he clenched his fists. He really didn’t want to be having this conversation.
Charlie blinked and frowned a little. “Bollocks. You’ve got it bad, sure enough. Look, does she know?”
“That’s something in your favour,” Charlie allowed. “Look - I’ll say it just in case no one has spelled it out for you. You hurt her, I can hold a human-to-beef transfiguration long enough for a Horntail to digest the evidence. I’m not taking the piss here, either. No. Evidence.”
“If I deserve it,” Harry allowed, “you’ll have to beat her to it. There’s a trophy over the hearth you should look at.”
The morning of the match, everyone was up as early as Harry normally rose. Mrs. Weasley was feeding her husband and all of the groggy underage children who couldn’t Apparate directly to the stadium. Harry briefly envied Percy, who’d passed his test and was having a lie-in. On the other hand, he also knew he was too paranoid not to want to accompany his friends into a possibly dangerous situation. So he stifled a yawn as he speared a chipolata with his fork. Only Ron seemed to be moving full speed this morning.
Harry only fully woke up when Mrs. Weasley discovered Fred concealing a stack of parchment flyers printed with a pre-announcement regarding the Weasley Wizarding Wheezes mail order business.
“What is this?” she demanded.
“Er, a bit of pre-publicity for our business,” George answered while giving his twin the fish-eye.
“Not more of this foolishness!” she wailed. “Why do you two insist on wasting time on this? It breaks my heart when I think of how you two could have done on your OWLS if you didn’t spend every waking moment trying to get into trouble!”
“It’s not a waste of time,” Fred objected truculently.
“You’re never going to get a good job at the Ministry like Percy,” she continued in a despairing tone.
Harry saw George making faces at him behind his mother’s back. He sighed and nodded.
“Ah, Mum,” George said aloud. “We have it on pretty good authority that we’ll be successful.”
Molly turned away from Fred. “And how do you…” she paused and turned toward Harry.
Harry coughed and cleared his suddenly tight throat. “They, uh, had a shop on Diagon Alley, and they pretty much ran Zonko’s out of business. And after the Ministry acknowledged Voldemort was back, they had a big contract to produce things like Shield Hats…” his voice trailed off as Sirius, who’d been moody (even after he agreed he couldn’t risk going) started to crack up.
“A store?” she demanded from the twins. “On Diagon Alley? Where did you get the money to open a store?” Since this hadn’t happened yet, Harry wondered how she expected them to know. On the other hand, she probably knew they wouldn’t let Harry rest until they had the details.
“From our esteemed investor,” Fred replied proudly.
“What fool would invest in…” she began, her voice trailing off again. She turned toward Harry with an incredulous look on her face.
Harry sighed again. “After the whole Triwizard mess, I didn’t really want the 1000 galleon prize, even if I did technically win. And I figured with him back, we’d all need a few laughs.” He shook his head. “In return, those maniacs made me their partner. And yes, they were pretty successful before everything went awful.”
There was a pause while everyone digested this.
“Well,” Mr. Weasley interjected, “we’d better get moving if we want to catch our Portkey to the stadium.” Harry noted that his attempt to dress Muggle, consisting of corduroy trousers and an old jumper, looked a bit more authentic than he remembered. He wondered if it was exposure to the Grangers making him more aware of current Muggle fashions.
In short order they were all stomping across the countryside toward the summit of Stoatshead Hill. The climb wasn’t as bad as Harry remembered, which he attributed to the exercising he and his friends had been doing. Mr. Weasley was definitely puffing the hardest when they reached the summit. Harry thought they might have made better time than in the original timeline, but with the argument at The Burrow, Amos Diggory and Cedric still beat them to the old boot serving as the local Portkey to the stadium.
Cedric waved hello, but Mr. Diggory was a lot quieter than Harry remembered. Of course, Harry staying with the Weasleys would in no way be a surprise this time, especially since he’d attended the custody hearing at the Ministry. He also didn’t have Cedric’s victory over him in Quidditch to crow about either, Harry reflected.
It was with a grimace of distaste that Harry touched the Ministry Portkey. Hygienic issues aside, Harry didn’t like the uncontrolled nature of Portkey travel. It wasn’t surprising, given some of his involuntary journeys, that he much preferred apparition. It might take more effort, but he was totally in control of the destination. Common wards might stop him, but ones capable of redirecting apparition were frightfully rare and expensive.
The tent city at the site of the World Cup was the Bedlam that Harry remembered from the original timeline. He was glad Luna and her father hadn’t needed to spend a week here before the game because they had cheap tickets. Unlike the original timeline, someone from Games and Sports had sent the editor of the Quibbler a full press kit, including a number of tickets. Harry wondered if it was the articles Rita had published in The Quibbler that increased their status with someone at the Ministry, or if it was someone grateful toward Luna for her part in the Battle of Hogwarts.
The trip to retrieve water from the public tap was interesting to say the least. Quite a few more people recognized Harry, Ron, and Hermione as they lugged their buckets around. Seamus Finnegan’s mum seemed really happy when they said they’d be supporting Ireland. Harry was even happier when they ran into Oliver Wood and his parents. Oliver confirmed Harry’s memories when he announced he’d been signed to Puddlemere United’s reserve team, but added quietly that he thought he had a good chance of starting by mid-season. Professional play was a big step up from Hogwarts, but he’d still amassed an impressive record as a student keeper. He also warned Ron that the Quaffles came a lot faster in league play, and that he’d needed to really step up his game to compete. Ron nodded thoughtfully, and Harry could practically hear the gears churning as his friend digested this.
Harry waved hello to other classmates they encountered in the throng before they returned to the Weasley campsite. Arthur had the fire lit and promptly put on a kettle to heat. As they seemed to be parked next to a major thoroughfare, he called out greetings to people he knew from the Ministry as they passed by. Harry noticed both Ron and Hermione paying close attention to the Weasley patriarch as he described what each person did. Harry was pretty sure the genial man was warmed by the unexpected attention from his youngest son.
After the tea was ready, Arthur reached into a bottomless bag and extracted a skillet, eggs, and sausages. With surprising skill, he juggled everything into place and started a fire-side fry-up for lunch. Harry and the twins were just starting to plate up the eggs and sausages when Percy, Charlie, and Bill strode up.
“Just Apparated in, Father,” Percy announced.
“We come bearing bread,” Bill added, holding up a loaf of home-made wrapped in a tea towel, still steaming. Charlie likewise bore a crock of butter. He elbowed Percy, who withdrew a jar of preserves from his robes with a sigh.
“Excellent, boys!” Arthur beamed, “You are just in time.”
They were just finishing their luncheon on the rough when Arthur leapt to his feet, grinning and waving at Ludo Bagman as he approached their camp. “The man of the hour,” he said with a grin. The retired beater was practically bouncing with excitement, and Harry was feeling pleasantly full, so he tuned out of the conversation until Arthur introduced him.
The obligatory ‘stare at my scar’ was as uncomfortable as ever, but Harry maintained a pleasant face for their host. Harry didn’t know if Ludo was really “the man of the moment” as Arthur proclaimed, but he did make possible most of what Harry wanted to accomplish that day.
On the other hand, Harry had no compunctions whatsoever about warning the Weasleys against placing any bets with Ludo. Percy looked rather scandalized that a department head in the Ministry would turn out to be a swindler, but to his credit didn’t try to argue the point.
Mr. Crouch showed up as Arthur was offering Ludo a cuppa. Percy was quick to offer his boss some tea as well. Crouch nodded, but his gaze was chilly as it swept across the others. Harry was pretty sure he didn’t imagine the crease between the man’s eyebrows when they made eye contact. He supposed his rather public questioning of Sirius Black’s guilt was not received well in some quarters.
Percy didn’t miss this, even as he winced at being called “Weatherby” in front of the twins. Once his boss left with Ludo Bagman to secure extra tickets for the Bulgarian Minister of Magic’s party, he made his way over to where Harry was sitting between Ron and Ginny.
Straightening his glasses, Percy launched right into it. “What is going on with you and Mr. Crouch?” he asked, tight-lipped, but in a low voice.
Harry took a sip of his cooling tea. “He was the head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement when the decision was made to send Sirius Black to Azkaban without a trial.”
Percy went pale. “So if you…”
“If Sirius is ever exonerated,” Harry continued, “he will probably be forced to resign in disgrace.”
“Why didn’t you tell me this?” Percy hissed.
“I thought you knew,” Harry replied. “It’s a matter of public record. He hasn’t said anything to you?”
Percy shook his head. “I’m not sure he made the connection until now,” he said ruefully. “He barely remembers my name.”
Harry nodded, wondering why Percy was willing to admit that. Then he recalled the times he and Ginny stood up for him when the twins got a bit heavy-handed in their teasing. He felt a little stab of guilt. They’d excluded Percy from the planning for the match, given his rather poor acting skills. Harry wondered if Percy was a little bit like Neville, who changed so much once he realized that someone believed in him. He leaned forward. “Percy, keep an eye on Mr. Crouch today.”
Percy’s eyebrows went up, but he stayed silent and just nodded gravely.
“Something might happen during the match,” Harry whispered. “I have no idea how he might react, but probably better to play it safe.”
“You can count on me,” Percy whispered and Harry felt another twinge of guilt. He wondered if he’d been overly biased by his memories of a different Percy that turned against his family. He gave this Percy a sharp nod, not quite trusting his voice at the moment.
When Percy turned back to fuss with the fire Harry met Ron’s questioning look with a shrug. Even if he was wrong in his estimation, Harry doubted Percy had time to give anything away. Hermione and Ginny’s smiles were a little more encouraging.
Mr. Crouch was grumpy enough to hand his tea back to Percy the moment Bagman started making allusions to what Harry knew was the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Percy’s frown at being called Weatherby again was not imagined. The on-going parade of wizards and witches grew more and more excited as dusk fell and salesmen selling Quidditch-themed merchandise began to circulate.
Harry ignored the team-related goods but discreetly purchased six pairs of Omnioculars. They were dead useful. He hadn’t seen any for sale on Diagon Alley, and was afraid to ask a sales person in case they hadn’t been invented yet. Maybe they’d been developed just in time for the World Cup. Trust the Wizarding world to invent the equivalent of a video recorder just to sell at a Quidditch match.
Oddly enough, despite having a lot more money, Ron was a bit more careful with his purchases, picking up a green rosette to support Ireland. “Better have something to show Seamus in the dorms,” Ron explained, “or he’ll be insufferable next term.”
Harry grinned. “Too true. No Krum?” he asked, nodding toward the animated player figures another salesman was offering.
Ron shrugged. “He’s good, I’ll grant you. Second best Seeker I know.”
Harry couldn’t help turning red at that. The salesman looked a lot less amused. “Load of tosh,” he grumbled.
Ron scowled. “Viktor Krum lost two games in six seasons playing at Durmstrang. Harry Potter has gone 3 seasons without losing once.”
“Like you know Harry Potter,” the salesman scoffed.
Harry cringed as Ron opened his mouth. He’d been keeping his fringe tucked down over the scar. With that and dressing Muggle, he’d hoped to look sufficiently different from that bloody picture in Great Wizarding Events of the Twentieth Century . “He plays for my house team,” Ron said proudly, not even glancing in Harry’s direction.
“Hmm. Suppose you’re the right age,” the salesman allowed as he moved on. Harry let out a silent sigh of relief.
“I’m not completely barmy,” Ron groused as a deep booming gong announced that the stadium gates were opening. “I know you hate that stuff. Doesn’t make you less of a Seeker.”
“I’m sure if Harry wants to play professionally he’ll get used to it,” Hermione added. “You were still clever not to embarrass him.”
Ron pinked up as Mr. Weasley had them put the kettle and everything else in their tent, which he secured with a charm. He then led them along a lantern-lit trail through the woods toward the stadium. It took almost twenty minutes before the massive golden walls were in sight. They joined the throng swarming toward the entrances and were directed toward the Top Box.
Harry smiled in anticipation as they climbed the purple-carpeted stairs. Everything looked right so far. He joined the Weasleys in the front row of the elevated box. It took a moment, but he remembered where to sit once he saw Winky sitting in the second row of chairs. The elf looked highly uncomfortable, and Harry remembered her revealing a pronounced fear of heights.
“Hello,” he said pleasantly after he sat down. “I’m Harry.”
The tiny elf jumped. “Ah, you is Harry Potter! Dobby tells Winky all about Harry Potter!”
Harry didn’t grimace at this. He was used to Dobby’s enthusiasm by now. “You’ve heard from Dobby lately? How is he doing at Hogwarts?” he asked.
Winky shook her head, making her ears waggle. “Dobby says he is happy, but he is surely barmy. He is doing work at Hogwarts… but he is asking for pay!”
Harry couldn’t help it. “But he does such good work, he should get paid.” He could see Hermione out of the corner of his eye, watching the conversation like a hawk.
“House elves is for working,” Winky explained patiently, “not for getting paid, or…” her voice lowered into a scandalized whisper “He is even taking days off!”
“You know, Winky,” Harry replied. “Wizards are funny people. They value something more if they had to pay a little bit for it than if they got it for free.”
“That may be for Wizards,” Winky replied primly, “but that is not the House Elf way. We does what we are told, none of this asking for pay. I is not liking heights, but my master says to come to the Top Box , so I come.”
“Why does he want you to come here?” Harry asked carefully.
“He says I am to save him a seat, so I does.” She nodded toward the empty seat next to her, right behind Harry.
“Right. Well, no one can say you aren’t a good elf,” Harry reassured her. The tiny elf smiled and nodded, carefully avoiding looking downward the whole time.
As the stadium slowly filled, various wizards and witches stopped by the Top Box. Some sat down, but most just dropped by to say hello. Harry noticed that, despite the derision that certain parties cast on his department, Arthur Weasley seemed rather well known. Percy smiled when Arthur introduced him, and made a point of shaking everyone’s hand. He seemed rather flustered, though, when Cornelius Fudge arrived with a man he introduced as the Bulgarian Minister of Magic.
“I see you are here with all of your, er, family,” Fudge observed as his eyes swept across the rest of the group. They did not linger on Harry. This wasn’t surprising, given the questions Rita Skeeter’s articles were raising. The other Minister, resplendent in his black robes trimmed with gold, on the other hand peered closely at Harry. He murmured something to the man next to him, who nodded.
“Ah, yes,” Fudge said uncertainly. “Where is Crouch when I need him? I see his elf… Ah!” He smiled. “I see Lucius has arrived!”
Harry ground his teeth. This was one thing he wasn’t looking forward to. The semi-retired Death Eater looked his usual meticulously-groomed self, and was accompanied by a slim blond woman Harry knew was Mrs. Malfoy. Oddly enough, there was no sign of Draco.
“Ah, Fudge,” Lucius drawled as he approached the minister and shook his hand. “Allow me to introduce my wife, Narcissa.”
Minister Fudge smiled and bowed to Mrs. Malfoy. “And may I introduce Mr. Oblansk, the Bulgarian Minister of Magic? Pity he doesn’t speak a lick of English.” He seemed a little more on edge than Harry remembered. “And you know Arthur Weasley?” he added after a moment.
The two men eyed each other. “Seats in the Top Box, Arthur?” Malfoy asked softly, his eyes cutting toward Harry. “Good to see that you’ve learned to take advantage of the opportunities you’ve been offered.”
Arthur reddened as the implication struck home.
Fudge apparently missed that as he continued. “Lucius just made a very generous contribution to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries. He’s here as my guest.”
“How nice,” Mr. Weasley replied in a flat voice.
But Fudge was looking around now. “Did your son not want to come, Lucius? I’m sure we have room for him…” Harry stiffened. He hadn’t seen Draco since the day he was expelled from Hogwarts for nearly killing him and endangering Ginny’s life as well. He didn’t really want to see the spoiled ponce again.
“I’m afraid Draco elected to remain at Durmstrang this summer,” Lucius answered easily. “He’s in an accelerated program for students of exceptional ability.”
“I understand from his last letter that he’s on the fast track to become a prefect,” Mrs. Malfoy added proudly.
“That’s very impressive,” beamed Fudge, “especially at his age. Isn’t that right, Arthur?”
Mr. Weasley nodded, showing no visible acknowledgement of the irony. His own brood played no small role in Draco’s ‘new opportunities’ at Durmstrang. Harry wondered if Fudge was really that misinformed, or was purposefully giving Lucius Malfoy the opportunity to bait Mr. Weasley in front of witnesses. An incident here would surely hurt his career, if not end it. Either way, Harry had to admire his guardian’s self-control.
With a final sneering nod, the Malfoys made their way to the other end of the box, sitting on the opposite side of Fudge and the Bulgarian Minister’s party. Harry noticed a pair of sober-looking men in dark robes settling down behind Mr. Oblansk and wondered if they were Bulgarian Aurors, or whatever they called them over there.
“Who would want Draco as a ruddy prefect?” Ron groused. “You’d think getting kicked out of Hogwarts might be a clue?”
“Same people that would have Snape as headmaster,” Harry replied. “Special treatment for Draco is Snape's specialty, remember?”
“You suspected Mr. Malfoy had something to do with him getting hired there,” Hermione whispered. “I suppose that’s part of the deal.”
“No doubt,” Harry muttered as an excited Ludo Bagman bounded into the box.
“Everyone ready?” the portly man asked in a cheery voice.
“Ready when you are,” Fudge said grandly.
“All right,” Ludo beamed and applied the Sonorous charm to his own throat. Harry swallowed reflexively. His own voice had healed, but it took weeks for the last hints of raspiness to fade. “Ladies and gentlemen… welcome!” Ludo announced in a voice that echoed from every corner of the stands. “Welcome to the final of the four hundred and twenty-second Quidditch World Cup!”
The crowd went wild as the giant animated chalkboard erased the last of the paid advertisements and reset to display the score of Ireland 0 and Bulgaria 0.
“And now,” Ludo continued, “without further ado, allow me to introduce… the Bulgarian team mascots!” This prompted the scarlet-clad fans to the right to cheer even louder.
As the Veela cheerleaders glided onto the pitch, Harry hissed a warning to his friends and raised his Occlumency barriers as high as he could. He was relieved to find that took the edge off of his desire to make an utter fool of himself. He shook his head and glanced at the others. Most of them seemed to be resisting the massed allure of the Bulgarian National Team Mascots, though the twins seemed a little glassy-eyed. He wondered if their curiosity was going to get them into trouble.
At least Harry and the Weasley males avoided the more ridiculous displays now going on across the stands. Hermione actually looked slightly impressed, while Ginny gave him a smug little smile that Harry returned.
The arrival of Ireland’s Leprechaun Mascots was just as flashy as Harry remembered. He caught one of the coins raining down and examined it. Concentrating on the details, he began to see how the gold’s lustre was just a little too perfect, gleaming wetly under the stadium lights. Harry fished out his pocket knife and touched it with the blade. The coin melted away in an instant. He looked up at Ron and shook his head. Ron sighed and elbowed George and they soon discarded all the fallen Fairyool’s Gold they’d collected. Harry remembered the coins being temporary conjurations, but it didn’t hurt to make sure first.
Harry settled back in his seat as Bagman introduced the players. In short order, the various balls were released and Harry was reminded of Oliver’s warning. League play was fast compared to Hogwarts. Harry held his Omnioculars facing the game, but watched with his own eyes. He’d watch the plays in slow-motion later on, but for now he didn’t want to miss the action. The Irish chasers were as good as he remembered, and were scoring rapidly against the Bulgarian defence at the start. Harry then watched Victor Krum plough Aidan Lynch with a picture-perfect Wronski Feint.
Harry realized that Wood was right. He needed to step up his game as well. This was humbling to watch.
The Bulgarian defence stiffened as their beaters grew almost bloodthirsty in their determination to break up the Irish Chaser formations. Harry was somewhat relieved to see things play out as he remembered, even down to the fight between the Veela and the Leprechauns, and a bloodied Victor Krum catching the Snitch… just as Ireland pulled 160 points ahead, giving them the victory. Logically, he couldn’t see anything he’d changed impacting how the match would play out, but there had been enough odd coincidences lately that he was apt to worry.
He’d been so caught up in the end of the match that he almost didn’t feel the warning charm that triggered when a hand slipped the wand out of his jacket pocket.
Eric Buehler was in his twentieth year working for the Bulgarian Ministry of Magic, but being part of Minister Oblansk’s protective detail was his highest profile posting yet. He’d lucked out, in a back-handed way, when Wladislaw Vorchav came down with dragon pox the day before they departed for England and had to give up his spot to his slightly-less-experienced colleague. Eric was philosophical about his colleague’s misfortune. Wladislaw was a bachelor, and Eric had already acquired Victor Krum’s autograph for his son. He’d watched the young Quidditch star scowl at legions of screaming fans, but he’d smiled a little in response to a politely worded request as they travelled from Vrasta to Sofia after a press conference. While he was disappointed to see his country lose, he was proud of Krum’s performance. He wished him well in the professional league.
He’d been a little surprised at the briefing when he realized that Harry Potter would be joining them in the Ministry Box. Evidently his foster father worked with the English. Hopefully the man wasn’t as discomposed as the Minister he worked for. To Eric’s jaundiced eye, Cornelius Fudge came in a poor second to Minister Oblansk. It was amusing to watch his ultimate boss pretend to not understand English.
As the game wound down, Eric wondered if he would have a chance to get the Boy Who Lived to sign an autograph for his daughter. Little Marija had read everything she could find regarding the boy. If she was a little older he would worry, but as it was he had a chance to be her hero if he could manage it.
As the Irish team made their victory lap, Eric had to bite his tongue to keep from laughing. Minister Oblansk muttered something in English, which greatly upset Fudge who had no idea his counterpart was multi-lingual.
Glancing away from the incensed little man, Eric looked at the Boy Who Lived, wondering how he could politely introduce himself. Young men his age often thought being an Auror was terribly exciting… perhaps he could use that. The Bulgarian squad was making their way toward the ministers, so he needed to shift over anyway. He started to move when he saw Harry Potter spin around like he’d been struck. His trailing fingers tangled in something in mid-air and with a ripple an arm was revealed as an invisibility cloak was brushed aside.
The Boy Who Lived yanked back on the cloak he’d snagged, revealing a young, very pale man with yellow hair. He blinked rapidly as the house elf sitting next to him wailed aloud.
Everything seemed to happen in slow motion as Eric pulled out his wand. But the pale young man already had a wand in his hand, said wand pointed at the Boy Who Lived. His eyes cleared and he snarled an incantation an instant before Eric’s stupefy reached him.
“ Avada Kedavra!”
Author’s Notes: Yes, I am back on a semi-regular writing schedule again. An up-side to down-sizing? I’d like to thank Runsamok, Tempest, and Torbin for alpha-reads, and the illustrious Kokopelli for his beta-work! Some embarrassingly mis-used Brit-slang was avoided thanks to their efforts. I’d also like to thank the person who was cameo-ed in this chapter. Given what has been going on lately, your timing was simply amazing!
I’m off to work on Team 8 now. Yes, you could consider this a cliffhanger… but not when you think about it. Enjoy!