Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 28

Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals: Book Four.
Or, "Autistic Potter and the Goblet of Fire."

Notes: I do not own this. J. K. Rowling does. This is just fan fiction. No money is being made. Not by me, anyway.

There may be a few bits and pieces lifted word-for-word from the canon material. I tried to do that as little as possible, though. And the more this deviates from canon, the less that will happen. But some descriptions and things like that are too good to skip or try to reword.

Just as a reminder, so I don't have to shoehorn in descriptions in the text of the story as a reminder, but in this fanfic Harry and Hermione, apart from having Asperger's Syndrome, are both black as well.

'Italicized text between single quotes is almost always Parseltongue.'

Chapter Four: Bagman, Crouch, and Winky

The three of them took the Floo over to the Burrow the next day so they could all set out together on the following morning. Since they would have to dress as Muggles to go, Harry had on jeans, a polo shirt, and his trainers. Sirius was wearing a Led Zepplin shirt and the pants from his bike leathers, with some pretty rad looking boots. Remus was dressed in a red sweater with a white, collared shirt underneath and a red-and-gold tie on. His pants were blue and he wore Keds brand trainers. He looked like Mr. Rogers, if Mr. Rogers had cool scars on his face.

“Sirius Black! Remus Lupin!” said the familiar voice of Fred, who was coming into the room just as the last of them got through the Floo.

“Or should we say Padfoot and Moony?” George said.

“Hello boys,” Sirius said, grinning.

Fred hugged his twin in a melodramatic way, appearing to be so overcome with joy that he had tears in his eyes. “Oh George, this is the happiest day of my life! One of my absolute heroes actually spoke to me!”

George hugged his twin in the same manner, also putting on a show of crying. “I know, Fred! I know exactly how you feel! If I start sobbing like a small child, please make sure you get a copy of their autographs for me! Do that, Fred, will you? Please?”

“Of course, George! And will you do the same for me?”

“In a heartbeat, Fred!”

“You're the best, Gred!”

“No, Forge, you're the best!”

And the two boys burst into tears of joy, sobbing into one another's shoulders, occasionally laughing as they did, to the bemusement of some and the amusement of others. Harry, for his part, was trying to stifle his laughter; he didn't want to miss a word of their performance.

“Okay you two, that's enough of that goofing around,” Mrs. Weasley said, coming into the room. “Sirius, Remus, welcome to our humble home.”

But the twins weren't listening; they were both kneeling on the ground, crying and laughing at high volume.

“FRED! GEORGE! I SAID QUIT GOOFING AROUND!”

They stopped crying at once, grinning like a pair of Cheshire cats.

“Sorry Mum, just got a bit carried away,” said Fred.

“We're in the presence of gods, after all.”

“Mischievous gods, to join the ranks of Loki,”

“Eris,”

“Coyote,”

“And Crow.”

“All hail Moony and Padfoot, Gods of Pranking! HAIL! HAIL!”

ENOUGH!” Mrs. Weasley barked.

The twins stood up at once and looked at their feet, abashed.

“Sorry Mum,” they mumbled in stereo.

Ron and Ginny were laughing fit to burst at their antics. Harry lost control of himself and started to guffaw as well, and Sirius was actually turning blue, he was laughing so hard. Remus, who was simply grinning, helped Sirius up into a nearby armchair.

“What is going on in here?” asked the familiar, slightly bossy voice of Hermione. She had just entered the room.

“Nothing, dear, just the twins making fools of themselves again,” said Mrs. Weasley.

“Ah. A normal day at the Weasley house, then.”

When everyone had themselves back under control, Mrs. Weasley went into the kitchen, and Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny followed. Mrs. Weasley picked up her wand and started pointing it at things in preparation for cooking.

“We’re eating out in the garden,” she said when they came in. “There’s just not room for thirteen people in here. Could you take the plates outside, girls? Bill and Charlie are setting up the tables. Knives and forks, please, you two,” she said to Ron and Harry.

“Can I help, too, Molly?” asked Sirius.

Mrs. Weasley looked uncertain. Harry thought he knew why; Sirius was still a prankster, even though his pranks had been fairly mild since his release from Azkaban.

“I suppose so,” she said. “You and Remus can take the cups, and maybe the jugs of pumpkin juice as well, if you can.”

They were all getting their respective items while Mrs. Weasley cooked, having to stand in line for them in the small kitchen, when in the middle of pulling out extra saucepans, her wand emitted a loud squeak and turned into a giant rubber mouse.

“OH NOT AGAIN! One of their fake wands again!” she shouted. “How many times have I told them not to leave them lying around?”

She grabbed her real wand and turned around to find that the sauce on the stove was smoking.

“C’mon,” Ron said hurriedly to Harry, seizing a handful of cutlery from the open drawer, “let’s go and help Bill and Charlie.”

They left Mrs. Weasley and headed out the back door into the yard. Dodging Hermione's cat Crookshanks, Harry asked, “Fake wands?”

“The twins,” Ron said. “They're trying to start a business, joke shop sort of thing. Calling it 'Weasleys’ Wizard Wheezes.' Mum found this stack of order forms when she was cleaning Fred and George’s room,” said Ron quietly. “Great long price lists for stuff they’ve invented. Joke stuff, you know. Fake wands and trick sweets, loads of stuff. It was brilliant, I never knew they’d been inventing all that.”

“You talking about Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes?” Ginny asked, and they approached her and Hermione.

“Yeah,” said Ron.

“We’ve been hearing explosions out of their room for ages, but we never thought they were actually making things,” said Ginny. “We thought they just liked the noise.”

They had to pause their conversation then because Bill and Charlie were using their wands to float the tables in a game of mid-air dueling tables, creating loud bangs as the tables knocked into one another, each attempting to knock the other’s out of the air. Fred and George were cheering, Ginny was laughing, and Hermione was hovering near the hedge, apparently torn between amusement and anxiety.

Bill’s table caught Charlie’s with a huge bang and knocked one of its legs off. There was a clatter from overhead, and they all looked up to see Percy’s head poking out of a window on the second floor.

“Will you keep it down?!” he bellowed.

“Sorry, Perce,” said Bill, grinning. “How’re the cauldron bottoms coming on?”

“Very badly,” said Percy peevishly, and he slammed the window shut. Chuckling, Bill and Charlie directed the tables safely onto the grass, end to end, and then, with a flick of his wand, Bill reattached the table leg and conjured tablecloths from nowhere.

“Cauldron bottoms?” asked Harry.

“Yeah,” Ron said, groaning. “Percy's got a new job at the Ministry. Department of International Magical Cooperation. He'll talk your ears off about cauldron bottoms from foreign imports if you let him. Though with you, I suspect you'd enjoy listening to his prattle.”

“It does sound interesting,” Harry admitted. “At least, I'm curious why he's talking about them.”

“You can ask him later. Anyway, about the twins and their business; most of the stuff they were trying to sell — well, all of it, really — was a bit dangerous,” said Ron, “and, you know, they were planning to sell it at Hogwarts to make some money, and Mum went mad at them. Told them they weren’t allowed to make any more of it, and burned all the order forms. She’s furious at them anyway. They didn’t get as many O.W.L.s as she expected.”

Harry sighed. “Honestly, I know she wants them to have 'respectable' jobs, but destroying their property isn't right. And anyway, it's just going to make them even more determined to keep doing it.”

“What? Why d'ya think that?”

“Psychology. The science of how people think. People – at least the people in Western culture – tend to respond to forbidden things by pursuing them with even more passion. Make those same things permitted, though, and most people will lose interest, or at least they won't be nearly so tempted to try it.”

Ron's expression went pensive for a few moments, then he nodded. “Yeah, I can see that being true.”

“Anyway, so you said they didn't get enough O.W.L.s?”

“Oh yeah. Their Ordinary Wizarding Levels. I don't think they really tried, on most of them. The twins aren't stupid, especially not if they're inventing all sorts of cool things. But their plans don't require good grades. They did just well enough to keep from having to redo their O.W.L.s. It makes sense, I guess; they still want to learn more so they can invent more stuff, but they don't really care about N.E.W.T.s. All they need for their joke shop is money, which is really the only reason they're going back to Hogwarts at all.”

“Well I think they'll be brilliant at it,” said Harry. “Mind you, I've only seen their fake wands, but that was impressive enough.”

By seven o’clock, the two tables were groaning under dishes and dishes of Mrs. Weasley’s excellent cooking, and the nine Weasleys, Harry, Hermione, Sirius, and Lupin were settling themselves down to eat beneath a clear, deep-blue sky. Despite having two different house elves competing over who could make the best food for their employers back at home – and Harry took a moment to appreciate that he'd just thought of the house Sirius and he shared as home – this was paradise, and at first, Harry listened rather than talked as he helped himself to chicken and ham pie, boiled potatoes, and salad.

Harry had sat next to Percy, as he often did, and now that he had someone willing to listen to him, Percy was telling Harry all about his report on cauldron bottoms. Ron sat on Harry's other side, and Hermione and Ginny were down that way as well.

“I’ve told Ms. Selby – new head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation – that I’ll have it ready by Tuesday,” Percy was saying pompously. “That’s a bit sooner than she expected it, but I like to keep on top of things. I think she’ll be grateful I’ve done it in good time, I mean, it’s extremely busy in our department just now, what with all the arrangements for the World Cup. We’re just not getting the support we need from the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Ludo Bagman —”

“I like Ludo,” said Mr. Weasley mildly; he'd been sitting on Percy's other side. “He was the one who got us such good tickets for the Cup. I did him a bit of a favor: His brother, Otto, got into a spot of trouble — a lawnmower with unnatural powers — I smoothed the whole thing over.”

“Oh Bagman’s likable enough, of course,” said Percy dismissively, “but how he ever got to be Head of Department … when I compare him to Ms. Selby! I can’t see Ms. Selby losing a member of our department and not trying to find out what’s happened to them. You realize Bertha Jorkins has been missing for over a month now? Went on holiday to Albania and never came back?”

Harry's eyes widened, and he forced himself to swallow. “Someone who works at the Ministry has been missing for a whole month and her boss isn't looking for her? Why not?”

“Well,” Mr. Weasley said, “she is a bit of a hopeless case, keeps getting shuffled around from department to department, has for years. And she is known to get lost frequently.”

“Yes,” agreed Percy. “A bit more trouble than she's worth, but still, someone ought to be looking for her.”

“I'll say,” Harry said. “In the Muggle world, if someone goes missing for longer than a day or two, the police and rescue crews put out a manhunt looking for them. I don't know if they do it every time or not, but usually I think that's what they do.”

“Yes, I agree someone should be looking for her,” Mr. Weasley said. “Still, it's been very busy lately, what with the arrangements for the Quidditch World Cup. The Ministry doesn't really have the manpower to spare for a search and rescue, especially in another country. We're all running around like a bunch of headless cockatrices as it is. I was extremely lucky to get myself and Percy time off to watch the match.”

“Maybe Mr. Crouch can spare somebody in his sub-department, Father. Some of the other interpreters, you know. I mean, he's been taking a personal interest in her disappearance. She worked in our department at one time, you know, and I think Mr. Crouch was quite fond of her — but Bagman just keeps laughing and saying she probably misread the map and ended up in Australia instead of Albania. However” — Percy heaved an impressive sigh and took a deep swig of elderflower wine — “but you're right that we’ve got quite enough on our plates at the Department of International Magical Cooperation without trying to find members of other departments too. As you know, we’ve got another big event to organize right after the World Cup.”

Percy cleared his throat significantly and looked toward where Harry, Ron, and Hermione were sitting. “You know the one I’m talking about, Father.” He raised his voice slightly. “The top-secret one.”

Ron rolled his eyes and muttered to Harry and Hermione, “He’s been trying to get us to ask what that event is ever since he started work. Probably an exhibition of thick-bottomed cauldrons.”

In the middle of the table, Mrs. Weasley was arguing with Bill about his earring, which seemed to be a recent acquisition.

“… with a horrible great fang on it. Really, Bill, what do they say at the bank?”

“Mum, no one at the bank gives a damn how I dress as long as I bring home plenty of treasure,” said Bill patiently.

“I think it's cool,” Sirius said. “Where can I get one, Bill? It'd go great with my outfit.”

Mrs. Weasley looked at the two of them as though this proved her point exactly.

“And your hair’s getting silly, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, fingering her wand lovingly. “I wish you’d let me give it a trim.”

“He's young and rebellious, Molly, but he's of age. Leave him be,” Sirius said.

She glared daggers at him. “You mind your own business, or I'll make your two Black eyes into two black eyes,” she threatened, pointing her wand in his direction.

“I'm shutting up now, Molly,” Sirius said, putting his hands up in a placating gesture.

Next to Mrs. Weasley, Fred, George, and Charlie were all talking spiritedly about the World Cup.

“It’s got to be Ireland,” said Charlie thickly, through a mouthful of potato. “They flattened Peru in the semifinals.”

“Bulgaria has got Viktor Krum, though,” said Fred.

“Krum’s one decent player, Ireland has got seven,” said Charlie shortly. “I wish England had got through. That was embarrassing, that was.”

“Ye gods yes,” Sirius nearly shouted. “I listened to that game on the wireless, I nearly cried when it was over.”

“What happened?” asked Harry with mild curiosity.

“Went down to Transylvania, three hundred and ninety to ten,” said Charlie gloomily. “Shocking performance. And Wales lost to Uganda, and Scotland was slaughtered by Luxembourg.”

“Hey Harry,” Ron said. “Have any of your other friends mentioned coming to the World Cup?”

“I sent some owls off after our fire-call yesterday, and got them back by evening. Danzia's going, no surprise there. Angela's family are in Japan visiting relatives. Antigone is going, though. And so is Draco and his family.”

“Doubt we'll run into the Lovegoods, if they've already been there a week,” Mr. Weasley said. “Those are the cheapest tickets possible, I think, and we'll be in the top box. Draco being from a rich family, we'll probably see them there. Not sure about Antigone or Danzia, though.”

“Antigone's dad is an artificer, he makes cool wizarding devices. Given that he recently bought enough basilisk skin from Dumbledore to use as a down payment on a large mansion and then gave me one of the finished products as a gift, I imagine he'll either be in the top box or very near it.”

The people who hadn't been at Harry's birthday party – Mr. and Mrs. Weasley, Bill, and Charlie – gaped at him.

“Harry, Mr. Dreyfuss bought basilisk skin to make something for you? Why?” asked Mr. Weasley.

“In Antigone's words, her family is 'bloody loaded. Filthy rich.'”

Harry pulled something out of his pocket. It was the shield, shrunk.

“Can you do the honors, Sirius?”

“Sure thing, pup,” Sirius said, tapping the thing with his wand to make it return to its normal size.

Harry put it on his arm, top out away from his body, and stood a ways back from the table while everyone watched.

Volvere!”

With a loud SNAP, the basilisk-skin shield snapped open.

“WICKED!” the twins shouted in unison, even though they'd already seen it.

Harry closed it up again. “I thought I should bring it with me just in case. It's a magically-reinforced basilisk snake-skin shield.”

“Harry, that thing must be worth... well... more than Sirius's house!”

“Arthur,” Sirius said. “Apollyon Dreyfuss is the founder of Dreyfuss Artificing, so like Harry said, they're filthy rich. Probably richer than the Malfoys.”

“Also, Harry's a world famous celebrity, so him wearing that is great advertisement, not that they need it,” Ron said, remembering what they'd said on Harry's birthday.

“And he made seven of them in all, so doubtless he made a killing from the other six,” Sirius added. “Or will, in time.”

“Look at the time,” Mrs. Weasley said suddenly, checking her wristwatch. “You really should be in bed, the whole lot of you — you’ll be up at the crack of dawn to get to the Cup. Harry, if you leave your school list out, I’ll get your things for you tomorrow in Diagon Alley. I’m getting everyone else’s. There might not be time after the World Cup, the match went on for five days last time.”

“That shouldn't be a problem, Mrs. Weasley. We got most of my stuff already. All we weren't sure about was the History of Magic book.”

Mrs. Weasley used her wand to summon Ron's booklist and read it to herself.

“Well, Harry,” Mrs. Weasley said, “there's a new Defense book of course, always is every year, but it sounds like you have that. There's a new history book, too. It's called, 'An International Perspective on Magical History' by Jala Dreyfuss.”

Silence.

Then, after several heartbeats, “Dreyfuss?” Ron asked. “I wonder if that's any relation to Antigone?”

“She did say her mum is a pretty serious historian.”

“Oh hold on, there's a parenthesis here. Says the author of the book has pre-paid for 500 copies of the book at Flourish and Blotts, and students' families can pick up the copies they need for free. Well that's very generous of them.”

Harry's brow furrowed in thought. “The author donated 500 copies of the new book we need? Isn't that a bit convenient?”

“What are you thinking, Harry?” Ron asked.

“I'm not sure.”

“It must be someone very well off,” Hermione said.

The three of them looked at each other. “Antigone's mum?” they all said at once.

“What's that, dears?”

“Mrs. Weasley, we think the new History teacher might be Antigone's mum,” Harry said.

“Why do you think that?”

“She's a serious historian, she wrote that book, and her family is wealthy enough where paying for 500 books would barely register to them.”

“You know,” Sirius said thoughtfully, “I wouldn't be at all surprised if you're right, now that you mention it. I guess you'll find out for sure at the welcoming feast.”

“Or owl Antigone.”

“True. But in a week, you'll be on the school train. So you might as well ask then.”

“Well fascinating as this is, you all really do need to go to bed now,” Mrs. Weasley said, and hurried them inside.

~

Harry felt as though he had barely lain down to sleep in Ron’s room when he was being shaken awake by Mrs. Weasley.

“Time to go, Harry, dear,” she whispered, moving away to wake Ron.

Harry felt around for his glasses, put them on, and sat up. It was still dark outside. Ron muttered indistinctly as his mother roused him. At the foot of Harry’s mattress he saw two large, disheveled shapes emerging from tangles of blankets. It was the twins.

Groggily, they all got up. Sirius looked like he was sleepwalking, even though he'd managed to get dressed. He looked basically the same as yesterday, except he was wearing a Blue Oyster Cult t-shirt. As it turned out, Sirius, Mr. Weasley, and Mrs. Weasley were the only adults who were up. The rest were going to apparate to the game later and got to have a lie-in.

“Why can't we apparate?” Ron asked peevishly. “I mean, Dad could take me, Sirius could take Harry, Percy could take Hermione, Charlie could take the twins, and Bill could take Ginny. Then we wouldn't have to be up so bloody early!”

“Percy isn't licensed for side-along apparition, Ron,” Mrs. Weasley said. “And mind your tongue, young man!”

“So Remus could take Hermione, then. Or Dad could. Cummon, let us sleep some more!”

“He's got a point there, Molly. I'm barely functional. I won't be much good like this.”

“For Heaven's sake, you'll have tents. Catch up on your sleep when you get there, if it's so important. It's a lot safer to take a portkey than to have everyone going side-along. You can't get splinched by a portkey.”

“That's not a bad point. Okay, fine. We will. Since we're already up.”

After a breakfast of porridge, Harry got Mouse-Stalker to curl up around his arm under his sleeve, and they walked together to the portkey site, which was at the top of a huge hill so hard to climb that everyone had to rest a few minutes before they could look for the portkey. Someone else had already found it, though.

“Over here, Arthur! Over here, son, we’ve got it!”

Two tall figures were silhouetted against the starry sky on the other side of the hilltop.

“Amos!” said Mr. Weasley, smiling as he strode over to the man who had shouted. The rest of them followed.

Mr. Weasley was shaking hands with a ruddy-faced wizard with a scrubby brown beard, who was holding a moldy-looking old boot in his other hand.

“This is Amos Diggory, everyone,” said Mr. Weasley. “He works for the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. And I think you know his son, Cedric?”

Cedric Diggory was an extremely handsome boy of around seventeen. He was Captain and Seeker of the Hufflepuff House Quidditch team at Hogwarts.

“Hi,” said Cedric, looking around at them all.

Mr. Diggory looked at Sirius oddly.

“What?” Sirius asked.

“I don't think you should be advertising your religion like that where we're going, son,” he said, pointing at Sirius's shirt. “Most of these Muggles are Christians, you know, and just as rabid against anything they perceive as paganism as they are against magic.”

“It's a Muggle shirt, actually, and has nothing to do with religion. I'm an agnostic, myself. The shirt is a picture of one of the albums of a Muggle music group called Blue Oyster Cult. Occultism is becoming a fad in Muggle music, and has since the 70's at least.”

“What? Really? Hmm... well now you mention it, there was that one fellow, Crowley I think his name was? Wanted to reintroduce the Old Ways to the Muggles.”

“He had some success at that. One of his Muggle friends, Gerald Gardner, had more success though,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Quite, quite,” Amos said. “Sirius Black, correct?” he said, having turned back to Sirius.

“That's me.”

“Shame what happened to you, I can't quite believe it. Twelve years in prison with no trial! Dreadful, simply dreadful. It's a miracle you survived.”

“Yes, it is.”

Apparently at a loss for anything else to say to Sirius, due to the awkwardness of the situation, Amos Diggory peered good-naturedly around at the three Weasley boys, Harry, Hermione, and Ginny. “All these yours, Arthur?”

“Oh no, only the redheads,” said Mr. Weasley, pointing out his children. “This is Hermione, friend of Ron’s — and Harry, another friend —”

“Merlin’s beard,” said Amos Diggory, his eyes widening. “Harry? Harry Potter?”

“Er — yeah,” said Harry.

Harry was used to people looking curiously at him when they met him, used to the way their eyes moved at once to the lightning scar on his forehead, but it always made him feel uncomfortable.

“Harry here is the reason I'm free. He helped me catch Pettigrew, and had the foresight to take photos of the man before he escaped again.”

“And you're his godfather now, right?”

“Yes. We're living in my parents' old house. Of course, I had to have it professionally cleaned out. The place was a death trap even before it turned into a pigsty on top of that, my parents had so much dark stuff there. It's all gone, now, all destroyed or sold off if it was harmless enough. Like the silver goblets, I think Gringotts bought those.”

“Is it true you're being retrained as an auror?”

“Yes. I start training on the second of September. Kingsley Shacklebolt is going to be training me.”

“Excellent choice, he's a very capable wizard. Quite handsome, too. I may not be queer, but I can recognize a handsome man when I see one!”

“Must be nearly time,” said Mr. Weasley quickly, pulling out his watch again. “Do you know whether we’re waiting for any more, Amos?”

“No, the Lovegoods have been there for a week already and the Fawcetts couldn’t get tickets,” said Mr. Diggory. “There aren’t any more of us in this area, are there?”

“Not that I know of,” said Mr. Weasley. “Yes, it’s a minute off. … We’d better get ready.”

He looked around at Harry and Hermione.

“You just need to touch the Portkey, that’s all, a finger will do —” This must have been more for Hermione's sake, because Harry already knew that, having traveled by portkey before.

With difficulty, owing to their bulky backpacks, the ten of them crowded around the old boot held out by Amos Diggory. They all touched a finger to it, Mr. Weasley counted down, and off they went flying through the air after feeling like they'd been hooked behind their navels.

His feet slammed into the ground; Ron staggered into him and he fell over; the Portkey hit the ground near his head with a heavy thud.

Harry looked up. Mr. Weasley, Mr. Diggory, Sirius, and Cedric were still standing, though looking very windswept; everybody else was on the ground.

“Seven past five from Stoatshead Hill,” said a voice.

~

Once they got disentangled and Arthur had a quick conversation with the men tending the portkey station – one of whom was wearing a kilt and a poncho to Harry's confusion, they walked over to the campsite manager, one Mr. Roberts. Though they were registered under Mr. Weasley's name, Sirius – who was intimately familiar with Muggle stuff, having spent his after-Hogwarts years in mostly Muggle areas – paid the rent for the night.

Mr. Roberts rummaged around in a tin for some change.

“Never been this crowded,” he said suddenly, looking out over the misty field again. “Hundreds of pre-bookings. People usually just turn up. Strangest thing, too; some of 'em tried paying with great big gold coins big as hubcaps!”

“Is that right?” said Sirius, his hand held out for his change, but Mr. Roberts didn’t give it to him.

“Aye,” he said thoughtfully. “People from all over. Loads of foreigners. And not just foreigners. Weirdos, you know? There’s a bloke walking ’round in a kilt and a poncho.”

“Shouldn’t he?” said Mr. Weasley anxiously.

“It’s like some sort of … I dunno … like some sort of rally,” said Mr. Roberts. “They all seem to know each other. Like a big party.”

“Have you ever heard of a Renaissance fair?” Sirius asked.

“You mean where people dress up like knights and court ladies and jesters and whatnot?”

“Yes. This is a bit like that. Or like a fantasy convention. People dress in costumes, they talk geeky things with one another, and there's entertainment. The theme of this festival is that we're all pretending to be aliens who are trying to fit in with humans, and not all of us are very good at it. But the really funny costumes will come out when it's time for the big concert later.”

“I see,” Mr. Roberts said. “Well that makes sense, then. So these people having trouble with money are...”

“They're in character, of course. Their characters did just enough research to know gold was something highly valued, assumed it was human currency, then get flustered when they find they were wrong, you see?”

“I do see, now.” He chuckled. “Well isn't that just the funniest thing. Ah, yes, well I wish you all good luck with your entertainment, everyone. Na-nu na-nu and all that!”

He gave Sirius his change back and the map of the campsite, and they all went walking toward the campsite.

Once they were out of earshot, Mr. Weasley said, “That was a very clever story, Sirius. I think that man just avoided being obliviated thanks to you.”

Just ahead of them, there was a POP and a wizard in plus-fours stood there. “Quite right, Arthur,” he said. “Roberts has been giving us a lot of trouble. Needs a Memory Charm ten times a day to keep him happy. And Ludo Bagman’s not helping. Trotting around talking about Bludgers and Quaffles at the top of his voice, not a worry about anti-Muggle security. Though maybe now he'll be happier and it'll make our jobs easier. Thank you for that by the way, Mr. Black.”

“Call me Sirius.”

“Of course, Sirius. Anyway, I’ll be glad when this is over. See you later, Arthur.”

He Disapparated.

“I thought Mr. Bagman was Head of Magical Games and Sports,” said Ginny, looking surprised. “He should know better than to talk about Bludgers near Muggles, shouldn’t he?”

“He should,” said Mr. Weasley, smiling, and leading them through the gates into the campsite, “but Ludo’s always been a bit … well … lax about security. You couldn’t wish for a more enthusiastic head of the sports department though. He played Quidditch for England himself, you know. And he was the best Beater the Wimbourne Wasps ever had.”

They trudged up the misty field between long rows of tents. Most looked almost ordinary; their owners had clearly tried to make them as Muggle-like as possible, but had slipped up by adding chimneys, or bellpulls, or weather vanes. However, here and there was a tent so obviously magical that Harry could hardly be surprised that Mr. Roberts was getting suspicious. Halfway up the field stood an extravagant confection of striped silk like a miniature palace, with several live peacocks tethered at the entrance. A little farther on they passed a tent that had three floors and several turrets; and a short way beyond that was a tent that had a front garden attached, complete with birdbath, sundial, and fountain.

“Always the same,” said Mr. Weasley, smiling. “We can’t resist showing off when we get together. Ah, here we are, look, this is us.”

They had reached the very edge of the wood at the top of the field, and here was an empty space, with a small sign hammered into the ground that read WEEZLY.

“Couldn’t have a better spot!” said Mr. Weasley happily. “The field is just on the other side of the wood there, we’re as close as we could be.” He hoisted his backpack from his shoulders. “Right,” he said excitedly, “no magic allowed, strictly speaking, not when we’re out in these numbers on Muggle land. We’ll be putting these tents up by hand! Shouldn’t be too difficult. Muggles do it all the time. Here, Harry, where do you reckon we should start?”

“No idea. The Dursleys never went camping. Aunt Petunia hates nature because it's so dirty. I suppose I should count my blessings for that, though; if they did go camping, they would've taken me and left me to starve to death atop some mountain somewhere.”

“Here, Arthur. James and I went camping once. I think I remember how it works.”

In a matter of minutes, Sirius had the small tents up.

“Um... I don't think we're all going to fit in there.”

“Magic, Harry, remember?” Sirius told him.

“Oh.”

They went inside, and sure enough the place was bigger on the inside. He had walked into what looked like an old-fashioned, three-room flat, complete with bathroom and kitchen. Oddly enough, it was furnished in exactly the same sort of style as Mrs. Figg’s house: There were crocheted covers on the mismatched chairs and a strong smell of cats.

“Well, it’s not for long,” said Mr. Weasley, mopping his bald patch with a handkerchief and peering in at the four bunk beds that stood in the bedroom. “I borrowed this from Perkins at the office. Doesn’t camp much anymore, poor fellow, he’s got lumbago.”

He picked up the dusty kettle and peered inside it. “We’ll need water. …”

“There’s a tap marked on this map the Muggle gave us,” said Ron, who had followed Harry inside the tent and seemed completely unimpressed by its extraordinary inner proportions. “It’s on the other side of the field.”

“Well, why don’t you, Harry, and Hermione go and get us some water then” — Mr. Weasley handed over the kettle and a couple of saucepans — “and the rest of us will get some wood for a fire?”

“But we’ve got an oven,” said Ron. “Why can’t we just —”

“Ron, anti-Muggle security!” said Mr. Weasley, his face shining with anticipation. “When real Muggles camp, they cook on fires outdoors. I’ve seen them at it!”

“About that, Arthur, once you've got the wood, I have the tinder,” Sirius said, pulling from his pockets a strange assortment of things: a clump of steel wool, a rod of some sort of metal that looked like it had pieces cut from it, a piece of rock, a different metal rod, and a knife. He considered them all, put the first metal rod and the knife away.

“What's all that, then?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Steel wool, something Muggles make. Usually used to scrub hard-to-clean messes, it makes great tinder. The shaved metal rod was magnesium, but that stuff burns pretty hot and is hard to put out, so I decided against it. Too dry. If it was wet, we could use it; magnesium burns even wet wood. And this is a flint stone and a steel rod to strike against it. Makes sparks.”

Everyone wanting to see this, they all helped Mr. Weasley gather some wood. Soon they had a nice bundle, and Sirius arranged it, wedging the steel wool in there. Then he used the flint and steel rod to make lots of sparks that landed on the steel wool. It took him a few tries, but then the steel wool caught fire. Sirius was right, it made great tinder, because it burned hot enough and long enough that it caught the wood nicely on fire as well.

Mr. Weasley was gaping at this display. “Muggles know how to burn metal?”

“Yeah. Something about how steel wool is designed means it burns well as a side effect. And magnesium is a kind of metal that naturally burns pretty nicely with not a lot of encouragement. The trick is getting it out of the ground and purifying it first.”

“It's the surface area,” Harry said. “Of the steel wool, I mean. A chunk of steel like that rod won't easily burn, but as you saw, it does make sparks. The steel wool has lots of surface area, and is full of air, so it burns well because of those things.”

“Muggle science is so cool,” Ron said.

Fred turned to George and said, “Are you thinking what I'm thinking, George?”

“If you're thinking we need to get books about Muggle science, then I think so, Fred.”

“Well it's basic chemistry. The science of chemical reactions. Um... a bit like Potions, but cooler. And some chemical reactions involve powders and other dry stuff. Like burning steel wool.”

“Wicked! Definitely something for our list!”

When Mr. Weasley started making sausages over the fire, Sirius joined the kids to fetch some water from the tap. Fred and George moved next to Harry.

“Hey Harry,” Fred whispered to him. “Want to help us prank Sirius and test a Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes product at the same time?”

“What kind of a prank?”

“A harmless one. Here, just give him this toffee. Don't eat it yourself, obviously.”

“What does it do?”

“You'll see. It's harmless, but funny.”

“Why are you doing this?”

“A chance to prank a prankster? Especially the legendary Padfoot? Are you kidding me?”

“I see. Okay. Give me two, then, so I can pretend I'm gonna eat the other one.”

He took the toffees and decided to wait, as giving Sirius something so soon after talking with the twins might be suspicious.

They saw a great many things on their way to the tap. Little boy wizards and little girl witches, American wizards and witches, African wizards cooking over a purple fire, and much more. They briefly met Seamus Finnigan in what appeared to be the Irish quarter, where all the tents looked like green hills covered in shamrocks.

“All those shamrocks, Seamus,” Sirius said after they assured him they were supporting Ireland. “You should demand your money back, get some real rocks!” Then he barked with laughter at his own joke.

“Har har, never heard that one before in me life,” Seamus said sarcastically. “Anyway, you should see what the Bulgarians have on their tents.”

They said their farewells to the Irish, and moved on. They did indeed see the Bulgarian tents, which were covered in wizard posters of Viktor Krum, though you couldn’t really tell they were wizarding photos because he wasn't moving much. Just some blinking and scowling.

“He looks really grumpy,” said Hermione, looking around at the many Krums blinking and scowling at them.

“ ‘Really grumpy’?” Ron raised his eyes to the heavens. “Who cares what he looks like? He’s unbelievable. He’s really young too. Only just eighteen or something. He’s a genius, you wait until tonight, you’ll see.”

They finally got to the queue for the tap. While they waited, two men were arguing nearby. One of them was a very old wizard who was wearing a long flowery nightgown. The other was clearly a Ministry wizard; he was holding out a pair of pinstriped trousers and almost crying with exasperation.

“Just put them on, Archie, there’s a good chap. You can’t walk around like that, the Muggle at the gate’s already getting suspicious —”

“I bought this in a Muggle shop,” said the old wizard stubbornly. “Muggles wear them.”

“Muggle women wear them, Archie, not the men, they wear these,” said the Ministry wizard, and he brandished the pinstriped trousers.

“I’m not putting them on,” said old Archie in indignation. “I like a healthy breeze ’round my privates, thanks.”

“He can wear what he likes,” Sirius said. “I gave the Mr. Roberts a good excuse about what we're doing here, that we're pretending to be aliens trying and failing to blend in among humans. He'll just think Archie is wearing a costume.”

“Plus, I've seen Muggles wearing more outlandish stuff than that as everyday wear,” Harry added.

The Ministry wizard gave up, Archie looking quite smug.

“Thank you, sonny. What's your name?”

Sirius held out a hand. “I'm Sirius Black.”

Archie looked panic-stricken for a moment. Before he could start shouting, though, Sirius added, “You know, the innocent man who was recently released from Azkaban?”

Archie calmed down at once. “Oh yes, I remember that now. Sorry, old habits you know.”

“I understand,” Sirius said.

Soon, they had their turn at the tap. Walking more slowly now because of the weight of the water, they made their way back through the campsite. Here and there, they saw more familiar faces: other Hogwarts students with their families. Oliver Wood, the old captain of Griffindor House Quidditch team (according to the twins, who were on the team). Wood had just left Hogwarts, dragged Harry over to his parents’ tent to introduce him, and told him excitedly that he had just been signed to the Puddlemere United reserve team. Next they were hailed by Ernie Macmillan, a Hufflepuff fourth year.

Harry caught a brief bit of French as they passed some teenagers. “I wonder if they go to Beauxbatons,” Harry said.

“To what now?” Ron asked.

“Beauxbatons Academy, one of the other major European schools of magic,” Harry said. “I read about it in a book Percy got me.”

“Oh yeah, I 'spect they are,” Ron said in a bored sort of voice. “You know, Bill once had a penfriend at a school in Brazil – this was years and years ago – and he wanted to go on an exchange trip but Mum and Dad couldn’t afford it. His penfriend got all offended when he said he wasn’t going and sent him a cursed hat. It made his ears shrivel up.”

Within a few more minutes, they got back to the campsite, where Mr. Weasley was cooking some sausages and eggs. They dropped off the water and went into their respective tents to get some more sleep until the match.

~

A few hours later, Mr. Weasley woke them all up. Bill, Charlie, Remus, and Percy had all arrived and Mr. Weasley was making more sausages, and a pot of coffee was bubbling away on the fire. Though they'd only gotten a few more hours sleep, it was enough added to their previous sleep. Everyone sat around the fire awaiting breakfast, talking as Mr. Weasley served everyone, starting with the girls. When it was Harry's turn, he gave Mouse-Stalker a bit of sausage, once it had cooled down to body temperature. The snake said he liked it, but preferred mice.

Mr. Weasley was in the middle of a conversation with Ludo Bagman when Luna showed up, looking like she'd wandered over after being lost. Harry almost didn't recognize her, because she was dressed as a leprechaun, complete with red beard and sideburns. Her green suit and green top hat were rather ridiculous, it made Harry smile.

“Over here, Luna,” he said, patting the ground next to him.

“Thank you, Harry.”

“Let me guess,” Sirius said, looking thoughtful. “You're supporting... Bulgaria?”

“No, silly; I'm supporting Ireland.”

“Yes! Quite! I thought that outfit looked familiar for some reason,” Sirius said, winking at her.

Mr. Weasley handed Luna some eggs and sausage, which she took with a grateful bow, pulling her beard off to eat without dirtying it.

Ludo Bagman and Mr. Weasley then continued their conversation.

“Anyway, Arthur, if you see Mr. Crouch, let me know will you? I know he's around here somewhere, and I need an interpreter, my Bulgarian opposite number’s making difficulties, and I can’t understand a word he’s saying. Barty’ll be able to sort it out. He speaks about a hundred and fifty languages.”

“I still can't believe he didn't he get fired for his role in my wrongful incarceration,” Sirius said, annoyed.

“Yes, it was a very near thing,” Mr. Weasley said. “But they decided if things were hectic enough even Dumbledore overlooked it, that they just demoted him. He's no longer the head of the Department of International Magical Cooperation, he's been demoted to an interpreter. I guess his language skills were too important.”

Sirius frowned. “Yes, I'm not terribly happy with Dumbledore about that, either.”

“Barty's an interpreter now you say? Ah, well, he should still be around then in any case,” Ludo said. “Any idea who's the new head? I haven't been to the office for a few days until just before coming here, and that was just to pick something up quick.”

“They've promoted Caroline Selby to Head of that department,” Mr. Weasley said.

“Ah yes, Caroline, I like her. First time we met, she had me sign her, ah... well, she's a fan, let's leave it at that.”

“Yes, she is rather intense at times, but she's good at her job.”

“That she is, that she is.” Bagman turned to Percy. “Ah yes, Percy Weasley, I believe you work in the DIMC as well, do you not?”

Percy, beaming, nodded. “Yes sir, I do. Just started this summer, after school ended.”

“Good lad, good lad,” Bagman said.

Bagman turned to Mr. Weasley again. “Fancy a flutter on the match, Arthur?” he said eagerly, jingling what seemed to be a large amount of gold in the pockets of his yellow-and-black robes. “I’ve already got Roddy Pontner betting me Bulgaria will score first — I offered him nice odds, considering Ireland’s front three are the strongest I’ve seen in years — and little Agatha Timms has put up half shares in her eel farm on a week-long match.”

“Oh … go on then,” said Mr. Weasley. “Let’s see … a Galleon on Ireland to win?”

“A Galleon?” Ludo Bagman looked slightly disappointed, but recovered himself. “Very well, very well … any other takers?”

Sirius shook his head. “I know your reputation, Ludo; I don't trust you'll pay anyone back.”

Fred and George had been counting money, doubtless to make a bet, and looked disappointed at this news, putting their money away.

“Oh come now, Lord Black, I'm good for it. I admit I had some asset liquidity issues a while back, but that's all settled now.”

“Not buying it. And even though I'm a Lord now, don't call me Lord Black. Call me Sirius.”

“Er, sure, Sirius.”

“Any news of Bertha Jorkins yet, Ludo?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“Not a dicky bird,” said Bagman comfortably. “But she’ll turn up. Poor old Bertha... memory like a leaky cauldron and no sense of direction. Lost, you take my word for it. She’ll wander back into the office sometime in October, thinking it’s still July.”

“You don’t think it might be time to send someone to look for her?” Mr. Weasley suggested tentatively as Percy handed Bagman his tea.

“Barty Crouch keeps saying that,” said Bagman, his round eyes widening innocently, “but we really can’t spare anyone at the moment. Oh — talk of the devil! Barty!”

A wizard had just apparated at their fireside, and he could not have made more of a contrast with Ludo Bagman, sprawled on the grass in his old Wasp robes. Barty Crouch was a stiff, upright, elderly man, dressed in an impeccably crisp suit and tie. The parting in his short gray hair was almost unnaturally straight, and his narrow toothbrush mustache looked as though he trimmed it using a slide rule. His shoes were very highly polished. Mr. Crouch had complied with the rule about Muggle dressing so thoroughly that he could have passed for a bank manager; Harry doubted even Uncle Vernon would have spotted him for what he really was.

“Pull up a bit of grass, Barty,” said Ludo brightly, patting the ground beside him.

“No thank you, Ludo,” said Crouch, and there was a bite of impatience in his voice. “I’ve been looking for you everywhere. The Bulgarians are insisting we add another twelve seats to the Top Box.”

“Oh is that what they’re after?” said Bagman. “I thought the chap was asking to borrow a pair of tweezers. Bit of a strong accent.”

“Are you trying to tell us members of the Bulgarian government, specifically sent here to help you lot with this business, can't speak English? I think they're having you on, Mr. Bagman,” Harry said.

“Oh come now, Mr. Potter, they wouldn't do that! These are important government officials, they're quite serious!”

“I quite agree, Ludo,” Mr. Crouch said, looking like he'd rather not be agreeing with Bagman.

Harry thought about pointing out that Mr. Bagman wasn't exactly taking his job seriously, but decided against it. Not with Mr. Crouch there, anyway.

Mr. Crouch talked with Mr. Weasley for a bit as well, something about a man wanting to import flying carpets into the country, and they talked of that for a while. Then Bagman mentioned something else they were organizing later, at Hogwarts. That got everyone's curiosity up, but the two men wouldn't answer. Nor would Mr. Weasley.

Just before they were about to go, Mr. Crouch turned to Harry, looking at him oddly. “My boy, it's the end of August, why are you wearing earmuffs?”

Harry's face twitched. “I'd really prefer if you didn't call me 'boy,' sir.”

Mr. Crouch frowned. “And why not? You are a boy, not a man yet.”

“Complicated emotional-baggage reasons, sir.”

“Harry here was raised by Muggles,” Sirius said. “And Muggle racism is a bit different than ours. 'Boy' is an offensive thing to call someone with his skin tone, in their world. The Muggles who raised him were racist against him for multiple reasons.”

“I see. Well I apologize, Mr. Potter. I was unaware of that fact, and I meant no disrespect.”

“Apology accepted,” Harry said.

“Still, you didn't answer my question. About the earmuffs.”

“It's very noisy here. I have several sets of these earmuffs; this one blocks out all noise but lets in the voices of those nearby me. If I didn't have them on, I'd be curled in a ball with a migraine.”

“I see,” he said, nodding. “Anyway, I must be going. I have more interpreting work to do,” he said, sounding disgusted that he'd been reduced to such a lowly position.

With that, he stood up and disapparated with a slight POP.

Bagman stood up as well. Before he could go, Harry said, “Mr. Bagman sir?”

“Yes Harry? You wanted something?”

“I was just curious if you could upgrade the tickets of my friend Luna and her father to Top Box tickets? I can pay the difference, if it helps.”

“Oh my dear b—er, young man, no no, there's no need to pay. Anything for Harry Potter, anything at all. Yes, I believe we do have a couple more seats available up there. Yes, bring them both along, that's fine by me. Here you are,” he said, handing Harry a couple more tickets. “Lucky, that, really; I think those are the last two available. A couple of minor Irish dignitaries were going to come, but they dropped out at the last minute, something about their daughter catching dragon pox, I think. Anyway, I'll see you lot in a bit. Ta-ta!”

With that, he apparated away.

“Oh Harry, you didn't need to do that,” Luna said.

“I know I didn't. But as much as I hate being famous, if I can use it to do something good for a friend, why not?”

Sirius smirked at Harry. Harry pointedly ignored him, but knew Sirius was still smirking at him. Remus was as well. Harry let some time pass until Sirius stopped smirking at him, then a bit more. He hadn't seriously been considering pranking his godfather, but after that, well, it was so much easier. Remembering the trick sweet the twins gave him, he took one out after Sirius was done eating and said, “Fancy a sweet? I'm having one too.” He showed Sirius the other one.

“Oh alright then,” Sirius said, trusting his godson, and took the sweet.

The twins were pretending they weren't watching as Sirius popped the candy in his mouth, chewed, and swallowed. There was a brief pause, and then...

“AHH!” Sirius shouted, standing straight up. His tongue was swelling, growing to enormous size, quickly getting big enough where he could've licked the back of his own head if he'd wanted to, and just kept getting bigger, as Harry, Ginny, and the twins burst out laughing. Ron looked horrified at first, then spotting everyone laughing, joined in. Remus chuckled at his friend's expense. Hermione was even having a hard time keeping her laughter in. Luna was giggling so hard she was leaning against Harry.

“Not to worry, Sirius, I'll shrink it for you,” Mr. Weasley said, pointing his wand at the massive thing. He said some incantation Harry didn't catch, and the tongue started shrinking back to its normal size.

“Bleh, I tasted grass and my own clothes there for a moment,” Sirius said before rounding on Harry and glaring at him, his fists on his hips.

“That was a mean and nasty trick, Harry James Potter!”

Harry froze, worried. “Um...”

Sirius burst out laughing, laughing so hard he fell over. When he got it out of his system, he stood up and said, “Well, I'll just have to get you back for that at some point!”

“Get back at the twins, too; they put me up to it.”

Fred made a pained noise, then began melodramatically wailing. George said, “Traitorous tattle-tale! What did we ever do to deserve this treachery?”

“Do you want a list? Because I can get a pretty good one going for this week alone,” Harry said.

The twins smiled. “Nah, that's fine Harry, we don't mind being pranked by the legendary Padfoot!”

After the last of their food was eaten and the adults filled up on coffee, Harry and the other kids, Remus, and Sirius got up and started wandering around. As the match got closer, people stopped hiding their magic as much, and there were even salespeople apparating every few feet selling merchandise and souvenirs.

“Been saving my pocket money all summer for this,” Ron told Harry as they all strolled through the salesmen, buying souvenirs. Though Ron purchased a dancing shamrock hat and a large green rosette, he also bought a small figure of Viktor Krum, the Bulgarian Seeker. The miniature Krum walked backward and forward over Ron’s hand, scowling up at the green rosette above him. Sirius got an Ireland Quidditch team shirt and dancing shamrock hat, as well as paying a face painter to paint all their faces with the Irish team's colors and symbols. He insisted on getting the same for Remus, over his objections. Harry, for his part, got a hat for himself and an action-figure sized hat for Mouse-Stalker, which he attached to the snake's head with a sticking charm. It made Mouse-Stalker look absolutely adorable.

“Wow, look at these!” said Harry, hurrying over to a cart piled high with what looked like brass binoculars, except that they were covered with all sorts of weird knobs and dials.

“Omnioculars,” said the saleswizard eagerly. “You can replay action … slow everything down … and they flash up a play-by-play breakdown if you need it. Bargain — ten Galleons each.”

“Wish I hadn’t bought this now,” said Ron, gesturing at his dancing shamrock hat and gazing longingly at the Omnioculars.

“Ten galleons?” Harry said, confused. “But a wand is only seven, and there's a lot of hard work that goes into those. Not that omnioculars don't have a lot of work put into them too, but they're still less work than a wand.”

“Actually, no they don't just cost 7 galleons,” Sirius said. “Hogwarts subsidizes a student's first wand. They're actually 47 galleons. If you ever get a second wand, you pay full price.”

Everyone gaped at Sirius. “Forty-seven galleons?” Ron said. “Thank gods for that subsidization, then. Without it--- wait a minute, Mum only paid seven galleons for my new wand in the summer before third year!”

“Your first wand was second-hand, thought, right? So that would have counted as your first school wand.”

“Oh. Right.”

“I'll take eight pairs,” Sirius said.

At the objections of the Weasleys, Harry said, “Sirius is loaded, right Sirius?”

“Yes. Nowhere near as rich as Antigone's family, but right up there with the Malfoys. And it amuses me to think what my mother would say if she knew I was spending the family gold on omnioculars for a bunch of 'blood traitors' and a Muggle-born.” Seeing their continued uncomfortable looks, he said, “If it helps, consider them an early Christmas present.”

“Oooh, thanks, Sirius,” said Hermione. “And I’ll get us some programs, look —”

“So who were you two going to bet on to win?” Harry asked the twins.

“We were going to bet Ireland would win, but Krum would get the snitch. Too bad Bagman's not trustworthy.”

Their money bags considerably lighter, they went back to the tents. Bill, Charlie, and Ginny were all sporting green rosettes too, and Mr. Weasley was carrying an Irish flag. Fred and George had on hats and face paints as well, but were keeping most of their money for their joke shop business.

And then a deep, booming gong sounded somewhere beyond the woods, and at once, green and red lanterns blazed into life in the trees, lighting a path to the field.

“It’s time!” said Mr. Weasley, looking as excited as any of them. “Come on, let’s go!”

~

Clutching their purchases, Mr. Weasley in the lead, they all hurried into the wood, following the lantern-lit trail. They could hear the sounds of thousands of people moving around them, shouts and laughter, snatches of singing; well, everyone but Harry could hear them, since he was wearing his earmuffs. The atmosphere of feverish excitement was highly infectious anyway; Harry couldn’t stop grinning. They walked through the wood for twenty minutes, talking and joking loudly, until at last they emerged on the other side and found themselves in the shadow of a gigantic stadium. Though Harry could see only a fraction of the immense gold walls surrounding the field, he could tell that ten cathedrals would fit comfortably inside it.

In addition to his earmuffs, Harry also had on some sunglasses that could be turned off and on, letting him see when he wanted to and blocking things out when he didn't. He held hands with Luna as they all went up into the Top Box, which was empty except for a house-elf in the row behind them. But it wasn't Dobby, and it wasn't Netty. The elf had its face hidden in its hands, so he didn't know who it was.

“Hello,” he said, holding out his hand. “I'm Harry. Who are you?”

The elf stretched its fingers, revealing enormous brown eyes and a nose the exact size and shape of a large tomato. It looked at Harry's hand in confusion, then at Harry's forehead.

“Harry Potter?” squeaked the elf curiously from between its fingers. Its voice was higher even than Dobby’s had been, a teeny, quivering squeak of a voice, and Harry suspected — though it was very hard to tell with a house-elf — that this one might just be female, like Netty, but probably younger given the high-pitched voice. He wasn't sure, though; elf voices were all pretty high pitched. “Is you Harry Potter?”

“Yes I is--I mean am. And who are you?”

“Er... I is Winky, sir.” She stared at his hand. “Why is you holding your hand out, sir?”

“I thought wizards knew what handshakes were.”

“Yes, they does, but none has ever wanted to shake hands with Winky, sir.”

“Well I would,” he said. “I'm pleased to meet you, Winky.”

“Er,” she said, taking his hand in one of hers. It was like shaking hands with a five year old, if five year olds had very long fingers. “Winky is pleased to meet Harry Potter as well, sir. Dobby is talking about you all the time, sir. Netty speaks of you sometimes too. Does you know them?”

Shaking her hand and then letting go, Harry said, “Yes, Dobby and Netty are friends of mine.”

Winky's eyes looked wide under her fingers, with were all covering her eyes again. “You is friends? With house elves?”

“Yes, I am.”

“Dobby is telling Winky, sir, that he is working for Sirius Black, with the house elf Kreacher, and that you is living with Sirius Black now. Is that being true, sir?”

“Yes, Dobby was telling the truth. He and Kreacher have something of a rivalry going on between them. So how do you know Dobby, Winky?”

“Oh, all house elves in Britain and Scotland and Wales is knowing each other, sir.”

“Ah, I see.”

Luna turned around and knelt into the chair next to him, her father sitting down on her other side and turning around too. Luna held her hand out to Winky.

“Hello Winky,” she said. “It's a pleasure to meet you. I'm Luna Lovegood.”

Winky reluctantly shook Luna's hand, immediately covering her eyes up again. “It's a pleasure to meet you too, miss. Is you a friend of Harry Potter?”

“Yes, we've been friends for years.”

Harry nodded. Winky smiled a little.

“Why are you hiding your lovely eyes, Winky?” Luna asked.

“I is not liking heights at all, sir and miss” — she glanced toward the edge of the box and gulped — “but my master sends me to the Top Box and I comes, sir.”

“Why’s he sent you up here, if he knows you don’t like heights?” said Harry, frowning.

“Master — master wants me to save him a seat, Harry Potter. He is very busy,” said Winky, tilting her head toward the empty space beside her. “Winky is wishing she is back in master’s tent, Harry Potter, but Winky does what she is told. Winky is a good house-elf.”

She gave the edge of the box another frightened look and hid her eyes completely again. Harry and Luna turned back to the others.

“She's not being entirely honest,” Luna muttered to Harry. “I don't think her master intends to come up at all, whoever he is. She's here for some other reason, I just don't know why.”

“Well he must have told her to come up here, otherwise she wouldn't be here. You saw how terrified of heights she is.”

Luna shrugged. “Well it's a mystery. We'd need more information to solve it.”

“Hello again, Mr. Lovegood,” Harry said, waving at Xeno.

“Hello to you as well, Mr. Potter. Thank you for getting us seats up here. It's quite swanky. Don't tell anyone but, er, I scalped our old tickets.”

Harry chuckled at that. “They won't hear it from me.”

The box filled gradually around them over the next half hour. Mr. Weasley kept shaking hands with people who were obviously very important wizards. Percy jumped to his feet so often that he looked as though he were trying to sit on a hedgehog. When Cornelius Fudge, the Minister of Magic himself, arrived, Percy bowed so low that his glasses fell off and shattered. (Harry made a mental note to remind Percy about sticking charms.) Highly embarrassed, Percy repaired them with his wand and thereafter remained in his seat. Minister Fudge came along then, and greeted Harry as though they were friends, which confused Harry because they'd never actually met before.

“Harry Potter, you know,” he told the Bulgarian minister loudly, who was wearing splendid robes of black velvet trimmed with gold and didn’t seem to understand a word of English. “Harry Potter … oh come on now, you know who he is … the boy who survived You-Know-Who … you do know who he is —”

The Bulgarian wizard suddenly spotted Harry’s scar and started gabbling loudly and excitedly, pointing at it.

Xeno looked like he wanted to say something, but just smiled knowingly and sat back in his seat.

“Knew we’d get there in the end,” said Fudge wearily to Harry. “I’m no great shakes at languages; I need Barty Crouch for this sort of thing. Ah, I see his house-elf’s saving him a seat. … Good job too, these Bulgarian blighters have been trying to cadge all the best places … ah, and here’s Lucius!”

Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Luna turned to see Mr. and Mrs. Malfoy and Draco edging along the row towards them. Draco waved at Harry, his parents giving each other disgusted and long-suffering looks as he did. There was a seat on Hermione's other side, and Draco sat down there. He tried talking to Harry from there, but Hermione, Xeno, and Luna were between him and Harry. There weren't any other seats, either; Ron was on Harry's other side, and Sirius was just past Ron, the other Weasleys and Remus were in the next row down.

“He says he's surprised to see you here,” Luna relayed to Harry. “Harry, I think he's out of range of your earmuffs.”

Harry pulled one of the muffs aside, and immediately put it back at the sudden inundation of noise.

“Well I guess we can always meet up after the match,” Harry said. “Tell him that for me.”

She relayed the message to him through Hermione, and Draco sent back a thumbs-up of understanding.

“Ah, Fudge,” said Mr. Malfoy from the row behind them. “How are you? I don’t think you’ve met my wife, Narcissa? Or our son, Draco?”

“How do you do, how do you do?” said Fudge, smiling and nodding to Mrs. Malfoy. “And allow me to introduce you to Mr. Oblansk — Obalonsk — Mr. — well, he’s the Bulgarian Minister of Magic, and he can’t understand a word I’m saying anyway, so never mind. And let’s see who else — you know Arthur Weasley, I daresay?”

It was a tense moment. Mr. Weasley and Mr. Malfoy looked at each other and Harry vividly recalled the last time they had come face-to-face: It had been in Flourish and Blotts’ bookshop, and they had had a fight. Mr. Malfoy’s cold gray eyes swept over Mr. Weasley, and then up and down the row.

“Yes, I know him,” Mr. Malfoy said with a disgusted look on his face, but for once he didn't have anything mean to say. Instead, he just ignored Mr. Weasley.

Fudge said, “Lucius has just given a very generous contribution to St. Mungo’s Hospital for Magical Maladies and Injuries, Arthur. He’s here as my guest.”

“How — how nice,” said Mr. Weasley, with a very strained smile.

Mr. Malfoy’s eyes had returned to Hermione, who went slightly pink, but stared determinedly back at him. Harry knew exactly what was making Mr. Malfoy’s lip curl like that; for all he was allying himself with them for Draco's sake, he was still a pureblood bigot. Draco glared at his father, who looked at his son, huffed air out of his nose in annoyance, and proceeded to ignore Hermione as well.

Luna turned to the Bulgarian Minister of Magic and started gabbling at him in Bulgarian. The man soon had the bemused look most people got from talking with Luna. Fudge looked excitedly at her, glad to have another interpreter. No doubt Luna was asking Mr. Oblansk something strange, like whether or not he thought crumple-horned snorcacks were real, or maybe asking if there were any sightings of satyrs or other Faery creatures in Bulgaria lately.

“Your friend knows Bulgarian, Mr. Potter?” Fudge asked.

“It appears she does.”

“Well that's a relief. I can't find Mr. Crouch anywhere. What's your friend's name?”

“Luna Lovegood.”

“Miss Lovegood, what are they saying?”

“Oh, we're having a lovely conversation about the Bulgarian three-toed fire weasel, Mr. Fudge. It's quite rare, been endangered for years.”

“I don't think I've ever heard of it.”

“Neither has Mr. Obalansk. A pity, that. But I guess he's got a department that handles things like protecting endangered animals for him.”

Before he could hear Fudge's response, Harry saw Antigone and her parents go past him farther up the box. She waved at him, and he waved back. So did Luna and Ron and Hermione. But that was all they could do; she was too far away to even hope to talk with her from here.

Ludo Bagman charged into the box then.

“Everyone ready?” he said, his round face gleaming like a great, excited Edam. “Minister — ready to go?”

“Ready when you are, Ludo,” said Fudge comfortably.

Ludo whipped out his wand, directed it at his own throat, and said “Sonorus!” and then spoke over the roar of sound that was now filling the packed stadium; his voice echoed over them, booming into every corner of the stands. The voice was loud in Harry's ears, but not too much so; Harry suspected the earmuffs were muffling the magically amplified voice.

“Ladies and gentlemen … welcome! Welcome to the final of the four hundred and twenty-second Quidditch World Cup!”

The spectators screamed and clapped. Thousands of flags waved, adding their discordant national anthems to the racket. The huge blackboard opposite them was wiped clear of its last message (Bertie Bott’s Every Flavor Beans — A Risk With Every Mouthful!) and now showed BULGARIA: 0, IRELAND: 0.

“And now, without further ado, allow me to introduce … the Bulgarian National Team Mascots!”

The right-hand side of the stands, which was a solid block of scarlet, roared its approval.

“I wonder what they’ve brought,” said Mr. Weasley, leaning forward in his seat. “Aaah!” He suddenly whipped off his glasses and polished them hurriedly on his robes. “Veela!

“What are veel — ?”

But a hundred veela were now gliding out onto the field, and Harry’s question was answered for him. Veela were women. Or at least, they looked like women. Harry looked at them through his omnioculars. They appeared to be dancing and singing, but of course Harry couldn't hear them. But something about the dancing... it was doing something funny to his brain that he didn't like, so he shut his eyes and put the omnioculars down.

“RON!” Hermione shouted, and Harry opened his eyes in time to see her pulling Ron back into his seat as he tried climbing down to jump at the veela.

Angry yells were filling the stadium. The crowd didn’t want the veela to go. Draco had tried getting up, but his mother had stopped him; Mr. Malfoy had his fingers in his ears and was glaring at the veela. Ron was absent-mindedly shredding the shamrocks on his hat. Mr. Weasley, smiling slightly, leaned over to Ron and tugged the hat out of his hands.

“You’ll be wanting that,” he said, “once Ireland have had their say.”

“Huh?” said Ron, staring openmouthed at the veela, who had now lined up along one side of the field.

Hermione made a loud tutting noise. She reached up and pulled Harry back into his seat. “Honestly!” she said.

“Hermione,” Luna said in her dreamy voice, “Ron can't help it. Veela magic is very seductive to most men. And some women, too. It's a magical compulsion, very powerful.”

Hermione rolled her eyes but didn't argue the point; even she could see Luna was right this time.

The Irish team mascots were, of course, leprechauns, like Luna's bearded costume. Clouds of tiny little men in green outfits floated around making shapes with their bodies, like a murmuration of sapient starlings made of green sparkly light. They tossed gold onto the people below them, and the fact that nobody got knocked out or killed by the falling gold clued Harry in to the fact it was fake even before Sirius could confirm it, to Ron's chagrin.

And then the players were introduced. Soon after, the game begun. Harry had to hide his face on occasion, but mostly he'd been right that watching people he had no emotional investment in, professional adult players who knew the dangers involved, was a lot easier. Didn't stop him from getting queasy when the Irish seeker hit the ground so hard he had to be revived by medi-wizards. Harry was thankful magical people were sturdier than Muggles, or any one of those would have killed the man.

It was a fast game, too. Bagman only had time to say the names of the players the quaffle had been passed to, and occasional comments on fouls and scores. Ireland's team was so much better than the Bulgarian team that the game quickly became heated, to the point that the mascots fought each other and the veela threw fireballs at the referee, who tried having them sent off. In the end, it got so bad that Krum caught the snitch even though it wouldn't help his team win, and it seemed the twins had been right in the bet they never got to make.

Everyone was cheering, even Harry, whose earmuffs had slipped long enough to give him a slight headache from all the noise before he got them back on. On the way back to the tents, he had his sunglasses on and blocking all his vision as Sirius and Mr. Weasley took him by the arms and guided him along like a blind man to the tents.

Endnotes: Again had to cut the chapter “short,” sorry. Lot going on in the next bit.



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