Harry Potter and the Trouble With Neurotypicals 30

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, but there's a lot more in this one than usual because it was unavoidable. Still, lots of details are changed, so don't skip by familiar parts or you might miss something.

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.'

Sorry this took so long, my life is full of issues. Depression, IBS, writer's block, etc.

Chapter Six: Back in Black

Something occurred to Harry when he woke up that morning, and he bolted out of bed and found Sirius, who was already cooking breakfast.

“What's the matter, pup?”

“Mrs. Weasley doesn't know we're safe! What if she reads the paper and worries about us? And then there's that clock of hers!”

“Don't worry, I thought of that myself last night and sent her a patronus message about it. 'Spot of bother at the match, might be in the paper. Don't worry, we're all safe. Nobody got seriously hurt.' Good message?”

“A great one, thanks for thinking of her. Wish I'd thought of it myself.”

Sirius tousled his hair. “Not a problem. Her kids were involved. If something happened and you were involved, I'd want to know as soon as possible.”

Harry smiled at this, and speared a sausage on his fork.

When everyone else was up, they all ate as fast as possible, and the tents got put away and stowed so they could get an early portkey back to the Burrow as quick as they could. Mrs. Weasley was still worried despite Sirius's message, and chided him for saying the Dark Mark showing up at the match was “a spot of bother,” but it could have been a lot worse. The event did indeed get into the paper; no doubt Skeeter had been to cover the match anyway and took advantage of the chaos to write an article about it titled “SCENES OF TERROR AT THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP,” complete with a twinkling black-and-white photograph of the Dark Mark over the treetops.

Bill handed his father the newspaper. Mr. Weasley scanned the front page while Percy looked over his shoulder.

“I knew it,” said Mr. Weasley heavily. “Ministry blunders … culprits not apprehended … lax security … Dark wizards running unchecked … national disgrace … Who wrote this? Ah, of course … Rita Skeeter.”

“That woman’s got it in for the Ministry of Magic!” said Percy furiously. “Last week she was saying we’re wasting our time quibbling about cauldron thickness, when we should be stamping out vampires! As if it wasn’t specifically stated in paragraph twelve of the Guidelines for the Treatment of Non-Wizard Part-Humans —”

“Do us a favor, Perce,” said Bill, yawning, “and shut up.”

“Xeno's mentioned,” Mr. Weasley said. “Listen to this: 'If the terrified wizards and witches who waited breathlessly for news at the edge of the wood expected reassurance from the Ministry of Magic, they were sadly disappointed. A Ministry official emerged some time after the appearance of the Dark Mark refusing to comment. Though infamous kook Xenophilius Lovegood, who was walking with the Ministry official, claimed that nobody was hurt. Whether this statement will be enough to quash the rumors that several bodies were removed from the woods an hour later, remains to be seen.’ Oh really,” said Mr. Weasley in exasperation, handing the paper to Percy. “Nobody was hurt. Rumors that several bodies were removed from the woods … well, there certainly will be rumors now she’s printed that.”

An owl flew in just then and dropped something on Harry's lap before flying off. He opened it up and looked at it.

“That was fast,” Harry said.

“What is it?” Mr. Weasley asked.

“That special edition of the Quibbler that Mr. Lovegood mentioned.”

The magazine was much, much thinner than usual, and was titled “Death Eaters Resurface At Quidditch World Cup.” The picture on the cover was a color version of the same picture the Prophet had. He opened it up and read.

Death Eaters Resurface At Quidditch World Cup
By Xenophilius Lovegood

For the first time in thirteen years, members of the terrorist organization known as the Death Eaters have resurfaced to cause mayhem and panic at the Quidditch World Cup, though thankfully nobody was hurt or killed, despite the appearance of the Dark Mark. (This is according to Xenophilius Lovegood, who was there personally and witnessed the Ministry actions to try to stop these dangerous criminals.) These Death Eaters, who somehow managed to worm their way out of a sentence in Azkaban, staged a riot on Monday night after the match to remind us all that they escaped imprisonment through deceit, and that they are still just as dangerous and vile and hateful as once they were.

Once led by Tom Marvolo Riddle, better known by his nom de guerre of 'Lord Voldemort,' these cowards pleaded ignorance, coercion, and bewitchment to avoid Azkaban after Mr. Riddle fell from power mysteriously on Samhain of 1981, but their resurfacing at the match for a spot of Muggle torture and chaos proves them all liars and cowards.

The identity of the one who cast the Dark Mark is still under investigation by the Ministry of Magic, but whoever it was, the appearance of the Dark Mark scared away all the other Death Eaters, further cementing their reputation as cowards. It became clear, in that moment, that no matter how much they may still enjoy being sadistic monsters who love torturing and killing innocent people, that they are still nonetheless no more keen to see Tom Riddle return to power than any of the rest of us are.

I don't know about you, dear readers, but I for one am deeply concerned that these violent terrorists we saw at the Quidditch World Cup are not only free to do as they like, but are also in the Ministry either as employees – like Mr. Walden MacNair, an acquitted Death Eater who now works for the ministry as an executioner for the Committee For the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures, or independently wealthy yet with the ear of Minister Fudge and giving him bribes like Mr. Lucius Malfoy. Why are these men, who bribed and tricked and pulled strings to get out of trouble for their monstrous crimes, allowed power in the Ministry of Magic? If Tom Riddle were to return to his full power again, as many of us believe he will some day, doesn't their presence in the Ministry mean they may be weakening it from within, preparing for his return? And even if they think him dead, as many do, could he not still take advantage of their positions of power on his return?

Given the nature of many of the laws that have been passed or repealed in the last 13 years, I lean more toward the belief that they're weakening the Ministry from within, preparing for his return. It took Mr. Riddle and his gang of terrorists 11 years of war to try and fail to take the Ministry, but with 12 years for these lying cowards to worm their way into positions of power, and possibly even many more years (we hope!) for them to keep doing so, who knows how swift the next war may be lost to the Death Eaters?

Instead of letting these people run amok, preparing our country as a sacrifice to their dark master upon his return, we should instead cut the corruption out of our government. Anyone who was so much as accused of being a Death Eater should be given a proper trial with veritaserum, pensieve memory evidence, and hard evidence to exonerate them, rather than back-alley bribes and political tits-for-tat. We should look for Dark Marks on the left arms of all the accused, such as the Dark Mark seen on the arm of convicted-in-absentia Death Eater Peter Pettigrew. We should be able to know for sure that our government is free of this corruption. Even if all of the accused are truly innocent – which the riot at the Quidditch Cup tells us is not so – they should still prove they are innocent in a court of law. For as it stands now, the only accused Death Eater to be proven truly innocent of the accusations against him was Lord Sirius Black, thanks to his recent and long overdue trial.

Friends, country-men, the chaos at the match was a wake-up call: there are vipers hiding in the Ministry, ready to strike the moment their master tells them to. Tom Riddle, AKA You-Know-Who, may not be back yet, but we cannot afford to sit idle while his followers infiltrate the Ministry, no matter their reasons or motivations.

Harry checked the rest of the magazine, what little of it there was. It was mostly reprinted articles about the unofficial hearings of accused Death Eaters who avoided Azkaban, though there were also ads for subscribing to the magazine, and an order form for ordering back issues. Harry saw familiar names in it like Mr. Malfoy, Mr. Crabbe, Mr. Goyle, Mr. Knott, but also a few he didn't recognize.

“Not exactly up to professional standards,” Harry said, “but I like his bias a lot more than Rita's.” He paused for a moment, then added, “I wonder if I should tell Xeno that Tom is a half-blood?”

“Bloody stupid fool is going to get himself killed!” Sirius said, shaking his head in disbelief.

“Yes, I rather think that's a distinct possibility,” Mr. Weasley said. “Wasn't Igor Karkaroff one of the people who was released? He's not going to be happy with Xeno.”

“He was, yes. He was actually convicted of being a Death Eater in a trial. He only got released because he named names. Bloody stupid if you ask me. By all rights, he should still be in Azkaban. If anyone deserves Azkaban, it's scum like Karkaroff. And no matter what Dumbledore says, I don't trust Severus Snape, either.”

Harry's eyes went wide. “Professor Snape was a Death Eater?”

“Yes, he was. Dumbledore admits as much, but claims he turned tailcoat on the Death Eaters before Voldemort's fall. But the slimy git was always fascinated by the dark arts, was always hanging out with a whole load of people who became Death Eaters later.”

“So you're telling me that Dumbledore let someone who was essentially a magical Nazi into a school to teach children?”

“Exactly! You understand my feelings exactly, Harry.”

“And Dumbledore trusts him?”

“Yes. But Dumbledore is a trusting man. And he won't tell anyone why he trusts the git.”

Mr. Weasley stood up then. “Molly dear, I'm going to go into work to help smooth all this over.”

“Why?” Mrs. Weasley asked. “It's not your fault, you said no comment! It's Xeno that said something.”

“Yes, but more importantly, Rita Skeeter said something, and now it's going to be bedlam at the Ministry, I just know it. And since Xeno was there with me...”

“Arthur, it's not your problem.”

“Maybe not, but they're going to need all hands on deck. Anyway, I'll get paid overtime if I do.”

Mr. Weasley and Percy were soon both rushing off to work. Harry understood Percy going, but Mr. Weasley's motives were still a bit muddled to Harry.

“Oh by the way, Harry dear,” Mrs. Weasley said, “I got your last textbook, the new History of Magic book. Accio Harry's history book!”

A huge tome, easily 2000 pages thick, came hurtling through the air. Mrs. Weasley had to Banish the book slightly to slow it down before she could catch it, lest it break her hand. She almost dropped it when she did, Sirius having to jump up to catch it for her because it was too heavy to be held by just one hand.

“Good gods!” Harry exclaimed. “It's like, two or three times the size of the Bagshot book!”

Sirius shrunk it for him with his wand and handed the shrunken book to Harry. Harry took it, amazed at the fact that the shrinking spell reduced the book's weight as well as its size.

“Wow,” Harry said. He opened the book and looked at the inside book covers, squinting at the small text.

“'Jala Dreyfuss, wife of artificing magnate Apollyon Dreyfuss of Dreyfuss Artificing,'” he quoted. “So we were right! Our new teacher is Antigone's mom!”

“Well that sounds interesting,” Sirius said.

Ron came in then. “Hope she's a better teacher than Binns,” he said.

“It'd be difficult to be worse than Binns,” Harry remarked.

When Sirius and Harry went home shortly thereafter, Harry turned to Sirius.

“Do you think I should tell my friends about the dream I had the other day?”

Sirius sighed. “I don't know, pup. That's entirely up to you. On the one hand, they might worry. On the other hand, maybe worrying about the possibility will make it less shocking if he ever does manage to come back. And maybe we can stop him before he can do that. How's your occlumency going, anyway?”

“Not great. What about you? You getting lessons?”

“Kingsley Shacklebolt is going to train me in it, among other things. It was on the schedule during the first war, but we hadn't gotten around to it before your parents had to go into hiding. Now it's going to be prioritized.”

“Well I wish you better luck than I've had so far.”

~

A couple days later, Antigone and Harry were visiting the Weasleys again. They'd just gotten in from outside, where Mouse-Stalker had been doing tricks for the three of them, and were about to go eat lunch when Harry got a fire-call from Sirius. Harry went to take it, while Antigone wandered around looking at things.

“Yes, Sirius?”

“Well, Harry, good news. I talked with Ms. Pennyroyal, then talked with the Gringotts goblins, and I've managed to get the Exile Order on Andromeda Tonks lifted, so she and her family are officially part of the Black family again, in all but name. I haven't talked to them yet about whether they want to keep their Tonks surname or become Blacks in name again, I'll do that later. But I also owled them with the news, and since they're relatives of yours as well via James, they'd like to meet you if possible. Are you interested? Their daughter Dora is pretty fun, and she's training to be an auror.”

“Yes! When are we meeting them? And where?”

“I was thinking we could meet them in the drawing room of the house, tomorrow or the day after.”

“Excellent! I look forward to it,” Harry said, grinning. Real, genuine magical family members, even if they were distant relatives? He was looking forward to it.

“Wait, does this mean you and I are related, too?”

“Yes. Charlus Potter, your great-great-grandfather on your father's side, married Dorea Black. I'm sure that's not the only connection between our families, either, given how much pure-blood families inter-marry.”

“Um... are there any other black people among, well, the Blacks?”

“No. Euphemia Potter, James's mum, was black like you. She was a half-blood.”

“Ah, I see. And she only had the one kid, or what?”

“Yes. James was her only offspring. Not for lack of trying, I assure you. I suspect Fleamont – James's dad – was the issue. Inbreeding can create fertility issues, after all, and I'm pretty sure both of Euphemia's parents were either Muggleborn or had Muggleborn parents. Anyway, my knees are hurting, so I'm gonna go. You have fun there, okay? I'll come get you at five.”

“Sure thing, Sirius.”

With that, Sirius's head vanished from the flames, which in turn vanished because it was still summertime.

“Mrs. Weasley,” Harry heard Antigone say, “where did you get this clock?”

Mrs. Weasley came over to check which clock she meant. It was the one that told where everyone in the family was, and included options like 'work,' 'home,' 'traveling,' 'jail,' and 'mortal peril.' Harry wondered which one it would go to if someone ended up in Azkaban, since being around dementors could put you in mortal peril. He also knew he didn't want to ever find out the answer.

“Oh that old thing? I made that shortly after Arthur and I got married.”

Antigone's eyes went wide. “You made that? Mrs. Weasley, I'm reasonably certain this is completely unique. Daddy would pay you a generous percentage of the profits if you'd tell him how you did it and let him make and sell copies.”

Mrs. Weasley blinked. “Would he really?”

“Yes. Daddy is a good and honorable man, and I would make sure he kept his word. And while I'm not an expert, I'm pretty sure you'd never want for anything again for decades to come with a contract like that.”

“Really? I mean, it was just something I threw together one week, didn't seem all that difficult to me.”

“Well maybe it is and maybe it isn't, I dunno, but I am fairly certain nobody else has anything like it. Do you mind if I talk with my dad about it?”

“Well, goodness knows we could do with some more money, and if it's money for having invented something other people will find useful... sure, Antigone, you do that. Tell him to owl me with a time to meet.”

“And I'll see if Sirius can get you Ms. Pennyroyal there too, just in case. A little peace of mind, you know.”

“Oh my, but solicitors are so expensive!”

“I doubt Sirius would mind. Heck, it'd probably amuse him to use his bigoted family's money to hire a solicitor to help a 'blood traitor' family. And if it pans out, you can pay him back for her fee.”

“Well... I'll have to talk with Arthur about it before I agree to anything.”

“Naturally,” Antigone said.

That out of the way, Harry and Antigone went back outside.

“So, Antigone, your mum is our new History of Magic teacher, isn't she?”

“Drat! Should've known you'd figure it out. Yes, she is.”

“Cool. What's she like as a teacher, do you know?”

“Pretty good. She tutored me in History because she knew about Binns being horrible. I can't stay awake in that class, and nobody in my year can, but I still managed to ace all my tests thanks to Mum.”

“That sounds pretty good to me,” Harry said.

~

The next day – a Friday, Sirius had Harry get dressed in his nicest Muggle clothes, since Andromeda and Nymphadora Tonks were coming over to meet Harry for the first time, and Harry didn't have any robes that were nice enough without being too much for the occasion (he'd gotten some dress robes but those were way too fancy for meeting family). He put on some black slacks, a white button-up shirt, and some black loafers and waited with Sirius by the Floo. (Off to one side in case it wasn't someone friendly, so they couldn't get a clean shot right out of the grate.)

With a whoosh, green flames rose in the grate and out stepped a tall, beautiful woman with kind eyes and brown hair. She was regal in bearing and had come out of the Floo with almost unnatural grace, something Harry wondered strongly how she managed.

“Andi! Good to see you again!” Sirius said exuberantly.

“Siri,” she said with a smile and a nod, still getting out of the way.

The green fire rose up again, and a better reason for being off to one side occurred: Nymphadora shot out of the Floo like a bullet, tripped on the hearth rug, and fell in a heap on the ground.

“I'm okay,” she said, standing up again and siphoning dust off her robes with her wand.

“Harry Potter, meet Andromeda Tonks. Andromeda Tonks, Harry Potter.”

Andromeda and Harry shook hands, both smiling.

“And the human cannonball over there is her daughter, Nymphadora Tonks.”

“Yes, and if you know what's good for you, you'll never call me Nymphadora again. I'm just Tonks.”

“Though as her mother, I know she tolerates being called Dora by family members.”

“Ones I like, anyway,” Tonks said. “I haven't made up my mind yet on you two, though.” She looked warningly at Sirius and Harry.

“Harry Potter, Auror Tonks,” Sirius said. “Auror Tonks, Harry Potter.”

Harry and Tonks shook hands.

“You're an Auror?” Harry asked with a note of disbelief in his voice.

“Yeah, only just qualified back in April,” she said. “Old Mad-Eye – my mentor in the program – was glad I finally managed it, so he could finally get around to retiring, like he'd been planning. I nearly didn't manage it, almost failed on stealth and tracking – I'm dead clumsy. But I made up for it in Concealment and Disguise.”

“Glad to hear it,” Harry said with an indulgent smile.

There was silence, Tonks looking at Harry with an expression he couldn't decode for about 30 seconds before she got impatient and said, “Aren't you gonna ask me how exactly I made up for it?”

“Um... should I?”

Tonks sighed, as her mother chuckled. “Well I suppose I'm just used to people taking the bait I set up for them. Anyway, it's because of this,” she said.

Before Harry's eyes, Tonks screwed up her face like she was concentrating on something, and she shrank down, her skin color darkening, her face changing shape, her hair turning black and unruly, and her eyes turning bright green. In seconds, he was looking at a replica of himself, but without his glasses.

“Wow! That's some impressive transfiguration,” Harry said.

“Thanks,” she said (and boy was it weird to hear a woman's voice come out of what looked like his body), “but the only part I did with my wand was changing my robes. The rest is because I'm a metamorphmagus!”

“That's the one where you can change your appearance at will, right?”

“Yes.”

“Cool!”

“Thanks,” she said, shifting back into her normal appearance, but with bubblegum-pink hair.

“Hmm... you know, I think I know why you're clumsy,” Harry said.

“Oh? Why?”

“Well if you're always changing your body's appearance, even its size and proportions, that's got to be playing havoc on your proprioception. It's a Muggle scientific word. See, for a long time Muggle scientists have been debating how many senses humans actually have. Most agree we have more than the well-known five. Proprioception is one of these other senses, it refers to the sense the human brain has for what the body feels like. It allows us to move around without always running into things, but any changes to the body that happen faster than the brain can adjust to, like growth spurts during puberty, can make people clumsy because their brain doesn't know the dimensions of the body anymore. It's why people going through puberty can be awkward, hormones aside.”

“Oh, I think I get it,” Tonks said. “So because I keep using my conscious mind to change my body, the subconscious part of my brain that does that proprioception thing can't keep up, so I get clumsy. Hmm... you know, I think you're right. There have been times I've gone months without doing more than changing my hair color, and I was a lot more graceful during those months. Then I started changing more again, and got clumsy again.”

“You know about subconscious versus conscious minds?”

“Oh yeah. My dad insists I keep up with my Muggle schooling, including taking some college correspondence classes.”

“All that on top of your Hogwarts classes and then Auror training?” Harry asked.

“Yep,” she said proudly.

“Cool!”

“So, young Harry,” Tonks said in an affected tone of voice, “what do you want to do when you grow up?”

“I don't know. The only wizarding jobs I know about are Auror, Ministry worker, teacher, and curse-breaker.”

Tonks frowned in concern. So did Andromeda.

“Aren't you about to enter fourth year, Harry?” Tonks asked.

“Yeah. Why?”

“Well what did your Head of House tell you about your career options?”

“Nothing. Why? Should she have?”

Tonks and her mom looked at each other significantly.

“I thought careers advice was a fifth year thing,” Sirius said.

“Well yes,” Andromeda said, “there is a careers advice meeting in fifth year before O.W.L.s, but for me it was my second meeting. The first was at the end of second year, to help me choose my electives.”

“Me too,” Tonks said. “Mum was a Slytherin, I was a Hufflepuff. What are you, Harry?”

“Griffindor.”

“So was I,” Sirius said.

“In that case, Sirius,” Andromeda said, “Professor McGonagall is slacking in her duties as Head of House. Harry, did you ever discuss careers with her in any of your other meetings with her?”

Harry looked confused. “What other meetings?”

“Sprout had monthly meetings with every student when I was in school,” Tonks said, “and that was only back in '91 and '92.”

Andromeda nodded. “My Head of House, Professor Slughorn, met with the Slytherins monthly too. I've heard from some of the recent graduates that Professor Snape does the same thing.”

“Some of the Ravenclaws I've, uh, dated over the years have mentioned similar meetings with Flitwick,” Tonks said.

Harry blinked. “Uh... the only time I ever see Professor McGonagall is in classes or in the corridors or Great Hall. I haven't heard of it being any different for anyone else in Griffindor. In fact, I've only ever seen her at the dorms like, two or three times, and those were during that whole Heir of Slytherin fiasco.”

Andromeda was shaking her head and clucking her tongue. “Sounds like Professor McGonagall is taking on too much work. Head of House, Deputy Headmistress, and Transfiguration Teacher to boot, I always did wonder about that. Seems I was right to wonder.”

“Heir of Slytherin fiasco? Where all those kids got attacked? I heard about that from Mad-Eye, but it wasn't in the papers. Thought he was having me on. But you say it was real?”

“Uh, yeah, it was. Voldemort – a younger version of him trapped in a book – took over er, someone's body, a first-year, and was attacking people with a basilisk.”

Andromeda nearly fell over in a faint at this, her daughter catching her just in time.

“A basilisk? In the school? Why wasn't the school shut down and thoroughly searched before reopening?”

“Um, well, by the time anyone knew what was attacking students, Antigone and I had killed it, down in the Chamber of Secrets.”

“That was real?” Andromeda said.

“Yes.”

She shook her head. “Maybe Lucius wasn't so wrong about Dumbledore after all, if that's what's become of the school. A Head of House not doing her full duty, and the school not being thoroughly searched for basilisk eggs or babies after one of them was running around the school for a year. You do know basilisks are always female, right? And that they can lay viable eggs?”

“I didn't. But uh, I think all she had to eat down there was rats. And she was huge! I doubt she had enough food to do more than sustain herself.”

“Well I very much hope you're right, but I'm not at all comfortable with you being there anymore. I know I have no say at all over that, I wasn't implying I should, but honestly, I'm glad Dora got out of there before that thing got loose.”

Thinking back to something he remembered, Harry added, “If it helps, Armando Dippet wasn't any more helpful. Nobody knew what was causing the attacks fifty some years ago when Voldemort was attacking people with the basilisk back then, and someone actually died during that one.”

“Perhaps, but I would hope Dippet would have had enough sense to tell the Ministry immediately upon finding a basilisk in the school, even if it was dead.”

“If it helps, I can have Mouse-Stalker, my pet snake, explore the castle looking for basilisks and their eggs.”

“Whadda you mean by that, Harry?”

“I'm a Parselmouth. And even if I wasn't, Mouse-Stalker is a magical snake, he can communicate with ordinary humans.”

“Oh. Um... does he know what their eggs look and smell like?” Andromeda asked.

Harry shrugged. “Dunno. I'll have to ask him later. He's upstairs napping now.”

“I'm bored now,” Tonks said. “This conversation is boring. Come on, Harry, is there anything fun to do around this place?”

Sirius scoffed loudly. “Harry mostly reads, talks to his snake, or goes to his friends' houses. The most fun that's been had in this house was when his friends have been over. Especially Luna and her bird, that raven of her's. But at least my mother isn't around to make our lives miserable.”

“Oh well then, I'll just have to find a way for us to have fun,” Tonks said, grinning.

“There's a dueling room if you're interested. Harry keeps running into trouble, he could use as much dueling training as he can get, and you're an auror.”

“Cool. Whadda ya say, cousin Harry?”

Harry smiled too. “Sounds like fun. I'll just have to do a few things first to prepare, since it's likely to be noisy.”

~ ~

In a dark alley, a feral cat was picking through garbage for something tasty when a small CRACK rent the air, making it run off in fright. Under a stolen invisibility cloak, two men had appeared, if the word “appeared” could apply to two people under an invisibility cloak. But even though they were unseen, they were making some noise as one ran into the other and cursed at him under his breath.

“Honestly, Wormtail, you're worse than useless,” Crouch said irritably. “If it was anyone less than Moody, I wouldn't have brought you along. No, don't say anything, we're trying to be sneaky here.”

The smaller, rat-faced man glared at his fair-haired partner in crime but complied. If he didn't cooperate, Crouch would no doubt tell their master, and he would be... displeased. Peter shuddered at the thought of his master's displeasure. Then he remembered what his master looked like, and he shuddered again.

Peter nodded and sighed, thinking as he followed along. He was mostly just here to help watch Crouch's back, he wasn't even really necessary. His only skill had ever been as a spy. He wouldn't even be any good at any heavy lifting, if it was needed.

It didn't help that Peter didn't like Crouch to begin with. It had been Crouch that had gotten him into all this shit to begin with. Peter had just been trying to get a desk job at the Ministry, something easy enough he could do but paid well enough for him to help his aging mother. He and Crouch Junior hadn't been friends in school – Peter's only friends had been the Marauders – but Crouch had been polite to him in school, and had tutored him a little when James, Sirius, or Remus had been unavailable, so he'd tried talking to Crouch to see if he could do anything to help him get a job. He hadn't known that the man hated his father, and that his father hadn't been too fond of him in turn. But Crouch Junior had taken advantage of his ignorance, had worked his charm on Peter, and had tricked him. By the time he'd figured out what he'd gotten involved in, it was too late to back out.

He had considered telling Dumbledore, and becoming a spy against Voldemort, but the thought had filled him with pants-wetting terror. Voldemort was a legilimens, among other things, and Peter was a talentless blob. It would've taken a master occlumens to be a spy against Voldemort, and he'd die horribly or, from what he'd heard over the years, something far worse like tortured into insanity, if he failed. So he'd gone along with it. It hurt him to do so, and there had been many nights he'd cried himself to sleep, but if he didn't cooperate, they might kill his mother. He was afraid for his own life, of course, but it was even worse considering his mother was at risk.

And here he was helping the powerless Dark Lord rise again. Why? He could've just run for it. He'd figured out how Sirius had found him, so he could have taken a Muggle plane to the states or something and hide. But that would have involved getting hold of Muggle money, and a passport, and all that stuff. No, that hadn't been a real option. He could have slipped onto a barge or some other boat as a rat, but he got seasick easily; just the short trip to the continent had made him too miserable to ever try that again.

“Hey rat-face, I need you to scope out the place. Become a rat and do it.”

Without complaint except to glare at the man, Peter nodded and turned into a rat, running out to check out the defenses on Moody's house, sniffing around for as much as he could.

Maybe a train? He could have slipped onto a train as a rat and gone to China or India. Some of those cities would've been a great place for a rat to live, eating remains of various Chinese or Indian dishes. No, wait; India was too hot. Maybe northern China, or Mongolia? Yes, he could have done that. So why had he gone to Voldemort?

Oh, right. Because Dumbledore, Harry, Remus, and McGonagall knew about him. The Minister had seen him. Some Aurors had seen him. And they had photos of him. He'd since heard that he'd been tried and convicted in absentia and would go to Azkaban if the Ministry found him. And the Ministry would hunt for him, even if they had to send Aurors around the world to do it. It might be hard for them to find one particular rat in a world where billions of rats lived at any given moment, but, well... he knew himself well enough to know he'd have to become a pet. The life of a wild rat wasn't for him. He'd gotten pampered. He'd hid among a family with lots of great food, out of fear the other Death Eaters would hunt him as the Aurors would be now, and he would die. He'd grown spoiled.

Finishing his reconnaissance, Peter crawled under the cloak again and turned human once more to give Crouch his report. Then he followed along as Crouch did his own tests of the wards. He had no idea what Crouch was doing, exactly; the man was a brilliant sorcerer, could probably see or feel the wards like he'd seen Dumbledore do before. He remembered Crouch had received 12 O.W.L.'s, and just as many N.E.W.T.'s. He couldn't help remembering it; Crouch had mentioned it so many times in his rants against his father (“12 O.W.L.'s, 12 N.E.W.T.'s, and nothing is ever good enough for him! Just because I'm asexual and refuse to have a nice proper marriage and have kids, as though it's my fault he and mother only had one child!”)

It was too late to back out now. Either Crouch or their master had some kind of animagus tracking spell or ritual or something, he was sure those two massive brains would know how to find him now they knew he was alive. Why had he done this again? Oh right, proof he was alive. The Death Eaters who hadn't gone to prison would be looking for him. Even if they didn't have proof, even if he hadn't been caught in that cage, he was sure Sirius would have eventually told Remus, and Remus would have told Dumbledore. Dumbledore had resources, too, and he would call on those to find Peter, certain he'd do... exactly as he'd ended up doing: running back to Voldemort, because what other option did he really have? Powerful wizards would be after him no matter what he did. Might as well get the biggest, baddest one of the bunch on his side.

During the interrogation, Remus had sighed in response to telling them he'd been afraid to die, and then Remus had said, “Then you should have died to protect your friends, as we would have done for you.” It had been weighing on his mind ever since. Sure, running away would have meant being hunted forever, but well... he hadn't wanted any of this to begin with. Voldemort's return would mean Sirius or Remus could die, and he still loved them, despite everything that had happened. But his mother was still alive. She'd be fine, she was a pureblood and didn't rock the boat. As long as Peter remained loyal to the master he'd been tricked into following, she'd be alright.

Still... they'd all be fine if he'd just gone into hiding again. Voldemort couldn't rise again without help, and he'd had only one unsuccessful try in 12 years. But then, Crouch was alive. He hadn't known that at the time, of course, but it was still true. Eventually, his father's control over him would have slipped, or the old man would have died. And Voldemort – an undying wraith – would have had a loyal follower seeking him out at the first opportunity. Given that Crouch had broken through the Imperius curse enough to steal a wand and cast the Dark Mark into the sky at the Quidditch World Cup, Peter figured it would've been another year at most before the man broke free on his own. So even though the most logical choice at the time would have been to just flee, he'd somehow still made the best choice for himself and his mother. Yes, he was convinced. Probably.

“Okay, it's time.”

Snapping out of his thoughts, Peter listened to the plan. He didn't understand most of it, but something about Crouch having some tools he'd enchanted to help him slip through the wards. Peter didn't know much about wards or enchanting, but given this was Crouch Junior, he assumed these enchanted tools had to be something ridiculously difficult to do, if they could get through the wards of the oldest still-living and still sane (mostly) Auror in a long time, even if he was extremely paranoid. He trusted that Crouch was smart enough to do it.

Crouch got out the tools, and they absolutely reeked of Black Magic, which went some ways to explaining how they would work. Peter was just worried that they'd set off some alarm. But, as if anticipating this, Crouch did something to the tools that made the Black Magic in them retreat inside themselves so they no longer gave off the reek of Black Magic. Then Crouch got to work.

After a long, tense period of time, Crouch said “Aha!” and led the way forward through the wards and up to the house. He paused for another space of time to check for more wards or traps, and after carefully undoing the few he found, they quietly sneaked into the house.

Creeping through the house, they soon found Moody's bedroom, where the man was asleep. He still had that horrible magical eyeball in its socket, and so was literally sleeping with one eye open, after a fashion.

It should have been a simple matter to stun the man in his sleep and replace him, but despite all their careful ward-cracking, Moody apparently had something unknown to Crouch on his bed, and was able to duck out of the way of the stunner just in time, feathers flying everywhere from the impact of the stunner on the mattress.

Peter ran off as a rat when the fighting broke out, amazed at the epic battle. Moody didn't have his fake leg in, but he was still hopping around, spells flying and splashing off each others' shields. This was no good; the noise would alert the neighbors, and the Ministry would soon come, if Moody didn't win the duel first. So Peter sneaked behind Moody in the chaos and turned human again, stunning the man in the back. He fell over, but Crouch caught him and put him on the bed, taking the time to draw some sort of runic casting spell over him with his wand, which he briefly explained would keep Moody asleep until the spell was manually lifted.

Crouch dug a flask out of his pocket, plucked one of Moody's hairs for the potion. It bubbled and fizzed and changed colors, finally settling on the shade of yellow that had been really popular in the Muggle world during the 70's, very similar to the color of dijon mustard. Crouch pulled the magical eye out of Moody's socket, washed it off with the aguamenti spell, then pulled his robes off and downed a dose of the potion. His skin bubbled sickeningly and his body shifted into the scarred form of Moody. Peter hurried to fetch the wooden leg for Crouch, who put it on, and put the eye in his own socket. With some more help from Peter, Crouch got dressed like Moody, and got the real Moody into his own magical trunk, which was in the room because he'd been packing for his new job at Hogwarts.

Then Peter hid under the bed as a rat while Crouch as the fake Moody talked to the Muggle policemen who came to investigate the disturbance, and later people from the Ministry. Crouch went to the Ministry with them to try clearing things up, and when he did, and the coast was clear, Peter waited for him, still as a rat.

Hours later, Crouch returned, pulling a little mirror out of his pocket to inform their master of their success. With that out of the way, Crouch and Peter both got some sleep, Crouch taking the bed while Peter slept as a rat.

After waking up and having breakfast, Crouch incapacitated Moody with some more runic casting spells before lifting the one that made Moody sleep. The ones he'd added made Moody unable to move on his own (except for his eyes), or speak, or make any kind of noise. Nor could he apparate or even use magic. Crouch then Imperiused Moody to make him compliant, using the same spell to wake him up the rest of the way. Then Crouch looked into Moody's eye and cast a spell: legilimens! Peter knew just enough about that spell to know that Crouch was scanning Moody's memories, probably to better imitate Moody. Crouch would, after all, be very close to Dumbledore for a year. Not only was the old man a legilimens capable of reading someone's mind without using a wand, he was also very perceptive and wary, despite always being willing to give people second chances.

In fact, it had been such a worry to Peter that he'd actually spoken up about it to his master's face – well, his back actually, because Peter found it hard to keep from vomiting when he saw the face of Voldemort's ugly baby-sized homunculus body. No, wait; “ugly” wasn't a strong enough word. “Ugly” applied to Moody, his body so scarred by curses he looked like a mutated tree that had been through a hurricane and then attacked by a troop of angry baboons wielding woodcarving tools, but Moody was as gorgeous as Bellatrix compared to Voldemort's vile, hideous, grotesque, grisly, horrid, revolting monster-baby body. No, even those words weren't strong enough. Repugnant? Frightful? Monstrous? An abomination that should be immediately killed by throwing it into the hot, cleansing fire of the sun itself? Yes, that was better.

Wait, he'd gotten off track there. What had he been thinking about? Oh yes, that's right; he'd been worried enough about Dumbledore figuring out Crouch wasn't really Moody that he'd brought it up to his master, summoning his weak courage to poke a hole in the plan. He knew Harry had been talking with Sirius, he could have just brought Peter to Sirius, but he turned him in instead. And even if that weren't true, he didn't want any of his friends to die, nor did he want Harry to die. But Voldemort's return was inevitable; at least this way, he could try to help his friends and Harry a little.

His master had put his mind at "ease," though; Crouch was an accomplished occlumens, their master had taught him during the first war for reasons Peter didn't know. So with Crouch being an occlumens, all he had to do was act the part and have enough of the right memories to say the right words and do the right actions, and Dumbledore could be fooled. And Crouch was brilliant, with a nearly photographic memory. Which was a good thing, because today was September the first, and Crouch had to be there in time for the feast. They were running out of time, but Crouch spent most of that time sorting through Moody's memories, the Imperius Curse making Moody compliant enough to cooperate with the process, making it faster and more efficient.

“Good thing I was in the drama club in Hogwarts back in the day,” Crouch said. “And thank goodness for The Method. That will make this mission much easier.”

Crouch ended up leaving – as Moody – late enough that even Apparating straight to the gates of the castle, he'd still be late for the feast. But Peter was just glad to see the back of him. He sighed, and steeled himself before returning to his master for the most miserable and disgusting year of his life to date.

~ ~
(The Hogwarts Express.)

Harry and Sirius took the Floo directly to King's Cross Station – which was something you could do, Harry hadn't known that – with Kreacher floating his trunk along ahead of them. Dobby had wanted the job, but then Winky had shown up on Sirius's back doorstep, bawling her eyes out over being dismissed by Mister Crouch. That had been a couple days ago, and she was still wearing the neat little dress and shoes Crouch had dressed her in. Well, Harry supposed it had been neat once upon a time; she'd apparently gone wandering through some very dirty places in the days between her dismissal and her appearance at Grimmauld Place. She was still prone to crying jags, and had taken to drinking butter beer, which apparently was strong enough to get House Elves drunk. Kreacher refused to have anything to do with her, so it fell to Dobby to take care of her. Thus, Kreacher was with them at the train station.

As Kreacher loaded the trunk onto the train and into a compartment filled with Luna, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny, giving Hermione a nasty look as he did so, Harry wondered why people didn't just Floo to Hogwarts, or to some place in Hogsmeade. He was still glad he had permission to go there now, he hadn't had that last year. He'd been to the village to see Sirius, but he hadn't really properly seen the village yet, and he was looking forward to that.

“Hello, Harry,” Luna said, smiling, as she looked up from an issue of the Quibbler.

“Hi, Luna,” he said back with a smile. He went on to say hi to the others as well.

Ron got up to say goodbye to his parents after this, and Harry and Hermione followed him, since they liked the Weasleys, and it would give Harry a chance to say goodbye to Sirius. As they hopped onto the platform, they saw Charlie and Bill were there for some reason.

“I might be seeing you all sooner than you think,” said Charlie, grinning, as he hugged Ginny good-bye.

“Why?” said Fred keenly.

“You’ll see,” said Charlie. “Just don’t tell Percy I mentioned it … it’s ‘classified information, until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it,’ after all.”

“Yeah, I sort of wish I were back at Hogwarts this year,” said Bill, hands in his pockets, looking almost wistfully at the train.

Why?” said George impatiently.

“You’re going to have an interesting year,” said Bill, his eyes twinkling. “I might even get time off to come and watch a bit of it. …”

“A bit of what?” said Ron.

But at that moment, the whistle blew, and Mrs. Weasley chivied them toward the train doors.

“Ask Draco,” Sirius whispered to him while giving him one last hug before the train left. Harry nodded – the only reply he had time for – and quickly joined Hermione in boarding the train.

Hermione stuck her head out the window; they'd picked a compartment very close to the exit for once. “What's happening at Hogwarts?” she asked. “If it's big enough, I think we ought to be forewarned.”

“Oh no, I wouldn't want to spoil the surprise, Hermione,” Mrs. Weasley said.

“Mum!” said Ron irritably. “What d’you three know that we don’t?”

“You’ll find out this evening, I expect,” said Mrs. Weasley, smiling. “It’s going to be very exciting — mind you, I’m very glad they’ve changed the rules —”

“What rules?” said Harry, Ron, Fred, and George together.

“I’m sure Professor Dumbledore will tell you. … Now, behave, won’t you? Won’t you, Fred? And you, George?”

The pistons hissed loudly and the train began to move.

“Tell us what’s happening at Hogwarts!” Fred bellowed out of the window as Mrs. Weasley, Bill, and Charlie sped away from them. “What rules are they changing?”

But Mrs. Weasley only smiled and waved. Before the train had rounded the corner, she, Bill, and Charlie had Disapparated.

“Hey Gred, Forge,” Harry said with a grin.

“What is it, Harry?”

“Yes, do you know something we don't? Maybe from a certain dogfather?”

“No, but Sirius told me to ask Draco about it.”

“Oh,” one of the twins said, his face falling. “Well okay, Draco's not so bad anymore. Alright, let's go find out what Draco knows. You coming too, Ron? Hermione?”

Ron got up to join them, but Hermione decided to read and wait for them to tell her what Draco had said. But she hadn't gotten far in her book, because they found Draco in less than a minute. He was with Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis, apparently deep in some kind of discussion, which stopped the moment the door of the compartment opened. Draco excused himself, promised they'd talk again later, and went to see what Harry and the others wanted, following them into the compartment with Hermione in it.

“Yes, Harry? You wanted something?”

“Hi, Draco. We wanted to know if you know what big event is supposed to be happening at Hogwart's this year.”

Draco's eyebrows raised. “You mean you didn't know? Weasley has family in the Ministry, I know Sirius is rejoining the Aurors, and nobody's told you yet?”

“No, we're asking on a lark,” Ron said sarcastically. “Of course we don't know! Wouldn't be any point asking if we already knew, would there?”

“Alright, Weasley, no need to get snippy with me. I'll tell you.” Draco paused for dramatic effect. “You may want to sit down for this.”

Anyone who wasn't already sitting sat down at this.

“Good. So... for the first time in hundreds of years,” Draco said in a dramatic voice with dramatic hand gestures to match, “Hogwarts will be hosting the event of a lifetime! Full of danger, daring stunts, puzzles, and a cash prize at the end. For glory and honor, long ago canceled because so many people died--”

“The Triwizard Tournament,” Hermione interrupted. “I've read about it. Am I right?”

Draco made a frustrated noise something like a growl or a groan. “Yes, Hermione! Gods, why did you have to go and ruin the moment?”

“What's the Triwizard Tournament?” Harry asked.

Looking annoyed now, he said, “Oh, well... it used to be, a long time ago, that the three most prestigious schools of magic in Europe – Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang – would have this contest every few years or so, the Triwizard Tournament. They'd have to get through three Tasks, often involving dangerous magical creatures, like cockatrices or chimeras or whatever.”

“Cool!” the Weasley twins said in stereo.

“Fame---

“--glory--”

“--babes--”

“--and you said there's a cash prize at the end?”

“Yes. This year it's 1000 galleons.”

“WOW! Fred, think how many snackboxes we could make with that!”

“Yeah, we could totally get our business off the ground with that!”

“We should enter!”

“Hold on, you two,” Draco drawled. “There's more to it. Father told me, they're restricting who can enter to ages 17 and older.”

WHAT? But that means only seventh years will be able to do it!”

“Well, and a few sixth years.”

“Which would be us, dear brother, if... wait a minute, when does this thing start?”

Draco looked thoughtful, trying to remember. “Hmm... I think it starts on Samhain.”

“Damn!” the twins shouted.

“What's the matter?” Hermione asked.

“We're not 17 until April.”

“We need to research ways of restricting things by age, and how to circumvent them. If we figure it out, any of you want in?”

Draco smiled. “I'd like that. If I were the school's Champion, that would further strengthen my new position in Slytherin.”

“A Slytherin champion?” one of the twins said.

“Well hey, Gred, they're cunning, resourceful, and ambitious. A Slytherin could make a good champion. A Griffindor would be a better choice, but still, a Slytherin wouldn't be bad at it.”

“I see what you mean, Forge. Sure, Draco, we'll let you know when we've figured something out to get you considered. But in exchange, you need to tell us absolutely everything you know about the Tournament. Any detail might be the one that helps us unlock getting into it.”

“Plus, Antigone's helped Harry do dangerous stuff before. She'd make a good Champion, too.”

“Speaking of Harry, do you want in, Harry?”

“What? Oh no no no. No thank you. I doubt I could do that even if I wanted to. I imagine you have to do it in front of a crowd, right? With lots of screams and other noises?”

The twins' faces fell. “Oh, right. Forgot you can't handle crowds and loud noises very well.”

“Wait,” Draco said, “weren't you at the World Cup? Rhetorical question by the way, I know you were there, and you know I know.”

“Yeah, but I had my earmuffs and sunglasses and potions and stuff to prepare me. They cut down on the noise and stuff so I could watch the thing. But adding in the stress of being in front of all those people, which I've never done before... well, I highly doubt I could do it. So no thank you. It'll be difficult enough just watching the thing. Which I will, because it's such a big deal.”

“Ah, okay,” Draco said, nodding. “Never mind, then.”

They continued talking amicably about the other schools of magic, the Triwizard Tournament, and other things for a while, before Draco wandered off to talk with Daphne Greengrass and Tracey Davis again. The remainder of them kept talking until lunch, when they too started wandering around to visit with other friends in other compartments.

Like last year, the weather got worse the farther along they went. Harry wondered why this was; there weren't any dementors left at the castle, they'd long since been removed back to Azkaban.

All in all, it was a rather uneventful train ride this year; no dementors, no mysteries to solve, and nobody bothering them. Some people, like Crabbe and Goyle, were standoffish, but largely it was an easy train ride.

Harry and the others, sans Draco, were back in their original compartment when it was time to get ready. Ginny left to find another compartment to change in, and Harry waited, assuming Luna would follow her, but instead Luna got up, nonchalantly pulled her dress off over her head to everyone's shock, and put her robes on. Harry had been looking right at her when she'd done it, and had gotten an eyefull of Luna's knickers and bra. They had been brightly colored, in eye-watering neon yellows and blues. He stood there, frozen with shock and... other feelings. It took Ron dragging him out to find another compartment to change in before he snapped out of it.

The Hogwarts Express slowed down at last and finally stopped in the pitch-darkness of Hogsmeade station. As the train doors opened, there was a rumble of thunder overhead. Hermione bundled up Crookshanks in her cloak and Ron made to grab Scabbers, pausing when he remembered and looking disgusted. Soon they left the train, heads bent and eyes narrowed against the downpour. The rain was now coming down so thick and fast that it was as though buckets of ice-cold water were being emptied repeatedly over their heads.

They said Hi to Hagrid on their way past him to the carriages, expressing pity for the poor first-years who had to cross the lake in the downpour. They were much relieved to finally enter the warm, dry castle. Well, it was dry at least.

Or it was, until Peeves started chucking water-bombs at them. They'd just happened to enter around the same time as Antigone, though, and after the first one landed on Ron, she used her wand to catch the others and chuck them back at Peeves.

When McGonagall came to the rescue, Antigone dried the floor with her wand and led them all into the Great Hall, where they took their seats at their respective tables. They sat down with the rest of the Gryffindors at the far side of the Hall, next to Nearly Headless Nick, the Gryffindor ghost. Pearly white and semitransparent, Nick was dressed tonight in his usual doublet, but with a particularly large ruff, which served the dual purpose of looking extra-festive, and insuring that his head didn’t wobble too much on his partially severed neck. Harry wondered how ghosts changed clothes, it didn't seem like something they should be able to do.

“Good evening,” he said, beaming at them.

“Says who?” said Ron, taking off his sneakers and emptying them of water. “Hope they hurry up with the Sorting. I’m starving.”

Just then, a highly excited, breathless voice called down the table.

“Hiya, Harry!”

It was Colin Creevey, a third year to whom Harry was something of a hero.

“Hi, Colin,” said Harry warily.

“Harry, guess what? Guess what, Harry? My brother’s starting! My brother Dennis!”

“Er — good,” said Harry.

“He’s really excited!” said Colin, practically bouncing up and down in his seat. “I just hope he’s in Gryffindor! Keep your fingers crossed, eh, Harry?”

“Sure thing,” he said, masking his sarcasm well.

Harry looked up at the staff table. There seemed to be rather more empty seats there than usual. Hagrid, of course, was still fighting his way across the lake with the first years; Professor McGonagall was presumably supervising the drying of the entrance hall floor, but there was another empty chair too, and Harry couldn’t think who else was missing. But he did notice a woman of Indian heritage up there, too; must be Antigone's mother.

“Where’s the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?” said Hermione, who was also looking up at the teachers.

“Dunno,” said Harry.

“Maybe they couldn’t get anyone!” said Hermione, looking anxious.

Harry scanned the table more carefully. Tiny little Professor Flitwick, the Charms teacher, was sitting on a large pile of cushions beside Professor Sprout, the Herbology teacher, whose hat was askew over her flyaway gray hair. She was talking to Professor Sinistra of the Astronomy department. On Professor Sinistra’s other side was the sallow-faced, hook-nosed, greasy-haired Potions master, Snape — Harry’s least favorite person at Hogwarts.

On Snape’s other side was an empty seat, which Harry guessed was Professor McGonagall’s. Next to it, and in the very center of the table, sat Professor Dumbledore, the headmaster, his sweeping silver hair and beard shining in the candlelight, his magnificent deep green robes embroidered with many stars and moons. The tips of Dumbledore’s long, thin fingers were together and he was resting his chin upon them, staring up at the ceiling through his half-moon spectacles as though lost in thought. Harry glanced up at the ceiling too. It was enchanted to look like the sky outside, and he had never seen it look this stormy. Black and purple clouds were swirling across it, and as another thunderclap sounded outside, a fork of lightning flashed across it.

“Oh hurry up,” Ron moaned, beside Harry, “I could eat a hippogriff.”

The words were no sooner out of his mouth than the doors of the Great Hall opened and silence fell. Professor McGonagall was leading a long line of first years up to the top of the Hall. If Harry, Ron, and Hermione were wet, it was nothing to how these first years looked. They appeared to have swum across the lake rather than sailed. And one young boy, who Harry soon learned was Colin's brother Dennis, had even fallen into the lake, and was wrapped up in Hagrid's coat, struggling to pull it along with him. The effect was like putting a half-drowned chihuahua inside of a woolly mammoth pelt and watching it try to drag the enormous thing around. His small face protruded from over the collar, looking almost painfully excited, despite his predicament.

Harry traced shapes on the skin of his hand as the Hat sang its song for the year, and all through the Sorting. Harry couldn't help but think they could make the train a little faster, or serve everyone a proper lunch, so the wait wouldn't be so aggravating every time.

Naturally, Dennis ended up in Griffindor with his brother, to Harry's chagrin. The situation with Creevey wasn't as bad as it could have been, but Colin still annoyed him, and Dennis looked worse.

Finally, the Sorting was over and the food appeared. Harry was so hungry he ate without talking at all, even though Sir Nicholas kept trying to talk with him. Ron engaged Nick in conversation instead, talking with his mouth full.

They talked of this and that during the feast, whenever they weren't eating. But finally the feast was over, and Dumbledore did his usual announcements. Aside from adding to the list of banned items and introducing the new History of Magic teacher Professor Jala Dreyfuss (to much enthusiastic applause), he also declared that Quidditch wasn't going to be played this year because of the Triwizard Tournament, which didn't surprise Harry at all. But Dumbledore had barely begun to say anything about the Tournament when there was a deafening rumble of thunder and the doors of the Great Hall banged open.

A man stood in the doorway, leaning upon a long staff, shrouded in a black traveling cloak. Every head in the Great Hall swiveled toward the stranger, suddenly brightly illuminated by a fork of lightning that flashed across the ceiling. He lowered his hood, shook out a long mane of grizzled, dark gray hair, then began to walk up toward the teachers’ table.

A dull clunk echoed through the Hall on his every other step. He reached the end of the top table, turned right, and limped heavily toward Dumbledore. Another flash of lightning crossed the ceiling. Hermione gasped.

The lightning had thrown the man’s face into sharp relief, and it was a face unlike any Harry had ever seen. It looked as though it had been carved out of weathered wood by someone who had only the vaguest idea of what human faces are supposed to look like, and was none too skilled with a chisel. Every inch of skin seemed to be scarred. The mouth looked like a diagonal gash, and a large chunk of the nose was missing. But it was the man’s eyes that made him frightening.

One of them was small, dark, and beady. The other was large, round as a coin, and a vivid, electric blue. The blue eye was moving ceaselessly, without blinking, and was rolling up, down, and from side to side, quite independently of the normal eye — and then it rolled right over, pointing into the back of the man’s head, so that all they could see was whiteness.

The stranger reached Dumbledore. He stretched out a hand that was as badly scarred as his face, and Dumbledore shook it, muttering words Harry couldn’t hear. He seemed to be making some inquiry of the stranger, who shook his head unsmilingly and replied in an undertone. Dumbledore nodded and gestured the man to the empty seat on his right-hand side.

The stranger sat down, shook his mane of dark gray hair out of his face, pulled a plate of sausages toward him, raised it to what was left of his nose, and sniffed it. He then took a small knife out of his pocket, speared a sausage on the end of it, and began to eat. His normal eye was fixed upon the sausages, but the blue eye was still darting restlessly around in its socket, taking in the Hall and the students.

“May I introduce our new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?” said Dumbledore brightly into the silence. “Professor Moody.”

Instead of the normal applause at such announcements, there was dead silence. Well, he had made a rather dramatic entrance, hadn't he? And he was rather scary looking. Harry wondered if maybe another Auror mightn't have been a better choice.

“Mad-Eye Moody? Damn, that reminds me, Harry. I forgot to mention, in all the fuss on the train, but Moody got into some kind of trouble with the Ministry earlier and Dad had to help him out of it. I can tell you more about it later.”

“What happened to him?” Hermione whispered. “What happened to his face?”

“Dunno,” Ron whispered back, watching Moody with fascination.

Moody seemed totally indifferent to his less-than-warm welcome. Ignoring the jug of pumpkin juice in front of him, he reached again into his traveling cloak, pulled out a hip flask, and took a long draught from it. As he lifted his arm to drink, his cloak was pulled a few inches from the ground, and Harry saw, below the table, several inches of carved wooden leg, ending in a clawed foot.

Dumbledore cleared his throat.

“As I was saying,” he said, smiling at the sea of students before him, all of whom were still gazing transfixed at Mad-Eye Moody, “we are to have the honor of hosting a very exciting event over the coming months, an event that has not been held for over a century. It is my very great pleasure to inform you that the Triwizard Tournament will be taking place at Hogwarts this year.”

The noise level in the room went back up to normal, then slightly higher, at these words.

“Some of you will not know what this tournament involves, so I hope those who do know will forgive me for giving a short explanation, and allow their attention to wander freely.

“The Triwizard Tournament was first established some seven hundred years ago as a friendly competition between the three largest European schools of wizardry: Hogwarts, Beauxbatons, and Durmstrang. A champion was selected to represent each school, and the three champions competed in three magical tasks. The schools took it in turns to host the tournament once every five years, and it was generally agreed to be a most excellent way of establishing ties between young witches and wizards of different nationalities — until, that is, the death toll mounted so high that the tournament was discontinued.

“There have been several attempts over the centuries to reinstate the tournament,” Dumbledore continued, “none of which has been very successful. However, our own departments of International Magical Cooperation and Magical Games and Sports have decided the time is ripe for another attempt. We have worked hard over the summer to ensure that this time, no champion will find himself or herself in mortal danger.

“The heads of Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving with their short-listed contenders in October, and the selection of the three champions will take place at Halloween. An impartial judge will decide which students are most worthy to compete for the Triwizard Cup, the glory of their school, and a thousand Galleons personal prize money.”

“I’m going for it!” Fred Weasley hissed down the table despite already knowing about the Tournament, his face lit with enthusiasm at the prospect of such glory and riches. He was not the only person who seemed to be visualizing himself as the Hogwarts champion. At every House table, Harry could see people either gazing raptly at Dumbledore, or else whispering fervently to their neighbors. But then Dumbledore spoke again, and the Hall quieted once more.

“Eager though I know all of you will be to bring the Triwizard Cup to Hogwarts,” he said, “the heads of the participating schools, along with the Ministry of Magic, have agreed to impose an age restriction on contenders this year. Only students who are of age — that is to say, seventeen years or older — will be allowed to put forward their names for consideration. This” — Dumbledore raised his voice slightly, for several people had made noises of outrage at these words, and the Weasley twins were suddenly looking furious — “is a measure we feel is necessary, given that the tournament tasks will still be difficult and dangerous, whatever precautions we take, and it is highly unlikely that students below sixth and seventh year will be able to cope with them. I will personally be ensuring that no underage student hoodwinks our impartial judge into making them Hogwarts champion.” His light blue eyes twinkled as they flickered over Fred’s and George’s mutinous faces. “I therefore beg you not to waste your time submitting yourself if you are under seventeen.

“The delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang will be arriving in October and remaining with us for the greater part of this year. I know that you will all extend every courtesy to our foreign guests while they are with us, and will give your whole-hearted support to the Hogwarts champion when he or she is selected. And now, it is late, and I know how important it is to you all to be alert and rested as you enter your lessons tomorrow morning. Bedtime! Chop chop!”

Dumbledore sat down again and turned to talk to Mad-Eye Moody. There was a great scraping and banging as all the students got to their feet and swarmed toward the double doors into the entrance hall.

“Who’s this impartial judge who’s going to decide who the champions are?” said Harry.

“Dunno,” said Fred, “but it’s them we’ll have to fool. I reckon a couple of drops of Aging Potion might do it, George.”

“Dumbledore knows you’re not of age, though,” said Ron.

“Yeah, but he’s not the one who decides who the champion is, is he?” said Fred shrewdly. “Sounds to me like once this judge knows who wants to enter, he’ll choose the best from each school and never mind how old they are. Dumbledore’s trying to stop us giving our names.”

“People have died, though!” said Hermione in a worried voice as they walked through a door concealed behind a tapestry and started up another, narrower staircase.

“Yeah,” said Fred airily, “but that was years ago, wasn’t it? Anyway, where’s the fun without a bit of risk? Hey, Ron, what if we find out how to get ’round Dumbledore? You never said, before.”

“Sure,” Ron said. “It'd be cool to enter.”

“What about you, Harry?” Neville asked.

“Not interested. I'd probably get badly sick from the stress and the noise,” Harry said. “Besides, we're in fourth year, we probably haven't learned enough yet.”

“I definitely haven’t,” Neville said gloomily. “I expect my gran’d want me to try, though. She’s always going on about how I should be upholding the family honor. I’ll just have to — oops.”

Neville’s foot had sunk right through a step halfway up the staircase. There were many of these trick stairs at Hogwarts; it was second nature to most of the older students to jump this particular step, but Neville’s memory was notoriously poor. Harry and Ron seized him under the armpits and pulled him out, while a suit of armor at the top of the stairs creaked and clanked, laughing wheezily.

“Shut it, you,” said Ron, banging down its visor as they passed.

Endnotes: This is the second chapter I've named after a song. :)

Ended the chapter there because it's been so long since I updated, and if I went on, it'd be another couple weeks before I got to publish this.



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