First  Prev  1  2  3  Next  Last
Post Reply Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire
Posted 12/14/07
J. K. Rоwling
Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire






CHAPTER ONE
THE RIDDLE HOUSE

The villagers of Little Hangleron still called it “the Riddle House,” even though it had been many years since the Riddle family had lived there. It stood on a hill overlooking the village, some of its windows boarded, tiles missing from its roof, and ivy spreading unchecked over its face. Once a fine-looking manor, and easily the largest and grandest building for miles around, the Riddle House was now damp, derelict, and unoccupied.
The Little Hagletons all agreed that the old house was “creepy.” Half a century ago, something strange and horrible had happened there, something that the older inhabitants of the village still liked to discuss when topics for gossip were scarce. The story had been picked over so many times, and had been embroidered in so many places, that nobody was quite sure what the truth was anymore. Every version of the tale, however, started in the same place: Fifty years before, at daybreak on a fine summer's morning when the Riddle House had still been well kept and impressive, a maid had entered the drawing room to find all three Riddles dead.
The maid had run screaming down the hill into the village and roused as many people as she could.
“Lying there with their eyes wide open! Cold as ice! Still in their dinner things!”
The police were summoned, and the whole of Little Hangleton had seethed with shocked curiosity and ill-disguised excitement. Nobody wasted their breath pretending to feel very sad about the Riddles, for they had been most unpopular. Elderly Mr. and Mrs. Riddle had been rich, snobbish, and rude, and their grown-up son, Tom, had been, if anything, worse. All the villagers cared about was the identity of their murderer—for plainly, three apparently healthy people did not all drop dead of natural causes on the same night.
The Hanged Man, the village pub, did a roaring trade that night; the whole village seemed to have turned out to discuss the murders. They were rewarded for leaving their firesides when the Riddles' cook arrived dramatically in their midst and announced to the suddenly silent pub that a man called Frank Bryce had just been arrested.
“Frank!” cried several people. “Never!”
Frank Bryce was the Riddles' gardener. He lived alone in a run-down cottage on the grounds of the Riddle House. Frank had come back from the war with a very stiff leg and a great dislike of crowds and loud noises, and had been working for the Riddles ever since.
There was a rush to buy the cook drinks and hear more details.
“Always thought he was odd,” she told the eagerly listening villagers, after her fourth sherry. “Unfriendly, like. I'm sure if I've offered him a cuppa once, I've offered it a hundred times. Never wanted to mix, he didn't.”
“Ah, now,” said a woman at the bar, “he had a hard war, Frank. He likes the quiet life. That's no reason to—”
“Who else had a key to the back door, then?” barked the cook. “There's been a spare key hanging in the gardener's cottage far back as I can remember! Nobody forced the door last night! No broken windows! All Frank had to do was creep up to the big house while we was all sleeping...”
The villagers exchanged dark looks.
“I always thought that he had a nasty look about him, right enough,” grunted a man at the bar.
“War turned him funny, if you ask me,” said the landlord.
“Told you I wouldn't like to get on the wrong side of Frank, didn't I, Dot?” said an excited woman in the corner.
“Horrible temper,” said Dot, nodding fervently. “I remember, when he was a kid...”
By the following morning, hardly anyone in Little Hangleton doubted that Frank Bryce had killed the Riddles.
But over in the neighboring town of Great Hangleton, in the dark and dingy police station, Frank was stubbornly repeating, again and again, that he was innocent, and that the only person he had seen near the house on the day of the Riddles' deaths had been a teenage boy, a stranger, dark-haired and pale. Nobody else in the village had seen any such boy, and the police were quite sure Frank had invented him.
Then, just when things were looking very serious for Frank, the report on the Riddles' bodies came back and changed everything.
The police had never read an odder report. A team of doctors had examined the bodies and had concluded that none of the Riddles had been poisoned, stabbed, shot, strangles, suffocated, or (as far as they could tell) harmed at all. In fact (the report continued, in a tone of unmistakable bewilderment), the Riddles all appeared to be in perfet health—apart from the fact that they were all dead. The doctors did note (as though determined to find something wrong with the bodies) that each of the Riddles had a look of terror upon his or her face—but as the frustrated police said, whoever heard of three people being frightened to death?
As there was no proof that the Riddles had been murdered at all, the police were forced to let Frank go. The Riddles were buried in the Little Hangleton churchyard, and their graves remained objects of curiosity for a while. To everyone's surprise, and amid a cloud of suspicion, Frank Bryce returned to his cottage on the grounds of the Riddle House.
“'S far as I'm concerned, he killed them, and I don't care what the police say,” said Dot in the Hanged Man. “And if he had any decency, he'd leave here, knowing as how we knows he did it.”
But Frank did not leave. He stayed to tend the garden for the next family who lived in the Riddle House, and then the next—for neither family stayed long. Perhaps it was partly because of Frank that the new owners said there was a nasty feeling about the place, which, in the absence of inhabitants, started to fall into disrepair.

The wealthy man who owned the Riddle House these days neither lived there nor put it to any use; they said in the village that he kept it for “tax reasons,” though nobody was very clear what these might be. The wealthy owner continued to pay Frank to do the gardening, however. Frank was nearing his seventy-seventh birthday now, very deaf, his bad leg stiffer than ever, but could be seen pottering around the flower beds in fine weather, even though the weeds were starting to creep up on him, try as he might to suppress them.
Weeds were not the only things Frank had to contend with either. Boys from the village made a habit of throwing stones through the windows of the Riddle House. They rode their bicycles over the lawns Frank worked so hard to keep smooth. Once or twice, they broke into the old house for a dare. They knew that old Frank's devotion to the house and the grounds amounted almost to an obsession, and it amused them to see him limping across the garden, brandishing his stick and yelling croakily at them. Frank, for his part, believed the boys tormented him because they, like their parents and grandparents, though him a murderer. So when Frank awoke one night in August and saw something very odd up at the old house, he merely assumed that the boys had gone one step further in their attempts to punish him.
It was Frank's bad leg that woke him; it was paining him worse than ever in his old age. He got up and limped downstairs into the kitchen with the idea of refilling his hot-water bottle to ease the stiffness in his knee. Standing at the sink, filling the kettle, he looked up at the Riddle House and saw lights glimmering in its upper windows. Frank knew at once what was going on. The boys had broken into the house again, and judging by the flickering quality of the light, they had started a fire.
Frank had no telephone, in any case, he had deeply mistrusted the police ever since they had taken him in for questioning about the Riddles' deaths. He put down the kettle at once, hurried back upstairs as fast as his bad leg would allow, and was soon back in his kitchen, fully dressed and removing a rusty old key from its hook by the door. He picked up his walking stick, which was propped against the wall, and set off into the night.
The front door of the Riddle House bore no sign of being forced, nor did any of the windows. Frank limped around to the back of the house until he reached a door almost completely hidden by ivy, took out the old key, put it into the lock, and opened the door noiselessly.
He let himself into the cavernous kitchen. Frank had not entered it for many years; nevertheless, although it was very dark, he remembered where the door into the hall was, and he groped his way towards it, his nostrils full of the smell of decay, ears pricked for any sound of footsteps or voices from overhead. He reached the hall, which was a little lighter owing to the large mullioned windows on either side of the front door, and started to climb the stairs, blessing the dust that lay thick upon the stone, because it muffled the sound of his feet and stick.
On the landing, Frank turned right, and saw at once where the intruders were: At the every end of the passage a door stood ajar, and a flickering light shone through the gap, casting a long sliver of gold across the black floor. Frank edged closer and closer, he was able to see a narrow slice of the room beyond.
The fire, he now saw, had been lit in the grate. This surprised him. Then he stopped moving and listened intently, for a man's voice spoke within the room; it sounded timid and fearful.
“There is a little more in the bottle, My Lord, if you are still hungry.”
“Later,” said a second voice. This too belonged to a man—but it was strangely high-pitched, and cold as a sudden blast of icy wind. Something about that voice made the sparse hairs on the back of Frank's neck stand up. “Move me closer to the fire, Wormtail.”
Frank turned his right ear toward the door, the better to hear. There came the clink of a bottle being put down upon some hard surface, and then the dull scraping noise of a heavy chair being dragged across the floor. Frank caught a glimpse of a small man, his back to the door, pushing the chair into place. He was wearing a long black cloak, and there was a bald patch at the back of his head. Then he went out of sight again.
“Where is Nagini?” said the cold voice.
“I—I don't know, My Lord,” said the first voice nervously. “She set out to explore the house, I think...”
“You will milk her before we retire, Wormtail,” said the second voice. “I will need feeding in the night. The journey has tired me greatly.”
Brow furrowed, Frank inclined his good ear still closer to the door, listening very hard. There was a pause, and then the man called Wormtail spoke again.
“My Lord, may I ask how long we are going to stay here?”
“A week,” said the cold voice. “Perhapse longer. The place is moderately comfortable, and the plan cannot proceed yet. It would be foolish to act before the Quidditch World Cup is over.”
Frank inserted a gnarled finger into his ear and rotated it. Owing, no doubt, to a buildup of earwax, he had heard the word “Quidditch,” which was not a word at all.
“The—the Quidditch World Cup, My Lord?” said Wormtail. (Frank dug his finger still more vigorously into his ear.) “Forgive me, but—I do not understand—why should we wait until the World Cup is over?”
“Because, fool, at this very moment wizards are pouring into the country from all over the world, and every meddler from the Ministry of Magic will be on duty, on the watch for signs of ususual activity, checking and double-checking identities. They will be obsessed with security, lest the Muggles notice anything. So we wait.”
Frank stopped trying to clear out his ear. He had distinctly heard the words “Ministry of Magic,” “wizards,” and “Muggles.” Plainly, each of these expressions meant something secret, and Frank could think of only two sorts of people who would speak in code: spies and criminals. Frank tightened his hold on his walking stick once more, and listened more closely still.
“Your Lordship is still determined, then?” Wormtail said quietly.
“Certainly I am determined, Wormtail.” There was a note of menace in the cold voice now.
A slight pause followed—and the Wormtail spoke, the words tumbling from him in a rush, as though he was forcing himself to say this before he lost his nerve.
“It could be done without Harry Potter, My Lord.”
Another pause, more protracted, and then—
“Without Harry Potter?” breathed the second voice softly. “I see...”
“My Lord, I do not say this out of concern for the boy!” said Wormtail, his voice rising squeakily. “The boy is nothing to me, nothing at all! It is merely that if we were to use another witch or wizard—any wizard—the thing could be done so much more quickly! If you allowed me to leave you for a short while—you know that I can disguise myself most effectively—I could be back here in as little as two days with a suitable person—”
“I could use another wizard,” said the cold voice softly, “that is true...”
“My Lord, it makes sense,” said Wormtail, sounding thoroughly relieved now. “Laying hands on Harry Potter would be so difficult, he is so well protected—”
“And so you volunteer to go and fetch me a substitute? I wonder... perhaps the task of nursing me has become wearisome for you, Wormtail? Could this suggestion of abandoning the plan be nothing more than an attempt to desert me?”
“My Lord! I—I have no wish to leave you, none at all—”
“Do not lie to me!” hissed the second voice. “I can always tell, Wormtail! You are regretting that you ever returned to me. I revolt you. I see you flinch when you look at me, feel you shudder when you touch me...”
“No! My devotion to Your Lordship—”
“Your devotion is nothing more than cowardice. You would not be here if you had anywhere else to go. How am I to survive without you, when I need feeding every few hours? Who is to milk Nagini?”
“But you seem so much stronger, My Lord—”
“Liar,” breathed the second voice. “I am no stronger, and a few days alone would be enough to rob me of the little health I have regained under your clumsy care. Silence!”
Wormtail, who had been sputtering incoherently, fell silent at once. For a few seconds, Frank could hear nothing but the fire crackling. The the second man spoke once more, in a whisper that was almost a hiss.
“I have my reasons for using the boy, as I have already explained to you, and I will use no other. I have waited thirteen years. A few more months will make no difference. As for the protection surrounding the boy, I believe my plan will be effective. All that is needed is a little courage from you, Wormtail—courage you will find, unless you wish to feel the full extent of Lord Voldermort's wrath—”
“My Lord, I must speak!” said Wormtail, panic in his voice now. “All through our journey I have gone over the plan in my head—My Lord, Bertha Jorkin's disappearance will not go unnoticed for long, and if we proceed, if I murder—”
“If?” whispered the second voice. “If? If you follow the plan, Wormtail, the Ministry need never know that anyone else has died. You will do it quietly and without fuss; I only wish that i could do it myself, but in my present condition... Come, Wormtail, one more death and our path to Harry Potter is clear. I am not asking you to do it alone. By that time, my faithful serant will have rejoined us—”
“I am a faithful servant,” said Wormtail, the merest trace of sullenness in his voice.
“Wormtail, I need somebody with brains, somebody whose loyalty has never wavered, and you, unfortunately, fulfill neither requirement.”
“I found you,” said Wormtail, and there was definitely a sulky edge to his voice now. “I was the one who found you. I brought you Bertha Jorkins.”
“That is true,” said the second man, sounding amused. “A stroke of brilliance I would not have thought possible from you, Wormtail—though, if truth be told, you were not aware how useful she would be when you caught her, were you?”
“I—I thought she might be useful, My Lord—”
“Liar,” said the second voice again, the cruel amusement more pronounced than ever. “However, I do not deny that her information was invaluable. Without it, I could never have formed our plan, and for that, you will have your reward, Wormtail. I will allow you to perform an essential task for me, one that many of my followers would give their right hands to perform...”
“R-really, My Lord? What—?” Wormtail sounded terrified again.
“Ah, Wormtail, you don't want me to spoil the surprise? Your part will come at the very end... but I promise you, you will have the honor of being just as useful as Bertha Jorkins.”
“You... you...” Wormtail's voice suddenly sounded hoarse, as though his mouth had gone very dry. “You... are going... to kill me too?”
“Wormtail, Wormtail,” said the cold voice silkily, “why would I kill you? I killed Bertha because I had to. She was fit for nothing after my questioning, quite useless. In any case, awkward questions would have been asked if she had gone back to the Ministry with the news that she had met you on her holidays. Wizards who are supposed to be dead would do well not to run into Ministry of Magic witches at wayside inns...”
Wormtail muttered something so quietly that Frank could not hear it, but it made the second man laugh—an entirely mirthless laugh, cold as his speech.
“We could have modified her memory? But Memory Charms can be broken by a powerful wizard, as I proved when I questioned her. It would be an insult to her memory not to use the information I extracted from her, Wormtail.”
Out in the corridor, Frank suddenly became aware that the hand gripping his walking stick was slippery with sweat. The man with the cold voice had killed a woman. He was talking about it without any kind of remorse—with amusement. He was dangerous—a madman. And he was planning more murders—this boy, Harry Potter, whoever he was—was in danger—
Frank knew what he must do. Now, if ever, was the time to go to the police. He would creep out of the house and head straight for the telephone box in the village... but the cold voice was speaking again, and Frank remained where he was, frozen to the spot, listening with all his might.
“One more murder... my faithful servant at Hogwarts... Harry Potter is as good as mine, Wormtail. It is decided. There will be no more argument. But quiet... I think I hear Nagini...”
And the second man's voice changed. He started making noises such as Frank had never heard before; he was hissing and spitting without drawing breath. Frank thought he must be having some sort of fit or seizure.
And then Frank heard movement behind him in the dark passageway. He turned to look, and found himself paralyzed with fright.
Something was slithering toward him along the dark corridor floor, and as it drew nearer to the sliver of firelight, he realized with a thrill of terror that it was a gigantic snake, at least twelve feet long. Horrified, transfixed, Frank stared as its undulating body cut a wide, curving track through the thick dust on the floor, coming closer and closer—What was he to do? The only means of escape was into the room where the two men sat plotting murder, yet if he stayed where he was the snake would surely kill him—
But before he had made his decision, the snake was level with him, and then, incredibly, miraculously, it was passing; it was following the spitting, hissing noises made by the cold voice beyond the door, and in seconds, the tip of its diamond-patterned tail had vanished through the gap.
There was sweat on Frank's forehead now, and the hand on the walking stick was trembling. Inside the room, the cold voice was continuing to hiss, and Frank was visited by a strange idea, an impossible idea... This man could talk to snakes.
Frank didn't understand what was going on. He wanted more than anything to be back in his bed with his hot-water bottle. The problem was that his legs didn't seem to want to move. As he stood there shaking and trying to master himself, the cold voice switched abruptly to English again.
“Nagini has interesting news, Wormtail,” it said.
“In-indeed, My Lord?” said Wormtail.
“Indeed, yes,” said the voice, “According to Nagini, there is an old Muggle standing right outside this room, listening to every word we say.”
Frank didn't have a chance to hide himself. There were footsteps and then the door of the room was flung wide open.
A short, balding man with graying hair, a pointed nose, and small, watery eyes stood before Frank, a mixture of fear and alarm in his face.
“Invite him inside, Wormtail. Where are your manners?”
The cold voice was coming from the ancient armchair before the fire, but Frank couldn't see the speaker. the snake, on the other hand, was curled up on the rotting hearth rug, like some horrible travesty of a pet dog.
Wormtail beckoned Frank into the room. Though still deeply shaken, Frank took a firmer grip on his walking stick and limped over the threshold.
The fire was the only source of light in the room; it cast long, spidery shadows upon the walls. Frank stared at the back of the armchair; the man inside it seemed to be even smaller than his servant, for Frank couldn't even see the back of his head.
“You heard everything, Muggle?” said the cold voice.
“What's that you're calling me?” said Frank defiantly, for now that he was inside the room, now that the time had come for some sort of action, he felt braver; it had always been so in the war.
“I am calling you a Muggle,” said the voice coolly. “It means that you are not a wizard.”
“I don't know what you mean by wizard,” said Frank, his voice growing steadier. “All I know is I've heard enough to interest the police tonight, I have. You've done murder and you're planning more! And I'll tell youthis too,” he added, on a sudden inspiration, “my wife knows I'm up here, and if I don't come back—”
“You have no wife,” said te cold voice, very quietly. “Nobody knows you are here. You told nobody that you were coming. Do not lie to Lord Voldemort, Muggle, for he knows... he always knows...”
“Is that right?” said Frank roughly. “Lord, is it? Well, I don't think much of your manners, My Lord. Turn 'round and face me like a man, why don't you?”
“But I am not a man, Muggle,” said the cold voice, barely audible now over the crackling of the flames. “I am much, much more than a man. However... why not? I will face you... Wormtail, come turn my chair around.”
The servant gave a whimper.
“You heard me, Wormtail.”
Slowly, with his face screwed up, as though he would rather have done anything than approach his master and the hearth rug where the snake lay, the small man walked forward and began to turn the chair. The snake lifted its ugly triangular head and hissed slightly as the legs of the chair snagged on its rug.
And then the chair was facing Frank, and he saw what was sitting in it. His walking stick fell to the floor with a clatter. He opened his mouth and let out a scream. He was screaming so loudly that he never heard the words the thing in the chair spoke as it raised a wand. There was a flash of green light, a rushing sound, and Frank Bryce crumpled. He was dead before he hit the floor.
Two hundred miles away, the boy called Harry Potter woke with a start.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER TWO
THE SCAR

Harry lay flat on his back, breathing hard as though he had been running. He had awoken from a vivid dream with his hands pressed over his face. The old scar on his forehead, which was shaped like a bolt of lightning, was burning beneath his fingers as though someone had just pressed a white-hot wire to his skin.
He sat up, one hand still on his scar, the other hand reaching out in the darkness for his glasses, which were on the bedside table. He put them on and his bedroom came into clearer focus, lit by a faint, misty orange light that was filtering through the curtains from the street lamp outside the window.
Harry ran his fingers over the scar again. It was still painful. He turned on the lamp beside him, scrambled out of bed, crossed the room, opened his wardrobe, and peered into the mirror on the inside of the door. A skinny boy of fourteen looked back at him, his bright green eyes puzzled under his untidy black hair. He examined the lightning-bolt scar of his reflection more closely. It looked normal, but it was still stinging.
harry tried to recall what he had been dreaming about before he had awoken. It had seemed so real... There had been two people he knew and one he didn't ...He concentrated hard, frowning, trying to remember...
The dim picture of a darkened room came to him... There had been a snake on a hearth rug... a small man called Peter, nicknamed Wormtail... and a cold, high voice... the voice of Lord Voldemort. Harry felt as though an ice cube had slipped down into his stomach at the very thought...
He closed his eyes tightly and tried to remember what Voldemort had looked like, but it was impossible... All Harry knew was that at the moment when Voldemort's chair had swung around, and he, Harry, had seen what was sitting in it, he had felt a spasm of horror, which had awoken him... or had that been the pain in his scar?
And who had the old man been? For there had definitely been an old man; Harry had watched him fall to the ground. It was all becoming confused. Harry put his face into his hands, blocking out his bedroom, trying to hold on to the picture of that dimly lit room, but it was like trying to keep water in his cupped hands; the details were now trickling away as fast as he tried to hold on to them... Voldemort and Wormtail had been talking about someone they had killed, though Harry could not re-member the name... and they had been plotting to kill someone else... him!
Harry took his face out of his hands, opened his eyes, and stared around his bedroom as though expecting to see something unusual there. As it happened, there was an extraordinary number of unusual things in this room. A large wooden trunk stood open at the foot of his bed, revealing a cauldron, broomstick, black robes, and assorted spellbooks. Rolls of parchment littered that part of his desk that was not taken up by the large, empty cage in which his snowy owl, Hedwig, usually perched. On the floor beside his bed a book lay open; Harry had been reading it before he fell asleep last night. The pictures in this book were all moving. Men in bright orange robes were zooming in and out of sight on broomsticks, throwing a red ball to one another.
Harry walked over to the book, picked it up, and watched on of the wizards score a spectacular goal by putting the ball through a fifty-foot-high hoop. Then he snapped the book shut. Even Quidditch—in Harry's opinion, the best sport in the world—couldn't distract him at the moment. He placed Flying with the Cannons on his bedside table, crossed to the window, and drew back the curtains to survey the street below.
Privet Drive looked exactly as a respectable suburban street would be expected to look inthe early hours of Saturday morn-ing. All the curtains were closed. As far as Harry could see through the darkness, there wasn't a living creature in sight, not even a cat.
And yet... and yet... Harry went restlessly back to the bed and sat down on it, running a finger over his scar again. It wasn't the pain that bothered him; Harry was no stranger to pain and injury. He had lost all the bones from his right arm once and had them painfully regrown in a night. The same arm had been pierced by a venemous foot-long fang not long afterward. Only last year Harry had fallen fifty feet from an airborn broomstick. He was used to bizarre accidents and injuries; they were unavoid-able if you attended Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry and had a knack for attracting a lot of trouble.
No, the thing that was bothering Harry was the last time his scar had hurt him, it had been because Voldemort had been close by... But Voldemort couldn't be here, now... The idea of Voldemort lurking in Privet Drive was absurd, impossible...
Harry listened closely to the silence around him. Was he half expecting to hear the creak of a stair or the swish of a cloak? And then he jumped slightly as he heard his cousin Dudley give a tremendous grunting snore from the next room.
Harry shook himself mentally; he was being stupid. There was no one in the house with him except Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley, and they were plainly still asleep, their dreams untroubled and painless.
Asleep was the way Harry liked the Dursleys best; it wasn't as though they were ever any help to him awake. Uncle Vernon, Aunt Petunia, and Dudley were Harry's only living relatives. They were Muggles who hated and despised magic in any form, which meant that Harry was about as welcome in their house as dry rot. They had explained away Harry's long ab-sences at Hogwarts over the last three years by telling everyone that he went to St. Brutus's Secure Center for Incurably Crimi-nal Boys. They knew perfectly well that, as an underage wizard, Harry wasn't allowed to use magic outside Hogwarts, but they were still apt to blame him for anything that went wrong about the house. Harry had never been able to confide in them or tell them anything about his life in the wizarding world. The very idea of going to them when they awoke, and telling them about his scar hurting him, and about his worries about Voldemort, was laughable.
And yet it was because of Voldemort that Harry had come to live with the Dursleys in the first place. If it hadn't been for Voldemort, Harry would not have had the lightning scar on his forehead. If it hadn't been for Voldemort, Harry would still have had parents...
Harry had been a year old the night that Voldemort—the most powerful Dark wizard for a century, a wizard who had been gaining power steadily for eleven years—arrived at his house and killed his father and mother. Voldemort had then turned his wand on Harry; he had performed the curse that had disposed of many full-grown witches and wizards in his steady rise to power—and, incredibly, it had not worked. Instead of killing the small boy, the curse had rebounded upon Voldemort. Harry had survived with nothing but a lightning-shaped cut on his forehead, and Voldemort had been reduced to something barely alive. His powers gone, his life almost extinguished, Voldemort had fled; the terror in which the secret community of witches and wizards had lived for so long had lifted, Voldemort's followers had disbanded, and Harry Potter had become famous.
It had been enough of a shock for Harry to discover, on his eleventh birthday, that he was a wizard; it had been even more disconcerting to find out that everyone in the hidden wizarding world knew his name. Harry had arrived at Hogwarts to find that heads turned and whispers followed him wherever he went. But he was used to it now: At the end of this summer, he would be starting his fourth year at Hogwarts, and Harry was already counting the days until he would be back at the castle again.
But there was still a fortnight to go before he went back to school. He looked hopelessly around his room again, and his eye paused on the birthday cards his two best friends had sent him at the end of July. What would they say if Harry wrote to them and told them about his scar hurting?
At once, Hermione Granger's voice seemed to fill his head, shrill and panicky.
“Your scar hurt? Harry, that's really serious... Write to Professor Dumbledore! And I'll go and check Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions... Maybe there's something in there about curse scars...”
Yes, that would be Hermione's advice: Go straight to the headmaster of Hogwarts, and in the meantime, consult a book. Harry stared out of the window at the inky blue-black sky. He doubted very much whether a book could help him now. As far as he knew, he was the only living person to have survived a curse like Voldemort's; it was highly unlikely, therefore, that he would find his symptoms listed in Common Magical Ailments and Afflictions. As for informing the headmaster, Harry had no idea where Dumbledore went during the summer holidays. He amused himself for a moment, picturing Dumbledore, with his long silver beard, full length wizard's robes, and pointed hat, stretched out on a beach somewhere, rubbing suntan lotion onto his long crooked nose. Wherever Dumbledore was, though, Harry was sure that Hedwig would be able to find him; Harry's owl had never yet failed to deliver a letter to anyone, even without an address. But what would he write?
Dear Professor Dumbledore, Sorry to bother you, but my scar hurt this morning. Yours sincerely, Harry Potter.
Even inside his head the words sounded stupid.
And so he tried to imagine his other best friend, Ron Weasley's, reaction, and in a moment, Ron's red hair and long-nosed, freckled face seemed to swim before Harry, wearing a bemused expression.
“Your scar hurt? But ...but You-Know-Who can't be near you now, can he? I mean ...you'd know, wouldn't you? He'd be trying to do you in again, wouldn't be? I dunno, Harry, maybe curse scars always twinge a bit... I'll ask Dad...”
Mr. Weasley was a fully qualified wizard who worked in the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office at the Ministry of Magic, but he didn't have any particular expertise in the matter of curses, as far as Harry knew. In any case, Harry didn't like the idea of the whole Weasley family knowing that he, Harry, was getting jumpy about a few moments' pain. Mrs. Weasley would fuss worse than Hermione, and Fred and George, Ron's sixteenyear-old twin brothers, might think Harry was losing his nerve. The Weasleys were Harry's favorite family in the world; he was hoping that they might invite him to stay any time now (Ron had mentioned something about the Quidditch World Cup), and he somehow didn't want his visit punctuated with anxious inquiries about his scar.
Harry kneaded his forehead with his knuckles. What he really wanted (and it felt almost shameful to admit it to himself) was someone like—someone like a parent: an adult wizard whose advice he could ask without feeling stupid, someone who cared about him, who had had experience with Dark Magic...
And then the solution came to him. It was so simple, and so obvious, that he couldn't believe it had taken so long—Sirius.
Harry leapt up from the bed, hurried across the room, and sat down at his desk; he pulled a piece of parchment toward him, loaded his eagle-feather quill with ink, wrote Dear Sirius, then paused, wondering how best to phrase his problem, still marvel-ing at the fact that he hadn't thought of Sirius straight away. But then, perhaps it wasn't so surprising—after all, he had only found out that Sirius was his godfather two months ago.
There was a simple reason for Sirius's complete absence from Harry's life until then—Sirius had been in Azkaban, the terri-fying wizard jail guarded by creatures called dementors, sightless, soul-sucking fiends who had come to search for Sirius at Hogwarts when he had escaped. Yet Sirius had been innocent—the murders for which he had been convicted had been com-mitted by Wormtail, Voldemort's supporter, whom nearly everybody now believed dead. Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew oth-erwise, however; they had come face-to-face with Wormtail only the previous year, though only Professor Dumbledore had believed their story.
For one glorious hour, Harry had believed that he was leaving the Dursleys at last, because Sirius had offered him a home once his name had been cleared. But the chance had been snatched away from him—Wormtail had escaped before they could take him to the Ministry of Magic, and Sirius had had to flee for his life. Harry had helped him escape on the back of a hippo-griff called Buckbeak, and since then, Sirius had been on the run. The home Harry might have had if Wormtail had not escaped had been haunting him all summer. It had been doubly hard to return to the Dursleys knowing that he had so nearly escaped them forever.
Nevertheless, Sirius had been of some help to Harry, even if he couldn't be with him. It was due to Sirius that Harry now had all his school things in his bedroom with him. The Dursleys had never allowed this before; their general wish of keeping Harry as miserable as possible, coupled with their fear of his powers, had led them to lock his school trunk in the cupboard under the stairs every summer prior to this. But their attitude had changed since they had found out that Harry had a dangerous murderer for a godfather—for Harry had conveniently forgotten to tell them that Sirius was innocent.
Harry had received two letters from Sirius since he had been back at Privet Drive. Both had been delivered, not by owls (as was usual with wizards), but by large, brightly colored tropical birds. Hedwig had not approved of these flashy intruders; she had been most reluctant to allow them to drink from her water tray before flying off again. Harry, on the other hand, had liked them; they put him in mind of palm trees and white sand, and he hoped that, wherever Sirius was (Sirius never said, in case the letters were intercepted), he was enjoying himself. Somehow, Harry found it hard to imaging dementors surviving for long in bright sunlight, perhapse that was why Sirius had gone South. Sirius's letters, which were now hidden beneath the highly useful loose floorboards under Harry's bed, sounded chearful, and in both of them he had reminded Harry to call on him if ever Harry needed to. Well, he needed to right now, all right...
Harry's lamp seemed to grow dimmer as the cold gray light that precedes sunrise slowly crept into the room. Finally, when the sun had risen, when his bedroom walls had turned gold, and when sounds of movement could be heard from Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia's room, Harry cleared his desk of crumpled pieces of parchment and reread his finished letter.

Dear Sirius,
Thanks for your last letter. That bird was enormous; it could hardly get through my window. Things are the same as usual here. Dudley's diet isn't going too well. My aunt found him smuggling doughnuts into his room yesterday. They told him they'd have to cut his pocket money if he keeps doing it, so he got really angry and chucked his PlayStation out of the window. That's a sort of computer thing you can play games on. Bit stupid really, now he hasn't even got Mega-Mutilation Part Three to take his mind off things.
I'm okay, mainly because the Dursleys are terrified you might turn up and turn them all into bats if I ask you to.
A weird thing happened this morning, though. My scar hurt again. Last time that happened it was because Voldemort was at Hogwarts. But I don't reckon he can be anywhere near me now, can he? Do you know if curse scars sometimes hurt years afterward?
I'll send this with Hedwig when she gets back; she's off hunting at the moment. Say hello to Buckbeak for me. Harry

Yes, thought Harry, that looked all right. There was no point putting in the dream; he didn't want it to look as though he was too worried. He folded up the parchment and laid it aside on his desk, ready for when Hedwig returned. Then he got to his feet, stretched, and opened his wardrobe once more. Without glancing at his reflection he started to get dressed before going down to breakfast.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER THREE
THE INVITATION

By the time Harry arrived in the kitchen, the three Dursleys were already seated around the table. None of them looked up as he entered or sat down. Uncle Vernon's large red face was hidden behind the morning's Daily Mail, and Aunt Petunia was cutting a grapefruit into quarters, her lips pursed over her horselike teeth.
Dudley looked furious and sulky, and somehow seemed to be taking up even more space than usual. This was saying some-thing, as he always took up an entire side of the square table by himself. When Aunt Petunia put a quarter of unsweetened grapefruit onto Dudley's plate with a tremulous “There you are, Diddy darling,” Dudley glowered at her. His life had taken a most unpleasant turn since he had come home for the summer with his end-of-year report.
Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia had managed to find excuses for his bad marks as usual: Aunt Petunia always insisted that Dudley was a very gifted boy whose teachers didn't understand him, while Uncle Vernon maintained that “he didn't want some swotty little nancy boy for a son anyway.” They also skated over the accusations of bullying in the report—”He's a boisterous little boy, but he wouldn't hurt a fly!” Aunt Petunia had said tearfully.
However, at the bottom of the report there were a few well-chosen comments from the school nurse that not even Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia could explain away. No matter how much Aunt Petunia wailed that Dudley was big-boned, and that his poundage was really puppy fat, and that he was a growing boy who needed plenty of food, the fact remained that the school outfitters didn't stock knickerbockers big enough for him anymore. The school nurse had seen what Aunt Petunia's eyes—so sharp when it came to spotting fingerprints on her gleaming walls, and in observing the comings and goings of the neighbors—simply refused to see: that far from needing extra nourishment, Dudley had reached roughly the size and weight of a young killer whale.
So—after many tantrums, after arguments that shook Harry's bedroom floor, and many tears from Aunt Petunia—the new regime had begun. The diet sheet that had been sent by the Smeltings school nurse had been taped to the fridge, which had been emptied of all Dudley's favorite things—fizzy drinks and cakes, chocolate bars and burgers and filled instead with fruit and vegetables and the sorts of things that Uncle Vernon called “rabbit food.” To make Dudley feel better about it all, Aunt Petunia had insisted that the whole family follow the diet too. She now passed a grapefruit quarter to Harry. He noticed that it was a lot smaller than Dudley's. Aunt Petunia seemed to feet that the best way to keep up Dudley's morale was to make sure that he did, at least, get more to eat than Harry.
But Aunt Petunia didn't know what was hidden under the loose floorboard upstairs. She had no idea that Harry was not fol-lowing the diet at all. The moment he had got wind of the fact that he was expected to survive the summer on carrot sticks, Harry had sent Hedwig to his friends with pleas for help, and they had risen to the occasion magnificently. Hedwig had re-turned from Hermione's house with a large box stuffed full of sugar-free snacks. (Hermione's parents were dentists.) Hagrid, the Hogwarts gamekeeper, had obliged with a sack full of his own homemade rock cakes. (Harry hadn't touched these; he had had too much experience of Hagrid's cooking.) Mrs. Weasley, however, had sent the family owl, Errol, with an enormous fruitcake and assorted meat pies. Poor Errol, who was elderly and feeble, had needed a full five days to recover from the jour-ney. And then on Harry's birthday (which the Dursleys had completely ignored) he had received four superb birthday cakes, one each from Ron, Hermione, Hagrid, and Sirius. Harry still had two of them left, and so, looking forward to a real breakfast when he got back upstairs, he ate his grapefruit without complaint.
Uncle Vernon laid aside his paper with a deep sniff of disapproval and looked down at his own grapefruit quarter.
“Is this it?” he said grumpily to Aunt Petunia.
Aunt Petunia gave him a severe look, and then nodded pointedly at Dudley, who had already finished his own grapefruit quarter and was eyeing Harry's with a very sour look in his piggy little eyes.
Uncle Vernon gave a great sigh, which ruffled his large, bushy mustache, and picked up his spoon.
The doorbell rang. Uncle Vernon heaved himself out of his chair and set off down the hall. Quick as a flash, while his mother was occupied with the kettle, Dudley stole the rest of Uncle Vernon's grapefruit.
Harry heard talking at the door, and someone laughing, and Uncle Vernon answering curtly. Then the front door closed, and the sound of ripping paper came from the hall.
Aunt Petunia set the teapot down on the table and looked curiously around to see where Uncle Vernon had got to. She did-n't have to wait long to find out; after about a minute, he was back. He looked livid.
“You,” he barked at Harry. “In the living room. Now.”
Bewildered, wondering what on earth he was supposed to have done this time, Harry got up and followed Uncle Vernon out of the kitchen and into the next room. Uncle Vernon closed the door sharply behind both of them.
“So,” he said, marching over to the fireplace and turning to face Harry as though he were about to pronounce him under ar-rest. “So.”
Harry would have dearly loved to have said, “So what?” but he didn't feel that Uncle Vernon's temper should be tested this early in the morning, especially when it was already under severe strain from lack of food. He therefore settled for looking politely puzzled.
“This just arrived,” said Uncle Vernon. He brandished a piece of purple writing paper at Harry. “A letter. About you.”
Harry's confusion increased. Who would be writing to Uncle Vernon about him? Who did he know who sent letters by the postman?
Uncle Vernon glared at Harry, then looked down at the letter and began to read aloud:

Dear Mr. and Mrs. Dursley,
We have never been introduced, but I am sure you have heard a great deal from Harry about my son Ron.
As Harry might have told you, the final of the Quidditch World Cup takes place this Monday night, and my husband, Ar-thur, has just managed to get prime tickets through his connections at the Department of Magical Games and Sports.
I do hope you will allow us to take Harry to the match, as this really is a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity; Britain hasn't hosted the cup for thirty years, and tickets are extremely hard to come by. We would of course be glad to have Harry stay for
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER FOUR
BACK TO THE BURROW

By twelve o'clock the next day, Harry's school trunk was packed with his school things and all his most prized posses-sions—the Invisibility Cloak he had inherited from his father, the broomstick he had gotten from Sirius, the enchanted map of Hogwarts he had been given by Fred and George Weasley last year. He had emptied his hiding place under the loose floor-board of all food, double-checked every nook and cranny of his bedroom for forgotten spellbooks or quills, and taken down the chart on the wall counting down the days to September the first, on which he liked to cross off the days remaining until his return to Hogwarts.
The atmosphere inside number four, Privet Drive was extremely tense. The imminent arrival at their house of an assortment of wizards was making the Dursleys uptight and irritable. Uncle Vernon had looked downright alarmed when Harry informed him that the Weasleys would be arriving at five o'clock the very next day.
“I hope you told them to dress properly, these people,” he snarled at once. “I've seen the sort of stuff your lot wear. They'd better have the decency to put on normal clothes, that's all.”
Harry felt a slight sense of foreboding. He had rarely seen Mr. or Mrs. Weasley wearing anything that the Dursleys would call “normal.” Their children might don Muggle clothing during the holidays, but Mr. and Mrs. Weasley usually wore long robes in varying states of shabbiness. Harry wasn't bothered about what the neighbors would think, but he was anxious about how rude the Dursleys might be to the Weasleys if they turned up looking like their worst idea of wizards.
Uncle Vernon had put on his best suit. To some people, this might have looked like a gesture of welcome, but Harry knew it was because Uncle Vernon wanted to look impressive and intimidating. Dudley, on the other hand, looked somehow dimin-ished. This was not because the diet was at last taking effect, but due to fright. Dudley had emerged from his last encounter with a fully grown wizard with a curly pig's tail poking out of the seat of his trousers, and Aunt Petunia and Uncle Vernon had had to pay for its removal at a private hospital in London. It wasn't altogether surprising, therefore, that Dudley kept running his hand nervously over his backside, and walking sideways from room to room, so as not to present the same target to the enemy.
Lunch was an almost silent meal. Dudley didn't even protest at the food (cottage cheese and grated celery). Aunt Petunia wasn't, eating anything at all. Her arms were folded, her lips were pursed, and she seemed to be chewing her tongue, as though biting back the furious diatribe she longed to throw at Harry.
“They'll be driving, of course?” Uncle Vernon barked across the table.
“Er,” said Harry.
He hadn't thought of that. How were the Weasleys going to pick him up? They didn't have a car anymore; the old Ford An-glia they had once owned was currently running wild in the Forbidden Forest at Hogwarts. But Mr. Weasley had borrowed a Ministry of Magic car last year; possibly he would do the same today?
“I think so,” said Harry.
Uncle Vernon snorted into his mustache. Normally, Uncle Vernon would have asked what car Mr. Weasley drove; he tended to judge other men by how big and expensive their cars were. But Harry doubted whether Uncle Vernon would have taken to Mr. Weasley even if he drove a Ferrari.
Harry spent most of the afternoon in his bedroom; he couldn't stand watching Aunt Petunia peer out through the net cur-tains every few seconds, as though there had been a warning about an escaped rhinoceros. Finally, at a quarter to five, Harry went back downstairs and into the living room.
Aunt Petunia was compulsively straightening cushions. Uncle Vernon was pretending to read the paper, but his tiny eyes were not moving, and Harry was sure he was really listening with all his might for the sound of an approaching car. Dudley was crammed into an armchair, his porky hands beneath him, clamped firmly around his bottom. Harry couldn't take the ten-sion; he left the room and went and sat on the stairs in the hall, his eyes on his watch and his heart pumping fast from excite-ment and nerves.
But five o'clock came and then went. Uncle Vernon, perspiring slightly in his suit, opened the front door, peered up and down the street, then withdrew his head quickly.
“They're late!” he snarled at Harry.
I know,” said Harry. “Maybe—er—the traffic's bad, or something.”
Ten past five ...then a quarter past five ...Harry was starting to feel anxious himself now. At half past, he heard Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia conversing in terse mutters in the living room.
“No consideration at all.”
“We might've had an engagement.”
“Maybe they think they'll get invited to dinner if they're late.”
“Well, they most certainly won't be,” said Uncle Vernon, and Harry heard him stand up and start pacing the living room. “They'll take the boy and go, there'll be no hanging around. That's if they're coming at all. Probably mistaken the day. I daresay their kind don't set much store by punctuality. Either that or they drive some tin-pot car that's broken dAAAAAAAARRRRRGH!”
Harry jumped up. From the other side of the living room door came the sounds of the three Dursleys scrambling, panic-stricken, across the room. Next moment Dudley came flying into the hall, looking terrified.
“What happened?” said Harry. “What's the matter?”
But Dudley didn't seem able to speak. Hands still clamped over his buttocks, he waddled as fast as he could into the kitchen. Harry hurried into the living room.
Loud bangings and scrapings were coming from behind the Dursleys' boarded-up fireplace, which had a fake coal fire plugged in front of it.
“What is it?” gasped Aunt Petunia, who had backed into the wall and was staring, terrified, toward the fire. “What is it, Vernon?”
But they were left in doubt barely a second longer. Voices could be heard from inside the blocked fireplace.
“Ouch! Fred, no—go back, go back, there's been some kind of mistake—tell George not to—OUCH! George, no, there's no room, go back quickly and tell Ron-”
“Maybe Harry can hear us, Dad—maybe he'll be able to let us out-”
There was a loud hammering of fists on the boards behind the electric fire.
“Harry? Harry, can you hear us?”
The Dursleys rounded on Harry like a pair of angry wolverines.
“What is this?” growled Uncle Vernon. “What's going on?”
“They—they've tried to get here by Floo powder,” said Harry, fighting a mad desire to laugh. “They can travel by fire—only you've blocked the fireplace—hang on—”
He approached the fireplace and called through the boards.
“Mr. Weasley? Can you hear me?”
The hammering stopped. Somebody inside the chimney piece said, “Shh!”
“Mr. Weasley, it's Harry ...the fireplace has been blocked up. You won't be able to get through there.”
“Damn!” said Mr. Weasley's voice. “What on earth did they want to block up the fireplace for?”
“They've got an electric fire,” Harry explained.
“Really?” said Mr. Weasley's voice excitedly. “Eclectic, you say? With a plug? Gracious, I must see that... Let's think ...ouch, Ron!”
Ron's voice now joined the others'.
“What are we doing here? Has something gone wrong?”
“Oh no, Ron,” came Fred's voice, very sarcastically. “No, this is exactly where we wanted to end up.”
“Yeah, we're having the time of our lives here,” said George, whose voice sounded muffled, as though he was squashed against the wall.
“Boys, boys...” said Mr. Weasley vaguely. “I'm trying to think what to do... Yes ...only way... Stand back, Harry.”
Harry retreated to the sofa. Uncle Vernon, however, moved forward.
“Wait a moment!” he bellowed at the fire. “What exactly are you going to—”
BANG.
The electric fire shot across the room as the boarded-up fireplace burst outward, expelling Mr. Weasley, Fred, George, and Ron in a cloud of rubble and loose chippings. Aunt Petunia shrieked and fell backward over the coffee table; Uncle Vernon caught her before she hit the floor, and gaped, speechless, at the Weasleys, all of whom had bright red hair, including Fred and George, who were identical to the last freckle.
“That's better,” panted Mr. Weasley, brushing dust from his long green robes and straightening his glasses. “Ah—you must be Harry's aunt and uncle!”
Tall, thin, and balding, he moved toward Uncle Vernon, his hand outstretched, but Uncle Vernon backed away several paces, dragging Aunt Petunia. Words utterly failed Uncle Vernon. His best suit was covered in white dust, which had settled in his hair and mustache and made him look as though he had just aged thirty years.
“Er—yes—sorry about that,” said Mr. Weasley, lowering his hand and looking over his shoulder at the blasted fireplace. “It's all my fault. It just didn't occur to me that we wouldn't be able to get out at the other end. I had your fireplace connected to the Floo Network, you see—just for an afternoon, you know, so we could get Harry. Muggle fireplaces aren't supposed to be connected, strictly speaking—but I've got a useful contact at the Floo Regulation Panel and he fixed it for me. I can put it right in a jiffy, though, don't worry. I'll light a fire to send the boys back, and then I can repair your fireplace before I Disapparate.”
Harry was ready to bet that the Dursleys hadn't understood a single word of this. They were still gaping at Mr. Weasley, thunderstruck. Aunt Petunia staggered upright again and hid behind Uncle Vernon.
“Hello, Harry!” said Mr. Weasley brightly. “Got your trunk ready?”
“It's upstairs,” said Harry, grinning back.
“We'll get it,” said Fred at once. Winking at Harry, he and George left the room. They knew where Harry's bedroom was, having once rescued him from it in the dead of night. Harry suspected that Fred and George were hoping for a glimpse of Dud-ley; they had heard a lot about him from Harry.
“Well,” said Mr. Weasley, swinging his arms slightly, while he tried to find words to break the very nasty silence. “Very—erm—very nice place you've got here.”
As the usually spotless living room was now covered in dust and bits of brick, this remark didn't go down too well with the Dursleys. Uncle Vernon's face purpled once more, and Aunt Petunia started chewing her tongue again. However, they seemed too scared to actually say anything.
Mr. Weasley was looking around. He loved everything to do with Muggles. Harry could see him itching to go and examine the television and the video recorder.
“They run off eckeltricity, do they?” he said knowledgeably. “Ah yes, I can see the plugs. I collect plugs,” he added to Un-cle Vernon. “And batteries. Got a very large collection of batteries. My wife thinks I'm mad, but there you are.”
Uncle Vernon clearly thought Mr. Weasley was mad too. He moved ever so slightly to the right, screening Aunt Petunia from view, as though he thought Mr. Weasley might suddenly run at them and attack.
Dudley suddenly reappeared in the room. Harry could hear the clunk of his trunk on the stairs, and knew that the sounds had scared Dudley out of the kitchen. Dudley edged along the wall, gazing at Mr. Weasley with terrified eyes, and attempted to conceal himself behind his mother and father. Unfortunately, Uncle Vernon's bulk, while sufficient to hide bony Aunt Petunia, was nowhere near enough to conceal Dudley.
“Ah, this is your cousin, is it, Harry?” said Mr. Weasley, taking another brave stab at making conversation.
“Yep,” said Harry, “that's Dudley.”
He and Ron exchanged glances and then quickly looked away from each other; the temptation to burst out laughing was almost overwhelming. Dudley was still clutching his bottom as though afraid it might fall off. Mr. Weasley, however, seemed genuinely concerned at Dudley's peculiar behavior. Indeed, from the tone of his voice when he next spoke, Harry was quite sure that Mr. Weasley thought Dudley was quite as mad as the Dursleys thought he was, except that Mr. Weasley felt sympa-thy rather than fear.
“Having a good holiday, Dudley?” he said kindly.
Dudley whimpered. Harry saw his hands tighten still harder over his massive backside.
Fred and George came back into the room carrying Harry's school trunk. They glanced around as they entered and spotted Dudley. Their faces cracked into identical evil grins.
“Ah, right,” said Mr. Weasley. “Better get cracking then.”
He pushed up the sleeves of his robes and took out his wand. Harry saw the Dursleys draw back against the wall as one.
“Incendio!” said Mr. Weasley, pointing his wand at the hole in the wall behind him.
Flames rose at once in the fireplace, crackling merrily as though they had been burning for hours. Mr. Weasley took a small drawstring bag from his pocket, untied it, took a pinch of the powder inside, and threw it onto the flames, which turned emer-ald green and roared higher than ever.
“Off you go then, Fred,” said Mr. Weasley.
“Coming,” said Fred. “Oh no—hang on—”
A bag of sweets had spilled out of Fred's pocket and the contents were now rolling in every direction—big, fat toffees in brightly colored wrappers.
Fred scrambled around, cramming them back into his pocket, then gave the Dursleys a cheery wave, stepped forward, and walked right into the fire, saying “the Burrow!” Aunt Petunia gave a little shuddering gasp. There was a whooshing sound, and Fred vanished.
“Right then, George,” said Mr. Weasley, “you and the trunk.”
Harry helped George carry the trunk forward into the flames and turn it onto its end so that he could hold it better. Then, with a second whoosh, George had cried “the Burrow!” and vanished too.
“Ron, you next,” said Mr. Weasley.
“See you,” said Ron brightly to the Dursleys. He grinned broadly at Harry, then stepped into the fire, shouted “the Bur-row!” and disappeared.
Now Harry and Mr. Weasley alone remained.
“Well... 'bye then,” Harry said to the Dursleys.
They didn't say anything at all. Harry moved toward the fire, but just as he reached the edge of the hearth, Mr. Weasley put out a hand and held him back. He was looking at the Dursleys in amazement.
“Harry said good-bye to you,” he said. “Didn't you hear him?”
“It doesn't matter,” Harry muttered to Mr. Weasley. “Honestly, I don't care.”
Mr. Weasley did not remove his hand from Harry's shoulder.
“You aren't going to see your nephew till next summer,” he said to Uncle Vernon in mild indignation. “Surely you're going to say good-bye?”
Uncle Vernon's face worked furiously. The idea of being taught consideration by a man who had just blasted away half his living room wall seemed to be causing him intense suffering. But Mr. Weasley's wand was still in his hand, and Uncle Vernon's tiny eyes darted to it once, before he said, very resentfully, “Good-bye, then.”
“See you,” said Harry, putting one foot forward into the green flames, which felt pleasantly like warm breath. At that mo-ment, however, a horrible gagging sound erupted behind him, and Aunt Petunia started to scream.
Harry wheeled around. Dudley was no longer standing behind his parents. He was kneeling beside the coffee table, and he was gagging and sputtering on a foot-long, purple, slimy thing that was protruding from his mouth. One bewildered second later, Harry realized that the foot-long thing was Dudley's tongue—and that a brightly colored toffee wrapper lay on the floor before him.
Aunt Petunia hurled herself onto the ground beside Dudley, seized the end of his swollen tongue, and attempted to wrench it out of his mouth; unsurprisingly, Dudley yelled and sputtered worse than ever, trying to fight her off. Uncle Vernon was bel-lowing and waving his arms around, and Mr. Weasley had to shout to make himself heard.
“Not to worry, I can sort him out!” he yelled, advancing on Dudley with his wand outstretched, but Aunt Petunia screamed worse than ever and threw herself on top of Dudley, shielding him from Mr. Weasley.
“No, really!” said Mr. Weasley desperately. “It's a simple process it was the toffee—my son Fred—real practical joker—but it's only an Engorgement Charm—at least, I think it is—please, I can correct it—”
But far from being reassured, the Dursleys became more panicstricken; Aunt Petunia was sobbing hysterically, tugging Dudley's tongue as though determined to rip it out; Dudley appeared to be suffocating under the combined pressure of his mother and his tongue; and Uncle Vernon, who had lost control completely, seized a china figure from on top of the sideboard and threw it very hard at Mr. Weasley, who ducked, causing the ornament to shatter in the blasted fireplace.
“Now really!” said Mr. Weasley angrily, brandishing his wand. “I'm trying to help!”
Bellowing like a wounded hippo, Uncle Vernon snatched up another ornament.
“Harry, go! Just go!” Mr. Weasley shouted, his wand on Uncle Vernon. “I'll sort this out!”
Harry didn't want to miss the fun, but Uncle Vernon's second ornament narrowly missed his left ear, and on balance he thought it best to leave the situation to Mr. Weasley. He stepped into the fire, looking over his shoulder as he said “the Burrow!” His last fleeting glimpse of the living room was of Mr. Weasley blasting a third ornament out of Uncle Vernon's hand with his wand, Aunt Petunia screaming and lying on top of Dudley, and Dudley's tongue lolling around like a great slimy python. But next moment Harry had begun to spin very fast, and the Dursleys' living room was whipped out of sight in a rush of emerald-green flames.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER FIVE
WEASLEYS' WIZARD WHEEZES

Harry spun faster and faster, elbows tucked tightly to his sides, blurred fireplaces flashing past him, until he started to feel sick and closed his eyes. Then, when at last he felt himself slowing down, he threw out his hands and came to a halt in time to prevent himself from falling face forward out of the Weasleys' kitchen fire.
“Did he eat it?” said Fred excitedly, holding out a hand to pull Harry to his fee
“Yeah,” said Harry, straightening up. “What was it?”
“Ton-Tongue Toffee,” said Fred brightly. “George and I invented them, and we've been looking for someone to test them on all summer...”
The tiny kitchen exploded with laughter; Harry looked around and saw that Ron and George were sitting at the scrubbed wooden table with two red-haired people Harry had never seen before, though he knew immediately who they must be: Bill and Charlie, the two eldest Weasley brothers.
“How're you doing, Harry?” said the nearer of the two, grinning at him and holding out a large hand, which Harry shook, feeling calluses and blisters under his fingers. This had to be Charlie, who worked with dragons in Romania. Charlie was built like the twins, shorter and stockier than Percy and Ron, who were both long and lanky. He had a broad, good-natured face, which was weather-beaten and so freckly that he looked almost tanned; his arms were muscular, and one of them had a large, shiny burn on it.
Bill got to his feet, smiling, and also shook Harry's hand. Bill came as something of a surprise. Harry knew that he worked for the wizarding bank, Gringotts, and that Bill had been Head Boy at Hogwarts; Harry had always imagined Bill to be an older version of Percy: fussy about rule-breaking and fond of bossing everyone around. However, Bill was—there was no other word for it—cool. He was tall, with long hair that he had tied back in a ponytail. He was wearing an earring with what looked like a fang dangling from it. Bill's clothes would not have looked out of place at a rock concert, except that Harry recognized his boots to be made, not of leather, but of dragon hide.
Before any of them could say anything else, there was a faint popping noise, and Mr. Weasley appeared out of thin air at George's shoulder. He was looking angrier than Harry had ever seen him.
“That wasn't funny Fred!” he shouted. “What on earth did you give that Muggle boy?”
“I didn't give him anything,” said Fred, with another evil grin. I just dropped it... It was his fault he went and ate it, I never told him to.”
“You dropped it on purpose!” roared Mr. Weasley. “You knew he'd eat it, you knew he was on a diet—”
“How big did his tongue get?” George asked eagerly.
“It was four feet long before his parents would let me shrink it!”
Harry and the Weasleys roared with laughter again.
“It isn't funny!” Mr. Weasley shouted. “That sort of behavior seriously undermines wizard-Muggle relations! I spend half my life campaigning against the mistreatment of Muggles, and my own sons
“We didn't give it to him because he's a Muggle!” said Fred indignantly.
“No, we gave it to him because he's a great bullying git,” said George. “Isn't he, Harry?”
“Yeah, he is, Mr. Weasley,” said Harry earnestly.
“That's not the point!” raged Mr. Weasley. “You wait until I tell your mother—”
“Tell me what?” said a voice behind them.
Mrs. Weasley had just entered the kitchen. She was a short, plump woman with a very kind face, though her eyes were presently narrowed with suspicion.
“Oh hello, Harry, dear,” she said, spotting him and smiling. Then her eyes snapped back to her husband. “Tell me what, Arthur?”
Mr. Weasley hesitated. Harry could tell that, however angry he was with Fred and George, he hadn't really intended to tell Mrs. Weasley what had happened. There was a silence, while Mr. Weasley eyed his wife nervously. Then two girls appeared in the kitchen doorway behind Mrs. Weasley. One, with very bushy brown hair and rather large front teeth, was Harry's and Ron's friend, Hermione Granger. The other, who was small and red-haired, was Ron's younger sister, Ginny. Both of them smiled at Harry, who grinned back, which made Ginny go scarlet—she had been very taken with Harry ever since his first visit to the Burrow.
“Tell me what, Arthur?” Mrs. Weasley repeated, in a dangerous sort of voice.
“It's nothing, Molly,” mumbled Mr. Weasley, “Fred and George just—but I've had words with them—”
“What have they done this time?” said Mrs. Weasley. “If it's got anything to do with Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes—”
“Why don't you show Harry where he's sleeping, Ron?” said Hermione from the doorway.
“He knows where he's sleeping,” said Ron, “in my room, he slept there last—”
“We can all go,” said Hermione pointedly.
“Oh,” said Ron, cottoning on. “Right.”
“Yeah, we'll come too,” said George.
“You stay where you are!” snarled Mrs. Weasley.
Harry and Ron edged out of the kitchen, and they, Hermione, and Ginny set off along the narrow hallway and up the rickety staircase that zigzagged through the house to the upper stories.
“What are Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes?” Harry asked as they climbed.
Ron and Ginny both laughed, although Hermione didn't.
“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...”
“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.”
“Only, most of the stuff—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.”
O. W. L. s were Ordinary Wizarding Levels, the examinations Hogwarts students took at the age of fifteen.
“And then there was this big row,” Ginny said, “because Mum wants them to go into the Ministry of Magic like Dad, and they told her all they want to do is open a joke shop.”
Just then a door on the second landing opened, and a face poked out wearing horn-rimmed glasses and a very annoyed expression.
“Hi, Percy,” said Harry.
“Oh hello, Harry,” said Percy. “I was wondering who was making all the noise. I'm trying to work in here, you know I've got a report to finish for the office—and it's rather difficult to concentrate when people keep thundering up and down the stairs.”
“We're not thundering, “said Ron irritably. “We're walking. Sorry if we've disturbed the top-secret workings of the Ministry of Magic.”
“What are you working on?” said Harry.
“A report for the Department of International Magical Cooperation,” said Percy smugly. “We're trying to standardize cauldron thickness. Some of these foreign imports are just a shade too thin—leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three percent a year—”
“That'll change the world, that report will,” said Ron. “Front page of the Daily Prophet, I expect, cauldron leaks.”
Percy went slightly pink.
“You might sneer, Ron,” he said heatedly, “but unless some sort of international law is imposed we might well find the market flooded with flimsy, shallow-bottomed products that seriously endanger—”
“Yeah, yeah, all right,” said Ron, and he started off upstairs again. Percy slammed his bedroom door shut. As Harry, Hermione, and Ginny followed Ron up three more flights of stairs, shouts from the kitchen below echoed up to them. It sounded as though Mr. Weasley had told Mrs. Weasley about the toffees.
The room at the top of the house where Ron slept looked much as it had the last time that Harry had come to stay: the same posters of Ron's favorite Quidditch team, the Chudley Cannons, were whirling and waving on the walls and sloping ceiling, and the fish tank on the windowsill, which had previously held frog spawn, now contained one extremely large frog. Ron's old rat, Scabbers, was here no more, but instead there was the tiny gray owl that had delivered Ron's letter to Harry in Privet Drive. It was hopping up and down in a small cage and twittering madly.
“Shut up, Pig,” said Ron, edging his way between two of the four beds that had been squeezed into the room. “Fred and George are in here with us, because Bill and Charlie are in their room,” he told Harry. “Percy gets to keep his room all to himself because he's got to work.”
“Er—why are you calling that owl Pig?” Harry asked Ron.
“Because he's being stupid,” said Ginny, “Its proper name is Pigwidgeon.”
“Yeah, and that's not a stupid name at all,” said Ron sarcastically. “Ginny named him,” he explained to Harry. “She reckons it's sweet. And I tried to change it, but it was too late, he won't answer to anything else. So now he's Pig. I've got to keep him up here because he annoys Errol and Hermes. He annoys me too, come to that.
Pigwidgeon zoomed happily around his cage, hooting shrilly. Harry knew Ron too well to take him seriously. He had moaned continually about his old rat, Scabbers, but had been most upset when Hermione's cat, Crookshanks, appeared to have eaten him.
“Where's Crookshanks?” Harry asked Hermione now.
“Out in the garden, I expect,” she said. “He likes chasing gnomes. He's never seen any before.”
“Percy's enjoying work, then?” said Harry, sitting down on one of the beds and watching the Chudley Cannons zooming in and out of the posters on the ceiling.
“Enjoying it?” said Ron darkly. “I don't reckon he'd come home if Dad didn't make him. He's obsessed. Just don't get him onto the subject of his boss. According to Mr. Crouch ...as I was saying to Mr. Crouch ...Mr. Crouch is of the opinion ...Mr. Crouch was telling me ...They'll be announcing their engagement any day now.”
“Have you had a good summer, Harry?” said Hermione. “Did you get our food parcels and everything?”
“Yeah, thanks a lot, “ said Harry. “They saved my life, those cakes.
“And have you heard from -?” Ron began, but at a look from Hermione he fell silent. Harry knew Ron had been about to ask about Sirius. Ron and Hermione had been so deeply involved in helping Sirius escape from the Ministry of Magic that they were almost as concerned about Harry's godfather as he was. However, discussing him in front of Ginny was a bad idea. Nobody but themselves and Professor Dumbledore knew about how Sirius had escaped, or believed in his innocence.
“I think they've stopped arguing,” said Hermione, to cover the awkward moment, because Ginny was looking curiously from Ron to Harry. “Shall we go down and help your mum with dinner?”
“Yeah, all right,” said Ron. The four of them left Ron's room and went back downstairs to find Mrs. Weasley alone in the kitchen, looking extremely bad-tempered.
“We're eating out in the garden,” she said when they came in. “There's just not room for eleven 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, pointing her wand a little more vigorously than she had intended at a pile of potatoes in the sink, which shot out of their skins so fast that they ricocheted off the walls and ceiling.
“Oh for heaven's sake,” she snapped, now directing her wand at a dustpan, which hopped off the sideboard and started skating across the floor, scooping up the potatoes. “Those two!” she burst out savagely, now pulling pots and pans out of a cupboard, and Harry knew she meant Fred and George. I don't know what's going to happen to them, I really don't. No ambition, unless you count making as much trouble as they possibly can...”
Mrs. Weasley slammed a large copper saucepan down on the kitchen table and began to wave her wand around inside it. A creamy sauce poured from the wand tip as she stirred.
“It's not as though they haven't got brains, she continued irritably, taking the saucepan over to the stove and lighting it with a further poke of her wand, “but they're wasting them, and unless they pull themselves together soon, they'll be in real trouble. I've had more owls from Hogwarts about them than the rest put together. If they carry on the way they're going, they'll end up in front of the Improper Use of Magic Office.”
Mrs. Weasley jabbed her wand at the cutlery drawer, which shot open. Harry and Ron both jumped out of the way as several knives soared out of it, flew across the kitchen, and began chopping the potatoes, which had just been tipped back into the sink by the dustpan.
“I don't know where we went wrong with them,” said Mrs. Weasley, putting down her wand and starting to pull out still more saucepans. “It's been the same for years, one thing after another, and they won't listen to—OH NOT AGAIN!”
She had picked up her wand from the table, and it had emitted a loud squeak and turned into a giant rubber mouse.
“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.
They had only gone a few paces when Hermione's bandy-legged ginger cat, Crookshanks, came pelting out of the garden, bottle-brush tail held high in the air, chasing what looked like a muddy potato on legs. Harry recognized it instantly as a gnome. Barely ten inches high, its horny little feet pattered very fast as it sprinted across the yard and dived headlong into one of the Wellington boots that lay scattered around the door. Harry could hear the gnome giggling madly as Crookshanks inserted a paw into the boot, trying to reach it. Meanwhile, a very loud crashing noise was coming from the other side of the house. The source of the commotion was revealed as they entered the garden, and saw that Bill and Charlie both had their wands out, and were making two battered old tables fly high above the lawn, smashing into each other, 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.
By seven o'clock, the two tables were groaning under dishes and dishes of Mrs. Weasley's excellent cooking, and the nine Weasleys, Harry, and Hermione were settling themselves down to eat beneath a clear, deep-blue sky. To somebody who had been living on meals of increasingly stale cake all summer, this was paradise, and at first, Harry listened rather than talked as he helped himself to chicken and ham pie, boiled potatoes, and salad.
At the far end of the table, Percy was telling his father all about his report on cauldron bottoms.
“I've told Mr. Crouch that I'll have it ready by Tuesday,” Percy was saying pompously. “That's a bit sooner than he expected it, but I like to keep on top of things. I think he'll be grateful I've done it in good time, I mean, its 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 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 Mr. Crouch! I can't see Mr. Crouch 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?”
“Yes, I was asking Ludo about that,” said Mr. Weasley, frowning. “He says Bertha's gotten lost plenty of times before now—though must say, if it was someone in my department, I'd be worried...”
“Oh Bertha's hopeless, all right,” said Percy. “I hear she's been shunted from department to department for years, much more trouble than she's worth ...but all the same, Bagman ought to be trying to find her. Mr. Crouch has been taking a personal interest, 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—”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 down toward the end of the table 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.
“And your hair's getting silly, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley, fingering her wand lovingly.” I wish you'd let me give it a trim...”
“I like it,” said Ginny, who was sitting beside Bill. “You're so old-fashioned, Mum. Anyway, it's nowhere near as long as Professor Dumbledore's...”
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.”
“What happened?” said Harry eagerly, regretting more than ever his isolation from the wizarding world when he was stuck on Privet Drive.
“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.”
Harry had been on the Gryffindor House Quidditch team ever since his first year at Hogwarts and owned one of the best racing brooms in the world, a Firebolt. Flying came more naturally to Harry than anything else in the magical world, and he played in the position of Seeker on the Gryffindor House team.
Mr. Weasley conjured up candles to light the darkening garden before they had their homemade strawberry ice cream, and by the time they had finished, moths were fluttering low over the table, and the warm air was perfumed with the smells of grass and honeysuckle. Harry was feeling extremely well fed and at peace with the world as he watched several gnomes sprinting through the rosebushes, laughing madly and closely pursued by Crookshanks.
Ron looked carefully up the table to check that the rest of the family were all busy talking, then he said very quietly to Harry, “So—have you heard from Sirius lately?”
Hermione looked around, listening closely.
“Yeah,” said Harry softly, “twice. He sounds okay. I wrote to him yesterday. He might write back while I'm here.”
He suddenly remembered the reason he had written to Sirius, and for a moment was on the verge of telling Ron and Hermione about his scar hurting again, and about the dream that had awoken him ...but he really didn't want to worry them just now, not when he himself was feeling so happy and peaceful.
“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.”
“Wow—hope it does this time!” said Harry enthusiastically.
“Well, I certainly don't,” said Percy sanctimoniously. “I shudder to think what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days.”
“Yeah, someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?” said Fred.
“That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!” said Percy, going very red in the face. “It was nothing personal!”
“It was,” Fred whispered to Harry as they got up from the table. “We sent it.”

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER SIX
THE PORTKEY

Harry felt as though he had barely lain down to steep 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.
“'S' time already?” said Fred groggily.
They dressed in silence, too sleepy to talk, then, yawning and stretching, the four of them headed downstairs into the kitchen.
Mrs. Weasley was stirring the contents of a large pot on the stove, while Mr. Weasley was sitting at the table, checking a sheaf of large parchment tickets. He looked up as the boys entered and spread his arms so that they could see his clothes more clearly. He was wearing what appeared to be a golfing sweater and a very old pair of jeans, slightly too big for him and held up with a thick leather belt.
“What d'you think?” he asked anxiously. “We're supposed to go incognito—do I look like a Muggle, Harry?”
“Yeah,” said Harry, smiling, “very good.”
“Where're Bill and Charlie and Per-Per-Percy?” said George, failing to stifle a huge yawn.
“Well, they're Apparating, aren't they?” said Mrs. Weasley, heaving the large pot over to the table and starting to ladle porridge into bowls. “So they can have a bit of a lie-in.”
Harry knew that Apparating meant disappearing from one place and reappearing almost instantly in another, but had never known any Hogwarts student to do it, and understood that it was very difficult.
“So they're still in bed?” said Fred grumpily, pulling his bowl of porridge toward him. “Why can't we Apparate too?”
“Because you're not of age and you haven't passed your test,” snapped Mrs. Weasley. “And where have those girls got to?”
She bustled out of the kitchen and they heard her climbing the stairs.
“You have to pass a test to Apparate?” Harry asked.
“Oh yes,” said Mr. Weasley, tucking the tickets safely into the back pocket of his jeans. “The Department of Magical Transportation had to fine a couple of people the other day for Apparating without a license. It's not easy, Apparition, and when it's not done property it can lead to nasty complications. This pair I'm talking about went and splinched themselves.”
Everyone around the table except Harry winced.
“Er—splinched?” said Harry.
“They left half of themselves behind,” said Mr. Weasley, now spooning large amounts of treacle onto his porridge. “So, of course, they were stuck. Couldn't move either way. Had to wait for the Accidental Magic Reversal Squad to sort them out. Meant a fair old bit of paperwork, I can tell you, what with the Muggles who spotted the body parts they'd left behind....”
Harry had a sudden vision of a pair of legs and an eyeball lying abandoned on the pavement of Privet Drive.
“Were they okay?” he asked, startled.
“Oh yes,” said Mr. Weasley matter-of-factly. “But they got a heavy fine, and I don't think they'll be trying it again in a hurry. You don't mess around with Apparition. There are plenty of adult wizards who don't bother with it. Prefer brooms—slower, but safer.”
“But Bill and Charlie and Percy can all do it?”
“Charlie had to take the test twice,” said Fred, grinning. “He failed the first time. Apparated five miles south of where he meant to, right on top of some poor old dear doing her shopping, remember?”
“Yes, well, he passed the second time,” said Mrs. Weasley, marching back into the kitchen amid hearty sniggers.
“Percy only passed two weeks ago,” said George. “He's been Apparating downstairs every morning since, just to prove he can.”
There were footsteps down the passageway and Hermione and Ginny came into the kitchen, both looking pale and drowsy.
“Why do we have to be up so early?” Ginny said, rubbing her eyes and sitting down at the table.
“We've got a bit of a walk,” said Mr. Weasley.
“Walk?” said Harry. “What, are we walking to the World Cup?”
“No, no, that's miles away,” said Mr. Weasley, smiling. “We only need to walk a short way. It's just that it's very difficult for a large number of wizards to congregate without attracting Muggle attention. We have to be very careful about how we travel at the best of times, and on a huge occasion like the Quidditch World Cup...”
“George!” said Mrs. Weasley sharply, and they all jumped.
“What?” said George, in an innocent tone that deceived nobody.
“What is that in your pocket?”
“Nothing!”
“Don't you lie to me!”
Mrs. Weasley pointed her wand at George's pocket and said, “Accio!”
Several small, brightly colored objects zoomed out of George's pocket; he made a grab for them but missed, and they sped right into Mrs. Weasley's outstretched hand.
“We told you to destroy them!” said Mrs. Weasley furiously, holding up what were unmistakably more Ton-Tongue Toffees. “We told you to get rid of the lot! Empty your pockets, go on, both of you!”
It was an unpleasant scene; the twins had evidently been trying to smuggle as many toffees out of the house as possible, and it was only by using her Summoning Charm that Mrs. Weasley managed to find them all.
“Accio! Accio! Accio!” she shouted, and toffees zoomed from all sorts of unlikely places, including the lining of George's jacket and the turn-ups of Fred's jeans.
“We spent six months developing those!” Fred shouted at his mother as she threw the toffees away.
“Oh a fine way to spend six months!” she shrieked. “No wonder you didn't get more O. W. L. s!”
All in all, the atmosphere was not very friendly as they took their departure. Mrs. Weasley was still glowering as she kissed Mr. Weasley on the cheek, though not nearly as much as the twins, who had each hoisted their rucksacks onto their backs and walked out without a word to her.
“Well, have a lovely time,” said Mrs. Weasley, “and behave yourselves,” she called after the twins' retreating backs, but they did not look back or answer. “I'll send Bill, Charlie, and Percy along around midday,” Mrs. Weasley said to Mr. Weasley, as he, Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny set off across the dark yard after Fred and George.
It was chilly and the moon was still out. Only a dull, greenish tinge along the horizon to their right showed that daybreak was drawing closer. Harry, having been thinking about thousands of wizards speeding toward the Quidditch World Cup, sped up to walk with Mr. Weasley.
“So how does everyone get there without all the Muggles noticing?” he asked.
“It's been a massive organizational problem,” sighed Mr. Weasley. “The trouble is, about a hundred thousand wizards turn up at the World Cup, and of course, we just haven't got a magical site big enough to accommodate them all. There are places Muggles can't penetrate, but imagine trying to pack a hundred thousand wizards into Diagon Alley or platform nine and three-quarters. So we had to find a nice deserted moor, and set up as many anti-Muggle precautions as possible. The whole Ministry's been working on it for months. First, of course, we have to stagger the arrivals. People with cheaper tickets have to arrive two weeks beforehand. A limited number use Muggle transport, but we can't have too many clogging up their buses and trains—remember, wizards are coming from all over the world. Some Apparate, of course, but we have to set up safe points for them to appear, well away from Muggles. I believe there's a handy wood they're using as the Apparition point. For those who don't want to Apparate, or can't, we use Portkeys. They're objects that are used to transport wizards from one spot to another at a prearranged time. You can do large groups at a time if you need to. There have been two hundred Portkeys placed at strategic points around Britain, and the nearest one to us is up at the top of Stoatshead Hill, so that's where we're headed.”
Mr. Weasley pointed ahead of them, where a large black mass rose beyond the village of Ottery St. Catchpole.
“What sort of objects are Portkeys?” said Harry curiously.
“Well, they can be anything,” said Mr. Weasley. “Unobtrusive things, obviously, so Muggles don't go picking them up and playing with them ...stuff they'll just think is litter...”
They trudged down the dark, dank lane toward the village, the silence broken only by their footsteps. The sky lightened very slowly as they made their way through the village, its inky blackness diluting to deepest blue. Harry's hands and feet were freezing. Mr. Weasley kept checking his watch.
They didn't have breath to spare for talking as they began to climb Stoatshead Hill, stumbling occasionally in hidden rabbit holes, slipping on thick black tuffets of grass. Each breath Harry took was sharp in his chest and his legs were starting to seize up when, at last, his feet found level ground.
“Whew,” panted Mr. Weasley, taking off his glasses and wiping them on his sweater. “Well, we've made good time—we've got ten minutes.”
Hermione came over the crest of the hill last, clutching a stitch in her side.
“Now we just need the Portkey,” said Mr. Weasley, replacing his glasses and squinting around at the ground. “It won't be big... Come on...”
They spread out, searching. They had only been at it for a couple of minutes, however, when a shout rent the still air.
“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.
Everybody said hi back except Fred and George, who merely nodded. They had never quite forgiven Cedric for beating their team, Gryffindor, in the first Quidditch match of the previous year.
“Long walk, Arthur?” Cedric's father asked. “Not too bad,” said Mr. Weasley. “We live just on the other side of the village there. You?”
“Had to get up at two, didn't we, Ced? I tell you, I'll be glad when he's got his Apparition test. Still ...not complaining ...Quidditch World Cup, wouldn't miss it for a sackful of Galleons—and the tickets cost about that. Mind you, looks like I got off easy...” 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.
“Ced's talked about you, of course,” said Amos Diggory. “Told us all about playing against you last year... I said to him, I said—Ced, that'll be something to tell your grandchildren, that will... You beat Harry Potter!”
Harry couldn't think of any reply to this, so he remained silent. Fred and George were both scowling again. Cedric looked slightly embarrassed.
“Harry fell off his broom, Dad,” he muttered. I told you ...it was an accident...”
“Yes, but you didn't fall off, did you?” roared Amos genially, slapping his son on his back. “Always modest, our Ced, always the gentleman ...but the best man won, I'm sure Harry'd say the same, wouldn't you, eh? One falls off his broom, one stays on, you don't need to be a genius to tell which one's the better flier!”
“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—”
With difficulty, owing to their bulky backpacks, the nine of them crowded around the old boot held out by Amos Diggory.
They all stood there, in a tight circle, as a chill breeze swept over the hilltop. Nobody spoke. It suddenly occurred to Harry how odd this would look if a Muggle were to walk up here now ...nine people, two of them grown men, clutching this manky old boot in the semidarkness, waiting...
“Three...” muttered Mr. Weasley, one eye still on his watch, two... one...”
It happened immediately: Harry felt as though a hook just behind his navel had been suddenly jerked irresistibly forward. His feet left the ground; he could feel Ron and Hermione on either side of him, their shoulders banging into his; they were all speeding forward in a howl of wind and swirling color; his forefinger was stuck to the boot as though it was pulling him magnetically onward and then—
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, and Cedric were still standing, though looking very windswept; everybody else was on the ground.
“Seven past five from Stoatshead Hill,” said a voice.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER SEVEN
BAGMAN AND CROUCH

Harry disentangled himself from Ron and got to his feet. They had arrived on what appeared to be a deserted stretch of misty moor. In front of them was a pair of tired and grumpy-looking wizards, one of whom was holding a large gold watch, the other a thick roll of parchment and a quill. Both were dressed as Muggles, though very inexpertly: The man with the watch wore a tweed suit with thigh-length galoshes; his colleague, a kilt and a poncho.
“Morning, Basil,” said Mr. Weasley, picking up the boot and handing it to the kilted wizard, who threw it into a large box of used Portkeys beside him; Harry could see an old newspaper, an empty drinks can, and a punctured football.
“Hello there, Arthur,” said Basil wearily. “Not on duty, eh? It's all right for some... We've been here all night... You'd better get out of the way, we've got a big party coming in from the Black Forest at five fifteen. Hang on, I'll find your campsite... Weasley ...Weasley...” He consulted his parchment list. “About a quarter of a mile's walk over there, first field you come to. Site manager's called Mr. Roberts. Diggory ...second field ...ask for Mr. Payne.”
“Thanks, Basil,” said Mr. Weasley, and he beckoned everyone to follow him.
They set off across the deserted moor, unable to make out much through the mist. After about twenty minutes, a small stone cottage next to a gate swam into view. Beyond it, Harry could just make out the ghostly shapes of hundreds and hundreds of tents, rising up the gentle slope of a large field toward a dark wood on the horizon. They said good-bye to the Diggorys and approached the cottage door.
A man was standing in the doorway, looking out at the tents. Harry knew at a glance that this was the only real Muggle for several acres. When he heard their footsteps, he turned his head to look at them.
“Morning!” said Mr. Weasley brightly.
“Morning,” said the Muggle.
“Would you be Mr. Roberts?”
“Aye, I would,” said Mr. Roberts. “And who're you?”
“Weasley—two tents, booked a couple of days ago?”
“Aye,” said Mr. Roberts, consulting a list tacked to the door. “You've got a space up by the wood there. Just the one night?”
“That's it,” said Mr. Weasley.
“You'll be paying now, then?” said Mr. Roberts.
“Ah—right—certainly—” said Mr. Weasley. He retreated a short distance from the cottage and beckoned Harry toward him. “Help me, Harry,” he muttered, pulling a roll of Muggle money from his pocket and starting to peel the notes apart. “This one's a—a—a ten? Ah yes, I see the little number on it now... So this is a five?”
“A twenty,” Harry corrected him in an undertone, uncomfortably aware of Mr. Roberts trying to catch every word.
“Ah yes, so it is... I don't know, these little bits of paper...”
“You foreign?” said Mr. Roberts as Mr. Weasley returned with the correct notes.
“Foreign?” repeated Mr. Weasley, puzzled.
“You're not the first one who's had trouble with money,” said Mr. Roberts, scrutinizing Mr. Weasley closely. “I had two try and pay me with great gold coins the size of hubcaps ten minutes ago.”
“Did you really?” said Mr. Weasley nervously.
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...”
“Is that right?” said Mr. Weasley, 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.”
At that moment, a wizard in plus-fours appeared out of thin air next to Mr. Roberts's front door.
“Obliviate!” he said sharply, pointing his wand at Mr. Roberts.
Instantly, Mr. Roberts's eyes slid out of focus, his brows unknitted, and a took of dreamy unconcern fell over his face. Harry recognized the symptoms of one who had just had his memory modified.
“A map of the campsite for you,” Mr. Roberts said placidly to Mr. Weasley. “And your change.”
“Thanks very much,” said Mr. Weasley.
The wizard in plus-fours accompanied them toward the gate to the campsite. He looked exhausted: His chin was blue with stubble and there were deep purple shadows under his eyes. Once out of earshot of Mr. Roberts, he muttered to Mr. Weasley, “Been having a lot of trouble with him. 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 Blimey, 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,
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER EIGHT
THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP

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. The atmosphere of feverish excitement was highly infectious; 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.
“Seats a hundred thousand,” said Mr. Weasley, spotting the awestruck look on Harry's face. “Ministry task force of five hundred have been working on it all year. Muggle Repelling Charms on every inch of it. Every time Muggles have got anywhere near here all year, they've suddenly remembered urgent appointments and had to dash away again ...bless them,” he added fondly, leading the way toward the nearest entrance, which was already surrounded by a swarm of shouting witches and wizards.
“Prime seats!” said the Ministry witch at the entrance when she checked their tickets. “Top Box! Straight upstairs, Arthur, and as high as you can go.”
The stairs into the stadium were carpeted in rich purple. They clambered upward with the rest of the crowd, which slowly filtered away through doors into the stands to their left and right. Mr. Weasley's party kept climbing, and at last they reached the top of the staircase and found themselves in a small box, set at the highest point of the stadium and situated exactly halfway between the golden goal posts. About twenty purple-and-gilt chairs stood in two rows here, and Harry, filing into the front seats with the Weasleys, looked down upon a scene the likes of which he could never have imagined.
A hundred thousand witches and wizards were taking their places in the seats, which rose in levels around the long oval field. Everything was suffused with a mysterious golden light, which seemed to come from the stadium itself. The field looked smooth as velvet from their lofty position. At either end of the field stood three goal hoops, fifty feet high; right opposite them, almost at Harry's eye level, was a gigantic blackboard. Gold writing kept dashing across it as though an invisible giant's hand were scrawling upon the blackboard and then wiping it off again; watching it, Harry saw that it was flashing advertisements across the field.

The Bluebottle: A Broom for All the Family—safe, reliable, and with Built-in Anti-Burgler Buzzer ...Mrs. Shower's All Purpose Magical Mess Remover: No Pain, No Stain! ...Gladrags Wizardwear—London, Paris, Hogsmeade...

Harry tore his eyes away from the sign and looked over his shoulder to see who else was sharing the box with them. So far it was empty, except for a tiny creature sitting in the second from last seat at the end of the row behind them. The creature, whose legs were so short they stuck out in front of it on the chair, was wearing a tea towel draped like a toga, and it had its face hidden in its hands. Yet those long, batlike ears were oddly familiar...
“Dobby?” said Harry incredulously.
The tiny creature looked up and stretched its fingers, revealing enormous brown eyes and a nose the exact size and shape of a large tomato. It wasn't Dobby—it was, however, unmistakably a house-elf, as Harry's friend Dobby had been. Harry had set Dobby free from his old owners, the Malfoy family.
“Did sir just call me Dobby?” 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. Ron and Hermione spun around in their seats to look. Though they had heard a lot about Dobby from Harry, they had never actually met him. Even Mr. Weasley looked around in interest.
“Sorry,” Harry told the elf, “I just thought you were someone I knew.”
“But I knows Dobby too, sir!” squeaked the elf. She was shielding her face, as though blinded by light, though the Top Box was not brightly lit. “My name is Winky, sir—and you, sir—” Her dark brown eyes widened to the size of side plates as they rested upon Harry's scar. “You is surely Harry Potter!”
“Yeah, I am,” said Harry.
“But Dobby talks of you all the time, sir!” s he said, lowering her hands very slightly and looking awestruck.
“How is he?” said Harry. “How's freedom suiting him?”
“Ah, sir,” said Winky, shaking her head, “ah sir, meaning no disrespect, sir, but I is not sure you did Dobby a favor, sir, when you is setting him free.”
“Why?” said Harry, taken aback. “What's wrong with him?”
“Freedom is going to Dobby's head, sir, “ said Winky sadly. “Ideas above his station, sir. Can't get another position, sir.”
“Why not?” said Harry.
Winky lowered her voice by a half-octave and whispered, “He is wanting paying for his work, sir.”
“Paying?” said Harry blankly. “Well—why shouldn't he be paid?”
Winky looked quite horrified at the idea and closed her fingers slightly so that her face was half-hidden again.
“House-elves is not paid, sir!” she said in a muffled squeak. “No, no, no. I says to Dobby, I says, go find yourself a nice family and settle down, Dobby. He is getting up to all sorts of high jinks, sir, what is unbecoming to a house-elf. You goes racketing around like this, Dobby, I says, and next thing I hear you's up in front of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, like some common goblin.”
“Well, it's about time he had a bit of fun,” said Harry.
“House-elves is not supposed to have fun, Harry Potter,” said Winky firmly, from behind her hands. “House-elves does what they is told. I is not liking heights at all, Harry Potter”—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 turned back to the others.
“So that's a house-elf?” Ron muttered. “Weird things, aren't they?”
“Dobby was weirder,” said Harry fervently.
Ron pulled out his Omnioculars and started testing them, staring down into the crowd on the other side of the stadium.
“Wild!” he said, twiddling the replay knob on the side. I can make that old bloke down there pick his nose again ...and again ...and again...”
Hermione, meanwhile, was skimming eagerly through her velvetcovered, tasseled program.
“'A display from the team mascots will precede the match,"' she read aloud.

“Oh that's always worth watching,” said Mr. Weasley. “National teams bring creatures from their native land, you know, to put on a bit of a show.”
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. Highly embarrassed, he repaired them with his wand and thereafter remained in his seat, throwing jealous looks at Harry, whom Cornelius Fudge had greeted like an old friend. They had met before, and Fudge shook Harry's hand in a fatherly fashion, asked how he was, and introduced him to the wizards on either side of him.
“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.
“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, and Hermione turned quickly. Edging along the second row to three still-empty seats right behind Mr. Weasley were none other than Dobby the house-elf's former owners: Lucius Malfoy; his son, Draco; and a woman Harry supposed must be Draco's mother.
Harry and Draco Malfoy had been enemies ever since their very first journey to Hogwarts. A pale boy with a pointed face and white-blond hair, Draco greatly resembled his father. His mother was blonde too; tall and slim, she would have been nice-looking if she hadn't been wearing a look that suggested there was a nasty smell under her nose.
“Ah, Fudge,” said Mr. Malfoy, holding out his hand as he reached the Minister of Magic. “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 bowing 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.
“Good lord, Arthur,” he said softly. “What did you have to sell to get seats in the Top Box? Surely your house wouldn't have fetched this much?”
Fudge, who wasn't listening, 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. The Malfoys prided themselves on being purebloods; in other words, they considered anyone of Muggle descent, like Hermione, second-class. However, under the gaze of the Minister of Magic, Mr. Malfoy didn't dare say anything. He nodded sneeringly to Mr. Weasley and continued down the line to his seats. Draco shot Harry, Ron, and Hermione one contemptuous look, then settled himself between his mother and father.
“Slimy gits,” Ron muttered as he, Harry, and Hermione turned to face the field again. Next moment, Ludo Bagman charged into the box.
“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.
“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... the most beautiful women Harry had ever seen... except that they weren't—they couldn't be—human. This puzzled Harry for a moment while he tried to guess what exactly they could be; what could make their skin shine moon-bright like that, or their white-gold hair fan out behind them without wind... but then the music started, and Harry stopped worrying about them not being human—in fact, he stopped worrying about anything at all.
The veela had started to dance, and Harry's mind had gone completely and blissfully blank. All that mattered in the world was that he kept watching the veela, because if they stopped dancing, terrible things would happen.
And as the veela danced faster and faster, wild, half-formed thoughts started chasing through Harry's dazed mind. He wanted to do something very impressive, right now. Jumping from the box into the stadium seemed a good idea... but would it be good enough?
“Harry, what are you doing?” said Hermione's voice from a long way off.
The music stopped. Harry blinked. He was standing up, and one of his legs was resting on the wall of the box. Next to him, Ron was frozen in an attitude that looked as though he were about to dive from a springboard.
Angry yells were filling the stadium. The crowd didn't want the veela to go. Harry was with them; he would, of course, be supporting Bulgaria, and he wondered vaguely why he had a large green shamrock pinned to his chest. Ron, meanwhile, was absentmindedly 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.
“And now,” roared Ludo Bagman's voice, “kindly put your wands in the air... for the Irish National Team Mascots!”
Next moment, what seemed to be a great green-and-gold comet came zooming into the stadium. It did one circuit of the stadium, then split into two smaller comets, each hurtling toward the goal posts. A rainbow arced suddenly across the field, connecting the two balls of light. The crowd oooohed and aaaaahed, as though at a fireworks display. Now the rainbow faded and the balls of light reunited and merged; they had formed a great shimmering shamrock, which rose up into the sky and began to soar over the stands. Something like golden rain seemed to be falling from it—”Excellent!” yelled Ron as the shamrock soared over them, and heavy gold coins rained from it, bouncing off their heads and seats. Squinting up at the shamrock, Harry realized that it was actually comprised of thousands of tiny little bearded men with red vests, each carrying a minute lamp of gold or green.
“Leprechauns!” said Mr. Weasley over the tumultuous applause of the crowd, many of whom were still fighting and rummaging around under their chairs to retrieve the gold.
“There you go,” Ron yelled happily, stuffing a fistful of gold coins into Harry's hand, “for the Omnioculars! Now you've got to buy me a Christmas present, ha!”
The great shamrock dissolved, the leprechauns drifted down onto the field on the opposite side from the veela, and settled themselves cross-legged to watch the match.
“And now, ladies and gentlemen, kindly welcome—the Bulgarian National Quidditch Team! I give you—Dimitrov!”
A scarlet-clad figure on a broomstick, moving so fast it was blurred, shot out onto the field from an entrance far below, to wild applause from the Bulgarian supporters.
“Ivanova!”
A second scarlet-robed player zoomed out.
“Zograf! Levski! Vulchanov! Volkov! Aaaaaaand—Krum!”
“That's him, that's him!” yelled Ron, following Krum with his Omnioculars. Harry quickly focused his own.
Viktor Krum was thin, dark, and sallow-skinned, with a large curved nose and thick black eyebrows. He looked like an overgrown bird of prey. It was hard to believe he was only eighteen.
“And now, please greet—the Irish National Quidditch Team!” yelled Bagman. “Presenting—Connolly! Ryan! Troy! Mullet! Moran! Quigley! Aaaaaand—Lynch!”
Seven green blurs swept onto the field; Harry spun a small dial on the side of his Omnioculars and slowed the players down enough to read the word “Firebolt” on each of their brooms and see their names, embroidered in silver, upon their backs.
“And here, all the way from Egypt, our referee, acclaimed Chairwizard of the International Association of Quidditch, Hassan Mostafa!”
A small and skinny wizard, completely bald but with a mustache to rival Uncle Vernon's, wearing robes of pure gold to match the stadium, strode out onto the field. A silver whistle was protruding from under the mustache, and he was carrying a large wooden crate under one arm, his broomstick under the other. Harry spun the speed dial on his Omnioculars back to normal, watching closely as Mostafa mounted his broomstick and kicked the crate open—four balls burst into the air: the scarlet Quaffle, the two black Bludgers, and (Harry saw it for the briefest moment, before it sped out of sight) the minuscule, winged Golden Snitch. With a sharp blast on his whistle, Mostafa shot into the air after the balls.
“Theeeeeeeey're OFF!” screamed Bagman. “And it's Mullet! Troy! Moran! Dimitrov! Back to Mullet! Troy! Levski! Moran!”
It was Quidditch as Harry had never seen it played before. He was pressing his Omnioculars so hard to his glasses that they were cutting into the bridge of his nose. The speed of the players was incredible—the Chasers were throwing the Quaffle to one another so fast that Bagman only had time to say their names. Harry spun the slow dial on the right of his Omnioculars again, pressed the play-by-play button on the top, and he was immediately watching in slow motion, while glittering purple lettering flashed across the lenses and the noise of the crowd pounded against his eardrums.
HAWKSHEAD ATTACKING FORMATION, he read as he watched the three Irish Chasers zoom closely together, Troy in the center, slightly ahead of Mullet and Moran, bearing down upon the Bulgarians. PORSKOFF PLOY flashed up next, as Troy made as though to dart upward with the Quaffle, drawing away the Bulgarian Chaser Ivanova and dropping the Quaffle to Moran. One of the Bulgarian Beaters, Volkov, swung hard at a passing Bludger with his small club, knocking it into Moran's path; Moran ducked to avoid the Bludger and dropped the Quaffle; and Levski, soaring beneath, caught it—”TROY SCORES!” roared Bagman, and the stadium shuddered with a roar of applause and cheers. “Ten zero to Ireland!”
“What?” Harry yelled, looking wildly around through his Omnioculars. “But Levski's got the Quaffle!”
“Harry, if you're not going to watch at normal speed, you're going to miss things!” shouted Hermione, who was dancing up and down, waving her arms in the air while Troy did a lap of honor around the field. Harry looked quickly over the top of his Omnioculars and saw that the leprechauns watching from the sidelines had all risen into the air again and formed the great, glittering shamrock. Across the field, the veela were watching them sulkily.
Furious with himself, Harry spun his speed dial back to normal as play resumed.
Harry knew enough about Quidditch to see that the Irish Chasers were superb. They worked as a seamless team, their movements so well coordinated that they appeared to be reading one another's minds as they positioned themselves, and the rosette on Harry's chest kept squeaking their names: “Troy—Mullet—Mo ran!” And within ten minutes, Ireland had scored twice more, bringing their lead to thirty-zero and causing a thunderous tide of roars and applause from the green-clad supporters.
The match became still faster, but more brutal. Volkov and Vulchanov, the Bulgarian Beaters, were whacking the Bludgers as fiercely as possible at the Irish Chasers, and were starting to prevent them from using some of their best moves; twice they were forced to scatter, and then, finally, Ivanova managed to break through their ranks; dodge the Keeper, Ryan; and score Bulgaria's first goal.
“Fingers in your ears!” bellowed Mr. Weasley as the veela started to dance in celebration. Harry screwed up his eyes too; he wanted to keep his mind on the game. After a few seconds, he chanced a glance at the field. The veela had stopped dancing, and Bulgaria was again in possession of the Quaffle.
“Dimitrov! Levski! Dimitrov! Ivanova—oh I say!” roared Bagman.
One hundred thousand wizards gasped as the two Seekers, Krum and Lynch, plummeted through the center of the Chasers, so fast that it looked as though they had just jumped from airplanes without parachutes. Harry followed their descent through his Omnioculars, squinting to see where the Snitch was—
“They're going to crash!” screamed Hermione next to Harry.
She was half right—at the very last second, Viktor Krum pulled out of the dive and spiraled off. Lynch, however, hit the ground with a dull thud that could be heard throughout the stadium. A huge groan rose from the Irish seats.
“Fool!” moaned Mr. Weasley. “Krum was feinting!”
“It's time-out!” yelled Bagman's voice, “as trained mediwizards hurry onto the field to examine Aidan Lynch!”
“He'll be okay, he only got ploughed!” Charlie said reassuringly to Ginny, who was hanging over the side of the box, looking horror-struck. “Which is what Krum was after, of course...”
Harry hastily pressed the replay and play-by-play buttons on his Omnioculars, twiddled the speed dial, and put them back up to his eyes.
He watched as Krum and Lynch dived again in slow motion. WRONSKI DEFENSIVE FEINT—DANGEROUS SEEKER DIVERSION read the shining purple lettering across his lenses. He saw Krum's face contorted with concentration as he pulled out of the dive just in time, while Lynch was flattened, and he understood—Krum hadn't seen the Snitch at all, he was just making Lynch copy him. Harry had never seen anyone fly like that; Krum hardly looked as though he was using a broomstick at all; he moved so easily through the air that he looked unsupported and weightless. Harry turned his Omnioculars back to normal and focused them on Krum. He was now circling high above Lynch, who was being revived by mediwizards with cups of potion. Harry, focusing still more closely upon Krum's face, saw his dark eyes darting all over the ground a hundred feet below. He was using the time while Lynch was revived to look for the Snitch without interference.
Lynch got to his feet at last, to loud cheers from the green-clad supporters, mounted his Firebolt, and kicked back off into the air. His revival seemed to give Ireland new heart. When Mostafa blew his whistle again, the Chasers moved into action with a skill unrivaled by anything Harry had seen so far.
After fifteen more fast and furious minutes, Ireland had pulled ahead by ten more goals. They were now leading by one hundred and thirty points to ten, and the game was starting to get dirtier.
As Mullet shot toward the goal posts yet again, clutching the Quaffle tightly under her arm, the Bulgarian Keeper, Zograf, flew out to meet her. Whatever happened was over so quickly Harry didn't catch it, but a scream of rage from the Irish crowd, and Mostafa's long, shrill whistle blast, told him it had been a foul.
“And Mostafa takes the Bulgarian Keeper to task for cobbing—excessive use of elbows!” Bagman informed the roaring spectators. “And—yes, it's a penalty to Ireland!”
The leprechauns, who had risen angrily into the air like a swarm of glittering hornets when Mullet had been fouled, now darted together to form the words “HA, HA, HA!” The veela on the other side of the field leapt to their feet, tossed their hair angrily, and started to dance again.
As one, the Weasley boys and Harry stuffed their fingers into their ears, but Hermione, who hadn't bothered, was soon tugging on Harry's arm. He turned to look at her, and she pulled his fingers impatiently out of his ears.
“Look at the referee!” she said, giggling.
Harry looked down at the field. Hassan Mostafa had landed right in front of the dancing veela, and was acting very oddly indeed. He was flexing his muscles and smoothing his mustache excitedly.
“Now, we can't have that!” said Ludo Bagman, though he sounded highly amused. “Somebody slap the referee!”
A mediwizard came tearing across the field, his fingers stuffed into his own ears, and kicked Mostafa hard in the shins. Mostafa seemed to come to himself; Harry, watching through the Omnioculars again, saw that he looked exceptionally embarrassed and had started shouting at the veela, who had stopped dancing and were looking mutinous.
“And unless I'm much mistaken, Mostafa is actually attempting to send off the Bulgarian team mascots!” said Bagman's voice. “Now there's something we haven't seen before... Oh this could turn nasty...
It did: The Bulgarian Beaters, Volkov and Vulchanov, landed on either side of Mostafa and began arguing furiously with him, gesticulating toward the leprechauns, who had now gleefully formed the words “HEE, HEE, HEE.” Mostafa was not impressed by the Bulgarians' arguments, however; he was jabbing his finger into the air, clearly telling them to get flying again, and when they refused, he gave two short blasts on his whistle.
“Two penalties for Ireland!” shouted Bagman, and the Bulgarian crowd howled with anger. “And Volkov and Vulchanov had better get back on those brooms... yes... there they go... and Troy takes the Quaffle..
Play now reached a level of ferocity beyond anything they had yet seen. The Beaters on both sides were acting without mercy: Volkov and Vulchanov in particular seemed not to care whether their clubs made contact with Bludger or human as they swung them violently through the air. Dimitrov shot straight at Moran, who had the Quaffle, nearly knocking her off her broom.
“Foul!” roared the Irish supporters as one, all standing up in a great wave of green.
“Foul!” echoed Ludo Bagman's magically magnified voice. “Dimitrov skins Moran—deliberately flying to collide there—and it's got to be another penalty—yes, there's the whistle!”
The leprechauns had risen into the air again, and this time, they formed a giant hand, which was making a very rude sign indeed at the veela across the field. At this, the veela lost control. Instead of dancing, they launched themselves across the field and began throwing what seemed to be handfuls of fire at the leprechauns. Watching through his Omnioculars, Harry saw that they didn't look remotely beautiful now. On the contrary, their faces were elongating into sharp, cruel-beaked bird heads, and long, scaly wings were bursting from their shoulders—
“And that, boys,” yelled Mr. Weasley over the tumult of the crowd below, “is why you should never go for looks alone!”
Ministry wizards were flooding onto the field to separate the veela and the leprechauns, but with little success; meanwhile, the pitched battle below was nothing to the one taking place above. Harry turned this way and that, staring through his Omnioculars, as the Quaffie changed hands with the speed of a bullet.
“Levski—Dimitrov—Moran—Troy—Mullet—Ivanova—Moran again—Moran—MORAN SCORES!”
But the cheers of the Irish supporters were barely heard over the shrieks of the veela, the blasts now issuing from the Ministry members' wands, and the furious roars of the Bulgarians. The game recommenced immediately; now Levski had the Quaffle, now Dimitrov—
The Irish Beater Quigley swung heavily at a passing Bludger, and hit it as hard as possible toward Krum, who did not duck quickly enough. It hit him full in the face.
There was a deafening groan from the crowd; Krum's nose looked broken, there was blood everywhere, but Hassan Mostafa didn't blow his whistle. He had become distracted, and Harry couldn't blame him; one of the veela had thrown a handful of fire and set his broom tail alight.
Harry wanted someone to realize that Krum was injured; even though he was supporting Ireland, Krum was the most exciting player on the field. Ron obviously felt the same.
“Time-out! Ah, come on, he can't play like that, look at him—”
“Look at Lynch!” Harry yelled.
For the Irish Seeker had suddenly gone into a dive, and Harry was quite sure that this was no Wronski Feint; this was the real thing...
“He's seen the Snitch!” Harry shouted. “He's seen it! Look at him go!”
Half the crowd seemed to have realized what was happening; the Irish supporters rose in another great wave of green, screaming their Seeker on... but Krum was on his tail. How he could see where he was going, Harry had no idea; there were flecks of blood flying through the air behind him, but he was drawing level with Lynch now as the pair of them hurtled toward the ground again—
“They're going to crash!” shrieked Hermione.
“They're not!” roared Ron.
“Lynch is!” yelled Harry.
And he was right—for the second time, Lynch hit the ground with tremendous force and was immediately stampeded by a horde of angry veela.
“The Snitch, where's the Snitch?” bellowed Charlie, along the row.
“He's got it—Krum's got it—it's all over!” shouted Harry.
Krum, his red robes shining with blood from his nose, was rising gently into the air, his fist held high, a glint of gold in his hand.
The scoreboard was flashing BULGARIA: 160, IRELAND: 170 across the crowd, who didn't seem to have realized what had happened. Then, slowly, as though a great jumbo jet were revving up, the rumbling from the Ireland supporters grew louder and louder and erupted into screams of delight.
“IRELAND WINS!” Bagman shouted, who like the Irish, seemed to be taken aback by the sudden end of the match.
“KRUM GETS THE SNITCH—BUT IRELAND WINS—good lord, I don't think any of us were expecting that!”
“What did he catch the Snitch for?” Ron bellowed, even as he jumped up and down, applauding with his hands over his head. “He ended it when Ireland were a hundred and sixty points ahead, the idiot!”
“He knew they were never going to catch up!” Harry shouted back over all the noise, also applauding loudly. “The Irish Chasers were too good... He wanted to end it on his terms, that's all...
“He was very brave, wasn't he?” Hermione said, leaning forward to watch Krum land as a swarm of mediwizards blasted a path through the battling leprechauns and veela to get to him. “He looks a terrible mess...”
Harry put his Omnioculars to his eyes again. It was hard to see what was happening below, because leprechauns were zooming delightedly all over the field, but he could just make out Krum, surrounded by mediwizards. He looked surlier than ever and refused to let them mop him up. His team members were around him, shaking their heads and looking dejected; a short way away, the Irish players were dancing gleefully in a shower of gold descending from their mascots. Flags were waving all over the stadium, the Irish national anthem blared from all sides; the veela were shrinking back into their usual, beautiful selves now, though looking dispirited and forlorn.
“Vell, ve fought bravely,” said a gloomy voice behind Harry. He looked around; it was the Bulgarian Minister of Magic.
“You can speak English!” said Fudge, sounding outraged. “And you've been letting me mime everything all day!”
“Veil, it vos very funny,” said the Bulgarian minister, shrugging.
“And as the Irish team performs a lap of honor, flanked by their mascots, the Quidditch World Cup itself is brought into the Top Box!” roared Bagman.
Harry's eyes were suddenly dazzled by a blinding white light, as the Top Box was magically illuminated so that everyone in the stands could see the inside. Squinting toward the entrance, he saw two panting wizards carrying a vast golden cup into the box, which they handed to Cornelius Fudge, who was still looking very disgruntled that he'd been using sign language all day for nothing.
“Let's have a really loud hand for the gallant losers—Bulgaria!” Bagman shouted.
And up the stairs into the box came the seven defeated Bulgarian players. The crowd below was applauding appreciatively; Harry could see thousands and thousands of Omniocular lenses flashing and winking in their direction.
One by one, the Bulgarians filed between the rows of seats in the box, and Bagman called out the name of each as they shook hands with their own minister and then with Fudge. Krum, who was last in line, looked a real mess. Two black eyes were blooming spectacularly on his bloody face. He was still holding the Snitch. Harry noticed that he seemed much less coordinated on the ground. He was slightly duck-footed and distinctly round-shouldered. But when Krum's name was announced, the whole stadium gave him a resounding, earsplitting roar.
And then came the Irish team. Aidan Lynch was being supported by Moran and Connolly; the second crash seemed to have dazed him and his eyes looked strangely unfocused. But he grinned happily as Troy and Quigley lifted the Cup into the air and the crowd below thundered its approval. Harry's hands were numb with clapping.
At last, when the Irish team had left the box to perform another lap of honor on their brooms (Aidan Lynch on the back of Confolly's, clutching hard around his waist and still grinning in a bemused sort of way), Bagman pointed his wand at his throat and muttered, “Quietus.”
“They'll be talking about this one for years,” he said hoarsely, “a really unexpected twist, that... shame it couldn't have lasted longer... Ah yes... yes, I owe you... how much?”
For Fred and George had just scrambled over the backs of their seats and were standing in front of Ludo Bagman with broad grins on their faces, their hands outstretched.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER NINE
THE DARK MARK

Don't tell your mother you've been gambling,” Mr. Weasley implored Fred and George as they all made their way slowly down the purple-carpeted stairs.
“Don't worry, Dad,” said Fred gleefully, “we've got big plans for this money. We don't want it confiscated.”
Mr. Weasley looked for a moment as though he was going to ask what these big plans were, but seemed to decide, upon reflection, that he didn't want to know.
They were soon caught up in the crowds now flooding out of the stadium and back to their campsites. Raucous singing was borne toward them on the night air as they retraced their steps along the lantern-lit path, and leprechauns kept shooting over their heads, cackling and waving their lanterns. When they finally reached the tents, nobody felt like sleeping at all, and given the level of noise around them, Mr. Weasley agreed that they could all have one last cup of cocoa together before turning in. They were soon arguing enjoyably about the match; Mr. Weasley got drawn into a disagreement about cobbing with Charlie, and it was only when Ginny fell asleep right at the tiny table and spilled hot chocolate all over the floor that Mr. Weasley called a halt to the verbal replays and insisted that everyone go to bed. Hermione and Ginny went into the next tent, and Harry and the rest of the Weasleys changed into pajamas and clambered into their bunks. From the other side of the campsite they could still hear much singing and the odd echoing bang.
“Oh I am glad I'm not on duty,” muttered Mr. Weasley sleepily. “I wouldn't fancy having to go and tell the Irish they've got to stop celebrating.”
Harry, who was on a top bunk above Ron, lay staring up at the canvas ceiling of the tent, watching the glow of an occasional leprechaun lantern flying overhead, and picturing again some of Krum's more spectacular moves. He was itching to get back on his own Firebolt and try out the Wronski Feint... Somehow Oliver Wood had never managed to convey with all his wriggling diagrams what that move was supposed to look like... Harry saw himself in robes that had his name on the back, and imagined the sensation of hearing a hundred-thousand-strong crowd roar, as Ludo Bagman's voice echoed throughout the stadium, “I give you... Potter!”
Harry never knew whether or not he had actually dropped off to sleep—his fantasies of flying like Krum might well have slipped into actual dreams—all he knew was that, quite suddenly, Mr. Weasley was shouting.
“Get up! Ron—Harry—come on now, get up, this is urgent!”
Harry sat up quickly and the top of his head hit canvas.
“S' matter?” he said.
Dimly, he could tell that something was wrong. The noises in the campsite had changed. The singing had stopped. He could hear screams, and the sound of people running. He slipped down from the bunk and reached for his clothes, but Mr. Weasley, who had pulled on his jeans over his own pajamas, said, “No time, Harry—just grab a jacket and get outside—quickly!”
Harry did as he was told and hurried out of the tent, Ron at his heels.
By the light of the few fires that were still burning, he could see people running away into the woods, fleeing something that was moving across the field toward them, something that was emitting odd flashes of light and noises like gunfire. Loud jeering, roars of laughter, and drunken yells were drifting toward them; then came a burst of strong green light, which illuminated the scene.
A crowd of wizards, tightly packed and moving together with wands pointing straight upward, was marching slowly across the field. Harry squinted at them... They didn't seem to have faces... Then he realized that their heads were hooded and their faces masked. High above them, floating along in midair, four struggling figures were being contorted into grotesque shapes. It was as though the masked wizards on the ground were puppeteers, and the people above them were marionettes operated by invisible strings that rose from the wands into the air. Two of the figures were very small.
More wizards were joining the marching group, laughing and pointing up at the floating bodies. Tents crumpled and fell as the marching crowd swelled. Once or twice Harry saw one of the marchers blast a tent out of his way with his wand. Several caught fire. The screaming grew louder.
The floating people were suddenly illuminated as they passed over a burning tent and Harry recognized one of them: Mr. Roberts, the campsite manager. The other three looked as though they might be his wife and children. One of the marchers below flipped Mrs. Roberts upside down with his wand; her nightdress fell down to reveal voluminous drawers and she struggled to cover herself up as the crowd below her screeched and hooted with glee.
“That's sick,” Ron muttered, watching the smallest Muggle child, who had begun to spin like a top, sixty feet above the ground, his head flopping limply from side to side. “That is really sick...”
Hermione and Ginny came hurrying toward them, pulling coats over their nightdresses, with Mr. Weasley right behind them. At the same moment, Bill, Charlie, and Percy emerged from the boys' tent, fully dressed, with their sleeves rolled up and their wands out.
“We're going to help the Ministry!” Mr. Weasley shouted over all the noise, rolling up his own sleeves. “You lot—get into the woods, and stick together. I'll come and fetch you when we've sorted this out!”
Bill, Charlie, and Percy were already sprinting away toward the oncoming marchers; Mr. Weasley tore after them. Ministry wizards were dashing from every direction toward the source of the trouble. The crowd beneath the Roberts family was coming ever closer.
“C'mon,” said Fred, grabbing Ginny's hand and starting to pull her toward the wood. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and George followed. They all looked back as they reached the trees. The crowd beneath the Roberts family was larger than ever; they could see the Ministry wizards trying to get through it to the hooded wizards in the center, but they were having great difficulty. It looked as though they were scared to perform any spell that might make the Roberts family fall.
The colored lanterns that had lit the path to the stadium had been extinguished. Dark figures were blundering through the trees; children were crying; anxious shouts and panicked voices were reverberating around them in the cold night air. Harry felt himself being pushed hither and thither by people whose faces he could not see. Then he heard Ron yell with pain.
“What happened?” said Hermione anxiously, stopping so abruptly that Harry walked into her. “Ron, where are you? Oh this is stupid—lumos!”
She illuminated her wand and directed its narrow beam across the path. Ron was lying sprawled on the ground.
“Tripped over a tree root,” he said angrily, getting to his feet again.
“Well, with feet that size, hard not to,” said a drawling voice from behind them.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione turned sharply. Draco Malfoy was standing alone nearby, leaning against a tree, looking utterly relaxed. His arms folded, he seemed to have been watching the scene at the campsite through a gap in the trees.
Ron told Malfoy to do something that Harry knew he would never have dared say in front of Mrs. Weasley.
“Language, Weasley,” said Malfoy, his pale eyes glittering. “Hadn't you better be hurrying along, now? You wouldn't like her spotted, would you?”
He nodded at Hermione, and at the same moment, a blast like a bomb sounded from the campsite, and a flash of green light momentarily lit the trees around them.
“What's that supposed to mean?” said Hermione defiantly. “Granger, they're after Muggles, “said Malfoy. “D'you want to be showing off your knickers in midair? Because if you do, hang around... they're moving this way, and it would give us all a laugh.”
“Hermione's a witch,” Harry snarled.
“Have it your own way, Potter,” said Malfoy, grinning maliciously. “If you think they can't spot a Mudblood, stay where you are.”
“You watch your mouth!” shouted Ron. Everybody present knew that “Mudblood” was a very offensive term for a witch or wizard of Muggle parentage.
“Never mind, Ron,” said Hermione quickly, seizing Ron's arm to restrain him as he took a step toward Malfoy.
There came a bang from the other side of the trees that was louder than anything they had heard. Several people nearby screamed. Malfoy chuckled softly.
“Scare easily, don't they?” he said lazily. “I suppose your daddy told you all to hide? What's he up to—trying to rescue the Muggles?”
“Where're your parents?” said Harry, his temper rising. “Out there wearing masks, are they?”
Malfoy turned his face to Harry, still smiling.
“Well... if they were, I wouldn't be likely to tell you, would I, Potter?”
“Oh come on,” said Hermione, with a disgusted look at Malfoy, “let's go and find the others.”
“Keep that big bushy head down, Granger,” sneered Malfoy.
“Come on,” Hermione repeated, and she pulled Harry and Ron up the path again.
“I'll bet you anything his dad is one of that masked lot!” said Ron hotly.
“Well, with any luck, the Ministry will catch him!” said Hermione fervently. “Oh I can't believe this. Where have the others got to?”
Fred, George, and Ginny were nowhere to be seen, though the path was packed with plenty of other people, all looking nervously over their shoulders toward the commotion back at the campsite. A huddle of teenagers in pajamas was arguing vociferously a little way along the path. When they saw Harry, Ron, and Hermione, a girl with thick curly hair turned and said quickly, “Ou est Madame Maxime? Nous l'avons perdue—”
“Er—what?” said Ron.
“Oh...” The girl who had spoken turned her back on him, and as they walked on they distinctly heard her say, “Ogwarts.”
“Beauxbatons,” muttered Hermione.
“Sorry?” said Harry.
“They must go to Beauxbatons,” said Hermione. “You know... Beauxbatons Academy of Magic... I read about it in An Appraisal ofMagical Education in Europe.”
“Oh... yeah... right,” said Harry.
“Fred and George can't have gone that far,” said Ron, pulling out his wand, lighting it like Hermione's, and squinting up the path. Harry dug in the pockets of his jacket for his own wand—but it wasn't there. The only thing he could find was his Omnioculars.
“Ah, no, I don't believe it... I've lost my wand!”
“You're kidding!”
Ron and Hermione raised their wands high enough to spread the narrow beams of light farther on the ground; Harry looked all around him, but his wand was nowhere to be seen.
“Maybe it's back in the tent,” said Ron.
“Maybe it fell out of your pocket when we were running?” Hermione suggested anxiously.
“Yeah,” said Harry, “maybe..
He usually kept his wand with him at all times in the wizarding world, and finding himself without it in the midst of a scene like this made him feel very vulnerable.
A rustling noise nearby made all three of them jump. Winky the house-elf was fighting her way out of a clump of bushes nearby. She was moving in a most peculiar fashion, apparently with great difficulty; it was as though someone invisible were trying to hold her back.
“There is bad wizards about!” she squeaked distractedly as she leaned forward and labored to keep running. “People high—high in the air! Winky is getting out of the way!”
And she disappeared into the trees on the other side of the path, panting and squeaking as she fought the force that was restraining her.
“What's up with her?” said Ron, looking curiously after Winky. “Why can't she run properly?”
“Bet she didn't ask permission to hide,” said Harry. He was thinking of Dobby: Every time he had tried to do something the Malfoys wouldn't like, the house-elf had been forced to start beating himself up.
“You know, house-elves get a very raw deal!” said Hermione indignantly. “It's slavery, that's what it is! That Mr. Crouch made her go up to the top of the stadium, and she was terrified, and he's got her bewitched so she can't even run when they start trampling tents! Why doesn't anyone do something about it?”
“Well, the elves are happy, aren't they?” Ron said. “You heard old Winky back at the match... 'House-elves is not supposed to have fun'... that's what she likes, being bossed around...”
“It's people like you, Ron,” Hermione began hotly, “who prop up rotten and unjust systems, just because they're too lazy to—”
Another loud bang echoed from the edge of the wood.
“Let's just keep moving, shall we?” said Ron, and Harry saw him glance edgily at Hermione. Perhaps there was truth in what Malfoy had said; perhaps Hermione was in more danger than they were. They set off again, Harry still searching his pockets, even though he knew his wand wasn't there.
They followed the dark path deeper into the wood, still keeping an eye out for Fred, George, and Ginny. They passed a group of goblins who were cackling over a sack of gold that they had undoubtedly won betting on the match, and who seemed quite unperturbed by the trouble at the campsite. Farther still along the path, they walked into a patch of silvery light, and when they looked through the trees, they saw three tall and beautiful veela standing in a clearing, surrounded by a gaggle of young wizards, all of whom were talking very loudly.
“I pull down about a hundred sacks of Galleons a year!” one of them shouted. “I'm a dragon killer for the Committee for the Disposal of Dangerous Creatures.”
“No, you're not!” yelled his friend. “You're a dishwasher at the Leaky Cauldron... but I'm a vampire hunter, I've killed about ninety so far—”
A third young wizard, whose pimples were visible even by the dim, silvery light of the veela, now cut in, “I'm about to become the youngest ever Minister of Magic, I am.”
Harry snorted with laughter. He recognized the pimply wizard: His name was Stan Shunpike, and he was in fact a conductor on the triple-decker Knight Bus. He turned to tell Ron this, but Ron's face had gone oddly slack, and next second Ron was yelling, “Did I tell you I've invented a broomstick that'll reach Jupiter?”
“Honestly!” said Hermione, and she and Harry grabbed Ron firmly by the arms, wheeled him around, and marched him away. By the time the sounds of the veela and their admirers had faded completely, they were in the very heart of the wood. They seemed to be alone now; everything was much quieter.
Harry looked around. “I reckon we can just wait here, you know. We'll hear anyone coming a mile off.”
The words were hardly out of his mouth, when Ludo Bagman emerged from behind a tree right ahead of them.
Even by the feeble light of the two wands, Harry could see that a great change had come over Bagman. He no longer looked buoyant and rosy-faced; there was no more spring in his step. He looked very white and strained.
“Who's that?” he said, blinking down at them, trying to make out their faces. “What are you doing in here, all alone?”
They looked at one another, surprised.
“Well—there's a sort of riot going on,” said Ron.
Bagman stared at him.
“What?”
“At the campsite... some people have got hold of a family of Muggles...
Bagman swore loudly.
“Damn them!” he said, looking quite distracted, and without another word, he Disapparated with a small pop!
“Not exactly on top of things, Mr. Bagman, is he?” said Hermione, frowning.
“He was a great Beater, though,” said Ron, leading the way off the path into a small clearing, and sitting down on a patch of dry grass at the foot of a tree. “The Wimbourne Wasps won the league three times in a row while he was with them.”
He took his small figure of Krum out of his pocket, set it down on the ground, and watched it walk around. Like the real Krum, the model was slightly duck-footed and round-shouldered, much less impressive on his splayed feet than on his broomstick. Harry was listening for noise from the campsite. Everything seemed much quieter; perhaps the riot was over.
“I hope the others are okay,” said Hermione after a while.
“They'll be fine,” said Ron.
“Imagine if your dad catches Lucius Malfoy,” said Harry, sitting down next to Ron and watching the small figure of Krum slouching over the fallen leaves. “He's always said he'd like to get something on him.”
“That'd wipe the smirk off old Draco's face, all right,” said Ron.
“Those poor Muggles, though,” said Hermione nervously. “What if they can't get them down?”
“They will,” said Ron reassuringly. “They'll find a way.”
“Mad, though, to do something like that when the whole Ministry of Magic's out here tonight!” said Hermione. “I mean, how do they expect to get away with it? Do you think they've been drinking, or are they just—”
But she broke off abruptly and looked over her shoulder. Harry and Ron looked quickly around too. It sounded as though someone was staggering toward their clearing. They waited, listening to the sounds of the uneven steps behind the dark trees. But the footsteps came to a sudden halt.
“Hello?” called Harry.
There was silence. Harry got to his feet and peered around the tree. It was too dark to see very far, but he could sense somebody standing just beyond the range of his vision.
“Who's there?” he said.
And then, without warning, the silence was rent by a voice unlike any they had heard in the wood; and it uttered, not a panicked shout, but what sounded like a spell.
“MORSMORDRE!”
And something vast, green, and glittering erupted from the patch of darkness Harry's eyes had been struggling to penetrate; it flew up over the treetops and into the sky.
“What the—?” gasped Ron as he sprang to his feet again, staring up at the thing that had appeared.
For a split second, Harry thought it was another leprechaun formation. Then he realized that it was a colossal skull, comprised of what looked like emerald stars, with a serpent protruding from its mouth like a tongue. As they watched, it rose higher and higher, blazing in a haze of greenish smoke, etched against the black sky like a new constellation.
Suddenly, the wood all around them erupted with screams. Harry didn't understand why, but the only possible cause was the sudden appearance of the skull, which had now risen high enough to illuminate the entire wood like some grisly neon sign. He scanned the darkness for the person who had conjured the skull, but he couldn't see anyone.
“Who's there?” he called again.
“Harry, come on, move!” Hermione had seized the collar of his jacket and was tugging him backward.
“What's the matter?” Harry said, startled to see her face so white and terrified.
“It's the Dark Mark, Harry!” Hermione moaned, pulling him as hard as she could. “You-Know-Who's sign!”
“Voldemort's—”Harry, come on!”
Harry turned—Ron was hurriedly scooping up his miniature Krum—the three of them started across the clearing—but before they had taken a few hurried steps, a series of popping noises announced the arrival of twenty wizards, appearing from thin air, surrounding them.
Harry whirled around, and in an instant, he registered one fact: Each of these wizards had his wand out, and every wand was pointing right at himself, Ron, and Hermione.
Without pausing to think, he yelled, “DUCK!”
He seized the other two and pulled them down onto the ground.
“STUPEFY!” roared twenty voices—there was a blinding series of flashes and Harry felt the hair on his head ripple as though a powerful wind had swept the clearing. Raising his head a fraction of an inch he saw jets of fiery red light flying over them from the wizards' wands, crossing one another, bouncing off tree trunks, rebounding into the darkness—
“Stop!” yelled a voice he recognized. “STOP! That's my son!”
Harry's hair stopped blowing about. He raised his head a little higher. The wizard in front of him had lowered his wand. He rolled over and saw Mr. Weasley striding toward them, looking terrified.
“Ron—Harry”—his voice sounded shaky—”Hermione—are you all right?”
“Out of the way, Arthur,” said a cold, curt voice.
It was Mr. Crouch. He and the other Ministry wizards were closing in on them. Harry got to his feet to face them. Mr. Crouch's face was taut with rage.
“Which of you did it?” he snapped, his sharp eyes darting between them. “Which of you conjured the Dark Mark?”
“We didn't do that!” said Harry, gesturing up at the skull.
“We didn't do anything!” said Ron, who was rubbing his elbow and looking indignantly at his father. “What did you want to attack us for?”
“Do not lie, sir!” shouted Mr. Crouch. His wand was still pointing directly at Ron, and his eyes were popping—he looked slightly mad. “You have been discovered at the scene of the crime!”
“Barty,” whispered a witch in a long woolen dressing gown, “they're kids, Barty, they'd never have been able to
“Where did the Mark come from, you three?” said Mr. Weasley quickly.
“Over there,” said Hermione shakily, pointing at the place where they had heard the voice. “There was someone behind the trees... they shouted words—an incantation—”
“Oh, stood over there, did they?” said Mr. Crouch, turning his popping eyes on Hermione now, disbelief etched all over his face. “Said an incantation, did they? You seem very well informed about how that Mark is summoned, missy—”
But none of the Ministry wizards apart from Mr. Crouch seemed to think it remotely likely that Harry, Ron, or Hermione had conjured the skull; on the contrary, at Hermione's words, they had all raised their wands again and were pointing in the direction she had indicated, squinting through the dark trees.
“We're too late,” said the witch in the woolen dressing gown, shaking her head. “They'll have Disapparated.”
“I don't think so,” said a wizard with a scrubby brown beard. It was Amos Diggory, Cedric's father. “Our Stunners went right through those trees... There's a good chance we got them...
“Amos, be careful!” said a few of the wizards warningly as Mr. Diggory squared his shoulders, raised his wand, marched across the clearing, and disappeared into the darkness. Hermione watched him vanish with her hands over her mouth.
A few seconds later, they heard Mr. Diggory shout.
“Yes! We got them! There's someone here! Unconscious! It's—but—blimey..
“You've got someone?” shouted Mr. Crouch, sounding highly disbelieving. “Who? Who is it?”
They heard snapping twigs, the rustling of leaves, and then crunching footsteps as Mr. Diggory reemerged from behind the trees. He was carrying a tiny, limp figure in his arms. Harry recognized the tea towel at once. It was Winky.
Mr. Crouch did not move or speak as Mr. Diggory deposited his elf on the ground at his feet. The other Ministry wizards were all staring at Mr. Crouch. For a few seconds Crouch remained transfixed, his eyes blazing in his white face as he stared down at Winky. Then he appeared to come to life again.
“This—cannot—be,” he said jerkily. “No—”
He moved quickly around Mr. Diggory and strode off toward the place where he had found Winky.
“No point, Mr. Crouch,” Mr. Diggory called after him. “There's no one else there.”
But Mr. Crouch did not seem prepared to take his word for it. They could hear him moving around and the rustling of leaves as he pushed the bushes aside, searching.
“Bit embarrassing,” Mr. Diggory said grimly, looking down at Winky's unconscious form. “Barty Crouch's house-elf... I mean to say...”
“Come off it, Amos,” said Mr. Weasley quietly, “you don't seriously think it was the elf? The Dark Mark's a wizard's sign. It requires a wand.”
“Yeah,” said Mr. Diggory, “and she had a wand.”
“What?” said Mr. Weasley.
“Here, look.” Mr. Diggory held up a wand and showed it to Mr. Weasley. “Had it in her hand. So that's clause three of the Code of Wand Use broken, for a start. No non-human creature is permitted to carry or use a wand.”
Just then there was another pop, and Ludo Bagman Apparated right next to Mr. Weasley. Looking breathless and disorientated, he spun on the spot, goggling upward at the emerald-green skull.
“The Dark Mark!” he panted, almost trampling Winky as he turned inquiringly to his colleagues. “Who did it? Did you get them? Barry! What's going on?”
Mr. Crouch had returned empty-handed. His face was still ghostly white, and his hands and his toothbrush mustache were both twitching.
“Where have you been, Barty?” said Bagman. “Why weren't you at the match? Your elf was saving you a seat too—gulping gargoyles!” Bagman had just noticed Winky lying at his feet. “What happened to her?”
“I have been busy, Ludo,” said Mr. Crouch, still talking in the same jerky fashion, barely moving his lips. “And my elf has been stunned.”
“Stunned? By you lot, you mean? But why—?”
Comprehension dawned suddenly on Bagman's round, shiny face; he looked up at the skull, down at Winky, and then at Mr. Crouch.
“No!” he said. “Winky? Conjure the Dark Mark? She wouldn't know how! She'd need a wand, for a start!”
“And she had one,” said Mr. Diggory. “I found her holding one, Ludo. If it's all right with you, Mr. Crouch, I think we should hear what she's got to say for herself.”
Crouch gave no sign that he had heard Mr. Diggory, but Mr. Diggory seemed to take his silence for assent. He raised his own wand, pointed it at Winky, and said, “Ennervate!”
Winky stirred feebly. Her great brown eyes opened and she blinked several times in a bemused sort of way. Watched by the silent wizards, she raised herself shakily into a sitting position.
She caught sight of Mr. Diggory's feet, and slowly, tremulously, raised her eyes to stare up into his face; then, more slowly still, she looked up into the sky. Harry could see the floating skull reflected twice in her enormous, glassy eyes. She gave a gasp, looked wildly around the crowded clearing, and burst into terrified sobs.
“Elf!” said Mr. Diggory sternly. “Do you know who I am? I'm a member of the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures!”
Winky began to rock backward and forward on the ground, her breath coming in sharp bursts. Harry was reminded forcibly of Dobby in his moments of terrified disobedience.
“As you see, elf, the Dark Mark was conjured here a short while ago,” said Mr. Diggory. “And you were discovered moments later, right beneath it! An explanation, if you please!”
“I—I—I is not doing it, sir!” Winky gasped. “I is not knowing how, sir!”
“You were found with a wand in your hand!” barked Mr. Diggory, brandishing it in front of her. And as the wand caught the green light that was filling the clearing from the skull above, Harry recognized it
“Hey—that's mine!” he said
Everyone in the clearing looked at him.
“Excuse me?” said Mr. Diggory, incredulously.
“That's my wand!” said Harry. “I dropped it!”
“You dropped it?” repeated Mr. Diggory in disbelief. “Is this a confession? You threw it aside after you conjured the Mark?”
“Amos, think who you're talking to!” said Mr. Weasley, very angrily. “Is Harry Potter likely to conjure the Dark Mark?”
“Er—of course not,” mumbled Mr. Diggory. “Sorry... carried away..
“I didn't drop it there, anyway,” said Harry, jerking his thumb toward the trees beneath the skull. “I missed it right after we got into the wood.”
“So,” said Mr. Diggory, his eyes hardening as he turned to look at Winky again, cowering at his feet. “You found this wand, eh, elf? And you picked it up and thought you'd have some fun with it, did you?”
“I is not doing magic with it, sir!” squealed Winky, tears streaming down the sides of her squashed and bulbous nose. “I is... I is... I is just picking it up, sir! i is not making the Dark Mark, sir, i is not knowing how!”
“It wasn't her!” said Hermione. She looked very nervous, speaking up in front of all these Ministry wizards, yet determined all the same. “Winky's got a squeaky little voice, and the voice we heard doing the incantation was much deeper!” She looked around at Harry and Ron, appealing for their support. “It didn't sound anything like Winky, did it?”
“No,” said Harry, shaking his head. “It definitely didn't sound like an elf.”
“Yeah, it was a human voice,” said Ron.
“Well, we'll soon see,” growled Mr. Diggory, looking unimpressed. “There's a simple way of discovering the last spell a wand performed, elf, did you know that?”
Winky trembled and shook her head frantically, her ears flapping, as Mr. Diggory raised his own wand again and placed it tip to tip with Harry's.
“Prior Incantato!” roared Mr. Diggory.
Harry heard Hermione gasp, horrified, as a gigantic serpent-tongued skull erupted from the point where the two wands met, but it was a mere shadow of the green skull high above them; it looked as though it were made of thick gray smoke: the ghost of a spell.
“Deletrius!” Mr. Diggory shouted, and the smoky skull vanished in a wisp of smoke.
“So,” said Mr. Diggory with a kind of savage triumph, looking down upon Winky, who was still shaking convulsively.
“I is not doing it!” she squealed, her eyes rolling in terror. “I is not, I is not, I is not knowing how! I is a good elf, I isn't using wands, I isn't knowing how!”
“You've been caught red-handed, elf!” Mr. Diggory roared. “Caught with the guilty wand in your hand!”
“Amos,” said Mr. Weasley loudly, “think about it... precious few wizards know how to do that spell... Where would she have learned it?”
“Perhaps Amos is suggesting,” said Mr. Crouch, cold anger in every syllable, “that I routinely teach my servants to conjure the Dark Mark?”
There was a deeply unpleasant silence. Amos Diggory looked horrified. “Mr. Crouch... not... not at all.
“You have now come very close to accusing the two people in this clearing who are least likely to conjure that Mark!” barked Mr. Crouch. “Harry Potter—and myself. I suppose you are familiar with the boy's story, Amos?”
“Of course—everyone knows—” muttered Mr. Diggory, looking highly discomforted.
“And I trust you remember the many proofs I have given, over a long career, that I despise and detest the Dark Arts and those who practice them?” Mr. Crouch shouted, his eyes bulging again.
“Mr. Crouch, I—I never suggested you had anything to do with it!” Amos Diggory muttered again, now reddening behind his scrubby brown beard.
“If you accuse my elf, you accuse me, Diggory!” shouted Mr. Crouch. “Where else would she have learned to conjure it?”
“She—she might've picked it up anywhere—”
“Precisely, Amos,” said Mr. Weasley. “She might have picked it up anywhere... Winky?” he said kindly, turning to the elf, but she flinched as though he too was shouting at her. “Where exactly did you find Harry's wand?”
Winky was twisting the hem of her tea towel so violently that it was fraying beneath her fingers.
“I—I is finding it... finding it there, sir...” she whispered, “there... in the trees, sir.
“You see, Amos?” said Mr. Weasley. “Whoever conjured the Mark could have Disapparated right after they'd done it, leaving Harry's wand behind. A clever thing to do, not using their own wand, which could have betrayed them. And Winky here had the misfortune to come across the wand moments later and pick it up.”
“But then, she'd have been only a few feet away from the real culprit!” said Mr. Diggory impatiently. “Elf? Did you see anyone?”
Winky began to tremble worse than ever. Her giant eyes flickered from Mr. Diggory, to Ludo Bagman, and onto Mr. Crouch. Then she gulped and said, “I is seeing no one, sir... no one..
“Amos,” said Mr. Crouch curtly, “I am fully aware that, in the ordinary course of events, you would want to take Winky into your department for questioning. I ask you, however, to allow me to deal with her.”
Mr. Diggory looked as though he didn't think much of this suggestion at all, but it was clear to Harry that Mr. Crouch was such an important member of the Ministry that he did not dare refuse him.
“You may rest assured that she will be punished,” Mr. Crouch added coldly.
“M-m-master...” Winky stammered, looking up at Mr. Crouch, her eyes brimming with tears. “M-m-master, p-p-please...”
Mr. Crouch stared back, his face somehow sharpened, each line upon it more deeply etched. There was no pity in his gaze.
“Winky has behaved tonight in a manner I would not have believed possible,” he said slowly. “I told her to remain in the tent. I told her to stay there while I went to sort out the trouble. And I find that she disobeyed me. This means clothes.”
“No!” shrieked Winky, prostrating herself at Mr. Crouch's feet. “No, master! Not clothes, not clothes!”
Harry knew that the only way to turn a house-elf free was to present it with proper garments. It was pitiful to see the way Winky clutched at her tea towel as she sobbed over Mr. Crouch's feet.
“But she was frightened!” Hermione burst out angrily, glaring at Mr. Crouch. “Your elf's scared of heights, and those wizards in masks were levitating people! You can't blame her for wanting to get out of their way!”
Mr. Crouch took a step backward, freeing himself from contact with the elf, whom he was surveying as though she were something filthy and rotten that was contaminating his over-shined shoes.
“I have no use for a house-elf who disobeys me,” he said coldly, looking over at Hermione. “I have no use for a servant who forgets what is due to her master, and to her master's reputation.”
Winky was crying so hard that her sobs echoed around the clearing. There was a very nasty silence, which was ended by Mr. Weasley, who said quietly, “Well, I think I'll take my lot back to the tent, if nobody's got any objections. Amos, that wand's told us all it can—if Harry could have it back, please—”
Mr. Diggory handed Harry his wand and Harry pocketed it.
“Come on, you three,” Mr. Weasley said quietly. But Hermione didn't seem to want to move; her eyes were still upon the sobbing elf. “Hermione!” Mr. Weasley said, more urgently. She turned and followed Harry and Ron out of the clearing and off through the trees.
“What's going to happen to Winky?” said Hermione, the moment they had left the clearing.
“I don't know,” said Mr. Weasley.
“The way they were treating her!” said Hermione furiously. “Mr. Diggory, calling her 'elf' all the time... and Mr. Crouch! He knows she didn't do it and he's still going to sack her! He didn't care how frightened she'd been, or how upset she was—it was like she wasn't even human!”
“Well, she's not,” said Ron.
Hermione rounded on him.
“That doesn't mean she hasn't got feelings, Ron. It's disgusting the way—”
“Hermione, I agree with you,” said Mr. Weasley quickly, beckoning her on, “but now is not the time to discuss elf rights. I want to get back to the tent as fast as we can. What happened to the others?”
“We lost them in the dark,” said Ron. “Dad, why was everyone so uptight about that skull thing?”
“I'll explain everything back at the tent,” said Mr. Weasley tensely.
But when they reached the edge of the wood, their progress was impeded. A large crowd of frightened-looking witches and wizards was congregated there, and when they saw Mr. Weasley coming toward them, many of them surged forward.
“What's going on in there?”
“Who conjured it?”
“Arthur—it's not—Him?”
“Of course it's not Him,” said Mr. Weasley impatiently. “We don't know who it was; it looks like they Disapparated. Now excuse me, please, I want to get to bed.”
He led Harry, Ron, and Hermione through the crowd and back into the campsite. All was quiet now; there was no sign of the masked wizards, though several ruined tents were still smoking.
Charlie's head was poking out of the boys' tent.
“Dad, what's going on?” he called through the dark. “Fred, George, and Ginny got back okay, but the others—”
“I've got them here,” said Mr. Weasley, bending down and entering the tent. Harry, Ron, and Hermione entered after him.
Bill was sitting at the small kitchen table, holding a bedsheet to his arm, which was bleeding profusely. Charlie had a large rip in his shirt, and Percy was sporting a bloody nose. Fred, George, and Ginny looked unhurt, though shaken.
“Did you get them, Dad?” said Bill sharply. “The person who conjured the Mark?”
“No,” said Mr. Weasley. “We found Barry Crouch's elf holding Harry's wand, but we're none the wiser about who actually conured the Mark.”
“What?” said Bill, Charlie, and Percy together. “Harry's wand?” said Fred.
“Mr. Crouch's elf” said Percy, sounding thunderstruck.
With some assistance from Harry, Ron, and Hermione, Mr. Weasley explained what had happened in the woods. When they had finished their story, Percy swelled indignantly.
“Well, Mr. Crouch is quite right to get rid of an elf like that!” he said. “Running away when he'd expressly told her not to... embarrassing him in front of the whole Ministry... how would that have looked, if she'd been brought up in front of the Department for the Regulation and Control—”
“She didn't do anything—she was just in the wrong place at the wrong time!” Hermione snapped at Percy, who looked very taken aback. Hermione had always got on fairly well with Percy—better, indeed, than any of the others.
“Hermione, a wizard in Mr. Crouch's position can't afford a house-elf who's going to run amok with a wand!” said Percy pompously, recovering himself.
“She didn't run amok!” shouted Hermione. “She just picked it up off the ground!”
“Look, can someone just explain what that skull thing was?” said Ron impatiently. “It wasn't hurting anyone... Why's it such a big deal?”
“I told you, it's You-Know-Who's symbol, Ron,” said Hermione, before anyone else could answer. “I read about it in The Rise and Fall of the Dark Arts.”
“And it hasn't been seen for thirteen years,” said Mr. Weasley quietly. “Of course people panicked... it was almost like seeing You-Know-Who back again.”
“I don't get it,” said Ron, frowning. “I mean... it's still only a shape in the sky...
“Ron, You-Know-Who and his followers sent the Dark Mark into the air whenever they killed,” said Mr. Weasley. “The terror it inspired... you have no idea, you're too young. Just picture coming home and finding the Dark Mark hovering over your house, and knowing what you're about to find inside...” Mr. Weasley winced. “Everyone's worst fear... the very worst..
There was silence for a moment. Then Bill, removing the sheet from his arm to check on his cut, said, “Well, it didn't help us tonight, whoever conjured it. It scared the Death Eaters away the moment they saw it. They all Disapparated before we'd got near enough to unmask any of them. We caught the Robertses before they hit the ground, though. They're having their memories modified right now.”
“Death Eaters?” said Harry. “What are Death Eaters?”
“It's what You-Know-Who's supporters called themselves,” said Bill. “I think we saw what's left of them tonight—the ones who managed to keep themselves out of Azkaban, anyway.”
“We can't prove it was them, Bill,” said Mr. Weasley. “Though it probably was,” he added hopelessly.
“Yeah, I bet it was!” said Ron suddenly . “Dad, we met Draco Malfoy in the woods, and he as good as told us his dad was one of those nutters in masks! And we all know the Malfoys were right in with You-Know-Who!”
“But what were Voldemort's supporters—” Harry began. Everybody flinched—like most of the wizarding world, the Weasleys always avoided saying Voldemort's name. “Sorry,” said Harry quickly. “What were You-Know-Who's supporters up to, levitating Muggles? I mean, what was the point?”
“The point?” said Mr. Weasley with a hollow laugh. “Harry, that's their idea of fun. Half the Muggle killings back when You-Know-Who was in power were done for fun. I suppose they had a few drinks tonight and couldn't resist reminding us all that lots of them are still at large. A nice little reunion for them,” he finished disgustedly.
“But if they were the Death Eaters, why did they Disapparate when they saw the Dark Mark?” said Ron. “They'd have been pleased to see it, wouldn't they?”
“Use your brains, Ron,” said Bill. “If they really were Death Eaters, they worked very hard to keep out of Azkaban when You-Know-Who lost power, and told all sorts of lies about him forcing them to kill and torture people. I bet they'd be even more frightened than the rest of us to see him come back. They denied they'd ever been involved with him when he lost his powers, and went back to their daily lives... I don't reckon he'd be over-pleased with them, do you?”
“So... whoever conjured the Dark Mark...” said Hermione slowly, “were they doing it to show support for the Death Eaters, or to scare them away?”
“Your guess is as good as ours, Hermione,” said Mr. Weasley. “But I'll tell you this... it was only the Death Eaters who ever knew how to conjure it. I'd be very surprised if the person who did it hadn't been a Death Eater once, even if they're not now.. Listen, it's very late, and if your mother hears what's happened she'll be worried sick. We'll get a few more hours sleep and then try and get an early Portkey out of here.”
Harry got back into his bunk with his head buzzing. He knew he ought to feel exhausted: It was nearly three in the morning, but he felt wide-awake—wide-awake, and worried.
Three days ago—it felt like much longer, but it had only been three days—he had awoken with his scar burning. And tonight, for the first time in thirteen years, Lord Voldemort's mark had appeared in the sky. What did these things mean?
He thought of the letter he had written to Sirius before leaving Privet Drive. Would Sirius have gotten it yet? When would he reply? Harry lay looking up at the canvas, but no flying fantasies came to him now to ease him to sleep, and it was a long time after Charlie's snores filled the tent that Harry finally dozed off.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER TEN
MAYHEM AT THE MINISTRY

Mr. Weasley woke them after only a few hours sleep. He used magic to pack up the tents, and they left the campsite as quickly as possible, passing Mr. Roberts at the door of his cottage. Mr. Roberts had a strange, dazed look about him, and he waved them off with a vague “Merry Christmas.”
“He'll be all right,” said Mr. Weasley quietly as they marched off onto the moor. “Sometimes, when a person's memory's modified, it makes him a bit disorientated for a while... and that was a big thing they had to make him forget.”
They heard urgent voices as they approached the spot where the Portkeys lay, and when they reached it, they found a great number of witches and wizards gathered around Basil, the keeper of the Portkeys, all clamoring to get away from the campsite as quickly as possible. Mr. Weasley had a hurried discussion with Basil; they joined the queue, and were able to take an old rubber tire back to Stoatshead Hill before the sun had really risen. They walked back through Ottery St. Catchpole and up the damp lane toward the Burrow in the dawn light, talking very little because they were so exhausted, and thinking longingly of their breakfast. As they rounded the corner and the Burrow came into view, a cry echoed along the lane.
“Oh thank goodness, thank goodness!”
Mrs. Weasley, who had evidently been waiting for them in the front yard, came running toward them, still wearing her bedroom slippers, her face pale and strained, a rolled-up copy of the Daily Prophet clutched in her hand.
“Arthur—I've been so worried—so worried-”
She flung her arms around Mr. Weasley's neck, and the Daily Prophet fell out of her limp hand onto the ground. Looking down, Harry saw the headline: SCENES OF TERROR AT THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP, complete with a twinkling black-and-white photograph of the Dark Mark over the treetops.
“You're all right,” Mrs. Weasley muttered distractedly, releasing Mr. Weasley and staring around at them all with red eyes, “you're alive... Oh boys..
And to everybody's surprise, she seized Fred and George and pulled them both into such a tight hug that their heads banged together.
“Ouch! Mum—you're strangling us—”
“I shouted at you before you left!” Mrs. Weasley said, starting to sob. “It's all I've been thinking about! What if You-Know-Who had got you, and the last thing I ever said to you was that you didn't get enough OW. L. s? Oh Fred... George..”
“Come on, now, Molly, we're all perfectly okay,” said Mr. Weasley soothingly, prising her off the twins and leading her back toward the house. “Bill,” he added in an undertone, “pick up that paper, I want to see what it says...”
When they were all crammed into the tiny kitchen, and Hermione had made Mrs. Weasley a cup of very strong tea, into which Mr. Weasley insisted on pouring a shot of Ogdens Old Firewhiskey, 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.”
“I'm mentioned,” said Mr. Weasley, his eyes widening behind his glasses as he reached the bottom of the Daily Prophet article.
“Where?” spluttered Mrs. Weasley, choking on her tea and whiskey. “If I'd seen that, I'd have known you were alive!”
“Not by name,” said Mr. Weasley. “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 ofMagic, they were sadly disappointed. A Ministry official emerged some time after the appearance of the Dark Mark alleging that nobody had been hurt, but reflising to give any more information. 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. What was I supposed to say? Rumors that several bodies were removed from the woods... well, there certainly will be rumors now she's printed that.”
He heaved a deep sigh. “Molly, I'm going to have to go into the office; this is going to take some smoothing over.”
“I'll come with you, Father,” said Percy importantly. “Mr. Crouch will need all hands on deck. And I can give him my cauldron report in person.”
He bustled out of the kitchen. Mrs. Weasley looked most upset. “Arthur, you're supposed to be on holiday! This hasn't got anything to do with your office; surely they can handle this without you?”
“I've got to go, Molly,” said Mr. Weasley. “I've made things worse. I'll just change into my robes and I'll be off...”
“Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry suddenly, unable to contain himself, “Hedwig hasn't arrived with a letter for me, has she?”
“Hedwig, dear?” said Mrs. Weasley distractedly. “No... no, there hasn't been any post at all.”
Ron and Hermione looked curiously at Harry. With a meaningful look at both of them he said, “All right if I go and dump my stuff in your room, Ron?”
“Yeah... think I will too,” said Ron at once. “Hermione?”
“Yes,” she said quickly, and the three of them marched out of the kitchen and up the stairs.
“What's up, Harry?” said Ron, the moment they had closed the door of the attic room behind them.
“There's something I haven't told you,” Harry said. “On Saturday morning, I woke up with my scar hurting again.”
Ron's and Hermione's reactions were almost exactly as Harry had imagined them back in his bedroom on Privet Drive. Hermione gasped and started making suggestions at once, mentioning a number of reference books, and everybody from Albus Dumbledore to Madam Pomfrey, the Hogwarts nurse. Ron simply looked dumbstruck.
“But—he wasn't there, was he? You-Know-Who? I mean—last time your scar kept hurting, he was at Hogwarts, wasn't he?”
“I'm sure he wasn't on Privet Drive,” said Harry. “But I was dreaming about him... him and Peter—you know, Wormtail. I can't remember all of it now, but they were plotting to kill... someone.”
He had teetered for a moment on the verge of saying “me,” but couldn't bring himself to make Hermione look any more horrified than she already did.
“It was only a dream,” said Ron bracingly. “Just a nightmare.”
“Yeah, but was it, though?” said Harry, turning to look out of the window at the brightening sky. “It's weird, isn't it?... My scar hurts, and three days later the Death Eaters are on the march, and Voldemort's sign's up in the sky again.”
“Don't—say—his—name!” Ron hissed through gritted teeth.
“And remember what Professor Trelawney said?” Harry went on, ignoring Ron. “At the end of last year?”
Professor Trelawney was their Divination teacher at Hogwarts. Hermione's terrified look vanished as she let out a derisive snort.
“Oh Harry, you aren't going to pay attention to anything that old fraud says?”
“You weren't there,” said Harry. “You didn't hear her. This time was different. I told you, she went into a trance—a real one. And she said the Dark Lord would rise again... greater and more terrible than ever before... and he'd manage it because his servant was going to go back to him... and that night Wormtail escaped.”
There was a silence in which Ron fidgeted absentmindedly with a hole in his Chudley Cannons bedspread.
“Why were you asking if Hedwig had come, Harry?” Hermione asked. “Are you expecting a letter?”
“I told Sirius about my scar,” said Harry, shrugging. “I'm waiting for his answer.”
“Good thinking!” said Ron, his expression clearing. “I bet Sirius'll know what to do!”
“I hoped he'd get back to me quickly,” said Harry.
“But we don't know where Sirius is... he could be in Africa or somewhere, couldn't he?” said Hermione reasonably. “Hedwig's not going to manage that journey in a few days.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Harry, but there was a leaden feeling in his stomach as he looked out of the window at the Hedwig-free sky.
“Come and have a game of Quidditch in the orchard, Harry” said Ron. “Come on—three on three, Bill and Charlie and Fred and George will play... You can try out the Wronski Feint...”
“Ron,” said Hermione, in an I-don't-think-you're-being-very-sensitive sort of voice, “Harry doesn't want to play Quidditch right now... He's worried, and he's tired... We all need to go to bed...”
“Yeah, I want to play Quidditch,” said Harry suddenly. “Hang on, I'll get my Firebolt.”
Hermione left the room, muttering something that sounded very much like “Boys.”

Neither Mr. Weasley nor Percy was at home much over the following week. Both left the house each morning before the rest of the family got up, and returned well after dinner every night.
“It's been an absolute uproar,” Percy told them importantly the Sunday evening before they were due to return to Hogwarts. “I've been putting out fires all week. People keep sending Howlers, and of course, if you don't open a Howler straight away, it explodes. Scorch marks all over my desk and my best quill reduced to cinders.”
“Why are they all sending Howlers?” asked Ginny, who was mending her copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi with Spellotape on the rug in front of the living room fire.
“Complaining about security at the World Cup,” said Percy. “They want compensation for their ruined property. Mundungus Fletcher's put in a claim for a twelve-bedroomed tent with en-suite Jacuzzi, but I've got his number. I know for a fact he was sleeping under a cloak propped on sticks.”
Mrs. Weasley glanced at the grandfather clock in the corner. Harry liked this clock. It was completely useless if you wanted to know the time, but otherwise very informative. It had nine golden hands, and each of them was engraved with one of the Weasley family's names. There were no numerals around the face, but descriptions of where each family member might be. “Home,” “school,” and “work” were there, but there was also “traveling,” “lost,” “hospital,” “prison,” and, in the position where the number twelve would be on a normal clock, “mortal peril.”
Eight of the hands were currently pointing to the “home” position, but Mr. Weasley's, which was the longest, was still pointing to “work.” Mrs. Weasley sighed.
“Your father hasn't had to go into the office on weekends since the days of You-Know-Who,” she said. “They're working him far too hard. His dinner's going to be ruined if he doesn't come home soon.”
“Well, Father feels he's got to make up for his mistake at the match, doesn't he?” said Percy. “If truth be told, he was a tad unwise to make a public statement without clearing it with his Head of Department first—”
“Don't you dare blame your father for what that wretched Skeeter woman wrote!” said Mrs. Weasley, flaring up at once.
“If Dad hadn't said anything, old Rita would just have said it was disgraceful that nobody from the Ministry had commented,” said Bill, who was playing chess with Ron. “Rita Skeeter never makes anyone look good. Remember, she interviewed all the Gringotts' Charm Breakers once, and called me 'a long-haired pillock'?”
“Well, it is a bit long, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley gently. “If you'd just let me—”
“No, Mum.”
Rain lashed against the living room window. Hermione was immersed in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4, copies of which Mrs. Weasley had bought for her, Harry, and Ron in Diagon Alley. Charlie was darning a fireproof balaclava. Harry was polishing his Firebolt, the broomstick servicing kit Hermione had given him for his thirteenth birthday open at his feet. Fred and George were sitting in a far corner, quills out, talking in whispers, their heads bent over a piece of parchment.
“What are you two up to?” said Mrs. Weasley sharply, her eyes on the twins.
“Homework,” said Fred vaguely.
“Don't be ridiculous, you're still on holiday,” said Mrs. Weasley.
“Yeah, we've left it a bit late,” said George.
“You're not by any chance writing out a new order form, are you?” said Mrs. Weasley shrewdly. “You wouldn't be thinking of restarting Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, by any chance?”
“Now, Mum,” said Fred, looking up at her, a pained look on his face. “If the Hogwarts Express crashed tomorrow, and George and I died, how would you feel to know that the last thing we ever heard from you was an unfounded accusation?”
Everyone laughed, even Mrs. Weasley.
“Oh your father's coming!” she said suddenly, looking up at the clock again.
Mr. Weasley's hand had suddenly spun from “work” to “traveling”; a second later it had shuddered to a halt on “home” with the others, and they heard him calling from the kitchen.
“Coming, Arthur!” called Mrs. Weasley, hurrying out of the room.
A few moments later, Mr. Weasley came into the warm living room carrying his dinner on a tray. He looked completely exhausted.
“Well, the fat's really in the fire now,” he told Mrs. Weasley as he sat down in an armchair near the hearth and toyed unenthusiastically with his somewhat shriveled cauliflower. “Rita Skeeter's been ferreting around all week, looking for more Ministry mess-ups to report. And now she's found out about poor old Bertha going missing, so that'll be the headline in the Prophet tomorrow. I told Bagman he should have sent someone to look for her ages ago.”
“Mr. Crouch has been saying it for weeks and weeks,” said Percy swiftly.
“Crouch is very lucky Rita hasn't found out about Winky,” said Mr. Weasley irritably. “There'd be a week's worth of headlines in his house-elf being caught holding the wand that conjured the Dark Mark.”
“I thought we were all agreed that that elf, while irresponsible, did not conjure the Mark?” said Percy hotly.
“If you ask me, Mr. Crouch is very lucky no one at the Daily Prophet knows how mean he is to elves!” said Hermione angrily.
“Now look here, Hermione!” said Percy. “A high-ranking Ministry official like Mr. Crouch deserves unswerving obedience from his servants—”
“His slave, you mean!” said Hermione, her voice rising passionately, “because he didn't pay Winky, did he?”
“I think you'd all better go upstairs and check that you've packed properly!” said Mrs. Weasley, breaking up the argument. “Come on now, all of you...”
Harry repacked his broomstick servicing kit, put his Firebolt over his shoulder, and went back upstairs with Ron. The rain sounded even louder at the top of the house, accompanied by loud whistlings and moans from the wind, not to mention sporadic howls from the ghoul who lived in the attic. Pigwidgeon began twittering and zooming around his cage when they entered. The sight of the half-packed trunks seemed to have sent him into a frenzy of excitement.
“Bung him some Owl Treats,” said Ron, throwing a packet across to Harry. “It might shut him up.”
Harry poked a few Owl Treats through the bars of Pigwidgeon's cage, then turned to his trunk. Hedwig's cage stood next to it, still empty.
“It's been over a week,” Harry said, looking at Hedwig's deserted perch. “Ron, you don't reckon Sirius has been caught, do you?”
“Nah, it would've been in the Daily Prophet,” said Ron. “The Ministry would want to show they'd caught someone, wouldn't they?”
“Yeah, I suppose...”
“Look, here's the stuff Mum got for you in Diagon Alley. And she's got some gold out of your vault for you... and she's washed all your socks.”
He heaved a pile of parcels onto Harry's camp bed and dropped the money bag and a load of socks next to it. Harry started unwrapping the shopping. Apart from The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4, by Miranda Goshawk, he had a handful of new quills, a dozen rolls of parchment, and refills for his potion-making kit—he had been running low on spine of lionfish and essence of belladonna. He was just piling underwear into his cauldron when Ron made a loud noise of disgust behind him.
“What is that supposed to be?”
He was holding up something that looked to Harry like a long, maroon velvet dress. It had a moldy-looking lace frill at the collar and matching lace cuffs.
There was a knock on the door, and Mrs. Weasley entered, carrying an armful of freshly laundered Hogwarts robes.
“Here you are,” she said, sorting them into two piles. “Now, mind you pack them properly so they don't crease.”
“Mum, you've given me Ginny's new dress,” said Ron, handing it out to her.
“Of course I haven't,” said Mrs. Weasley. “That's for you. Dress robes.”
“What?” said Ron, looking horror-struck.
“Dress robes!” repeated Mrs. Weasley. “It says on your school list that you're supposed to have dress robes this year... robes for formal occasions.”
“You've got to be kidding,” said Ron in disbelief. “I'm not wearing that, no way.”
“Everyone wears them, Ron!” said Mrs. Weasley crossly. “They're all like that! Your father's got some for smart parties!”
“I'll go starkers before I put that on,” said Ron stubbornly.
“Don't be so silly,” said Mrs. Weasley. “You've got to have dress robes, they're on your list! I got some for Harry too... show him, Harry...”
In some trepidation, Harry opened the last parcel on his camp bed. It wasn't as bad as he had expected, however; his dress robes didn't have any lace on them at all—in fact, they were more or less the same as his school ones, except that they were bottle green instead of black.
“I thought they'd bring out the color of your eyes, dear,” said Mrs. Weasley fondly.
“Well, they're okay!” said Ron angrily, looking at Harry's robes. “Why couldn't I have some like that?”
“Because... well, I had to get yours secondhand, and there wasn't a lot of choice!” said Mrs. Weasley, flushing.
Harry looked away. He would willingly have split all the money in his Gringotts vault with the Weasleys, but he knew they would never take it.
“I'm never wearing them,” Ron was saying stubbornly. “Never.”
“Fine,” snapped Mrs. Weasley. “Go naked. And, Harry, make sure you get a picture of him. Goodness knows I could do with a laugh.”
She left the room, slamming the door behind her. There was a funny spluttering noise from behind them. Pigwidgeon was choking on an overlarge Owl Treat.
“Why is everything I own rubbish?” said Ron furiously, striding across the room to unstick Pigwidgeon's beak.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER ELEVEN
ABOARD THE HOGWART EXPRESS

There was a definite end-of-the-holidays gloom in the air when Harry awoke next morning. Heavy rain was still splattering against the window as he got dressed in jeans and a sweatshirt; they would change into their school robes on the Hogwarts Express.
He, Ron, Fred, and George had just reached the first-floor landing on their way down to breakfast, when Mrs. Weasley appeared at the foot of the stairs, looking harassed.
“Arthur!” she called up the staircase. “Arthur! Urgent message from the Ministry!”
Harry flattened himself against the wall as Mr. Weasley came clattering past with his robes on back-to-front and hurtled out of sight. When Harry and the others entered the kitchen, they saw Mrs. Weasley rummaging anxiously in the drawers—”I've got a quill here somewhere!”—and Mr. Weasley bending over the fire, talking to—
Harry shut his eyes hard and opened them again to make sure that they were working properly.
Amos Diggory's head was sitting in the middle of the flames like a large, bearded egg. It was talking very fast, completely unperturbed by the sparks flying around it and the flames licking its ears.
“... Muggle neighbors heard bangs and shouting, so they went and called those what-d'you-call-'ems—please-men. Arthur, you've got to get over there—”
“Here!” said Mrs. Weasley breathlessly, pushing a piece of parchment, a bottle of ink, and a crumpled quill into Mr. Weasley's hands.
“it's a real stroke of luck I heard about it,” said Mr. Diggory's head. “I had to come into the office early to send a couple of owls, and I found the Improper Use of Magic lot all setting off—if Rita Skeeter gets hold of this one, Arthur—”
“What does Mad-Eye say happened?” asked Mr. Weasley, unscrewing the ink bottle, loading up his quill, and preparing to take notes.
Mr. Diggory's head rolled its eyes. “Says he heard an intruder in his yard. Says he was creeping toward the house, but was ambushed by his dustbins.”
“What did the dustbins do?” asked Mr. Weasley, scribbling frantically.
“Made one hell of a noise and fired rubbish everywhere, as far as I can tell,” said Mr. Diggory. “Apparently one of them was still rocketing around when the please-men turned up—”
Mr. Weasley groaned.
“And what about the intruder?”
“Arthur, you know Mad-Eye,” said Mr. Diggory's head, rolling its eyes again. “Someone creeping into his yard in the dead of night? More likely there's a very shell-shocked cat wandering around somewhere, covered in potato peelings. But if the Improper Use of Magic lot get their hands on Mad-Eye, he's had it—think of his record—we've got to get him off on a minor charge, something in your department—what are exploding dustbins worth?”
“Might be a caution,” said Mr. Weasley, still writing very fast, his brow furrowed. “Mad-Eye didn't use his wand? He didn't actually attack anyone?”
“I'll bet he leapt out of bed and started jinxing everything he could reach through the window,” said Mr. Diggory, “but they'll have a job proving it, there aren't any casualties.”
“All right, I'm off,” Mr. Weasley said, and he stuffed the parchment with his notes on it into his pocket and dashed out of the kitchen again.
Mr. Diggory's head looked around at Mrs. Weasley.
“Sorry about this, Molly,” it said, more calmly, “bothering you so early and everything... but Arthur's the only one who can get Mad-Eye off, and Mad-Eye's supposed to be starting his new job today. Why he had to choose last night..”
“Never mind, Amos,” said Mrs. Weasley. “Sure you won't have a bit of toast or anything before you go?”
“Oh go on, then,” said Mr. Diggory.
Mrs. Weasley took a piece of buttered toast from a stack on the kitchen table, put it into the fire tongs, and transferred it into Mr. Diggory's mouth.
“Fanks,” he said in a muffled voice, and then, with a small pop, vanished.
Harry could hear Mr. Weasley calling hurried good-byes to Bill, Charlie, Percy, and the girls. Within five minutes, he was back in the kitchen, his robes on the right way now, dragging a comb through his hair.
“I'd better hurry—you have a good term, boys, said Mr. Weasley to Harry, Ron, and the twins, fastening a cloak over his shoulders and preparing to Disapparate. “Molly, are you going to be all right taking the kids to King's Cross?”
“Of course I will,” she said. “You just look after Mad-Eye, we'll be fine.”
As Mr. Weasley vanished, Bill and Charlie entered the kitchen.
“Did someone say Mad-Eye?” Bill asked. “What's he been up to now.”
“He says someone tried to break into his house last night,” said Mrs. Weasley.
“Mad-Eye Moody?” said George thoughtfully, spreading marmalade on his toast. “Isn't he that nutter—”
“Your father thinks very highly of Mad-Eye Moody,” said Mrs. Weasley sternly.
“Yeah, well, Dad collects plugs, doesn't he?” said Fred quietly as Mrs. Weasley left the room. “Birds of a feather...”
“Moody was a great wizard in his time,” said Bill.
“He's an old friend of Dumbledore's, isn't he?” said Charlie.
“Dumbledore's not what you'd call normal, though, is he?” said Fred. “I mean, I know he's a genius and everything...”
“Who is Mad-Eye?” asked Harry.
“He's retired, used to work at the Ministry,” said Charlie. “I met him once when Dad took me into work with him. He was an Auror—one of the best... a Dark wizard catcher,” he added, seeing Harry's blank look “Half the cells in Azkaban are full because of him. He made himself loads of enemies, though... the families of people he caught, mainly... and I heard he's been getting really paranoid in his old age. Doesn't trust anyone anymore. Sees Dark wizards everywhere.”
Bill and Charlie decided to come and see everyone off at King's Cross station, but Percy, apologizing most profusely, said that he really needed to get to work.
“I just can't justify taking more time off at the moment,” he told them. “Mr. Crouch is really starting to rely on me.”
“Yeah, you know what, Percy?” said George seriously. “I reckon he'll know your name soon.”
Mrs. Weasley had braved the telephone in the village post office to order three ordinary Muggle taxis to take them into London.
“Arthur tried to borrow Ministry cars for us,” Mrs. Weasley whispered to Harry as they stood in the rain-washed yard, watching the taxi drivers heaving six heavy Hogwarts trunks into their cars. “But there weren't any to spare... Oh dear, they don't look happy, do they?”
Harry didn't like to tell Mrs. Weasley that Muggle taxi drivers rarely transported overexcited owls, and Pigwidgeon was making an earsplitting racket. Nor did it help that a number of Filibuster's Fabulous No-Heat, Wet-Start Fireworks went off unexpectedly when Fred's trunk sprang open, causing the driver carrying it to yell with fright and pain as Crookshanks clawed his way up the man's leg.
The journey was uncomfortable, owing to the fact that they were jammed in the back of the taxis with their trunks. Crookshanks took quite a while to recover from the fireworks, and by the time they entered London, Harry, Ron, and Hermione were all severely scratched. They were very relieved to get out at King's Cross, even though the rain was coming down harder than ever, and they got soaked carrying their trunks across the busy road and into the station.
Harry was used to getting onto platform nine and three-quarters by now. It was a simple matter of walking straight through the apparently solid barrier dividing platforms nine and ten. The only tricky part was doing this in an unobtrusive way, so as to avoid attracting Muggle attention. They did it in groups today; Harry, Ron, and Hermione (the most conspicuous, since they were accompanied by Pigwidgeon and Crookshanks) went first; they leaned casually against the barrier, chatting unconcernedly, and slid sideways through it... and as they did so, platform nine and three-quarters materialized in front of them.
The Hogwarts Express, a gleaming scarlet steam engine, was already there, clouds of steam billowing from it, through which the many Hogwarts students and parents on the platform appeared like dark ghosts. Pigwidgeon became noisier than ever in response to the hooting of many owls through the mist. Harry, Ron, and Hermione set off to find seats, and were soon stowing their luggage in a compartment halfway along the train. They then hopped back down onto the platform to say good-bye to Mrs. Weasley, Bill, and Charlie.
“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 chivvied them toward the train doors.
“Thanks for having us to stay, Mrs. Weasley,” said Hermione as they climbed on board, closed the door, and leaned out of the window to talk to her.
“Yeah, thanks for everything, Mrs. Weasley,” said Harry.
“Oh it was my pleasure, dears,” said Mrs. Weasley. “I'd invite you for Christmas, but... well, I expect you're all going to want to stay at Hogwarts, what with... one thing and another.”
“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.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione went back to their compartment. The thick rain splattering the windows made it very difficult to see out of them. Ron undid his trunk, pulled out his maroon dress robes, and flung them over Pigwidgeon's cage to muffle his hooting.
“Bagman wanted to tell us what's happening at Hogwarts,” he said grumpily, sitting down next to Harry. “At the World Cup, remember? But my own mother won't say. Wonder what—”
“Shh!” Hermione whispered suddenly, pressing her finger to her lips and pointing toward the compartment next to theirs. Harry and Ron listened, and heard a familiar drawling voice drifting in through the open door.
“... Father actually considered sending me to Durmstrang rather than Hogwarts, you know. He knows the headmaster, you see. Well, you know his opinion of Dumbledore—the man's such a Mudblood-lover—and Durmstrang doesn't admit that sort of riffraff. But Mother didn't like the idea of me going to school so far away. Father says Durmstrang takes a far more sensible line than Hogwarts about the Dark Arts. Durmstrang students actually learn them, not just the defense rubbish we do...”
Hermione got up, tiptoed to the compartment door, and slid it shut, blocking out Malfoy's voice.
“So he thinks Durmstrang would have suited him, does he?” she said angrily. “I wish he had gone, then we wouldn't have to put up with him.”
“Durmstrang's another wizarding school?” said Harry.
“Yes,” said Hermione sniffily, “and it's got a horrible reputation. According to An Appraisal ofMagical Education in Europe, it puts a lot of emphasis on the Dark Arts.”
“I think I've heard of it,” said Ron vaguely. “Where is it? What country?”
“Well, nobody knows, do they?” said Hermione, raising her eyebrows.
“Er—why not?” said Harry.
“There's traditionally been a lot of rivalry between all the magic schools. Durmstrang and Beauxbatons like to conceal their whereabouts so nobody can steal their secrets,” said Hermione matter-of-factly.
“Come off it,” said Ron, starting to laugh. “Durmstrang's got to be about the same size as Hogwarts—how are you going to hide a great big castle?”
“But Hogwarts is hidden,” said Hermione, in surprise. “Everyone knows that... well, everyone who's read Hogwarts, A History, anyway.”
“Just you, then,” said Ron. “So go on—how d'you hide a place like Hogwarts?”
“It's bewitched,” said Hermione. “If a Muggle looks at it, all they see is a moldering old ruin with a sign over the entrance saying DANGER, DO NOT ENTER, UNSAFE.”
“So Durmstrang'll just look like a ruin to an outsider too?”
“Maybe,” said Hermione, shrugging, “or it might have Muggle-repelling charms on it, like the World Cup stadium. And to keep foreign wizards from finding it, they'll have made it Unplottable—”
“Come again?”
“Well, you can enchant a building so it's impossible to plot on a map, can't you?”
“Er... if you say so,” said Harry.
“But I think Durmstrang must be somewhere in the far north,” said Hermione thoughtfully. “Somewhere very cold, because they've got fur capes as part of their uniforms.”
“Ah, think of the possibilities,” said Ron dreamily. “It would've been so easy to push Malfoy off a glacier and make it look like an accident... Shame his mother likes him...”
The rain became heavier and heavier as the train moved farther north. The sky was so dark and the windows so steamy that the lanterns were lit by midday. The lunch trolley came rattling along the corridor, and Harry bought a large stack of Cauldron Cakes for them to share.
Several of their friends looked in on them as the afternoon progressed, including Seamus Finnigan, Dean Thomas, and Neville Longbottom, a round-faced, extremely forgetful boy who had been brought up by his formidable witch of a grandmother. Seamus was still wearing his Ireland rosette. Some of its magic seemed to be wearing off now; it was still squeaking “Troy—Mullet—Moran!” but in a very feeble and exhausted sort of way. After half an hour or so, Hermione, growing tired of the endless Quidditch talk, buried herself once more in The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4, and started trying to learn a Summoning Charm.
Neville listened jealously to the others' conversation as they relived the Cup match.
“Gran didn't want to go,” he said miserably. “Wouldn't buy tickets. It sounded amazing though.”
“It was,” said Ron. “Look at this, Neville...
He rummaged in his trunk up in the luggage rack and pulled out the miniature figure of Viktor Krum.
“Oh wow,” said Neville enviously as Ron tipped Krum onto his pudgy hand.
“We saw him right up close, as well,” said Ron. “We were in the Top Box—”
“For the first and last time in your life, Weasley.”
Draco Malfoy had appeared in the doorway. Behind him stood Crabbe and Goyle, his enormous, thuggish cronies, both of whom appeared to have grown at least a foot during the summer. Evidently they had overheard the conversation through the compartment door, which Dean and Seamus had left ajar.
“Don't remember asking you to join us, Malfoy,” said Harry coolly.
“Weasley... what is that?” said Malfoy, pointing at Pigwidgeon's cage. A sleeve of Ron's dress robes was dangling from it, swaying with the motion of the train, the moldy lace cuff very obvious.
Ron made to stuff the robes out of sight, but Malfoy was too quick for him; he seized the sleeve and pulled.
“Look at this!” said Malfoy in ecstasy, holding up Ron's robes and showing Crabbe and Goyle, “Weasley, you weren't thinking of wearing these, were you? I mean—they were very fashionable in about eighteen ninety...
“Eat dung, Malfoy!” said Ron, the same color as the dress robes as he snatched them back out of Malfoy's grip. Malfoy howled with derisive laughter; Crabbe and Goyle guffawed stupidly.
“So... going to enter, Weasley? Going to try and bring a bit of glory to the family name? There's money involved as well, you know... you'd be able to afford some decent robes if you won...”
“What are you talking about?” snapped Ron.
'Are you going to enter?' Malfoy repeated. “I suppose you will, Potter? You never miss a chance to show off, do you?”
“Either explain what you're on about or go away, Malfoy,” said Hermione testily, over the top of The Standard Book of Spells, Grade 4.
A gleeful smile spread across Malfoy's pale face
“Don't tell me you don't know?” he said delightedly. “You've got a father and brother at the Ministry and you don't even know? My God, my father told me about it ages ago... heard it from Cornelius Fudge. But then, Father's always associated with the top people at the Ministry... Maybe your father's too junior to know about it, Weasley... yes... they probably don't talk about important stuff in front of him...”
Laughing once more, Malfoy beckoned to Crabbe and Goyle, and the three of them disappeared.
Ron got to his feet and slammed the sliding compartment door so hard behind them that the glass shattered.
“Ron!” said Hermione reproachfully, and she pulled out her wand, muttered “Reparo!” and the glass shards flew back into a single pane and back into the door.
“Well... making it look like he knows everything and we don't...” Ron snarled. “Father's always associated with the top peopie at the Ministry. '... Dad could've got a promotion any time... he just likes it where he is...”
“Of course he does,” said Hermione quietly. “Don't let Malfoy get to you, Ron—”
“Him! Get to me!? As if!” said Ron, picking up one of the remaining Cauldron Cakes and squashing it into a pulp.
Ron's bad mood continued for the rest of the journey. He didn't talk much as they changed into their school robes, and was still glowering when 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 left his dress robes over Pigwidgeon as 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.
“Hi, Hagrid!” Harry yelled, seeing a gigantic silhouette at the far end of the platform.
“All righ', Harry?” Hagrid bellowed back, waving. “See yeh at the feast if we don' drown!”
First years traditionally reached Hogwarts Castle by sailing across the lake with Hagrid.
“Oooh, I wouldn't fancy crossing the lake in this weather,” said Hermione fervently, shivering as they inched slowly along the dark platform with the rest of the crowd. A hundred horseless carriages stood waiting for them outside the station. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville climbed gratefully into one of them, the door shut with a snap, and a few moments later, with a great lurch, the long procession of carriages was rumbling and splashing its way up the track toward Hogwarts Castle.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER TWELVE
THE TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT

Through the gates, flanked with statues of winged boars, and up the sweeping drive the carriages trundled, swaying dangerously in what was fast becoming a gale. Leaning against the window, Harry could see Hogwarts coming nearer, its many lighted windows blurred and shimmering behind the thick curtain of rain. Lightning flashed across the sky as their carriage came to a halt before the great oak front doors, which stood at the top of a flight of stone steps. People who had occupied the carriages in front were already hurrying up the stone steps into the castle. Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Neville jumped down from their carriage and dashed up the steps too, looking up only when they were safely inside the cavernous, torch-lit entrance hall, with its magnificent marble staircase.
“Blimey,” said Ron, shaking his head and sending water everywhere, “if that keeps up the lake's going to overflow. I'm soak—ARRGH!”
A large, red, water-filled balloon had dropped from out of the ceiling onto Ron's head and exploded. Drenched and sputtering, Ron staggered sideways into Harry, just as a second water bomb dropped—narrowly missing Hermione, it burst at Harry's feet, sending a wave of cold water over his sneakers into his socks. People all around them shrieked and started pushing one another in their efforts to get out of the line of fire. Harry looked up and saw, floating twenty feet above them, Peeves the Poltergeist, a little man in a bell-covered hat and orange bow tie, his wide, malicious face contorted with concentration as he took aim again.
“PEEVES!” yelled an angry voice. “Peeves, come down here at ONCE!”
Professor McGonagall, Deputy Headmistress and head of Gryffindor House, had come dashing out of the Great Hall; she skidded on the wet floor and grabbed Hermione around the neck to stop herself from falling.
“Ouch—sorry, Miss Granger—”
“That's all right, Professor!” Hermione gasped, massaging her throat.
“Peeves, get down here NOW!” barked Professor McGonagall, straightening her pointed hat and glaring upward through her square-rimmed spectacles.
“Not doing nothing!” cackled Peeves, lobbing a water bomb at several fifth-year girls, who screamed and dived into the Great Hall. “Already wet, aren't they? Little squirts! Wheeeeeeeeee!” And he aimed another bomb at a group of second years who had just arrived.
“I shall call the headmaster!” shouted Professor McGonagall. “I'm warning you, Peeves—”
Peeves stuck out his tongue, threw the last of his water bombs into the air, and zoomed off up the marble staircase, cackling insanely.
“Well, move along, then!” said Professor McGonagall sharply to the bedraggled crowd. “Into the Great Hall, come on!”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione slipped and slid across the entrance hall and through the double doors on the right, Ron muttering furiously under his breath as he pushed his sopping hair off his face.
The Great Hall looked its usual splendid self, decorated for the start-of-term feast. Golden plates and goblets gleamed by the light of hundreds and hundreds of candles, floating over the tables in midair. The four long House tables were packed with chattering students; at the top of the Hall, the staff sat along one side of a fifth table, facing their pupils. It was much warmer in here. Harry, Ron, and Hermione walked past the Slytherins, the Ravenclaws, and the Hufflepuffs, and 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.
“Good evening,” he said, beaming at them.
“Says who?” said Harry, taking off his sneakers and emptying them of water. “Hope they hurry up with the Sorting. I'm starving.”
The Sorting of the new students into Houses took place at the start of every school year, but by an unlucky combination of circumstances, Harry hadn't been present at one since his own. He was quite looking forward to it. 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?”
“Er—yeah, all right,” said Harry. He turned back to Hermione, Ron, and Nearly Headless Nick. “Brothers and sisters usually go in the same Houses, don't they?” he said. He was judging by the Weasleys, all seven of whom had been put into Gryffindor.
“Oh no, not necessarily,” said Hermione. “Parvati Patil's twin's in Ravenclaw, and they're identical. You'd think they'd be together, wouldn't you?”
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.
“Where's the new Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher?” said Hermione, who was also looking up at the teachers.
They had never yet had a Defense Against the Dark Arts teacher who had lasted more than three terms. Harry's favorite by far had been Professor Lupin, who had resigned last year. He looked up and down the staff table. There was definitely no new face there.
“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. Harry's loathing of Snape was matched only by Snape's hatred of him, a hatred which had, if possible, intensified last year, when Harry had helped Sirius escape right under Snape's overlarge nose—Snape and Sirius had been enemies since their own school days.
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. All of them were shivering with a combination of cold and nerves as they filed along the staff table and came to a halt in a line facing the rest of the school—all of them except the smallest of the lot, a boy with mousy hair, who was wrapped in what Harry recognized as Hagrid's moleskin overcoat. The coat was so big for him that it hooked as though he were draped in a furry black circus tent. His small face protruded from over the collar, looking almost painfully excited. When he had lined up with his terrified-looking peers, he caught Colin Creevey's eye, gave a double thumbs-up, and mouthed, I fell in the lake! He looked positively delighted about it.
Professor McGonagall now placed a three-legged stool on the ground before the first years and, on top of it, an extremely old, dirty patched wizard's hat. The first years stared at it. So did everyone else. For a moment, there was silence. Then a long tear near the brim opened wide like a mouth, and the hat broke into song:

A thousand years or more ago,
When I was newly sewn,
There lived four wizards of renown,
Whose names are still well known:
Bold Gryffindor, from wild moor,
Fair Ravenclaw, from glen,
Sweet Hufflepuff, from valley broad,
Shrewd Slytherin, from fin.
They shared a wish, a hope, a dream,
They hatched a daring plan
To educate young sorcerers
Thus Hogwarts School began.
Now each of these four founders
Formed their own house, for each
Did value different virtues
In the ones they had to teach.
By Gryffindor, the bravest were
Prized far beyond the rest;
For Ravenclaw, the cleverest
Would always be the best;
For Hufflepuff, hard workers were
Most worthy of admission;
And power-hungry Slytherin
Loved those of great ambition.
While still alive they did divide
Their favorites from the throng,
Yet how to pick the worthy ones
When they were dead and gone?
'Twas Gryffindor who found the way,
He whipped me off his head
The founders put some brains in me
So I could choose instead!
Now slip me snug about your ears,
I've never yet been wrong,
I'll have a look inside your mind
And tell where you belong!

The Great Hall rang with applause as the Sorting Hat finished.
“That's not the song it sang when it Sorted us,” said Harry, clapping along with everyone else.
“Sings a different one every year,” said Ron. “It's got to be a pretty boring life, hasn't it, being a hat? I suppose it spends all year making up the next one.”
Professor McGonagall was now unrolling a large scroll of parchment.
“When I call out your name, you will put on the hat and sit on the stool,” she told the first years. “When the hat announces your House, you will go and sit at the appropriate table.
“Ackerley, Stewart!”
A boy walked forward, visibly trembling from head to foot, picked up the Sorting Hat, put it on, and sat down on the stool.
“RAVENCLAW!” shouted the hat.
Stewart Ackerley took off the hat and hurried into a seat at the Ravenclaw table, where everyone was applauding him. Harry caught a glimpse of Cho, the Ravenclaw Seeker, cheering Stewart Ackerley as he sat down. For a fleeting second, Harry had a strange desire to join the Ravenclaw table too.
“Baddock, Malcolm!”
“SLYTHERIN!”
The table on the other side of the hall erupted with cheers; Harry could see Malfoy clapping as Baddock joined the Slytherins. Harry wondered whether Baddock knew that Slytherin House had turned out more Dark witches and wizards than any other. Fred and George hissed Malcolm Baddock as he sat down.
“Branstone, Eleanor!”
“HUFFLEPUFF!”
“Cauldwell, Owen!”
“HUFFLEPUFF!”
“Creevey, Dennis!”
Tiny Dennis Creevey staggered forward, tripping over Hagrid's moleskin, just as Hagrid himself sidled into the Hall through a door behind the teachers' table. About twice as tall as a normal man, and at least three times as broad, Hagrid, with his long, wild, tangled black hair and beard, looked slightly alarming—a misleading impression, for Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew Hagrid to possess a very kind nature. He winked at them as he sat down at the end of the staff table and watched Dennis Creevey putting on the Sorting Hat. The rip at the brim opened wide——
“GRYFFINDOR!” the hat shouted.
Hagrid clapped along with the Gryffindors as Dennis Creevey, beaming widely, took off the hat, placed it back on the stool, and hurried over to join his brother.
“Colin, I fell in!” he said shrilly, throwing himself into an empty seat. “It was brilliant! And something in the water grabbed me and pushed me back in the boat!”
“Cool!” said Colin, just as excitedly. “It was probably the giant squid, Dennis!”
“Wow!” said Dennis, as though nobody in their wildest dreams could hope for more than being thrown into a storm-tossed, fathoms-deep lake, and pushed out of it again by a giant sea monster.
“Dennis! Dennis! See that boy down there? The one with the black hair and glasses? See him? Know who he is, Dennis?”
Harry looked away, staring very hard at the Sorting Hat, now Sorting Emma Dobbs.
The Sorting continued; boys and girls with varying degrees of fright on their faces moving one by one to the three-legged stool, the line dwindling slowly as Professor McGonagall passed the L's.
“Oh hurry up,” Ron moaned, massaging his stomach.
“Now, Ron, the Sorting's much more important than food,” said Nearly Headless Nick as “Madley, Laura!” became a Hufflepuff.
“Course it is, if you're dead,” snapped Ron.
“I do hope this year's batch of Gryffindors are up to scratch,” said Nearly Headless Nick, applauding as “McDonald, Natalie!” joined the Gryffindor table. “We don't want to break our winning streak, do we?”
Gryffindor had won the Inter-House Championship for the last three years in a row.
“Pritchard, Graham!”
“SLYTHERIN!”
“Quirke, Orla!”
“RAVENCLAW!”
And finally, with “Whitby, Kevin!” (“HUFFLEPUFF!”), the Sorting ended. Professor McGonagall picked up the hat and the stool and carried them away.
“About time,” said Ron, seizing his knife and fork and looking expectantly at his golden plate.
Professor Dumbledore had gotten to his feet. He was smiling around at the students, his arms opened wide in welcome.
“I have only two words to say to you,” he told them, his deep voice echoing around the Hall. “Tuck in.”
“Hear, hear!” said Harry and Ron loudly as the empty dishes filled magically before their eyes.
Nearly Headless Nick watched mournfully as Harry, Ron, and Hermione loaded their own plates.
“Aaah, 'at's be'er,” said Ron, with his mouth full of mashed potato.
“You're lucky there's a feast at all tonight, you know,” said Nearly Headless Nick. “There was trouble in the kitchens earlier.”
“Why? Wha' 'appened?” said Harry, through a sizable chunk of steak.
“Peeves, of course,” said Nearly Headless Nick, shaking his head, which wobbled dangerously. He pulled his ruff a little higher up on his neck. “The usual argument, you know. He wanted to attend the feast—well, it's quite out of the question, you know what he's like, utterly uncivilized, can't see a plate of food without throwing it. We held a ghost's council—the Fat Friar was all for giving him the chance—but most wisely, in my opinion, the Bloody Baron put his foot down.”
The Bloody Baron was the Slytherin ghost, a gaunt and silent specter covered in silver bloodstains. He was the only person at Hogwarts who could really control Peeves.
“Yeah, we thought Peeves seemed hacked off about something,” said Ron darkly. “So what did he do in the kitchens?”
“Oh the usual,” said Nearly Headless Nick, shrugging. “Wreaked havoc and mayhem. Pots and pans everywhere. Place swimming in soup. Terrified the house-elves out of their wits—”
Clang.
Hermione had knocked over her golden goblet. Pumpkin juice spread steadily over the tablecloth, staining several feet of white linen orange, but Hermione paid no attention.
“There are house-elves here?” she said, staring, horror-struck, at Nearly Headless Nick. “Here at Hogwarts?”
“Certainly,” said Nearly Headless Nick, looking surprised at her reaction. “The largest number in any dwelling in Britain, I believe. Over a hundred.”
“I've never seen one!” said Hermione.
“Well, they hardly ever leave the kitchen by day, do they?” said Nearly Headless Nick. “They come out at night to do a bit of cleaning... see to the fires and so on... I mean, you're not supposed to see them, are you? That's the mark of a good house-elf, isn't it, that you don't know it's there?”
Hermione stared at him.
“But they get paid?” she said. “They get holidays, don't they? And—and sick leave, and pensions, and everything?”
Nearly Headless Nick chortled so much that his ruff slipped and his head flopped off, dangling on the inch or so of ghostly skin and muscle that still attached it to his neck.
“Sick leave and pensions?” he said, pushing his head back onto his shoulders and securing it once more with his ruff. “House-elves don't want sick leave and pensions!”
Hermione looked down at her hardly touched plate of food, then put her knife and fork down upon it and pushed it away from her.
“Oh c'mon, 'Er-my-knee,” said Ron, accidentally spraying Harry with bits of Yorkshire pudding. “Oops—sorry, 'Arry—” He swallowed. “You won't get them sick leave by starving yourself!”
“Slave labor,” said Hermione, breathing hard through her nose. “That's what made this dinner. Slave labor.”
And she refused to eat another bite.
The rain was still drumming heavily against the high, dark glass. Another clap of thunder shook the windows, and the stormy ceiling flashed, illuminating the golden plates as the remains of the first course vanished and were replaced, instantly, with puddings.
“Treacle tart, Hermione!” said Ron, deliberately wafting its smell toward her. “Spotted dick, look! Chocolate gateau!”
But Hermione gave him a look so reminiscent of Professor McGonagall that he gave up.
When the puddings too had been demolished, and the last crumbs had faded off the plates, leaving them sparkling clean, Albus Dumbledore got to his feet again. The buzz of chatter filling the Hall ceased almost at once, so that only the howling wind and pounding rain could be heard.
“So!” said Dumbledore, smiling around at them all. “Now that we are all fed and watered,” (“Hmph!” said Hermione) “I must once more ask for your attention, while I give out a few notices.
“Mr. Filch, the caretaker, has asked me to tell you that the list of objects forbidden inside the castle has this year been extended to include Screaming Yo-yos, Fanged Frisbees, and Ever-Bashing Boomerangs. The full list comprises some four hundred and thirty-seven items, I believe, and can be viewed in Mr. Filch's office, if anybody would like to check it.”
The corners of Dumbledore's mouth twitched. He continued, “As ever, I would like to remind you all that the forest on the grounds is out-of-bounds to students, as is the village of Hogsmeade to all below third year.
“It is also my painful duty to inform you that the Inter-House Quidditch Cup will not take place this year.”
“What?” Harry gasped. He looked around at Fred and George, his fellow members of the Quidditch team. They were mouthing soundlessly at Dumbledore, apparently too appalled to speak. Dumbhedore went on, “This is due to an event that will be starting in October, and continuing throughout the school year, taking up much of the teachers' time and energy—but I am sure you will all enjoy it immensely. I have great pleasure in announcing that this year at Hogwarts—”
But at that moment, 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 Dumbhedore 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.”
It was usual for new staff members to be greeted with applause, but none of the staff or students chapped except Dumbledore and Hagrid, who both put their hands together and applauded, but the sound echoed dismally into the silence, and they stopped fairly quickly. Everyone else seemed too transfixed by Moody's bizarre appearance to do more than stare at him.
“Moody?” Harry muttered to Ron. “Mad-Eye Moody? The one your dad went to help this morning?”
“Must be,” said Ron in a low, awed voice.
“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.”
“You're JOKING!” said Fred Weasley loudly.
The tension that had filled the Hall ever since Moody's arrival suddenly broke. Nearly everyone laughed, and Dumbledore chuckled appreciatively.
“I am not joking, Mr. Weasley,” he said, “though now that you mention it, I did hear an excellent one over the summer about a troll, a hag, and a leprechaun who all go into a bar.
Professor McGonagall cleared her throat loudly.
“Er—but maybe this is not the time... no...” said Dumbledore, “where was I? Ah yes, the Triwizard Tournament... well, 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.”
“Death toll?” Hermione whispered, looking alarmed. But her anxiety did not seem to be shared by the majority of students in the Hall; many of them were whispering excitedly to one another, and Harry himself was far more interested in hearing about the tournament than in worrying about deaths that had happened hundreds of years ago.
“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, 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 Hog-warts 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.
“They can't do that!” said George Weasley, who had not joined the crowd moving toward the door, but was standing up and glaring at Dumbledore. “We're seventeen in April, why can't we have a shot?”
“They're not stopping me entering,” said Fred stubbornly, also scowling at the top table. “The champions'll get to do all sorts of stuff you'd never be allowed to do normally. And a thousand Galleons prize money!”
“Yeah,” said Ron, a faraway look on his face. “Yeah, a thousand Galleons...”
“Come on,” said Hermione, “we'll be the only ones left here if you don't move.”
Harry, Ron, Hermione, Fred, and George set off for the entrance hall, Fred and George debating the ways in which Dumbledore might stop those who were under seventeen from entering the tournament.
“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? Fancy entering?”
“What d'you reckon?” Ron asked Harry. “Be cool to enter, wouldn't it? But I s'pose they might want someone older... Dunno if we've learned enough...
“I definitely haven't,” came Nevihle's gloomy voice from behind Fred and George.
“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. They made their way up to the entrance to Gryffindor Tower, which was concealed behind a large portrait of a fat lady in a pink silk dress.
“Password?” she said as they approached.
“Balderdash,” said George, “a prefect downstairs told me.”
The portrait swung forward to reveal a hole in the wall through which they all climbed. A crackling fire warmed the circular common room, which was full of squashy armchairs and tables. Hermione cast the merrily dancing flames a dark look, and Harry distinctly heard her mutter “Slave labor” before bidding them good night and disappearing through the doorway to the girls' dormitory.
Harry, Ron, and Neville climbed up the last, spiral staircase until they reached their own dormitory, which was situated at the top of the tower. Five four-poster beds with deep crimson hangings stood against the walls, each with its owner's trunk at the foot. Dean and Seamus were already getting into bed; Seamus had pinned his Ireland rosette to his headboard, and Dean had tacked up a poster of Viktor Krum over his bedside table. His old poster of the West Ham football team was pinned right next to it.
“Mental,” Ron sighed, shaking his head at the completely stationary soccer players.
Harry, Ron, and Neville got into their pajamas and into bed. Someone—a house-elf, no doubt—had placed warming pans between the sheets. It was extremely comfortable, lying there in bed and listening to the storm raging outside.
“I might go in for it, you know,” Ron said sleepily through the darkness, “if Fred and George find out how to... the tournament... you never know, do you?”
“S'pose not...”
Harry rolled over in bed, a series of dazzling new pictures forming in his mind's eye... He had hoodwinked the impartial judge into believing he was seventeen... he had become Hogwarts champion... he was standing on the grounds, his arms raised in triumph in front of the whole school, all of whom were applauding and screaming... he had just won the Triwizard Tournament. Cho's face stood out particularly clearly in the blurred crowd, her face glowing with admiration...
Harry grinned into his pillow, exceptionally glad that Ron couldn't see what he could.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER THIRTEEN
MAD-EYE MOODY

The storm had blown itself out by the following morning, though the ceiling in the Great Hall was still gloomy; heavy clouds of pewter gray swirled overhead as Harry, Ron, and Hermione examined their new course schedules at breakfast. A few seats along, Fred, George, and Lee Jordan were discussing magical methods of aging themselves and bluffing their way into the Triwizard Tournament.
“Today's not bad... outside all morning,” said Ron, who was running his finger down the Monday column of his schedule. “Herbology with the Hufflepuffs and Care of Magical Creatures... damn it, we're still with the Slytherins...”
“Double Divination this afternoon,” Harry groaned, looking down. Divination was his least favorite subject, apart from Potions. Professor Trelawney kept predicting Harry's death, which he found extremely annoying.
“You should have given it up like me, shouldn't you?” said Hermione briskly, buttering herself some toast. “Then you'd be doing something sensible like Arithmancy.”
“You're eating again, I notice,” said Ron, watching Hermione adding liberal amounts of jam to her toast too.
“I've decided there are better ways of making a stand about elf rights,” said Hermione haughtily.
“Yeah... and you were hungry,” said Ron, grinning.
There was a sudden rustling noise above them, and a hundred owls came soaring through the open windows carrying the morning mail. Instinctively, Harry looked up, but there was no sign of white among the mass of brown and gray. The owls circled the tables, looking for the people to whom their letters and packages were addressed. A large tawny owl soared down to Neville Longbottom and deposited a parcel into his lap—Neville almost always forgot to pack something. On the other side of the Hall Draco Malfoy's eagle owl had landed on his shoulder, carrying what looked like his usual supply of sweets and cakes from home. Trying to ignore the sinking feeling of disappointment in his stomach, Harry returned to his porridge. Was it possible that something had happened to Hedwig, and that Sirius hadn't even got his letter?
His preoccupation lasted all the way across the sodden vegetable patch until they arrived in greenhouse three, but here he was distracted by Professor Sprout showing the class the ugliest plants Harry had ever seen. Indeed, they looked less like plants than thick, black, giant slugs, protruding vertically out of the soil. Each was squirming slightly and had a number of large, shiny swellings upon it, which appeared to be full of liquid.
“Bubotubers,” Professor Sprout told them briskly. “They need squeezing. You will collect the pus—”
“The what?” said Seamus Finnigan, sounding revolted.
“Pus, Finnigan, pus,” said Professor Sprout, “and it's extremely valuable, so don't waste it. You will collect the pus, I say, in these bottles. Wear your dragon-hide gloves; it can do funny things to the skin when undiluted, bubotuber pus.”
Squeezing the bubotubers was disgusting, but oddly satisfying. As each swelling was popped, a large amount of thick yellowish-green liquid burst forth, which smelled strongly of petrol. They caught it in the bottles as Professor Sprout had indicated, and by the end of the lesson had collected several pints.
“This'll keep Madam Pomfrey happy,” said Professor Sprout, stoppering the last bottle with a cork. “An excellent remedy for the more stubborn forms of acne, bubotuber pus. Should stop students resorting to desperate measures to rid themselves of pimples.”
“Like poor Eloise Midgen,” said Hannah Abbott, a Hufflepuff, in a hushed voice. “She tried to curse hers off.”
“Silly girl,” said Professor Sprout, shaking her head. “But Madam Pomfrey fixed her nose back on in the end.”
A booming bell echoed from the castle across the wet grounds, signaling the end of the lesson, and the class separated; the Hufflepuffs climbing the stone steps for Transfiguration, and the Gryffindors heading in the other direction, down the sloping lawn toward Hagrid's small wooden cabin, which stood on the edge of the Forbidden Forest.
Hagrid was standing outside his hut, one hand on the collar of his enormous black boarhound, Fang. There were several open wooden crates on the ground at his feet, and Fang was whimpering and straining at his collar, apparently keen to investigate the contents more closely. As they drew nearer, an odd rattling noise reached their ears, punctuated by what sounded like minor explosions.
“Mornin'!” Hagrid said, grinning at Harry, Ron, and Hermione. “Be'er wait fer the Slytherins, they won' want ter miss this—Blast-Ended Skrewts!”
“Come again?” said Ron.
Hagrid pointed down into the crates.
“Eurgh!” squealed Lavender Brown, jumping backward. “Eurgh” just about summed up the Blast-Ended Skrewts in Harry's opinion. They looked like deformed, shell-less lobsters, horribly pale and slimy-looking, with legs sticking out in very odd places and no visible heads. There were about a hundred of them in each crate, each about six inches long, crawling over one another, bumping blindly into the sides of the boxes. They were giving off a very powerful smell of rotting fish. Every now and then, sparks would fly out of the end of a skrewt, and with a small phut, it would be propelled forward several inches.
“On'y jus' hatched,” said Hagrid proudly, “so yeh'll be able ter raise 'em yerselves! Thought we'd make a bit of a project of it!”
“And why would we want to raise them?” said a cold voice.
The Slytherins had arrived. The speaker was Draco Malfoy. Crabbe and Goyle were chuckling appreciatively at his words.
Hagrid looked stumped at the question.
“I mean, what do they do?” asked Malfoy. “What is the point of them?”
Hagrid opened his mouth, apparently thinking hard; there was a few seconds' pause, then he said roughly, “Tha's next lesson, Malfoy. Yer jus' feedin' 'em today. Now, yeh'll wan' ter try 'em on a few diff'rent things—I've never had 'em before, not sure what they'll go fer—I got ant eggs an' frog livers an' a bit o' grass snake—just try 'em out with a bit of each.”
“First pus and now this,” muttered Seamus.
Nothing but deep affection for Hagrid could have made Harry, Ron, and Hermione pick up squelchy handfuls of frog liver and lower them into the crates to tempt the Blast-Ended Skrewts. Harry couldn't suppress the suspicion that the whole thing was entirely pointless, because the skrewts didn't seem to have mouths.
“Ouch!” yelled Dean Thomas after about ten minutes. “It got me.”
Hagrid hurried over to him, looking anxious.
“Its end exploded!” said Dean angrily, showing Hagrid a burn on his hand.
“Ah, yeah, that can happen when they blast off,” said Hagrid, nodding.
“Eurgh!” said Lavender Brown again. “Eurgh, Hagrid, what's that pointy thing on it?”
“Ah, some of 'em have got stings,” said Hagrid enthusiastically (Lavender quickly withdrew her hand from the box). “I reckon they're the males... The females've got sorta sucker things on their bellies... I think they might be ter suck blood.”
“Well, I can certainly see why we're trying to keep them alive,” said Malfoy sarcastically. “Who wouldn't want pets that can burn, sting, and bite all at once?”
“Just because they're not very pretty, it doesn't mean they're not useful,” Hermione snapped. “Dragon blood's amazingly magical, but you wouldn't want a dragon for a pet, would you?”
Harry and Ron grinned at Hagrid, who gave them a furtive smile from behind his bushy beard. Hagrid would have liked nothing better than a pet dragon, as Harry, Ron, and Hermione knew only too well—he had owned one for a brief period during their first year, a vicious Norwegian Ridgeback by the name of Norbert. Hagrid simply loved monstrous creatures, the more lethal, the better.
“Well, at least the skrewts are small,” said Ron as they made their way back up to the castle for lunch an hour later.
“They are now,” said Hermione in an exasperated voice, “but once Hagrid's found out what they eat, I expect they'll be six feet long.”
“Well, that won't matter if they turn out to cure seasickness or something, will it?” said Ron, grinning slyly at her.
“You know perfectly well I only said that to shut Malfoy up,” said Hermione. “As a matter of fact I think he's right. The best thing to do would be to stamp on the lot of them before they start attacking us all.”
They sat down at the Gryffindor table and helped themselves to lamb chops and potatoes. Hermione began to eat so fast that Harry and Ron stared at her.
“Er—is this the new stand on elf rights?” said Ron. “You're going to make yourself puke instead?”
“No,” said Hermione, with as much dignity as she could muster with her mouth bulging with sprouts. “I just want to get to the library.”
“What?” said Ron in disbelief. “Hermione—it's the first day back! We haven't even got homework yet!”
Hermione shrugged and continued to shovel down her food as though she had not eaten for days. Then she leapt to her feet, said, “See you at dinner!” and departed at high speed.
When the bell rang to signal the start of afternoon lessons, Harry and Ron set off for North Tower where, at the top of a tightly spiraling staircase, a silver stepladder led to a circular trapdoor in the ceiling, and the room where Professor Trelawney lived.
The familiar sweet perfume spreading from the fire met their nostrils as they emerged at the top of the stepladder. As ever, the curtains were all closed; the circular room was bathed in a dim reddish light cast by the many lamps, which were all draped with scarves and shawls. Harry and Ron walked through the mass of occupied chintz chairs and poufs that cluttered the room, and sat down at the same small circular table.
“Good day,” said the misty voice of Professor Trelawney right behind Harry, making him jump.
A very thin woman with enormous glasses that made her eyes appear far too large for her face, Professor Trelawney was peering down at Harry with the tragic expression she always wore whenever she saw him. The usual large amount of beads, chains, and bangles glittered upon her person in the firelight.
“You are preoccupied, my dear,” she said mournfully to Harry. “My inner eye sees past your brave face to the troubled soul within. And I regret to say that your worries are not baseless. I see difficult times ahead for you, alas... most difficult... I fear the thing you dread will indeed come to pass... and perhaps sooner than you think...”
Her voice dropped almost to a whisper. Ron rolled his eyes at Harry, who looked stonily back. Professor Trelawney swept past them and seated herself in a large winged armchair before the fire, facing the class. Lavender Brown and Parvati Patil, who deeply admired Professor Trelawney, were sitting on poufs very close to her.
“My dears, it is time for us to consider the stars,” she said. “The movements of the planets and the mysterious portents they reveal only to those who understand the steps of the celestial dance. Human destiny may be deciphered by the planetary rays, which intermingle...”
But Harry's thoughts had drifted. The perfumed fire always made him feel sleepy and dull-witted, and Professor Trelawney's rambling talks on fortune-telling never held him exactly spellbound—though he couldn't help thinking about what she had just said to him. “I fear the thing you dread will indeed come to pass... '”
But Hermione was right, Harry thought irritably, Professor Trelawney really was an old fraud. He wasn't dreading anything at the moment at all... well, unless you counted his fears that Sirius had been caught... but what did Professor Trelawney know? He had long since come to the conclusion that her brand of fortunetelling was really no more than lucky guesswork and a spooky manner.
Except, of course, for that time at the end of last term, when she had made the prediction about Voldemort rising again... and Dumbledore himself had said that he thought that trance had been genuine, when Harry had described it to him.
“Harry!” Ron muttered.
“What?”
Harry looked around; the whole class was staring at him. He sat up straight; he had been almost dozing off, lost in the heat and his thoughts.
“I was saying, my dear, that you were clearly born under the baleful influence of Saturn,” said Professor Trelawney, a faint note of resentment in her voice at the fact that he had obviously not been hanging on her words.
“Born under—what, sorry?” said Harry.
“Saturn, dear, the planet Saturn!” said Professor Trelawney, sounding definitely irritated that he wasn't riveted by this news. “I was saying that Saturn was surely in a position of power in the heavens at the moment of your birth... Your dark hair... your mean stature... tragic losses so young in life... I think I am right in saying, my dear, that you were born in midwinter?”
“No,” said Harry, “I was born in July.”
Ron hastily turned his laugh into a hacking cough.
Half an hour later, each of them had been given a complicated circular chart, and was attempting to fill in the position of the planets at their moment of birth. It was dull work, requiring much consultation of timetables and calculation of angles.
“I've got two Neptunes here,” said Harry after a while, frowning down at his piece of parchment, “that can't be right, can it?”
“Aaaaah,” said Ron, imitating Professor Trelawney's mystical whisper, “when two Neptunes appear in the sky, it is a sure sign that a midget in glasses is being born, Harry...”
Seamus and Dean, who were working nearby, sniggered loudly, though not loudly enough to mask the excited squeals from Lavender Brown—”Oh Professor, look! I think I've got an unaspected planet! Oooh, which one's that, Professor?”
“It is Uranus, my dear,” said Professor Trelawney, peering down at the chart.
“Can I have a look at Uranus too, Lavender?” said Ron.
Most unfortunately, Professor Trelawney heard him, and it was this, perhaps, that made her give them so much homework at the end of the class.
“A detailed analysis of the way the planetary movements in the coming month will affect you, with reference to your personal chart,” she snapped, sounding much more like Professor McGonagall than her usual airy-fairy self. “I want it ready to hand in next Monday, and no excuses!”
“Miserable old bat,” said Ron bitterly as they joined the crowds descending the staircases back to the Great Hall and dinner. “That'll take all weekend, that will...”
“Lots of homework?” said Hermione brightly, catching up with them. “Professor Vector didn't give us any at all!”
“Well, bully for Professor Vector,” said Ron moodily.
They reached the entrance hall, which was packed with people queuing for dinner. They had just joined the end of the line, when a loud voice rang out behind them.
“Weasley! Hey, Weasley!”
Harry, Ron, and Hermione turned. Malfoy, Crabbe, and Goyle were standing there, each looking thoroughly pleased about something.
“What?” said Ron shortly.
“Your dad's in the paper, Weasley!” said Malfoy, brandishing a copy of the Daily Prophet and speaking very loudly, so that everyone in the packed entrance hall could hear. “Listen to this!

FURTHER MISTAKES AT THE MINISTRY OF MAGIC

It seems as though the Ministry of Magic's troubles are not yet at an end, writes Rita Skeeter, Special Correspondent. Recently under fire for its poor
crowd control at the Quidditch World Cup, and still unable to account for the disappearance of one of its witches, the Ministry was plunged into fresh embarrassment yesterday by the antics of Arnold Weasley, of the Misuse of Muggle Artifacts Office.”

Malfoy looked up.
“Imagine them not even getting his name right, Weasley. It's almost as though he's a complete nonentity, isn't it?” he crowed.
Everyone in the entrance hall was listening now. Malfoy straightened the paper with a flourish and read on:

Arnold Weasley, who was charged with possession of a flying car two years ago, was yesterday involved in a tussle with several Muggle law-keepers (“policemen”) over a number of highly aggressive dustbins. Mr. Weasley appears to have rushed to the aid of “Mad-Eye” Moody, the aged ex-Auror who retired from the Ministry when no longer able to tell the difference between a handshake and attempted murder. Unsurprisingly, Mr. Weasley found, upon arrival at Mr. Moody's heavily guarded house, that Mr. Moody had once again raised a false alarm. Mr. Weasley was forced to modify several memories before he could escape from the policemen, but refused to answer Daily Prophet questions about why he had involved the Ministry in such an undignified and potentially embarrassing scene.

“And there's a picture, Weasley!” said Malfoy, flipping the paper over and holding it up. “A picture of your parents outside their house—if you can call it a house! Your mother could do with losing a bit of weight, couldn't she?”
Ron was shaking with fury. Everyone was staring at him.
“Get stuffed, Malfoy,” said Harry. “C'mon, Ron...”
“Oh yeah, you were staying with them this summer, weren't you, Potter?” sneered Malfoy. “So tell me, is his mother really that porky, or is it just the picture?”
“You know your mother, Malfoy?” said Harry—both he and Hermione had grabbed the back of Ron's robes to stop him from launching himself at Malfoy—”that expression she's got, like she's got dung under her nose? Has she always looked like that, or was it just because you were with her?”
Malfoy's pale face went slightly pink.
“Don't you dare insult my mother, Potter.”
“Keep your fat mouth shut, then,” said Harry, turning away.
BANG!
Several people screamed—Harry felt something white-hot graze the side of his face—he plunged his hand into his robes for his wand, but before he'd even touched it, he heard a second loud BANG, and a roar that echoed through the entrance hall.
“OH NO YOU DON'T, LADDIE!”
Harry spun around. Professor Moody was limping down the marble staircase. His wand was out and it was pointing right at a pure white ferret, which was shivering on the stone-flagged floor, exactly where Malfoy had been standing.
There was a terrified silence in the entrance hall. Nobody but Moody was moving a muscle. Moody turned to look at Harry—at least, his normal eye was looking at Harry; the other one was pointing into the back of his head.
“Did he get you?” Moody growled. His voice was low and gravelly.
“No,” said Harry, “missed.”
“LEAVE IT!” Moody shouted.
“Leave—what?” Harry said, bewildered.
“Not you—him!” Moody growled, jerking his thumb over his shoulder at Crabbe, who had just frozen, about to pick up the white ferret. It seemed that Moody's rolling eye was magical and could see out of the back of his head.
Moody started to limp toward Crabbe, Goyle, and the ferret, which gave a terrified squeak and took off, streaking toward the dungeons.
“I don't think so!” roared Moody, pointing his wand at the ferret again—it flew ten feet into the air, fell with a smack to the floor, and then bounced upward once more.
“I don't like people who attack when their opponent's back's turned,” growled Moody as the ferret bounced higher and higher, squealing in pain. “Stinking, cowardly, scummy thing to do...”
The ferret flew through the air, its legs and tail flailing helplessly.
“Never—do—that—again—” said Moody, speaking each word as the ferret hit the stone floor and bounced upward again.
“Professor Moody!” said a shocked voice.
Professor McGonagall was coming down the marble staircase with her arms full of books.
“Hello, Professor McGonagall,” said Moody calmly, bouncing the ferret still higher.
“What—what are you doing?” said Professor McGonagall, her eyes following the bouncing ferret's progress through the air.
“Teaching,” said Moody.
“Teach—Moody, is that a student?” shrieked Professor McGonagall, the books spilling out of her arms.
“Yep,” said Moody.
“No!” cried Professor McGonagall, running down the stairs and pulling out her wand; a moment later, with a loud snapping noise, Draco Malfoy had reappeared, lying in a heap on the floor with his sleek blond hair all over his now brilliantly pink face. He got to his feet, wincing.
“Moody, we never use Transfiguration as a punishment!” said Professor McGonagall wealdy. “Surely Professor Dumbledore told you that?”
“He might've mentioned it, yeah,” said Moody, scratching his chin unconcernedly, “but I thought a good sharp shock—”
“We give detentions, Moody! Or speak to the offender's Head of House!”
“I'll do that, then,” said Moody, staring at Malfoy with great dislike.
Malfoy, whose pale eyes were still watering with pain and humiliation, looked malevolently up at Moody and muttered something in which the words “my father” were distinguishable.
“Oh yeah?” said Moody quietly, limping forward a few steps, the dull clunk of his wooden leg echoing around the hall. “Well, I know your father of old, boy... You tell him Moody's keeping a close eye on his son... you tell him that from me... Now, your Head of House'll be Snape, will it?”
“Yes,” said Malfoy resentfully.
“Another old friend,” growled Moody. “I've been looking forward to a chat with old Snape... Come on, you...”
And he seized Malfoy's upper arm and marched him off toward the dungeons.
Professor McGonagall stared anxiously after them for a few moments, then waved her wand at her fallen books, causing them to soar up into the air and back into her arms.
“Don't talk to me,” Ron said quietly to Harry and Hermione as they sat down at the Gryffindor table a few minutes later, surrounded by excited talk on all sides about what had just happened.
“Why not?” said Hermione in surprise.
“Because I want to fix that in my memory forever,” said Ron, his eyes closed and an uplifted expression on his face. “Draco Malfoy, the amazing bouncing ferret.”
Harry and Hermione both laughed, and Hermione began doling beef casserole onto each of their plates.
“He could have really hurt Malfoy, though,” she said. “It was good, really, that Professor McGonagall stopped it—”
“Hermione!” said Ron furiously, his eyes snapping open again, “you're ruining the best moment of my life!”
Hermione made an impatient noise and began to eat at top speed again.
“Don't tell me you're going back to the library this evening?” said Harry, watching her.
“Got to,” said Hermione thickly. “Loads to do.”
“But you told us Professor Vector—”
“It's not schoolwork,” she said. Within five minutes, she had cleared her plate and departed. No sooner had she gone than her seat was taken by Fred Weasley.
“Moody!” he said. “How cool is he?”
“Beyond cool,” said George, sitting down opposite Fred. “Supercool,” said the twins' best friend, Lee Jordan, sliding into the seat beside George. “We had him this afternoon,” he told Harry and Ron.
“What was it like?” said Harry eagerly.
Fred, George, and Lee exchanged looks full of meaning.
“Never had a lesson like it,” said Fred.
“He knows, man,” said Lee.
“Knows what?” said Ron, leaning forward.
“Knows what it's like to be out there doing it,” said George impressively.
“Doing what?” said Harry.
“Fighting the Dark Arts,” said Fred.
“He's seen it all,” said George.
“Mazing,” said Lee.
Ron dived into his bag for his schedule.
“We haven't got him till Thursday!” he said in a disappointed voice.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER FOURTEEN
THE UNFORGIVABLE CURSES

The next two days passed without great incident, unless you counted Neville melting his sixth cauldron in Potions. Professor Snape, who seemed to have attained new levels of vindictiveness over the summer, gave Nevihle detention, and Neville returned from it in a state of nervous collapse, having been made to disembowel a barrel full of horned toads.
“You know why Snape's in such a foul mood, don't you?” said Ron to Harry as they watched Hermione teaching Neville a Scouring Charm to remove the frog guts from under his fingernails.
“Yeah,” said Harry. “Moody.”
It was common knowledge that Snape really wanted the Dark Arts job, and he had now failed to get it for the fourth year running. Snape had disliked all of their previous Dark Arts teachers, and shown it—but he seemed strangely wary of displaying overt animosity to Mad-Eye Moody. Indeed, whenever Harry saw the two of them together—at mealtimes, or when they passed in the corridors—he had the distinct impression that Snape was avoiding Moody's eye, whether magical or normal.
“I reckon Snape's a bit scared of him, you know,” Harry said thoughtfully.
“Imagine if Moody turned Snape into a horned toad,” said Ron, his eyes misting over, “and bounced him all around his dungeon...”
The Gryffindor fourth years were looking forward to Moody's first lesson so much that they arrived early on Thursday lunchtime and queued up outside his classroom before the bell had even rung. The only person missing was Hermione, who turned up just in time for the lesson.
“Been in the—”
“Library.” Harry finished her sentence for her. “C'mon, quick, or we won't get decent seats.”
They hurried into three chairs right in front of the teacher's desk, took out their copies of The Dark Forces: A Guide to Self-Protection, and waited, unusually quiet. Soon they heard Moody's distinctive clunking footsteps coming down the corridor, and he entered the room, looking as strange and frightening as ever. They could just see his clawed, wooden foot protruding from underneath his robes.
“You can put those away,” he growled, stumping over to his desk and sitting down, “those books. You won't need them.”
They returned the books to their bags, Ron looking excited.
Moody took out a register, shook his long mane of grizzled gray hair out of his twisted and scarred face, and began to call out names, his normal eye moving steadily down the list while his magical eye swiveled around, fixing upon each student as he or she answered.
“Right then,” he said, when the last person had declared themselves present, “I've had a letter from Professor Lupin about this class. Seems you've had a pretty thorough grounding in tackling Dark creatures—you've covered boggarts, Red Caps, hinkypunks, grindylows, Kappas, and werewolves, is that right?”
There was a general murmur of assent.
“But you're behind—very behind—on dealing with curses,” said Moody. “So I'm here to bring you up to scratch on what wizards can do to each other. I've got one year to teach you how to deal with Dark—”
“What, aren't you staying?” Ron blurted out.
Moody's magical eye spun around to stare at Ron; Ron looked extremely apprehensive, but after a moment Moody smiled—the first time Harry had seen him do so. The effect was to make his heavily scarred face look more twisted and contorted than ever, but it was nevertheless good to know that he ever did anything as friendly as smile. Ron looked deeply relieved.
“You'll be Arthur Weasley's son, eh?” Moody said. “Your father got me out of a very tight corner a few days ago... Yeah, I'm staying just the one year. Special favor to Dumbledore... One year, and then back to my quiet retirement.”
He gave a harsh laugh, and then clapped his gnarled hands together.
“So—straight into it. Curses. They come in many strengths and forms. Now, according to the Ministry of Magic, I'm supposed to teach you countercurses and leave it at that. I'm not supposed to show you what illegal Dark curses look like until you're in the sixth year. You're not supposed to be old enough to deal with it till then. But Professor Dumbledore's got a higher opinion of your nerves, he reckons you can cope, and I say, the sooner you know what you're up against, the better. How are you supposed to defend yourself against something you've never seen? A wizard who's about to put an illegal curse on you isn't going to tell you what he's about to do. He's not going to do it nice and polite to your face. You need to be prepared. You need to be alert and watchful. You need to put that away, Miss Brown, when I'm talking.”
Lavender jumped and blushed. She had been showing Parvati her completed horoscope under the desk. Apparently Moody's magical eye could see through solid wood, as well as out of the back of his head.
“So... do any of you know which curses are most heavily punished by wizarding law?”
Several hands rose tentatively into the air, including Ron's and Hermione's. Moody pointed at Ron, though his magical eye was still fixed on Lavender.
“Er,” said Ron tentatively, “my dad told me about one... Is it called the Imperius Curse, or something?”
“Ah, yes,” said Moody appreciatively. “Your father would know that one. Gave the Ministry a lot of trouble at one time, the Imperius Curse.”
Moody got heavily to his mismatched feet, opened his desk drawer, and took out a glass jar. Three large black spiders were scuttling around inside it. Harry felt Ron recoil slightly next to him—Ron hated spiders.
Moody reached into the jar, caught one of the spiders, and held it in the palm of his hand so that they could all see it. He then pointed his wand at it and muttered, “Imperio!”
The spider leapt from Moody's hand on a fine thread of silk and began to swing backward and forward as though on a trapeze. It stretched out its legs rigidly, then did a back flip, breaking the thread and landing on the desk, where it began to cartwheel in circles. Moody jerked his wand, and the spider rose onto two of its hind legs and went into what was unmistakably a tap dance.
Everyone was laughing—everyone except Moody.
“Think it's funny, do you?” he growled. “You'd like it, would you, if I did it to you?”
The laughter died away almost instantly.
“Total control,” said Moody quietly as the spider balled itself up and began to roll over and over. “I could make it jump out of the window, drown itself, throw itself down one of your throats...”
Ron gave an involuntary shudder.
“Years back, there were a lot of witches and wizards being controlled by the Imperius Curse,” said Moody, and Harry knew he was talking about the days in which Voldemort had been all-powerful. “Some job for the Ministry, trying to sort out who was being forced to act, and who was acting of their own free will.
“The Imperius Curse can be fought, and I'll be teaching you how, but it takes real strength of character, and not everyone's got it. Better avoid being hit with it if you can. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” he barked, and everyone jumped.
Moody picked up the somersaulting spider and threw it back into the jar.
“Anyone else know one? Another illegal curse?”
Hermione's hand flew into the air again and so, to Harry's slight surprise, did Neville's. The only class in which Neville usually volunteered information was Herbology which was easily his best subject. Neville looked surprised at his own daring.
“Yes?” said Moody, his magical eye rolling right over to fix on Neville.
“There's one—the Cruciatus Curse,” said Neville in a small but distinct voice.
Moody was looking very intently at Neville, this time with both eyes.
“Your name's Longbottom?” he said, his magical eye swooping down to check the register again.
Neville nodded nervously, but Moody made no further inquiries. Turning back to the class at large, he reached into the jar for the next spider and placed it upon the desktop, where it remained motionless, apparently too scared to move.
“The Cruciatus Curse,” said Moody. “Needs to be a bit bigger for you to get the idea,” he said, pointing his wand at the spider. “Engorgio!”
The spider swelled. It was now larger than a tarantula. Abandoning all pretense, Ron pushed his chair backward, as far away from Moody's desk as possible.
Moody raised his wand again, pointed it at the spider, and muttered, “Crucio!”
At once, the spider's legs bent in upon its body; it rolled over and began to twitch horribly, rocking from side to side. No sound came from it, but Harry was sure that if it could have given voice, it would have been screaming. Moody did not remove his wand, and the spider started to shudder and jerk more violently—”Stop it!” Hermione said shrilly.”
Harry looked around at her. She was looking, not at the spider, but at Neville, and Harry, following her gaze, saw that Neville's hands were clenched upon the desk in front of him, his knuckles white, his eyes wide and horrified.
Moody raised his wand. The spider's legs relaxed, but it continued to twitch.
“Reducio,” Moody muttered, and the spider shrank back to its proper size. He put it back into the jar.
“Pain,” said Moody softly. “You don't need thumbscrews or knives to torture someone if you can perform the Cruciatus Curse... That one was very popular once too.
“Right... anyone know any others?”
Harry looked around. From the looks on everyone's faces, he guessed they were all wondering what was going to happen to the last spider. Hermione's hand shook slightly as, for the third time, she raised it into the air.
“Yes?” said Moody, looking at her.
“Avada Kedavra,” Hermione whispered.
Several people looked uneasily around at her, including Ron.
“Ah,” said Moody, another slight smile twisting his lopsided mouth. “Yes, the last and worst. Avada Kedavra... the Killing Curse.”
He put his hand into the glass jar, and almost as though it knew what was coming, the third spider scuttled frantically around the bottom of the jar, trying to evade Moody's fingers, but he trapped it, and placed it upon the desktop. It started to scuttle frantically across the wooden surface.
Moody raised his wand, and Harry felt a sudden thrill of foreboding.
“Avada Kedavra!” Moody roared.
There was a flash of blinding green light and a rushing sound, as though a vast, invisible something was soaring through the air—instantaneously the spider rolled over onto its back, unmarked, but unmistakably dead. Several of the students stifled cries; Ron had thrown himself backward and almost toppled off his seat as the spider skidded toward him.
Moody swept the dead spider off the desk onto the floor.
“Not nice,” he said calmly. “Not pleasant. And there's no countercurse. There's no blocking it. Only one known person has ever survived it, and he's sitting right in front of me.”
Harry felt his face redden as Moody's eyes (both of them) looked into his own. He could feel everyone else looking around at him too. Harry stared at the blank blackboard as though fascinated by it, but not really seeing it at all...
So that was how his parents had died... exactly like that spider. Had they been unblemished and unmarked too? Had they simply seen the flash of green light and heard the rush of speeding death, before life was wiped from their bodies?
Harry had been picturing his parents' deaths over and over again for three years now, ever since he'd found out they had been murdered, ever since he'd found out what had happened that night: Wormtail had betrayed his parents' whereabouts to Voldemort, who had come to find them at their cottage. How Voldemort had killed Harry's father first. How James Potter had tried to hold him off, while he shouted at his wife to take Harry and run... Voldemort had advanced on Lily Potter, told her to move aside so that he could kill Harry... how she had begged him to kill her instead, refused to stop shielding her son... and so Voldemort had murdered her too, before turning his wand on Harry.
Harry knew these details because he had heard his parents' voices when he had fought the dementors last year—for that was the terrible power of the dementors: to force their victims to relive the worst memories of their lives, and drown, powerless, in their own despair.
Moody was speaking again, from a great distance, it seemed to Harry. With a massive effort, he pulled himself back to the present and listened to what Moody was saying.
“Avada Kedavra's a curse that needs a powerful bit of magic behind it—you could all get your wands out now and point them at me and say the words, and I doubt I'd get so much as a nosebleed. But that doesn't matter. I'm not here to teach you how to do it.
“Now, if there's no countercurse, why am I showing you? Because you've got to know. You've got to appreciate what the worst is. You don't want to find yourself in a situation where you're facing it. CONSTANT VIGILANCE!” he roared, and the whole class jumped again.
“Now... those three curses—Avada Kedavra, Imperius, and Cruciatus—are known as the Unforgivable Curses. The use of any one of them on a fellow human being is enough to earn a life sentence in Azkaban. That's what you're up against. That's what I've got to teach you to fight. You need preparing. You need arming. But most of all, you need to practice constant, never-ceasing vigilance. Get out your quills... copy this down...”
They spent the rest of the lesson taking notes on each of the Unforgivable Curses. No one spoke until the bell rang—but when Moody had dismissed them and they had left the classroom, a torrent of talk burst forth. Most people were discussing the curses in awed voices—”Did you see it twitch?” “and when he killed it—just like that!”
They were talking about the lesson, Harry thought, as though it had been some sort of spectacular show, but he hadn't found it very entertaining—and nor, it seemed, had Hermione.
“Hurry up,” she said tensely to Harry and Ron.
“Not the ruddy library again?” said Ron.
“No,” said Hermione curtly, pointing up a side passage. “Neville.” Neville was standing alone, halfway up the passage, staring at the stone wall opposite him with the same horrified, wide-eyed look he had worn when Moody had demonstrated the Cruciatus Curse.
“Neville?” Hermione said gently.
Neville looked around.
“Oh hello,” he said, his voice much higher than usual. “Interesting lesson, wasn't it? I wonder what's for dinner, I'm—I'm starving, aren't you?”
“Neville, are you all right?” said Hermione.
“Oh yes, I'm fine,” Neville gabbled in the same unnaturally high voice. “Very interesting dinner—I mean lesson—what's for eating?”
Ron gave Harry a startled look.
“Neville, what—?”
But an odd clunking noise sounded behind them, and they turned to see Professor Moody limping toward them. All four of them fell silent, watching him apprehensively, but when he spoke, it was in a much lower and gentler growl than they had yet heard.
“It's all right, sonny,” he said to Neville. “Why don't you come up to my office? Come on... we can have a cup of tea...”
Neville looked even more frightened at the prospect of tea with Moody. He neither moved nor spoke. Moody turned his magical eye upon Harry.
“You all right, are you, Potter?”
“Yes,” said Harry, almost defiantly.
Moody's blue eye quivered slightly in its socket as it surveyed Harry. Then he said, “You've got to know. It seems harsh, maybe, but you've got to know. No point pretending... well... come on, Longbottom, I've got some books that might interest you.”
Neville looked pleadingly at Harry, Ron, and Hermione, but they didn't say anything, so Neville had no choice but to allow himself to be steered away, one of Moody's gnarled hands on his shoulder.
“What was that about?” said Ron, watching Neville and Moody turn the corner.
“I don't know,” said Hermione, looking pensive.
“Some lesson, though, eh?” said Ron to Harry as they set off for the Great Hall. “Fred and George were right, weren't they? He really knows his stuff, Moody, doesn't he? When he did Avada Kedavra, the way that spider just died, just snuffed it right—”
But Ron fell suddenly silent at the look on Harry's face and didn't speak again until they reached the Great Hall, when he said he supposed they had better make a start on Professor Trelawney's predictions tonight, since they would take hours.
Hermione did not join in with Harry and Ron's conversation during dinner, but ate furiously fast, and then left for the library again. Harry and Ron walked back to Gryffindor Tower, and Harry, who had been thinking of nothing else all through dinner, now raised the subject of the Unforgivable Curses himself.
“Wouldn't Moody and Dumbledore be in trouble with the Ministry if they knew we'd seen the curses?” Harry asked as they approached the Fat Lady.
“Yeah, probably,” said Ron. “But Dumbledore's always done things his way, hasn't he, and Moody's been getting in trouble for years, I reckon. Attacks first and asks questions later—look at his dustbins. Balderdash.”
The Fat Lady swung forward to reveal the entrance hole, and they climbed into the Gryffindor common room, which was crowded and noisy.
“Shall we get our Divination stuff, then?” said Harry.
“I s'pose,” Ron groaned.
They went up to the dormitory to fetch their books and charts, to find Neville there alone, sitting on his bed, reading. He looked a good deal calmer than at the end of Moody's lesson, though still not entirely normal. His eyes were rather red.
“You all right, Neville?” Harry asked him.
“Oh yes,” said Neville, “I'm fine, thanks. Just reading this book Professor Moody lent me...”
He held up the book: Magical Water Plants of the Mediterranean.
“Apparently, Professor Sprout told Professor Moody I'm really good at Herbology,” Neville said. There was a faint note of pride in his voice that Harry had rarely heard there before. “He thought I'd like this.”
Telling Neville what Professor Sprout had said, Harry thought, had been a very tactful way of cheering Neville up, for Neville very rarely heard that he was good at anything. It was the sort of thing Professor Lupin would have done.
Harry and Ron took their copies of Unfogging the Future back down to the common room, found a table, and set to work on their predictions for the coming month. An hour later, they had made very little progress, though their table was littered with bits of parchment bearing sums and symbols, and Harry's brain was as fogged as though it had been filled with the fumes from Professor Trelawney's fire.
“I haven't got a clue what this lot's supposed to mean,” he said, staring down at a long list of calculations.
“You know,” said Ron, whose hair was on end because of all the times he had run his fingers through it in frustration, “I think it's back to the old Divination standby.”
“What—make it up?”
“Yeah,” said Ron, sweeping the jumble of scrawled notes off the table, dipping his pen into some ink, and starting to write.
“Next Monday,” he said as he scribbled, “I am likely to develop a cough, owing to the unlucky conjunction of Mars and Jupiter.” He looked up at Harry. “You know her—just put in loads of misery, she'll lap it up.”
“Right,” said Harry, crumpling up his first attempt and lobbing it over the heads of a group of chattering first years into the fire. “Okay... on Monday, I will be in danger ofer—burns.”
“Yeah, you will be,” said Ron darkly, “we're seeing the skrewts again on Monday. Okay, Tuesday, I'll... erm..
“Lose a treasured possession,” said Harry, who was flicking through Unfogging the Future for ideas.
“Good one,” said Ron, copying it down. “Because of... erm... Mercury. Why don't you get stabbed in the back by someone you thought was a friend?”
“Yeah... cool...” said Harry, scribbling it down, “because... Venus is in the twelfth house.”
“And on Wednesday, I think I'll come off worst in a fight.”
“Aaah, I was going to have a fight. Okay, I'll lose a bet.”
“Yeah, you'll be betting I'll win my fight...
They continued to make up predictions (which grew steadily more tragic) for another hour, while the common room around them slowly emptied as people went up to bed. Crookshanks wandered over to them, leapt lightly into an empty chair, and stared inscrutably at Harry, rather as Hermione might look if she knew they weren't doing their homework properly.
Staring around the room, trying to think of a kind of misfortune he hadn't yet used, Harry saw Fred and George sitting together against the opposite wall, heads together, quills out, poring over a single piece of parchment. It was most unusual to see Fred and George hidden away in a corner and working silently; they usually liked to be in the thick of things and the noisy center of attention. There was something secretive about the way they were working on the piece of parchment, and Harry was reminded of how they had sat together writing something back at the Burrow. He had thought then that it was another order form for Weasleys' Wizard Wheezes, but it didn't look like that this time; if it had been, they would surely have let Lee Jordan in on the joke. He wondered whether it had anything to do with entering the Triwizard Tournament.
As Harry watched, George shook his head at Fred, scratched out something with his quill, and said, in a very quiet voice that nevertheless carried across the almost deserted room, “No—that sounds like we're accusing him. Got to be careful...”
Then George looked over and saw Harry watching him. Harry grinned and quickly returned to his predictions—he didn't want George to think he was eavesdropping. Shortly after that, the twins rolled up their parchment, said good night, and went off to bed.
Fred and George had been gone ten minutes or so when the portrait hole opened and Hermione climbed into the common room carrying a sheaf of parchment in one hand and a box whose contents rattled as she walked in the other. Crookshanks arched his back, purring.
“Hello,” she said, “I've just finished!”
“So have I!” said Ron triumphantly, throwing down his quill.
Hermione sat down, laid the things she was carrying in an empty armchair, and pulled Ron's predictions toward her.
“Not going to have a very good month, are you?” she said sardonically as Crookshanks curled up in her lap.
“Ah well, at least I'm forewarned,” Ron yawned.
“You seem to be drowning twice,” said Hermione.
“Oh am I?” said Ron, peering down at his predictions. “I'd better change one of them to getting trampled by a rampaging hippogriff.”
“Don't you think it's a bit obvious you've made these up?” said Hermione.
“How dare you!” said Ron, in mock outrage. “We've been working like house-elves here!”
Hermione raised her eyebrows.
“It's just an expression,” said Ron hastily.
Harry laid down his quill too, having just finished predicting his own death by decapitation.
“What's in the box?” he asked, pointing at it.
“Funny you should ask,” said Hermione, with a nasty look at Ron. She took off the lid and showed them the contents.
Inside were about fifty badges, all of different colors, but all bearing the same letters: S. P. E . W.
“Spew?” said Harry, picking up a badge and looking at it. “What's this about?”
“Not spew,” said Hermione impatiently. “It's S-P-E-W. Stands for the Society for the Promotion of Elfish Welfare.”
“Never heard of it,” said Ron.
“Well, of course you haven't,” said Hermione briskly, “I've only just started it.”
“Yeah?” said Ron in mild surprise. “How many members have you got?”
“Well—if you two join—three,” said Hermione.
“And you think we want to walk around wearing badges saying 'spew,' do you?” said Ron.
“S-P-E-W!” said Hermione hotly. “I was going to put Stop the Outrageous Abuse of Our Fellow Magical Creatures and Campaign for a Change in Their Legal Status—but it wouldn't fit. So that's the heading of our manifesto.”
She brandished the sheaf of parchment at them.
“I've been researching it thoroughly in the library. Elf enslavement goes back centuries. I can't believe no one's done anything about it before now.”
“Hermione—open your ears,” said Ron loudly. “They. Like. It. They like being enslaved!”
“Our short-term aims,” said Hermione, speaking even more loudly than Ron, and acting as though she hadn't heard a word, “are to secure house-elves fair wages and working conditions. Our long-term aims include changing the law about non-wand use, and trying to get an elf into the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures, because they're shockingly underrepresented.”
“And how do we do all this?” Harry asked.
“We start by recruiting members,” said Hermione happily. “I thought two Sickles to join—that buys a badge—and the proceeds can fund our leaflet campaign. You're treasurer, Ron—I've got you a collecting tin upstairs—and Harry, you're secretary, so you might want to write down everything I'm saying now, as a record of our first meeting.”
There was a pause in which Hermione beamed at the pair of them, and Harry sat, torn between exasperation at Hermione and amusement at the look on Ron's face. The silence was broken, not by Ron, who in any case looked as though he was temporarily dumbstruck, but by a soft tap, tap on the window. Harry looked across the now empty common room and saw, illuminated by the moonlight, a snowy owl perched on the windowsill.
“Hedwig!” he shouted, and he launched himself out of his chair and across the room to pull open the window.
Hedwig flew inside, soared across the room, and landed on the table on top of Harry's predictions.
“About time!” said Harry, hurrying after her.
“She's got an answer!” said Ron excitedly, pointing at the grubby piece of parchment tied to Hedwig's leg.
Harry hastily untied it and sat down to read, whereupon Hedwig fluttered onto his knee, hooting softly.
“What does it say?” Hermione asked breathlessly.
The letter was very short, and looked as though it had been scrawled in a great hurry. Harry read it aloud:

Harry—
I'm flying north immediately. This news about your scar is the latest in a series of strange rumors that have reached me here. If it hurts again, go straight to Dumbledore—they're saying he's got Mad-Eye out of retirement, which means he's reading the signs, even if no one else is.
I'll be in touch soon. My best to Ron and Hermione. Keep your eyes open, Harry.
Sirius

Harry looked up at Ron and Hermione, who stared back at him.
“He's flying north?” Hermione whispered. “He's coming back?”
“Dumbledore's reading what signs?” said Ron, looking perplexed. “Harry—what's up?”
For Harry had just hit himself in the forehead with his fist, jolting Hedwig out of his lap.
“I shouldn't've told him!” Harry said furiously.
“What are you on about?” said Ron in surprise.
“It's made him think he's got to come back!” said Harry, now slamming his fist on the table so that Hedwig landed on the back of Ron's chair, hooting indignantly. “Coming back, because he thinks I'm in trouble! And there's nothing wrong with me! And I haven't got anything for you,” Harry snapped at Hedwig, who was clicking her beak expectantly, “you'll have to go up to the Owlery if you want food.”
Hedwig gave him an extremely offended look and took off for the open window, cuffing him around the head with her outstretched wing as she went.
“Harry,” Hermione began, in a pacifying sort of voice.
“I'm going to bed,” said Harry shortly. “See you in the morning.”
Upstairs in the dormitory he pulled on his pajamas and got into his four-poster, but he didn't feel remotely tired.
If Sirius came back and got caught, it would be his, Harry's, fault. Why hadn't he kept his mouth shut? A few seconds' pain and he'd had to blab... If he'd just had the sense to keep it to himself.
He heard Ron come up into the dormitory a short while later, but did not speak to him. For a long time, Harry lay staring up at the dark canopy of his bed. The dormitory was completely silent, and, had he been less preoccupied, Harry would have realized that the absence of Neville's usual snores meant that he was not the only one lying awake.

(hpvn.net)
Posted 12/14/07
CHAPTER FIFTEEN
BEAUXBATONS AND DURMSTRANG

Early next morning, Harry woke with a plan fully formed in his mind, as though his sleeping brain had been working on it all night. He got up, dressed in the pale dawn light, left the dormitory without waking Ron, and went back down to the deserted common room. Here he took a piece of parchment from the table upon which his Divination homework still lay and wrote the following letter:

Dear Sirius,
I reckon I just imagined my scar hurting, I was half asleep when I wrote to you last time. There's no point coming back, everything's fine here. Don't worry about me, my head feels completely normal.
Harry

He then climbed out of the portrait hole, up through the silent castle (held up only briefly by Peeves, who tried to overturn a large vase on him halfway along the fourth-floor corridor), finally arriving at the Owlery, which was situated at the top of West Tower.
The Owlery was a circular stone room, rather cold and drafty, because none of the windows had glass in them. The floor was entirely covered in straw, owl droppings, and the regurgitated skeletons of mice and voles. Hundreds upon hundreds of owls of every breed imaginable were nestled here on perches that rose right up to the top of the tower, nearly all of them asleep, though here and there a round amber eye glared at Harry. He spotted Hedwig nestled between a barn owl and a tawny, and hurried over to her, sliding a little on the dropping-strewn floor.
It took him a while to persuade her to wake up and then to look at him, as she kept shuffling around on her perch, showing him her tail. She was evidently still furious about his lack of gratitude the previous night. In the end, it was Harry suggesting she might be too tired, and that perhaps he would ask Ron to borrow Pigwidgeon, that made her stick out her leg and allow him to tie the letter to it.
“Just find him, all right?” Harry said, stroking her back as he carried her on his arm to one of the holes in the wall. “Before the dementors do.”
She nipped his finger, perhaps rather harder than she would ordinarily have done, but hooted softly in a reassuring sort of way all the same. Then she spread her wings and took off into the sunrise. Harry watched her fly out of sight with the familiar feeling of unease back in his stomach. He had been so sure that Sirius's reply would alleviate his worries rather than increasing them.
“That was a lie, Harry,” said Hermione sharply over breakfast, when he told her and Ron what he had done. “You didn't imagine your scar hurting and you know it.”
“So what?” said Harry. “He's not going back to Azkaban because of me.”
“Drop it,” said Ron sharply to Hermione as she opened her mouth to argue some more, and for once, Hermione heeded him, and fell silent.
Harry did his best not to worry about Sirius over the next couple of weeks. True, he could not stop himself from looking anxiously around every morning when the post owls arrived, nor, late at night before he went to sleep, prevent himself from seeing horrible visions of Sirius, cornered by dementors down some dark London street, but betweentimes he tried to keep his mind off his godfather. He wished he still had Quidditch to distract him; nothing worked so well on a troubled mind as a good, hard training session. On the other hand, their lessons were becoming more difficult and demanding than ever before, particularly Moody's Defense Against the Dark Arts.
To their surprise, Professor Moody had announced that he would be putting the Imperius Curse on each of them in turn, to demonstrate its power and to see whether they could resist its effects.
“But—but you said it's illegal, Professor,” said Hermione uncertainly as Moody cleared away the desks with a sweep of his wand, leaving a large clear space in the middle of the room. “You said—to use it against another human was—”
“Dumbledore wants you taught what it feels like,” said Moody, his magical eye swiveling onto Hermione and fixing her with an eerie, unblinking stare. “If you'd rather learn the hard way—when someone's putting it on you so they can control you completely—fine by me. You're excused. Off you go.”
He pointed one gnarled finger toward the door. Hermione went very pink and muttered something about not meaning that she wanted to leave. Harry and Ron grinned at each other. They knew Hermione would rather eat bubotuber pus than miss such an important lesson.
Moody began to beckon students forward in turn and put the Imperius Curse upon them. Harry watched as, one by one, his classmates did the most extraordinary things under its influence. Dean Thomas hopped three times around the room, singing the national anthem. Lavender Brown imitated a squirrel. Neville performed a series of quite astonishing gymnastics he would certainly not have been capable of in his normal state. Not one of them seemed to be able to fight off the curse, and each of them recovered only when Moody had removed it.
“Potter,” Moody growled, “you next.”
Harry moved forward into the middle of the classroom, into the space that Moody had cleared of desks. Moody raised his wand, pointed it at Harry, and said, '1mperio!”
It was the most wonderful feeling. Harry felt a floating sensation as every thought and worry in his head was wiped gently away, leaving nothing but a vague, untraceable happiness. He stood there feeling immensely relaxed, only dimly aware of everyone watching him.
And then he heard Mad-Eye Moody's voice, echoing in some distant chamber of his empty brain: Jump onto the desk... jump onto the desk...
Harry bent his knees obediently, preparing to spring.
Jump onto the desk...
Why, though? Another voice had awoken in the back of his brain.
Stupid thing to do, really, said the voice.
Jump onto the desk...
No, I don't think I will, thanks, said the other voice, a little more firmly... no, I don't really want to.
Jump! NOW!
The next thing Harry felt was considerable pain. He had both jumped and tried to prevent himself from jumping—the result was that he'd smashed headlong into the desk knocking it over, and, by the feeling in his legs, fractured both his kneecaps.
“Now, that's more like it!” growled Moody's voice, and suddenly, Harry felt the empty, echoing feeling in his head disappear. He remembered exactly what was happening, and the pain in his knees seemed to double.
“Look at that, you lot... Potter fought! He fought it, and he damn near beat it! We'll try that again, Potter, and the rest of you, pay attention—watch his eyes, that's where you see it—very good, Potter, very good indeed! They'll have trouble controlling you!”

“The way he talks,” Harry muttered as he hobbled out of the Defense Against the Dark Arts class an hour later (Moody had insisted on putting Harry through his paces four times in a row, until Harry could throw off the curse entirely), “you'd think we were all going to be attacked any second.”
“Yeah, I know,” said Ron, who was skipping on every alternate step. He had had much more difficulty with the curse than Harry, though Moody assured him the effects would wear off by lunchtime. “Talk about paranoid...” Ron glanced nervously over his shoulder to check that Moody was definitely out of earshot and went on. “No wonder they were glad to get shot of him at the Ministry. Did you hear him telling Seamus what he did to that witch who shouted 'Boo' behind him on April Fools' Day? And when are we supposed to read up on resisting the Imperius Curse with everything else we've got to do?”
All the fourth years had noticed a definite increase in the amount of work they were required to do this term. Professor McGonagall explained why, when the class gave a particularly loud groan at the amount of Transfiguration homework she had assigned.
“You are now entering a most important phase of your magical education!” she told them, her eyes glinting dangerously behind her square spectacles. “Your Ordinary Wizarding Levels are drawing closer—”
“We don't take O. W. L. s till fifth year!” s aid Dean Thomas indignantly.
“Maybe not, Thomas, but believe me, you need all the preparation you can get! Miss Granger remains the only person in this class who has managed to turn a hedgehog into a satisfactory pincushion. I might remind you that your pincushion, Thomas, still curls up in fright if anyone approaches it with a pin!”
Hermione, who had turned rather pink again, seemed to be trying not to look too pleased with herself.
Harry and Ron were deeply amused when Professor Trelawney told them that they had received top marks for their homework in their next Divination class. She read out large portions of their predictions, commending them for their unflinching acceptance of the horrors in store for them—but they were less amused when she asked them to do the same thing for the month after next; both of them were running out of ideas for catastrophes.
Meanwhile Professor Binns, the ghost who taught History of Magic, had them writing weekly essays on the goblin rebellions of the eighteenth century. Professor Snape was forcing them to research antidotes. They took this one seriously, as he had hinted that he might be poisoning one of them before Christmas to see if their antidote worked. Professor Flitwick had asked them to read three extra books in preparation for their lesson on Summoning Charms.
Even Hagrid was adding to their workload. The Blast-Ended Skrewts were growing at a remarkable pace given that nobody had yet discovered what they ate. Hagrid was delighted, and as part of their “project,” suggested that they come down to his hut on alternate evenings to observe the skrewts and make notes on their extraordinary behavior.
“I will not,” said Draco Malfoy flatly when Hagrid had proposed this with the air of Father Christmas pulling an extra-large toy out of his sack. “I see enough of these foul things during lessons, thanks.”
Hagrid's smile faded off his face.
“Yeh'll do wha' yer told,” he growled, “or I'll be takin' a leaf outta Professor Moody's book... I hear yeh made a good ferret, Malfoy.”
The Gryffindors roared with laughter. Malfoy flushed with anger, but apparently the memory of Moody's punishment was still sufficiently painful to stop him from retorting. Harry, Ron, and Hermione returned to the castle at the end of the lesson in high spirits; seeing Hagrid put down Malfoy was particularly satisfying, especially because Malfoy had done his very best to get Hagrid sacked the previous year.
When they arrived in the entrance hall, they found themselves unable to proceed owing to the large crowd of students congregated there, all milling around a large sign that had been erected at the foot of the marble staircase. Ron, the tallest of the three, stood on tiptoe to see over the heads in front of them and read the sign aloud to the other two:

TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT
THE DELEGATIONS FROM BEAUXBATONS AND
DURMSTRANG WILL BE ARRIVING AT 6 O'CLOCK
ON FRIDAY THE 30TH OF OCTOBER. LESSONS WILL
END HALF AN HOUR EARLY—

“Brilliant!” said Harry. “It's Potions last thing on Friday! Snape won't have time to poison us all!”

STUDENTS WILL RETURN THEIR BAGS AND BOOKS
TO THEIR DORMITORIES AND ASSEMBLE IN FRONT
OF THE CASTLE TO GREET OUR GUESTS BEFORE
THE WELCOMING FEAST.
“Only a week away!” said Ernie Macmillan of Hufflepuff, emerging from the crowd, his eyes gleaming. “I wonder if Cedric knows? Think I'll go and tell him...”
“Cedric?” said Ron blankly as Ernie hurried off.
“Diggory,” said Harry. “He must be entering the tournament.”
“That idiot, Hogwarts champion?” said Ron as they pushed their way through the chattering crowd toward the staircase.
“He's not an idiot. You just don't like him because he beat Gryffindor at Quidditch,” said Hermione. “I've heard he's a really good student—and he's a prefect.”
She spoke as though this settled the matter.
“You only like him because he's handsome,” said Ron scathingly.
“Excuse me, I don't like people just because they're handsome!” said Hermione indignantly.
Ron gave a loud false cough, which sounded oddly like “Lockhart!”
The appearance of the sign in the entrance hall had a marked effect upon the inhabitants of the castle. During the following week, there seemed to be only one topic of conversation, no matter where Harry went: the Triwizard Tournament. Rumors were flying from student to student like highly contagious germs: who was going to try for Hogwarts champion, what the tournament would involve, how the students from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang differed from themselves.
Harry noticed too that the castle seemed to be undergoing an extra-thorough cleaning. Several grimy portraits had been scrubbed, much to the displeasure of their subjects, who sat huddled in their frames muttering darkly and wincing as they felt their raw pink faces. The suits of armor were suddenly gleaming and moving without squeaking, and Argus Filch, the caretaker, was behaving so ferociously to any students who forgot to wipe their shoes that he terrified a pair of first-year girls into hysterics.
Other members of the staff seemed oddly tense too.
“Longbottom, kindly do not reveal that you can't even perform a simple Switching Spell in front of anyone from Durmstrang!” Professor McGonagall barked at the end of one particularly difficult lesson, during which Neville had accidentally transplanted his own ears onto a cactus.
When they went down to breakfast on the morning of the thirtieth of October, they found that the Great Hall had been decorated overnight. Enormous silk banners hung from the walls, each of them representing a Hogwarts House: red with a gold lion for Gryffiindor, blue with a bronze eagle for Ravenclaw, yellow with a black badger for Hufflepuff, and green with a silver serpent for Slytherin. Behind the teachers' table, the largest banner of all bore the Hogwarts coat of arms: lion, eagle, badger, and snake united around a large letter H.
Harry, Ron, and Hermione sat down beside Fred and George at the Gryffindor table. Once again, and most unusually, they were sitting apart from everyone else and conversing in low voices. Ron led the way over to them.
“It's a bummer, all right,” George was saying gloomily to Fred. “But if he won't talk to us in person, we'll have to send him the letter after all. Or we'll stuff it into his hand. He can't avoid us forrever.
“Who's avoiding you?” said Ron, sitting down next to them.
“Wish you would,” said Fred, looking irritated at the interruption.
“What's a bummer?” Ron asked George.
“Having a nosy git like you for a brother,” said George.
“You two got any ideas on the Triwizard Tournament yet?” Harry asked. “Thought any more about trying to enter?”
“I asked McGonagall how the champions are chosen but she wasn't telling,” said George bitterly. “She just told me to shut up and get on with transfiguring my raccoon.”
“Wonder what the tasks are going to be?” said Ron thoughtfully. “You know, I bet we could do them, Harry. We've done dangerous stuff before...”
“Not in front of a panel of judges, you haven't,” said Fred. “McGonagall says the champions get awarded points according to how well they've done the tasks.”
“Who are the judges?” Harry asked.
“Well, the Heads of the participating schools are always on the panel,” said Hermione, and everyone looked around at her, rather surprised, “because all three of them were injured during the Tournament of 1792, when a cockatrice the champions were supposed to be catching went on the rampage.”
She noticed them all looking at her and said, with her usual air of impatience that nobody else had read all the books she had, “It's all in Hogwarts, A History. Though, of course, that book's not entirely reliable. A Revised History of Hogwarts would be a more accurate title. Or A Highly Biased and Selective History of Hogwarts, Which Glosses Over the Nastier Aspects of the School.”
“What are you on about?” said Ron, though Harry thought he knew what was coming.
“House-elves!” said Hermione, her eyes flashing. “Not once, in over a thousand pages, does Hogwarts, A History mention that we are all colluding in the oppression of a hundred slaves!”
Harry shook his head and applied himself to his scrambled eggs. His and Ron's lack of enthusiasm had done nothing whatsoever to curb Hermione's determination to pursue justice for house-elves.
True, both of them had paid two Sickles for a S. P. E. W. badge, but they had only done it to keep her quiet. Their Sickles had been wasted, however; if anything, they seemed to have made Hermione more vociferous. She had been badgering Harry and Ron ever since, first to wear the badges, then to persuade others to do the same, and she had also taken to rattling around the Gryffindor common room every evening, cornering people and shaking the collecting tin under their noses.
“You do realize that your sheets are changed, your fires lit, your classrooms cleaned, and your food cooked by a group of magical creatures who are unpaid and enslaved?” she kept saying fiercely.
Some people, like Neville, had paid up just to stop Hermione from glowering at them. A few seemed mildly interested in what she had to say, but were reluctant to take a more active role in campaigning. Many regarded the whole thing as a joke.
Ron now rolled his eyes at the ceiling, which was flooding them all in autumn sunlight, and Fred became extremely interested in his bacon (both twins had refused to buy a S. P. E. W. badge). George, however, leaned in toward Hermione.
“Listen, have you ever been down in the kitchens, Hermione?”
“No, of course not,” said Hermione curtly, “I hardly think students are supposed to—”
“Well, we have,” said George, indicating Fred, “loads of times, to nick food. And we've met them, and they're happy. They think they've got the best job in the world—”
“That's because they're uneducated and brainwashed!” Hermione began hotly, but her next few words were drowned out by the sudden whooshing noise from overhead, which announced the arrival of the post owls. Harry looked up at once, and saw Hedwig soaring toward him. Hermione stopped talking abruptly; she and Ron watched Hedwig anxiously as she fluttered down onto Harry's shoulder, folded her wings, and held out her leg wearily.
Harry pulled off Sirius's reply and offered Hedwig his bacon rinds, which she ate gratefully. Then, checking that Fred and George were safely immersed in further discussions about the Triwizard Tournament, Harry read out Sirius's letter in a whisper to Ron and Hermione.

Nice try, Harry.
I'm back in the country and well hidden. I want you to keep me posted on everything that's going on at Hogwarts. Don't use Hedwig, keep changing owls, and don't worry about me, just watch out for yourself Don't forget what I said about your scar.
Sirius

“Why d'you have to keep changing owls?” Ron asked in a low voice.
“Hedwig'll attract too much attention,” said Hermione at once. “She stands out. A snowy owl that keeps returning to wherever he's hiding... I mean, they're not native birds, are they?”
Harry rolled up the letter and slipped it inside his robes, wondering whether he felt more or less worried than before. He supposed that Sirius managing to get back without being caught was something. He couldn't deny either that the idea that Sirius was much nearer was reassuring; at least he wouldn't have to wait so long for a response every time he wrote.
“Thanks, Hedwig,” he said, stroking her. She hooted sleepily, dipped her beak briefly into his goblet of orange juice, then took off again, clearly desperate for a good long sleep in the Owlery.
There was a pleasant feeling of anticipation in the air that day. Nobody was very attentive in lessons, being much more interested in the arrival that evening of the people from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang; even Potions was more bearable than usual, as it was half an hour shorter. When the bell rang early, Harry, Ron, and Hermione hurried up to Gryffindor Tower, deposited their bags and books as they had been instructed, pulled on their cloaks, and rushed back downstairs into the entrance hall.
The Heads of Houses were ordering their students into lines.
“Weasley, straighten your hat,” Professor McGonagall snapped at Ron. “Miss Patil, take that ridiculous thing out of your hair.”
Parvati scowled and removed a large ornamental butterfly from the end of her plait.
“Follow me, please,” said Professor McGonagall. “First years in front... no pushing...
They filed down the steps and lined up in front of the castle. It was a cold, clear evening; dusk was falling and a pale, transparent-looking moon was already shining over the Forbidden Forest. Harry, standing between Ron and Hermione in the fourth row from the front, saw Dennis Creevey positively shivering with anticipation among the other first years.
“Nearly six,” said Ron, checking his watch and then staring down the drive that led to the front gates. “How d'you reckon they're coming? The train?”
“I doubt it,” said Hermione.
“How, then? Broomsticks?” Harry suggested, looking up at the starry sky.
“I don't think so... not from that far away...
“A Portkey?” Ron suggested. “Or they could Apparate—maybe you're allowed to do it under seventeen wherever they come from?”
“You can't Apparate inside the Hogwarts grounds, how often do I have to tell you?” said Hermione impatiently.
They scanned the darkening grounds excitedly, but nothing was moving; everything was still, silent, and quite as usual. Harry was starting to feel cold. He wished they'd hurry up... Maybe the foreign students were preparing a dramatic entrance... He remembered what Mr. Weasley had said back at the campsite before the Quidditch World Cup: “always the same—we can't resist showing off when we get together...”
And then Dumbledore called out from the back row where he stood with the other teachers—”Aha! Unless I am very much mistaken, the delegation from Beauxbatons approaches!”
“Where?” said many students eagerly, all looking in different directions.
“There!” yelled a sixth year, pointing over the forest.
Something large, much larger than a broomstick—or, indeed, a hundred broomsticks—was hurtling across the deep blue sky toward the castle, growing larger all the time.
“It's a dragon!” shrieked one of the first years, losing her head completely.
“Don't be stupid... it's a flying house!” said Dennis Creevey.
Dennis's guess was closer... As the gigantic black shape skimmed over the treetops of the Forbidden Forest and the lights shining from the castle windows hit it, they saw a gigantic, powderblue, horse-drawn carriage, the size of a large house, soaring toward them, pulled through the air by a dozen winged horses, all palominos, and each the size of an elephant.
The front three rows of students drew backward as the carriage hurtled ever lower, coming in to land at a tremendous speed—then, with an almighty crash that made Neville jump backward onto a Slytherin fifth year's foot, the horses' hooves, larger than dinner plates, hit the ground. A second later, the carriage landed too, bouncing upon its vast wheels, while the golden horses tossed their enormous heads and rolled large, fiery red eyes.
Harry just had time to see that the door of the carriage bore a coat of arms (two crossed, golden wands, each emitting three stars) before it opened.
A boy in pale blue robes jumped down from the carriage, bent forward, fumbled for a moment with something on the carriage floor, and unfolded a set of golden steps. He sprang back respectfully. Then Harry saw a shining, high-heeled black shoe emerging from the inside of the carriage—a shoe the size of a child's sled—followed, almost immediately, by the largest woman he had ever seen in his life. The size of the carriage, and of the horses, was immediately explained. A few people gasped.
Harry had only ever seen one person as large as this woman in his life, and that was Hagrid; he doubted whether there was an inch difference in their heights. Yet somehow—maybe simply because he was used to Hagrid—this woman (now at the foot of the steps, and looking around at the waiting, wide-eyed crowd) seemed even more unnaturally large. As she stepped into the light flooding from the entrance hall, she was revealed to have a handsome, olive-skinned face; large, black, liquid-looking eyes; and a rather beaky nose. Her hair was drawn back in a shining knob at the base of her neck. She was dressed from head to foot in black satin, and many magnificent opals gleamed at her throat and on her thick fingers.
Dumbledore started to clap; the students, following his lead, broke into applause too, many of them standing on tiptoe, the better to look at this woman.
Her face relaxed into a gracious smile and she walked forward toward Dumbledore, extending a glittering hand. Dumbledore, though tall himself, had barely to bend to kiss it.
“My dear Madame Maxime,” he said. “Welcome to Hogwarts.”
“Dumbly-dort,” said Madame Maxime in a deep voice. “I 'ope I find you well?”
“In excellent form, I thank you,” said Dumbledore.
“My pupils,” said Madame Maxime, waving one of her enormous hands carelessly behind her.
Harry, whose attention had been focused completely upon Madame Maxime, now noticed that about a dozen boys and girls, all, by the look of them, in their late teens, had emerged from the carriage and were now standing behind Madame Maxime. They were shivering, which was unsurprising, given that their robes seemed to be made of fine silk, and none of them were wearing cloaks. A few had wrapped scarves and shawls around their heads. From what Harry could see of them (they were standing in Madame Maxime's enormous shadow), they were staring up at Hogwarts with apprehensive looks on their faces.
“As Karkaroff arrived yet?” Madame Maxime asked.
“He should be here any moment,” said Dumbledore. “Would you like to wait here and greet him or would you prefer to step inside and warm up a trifle?”
“Warm up, I think,” said Madame Maxime. “But ze 'orses—”
“Our Care of Magical Creatures teacher will be delighted to take care of them,” said Dumbledore, “the moment he has returned from dealing with a slight situation that has arisen with some of his other—er—charges.”
“Skrewts,” Ron muttered to Harry, grinning.
“My steeds require—er—forceful 'andling,” said Madame Maxime, looking as though she doubted whether any Care of Magical Creatures teacher at Hogwarts could be up to the job. “Zey are very strong...”
“I assure you that Hagrid will be well up to the job,” said Dumbledore, smiling.
“Very well,” said Madame Maxime, bowing slightly. “Will you please inform zis 'Agrid zat ze 'orses drink only single-malt whiskey?”
“It will be attended to,” said Dumbledore, also bowing.
“Come,” said Madame Maxime imperiously to her students, and the Hogwarts crowd parted to allow her and her students to pass up the stone steps.
“How big d'you reckon Durmstrang's horses are going to be?” Seamus Finnigan said, leaning around Lavender and Parvati to address Harry and Ron.
“Well, if they're any bigger than this lot, even Hagrid won't be able to handle them,” said Harry. “That's if he hasn't been attacked by his skrewts. Wonder what's up with them?”
“Maybe they've escaped,” said Ron hopefully.
“Oh don't say that,” said Hermione with a shudder. “Imagine that lot loose on the grounds...”
They stood, shivering slightly now, waiting for the Durmstrang party to arrive. Most people were gazing hopefully up at the sky.
For a few minutes, the silence was broken only by Madame Maxime's huge horses snorting and stamping. But then—”Can you hear something?” said Ron suddenly.
Harry listened; a loud and oddly eerie noise was drifting toward them from out of the darkness: a muffled rumbling and sucking sound, as though an immense vacuum cleaner were moving along a riverbed.
“The lake!” yelled Lee Jordan, pointing down at it. “Look at the lake!”
From their position at the top of the lawns overlooking the grounds, they had a clear view of the smooth black surface of the water—except that the surface was suddenly not smooth at all. Some disturbance was taking place deep in the center; great bubbles were forming on the surface, waves were now washing over the muddy banks—and then, out in the very middle of the lake, a whirlpool appeared, as if a giant plug had just been pulled out of the lake's floor..
What seemed to be a long, black pole began to rise slowly out of the heart of the whirlpool... and then Harry saw the rigging...
“It's a mast!” he said to Ron and Hermione.
Slowly, magnificently, the ship rose out of the water, gleaming in the moonlight. It had a strangely skeletal look about it, as though it were a resurrected wreck, and the dim, misty lights shimmering at its portholes looked like ghostly eyes. Finally, with a great sloshing noise, the ship emerged entirely, bobbing on the turbulent water, and began to glide toward the bank. A few moments later, they heard the splash of an anchor being thrown down in the shallows, and the thud of a plank being lowered onto the bank.
People were disembarking; they could see their silhouettes passing the lights in the ship's portholes. All of them, Harry noticed, seemed to be built along the lines of Crabbe and Goyle... but then, as they drew nearer, walking up the lawns into the light streaming from the entrance hall, he saw that their bulk was really due to the fact that they were wearing cloaks of some kind of shaggy, matted fur. But the man who was leading them up to the castle was wearing furs of a different sort: sleek and silver, like his hair.
“Dumbledore!” he called heartily as he walked up the slope. “How are you, my dear fellow, how are you?”
“Blooming, thank you, Professor Karkaroff,” Dumbledore replied. Karkaroff had a fruity, unctuous voice; when he stepped into the light pouring from the front doors of the castle they saw that he was tall and thin like Dumbledore, but his white hair was short, and his goatee (finishing in a small curl) did not entirely hide his rather weak chin. When he reached Dumbledore, he shook hands with both of his own.
“Dear old Hogwarts,” he said, looking up at the castle and smiling; his teeth were rather yellow, and Harry noticed that his smile did not extend to his eyes, which remained cold and shrewd. “How good it is to be here, how good... Viktor, come along, into the warmth... you don't mind, Dumbledore? Viktor has a slight head cold...”
Karkaroff beckoned forward one of his students. As the boy passed, Harry caught a glimpse of a prominent curved nose and thick black eyebrows. He didn't need the punch on the arm Ron gave him, or the hiss in his ear, to recognize that profile.
“Harry—it's Krum!”

(hpvn.net)
First  Prev  1  2  3  Next  Last
You must be logged in to post.