SHAMELESS PLUG!

My first original novel, Strangers In Boston, is now available on Amazon under my pen name, T.S. Mann (get it?). It's free to Kindle Prime members and $4.99 to people who want to download the Ebook. Paperback copies are available for $12.99. The audio book version will be available soon. Check it out, and if you like it, please leave a review. Work on the sequel—Strangers In Dallas—proceeds apace. Chapters will be uploaded to my website and available for preview to patrons on the first of each month.

Sam Gabriel, the voice actor who is performing the audiobook of Strangers in Boston, is also reading Prince of Slytherin as a side project! The goal is an eventual (and 100% free) POS audiobook. More details on that later as they become available. He completed the second book and started on the third, and he generally reads additional chapters live on the Discord server every day, with the full backlog of raw recording sessions available for free download.

We now return you to your regularly scheduled fanfic.


Harry Potter and all associated characters and situations are the property of J.K. Rowling. I make no claim to ownership.

Harry Black
and the Resurrection Game


Chapter 11: The Quidditch World Cup (Pt 4)

22 August 1994, Day 13
The Weasley Tent
10:00 a.m.

After Jim's return—in raven form, no less—to the Weasley tent the night before, he'd had a brief but fraught conversation with Ginny Weasley before a panicked Charlie and Ron burst into the tent looking for him. He explained that he'd escorted Padma Patil back to her tent without incident before seeing two Death Eaters at the boundary between the Australian and Luxembourg sectors. He'd impulsively followed them only to be stunned and then robbed of his wand. To his surprise, Ron scowled at him in obvious anger before storming off to their room for bed. They hardly spoke for the rest of the night.

After the attack and robbery, the story Jim gave the Weasleys and later the DMLE investigators became a bit hazy. He told them that he was disoriented by the Stunning Hex and got lost but soon found the Weasley tent. Ginny confirmed that he'd entered the tent around midnight looking confused, but he soon recovered before her brothers arrived. Privately, Jim marveled at how effortlessly his best friend's little sister could lie not only to her own family but to seasoned law enforcement wizards. But in this instance, he was grateful for her Slytherin wiles.

After the Hit Wizards took their statements for the official report and departed, Jim, Bill and Arthur returned to the scene of the attack to confirm that Jim's wand was truly gone. Morose, Jim returned with the Weasleys for the night while Arthur sent word to the boy's parents.

The next morning, Lily and James Potter showed up at the Weasley tent full of both concern for their son's safety and anger at how his impetuousness had cost him his wand and could have cost him his life. Arthur Weasley was full of apologies, but Jim interrupted him.

"Please don't blame the Weasleys for this," he said to both his parents. "It was all my fault. If I'd just done what I was supposed to and gone straight back to meet Charlie and Ron, I'd have been fine. I was an idiot to go after those two Death Eaters myself."

Before anyone else could respond, a new voice was heard from the entrance to the tent, one that made James stiffen in apprehension.

"That's a bold claim, Mr. Potter," said Corban Yaxley, the DMLE Director and James's boss. Standing behind him were Auror Victoria Savage and two Hit Wizards. "And I would appreciate it very much if you would refrain from spreading such rumors around until an investigation has been conducted."

"I know what I saw," Jim said angrily. "They were Death Eaters."

"I've read the Hit Wizards' report, Mr. Potter." Yaxley paused and smiled at the boy. "May I call you Jim? It might get confusing what with there being two Mr. Potters in the room, don't you agree?"

Jim nodded but said nothing.

"Now then, Jim, before we hear anything more about Death Eaters, let's take a look at your memories of the attack."

At that point, Yaxley gestured to one of the Hit Wizards who was carrying a Ministry Pensieve, which he placed on a table in the center of the tent.

"Since you are currently wandless, Jim, I'm sure your father won't mind transferring the memory. All you need to do is think back and try to remember everything that happened last night pertaining to the incident."

Jim froze. "Everything that happened" included him revealing himself as an unregistered Animagus! The boy took a deep breath and tried his best to focus on just the memory of pursuing the Death Eaters without thinking about anything that happened after he was stunned. James transferred the memory to the Pensieve while Lily moved behind Jim and put her hands gently on his shoulders as Yaxley, Savage, and James entered the memory. After barely a minute, they emerged.

"As I suspected, Jim, those were not Death Eaters," Yaxley said.

"Yes, they were!" Jim nearly shouted. Yaxley just looked down at him condescendingly.

"I can understand your confusion, Jim, as the last Death Eater sighting was when you were just a babe. But I assure you, those were not genuine Death Eater uniforms."

"Well, I reckon you'd know," Jim said in a low voice before wincing as his mother's hands suddenly dug into his shoulders. Yaxley ignored the implied accusation. Instead, he turned to Jim's father.

"Do you concur, James?" he asked somewhat smugly. "As I recall, you spent plenty of time during the war fighting Death Eaters up close."

James grimaced. He'd never confirmed it, but he was 90% certain he'd dueled Yaxley himself at least once while the latter had been wearing a Death Eater's mask. As James recalled, the man he'd fought that day certainly didn't act like he'd been under the Imperius. He turned to his son.

"He's right, Jim. Your attackers weren't wearing genuine Death Eater uniforms. They were just crude imitations."

"But Dad …!"

"If you don't believe your own father, Jim, you are welcome to review the memory yourself in the Pensieve. It's understandable that you didn't notice at the time, but I think the big giveaway is that one of your attackers was wearing Muggle trainers beneath his wizarding robes."

Yaxley looked around imperiously. "I think it's obvious what truly happened. The incident occurred at the boundary between the Luxembourgers … and the Australians. Given the conduct of the Australian contingent so far, I'll wager it was nothing more than some hooligans dressed up in homemade costumes who were out to perform some mischief that could be blamed on Death Eaters as a way of embarrassing the Ministry. And then the Boy-Who-Lived bumbles along and proves an irresistible target. I'll inform Minister Fudge and Director Crouch. And I suppose McAvity."

He'd said the last name with transparent disdain. "Perhaps he can be prevailed upon to waive his diplomatic immunity long enough to let us search the Australian sector in force to find young Jim's lost wand."

His tone indicated that he thought such a request was unlikely to be granted. Then, Yaxley turned to James.

"And now that that's all settled—well, for my part, anyway—perhaps we should get back to work, eh, James? I received a report before I came over here that's already been forwarded to your department. Another regurgitating toilet, this time in Basingstoke."

James returned Yaxley's smug gaze impassively. "Yes, sir. I'll get right on it."

Yaxley bowed slightly to the group before departing along with Savage and the Hit Wizards.

Dejected, Jim sat down in a chair. "So what happens now?"

"Now?" Lily snapped. "Well my first inclination is to take you straight home and lock you in your room until the Hogwarts Express is ready to leave. Honestly, Jim! You were lucky to be attacked by fake Death Eaters. I cannot believe that you thought those people were actual Death Eaters and then decided it was a good idea to go after them!"

Jim opened his mouth but then sighed and closed it. His mother was right. His decision to act like he was in a Boy-Who-Lived Adventure instead of real life had cost him his wand, and he could have lost more.

Lily looked over to James and noticed his silently pleading expression. She exhaled.

"That said, there have been no other incidents during your time with the Weasleys, and I understand how devastating it would be for you to miss the last week of the Cup. So first of all, we're leaving this morning to visit the Potter Vault and see if any of the family wands will work for you. If we can find you a compatible wand, you can come back here, continue working for Mrs. Weasley, and watch the matches for the rest of the week."

Jim's face lit up in excitement, but Lily continued more firmly.

"However, you will not be spending the night here." She turned to the Weasley patriarch. "Arthur, when Jim is done with his work for the day, can you ensure that one of your older boys or someone else responsible keeps an eye on him when he's attending any matches? I'll be listening on our Wireless, and at the end of the night, I'll come pick him up and Side-Apparate him home."

"Mum!" Jim exclaimed, but a glare from Lily silenced him. Arthur looked at her, still embarrassed by the whole affair.

"If that's how you want to handle things, Lily, I fully understand. Once again, I do apologize for the … lapse in security, I suppose."

Nearby, Charlie blushed in embarrassment at his mistake. Next to him, Ron simply glared at Jim. Finally, James coughed into his fist.

"Well, that's all for now, I reckon. I'd better be off." He gave Arthur a weak smile. "Those toilets won't un-jinx themselves, after all."

Everyone laughed half-heartedly.

Jim returned to the 3M booth around noon with a new wand. Or, more accurately, a very old wand. Acacia and dragon heartstring, 8 and ½ inches, first purchased by Josiah Potter in 1835. It mostly worked for Jim, although he had the oddest feeling that it was … disdainful of him? Still, he could defend himself reasonably well if need be, and once he took the Twins' potion again, he was blessedly anonymous behind the face of "Barny Weasley."

Now his only concerns were (a) finding time to spend with Padma again and (b) figuring out why Ron was angry with him.

"Oh, yeah," he thought ruefully. "And paying off Ginny Weasley for her silence!"


23 August 1994, Day 14
8:00 a.m

Sadly for Jim, his first concern went unresolved. He saw Padma only briefly after Luxembourg's 360-330 loss to Bulgaria, for whom Viktor Krum pulled out another miraculous last second win. Petulant after his team's loss, the Pasha had decided to return to Luxembourg with his entourage, which meant the Patils would be leaving early the next morning.

And in fact, they were already gone when Lily delivered Jim to the Weasley tent. Somewhat downbeat, the Boy-Who-Lived entered the tent and took his "Barny" potion for the day. Then, he looked around to make sure no one was watching as he entered Ginny's room. The girl was waiting for him with a friendly smile.

"Oh, cheer up, Jim!" she said. "Honestly, I envy you getting to sleep in a real bed instead of a sleeping bag on a cot."

He shrugged. "It's still punishment."

He reached into the bag he'd been carrying over his shoulder and pulled out a book which he handed over.

"I want this back once you've had a chance to copy it," Jim said sternly. "And don't get caught with it, and please don't let anyone find out I gave it to you. Least of all your parents. Or Ron, since he's mad at me for some reason."

Ginny rolled her eyes. "I promise I won't get caught with it or tell anyone that you gave it to me. Or, I suppose, tell anyone that you're an illegal Animagus." Then, she tilted her head thoughtfully. "You seriously don't know why Ron's mad at you?"

Jim shook his head.

"Honestly," she went on. "If I were a Gryffindor, I'd probably smack you on the back of the head, but we Slytherins are too civilized for that. You are Ron's best friend in the entire world. And yet, you ditched him to go off with a girl you transparently have a crush on, and then deliberately put yourself into potential deadly danger while all alone. Do you seriously not realize how protective Ron is of you after all this time?"

The boy winced. "Yeah, I didn't think of it that way. I remember how mad I got at him when he …" Jim paused suddenly "Um, never mind."

Ginny nodded but said nothing. After all, she'd been in the Infirmary with the rest of her family when Jim brought Ron back down from the Astronomy Tower back at the end of her First Year. And unlike all the Gryffindors in her family, she had not shrunk from the implications of what Ron had tried to do.

"Come on," she said while shaking off those morbid thoughts. "Let's head on to the stall. It's the Wimbourne Wasps versus some Peruvian team I've never heard of. So let's go learn how to make Dorset knobs and Peruvian tamales … whatever tamales are, anyway."

Jim laughed, and after Ginny hid the Animagery book away, the two headed off to work.


The Ministry of Magic
Noon

After spending most of the week on his own while dealing with the problem of regurgitating toilets (the product of a mentally addled wizard named Willie Widdershins, who was now in the Detention Center on charges of Misdemeanor Muggle-baiting), James Potter stepped into the MoM canteen for a quick lunch. Nothing too extravagant—an egg salad sandwich and a pumpkin juice—but it was filling and inexpensive. His days of Apparating to the Leaky Cauldron for lunch every day were over for the time being.

As usual, he sat with Joe Abbott, the building's Squib maintenance man, and a few other low-level Ministry employees who were open to James's presence. Nearby, a group of five Hit Wizards glared at the former Auror with naked contempt, while at another table, Eleanor Burke, his former secretary, gave him a smug, self-satisfied smile before turning to her friends for more lunchtime gossip.

And it was loud gossip too, as Eleanor and her catty friends had very little of an indoor voice when it came to such conversations. Despite himself, James couldn't help but notice, especially when their conversation turned to Bertha Jorkins, who was still absent from work. While the poor woman had apparently been out sick for weeks, none of the women could agree on exactly what her ailment was. Indeed, Eleanor laughingly suggested that Bertha wasn't sick at all, but was entertaining some secret beau, a theory that caused the other women to laugh rudely.

James frowned and then leaned over to Joe Abbott, who seemed to know everything about everyone in the Ministry, though, unlike some people, he kept his thoughts to himself unless asked.

"Bertha Jorkins is still out with illness?" he asked the Squib, who nodded in reply.

"Yep. Contagious too, I hear," Joe added. "I hear she won't even open for visitors. Just talks through the door."

"Uh-huh," James said slowly. "But what is she sick from?"

The others at the table simply shrugged. James slowly chewed his sandwich and swallowed. "And no one's actually seen her in person? Or talked through the Floo?"

"Not so far as I know, Mr. Potter. Why does it trouble you?"

"We're off the clock, Joe. Call me James. And I don't know why it troubles me. Just that it does."


That night …

The "Peruvian team" that Ginny had never heard of turned out to be the Tarapoto Tree-Skimmers, and to the girl's disdain, their obscurity was appropriate given their lack of talent. The Wimbourne Wasps won easily 350-90. While the match wasn't terribly exciting to her, that didn't stop Marcus Flint from screaming like a madman with every goal. He and Emily (who were both off-duty for the night) had accepted an invitation to sit in Harry's box. And to Emily's mortification, the dignified surroundings of a Wizengamot Lord's private box did not prevent Marcus from sitting shirtless for the whole game with his upper body painted yellow and a black "W" covering his chest. Of course, he was hardly the only one so attired, just the only one in the VIP section. The rest of the stadium was awash in yellow and black colors and occasionally a deafening "buzzing" sound from Wimbourne fans whenever the Wasps scored.

"I hope that's not going to hurt his career," Ginny whispered to Harry while gesturing towards Marcus's display. He'd been surprised when the youngest Weasley unexpectedly accepted his open invitation for her entire family to sit with him. Ginny was the only Weasley to do so, as none of her siblings were fans of the Wasps, and after the Bulgaria-Luxembourg match, everyone else was happy to have a night off. But Harry was even more surprised when Ginny made a point of sitting right beside him instead of with Amy.

Harry laughed as Wimbourne scored again and the half-naked Marcus jumped out of his seat in jubilation while Emily just shrank down further into her chair while covering her face with her hands.

"Marcus has the backing of four Ancient and Noble Houses right now," he said. "Plus, he's doing well in his training, and the Ministry has a critical shortage of Aurors. I'm pretty sure he could be dancing around naked without it affecting his career too much."

She nodded and then, while everyone was distracted by an upcoming penalty shot, she leaned in closer to Harry.

"I need a favor."

Harry crooked an eyebrow. "Oh? Go on."

She reached into her bag and pulled out a small package in green and silver wrapping paper with a lovely bow on top.

"There's a book inside. I'd like you to have one of the grownups in your secret conspiracy that you haven't initiated me into yet take a look at it and see if it's evil or anything. There's been a lot of cursed reading materials floating around in the past few years, if you know what I mean. If it's okay, I'd like you to return it to me along with a copy I can keep after I return the original to the person who loaned it to me. Feel free to keep a copy for yourself, of course. If it's not safe, let me know and we'll decide if some sort of intervention is needed."

The boy narrowed his eyes. "And what's the name of the possibly cursed book?"

"Animagery: The Deeper Mysteries," she replied quietly before standing up to loudly applaud another goal for the Wasps. Harry glared at her as she sat back down.

"You got this from Jim, didn't you?"

"Honestly, Harry. I promised not to tell anyone where I got it from or to get caught with it."

"You … promised? But you're already talking about staging an intervention if … well let's just say it, my idiot ex-brother has been reading another cursed book!"

"Well, I only promised, Harry. I didn't swear an oath or anything. And the way I look at it, I promised not to get caught with it, but simply giving it to someone doesn't count as getting caught."

"… I'm interested to hear your reasoning behind that."

She turned to look at him in surprise. "Obviously, getting caught is unintentional. This is planned."

"You planned to just give me an illegal book in the middle of a crowded Quidditch arena?!"

Ginny shushed him. "Well, it's wrapped. And very nicely too if I may say so myself. I told both Amy and Tori earlier this afternoon that I might have a crush on you, and I wondered aloud if you liked poetry. I'm sure they've already spread it to everyone we know, so no one here is curious about the thoughtful book-shaped gift I just gave you. Look behind us to your left. Daphne is glaring daggers at me."

Despite himself, he glanced back, and Daphne was indeed fuming for some reason. The Greengrass Heiress quickly looked away. He turned back to Ginny with a suspicious gaze.

"Huh. So why ever do you think Daphne would be upset because you have a crush on me and have given me a book of poems?" he asked archly. Ginny just patted him on the knee.

"Don't ever change, Harry," she said with a chuckle.


24 August 1994
11:55 p.m. (The End of Day 15)
The private tent of Barty Crouch

With a grimace, Barty Crouch threw back the headache remedy followed by a glass of water. Then, he replaced the empty glass on the silver tray held by his house elf, Winky. Nearby Percy tilted his head to study the tiny creature. Like most of his family, he had very little experience with house elves.

"In fact," he thought, "I probably now have the least experience out of any of my family, except maybe Dad. Ginny, Ron, and the Twins spent the summer at Harry Black's place, and now Mum has Harry's elves working for her!"

He said nothing, however, and merely waited for his boss to acknowledge him … and tried not to think about how much he had in common with the house elf when it came to working for Bartemius Crouch.

"Is Master Barty being hungry, sir? Winky can prepare a midnight snack." The elf looked up at her master with eyes full of devotion.

"No, thank you, Winky," said Crouch with an indulgent smile. "You may return to Crouch Hall until tomorrow morning. Have a good night."

Winky gave a delicate curtsey and then Apparated away, while Percy took a moment to reevaluate his stature. Apparently, Barty Crouch held him in even lower regard than a house elf. Finally, Crouch turned around in his swivel chair to face his young intern. Crouch's tent was roughly the size of the Weasley tent, but it only had one occupant, so for the duration of the competition, one of the tent's bedrooms had been converted into an exact copy of Crouch's office at DIMC headquarters. The older wizard glared up over his mahogany desk at Percy and pointedly did not offer him a chair.

"Well, Weatherby?" he snapped. "Give it to me. How bad was it?"

Percy took a deep breath, both to prepare himself to give an unwelcome report and to wash away any resentment over Crouch's continued use of the wrong name for him.

"Bad is a relative term, sir. I suppose it could have been either better or worse. Well over 100 people have been arrested. At least 275 were injured, over twenty seriously enough that they had to be Portkeyed to St. Mungo's for emergency treatment. McAvity has already lodged a formal protest with the ICW and requested that Australia send in additional security personnel "for the safety of the Australian citizens in attendance who are at the mercy of violent British bigotry."

Crouch snorted loudly at that, but Percy could tell he was upset. The Quidditch World Cup was supposed to be a diplomatic coup, the capstone of Crouch's long career at the Ministry. Instead, it was shaping up to be one of the most controversial Cups in decades if not centuries.


Earlier …

The Australia-Ireland match began at 2:00 p.m. and by 2:15, it was clear that something was terribly wrong. The broom ridden by Roger Chadwick, the Australian Keeper, was obviously malfunctioning and tried to outright buck him off three times before he could call for a timeout, but by then, Ireland was up 90-20 after just fifteen minutes. Things got even more complicated when the referee, Helga Gunnarsdottir, refused to allow him to swap out for a different broom. That was perhaps the most controversial call made by the respected Icelandic referee, but by no means the only one. After the match, Percy had the chance to speak with Charlie, the most Quidditch-mad of his siblings (Ginny might well be a better player than Charlie, but she wasn't mad about it like most of her brothers). And though Charlie was an Ireland supporter decked out in shamrock green from head to toe, even he was shocked by some of her officiating which he thought showed obvious favoritism.

After an hour of play, Ireland was up 190-50, and it was obvious to everyone (except the referee, apparently) that Chadwick's broom had been sabotaged. Since he was unable to effectively defend the Australian goals and forbidden to swap brooms, Chadwick did the only thing he could. He deliberately flew his broom straight into the ground, crashing hard enough to give himself a concussion and remove himself from play.

The Australian reserve Keeper, Martin Scahill, flew out to replace him with a vengeance and managed to keep the Irish nearly scoreless for the next hour, but Gunnarsdottir made up for it with a succession of dubious calls that allowed Ireland to gain another 30 points in penalty shots. At the same time, she simply ignored blatant rule violations by the increasingly aggressive Irish side. At the 3:17 mark, with the score 250-110, the Snitch finally appeared and much closer to the Australian Seeker, Shannon MacReady, than her Irish rival. MacReady was within inches of catching the Snitch and pulling out a spectacular come-from-behind win when one of the Irish Beaters illegally blocked her so hard that the Aussie lass was knocked brutally into a retaining wall.

Naturally, no penalty was called. And worse, while MacReady was trying to right herself, the Irish Seeker was able to catch the Snitch, ending the game with a score of 400-110 for Ireland.

The boos were deafening.


Now …

"The match officially ended at 5:27," said Percy as he continued his report. "The Australian team left the stadium immediately without shaking the hands of the Irish team as is customary. The first fight broke out in the stands just moments later. By eight o'clock, Madam Bones had directed the Aurors working security to don riot gear and to institute a curfew. The huge bonfire that had been set in the Australian sector where transfigured figures depicting Minister Fudge, Referee Gunnarsdottir," Percy coughed delicately, "and yourself were burned in effigy has only just been put out. However, these incidents were not limited to the Australian sector. Outrage over poor officiating and even possible sabotage is widespread. All the quarterfinalist teams other than Ireland are jointly demanding an inquiry of some kind, and several other sectors report threats of violence against the Irish team and the British government."

The young wizard hesitated. "And while I know you're not … favorably disposed towards the man, Mr. Crouch, I feel I should point out one detail. Things might have been much worse had Alexander McAvity not put out a personal appeal for calm among the Australian visitors. In any case, the situation is momentarily under control but remains explosive. And things will probably get worse if analysis shows that Chadwick's broom really was sabotaged."

Crouch grumbled but said nothing about that.

"Any more information about what happened to Jim Potter?" he asked instead.

"Nothing new," Percy replied. "The Australian officials say that they have had their own Aurors investigate the matter, but there's been no sign of Potter's missing wand and no signs of any Australian attendees in Death Eater apparel trying to instigate any trouble. However, Director McAvity has flatly refused to let any British Aurors into the Australian zone to search for clues. And without his permission …"

"We would need approval from the entire QWC organizing committee to go in. Because as far as the ICW is concerned, that little plot of land festooned with Australian flags might as well be on Australian soil given the degree of diplomatic sovereignty it has!"

He reached into a side drawer on his desk and pulled out a snifter of brandy and a single glass. "So do you have any good news for me, Weatherby?" he growled.

Percy looked down impassively at his boss, the one who'd consistently gotten his name wrong since his first day on the job. Then, he recalled that his internship would end in a few weeks, and he wasn't optimistic about getting a favorable recommendation from someone who couldn't even remember his name. So Percy just shrugged casually and said the first thing that came into his mind.

"The Cup is over in three and a half days, and then we'll never have to deal with most of these people again?"

Crouch looked up at the younger wizard in surprise at his seeming impertinence, and his eyes narrowed. "Are you trying to be funny, Weatherby?"

"Humor is often subjective, Mr. Crouch. For example, I've been wondering for some time now whether your deliberate use of the wrong name for me was meant to be a joke or if it had some other purpose. To be honest, I'm still not sure."

The old wizard took a sip of brandy while studying his aide. "Bold of you to assume it was deliberate and not an honest mistake on my part."

"Respectfully, Mr. Crouch, you had no problem calling me by my proper name when I interviewed with you, and you are perfectly aware of who my father is. I have, after all, seen you effortlessly recall the names of the Bulgarian Minister's grandchildren, so I think you would recall the fact that you hired Arthur Weasley's son as your assistant. And even if you hadn't asked after him and my mother during my interview, well sir, hair like mine is a rather clear sign of my parentage, don't you agree?"

Crouch stared intently at Percy before suddenly barking out a laugh. He gestured wandlessly at a nearby chair, and it slid over next to Percy. Then, Crouch reached into the drawer again to pull out a second glass.

"Have a seat … Weasley."

Percy crooked an eyebrow but then sat down without speaking. Crouch poured him a glass of brandy and slid it over. He took the glass cautiously, but then Crouch raised his own glass into the air while making a toast.

"To diplomacy!" he said before taking a stiff drink. Percy took a smaller sip and then coughed at the burning sensation.

"So, Weasley, why do you think I have been misidentifying you all this time?"

The young wizard shrugged. "I assume it was some sort of test, though I confess I don't know what I was being tested on. But … you just had me toast to 'diplomacy,' so I suppose you might have wanted to see if I could keep my temper in the face of provocation."

"Well reasoned. And for the record, you passed. The DIMC is the Ministry's diplomatic corps, and I am its chief diplomat. Your internship is just for the summer, but I need a full-time aide. However, it's got to be someone who can handle arrogant old fools just like me with tact and grace despite whatever personal desire you might have to hex us when we offend you. But at the same time, I don't need a Yes Man who's afraid to tell me when I'm in the wrong. I've been waiting all summer to see when and how you would finally confront me over all that Weatherby nonsense. You never once considered correcting me in front of anyone else when it might cause me embarrassment. And when you finally did confront me over it," Crouch gave a predatory smile, "you did so at a time of maximum crisis when firing my personal assistant for impertinence was a non-starter."

Percy looked at the older man in confusion. "So it was a test … to see if I was qualified for a full-time position in the DIMC? That is, assuming you don't fire me for impertinence once the present crisis is over?"

Crouch laughed again. "No, Weasley, I'm not firing you. Or at least not for anything you've done so far. Hell, you kept me from losing my temper around Alexander McAvity, and for that, you probably deserve a raise."

Percy studied Crouch carefully. "If you don't mind my asking, sir … Your dislike for McAvity … It's personal, isn't it." It was not a question.

Crouch nodded slowly and took another sip of brandy. "Understand, Weasley, I am not a bigot against Muggleborns and never have been. I am something of a traditionalist when it comes to Pureblood culture, but in the beginning, I thought McAvity and Minister Leach had some good ideas. But I worried. Worried that they were pushing too hard and too fast. And that they were creating something they might not be able to control. Then, Leach died and McAvity fled the country, and my worst fears came to pass. In 1957, a Muggleborn named Martha Bracewell set off a Muggle explosive device at the Marriage Contract Registry Office."

He paused to collect himself. "My first wife, Elaine, worked there. And died there."

Percy swallowed. "I'm so sorry to hear that."

"Ours was not a happy marriage, Weasley … Percy. Quite the opposite. In a way, it was ironic that she died in that office, given the role that marriage contracts played in our lives. Our marriage was arranged when we were both small children. At Hogwarts, Elaine and I never got along. But we both assumed that once we were married, Amortentia would take care of things, only to find out that I was deathly allergic to one of the ingredients in that potion and could not imbibe it. Still, we did our duty, and she gave me four strong children who were each a credit to House Crouch."

He barked out an unhappy laugh. "A few years after she died in that terrorist bombing, I remarried, the second time for love with my former school sweetheart, and Melinda gave me a fifth child. And the child of the woman I loved grew up to be a Death Eater who helped kill the children of the woman I … was married to. But even that can be traced back to McAvity, I think. To this day, I firmly believe that if the Muggleborn activists hadn't turned to violence, hadn't frightened the Purebloods into overreacting, You-Know-Who would have never become the danger he was."

The young man said nothing in response. After months of Crouch alternating between cold indifference and surly anger over his intern's minor mistakes, Percy was unprepared to hear Bartemius Crouch bare his soul over a glass of brandy. Then, Crouch looked over at him speculatively.

"Do you have anyone in your life, Percy? An arranged relationship or the real thing?"

Percy looked down at his glass. "Neither. There was someone, but we broke up … when I took this job."

"Ah, the Clearwater girl. So unfortunate."

"Mr. Crouch," Percy said slowly. "Did you hire me over her and Bobby Lattimer because of … blood status?"

"Yes," Crouch said flatly.

"… Oh."

The older man exhaled heavily. "But not just blood status, I assure you. In my opinion, for nearly all Ministry jobs, blood status should be unimportant, and Wizarding Britain would be better served with a meritocracy. If I were still DMLE director, I'd have been happy to hire Clearwater or Lattimer for an important posting. But as I said, the DIMC is a diplomatic post. With the Cup and especially with the Triwizard Tournament coming up, I simply couldn't risk offending participating governments by sending a Muggleborn as my representative. Of course, I also rejected applicants from old Pureblood families for the same reason! Consider the nations to be represented in the Triwizard Tournament, Percy. France is a Muggle-friendly nation that's gotten rid of all its Purebloods, while the Balkan Alliance has a reactionary government run by Purebloods who have gotten rid of all their Muggleborns. I needed someone who could walk in both worlds."

He raised his glass again, as if in salute to Percy Weasley. "And who better than a brilliant young man from a Pureblood family in the Sacred 28 but who nevertheless took Muggle Studies all the way to a NEWT and whose father is the Ministry's most infamous Mugglephile! You were the perfect choice for this internship. And if you want it, you'll be the perfect choice for a permanent job as my personal assistant."

Percy's eyes widened at the offer of a permanent, high-level job offer. But then, Crouch laughed once more.

"That is, assuming this bloody World Cup thing doesn't blow up so badly that Fudge fires me. In which case, you can ask your mum if she'd be willing to hire me on as a sous-chef!"


26 August 1994, Day 17
(The Montrose Magpies v. the Wollongong (MCA) Warriors Exhibition Match)

Despite his best efforts, Oliver Wood's hands shook as he fumbled his way into his Keeper's pads. The last few days had been a whirlwind of madness as the controversies surrounding the World Cup deepened. The riots after Australia's loss to Ireland had been worse than anything the QWC had seen in this century, and the mood only worsened on Thursday morning, when the Daily Prophet published the results of the preliminary investigation into what had happened to Roger Chadwick's broom during the match. Those results were inconclusive due to the damage inflicted on the broom when Chadwick crashed it, which meant that no one was satisfied.

That night, Oliver attended the exhibition match between Puddlemere United and the Vratsa Vultures. While Oliver was excited to see his favorite team in action, he was unnerved by the crowd's response. Puddlemere United wasn't just the most beloved of the British home teams, it was admired by Quidditch fans around the world, not just for its play but for its members' involvement in various charities and in supporting youth Quidditch programs across the Magical world. Certainly, its reputation in the global Quidditch community far exceeded that of the Vultures, who rarely even played outside the Balkan Alliance. So naturally, the Puddlemere players were taken aback by the most hostile crowd most of them had ever seen. There were over 100,000 wizards and witches in the stadium, and easily 4 out of 5 of them came prepared to loudly boo everything Puddlemere did. Apparently, with Australia eliminated (and under admittedly dodgy circumstances), the rest of the world had become supporters of all things Bulgarian.

Puddlemere won, of course, but Oliver could tell that the team was shaken by the unexpected crowd response to its victory. Oliver was uneasy as well, because the next night, his own team, the Magpies, was scheduled to play against the top Australian league team and reigning champion of the Oceanic League, the Wollongong Warriors. He had no idea how quickly unease would blossom into terror and outrage.

Earlier this morning, just after dawn, Jeremy Crick, the Magpies' starting Keeper, and a man who'd become Oliver's mentor and friend, had been found in the woods at the edge of the campsite, severely beaten and heavily cursed. Crick had swiftly been transported morning to St. Mungo's where his physical injuries were quickly healed. But the mental trauma from the spell damage was more severe, and the Healers indicated that he would need to be hospitalized for weeks to come while they tried to unravel the severe and complex Confundus Curse he was laboring under.

Specifically, Jeremy Crick, one of the top ranked Keepers in the world, now had a pathological fear of flying.

Hence the mounting panic that now threatened to make Oliver Wood vomit onto the locker room floor in front of all his teammates, all of whom were trying to be encouraging even though their lack of faith in him was apparent. In less than twenty minutes, Oliver Wood would make his professional debut as Keeper for the Magpies in front of an insanely hostile crowd and against a championship-caliber team that was out for blood with the honor of British Quidditch at stake.

Then, the door opened, and Oliver's eyes widened. As if he didn't have enough to worry about, the Magpies' owner, Antonius Warrington, had entered the locker room to give some encouragement to the team. At the end of a brief pep talk to the whole group, he whispered a few words to the coach and then made his way over to Oliver.

"I know you have a lot on your mind, Wood," Warrington said while putting a hand on Oliver's shoulder. "But might I have a moment with you in private?"

"O-o-of course, Lord Warrington," the young Keeper stammered.

The older man smiled warmly. "When it's just us, Oliver, you can call me Antonius."

With that, he led Oliver out of view of the rest of the team and erected a privacy shield.

"How are you holding up, son?" Antonius asked with eyes full of concern.

"I'm … fine, sir. I mean … Antonius. Just a few pregame jitters."

"I think it's more than that Oliver. I'm sure you must feel the weight of the world on your shoulders. It's not just about your debut as Keeper anymore. This is about the honor of our team and our nation. And it's about avenging a base and cowardly attack on one of our own."

Warrington's eyes flashed angrily. "I had a chance to speak briefly with Jeremy this afternoon. He asked me to wish you the best of luck. But I also spoke to his Healers. They … they don't know if he's ever going to fly again!"

Oliver gasped in anguish.

"There's more," Warrington continued. "While Jeremy's memories are still hazy and he couldn't make out his attackers' faces … they were definitely wearing green-and-yellow Australian jerseys!"

He sneered angrily. "You know the ones I mean, Oliver. The shirts with 'McA' on the front!"

Oliver's own eyes flashed in outrage. "I promise you, Antonius. We're going to beat the bastards!"

Warrington shook his head. "It's your first professional game, Oliver. You're good, very good, but untested. And the Wollongong Chasers are some of the best in the world. But more than that, I don't just want to beat the Australians, I want to humiliate them!"

The young athlete nodded slowly. "So … what do you want me to do?"

The team owner said nothing. He simply reached into a pocket and withdrew a tiny vial containing no more than half a thimbleful of what a layman would have thought to be liquid gold.

Wood's eyes widened, and he looked around wildly to make sure no one was close enough to see. "That's … that's illegal to use in Quidditch," he whispered.

"Illegal in competition play, Oliver. This is just an exhibition match. And after one side has crippled a player on the other, honestly, how big of a sin is three drops of Felix Felicis?"


27 August 1994 (The Morning of the Final)
From the Daily Prophet

SHOCKING UPSET!
Magpies crush Warriors 230 to ZERO
Reserve Keeper Holds Aussie Team Scoreless
In Stunning Debut Performance!
Sore Loser Aussies Launch
Baseless Accusations of Cheating!

As Oliver read the Prophet headline praising his performance and hailing him as "the future of British Quidditch," conflicting emotions surged through his mind. Happiness at being nationally recognized for his skills (even if they were artificially enhanced). Anxiety that he might not be able to live up to the impossible standards he'd set against the Warriors. Grim satisfaction over avenging the injuries suffered by his friend and teammate. Worry that somehow his use of Felix Felicis would be discovered. Shame that he'd even taken the magical luck-enhancing elixir that had been banned in competitive Quidditch almost since the potion's invention. Every time he'd blocked the Quaffle, even as the British fans roared their approval, Oliver could only imagine McGonagall's disappointed scowl.

But the most worrisome emotion of all threatened to overwhelm the others: an acute awareness of how amazing it felt to play while under the potion's effects combined with an aching desire to feel that way again.


A small cottage in Swindon, just after noon …

For the past few days, James had continually found himself distracted for reasons he couldn't articulate. Despite the obvious antipathy that the man had held for him over the last years of his life, James wished that Rufus Scrimgeour was still around to talk to.

"Or better yet, to be in charge of things," James thought ruefully.

He was troubled because there was something bothering him, something to do with Bertha Jorkins, but he couldn't figure out what it was. And in his mind's eye, he could just imagine Rufus instantly knowing the answer before making James feel like an idiot for not seeing it. Now that it was far, far too late, Potter finally realized what he'd missed out on by not trying to develop a better relationship with the old man and learn from one of the best.

Finally, James decided that even if he was no longer an Auror, he was still a DMLE agent (for the loosest possible definition of agent, of course). And while he was not authorized to formally conduct investigations, there was nothing to forbid him from dropping in to visit a sick friend.

"Well," he thought as he reached for the Ministry directory containing the contact information for all Ministry employees, "I've spoken to Bertha Jorkins at least a dozen or so times over the last ten years. That counts as friendship, right?"

Moments later, there was a soft pop in front of Bertha Jorkins' cottage in Swindon. Swiftly, James looked around to make sure he'd not been seen. No one was about, so he casually made his way up the path to the cottage door and knocked.

"Bertha?" he said through the door after a brief pause. "It's James Potter. I hope you don't mind, but lots of people at the Ministry have been concerned about you, so I thought I'd pop by and check on you."

Several seconds passed.

"Are you sure I can't come in for a bit and visit? It might cheer you up."

Several more seconds passed.

"Contagious, huh? And Spattergroit? Yeah, I'd heard that, but no one was sure what you had. Yes, Spattergroit is nothing to take lightly."

A few more seconds.

"Alright then, I'll let you get back to bed, Bertha. I hope you get better soon."

With that, James turned away from the door and strode down the garden pathway only to stop halfway to the street. Then, his eyes widened in sudden understanding. He'd never been a good student of Occlumency, but there were other techniques taught to Aurors for psychic defense, and once he'd moved far enough from the doorway, one of those techniques alerted him to what had just happened.

James whirled around and cast a quick Homenum Revelio at the cottage, followed by a succession of other identification spells. One of them caused a series of glowing runes to appear over the door to the cottage.

"Bloody hell," James whispered to himself before running back to the door and hitting it with his strongest Unlocking Charm. The door flew open, and James stepped inside only to freeze as he took in the scene. The door opened into the kitchen, and there was still a plate of half-eaten food on the table, now moldy and spoiled. Further inside, he could see signs of a struggle, including a chair that had been knocked over and a vase that had fallen to the ground and shattered. After a quick search of the cottage to confirm that Bertha Jorkins was not present (whether alive or dead), James made his way to the fireplace and tossed in some Floo Powder.

"CHIEF AUROR'S OFFICE!"


The Office of Chief Auror Amelia Bones
1:00 p.m.

"I'm still waiting for an explanation of why you chose to look into this, Potter!" Corban Yaxley snapped. "I find it unlikely that any misuse of Muggle artifacts case justified you breaking into Bertha Jorkins' private home!"

James refused to be cowed by his superior. "I was off-duty, Director Yaxley. Several fellow Ministry personnel had expressed concerns about Bertha's health considering how long she'd been absent from work. So I took it upon myself to pay her a visit this morning and see if she was okay."

Yaxley started to argue, but Barty Crouch interrupted him. "And I, for one, am grateful for your initiative, James. But since some of us have only just arrived, please explain the results of your investigation."

The DMLE Director glared at the older wizard, who practically sneered in response. After all, Crouch did technically outrank Yaxley, and his feelings about people who had taken the Dark Mark while "under the Imperius Curse" were well-known. Also in the room were Amelia Bones, Minister Fudge, and DMGS Director Ludo Bagman, the last of whom looked like his nerves were shot. James continued his report.

"Upon arrival at the Jorkins residence, I knocked on the door and had what I thought was a brief conversation with Jorkins. However, I've had training in resisting Confundus Charms, and once I moved far enough away from the door, I realized that at no point had I actually heard Jorkins speak. My mind had simply inserted responses appropriate to my questions. I confirmed magically that there was no one in the house and also that the door itself was a focus for a powerful and sophisticated Confundus meant to make anyone who came by believe that Jorkins was safe inside. I then entered the cottage …"

"Which you had no authority to do!" Yaxley said angrily. "You are not an Auror anymore, Potter!"

"No sir, I am not," James replied evenly. "But the Law Enforcement Reform Act of 1823 allows any DMLE personnel to enter a private dwelling if they have genuine reason to believe that a wizard or witch inside may be in danger or be the victim of a crime. I judged that the presence of a Confundus Charm on Jorkins' front door intended to divert anyone who came to check up on a witch who'd been missing from work for several weeks was a sound basis for investigation."

"And I agree with your reasoning, James," Amelia said firmly before Yaxley could open his mouth.

"Thank you, Chief Auror. Anyway, once inside, I found signs of a struggle but no signs at all of Bertha Jorkins, at which point I immediately contacted your office."

Nearby, Cornelius Fudge was rubbing his temples as he wondered which of the people in the room would make the best scapegoat for everything that had gone wrong in the last week. On the bright side, he had no shortage of candidates. If it came down to it, he could probably just blame it all on McAvity (assuming McAvity wasn't actually the real guilty party).

"So where does this leave us?" he asked. "Bertha Jorkins has apparently been kidnapped, possibly some time ago. Do we at least know when she was last seen?"

"The last time I saw her was around the 7th," said Bagman. "She was overseeing the placement of the markers that divided the different sections of the campgrounds so that visitors from the different participating nations would know where to set up camp.

"Wonderful. She's been missing for almost three weeks and no one had a clue! Do we have any leads on finding her?"

"The investigation has only begun," Amelia said, "but so far no. And considering how cold the trail is, I don't know if I can spare any Aurors to investigate until after the Cup Final."

"There is another factor to consider," James spoke up. "Bertha Jorkins was the liaison between the DIMC and the DMGS for everything related to the World Cup. She knew all the security details, and as Ludo said, she personally installed the zone markers that separate the foreign and domestic attendees into their respective sectors. Also, her biomagical signature is the key to the wards surrounding the Goblet of Fire. Is there any chance that her kidnapping was related to any or all of that? And if so, what do we do about it?"

"The Goblet of Fire has been in position for nearly two weeks without incident," Yaxley said blandly. "And it will be removed tomorrow. I think we can exclude it as a reason for Jorkins' disappearance, don't you agree?"

"But there is likely some target to be concerned about, I think," said Amelia. "Who all knew that Jorkins was in charge of security?"

"It was hardly a secret," said Crouch. "In fact, she was also the liaison with most of the foreigners. Though with everything that's been going on, Ludo and I have upped the security for the VIP box, at least. We had some biomagical identification cards put together that will be passed out this afternoon."

"Which is good news for 300 or so dignitaries out of a total attendance of over 100,000." Amelia sighed in annoyance. "At this point, I see little we can do except send out a bulletin to all security personnel at the stadium to stay on alert." She looked over to Fudge. "Assuming, of course, that I can't get authority to delay the Final pending a sweep of the grounds?"

A derisive laugh was Fudge's only response.


As the group was leaving, Yaxley called out to James.

"In light of these developments, Potter, I am putting you on the Jorkins case. Go back to her house and do a more thorough sweep. Then, contact her known friends and associates to see if that turns up any other leads."

"Are you sure you don't want me at the stadium for extra security?" the ex-Auror asked.

"I think you've done enough freelancing for the time being, Potter," Yaxley said bitingly. "We have plenty of security onsite already. You have your orders. Carry them out."

"Yes, sir," Potter nodded tersely. Yaxley stormed off. James watched him leave through narrowed eyes before he finally headed off in the other direction to continue his investigation … after making one quick Floo call.


The BMW Tent
3:00 p.m.

With just hours to go before the Final match, the inhabitants of the BMW tent (which included the Blacks, the Malfoys, the Wilkeses, the Grangers, and one No-Name) were lounging in a common area before heading over to the stadium for their last chance to pick up souvenirs. Harry took the opportunity to ask about an unrelated matter since he happened to have a Charms Master on hand.

"Mr. Malfoy, by any chance are you familiar with a Charm called Protego Mutandis?"

Lucius thought for a moment. "I would not say I'm familiar with it, though I am aware of its existence. It was an attempted modification of the Protego Orbis, except that instead of encasing something in a protective bubble, it creates a shield which conforms to the general shape of the object or person protected. But it was not terribly effective for most practical purposes. Protego Orbis was far superior for protecting inanimate objects, and Protego Mutandis greatly reduced the mobility of living creatures shielded by it. After the development of the Vestamentarum Shield in the 1780s, it fell out of favor completely. Today, it's mainly a historical curiosity. Why do you ask?"

"It's for an enchantment project I've been working on. Viktor Krum suggested I look into it."

Draco laughed. "Only you would meet up with Viktor Krum at a party and spend the whole time talking about runes instead of Quidditch!"

Before Harry could respond, Lemmy, one of Lucius's house elves, announced that there was a visitor, and Archie went to see who it was.

"Knock, knock!" came a cheerful voice a few minutes later. It was Ludo Bagman, escorted by an annoyed-looking Archie.

"Bagman," drawled Lucius Malfoy. "What a … pleasant surprise. What brings you by? I'd have thought that on the day of the Final, you would actually have some work to do."

"Well, yes!" Ludo beamed, Malfoy's sarcasm apparently lost on him. "In fact, it's work that's brought me by."

The Director of the Department of Magical Games and Sports reached into a bag slung over his shoulder to produce a number of 3×5 inch cards.

"What with all the shenanigans going on betwixt us and all those foreigners, it's been decided to up the security for the Final for the Ministry's most special guests. Everyone who'll be sitting in the VIP needs to get one of these tickets or you won't be allowed in."

Bagman quickly made his way around the table, handing out the seemingly blank cards.

"Everyone just touch your wand to the card and say your name," he said. Sirius was the first to do so, and instantly, the card transfigured itself to show his name and face. Most of the others quickly followed suit, but Archie hesitated. Meanwhile, Dan Granger raised his hand.

"Um, no wand here. What am I supposed to do?"

Ludo looked at him in confusion. "And … you are?"

"This is Dan, my Squib cousin from Canada," said Sirius easily. "No wand for him."

Bagman frowned. "Um, I'm sorry, Lord Black. I wasn't aware there would be any Squibs in the VIP section. Or, you know, anywhere at the Final."

Archie spoke up suddenly. "I won't be sitting in the VIP section either, I'll be sitting with … friends."

Harry looked at Archie in surprise, but then he realized—none of them knew exactly how these security cards worked, but the process might well involve biomagical signatures, which Metamorphmagery couldn't fool. If that were the case and Archie touched his wand to the card, it might well identify him by name and face as Regulus Black!

"Mind if I join you, Goodwin?" Dan asked with a smile. "Not that I'm not very grateful for your hospitality, Mr. Malfoy, but it might be interesting to meet some regular wizards and witches instead of hobnobbing with the elites."

"I'd be delighted to have you along," Archie said with a forced smile. He'd wait until Bagman left to discuss with Sirius and Harry the wisdom of taking the Muggle along with him. Most likely followed by explaining to said Muggle that they would, in fact, be sitting with the Australians.


The VIP Dining Area
5:00 p.m. (one hour before the start of the match)

The VIP box for the World Cup Final held seats for 300 people. Among its other amenities, the box connected to a banquet hall where the luminaries could grab snacks before and/or during the Final. The catering for this hall had been done by Summerisles, which meant that (in Harry's biased opinion) everything was overpriced and not nearly as good as what Molly Weasley put out. In light of the mounting tensions between the Irish fans and, well, everyone else, Molly had closed her stall today and returned to the Burrow, happy at her success but glad to be done with catering for a while.

An hour before the Final was set to begin, Jim Potter passed through the VIP entrance, handing the ticket containing his name and picture to the security staff as he did. Once inside, the Boy-Who-Lived made his way through the banquet hall towards the VIP box. He wasn't hungry at the moment, but he did see someone he wanted to meet.

"Excuse me, Mr. Diggory?" Jim asked cautiously from behind the bureaucrat.

"Merlin's beard," said Amos Diggory, his eyes widening. "Jim Potter?"

"Yes, sir," the boy nodded. He was pretty sure he'd met Cedric's father at some Ministry function or other, but he didn't think they'd ever spoken before. "And hello to you too, Cedric," he added to the young Hufflepuff standing next to his father.

"Hello, Jim," Cedric said with an easy grin. "Enjoying the Cup so far?"

"Yeah, it's been brilliant. Well, except for all the controversy and … stuff."

"Yes," said the elder Diggory. "Nasty business all that. Still, what can you expect from foreigners."

Then, the older man smiled down at Jim somewhat condescendingly. "It's a pleasure to finally meet you, Mr. Potter. Ced's talked about you, of course. Told us all about playing against you last year … I said to him, I said—Ced, that's something to tell your grandchildren some day! You beat Jim Potter!"

Jim smiled tightly. "That he did, Mr. Diggory. Your son's an excellent Seeker."

The compliment did nothing to erase the look of complete mortification on Cedric's face, though Jim couldn't tell whether it was due to Cedric's father trying to get one over on the Boy-Who-Lived or simply the implication that winning a school Quidditch match would be the high point of the boy's life.

"Jim fell off his broom, Dad," Cedric muttered. "During a Dementor attack."

"Yes, but you didn't fall off, did you?" Amos roared genially, while slapping his son on the back. "Always modest, our Ced, always the gentleman … but the best man won. I'm sure Jim would 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!"

Amos laughed loudly while his son looked as though he were praying for the floor to open up and swallow him.

"… Indeed," Jim said. His smile was starting to hurt a little.

"Dad…!" Cedric said almost miserably.

The elder Diggory looked over to his son with a suddenly firm glare. "Don't whine, Cedric. It's undignified. And don't slouch, either! And for Merlin's sake, learn to accept a compliment when it's given and stand up for yourself. You'll never be Minister for Magic if you don't start showing some self-confidence!"

Cedric looked pained. "Yes, sir," he said quietly. Then, he inhaled deeply and put on a smile that Jim suddenly realized was as fake as his own. "Say, Dad, I'm going to get another butterbeer. Would you like me to get you one as well?"

"No, no," Amos said. "I'm too old for butterbeers. Get me another whiskey and tonic, would you, son?"

Cedric winced and glanced down at the alcoholic drink already in his father's hand.

"Coming right up," he finally said with another fake smile before turning and walking off. Jim hesitated, not sure what to make of Cedric's expression or his sudden insight into the Diggory family dynamics.

"Mr. Diggory …"

"Please, lad! Call me Amos!" Amos clapped Jim firmly on the shoulder.

"Certainly … Amos. I was wondering … if I remember correctly, you're pretty high up in the Department for the Control and Regulation of Magical Creatures, right?"

"Close," Amos said with a smug laugh. "It's the Department for the Regulation and Control of Magical Creatures. You can't have Control without Regulations, I always say!"

Jim forced out a chuckle. "Ha, ha … yeah. So, um, if I might ask … what exactly do you do there?"

"Well, my official title is Assistant Director for Regulatory Enforcement. Basically, I oversee those divisions of the DRCMC who are responsible for dealing with Beings, Beasts, and Spirits who are acting in contravention of Ministry regs. Rounding them up for containment and transport, and then deciding if Walden McNair needs to be brought in."

Jim nodded, even though he had no idea who Walden McNair was. "Beings, Beasts … and Spirits." He took a deep breath. "That includes ghosts, right?"


6:30 (Thirty minutes into the Final match)

Tiberius Nott pulled out a hip flask and threw back a slug of whiskey to calm his nerves. His part in The Plan was not vital, but he still needed to impress the Dark Lord with his execution of it. More importantly, his wife Narcissa thought it was very vital, and that made it a priority in the besotted man's eyes.

While it was probably just paranoia, Nott couldn't help but worry that, for some reason, he was not as high in Lord Voldemort's estimation as others in the Inner Circle. Silly really, since out of that illustrious group, only Narcissa, Barty Jr., and the Dark Lord himself could boast blood as pure as his own. But still, the worry persisted, along with the fear that failure on this mission, despite its "non-vital" nature, might make his fears come true.

Then, he jumped slightly and gave an expletive at the soft chime that sounded from a small box resting on a nearby table. Nott shook his head to clear it.

"Get a hold of yourself, man," he muttered to himself. "Just a few more hours, and it'll be over. And then, Narcissa will … reward you."

Nott opened the box. Inside was an envelope containing a note and three small cards. The note read:

Nimrod,

Biomagical signatures for Targets 4, 5, and 6 are attached.

Good hunting.

January

Each of the three cards bore a picture and a name: Amaryllis Wilkes, Harry Black, and Sirius Black. And each still bore the faint traces of their respective wands … and their owners' magical signatures. Nott removed the cards and carried them over to a large and seemingly empty cage on the opposite side of the tent. He laid the three identity cards down and carefully slid them through the bars of the cage.

"Sköll! Hati!" he snapped.

The cage might have looked empty, but suddenly, there were sounds. Low guttural growls that might have come from two enormous and dangerous dogs but were actually from something much worse. Despite himself, Tiberius Nott shivered at the sound, but he fought down the instinctive fear. Nott's most beloved hunting beasts knew their master's magic, after all, and would never harm him.

The Muggles of the North of England had legends about terrible hellhounds they called Barghests, most likely born of garbled tales about encounters between Muggles and Grims or other magical canids. But the first true Barghests worthy of the name to walk on British soil had been gifts to Nott's grandfather from Grindelwald himself, magical canines bred through the dark magic that Grindelwald stole from Lady Echidna before her fall. Each Barghest was the result of crossbreeding between a boarhound and a Tebo, which was a species of magical warthog indigenous to Africa that was blessed with magic resistant skin and natural invisibility. The Barghests inherited those traits, as well as a preternatural ability to recognize the scent of a wizard's magic and track him effortlessly by its signature.

That was why Nott—who, frankly, was not a terribly brave man—had no fear of the savage beasts he had brought in secret to the World Cup. Intelligent and well-trained, the Barghests knew the magic of the House of Nott and would never harm or disobey a wizard of their line. Nor had they ever failed to hunt down their quarry, as Tiberius knew well from the Muggle-hunting excursions his father and grandfather had taken him on in his youth.

"Here, my boys. Drink in the scent of your prey." He tapped each card in turn, starting with the two schoolchildren.

"These two, you can harm but not kill. At least, not yet." Then, he tapped the picture of Sirius Black.

"That one … you can devour!"

The growls of the invisible beasts intensified, and, seemingly from nowhere, a string of drool appeared in mid-air and slowly dripped down to the floor of the cage. It sizzled when it hit. Tiberius laughed darkly.

"Peter Pettigrew says that Sirius Black can turn into a big black dog and likes to fancy himself as a hellhound," he said to his most beloved hunting dogs. "He has no idea."


Next: The Death Eaters Attack!

AN1: Check out the Sinister Man's web presence on the POS wiki, the POS TV Tropes page, and my Discord server (through which you can see advance previews of this story as it is begin written). Also, the Sinister Man would be profoundly grateful if you checked out my P*****n page and supported my original fiction. Patronage is not necessary to get the free POS previews via Discord.

AN2: What the Sinister Man is reading.

Wrath and Remorse by Frickles. The sequel to A Simple Act of Vengeance.

they say they saw him with a gun by elijahs. A Marauders-era AU fic in which Voldemort takes an unhealthy interest in a young Sirius Black to the dismay of Sirius and everyone who cares about him.

Parchment by silver-drip (on AO3). A WBWL fic with an angry, genderfluid Metamorph Harry, a confused brother, and a broken but basically good James Potter who's trying desperately to keep it together.

the love we deserve by txddylxpin (on AO3). In something of a plot contrivance, Albus gets the Potters to make Snape their Secret Keeper, and he immediately sells them out. Lily sacrifices herself, but James lives and raises Harry with the help of all the Marauders (including Good!Peter).

AN3: Special thanks to my Discord editors: Asmund, BlueWater5, Bob, Darkarus, Professor of Runes, Deprazo, EssayOfThoughts | Aich, Justanotherrandomhuman, kean, Krisni, LFGB, Mr. Nemo, PrettyPinkCupcake, Rubric of Ahriman, Sakkiko, Sandyna (Melanie), Sigurd, SwordOfRome, vaibhavi, village idiot, and Webstriker|Datti. Thanks, guys!

AN4: The part of Antonius Warrington will henceforth be played by Karl Urban. I am seriously considering casting Tom Holland as Cassius because I have never seen Holland in a villain role but think he would be great at it.

AN5: Vital Statistics: Reviews: 16,692. Followers: 17,587. Favorites: 15,811. Communities: 240. Discord followers: 4346! Go Team POS!