"Come on, Bella. We can leave a note for him or something."

"Note?" Harry muttered, stretching and rubbing at his eyes. Why would Lyra be writing him a note? Why was she even in his room? He started to roll over, but caught himself as his foot hit empty air. Right, cot. He sat up instead, running his fingers through his hair. (He needed a shower.) "M'up," he announced, trying to drag his eyes open to prove it. It was surprisingly bright out, the tent — the Black tent, they were at the World Cup, he remembered, in a tent, which was why Lyra and Sirius were in his bedroom, and Blaise wasn't sprawling all over him — didn't have a ceiling, just cloudless blue sky and bright morning sun above him, so he closed them again. Had nothing to do with the fact that he was still half asleep. Nothing at all. (Seriously, this jet lag thing was no joke. What time was it in California? It felt like the middle of the bloody night.) "Wa's goin' on?"

And what had he done with his glasses? It took a moment fishing around in the grass beneath his cot to find them, more or less in the same place he would've put them in his cupboard. When he finally got them on, though, the scene that came into focus couldn't be more different from the cupboard. To all appearances, they were outside, in a round field with silver-speckled black curtains hanging all around the edges of it. They weren't really curtains, of course, they were the walls of the tent, the space inside it ridiculously expanded — enough that it felt weird to Harry, just having their cots set up around a fire. There were a couple of tables and a makeshift loo, but mostly it was just...open space.

Lyra claimed that this was because the tent had been designed for big game hunting — big game like dragons — and obviously you'd want to be able to bring anything you managed to take down into the tent, just for convenience. Harry had no idea if that was true, but he didn't really doubt it, if only because...what the hell else would you do with all this space? Mira said dragon-hunting was illegal, but Sirius had pointed out that laws had never actually stopped any of the Blacks from doing anything, ever, and then everyone had gotten distracted by someone a few tents away putting on an impromptu fireworks show, and some Ministry officials running to stop them, because they were supposed to be pretending to be muggles.

Honestly, Harry was surprised anyone was bothering to try to enforce the Statute of Secrecy right now. They'd probably have to obliviate all the site managers and their families after everyone left anyway, because even the people who were trying to look like muggles were doing a terrible job at it. Half the tents Harry had seen so far couldn't possibly be held up by anything but magic — he'd seen one that had three stories — or they had gardens or chimneys, or little kids flying around on toy brooms outside, or flags with their house crests on them. To be fair, most people had managed to figure out how to dress like muggles...more or less. It was just, the ones who didn't really stood out. There were an awful lot of blokes in dress slacks or chinos or plus-fours or shite that looked like they should be on safari in Nineteen Ten instead of just wearing jeans, but compared to the guys wearing full fucking kilts and tophats or purple polka-dotted orange jodhpurs with a lime-green polo shirt, or that one old man in a ruffled pink nightdress, that was practically normal. (And that wasn't even considering some of the things foreign mages were wearing.)

They'd gotten here yesterday afternoon, and at least half the sites were already occupied, there was no way any muggle anywhere nearby hadn't noticed something weird by now. Like, there were no cars, for example. They were out in the middle of the country somewhere, and there were four or five big fields full of tents — big like you could fit a couple of quidditch pitches in the one they'd been assigned to — separated by small stands of forest, but there weren't any parking lots. Everyone was coming in by portkey or apparating into clearings in the woods. (Including them. Mira and Sirius had brought him and Blaise side-along, which never got better, no matter how many times he did it.) Harry was pretty sure he would think it was weird, thousands of people showing up here in the middle of nowhere, out of nowhere, if he didn't know about magic.

The point was, the whole idea that a hundred thousand wizards from all over the world were going to somehow not get spotted as wizards was a joke.

They'd played along for a little bit, setting up the tent by hand instead of using magic. From the outside, the Black tent was actually one of the more normal-looking ones, aside from being really, really black and kind of medieval-looking. Something like it could at least be built by muggles, it wasn't like it had an attached moat or something, like their neighbors' (complete with animated alligators, swimming around with kids on their backs). They'd built a fire outside, too, just for the look of the thing — and also (mostly) because Sirius liked playing with matches. But as soon as they'd gotten inside, they'd started using magic again, making a second fire and using freezing charms to make a cooler.

Enchantments didn't work inside the tent, "of course" (Harry had no idea why this should be a matter of course), but regular spells did. They probably could've conjured proper beds and shite, but instead Sirius had dug through a couple dozen chests of old camping supplies, come up with these weird cots that made Harry think of American pioneers or something, and a couple of tables that slotted together without any magic at all, because the whole point of tenting (per Lyra) was to get away from all the creature comforts of modern magical life (and also kill monsters). Mira strongly disagreed, even though this didn't actually mean giving up any creature comforts at all, really, just kind of playing at it, like eating whatever they could toast on a stick for dinner, but whatever. Apparently she'd been expecting there to be a proper flat inside the expanded space of the tent.

"Coffee," Blaise muttered, passing Harry a mug and poking at his feet so he could sit.

"We're going exploring!" Lyra said brightly, entirely too awake for...what? three in the morning, California time? earlier? The middle of the bloody night, anyway, no matter how sunny it was.

"Oh, God, Lyra, really? I'm going back to sleep," Mirabella said, flopping back on her own cot and pulling the pillow over her head. "Wake me up for lunch," she added, her voice somewhat muffled.

"That's only like, three hours from now."

"So put up a sound ward and go away."


"Oh, let her sleep," Sirius said, casting the spell. "She didn't go to bed until seven."

"Yeah, but she's been over here as much as I have all summer, she should be used to— Whatever. You guys are coming, right?" She grinned at Harry and Blaise.

Harry didn't even need legilimency to know from the look on Blaise's face that he'd rather not — they'd gone to bed before Mira and the Blacks (assuming those two had even gone to bed at all), but it had still been really late — but Lyra had gone on at length about how Quidditch was boring and the only reason to come to this thing was to meet people from the other side of the world. Because apparently she saw nothing weird about just walking up to random strangers and introducing herself, asking them about Egypt or the Ukraine or wherever they were from. And Blaise was a complete sucker when it came to trying to make the people he liked happy, so yes, they were probably going to go.

"Come on, Harry!" Sirius gave them a disconcertingly similar grin. Harry hadn't noticed for what seemed like a ridiculously long time, but Sirius and Lyra were practically the same person in some ways, which was...unnerving as hell, mostly. "What's the point of being disguised if you don't ever leave the tent?"

Because Harry was in disguise. Lyra had convinced him it was a good idea — probably because she was still under the impression that he didn't know people thought (or had thought) he was dead, but that didn't mean it wasn't actually a good idea. He hadn't had a Voldemort dream for the past two nights, but he was still positive that he was possessing someone important in the British Ministry. Or possibly using the Imperius curse to force him to do shite without Voldemort having to ride around in his pocket in his little demonic doll thing.

He was...less positive, about that last bit.

The last Voldemort dream had been really weird, Harry wasn't entirely sure how much of it was real and how much was just a normal nightmare, but Sirius said it was possible for a wraith to possess a golem, and Lyra insisted it was possible to make a golem that was only a foot tall, though the enchanting would be stupidly difficult, assuming Crouch had used the traditional approach to animating the thing, which he might not have because...reasons. (She'd babbled on about it for nearly half an hour, but that was the point where Harry stopped listening, because he really didn't care.)

Anyway, he was completely certain that Voldemort was somewhere in Britain, which meant he was much more enthusiastic about this disguise thing now than he had been three days ago, when it was just a matter of convenience (people not freaking out about his general existence) and seeing how long it would take for Lyra to realise that he knew she'd faked his death the whole time. Which meant he'd been much more willing to let Lyra and Blaise fool around with his hair and cast glamour charms on him for what he was sure was mostly their own amusement, because yes, his hair was kind of ridiculous — not only did it refuse to be straightened, but it also apparently wouldn't hold a Colour Changing Charm for shite — but he was pretty sure they hadn't needed to spend three hours playing with it.

They'd eventually decided to just grow it out long enough to braid it back out of his face — which, Harry thought it looked girly, but Blaise assured him just looked like he was from the Nineteen Forties. They'd also changed the distinctive green of his eyes to a light grey, like Sirius's, and transfigured his glasses so the frames were light and metallic and kind of rectangular instead of round, which, along with having his hair pulled back, made his face look like it was an entirely different shape, and Mira had showed him how to use muggle make-up to hide his scar (which he thought he might just do all the time).

Lyra, very amused, had pointed out that all this kind of made him look like he could be her brother, as in the child of Tom Riddle and Bellatrix Lestrange, which... She wasn't wrong, and that was kind of unnerving to realise ("We even look something alike..."), but Harry kind of thought it was worth it — at least he didn't look like himself. Sirius had suggested that, if it came up, they could claim totally-not-Harry was actually his bastard son from a fling during the war, recently rediscovered, hurrah, they just needed to come up with a fake name for him. Like...John, or something.

Harry really didn't see any need to do that, though, because the point was to avoid most people's notice. Anyone who talked to him would probably figure out who he was immediately — plus everyone knew he was on holiday with the Blacks, and they weren't in disguise.

"I was planning on leaving the tent sometime," he groused. "It's just—" He yawned, cutting himself off. "—early. It's early."

"Give it up, Harry," Blaise advised him, glaring at Lyra over his own mug. "They have no sympathy for we mere mortals with our petty human need for sleep."


"None whatsoever."

"So, are you coming?"

"Of course they're coming, Siri, what are they going to do, just sit around being bored now that they're up? That's boring."

Which, well...Harry couldn't really argue with that, not when the entire bloody magical world, it seemed like, was right outside, and they were only hours away from the World Cup Final. (Sirius had managed to get them seats in the top box, it was going to be amazing.) "Yeah, alright, just— Let me get dressed, and...food?" Because now the coffee was starting to kick in, he was realising that he actually was kind of hungry.

"Food is also a petty human concern," Lyra informed him. "But yes, we kind of got carried away with toasting shite, so there's bacon and marshmallows outside. Come on, get up."

By the time Harry and Blaise finally made their way out of the tent, it was midmorning in Britain, regardless of the time in California, and the camp all around them had long since come back to life. They were in a mostly English- and French-speaking area, which meant that pretty much everyone had been awake for hours, the whole place was buzzing with excitement. According to Sirius (who had apparently been hanging out with a bunch of American mages at some point last night), there were other areas where everyone was sleeping — apparently the organisers had set it up like that on purpose. There had to be hundreds of people milling around, wandering between tents visiting with each other, most sporting at least something showing their support for Ireland.

They were, too, of course. Sirius had managed to find muggle-style sport jerseys with the Irish chasers' names scrolling across the back, which was what he and Harry were wearing. Blaise, who claimed to be far too cool to wear such a thing, had been forced into a green tophat with an obnoxious singing shamrock by Lyra, presumably simply because she thought it was funny — she didn't have anything particularly pro-Irish for herself, just a green shirt with some fancy celtic knot thing embroidered around the collar in gold.

Harry thought he could be forgiven for thinking, at first, that the Irish were overwhelmingly popular — they were the favorites to win, if by a relatively slim margin. Victor Krum, the Bulgarian seeker, was one of the best the sport had ever seen (according to an article Harry had seen in Inside Quidditch after the semi-finals), but the Irish chasers were so much better than the Bulgarian starting three that all the serious arithmancers (and Lyra) were saying they would almost certainly get far enough ahead that it wouldn't matter if Krum caught the snitch. It would really all come down to how good their keepers were. And almost everyone Harry had seen for the first hour or so they'd been wandering around was clearly supporting Ireland.

But then they'd found the souvenir stalls, where there were just as many red-and-white clad Bulgarian supporters as green-and-white Irish supporters (and quite a lot of foreigners who weren't obviously on either side for this match, their countries' teams long-since eliminated).

"Hey, want a Firebolt, Harry?" Blaise asked, recapturing Harry's attention from the very loud, probably staged argument between the witch selling Bulgarian flags that sang the Bulgarian national anthem when they were waved, and the wizard selling Irish flags that sang the Irish national anthem. He was pretty sure the Bulgarian witch was shouting lines from Monty Python in French — Harry still didn't really speak French, but she clearly didn't know the French word for 'elderberry' any more than he did, kind of gave it away — which was just...what?


Look, they're tiny Firebolts. You know, if you still want one, Blaise thought, poking a model broomstick on display. It zipped to the other side of the table the model-seller had set up, very nearly knocking over a tiny Victor Krum, which scowled up at them as though it knew they were responsible.

Harry snorted. He would have liked a Firebolt, it was the best broom in the bloody world according to everyone, but he couldn't justify spending that much money on a bloody broom, even if he could afford it (and Lyra wasn't the least bit concerned about him paying her back for it anyway). He'd ended up getting the latest Nimbus, the 2001, which was the same as Malfoy and the rest of the Slytherin team had. It handled slightly better than the 2000 had done, but was similar enough that it had only taken a couple of evenings' practice to get used to it. A bloody Firebolt would probably have taken a lot longer to break in. (And cost nearly as much as Uncle Vernon's car, seriously, it was ridiculous.)

The little models were cool, though. "How much?"

"One sickle five."

"Blaise! Harry! Look what I found!" Lyra fought her way out of the crowd waving what looked like a pair of brass binoculars above her head, even as Harry rummaged in his pockets for change.

"Damn. Blaise, I'm short a knut. Do you..."

Blaise sniggered, but refrained from making a terrible pun (didn't matter, Harry had gone red as soon as he realised a terrible pun could be made), just handed him the little copper coin. "What's that, Lyra?"

"They're called omnioculars — I have no idea how they work! I mean, the basic enchantment, sure, that's just recording and variable-speed playback, but they can supposedly do a play-by-play recap, in real time! Here, I got extras," she said, shoving a pair of omnioculars at each of them. "I may need them back if I break mine before I figure them out, but you can use them until then."

"Yeah, that's Black," a dry, wry voice said, just behind Harry.

He turned to see Gin Weasley, flanked by Fred and George, all three wearing pointed hats with dancing shamrocks on them, and rosettes that were squeaking the names of the Irish chasers on a loop (Troy! Mullet! Moran!).

"Hey, Red. Boys. Having fun?" Blaise said, by way of greeting.

"Oh, yeah, we're going to take Bagman for like, thirty-five galleons."

"Poor bastard gave us seven-to-one odds on Ireland winning, but Krum getting the snitch."

Lyra smirked. "You really think he can cover that? Hey, Gin. Good summer?"

"There you all are!" Before Gin could answer, Sirius appeared behind the twins, who looked to see who was suddenly shouting in their ears and grinned.

"You were the one who disappeared." Apparently to get his face painted, because his eyes were now surrounded by a mask of green and gold curly-ques and sort of paisley patterns. He was also covered in glitter, but he had been covered in glitter when he and Lyra woke Harry up. Scantily-clad Brazilians were apparently involved. (Harry kind of did want to know the rest of the story, there, but he hadn't been able to get Sirius to focus long enough to tell it.)

"Nonsense, John!" (Blaise and Lyra both smirked at the stupid pseudonym. Harry just rolled his eyes.)

"Hey, if you lot aren't buying anything, move along!" the wizard selling models interrupted, clearly annoyed. They were kind of blocking his entire table.

Harry grabbed his tiny Firebolt. "Yeah, sorry. Come on, there's tables over by...that way," he said, pointing toward a bunch of food carts on the edge of the little marketplace.

By the time they got far enough out of the throng around the salespeople that Harry could actually hear the conversations around him clearly, Lyra was saying, "Well I tried to visit, but some paranoid arsehole warded your house against shadow-walking, so."

("Ah, yes," "That would be Bill.")

And Gin was staring at him rather disconcertingly. "Harry?"

"No, he's John Williams," Sirius said, completely straight-faced, before immediately turning back to making fun of Lyra for insisting on using illegal dark magic for everything instead of just fucking apparating to the Weasleys' (completely disregarding the fact that she really wasn't supposed to be apparating either, since she wasn't old enough to get a license).

"Er...yeah. I didn't want people to... Never mind. Hey, Gin."

"So...you didn't want people to freak out over you being Harry Potter, so you decided to dress up as Tom Riddle?"

"No, he's John Williams, Sirius's recently rediscovered bastard son," Blaise informed her.

Harry groaned. "You don't have to call me that. And I didn't do it on purpose, I just didn't want to look like me, and...this is just how it turned out. Blame those two." He jerked a thumb at Blaise and Lyra, who...had been right there. "Where did...?"

"Mira told her to wake her up for lunch, and apparently she and Sirius are getting food. Well, funnel cakes."

Right, so she'd just used illegal dark magic to pop back to the tent for a couple of minutes. (Harry briefly wondered if it was good for her to be doing that so casually — she had just gotten stuck in the shadows for a week, maybe she should...not spend so much time jumping in and out of them? Not that he thought his opinion on the matter would carry any weight whatsoever.) Now that Blaise pointed it out, Sirius was in line for one of the food carts, still chattering with the twins about...something. Probably something joke-shop-related, Harry was vaguely aware that they were going to try to start a business when they left school, and Sirius had very obviously never really moved past his glory days pranking people at Hogwarts with Harry's father. (Not that Harry really blamed him, the rest of his life had basically been war and dementors, and a family that made the Dursleys look positively nice.)

"Whatever. What have you been up to all summer, Gin?"

She shrugged. "I've been spending a lot of time at Justin's. Black warded his pool house so we can practice, and, well... Mum's not there, so."

Harry gave her a sympathetic grimace. He wasn't really sure what Gin's problem with Mrs. Weasley was, but he'd gathered over the course of their dueling practices last term that they didn't really get on. And honestly, he couldn't see Mrs. Weasley being...okay with Gin...basically spending every free moment she had practicing dueling spells. Even Harry thought she was kind of...intimidatingly intense, about the whole learning to fight thing.

"I did get to meet Cassie Lovegood, though," she added, grinning. "I was just going over to visit Luna, and we ended up drinking tea and it was just...surreal, I think, is the word."

Cassie Lovegood was, like, the Victor Krum of International Dueling, one of the best the League had ever seen. Except, unlike Krum, she also supposedly went around killing bloody Dark Lords between tournaments, and he was pretty sure she only used light magic to do it. (Kind of hard for him to imagine someone related to Luna being that much of a badass, but.) Harry was actually kind of jealous — he didn't follow professional dueling, really, but Lovegood sounded awesome. "Wish I could've been there."

Gin's grin somehow managed to grow broader. "Apparently she's going to be in Britain all year, something to do with the Triwizard Tournament."

"She's one of the judges," Blaise volunteered.

"Judges?" "Who's" "judging" "what?"

"The Triwizard Tournament, and Castalia Lovegood, among others. Mira said she's going to be teaching Defense, too."

The twins' mouths dropped open in identical speechless stares. Gin, though, looked like Christmas had come early. "Are you serious?! Zabini, I could kiss you!"

Harry felt himself go red again at that suggestion. It had only been two days since he had finally caved to Blaise's constant flirting and snogged him, and he didn't know what was supposed to happen now. He'd spent so much time worrying about the snogging part of...were they, like...dating, now? — that he hadn't really thought much about the...relationship? itself. Blaise, of course, was still acting like everything was perfectly normal, because Blaise was never awkward about anything. (Which was good, because Harry was definitely awkward enough for the both of them.)

Thankfully, the twins recovered before Gin could realise why he'd reacted that way to what she'd just said (because he was sure she was going to give him shite over it when she finally found out). "TRIWIZARD TOURNAMENT?!"

"Isn't your father in the Ministry?"

"Yeah, but he doesn't tell us things like your mother does," Gin said.

"Wait!" "You knew!" "Ginny!" "You traitor!" "Why didn't" "you tell us?!" "We've got" "to enter!"

"You can't, you have to be seventeen."

"And I'm going to be the Hogwarts Champion, anyway," Lyra said, appearing out of nowhere with her arm linked through that of a very flustered Mirabella.

"Lyra. Never do that to me again." She actually sounded shaken, which, given that Mira was normally about as likely to let on what she was feeling as Blaise, Harry took to mean that getting dragged through Lyra's shadow dimension thing was downright terrifying, and maybe he didn't want to learn after all, even if it did mean not having to be apparated anywhere ever again.

Whatever response went along with the half-surprised, half-confused look Lyra gave her was cut off by the twins objecting loudly to her becoming the Hogwarts Champion. "If we can't enter, you can't either!" "You're even younger than we are!"

"Yeah, but I'm me."

"Triwizard Tournament?" Sirius asked, rejoining the group, laden with plates of fried, sugar-coated food. Mira nodded.

("So?" "They won't let you enter, either!" "Besides, even if you did get in, you wouldn't have a chance." "You're still only fourteen!")

("I'd like to see 'them' try to stop me, and have you met me? Me only being fourteen is the only way anyone else would have a chance.")

("She's so arrogant, Fred!" "I know, George! It's adorable." "You know people have died" "in this thing, right?")

"Funnel cake?" Sirius offered, waving the plate in front of them.

"No, I'm afraid shadow-walking doesn't agree with me," Mira said, still looking rather green.

("That's what makes it fun!" said with the trademark Black mad grin.)

"Yeah, well, you're human, aren't you," Sirius muttered, implying that Lyra wasn't, but quietly enough that Harry didn't think she or the twins heard him.

Gin definitely did, but she didn't look especially surprised, either because she also knew Lyra wasn't human, or because she thought Sirius was exaggerating or something. Harry was pretty sure Sirius thought he was exaggerating, but he wasn't, really. Lyra had even admitted it, after he'd almost killed her trying to save her from that fucking lethifold last week (and coincidentally fixing her stuck-in-the-shadows-and-therefore-intangible problem, so she wasn't even mad, but that wasn't the point). Apparently, on top of being a fucking clone of Bellatrix fucking Lestrange, and having an actual god living in her head, she'd (mostly accidentally, he thought) turned herself into some kind of half-human shadow creature because learning to shadow walk like a normal person (as though normal people learned that sort of shite in the first place) would take too long.

Harry had learned a lot of secrets about Lyra over the summer, most of which he...wasn't really sure he'd wanted to know. Obviously he'd thought he did, but the more he found out, the more unnerving and terrifying she seemed, even if she did act like a spoilt kid a lot of the time.


"Er...no, thanks." They'd just had bacon and marshmallows two hours ago — if Harry hadn't already known that they were insane, that particular combination of 'breakfast' items definitely would've given it away — and one marshmallow was about all the sugar he could stand this early in the morning. (It was still the middle of the night in California.)

"I want one!" Lyra announced, moving to snatch a funnel cake off the plate, but Sirius lifted it out of her reach, sniggering, because he also acted like a spoilt kid a lot of the time. "Don't be an arse, Siri!"

"Not my fault you're a midget, Bella."

"You're not even that much taller than me! Accio! Ha! I win!" She gave him a triumphant grin, stowing her wand and sinking her teeth into the pastry.

"Hey! Summoning Charms are cheating!"

"Just wait until I figure out freeform levitation! Your five inches will mean nothing!"

Sirius smirked. "Five inches? I think I might be insulted — you greatly underestimate me, I assure you!"

Mira groaned, even as the twins echoed, "Freeform" "levitation?"

"I think that's our cue to be...anywhere else," Blaise muttered to Harry and Gin. "Unless you want to stick around and see if Lyra and Sirius can get even more hyper if you give them enough sugar."

"Er...no." Gin linked her arms through each of theirs, and started dragging them away, calling back to her brothers over her shoulder, "Fred, George, if Dad asks, tell him I'm with Harry and Blaise. We're going to find sane people to hang out with, thanks, bye!"

Harry looked back to see Sirius waving at them, and Mira giving them an overly-exaggerated why have you betrayed me look. "Is she really going to be mad we're leaving her alone with them?"

Not that he actually wanted to stick around himself, especially if they were going to start doing the totally inappropriate flirting thing again. Harry suspected that Lyra had no idea how creepy it sounded when Sirius said shite like that, and she just went along, playing into it. Sirius probably did, if only because he didn't make that sort of joke when he was just talking to Harry or Blaise — or even Mira, and they were actually sleeping together!

Yeah, well, she'd already know how big it is, wouldn't she, Blaise thought at him, shot through with teasing amusement.

Harry did his level best to ignore him, much like he tried to ignore Sirius saying shite that he really shouldn't be saying to any fourteen-year-old girl, and especially not one who was also his bloody cousin! Even if she didn't seem to mind, it made everyone around them really uncomfortable. Well, everyone but Mira. And Blaise... Okay, maybe it just made Harry uncomfortable, but still! He was pretty sure he wasn't the weird one, here! He was just surrounded by crazy people.

You love it, don't lie. "Mira's a big girl, she can take care of herself."

"Yeah, and it's not like the twins are going to abandon her, they've been wanting to meet Sirius for months — apparently he's like their fucking hero, or something?"

Harry dragged his mind back to the conversation (away from the reason Black incest jokes were a thing) with a bit of effort. "Er, yeah, he and my dad were big pranksters when they were at school. Professor Lupin, too, I guess. Called themselves the Marauders."

"Dorks," Blaise smirked, leading them off down one of the main thoroughfares between tents, apparently at random. Well, was there somewhere you wanted to go, specifically? (There wasn't.) "So, Gin, how's Justin?" he said, his tone implying that there was something going on between the two of them, though Harry was pretty sure she hadn't even noticed Justin's (kind of pathetic) crush on her.

Her response only confirmed that impression. "Oh, he's fine, never mind him — where have you two been all summer? You do know that Dumbledore flipped out over you disappearing, told everyone you were dead? And then that you weren't, but the damage was already done."

"Er...yeah, I did know that." And he was still determined not to care, because Lyra was right that he deserved a holiday, and even if he didn't he shouldn't have to stay with the fucking Dursleys, and Blaise was right that he didn't owe Magical Britain shite, and the people he cared about wouldn't believe he was dead if Blaise and Lyra told them he wasn't. "We've been in California."

"Well, would it've killed you to come back for a day or two and show everyone you're alive? I mean, Mum still thinks you might be dead. She and Ron didn't believe me when I told them Hermione was right about Black faking the whole thing."

"Most people don't know Lyra that well," Blaise pointed out.

"Well, yeah, I guess, but—"

"Wait, Hermione actually told people that Lyra faked my death?" Obviously Lyra hadn't said anything about that specifically, since she would've had to admit that she'd faked his death, but Harry was pretty sure she hadn't been really annoyed with Hermione at any point during the summer. She wasn't really subtle when she was. He'd been treated to more than one rant about Narcissa Malfoy totally spoiling Draco, for example. (Knowing that Lyra was really Bellatrix Lestrange's daughter made a lot of things about the way she talked about the Malfoys make a lot more sense.) And they were kind of dating now, so he couldn't really believe Hermione had done anything Lyra really didn't want her to.

"Er...yeah. It was in the Quibbler. Xeno Lovegood put out a Special Edition, scooped Dumbledore's retraction — about half the bloody country is blaming her for all the political shite that's happened since then."

"Political shite?" Harry hadn't really heard much of anything about politics all summer — Lyra had been editing their post so that he wouldn't find out that people thought he might be dead — which had been nice, because he really didn't care about any of it, but if people were blaming Hermione for it... That he was pretty sure he cared about.

It was bad enough when the papers and all the idiots at Hogwarts were blaming him for shite he had bugger all to do with, and he wasn't even a muggleborn with no money or connections to speak of (which was the sort of thing he wished didn't matter, but in Magical Britain, it definitely did). And Dumbledore was...Dumbledore. He was the most powerful wizard in the whole bloody country, there was no reason the press and the public wouldn't just go ahead and massacre some random muggleborn girl who came out and said he was wrong, even if she was absolutely right about it. "Is Hermione okay?"

He'd gotten a couple of letters from her, and she hadn't said anything — she'd sounded fine when they talked on the phone last week, though they hadn't spoken very long...and if Lyra could find some way to keep articles about Harry and Dumbledore out of their newspapers — which she had, it wasn't as though he hadn't seen a paper at all over the summer — she could definitely edit Hermione's letters, and the idea that she would even hesitate to because who the fuck does shite like that was laughable, so...

I'm sure she's fine, Harry. They might be insulting her in the papers and shite, but I'm sure Andi's made it known that anyone who fucks with her is fucking with the House of Black, so they won't do anything more than that. Probably won't even print anything too bad.

That was...kind of reassuring.

Less so because Gin just groaned. "Haven't you been reading the papers?"

"Lyra's been cutting all the political fallout out of them, she doesn't know Harry knows about her faking his death," Blaise explained. "I don't actually know much about it, either. Mira's mostly only said anything about the shite the Department of Education's gotten done because of it, so..."

"Ugh, fine, I'll fill you in..."

So they wandered around aimlessly for what seemed like hours, talking about basically all of Magical British politics imploding because Harry had decided to go on holiday without telling Dumbledore, and looking at fantastical tents. Which were much less amusing when they were talking about Harry accidentally sparking off a bloody change of government. Or possibly being used to intentionally spark off said political chaos, but he wasn't sure he was willing to give Lyra that much credit for the whole debacle. (Even if she would probably take it, given half a chance.)

Gin was halfway through a tangent about her family getting seats in the top box with them because of some favor Mr. Weasley had done for Ludo Bagman, the Head of the Department of Games and Sports (Harry had no idea how they'd even gotten on the subject), when they wandered into what had to be the Irish Irish camp — the tents were covered with living shamrocks, and there suddenly wasn't a person in sight who was wearing anything other than green and white.

"Ginny?" a boy's voice called, interrupting her. They turned to see Seamus Finnegan waving at them from beside a nearby fire, sitting with Dean Thomas and...and Ron.

Harry froze. It had been months since he'd spoken to Ron. He'd written letters, of course, but Ron had never written back. Gin said he didn't know what to say, that he was embarrassed, or something, that he'd been pulled out of school. Blaise said he didn't know what to say because he resented Harry having a life without him, but didn't want to say so, because that would mean their friendship was definitely over. Harry preferred Gin's explanation, obviously. He still wasn't sure what Blaise's deal was with Ron. (It occurred to him that he might be good enough at legilimency now to try to figure that out, he'd have to try the next time they actually sat down to practice.)

"See, I told you it was her," Seamus said to Ron, who glared at her as they made their way over, Harry in a bit of a daze.

"Ginny! What are you doing wandering around with Zabini? Dad told you to stay with Fred and George!"

"Way to sound like Percy, arsehole. If you can go off by yourself, I don't see why I shouldn't be allowed. Hi, Seamus, Dean. You know Blaise Zabini, right?"

("I'm a year older, than you! And, well...")

("I didn't get kicked out of school, and if you say it's because I'm a girl, I'll hex your balls off.")

"We've met," Blaise said drily. "Finnegan, Thomas, Weasley. This is John, he's—"

"Oh, knock it off, Blaise, they're going to—"

"Harry?" Dean interrupted.

That. We do share a bloody dorm room, you know. Harry would've been more surprised if they hadn't recognised him the second he opened his mouth.

"Hi, guys."

"Harry?" Ron echoed him, completely distracted from his bickering with his sister. "Blimey, I didn't even recognise you, all dressed up like... Who are you supposed to be, anyway? Malfoy's bloody cousin?"

Harry shrugged uncomfortably, though that did fit just perfectly with Lyra's and Gin's observations.

Blaise flung an arm around his shoulders, as he tended to do. "You should've seen him when we made him blond. Really, I think it turned out pretty well. Much less French prostitute than Darling Draco."

Ron tried to glare at him, but couldn't quite manage it. In all fairness, Lyra's description of Malfoy looking like a French prostitute always made Harry snigger a bit, too.

"Still kinda girly, though," Dean noted.

"I just didn't want people to be all over me, what with, you know, the whole thing with Dumbledore. I'm not dead, by the way."

"Never thought you were, mate," Ron said loyally, even as Seamus offered them a seat, gesturing at a couple of logs which were obviously going to be thrown on the fire eventually, but in the meanwhile would make perfectly serviceable stools, turned up on end.

"You are such a bad liar," Gin scoffed. "And it doesn't look that bad, Harry, just, you know, really old-fashioned."

"So...where've you been all summer?" Ron asked, blatantly ignoring her.

"Yeah, there's all kinds of rumors going around, like you getting kidnapped by Fenrir Greyback while you were on holiday in Germany."


Gin rolled her eyes. "Oh, you know how people just make shite up for the Prophet. No one believes them, not really. Hermione's letter in the Quibbler said you were on holiday with the Blacks."

"Didn't say where, though." Dean leaned in, clearly anticipating a good story.

So Harry found himself sitting around a fire at the World Cup, filling his roommates in on some of the more...normal stories that had happened over the summer, telling them about exploring Los Angeles and visiting a muggle amusement park for his birthday and the night they had taken age potions and gone to a concert, uncomfortably aware that Ron was getting more and more irritated, over there on the other side of Seamus, though honestly, he had no idea why. (And he definitely wasn't going to go poking around in his mind to find out, even if Ron probably wouldn't notice.)

This must be, he thought, what Blaise meant when he complained about people thinking too loudly. Harry was good enough at occlumency to stop himself just overhearing most of the shite random passers-by were thinking, and everyone he ever really talked to was good enough at occlumency to stop themselves projecting their emotions all over the place. But it was absolutely impossible to sit here and ignore the cloud of resentment growing around Ron.

He was halfway through telling them about going to an early premiere of a really bad comedy movie — the future late Mister Zabini got them tickets, apparently he was someone important in Hollywood, though Harry still didn't know exactly what he did — when he decided he couldn't take it anymore. "So, Sirius decided that sounded like the sort of thing he'd like a lot more than Lyra, and she wasn't even there, anyway, and—" He cut himself off to glare at his ex-best mate. "Okay, Ron, what the hell is up with you?"

Everyone else turned to look at Ron, too, obviously confused. Well, aside from Blaise, who was just vaguely amused, like he almost always was — he just raised an eyebrow at Harry, his lips twitching slightly in a badly-suppressed smirk. I'm not saying I told you so, but...

Oh, shut up, Blaise.

"What the hell is up with me? What the hell is up with you, Harry? You're the one who– who spent the whole summer letting the entire country think you were dead so you could run around fucking Hollywood acting like a spoilt fucking nob!" he scoffed. "I mean, I was joking about you looking like Malfoy, but... It's like I don't even know you anymore!"

Harry bit his tongue on his first response, but then decided to say it anyway. "Yeah, well, that's what happens when you drop out of school and fucking disappear."

"Oh, yeah, because you've been trying so hard to keep in touch!"

"Ha! Like you can talk! I wrote you four letters! You never wrote back! I can take a fucking hint, Ron."

Ron flushed, but didn't apologise, or even offer an explanation — Harry half expected he'd say it was like when Dobby had been intercepting Harry's post, that Mrs. Weasley wasn't letting him write. But no. "You've still been spending all your time hanging out with Black and Zabini and not giving a single shite that we all thought you were fucking kidnapped or something — you were just having a grand old time, living it up! Nice, being rich, is it?"

Harry felt his eyes narrow, entirely involuntarily. "When have I ever cared about money, Ron? I'd've camped out with the ghoul in your attic if it meant I didn't have to go back to the Dursleys! But somehow, I don't think your mum would've told Dumbledore to fuck off so I wouldn't have to be locked in my bedroom for half the summer—" Lyra had. Harry had been vaguely horrified when Sirius had told him about it, but it was probably the nicest thing anyone had ever done for him. "—and I know Hermione and Lyra told him that we were just going on holiday!" It was hardly Harry's fault Dumbledore had gone and told everyone he was dead without actually checking first!

Ron, if anything, only grew more furious. "Lyra, Lyra, Lyra! Just because you fancy her doesn't make her fucking perfect, you know! I've got news for you, Harry — do you want to know who she really is? I mean really?"

Was he really going to...?

Yeah, Blaise thought at him, accompanied by a wave of resigned annoyance.

"Bellatrix fucking Lestrange, Harry! She's not just her daughter, she's actually her. Dumbledore told mum, she's evil, and you've just been letting her run your fucking life, and—"

And right now, Harry was really starting to get why Lyra cut people off with that stupid silencing jinx all the time. "Shut up."

"Yeah, if someone told the Harry Potter I know that he was living with a fucking Death Eater, he wouldn't just sit there staring like a fucking Zabini—" He gestured at Blaise, who was staring at him, his face completely emotionless, which probably meant he was thinking of horrible curses he could use on Ron, but didn't want Ron to know he was getting to him. The fact that he didn't respond and wouldn't let Harry peek into his mind to check only reinforced that suspicion.

"Oh, you want to piss me off? Fine! I said shut up, Ron! She's not actually Lestrange, I don't care what Dumbledore told your mum, I know exactly who she is, and she's not the same person, she didn't do any of the shite Lestrange did! She's not a fucking Death Eater, she's not evil, or using me, or whatever you think— She might be fucking crazy, but she's done a hell of a lot more for me than Dumbledore ever has! And she's not running my life, and I don't fancy her, okay! She's my fucking cousin!"

"Oh, like that's ever stopped a fucking Black!"

"Aren't your parents second cousins, Weasley?" Blaise pointed out, his tone so light and normal in contrast with the way he'd closed his mind off that Harry had to do a double take.

"Fuck off, Zabini! This has nothing to do with you!"

"Doesn't it? Some people would call Lyra my sister, you know. Reciprocal godparents, and all that. Would it be your business if I were to call Gin, there, an evil Death Eater?"

"You already call me a violent heathen child, Zabini," Gin interjected.

"Hush, Red. I'm trying to make a point here. I can hardly sit by while this idiot insults the reputation of a girl who might as well be my sister, can I?"

"Since when is telling the truth an insult?!"

"Since it's not true?" he suggested, his tone still unnervingly mild. "Keep up, Weasley. And if you don't want to end up in a dueling circle, pissing yourself in fear like Darling Draco, keep your lies to yourself."

"I'm not afraid of you!"

"No, you envy me. I have everything you only wish you had. Money. Influence. Harry. You hate me for being smarter than you and more popular, which, seriously? That's a really low bar, Weasley. People don't like me. And you hate yourself for wishing you were more like a slimy snake, and your mother for taking you away from Hogwarts and the only thing you had going for you — your friendship with the Harry Potter — and Harry himself for destroying your pretty little delusion of having some degree of importance to...anyone, simply by having his own life.

"You are afraid of Lyra, though. Don't blame you, really — any sane person would be. She could, after all, have grown up to become Bellatrix Lestrange, in another life. You certainly wouldn't—"

"Blaise, that's enough," Harry said firmly. Angry as he might be with Ron, nobody deserved to have Blaise tear them apart. (He'd seen memories. They weren't pretty.) Plus, it was only a matter of time until Ron tried to curse him, or even just hit him, and then they'd all be in trouble, because Harry didn't think he could just let him, no matter how much of a shite Blaise was being to him.

"What? Apparently it's not an insult to say true things." He managed to say that entirely straight-faced, but ruined any chance of Harry thinking he actually believed it by immediately smirking like the world's biggest, most self-satisfied arse.

"Not funny," Harry informed him. "Knock it off."

Blaise raised an eyebrow at him. Are you sure?

Yes, Blaise, I'm sure. Let's just go back to the tent — get lunch, or take a nap, or something.

"If you insist." He rose to his feet with the same unnatural grace he always had, and then, before Harry even realised what he was doing, wrapped an arm around his waist and kissed him on the mouth, right in front of all of them.

And then shot a smug grin at Ron, clearly aware of his disgust (But he's a Slytherin! And a bloke! That's just wrong!) and Harry's reflexive annoyance — what business did Ron have, judging him for snogging Blaise? Granted, Blaise had definitely just done that to piss him off, but what if they'd still been mates? Ron would still have thought the idea of Harry snogging a (male) Slytherin completely repulsive. Even if he'd gotten a girlfriend who wasn't a Slytherin — Hermione or, say...Cho Chang, for example — Ron still wouldn't have been happy with him. Blaise was right, he hated the very idea of having to share Harry with anyone, and that was just...creepy as hell, honestly.

See what I meant? Blaise asked, tugging at the memory of their last conversation about Ron, on the train. Which was dangerously close to an I told you so.

"Do try to keep my advice in mind, won't you, Weasley?" he said, over Ginny's delighted squeal and clapping and the others' shock, the faintest trace of sarcasm on his voice. He nodded in farewell to the others, smoothly turning to go without releasing Harry's waist — he might be shite at the whole dancing thing (Lyra had decided to teach him, in preparation for the Triwizard Tournament ball thing that was still six months away), but Blaise was really good.

(He and Lyra had done a tango for him one afternoon, just showing off, which was definitely not the sort of dance you did with your sister — Harry was pretty sure that whole bit had just been an excuse for Blaise to take over his fight with Ron, because he didn't want Harry to get hurt, or some stupid thing—)

"Am I really so transparent?" he murmured, almost laughing. "By the way, I hope you weren't having second thoughts about snogging me, because I'm pretty sure everyone's going to know we're a thing before the train gets to Hogwarts if Gin has anything to say about it..."

There were advantages, Harry decided, to dating a legilimens. The biggest one obviously being that he didn't actually have to find words to tell him that no, he was kind of embarrassed, but definitely not having second thoughts — but was that really necessary?

Oh yes, definitely necessary. So, lunch? Something not toasted on a stick, maybe?

Sounds great.

The second the swirling chaos of portkey travel shuddered to an abrupt halt, the Irish delegation all tumbled to the ground, their Saoirse escorts left standing over them.

She let out a snort, bent over to offer Michael a hand up. "See what I mean?"

For a brief moment he scowled up at her, hard green eyes simmering with annoyance, black hair almost comically tousled from the portkey. Then he let out an irritated sigh, took her hand, popped back up to his feet.

And Michael Cavan, Tánaiste of the Republic of Ireland, had arrived for the final of the Quidditch World Cup.

Síomha still wasn't certain this was a good idea, bringing a delegation from the Irish muggle government here. No, that wasn't true — she knew it wasn't a good idea, she'd known from the beginning. But they'd done it anyway, because apparently everyone in both Saoirse's leadership council and the Republic's Department of Foreign Affairs had gone completely insane.

It had come up incidentally, discussing arrangements for their delegation to Hogwarts for the bloody Triwizard Tournament, that the World Cup was being held in Alba, and that the Irish National team would be playing. Fionn had then had to explain why exactly Éire got a national quidditch team despite not being independent on the magical side, which had taken some doing, a bit about how large of an event it was by magical standards, blah blah.

Apparently, once they'd gotten the picture of it, Niall (one of Michael's people) had pointed out that, much like the 1913 Treaty of Anglesey required the magical officials to invite their non-magical counterparts to international events like the Triwizard Tournament, shouldn't they be invited to the World Cup too? especially if "their" team was playing? Fionn had said he'd been completely blindsided because, yes, the Ministry was required to invite both the Republic and the United Kingdom to send a delegation — the former because it was "their" team (and that was only somewhat sarcastic, three of the starters were muggleborns, they were legitimately Irish citizens) and the latter because it was technically being held on their soil — and this had somehow never occurred to him, to any of them.

The Republic's ambassador to the UK then did a bit of poking around and, apparently, the Ministry had invited the British government to send someone — they'd elected not to — but, apparently, it had slipped their minds that they were obligated by treaty to involve the Irish government as well. Again.

Síomha hadn't been in the room at the time, but she'd been told that when his people had informed the Tánaiste just how the Republic had been snubbed by the magical government, again, Michael had insisted they'd be sending a delegation without direct Ministry involvement, again, and if the Ministry didn't like it they could just go fuck themselves. He'd also insisted (over protest) that he'd be going himself — which seemed like overkill, the Tánaiste personally leading an official diplomatic delegation to a bloody quidditch game, but what did she know — mostly because he was furious, and he knew the Minister and Crouch would be there, and he wasn't going to skip out on an opportunity to give them both a piece of his mind.

And now they were here in the middle of the portkey receiving field, the muggles picking themselves off the grass with hands up from mages in Saoirse's small (but growing) militia, and it was really too late to do anything to stop it. But Síomha still couldn't shake the feeling that this was a terrible, terrible idea. This was going to go wrong, she just knew it, and it was going to go spectacularly wrong.

She had to admire the stones Michael had, but the fiery-mouthed politician was going to get himself killed at this rate.

(But not if she had anything to say about it. He really was growing on her.)

"Heads up," came a soft, whispered voice — Fionn had found his way back to Síomha already, unpleasantly light magic hot and tense in the air, restrained an instant from action. His hair had only been slightly tousled by the portkey trip, black curls now visibly asymmetrical, his face absent his usual crooked smile looking all too narrow and sharp. "We have company incoming."

Síomha started, glanced around the portkey receiving field. They were in what appeared to be a large patch of cleared woodland, framed with forest, rising up into hills in the far distance. Rather nearer, separated by the occasional narrow band of brush and tree, were craggy fields of peaked tents in a shifting rainbow of colour — she noticed a hint of lensing, a sign of space expansion wards in effect.

She could tell even from here that everyone was doing a terrible job at pretending to be muggles. They were supposed to, technically, but she hadn't expected the order would actually do any good — most mages probably didn't even know how to act convincingly muggle — and the Ministry agreed, posting several teams of Obliviators to the site around the clock. According to the rumours leaking out of London, there had been multiple near misses, where some random muggle around the fringes had caught wind of something obviously unnatural, almost slipped away before anyone noticed. Minor leaks did happen all the time, there was a small subculture of muggles who were convinced something was going on, even sometimes suspiciously accurate in the details, and Síomha wouldn't be surprised if this event gave them a few tidbits more to work with.

The Statute of Secrecy really was doomed to fail. It could maybe be maintained for longer if people didn't keep insisting on doing big events out in the open like this one, and weren't so terrible at covering it up when they did. But even if muggle technology remained exactly as it was now, the slow drip of leaks would out them given enough time. They were really fighting the inevitable at this point.

But anyway, it didn't take Síomha long to spot what Fionn had: approaching them through the grid of roped off little blocks — individual portkey landing sites, two more groups had popped in even as their muggle friends recovered — were a pair of harried-looking men. Both were mostly pulling off muggle dress (those over-large galoshes one was wearing didn't really go with the tweed), carrying thick rolls of parchment. The arrivals schedule, presumably.

Síomha leaned into Michael a bit, nodded toward the approaching men. "Those two are probably with the Department of Games and Sports, going to ask us who the hell we are."

"Right." Shrugging off the last of his visible disorientation, Michael stood somewhat straighter, his moue of irritation vanishing behind an empty politician's smile. "Let's get this show going, then." Under his easy good cheer, there was just a hint of vicious glee — the subtlest of hints that Michael knew he was neither expected nor welcome, and he was going to enjoy making Fudge and his people squirm.

(He was probably going to get himself killed one of these days, but he really was growing on her.)

Michael's party — Niamh, one of Máire's deputies (the only one of the muggles who spoke Gaelic), Alex, a younger bloke on Michael's staff whose exact duties Síomha never had picked up on, and two looming plain-clothes bodyguards Michael had been talked into bringing along named Breandán and James — and the magical escort they'd put together — Síomha and Fionn, Clíodhna, Ciarán, and Muirín — had just left the roped-off block they'd appeared in when the two men finally got to them. They looked even more overwrought close up than they had at a distance, faces flushed and eyes shadowed.

"Ten thirty from Slievemore?" one asked, slightly out of breath.

"That would be us."

The man speaking for the pair (the one with the galoshes), gave Michael a double-take. Probably didn't know quite what to make of him — he was wearing jeans and trainers, the tee shirt half-hidden under his gold and green National Team scarf bearing the rose of the Socialist International (because Michael Cavan had no patience for subtlety). He did look rather peculiar for a mage...or for a muggle politician, for that matter — sometimes Síomha wondered if Michael realised he was the deputy prime minister of an entire bloody country, honestly — at least for one his age. Mostly only younger people could convincingly dress muggle-ish and, being a muggle in his thirties, Michael looked rather too old to magical eyes.

Whatever the man was thinking, he brushed it off, turning back to the scroll in his hands. "Er, we only had three people signed on to this trip. Fionn Ingham, Michael Cavan, and Síomha...Ní Ailbhe..." He trailed off, eyes flicking over the women in their group, and then lingering on their clothes, blinking in surprise. Síomha and the other mages were all made up in a uniform invented for the occasion — brown and yellow duelling leathers badly hidden with cloaks in green and white. He probably didn't know what to make of them either.

"That's us, sure. We picked up a few friends who wanted to come along since we registered, see."

The Ministry man gave Michael a flat, doubtful look at that. He clearly didn't believe him. He clearly thought they were up to something. He had, clearly, recognised Síomha's name — not that she was surprised, she had gotten more than a few less-than-flattering mentions in the Prophet. He'd probably assumed they were all with Saoirse, and (correctly) assumed they were up to something.

He also, clearly, decided this was not his problem. "Right, you'll want to talk to Mr. Roberts. That way," he said, pointing off to the right, toward one of the fields of tents. He firmly turned his back on them, gesturing to his partner, and the pair of them walked off.

Michael turned a cocked eyebrow to Síomha. "Ministry overworking those boys, you think?"

Somehow, she managed not to snort at Michael calling them boys — they both had to be twice his age. "Ah, probably. Running a keyport at this scale, even an informal one like this, should call for more than those two sorry sods."

She must have said something weird, because Michael just stared at her for a moment, his lips twitching with a derisive scowl. "You take a portkey...to a keyport."

"Hey now, don't look at me, I don't make this shite up. English isn't even my native language, you know."

Michael shook his head, turned to lead the way off without another word.

At the edge of one of the endless fields of tents was a little stone hut — a simple thing, probably didn't have the insulation to handle a proper winter (assuming it was muggle-built, which seemed a pretty good guess). The man leaning against the doorframe clinched it. Síomha supposed he could have simply done a better job of blending in than most, but the canvas trousers and jumper, the suspicious look directed out at the field, something about him screamed muggle at her.

"Oh, hello there," he said as they approached, slowly turning to face them. "You lot checking in, then?" His voice sounded off, somehow, drifting and unfocused.

Michael strode ahead to meet him, all smiles and handshakes, but Síomha was getting a bad feeling. A glance at Fionn, the hard look he gave her, and she knew he was having the same thought she was.

"You mean, the Michael Cavan? The Irish politician?"

"That's the one. Heard of me, have you?" There was an obvious note of irony on his voice — Michael was rather controversial, apparently, by this point Síomha knew enough to doubt anyone who caught much of the news at all wouldn't have heard of him, even in Britain.

"I might have done." The odd, absent feeling about the man (Mr. Roberts, presumably) lightened for a moment, matching Michael's good humour. Then he went quiet again, gaze drifting back over the packed field. "What is going on here..."

"What do you mean?"

"I don't know, it's weird. We never get this many people in, and pre-bookings and... There's a lot of foreigners about, and weirdos, you know? Not that I'm calling you a weirdo, sir, but some of these folk..." He turned back to them, shooting the mages among them narrow looks — though, Síomha noticed, his eyes seemed just slightly out of focus.

He wasn't in the know. Son of a bitch, they had a muggle managing the campgrounds, and he wasn't in the know. Who the fuck thought that was a good idea? He'd been staring out there and apparently hadn't noticed anything too obviously magical, they must have a muggle-aversion ward over the entire site — Michael and the others were wearing anti-anti-muggle charms, Fionn had thought it prudent just in case — but even if he were never obliviated being in such close contact with aversion wards started having strange effects on the mind very quickly.

And if they had been obliviating him...

Oh, Michael wasn't going to take this well. He wasn't going to take this well at all.

Apparently, he was figuring it out already, building rage reducing Michael's voice to a thick whisper. "You mean you don't know?"

"Don't know what? Is there some kind of government thing going on here, or—"

At that moment, a man in somewhat dated but otherwise convincing muggle dress appeared out of thin air — instantly, with no noise of apparation, must have simply canceled concealment charms. His wand was already out, fixed directly at Roberts's head. "Obli—"

Michael, the marvelous madman that he was, reached forward to grab Roberts by the neck of his jumper, and yanked him forward. The memory charm, visible only as a subtle shimmer of distortion on the air, missed Roberts by a hair.

"Bloody—" Roberts recovered his balance quickly, whirled back around. "What the hell was that?! Where did you come from?!"

"Are you fecking insane?! How many times have you made a hames of this man's head by now?"

The Obliviator — a light-haired middle-aged man, looking very exhausted, dark shadows framing his eyes, clothes rumpled and stubble darkening his chin — shot Michael a hard glare. "Just doing my job, sir. Mind getting out of my way?"

"No chance in hell am I doing that." A hand on Roberts's shoulder, Michael muttered, "Behind me, Daniel. Keep to the middle, you'll be fine."

It was obvious by the wild look to Roberts's eyes, the twitch in his fingers, that he had absolutely no idea what was going on. But it was also obvious that didn't matter — from context, he could probably guess he was being protected by the bloody Tánaiste of the fucking Irish Republic, and that was good enough for him. He ducked behind Michael, firmly placing himself in the middle of the group. He gave their dueling clothes another once-over, marking them as part of whatever the weirdness going on here was, shifted closer to Breandán with a firm shake of his head.

"Look, I just do what I'm told. I'm certain the muggle'll be fine when we're done here."

"Oh, you're certain, are you? I may not know all that much about magic, but that spell is one they tell us all about! I know what repeated exposure can do to a person! You know there are dozens of people in mental care with their long-term memory shot to hell — I don't know what you think you're—"

"Wait, what do you mean, you don't know much about magic? Are you a muggle?"

From this angle, Síomha couldn't see Michael's face, but she did catch his hands clench into fists, his shoulders square. "I am so, and what of it?"

The Obliviator stared at him for a moment, mouth open and eyes blinking, before turning an incredulous look on Clíodhna — she was the oldest of their group, and had a sort of calm, dignified look to her, he was probably assuming she was in charge. "What are you doing, bringing muggles here?"

"Our job." He turned to stare at Síomha now, she had to hold in the urge to smirk at him. That would probably be more provocative than necessary. "The Republic of Ireland is entitled to send a representative to this event, if they wish to do so. The Tánaiste here thought it wise to arrange magical escort, just in case. His government asked Saoirse Ghaelach, and we said yes."

"Saoirse..." The man glanced between Síomha, Fionn, and the others, his already pasty face paling a bit further. "Fuck me, you're Síomha Ní Ailbhe."

This time, Síomha entirely failed to hold in a smirk. "Pleasure, I'm sure."

Apparently deciding this was above his pay-grade, the Obliviator cast a messenger charm, a flicker of green light zipping off into the distance. A bare handful of seconds later, and there was a staccato burst of apparation, and they were surrounded by figures in black and blue, dragon leather gleaming under heavy cloaks.

Síomha snorted — she hadn't realised them just showing up rated a whole team of Hit Wizards. She'd be flattered if it weren't such a ridiculous overreaction.

The next few minutes made up one of the most irritating experiences of her entire life. The Hit Wizard captain, a surly man named Nettles, insisted Síomha hand over Roberts to be obliviated. Michael, of course, told him he'd be doing no such thing, and Nettles would get a superior over here because their treatment of Roberts was well in excess of muggle protection laws, and they would be doing something to remedy the situation immediately. (Síomha was slightly impressed Michael could quote the pertinent statutes verbatim, he must have done some reading to prepare for the Tournament.) Nettles was in the middle of asking just who the hell he was — the Obliviator had only pointed out Síomha, seemingly not realising she wasn't actually in charge here — when the cottage door opened, and a girl of about ten stumbled out, rambling on about something to do with butter and going into town.

And things abruptly got about ten times more tense. One of the Hit Wizards turned to stun the girl, and Michael's hand clamped down on Síomha's shoulder, but she didn't even have time to move. She also didn't need to: Fionn had summoned the kid already, the girl letting out a squeal as she was yanked out of the path of the hex. (Oh for two, Ministry people just couldn't seem to tag muggles with anything today.) The girl, sounding more excited than frightened, was handed off to her father, and the Hit Wizards were yelling at them, and Michael was telling them to go find someone who wasn't just doing my job and might actually possibly be at all useful.

At some point, the Hit Wizards had actually drawn their wands — on Michael, who, remember, was a bloody foreign dignitary. (And also a muggle, which seemed important to note, it wasn't like he was any kind of threat.) Síomha really, really didn't want to have to do this, but she had a job to do here, and the Hit Wizards weren't giving her a whole lot of choice. She drew her own wand, stepping in front of Michael — he kept shouting at Nettles over her shoulder, of course, she wouldn't expect anything else — a subtle, tingling weight (and how wide the Hit Wizards' eyes had gone) telling her Fionn had started casting palings. He wouldn't activate them yet, not unless and until they were needed, but he did prefer to use runic casting for these things, so it would be very obvious.

Runic casting was, naturally, restricted, but it hardly mattered. They couldn't check if he was licensed right now (he wasn't), and arresting a member of a Noble and Most Ancient House over something so minor would be a bit idiotic. There were advantages to bringing Fionn Ingham along.

(She would have in any case, but the Brits were silly about the Seventeen Founders.)

As much as ensuring their charges were protected was really quite reasonable, the Hit Wizards took it as aggression. (To be fair, that did make a kind of sense, they probably couldn't tell what the runes were for.) There was a lot more shouting, which seemed to involve mostly demands to surrender, and Michael trying to remind them who he was, and that they legally had no right to detain him. (Síomha could have told him that wouldn't get anywhere — most mages didn't give a shite about muggles, no matter who they were.) While the argument devolved further and further, Síomha mostly ignored it, analysing the Hit Wizards and their relative positions, the layout of their surroundings. Planning potentially needing to fight their way out.

Normally, getting out would be easy — there weren't any transportation wards over the area, they could just apparate out. But with Michael and his people... One of them would probably need to make a portkey. They did all have emergency portkeys — the muggles, that is, her people didn't — but Síomha would rather reserve those in case something went catastrophically wrong. Fionn's palings would give them some time, but they'd still need to buy a minute to prepare. They were outnumbered five to seven (not counting the muggle bodyguards), and against Hit Wizards, which would be terrible odds...if two of those five weren't Fionn and herself. They could probably take a whole Hit Wizard team by themselves if they really needed to, but not while defending a single point. Also, Fionn was the best with portkeys, so as soon as his palings were up he should do that. Perhaps, if she and Ciarán crossed the palings and fought at close range, tried to draw them away, and Clíodhna and Muirín stayed to cover Fionn, Michael, and the rest, they could keep them confused long enough to—

"Whoa now, what's all this?" Síomha glanced at the newcomer, dismissing him as an onlooker and therefore not a threat, before turning to—

She jumped, did a double-take. Son of a bitch, that was Sirius Black. She hadn't recognised him at first — they never had actually met before, but he didn't look anything like he had in the pictures she'd seen. He'd been seriously fucked up from over a decade in Azkaban at first, yes, but he'd had a few public appearances since then, where he...mostly passed as a proper British lord. (Apparently, the illusion broke whenever he opened his mouth, but he did know how to look the part.) He looked a bit absurd, honestly, in jeans and a shirt in the Team's colours; even as Síomha watched Mullet's name was replaced with Troy's, apparently it was cycling through the members of the Team.

Somehow, it hadn't occurred to Síomha that Lord bloody Black would be supporting the Gaels. Sure, it was just a sporting event, but...

"Stay back, sir, you don't want to get involved in this."

Black grinned at Nettles, grey eyes sparkling in the light of Fionn's runes. "That's quite an assumption you're making there. What's going on here, anyway, did I hear something about obliviating someone?"

"The people without the cloaks in there are muggles, I think." This came from another newcomer, a school-aged girl in Gaelic colours, though without any obvious quidditch branding. The two shared an obvious resemblance, the same narrow faces and curly black hair — this must be Lyra Black, then, the same teenage girl Dumbledore had gotten to send out those letters for him. (They had no confirmation that Dumbledore had been behind the invitations sent to the Republic and the United Kingdom, but it was the only reasonable possibility they could think of.) "Though, not sure who the people in the cloaks are, but that's definitely runic casting, hardly see that from anyone in Britain."

Things then proceeded to get very strange, as the Blacks inserted themselves into the argument between Michael and Nettles — strange because, as unlikely as Síomha would have thought such a thing to be before, the Blacks were siding with Michael. Even knowing they were with Saoirse, an organisation trying to remove their people from the authority of the Wizengamot, a body which the elder Black was a member of. The younger had seemed absurdly pleased when Nettles had told them who they were, grinning at Síomha and her people with almost unnerving glee.

Lord Black didn't seem much more pleased with how the Ministry had been handling Roberts and his family, glaring at Nettles and the still unnamed Obliviator. After confirming they didn't have a telephone in the house, Black had argued there wasn't any real reason they couldn't leave the Robertses to themselves, and just obliviate them once at the conclusion of the event — the younger Black said something about not seeing why they needed to obliviate them at all, it wasn't like they had any direct evidence, no one would believe them if they went out blabbing about magic. Which, that wasn't as good of a point as she seemed to think it was — there was a critical mass to these things, each bit they let slip increased the chances the Statute could collapse entirely — but the elder Black's argument was so eminently reasonable the Obliviator, after some badgering and a few more subtle insults from Michael, agreed to bring his suggestion into the office, disappeared with a pop.

Of course, even with that out of the way, Nettles still wanted to arrest Síomha's people. Because they'd made aggressive moves directed at officers of the DLE, apparently — which, that was horseshite, but she wasn't particularly surprised. Black didn't even wait for Michael to argue the point first, he was already asking just what they'd done was so provocative; the only thing Nettles could come up with that wasn't bloody stupid was pointing at the runes still hanging in the air, saying that was obviously a threat of some kind.

While they were still arguing about that, there was a soft ripple through the magic around them, something Síomha had only felt once before. Whipping around to look behind her, she found the younger Black had apparently shadow-walked into the middle of their group, peering up at Fionn's runes, still hanging in the air glowing in gentle whites and reds. Now that the girl was standing only a couple feet away, Síomha could feel her magic was dark, intensely dark, deeper and sharper than any she'd felt from a human before. She definitely wasn't a vampire — that was the only time she'd felt someone shadow-walk before, dueling a vampire — but her aura was about as overwhelming as one, if more...volatile? Síomha wasn't sure what she meant to say. The ambient magic around the girl seemed afire, roiling and bouncing and dancing, a sense of motion, of energy most locales didn't show.

It...sort of reminded her of Fionn, actually — dark where he was light, but the feeling of power just barely restrained much the same. Lyra Black couldn't possibly be a black mage, could she?

The girl let out a low hum, ignoring Fionn staring at her tense and wide-eyed, the wands turning on her. "This isn't an external effect — see this string right here, this is definitely a paling of some kind. An isolation ward, looks like, they were probably going to bring it up the instant spells started flying. This is pretty good work, by the way," she said, turning to Fionn. "This you?"

The motion uncharacteristically stiff, Fionn nodded.

"It's not bad. If I were trying to cover muggles, I'd probably use a dissolving filter down-tapping into the wards over the valley, but this would still stop almost everything, and would bleed interference well enough to hold for a while."

"Er... Can't use a dissolving filter. We'd need to make a portkey to get everyone out, and—"

"Right, it'd prevent you from casting those spells, of course. This is probably the best you could do on short notice, then. Very nice."


"So, yeah—" There was another ripple, and the girl reappeared at Black's side. "—not exactly a threat, is it? I mean, look at the way they're standing, they're obviously just protecting the muggles. Which, honestly, you came in threatening to fuck with their people's minds, what did you expect?"

Nettles didn't seem to have a good response for that — at least, not one more sophisticated than but they're muggles though.

The standoff continued for a few more moments, if much less tense than it'd been before, with the Blacks acting as mediators and a resolution in sight. The Obliviator returned in a couple minutes, with news that his superiors had signed off on leaving the Robertses alone at least until the mages cleared out. (He looked a bit flustered, had probably just gotten yelled at for failing to contain the situation.) It broke a moment later, the Hit Wizards popping off to whence they'd come.

There was a round of quick explanations to Roberts of what was going on, some assurances from Michael they'd check up on them, hold the authorities to their word. Fionn cast a quick ritual to track the Robertses — it wouldn't prevent an obliviation from taking (except maybe over the children, Bríd might bend the rules a bit there), but it would inform Fionn, so they could come back to break the obliviation and kick up a fuss on their behalf. The grateful muggle finished checking them in, taking a few notes from Breandán, and they were finally starting off again.

They'd hardly gone a couple steps before Michael was turning to Black. "Thanks for the help, Lord..." He'd obviously caught Nettles's use of the title, but didn't recognise him.

"It's Black," the man said, turning to shake Michael's hand. "Call me Sirius, though, I never had much patience for all that Lord So-and-So business. Beyond getting Ministry idiots to piss off, anyway. I never did catch your name, by the way."

"Oh, Michael Cavan, I—"

"Wait, not the Tánaiste Michael Cavan?" They both turned to Lyra, who was staring up at Michael, once again grinning like a maniac. "Like, the big Tánaiste, the one in the muggle Irish Republic?"

"Is there more than one Tánaiste?"

Both Blacks looked slightly confused at the question, so Síomha leaned in to mutter, "Mages use the title in local government."

"Ah. Sure then, the big Tánaiste."

"You'd be the socialist Zee's mentioned, then."

"Might be so, but I don't know who that is."

"Oh, Mirabella Zabini."

Michael jerked to a stop, sudden enough Breandán nearly ran into his back. Whipping around to Síomha, he hissed, "Zabini is a mage?!"

Síomha blinked. "You didn't know that?" Now that she thought about it, she'd never mentioned Zabini herself...but she'd sort of assumed he already knew, since he'd been informed about magic. It was very possible, though, that whoever read in muggle officials had a very specific set of information they imparted, major players on the magical side probably weren't included. "Oh, well, she's Director of Education at the Ministry, actually."

"Your people put Mirabella Zabini in charge of public edu— Wait, no," Michael cut off, admitted with obvious reluctance, "that does sort of make sense. If you're going to put Mirabella Zabini in government somewhere, Education does seem the place. I just can't get over how she's there at all. Did she buy her way in?"

Well, probably...

"Wait, wait," Sirius said, turning back to them, "how do you know Mira? I mean, I know she has some business on the muggle side..."

Michael choked out a harsh scoff. "Some business? Her company is one of the largest employers in the country, near making Cork a company town these days. She's one of the wealthiest people in Ireland, and isn't shy about throwing her money around — of course I know Zabini! How the hell do you know her?"

Sirius shrugged. "She was my favourite cousin's girlfriend growing up." He hadn't said who that favourite cousin was, but it was probably better he hadn't — Síomha would rather not have to explain to Michael exactly how Sirius and Lyra were related to the Blackheart if she could help it. "Lyra here's her goddaughter too, she's been putting us up until we can get one of the old Black places cleaned up enough to live out of."

"Yeah, yeah, we all know Zee here, which shouldn't be a surprise, Zee knows everyone. What I want to know about is this socialism thing, Zee didn't explain it very well. Mostly just complained about you being bloody stubborn."

"As though that frustrating woman has any right to talk..."

While Michael and the Blacks went on a long tangent about politics — the younger Black seemed to be finding the idea of social revolution far too entertaining, that probably didn't bode well for anyone — Fionn grabbed her attention with a jerk of his head, she slowed down to give them some thin semblance of privacy. "The girl's a black mage, isn't she?"

Fionn blinked at her for a second. "Oh, er, yes, she is. Not sure who — it'd be someone Greco-Roman through their whole Powers thing, and I don't know that nearly as well as I should."

Síomha didn't either, honestly — she was much more familiar with the older Celtic traditions, which had survived through the centuries in little pockets at the fringes of society. She knew a little bit about the Mistwalkers, but she was most comfortable with the old Gaelic pantheon. It was kind of hard not to be, what with Fionn, one of her best friends, being a priest of Bríd and all. "Any guesses?" He would be able to feel out the quality of Lyra's magic better than Síomha could. Being a priest of Bríd and all.

He shrugged. "A trickster god of some kind? Can't say for sure."


The heir to the Noble and Most Ancient House of Black was a black mage...dedicated to a trickster god?!

Son of a bitch, things were going to get interesting soon...

"But that's not what I wanted to tell you."

Síomha couldn't quite hold in a dark laugh. "What, you have worse news than that?"

He shrugged. "There's going to be a battle here. Soon."

... Son of a bitch. "Is She giving you anything specific?" It wasn't unusual for priests — sometimes all of them, but most particularly of Bríd and Morrígan — to have a... Well, Fionn somewhat sarcastically referred to it as a "sense of doom" — premonitions of violence or death, in the hours or days before an event, sometimes overwhelming and sometimes so subtle they're easy to miss. Most of the time, the event itself can't be avoided, but sometimes they can take precautions to get through it better than they might have otherwise. Assuming Bríd was giving him any useful details.

Unfortunately, he just gave her a little helpless shrug. "Not really. I think we're all going to make it out alive, but I can't say more than that. A riot, maybe?"

"Right. If you can find a moment to slip away for an hour or two, see if She'll meet you and give you more. If not, well, we'll just have to be careful, I guess."

"I'll try."

At some point while she and Fionn had been whispering, Michael and the Blacks had moved on to talking about quidditch itself. Now the Blacks were talking about dropping in to meet the Team — after all, Michael was "their" Tánaiste, and Sirius was Lord Black, they should definitely be able to get in, should be interesting. And they were running off to, just, do that, chattering on about muggle–magical relations and bloody pass ratios. Getting on surprisingly well, all things considered, she hadn't seen that coming.

Síomha let out a sigh, slipped back up into Michael's shadow. This was going to be a long bloody day.

Merry Christmas, bitches!

As a reminder, using my headcanon for the value of a galleon. That means the 35 galleons the Twins are going to win is actually a lot of money — the equivalent of some tens of thousands of dollars. The have the five galleons to make the bet because Lyra has been (over)paying them for help on pranks on the like through much of the previous school year. And now Sirius is probably going to end up bankrolling them, so, Twins making serious cash off the Blacks, apparently.

For people who didn't read the summer side scenes, Harry is referencing several of them here. They're all in there, if you need to catch up.

One of the scenes in the next chapter is still a hot mess, so, next one will be when we have it.