IRELAND vs

Disclaimer: The characters, world and premise of Harry Potter belong to JKR; some sections lifted directly from the text for verisimilitude – these are not mine. Also, the characters and premise of the Chronicles of Narnia are the property of CS Lewis. Here, my interpretations are my own.

A/N: Sequel to Shield of David. Follows Lamppost.


IRELAND vs. BULGARIA

"Sirius?"

Blankets shifted as the form underneath stirred; wood clacked against the nightstand. "Harry?" His godfather sat up, muttering something under his breath. Light flared, illuminating Sirius' room. "What's wrong?"

Harry rubbed the stinging mark, feeling heat rush to his face. Fingers groped; cool metal fit roundly into his palm. Turning the knob, he backed out of the room he'd burst so precipitously into only a moment ago. This is so dumb. "I, uh – it's nothing -"

"Hold on, Harry."

One foot out the door, Harry paused.

Sirius reached for cloth draped over the foot of his bed, setting his wand aside. Overlong black hair was pushed out of his eyes; clad in pajama bottoms and t-shirt, he surveyed his godson.

Harry fingered a soft pajama sleeve, rubbing at comfortingly worn stripes. "I'm sorry I woke you – I didn't -"

Warm fingers on his shoulder. Another tipped his face up, to meet searching eyes. "Harry. What's bothering you?"

"It's my scar," he blurted. "It's . . . burning."

Concern bathed him from pale blue, and Sirius gazed intently at him. "When did it start?"

He believes me? And more than that, Sirius was worried. Fine lines crinkled the skin around pale eyes; the smiling mouth was drawn tight. He believes me. Sheer bewilderment left him staring, wordless, and strangely afraid.

"Harry?"

Wooden floorboards were butter-smooth against his bare toes. "I had a dream." Just thinking about the fragments of pain and fear and sorrow made his face scrunch, thumping heart hanging heavy behind his ribs.

Warmth enfolded him, and he froze, unsure. But the arms surrounding him were gentle, undemanding, offering comfort that it took too much effort to resist. The knot inside unwound, and without knowing how he was crying, words tumbling from his lips. "Voldemort – he was – a thing. . . and there was an old Muggle – he killed him, Sirius, Voldemort killed him and Wormtail was watching and he wants to kill me too. . ." And on, and on, and Sirius never stopped hugging him, murmuring quiet words to soothe.

One shuddering breath after another heralded the end of the tears; fourteen was far too old for this, he wasn't a baby after all. Get a grip, he told himself fiercely. But . . . Sirius didn't seem to mind being used as a handkerchief, using his own shirtsleeve to blot the messy tear-tracks leaving a wet sheen on his cheeks. Harry was too tired to care.

"Feel better?"

A damp laugh surprised him, bubbling up from a place inside teetering on hysteria's sword-sharp point. Itchy eyes, blocked-up nose, headache, but . . . "Yeah. I think so. Maybe."

A calloused hand ruffled black hair, on-end from being pressed into a pillow and tossed in dreams. "Come on. Let's go to the kitchen. I know just the thing."

'Just the thing' turned out to be milk, saucepan-warmed with a drip of honey. It tasted like a burst of sunshine on his tongue, and slipped silkily into his stomach to radiate heat to nightmare-chilled insides. Idly toying with smooth ceramic, Harry was intrigued to see Sirius make some, Muggle-style, for himself. "It's good. When did you learn how to do this?"

Wielding a wooden spoon as proficiently as his wand, his godfather eyed the stove carefully. Flames danced under a shining pot. "Your dad taught me, actually."

Mug forgotten, Harry sat up straight. "Really?"

A mischievous smile flashed at him. "Really. I stayed with him most of the summer before our seventh year, and his mother made it whenever either of us had trouble sleeping. He made it for your mom when she was pregnant with you, and for you when you were a baby. I learned how out of self-preservation."

"Self-preservation?"

The pan was pulled from the flame, frothy white cascading into another mug. Harry pushed his forward, and received it back filled to the rim.

"Yup. James and Lily wanted to go out every so often after you were born, have a little time to themselves, and I got to look after you. You were generally a good kid," a wink was tossed his way, "but occasionally I had trouble getting you to sleep." Heat bloomed in Harry's face; Sirius chuckled. Chair legs scraped slate as his godfather settled comfortably across the table. "Lily threw a fit the first time she found out I wasn't using the formula, but eventually she accepted that this worked better."

For all he had pictures, and stories of their bravery, Harry didn't know much about the people his parents had been. Curiosity pricked eager ears, and took control of his tongue. "Threw a fit?"

Sirius' laugh was good to hear; full and filled with quiet joy. "Did she ever!" Pale eyes studied the mug, and Harry took a quick sip. Maybe that would keep his wandering mouth busy.

"Lily was barely twenty-one or so when you were born." The explanation came slowly from his godfather's lips. Ceramic bumped gently against oak, milk sloshing just enough to send warm vapors swirling into the kitchen. "You were her first baby, and she'd never had much experience with children. Her sister is three years older, so Lily had never even seen someone change a nappy."

His butt hit the edge of his seat, elbows planted on the smooth tabletop.

"She was a mother for the first time, and she called your grandmother for everything she could, read every book she could to try to find the best way to care for you." A wicked smirk sparked in pale eyes. "I had a few good laughs watching her figure out how to change and clean nappies – until James pointed out that as godfather, I shouldn't have to miss out on the fun."

His godfather's grimace had a grin starting that Harry tried to hide, but Sirius' open chagrin had him choking on his milk, sputtering and laughing by turns.

"Oh, it's funny now," Sirius groused, but there was an answering grin twitching the corners of his mouth. "Eventually she figured it all out. Your dad helped, of course. Remus and I got dragged into it too. Even Peter."

"Wormtail?"

The empty mug slipped over wood until it was far out of reach. But the lean form was relaxed, and Harry's hate breathed deep for a moment, waiting to hear what came next.

The answer, when it came, was not what he expected. "Don't hold on to your anger, Harry. It's not worth it."

He was on his feet, chair toppling to the floor and images from his dream trampling fresh pain over his thoughts. "You can forgive him?"

"No."

Startled emerald caught on clenched, scarred fists.

"No," Sirius repeated, fingers spreading to press down against the motion of his body as he stood. His voice was low and so rough Harry had to strain for the words. "Forgiveness requires understanding, and I will never understand what made him turn his back on a friendship so close it was a bond of family. I will never understand why he turned to Voldemort instead of to us, why he would give you and your family to him."

"But – but you said -"

Sirius had circled the table, righting the chair. One hand pressed gently on his shoulder. "Sit, Harry."

Wood slats dug hard against his back; something solid in the shifting sea of reality.

"I'm worried about you," Sirius said quietly. "I don't want to see you grow with this hate inside you. It will turn you bitter, and make you old before your time. It will warp you; and if you let that happen, no matter if Voldemort falls and the Death Eaters are scattered to the corners of the earth – he will have won."

Harry felt . . . peculiar. No one had ever spoken like this to him before, with a blend of concern and solemnity only emphasized by the experience coloring his godfather's tone. It hurt; and he realized his breath was coming in ragged gasps. "How do you do it?" How do you not hate him with everything you have?

"I think about everything that's good in my life. Sometimes, I tell myself how much worse it could be." Steel replaced pale eyes. "It's hard. Some days are better than others."

I'll bet. He wasn't going to think about Azkaban, about how the godfather he'd learned to love so much it hurt had been locked there for years with nightmares as strong as the one still wisping through his brain. The words came with difficulty. "I'll try."

A sigh eased the tension in Sirius' shoulders. "Thank you, Harry. That's all I ask." But by the look in his eyes, Harry had the feeling Sirius knew it wasn't nearly as easy as it sounded. He swigged cooling milk, still soothed by the sweetness. Emerald fixed on thick gold coating the bottom of the mug. "Sirius . . . what were my parents like?"

Pale eyes assessed him. "Come on, let's get comfortable."

A few minutes later soft cushions braced him on either side, a thick afghan draped over toes chilled from the kitchen's slate flooring. The couch dipped; Harry burrowed against Sirius' side. It had taken him awhile to realize that he was allowed to do that, to reach out and hug his godfather. Longer to find the courage.

An arm held him close, the hand ruffling hair already awry from sleep.

"You're probably going to hear a lot of different things about your parents, from a lot of different people." Sirius' voice was quiet, just carrying over the crackle of a small fire blooming in the hearth. "A lot of it will be hero-worship. Some of it will be negative, especially if you manage to set Snape off."

Been there, heard that. Harry winced, snuggling deeper into the cream afghan.

The older man shifted, and pale eyes snared emerald. "They knew what they were doing when they had you, Harry. No matter what you might hear about how they were barely adults, with little experience and less knowledge about toying with the Dark Lord and courting death -"

Something hurt, deep inside, and found its way through to show up on his face.

"Some people think that," relentless blue ice continued. "When you get older, they'll be more likely to tell you, too. But your parents knew exactly what they were doing, and what it meant, when they decided to have you. And they did it anyway, because they loved you and they loved each other, Harry."

"It got them killed." The voice didn't sound like his, small and shaky. His skin was cold under the blanket, distressed fingers pulling at pale red fringe. "I got them -"

"No." The chest under his cheek lifted; Sirius let the sigh out slowly. "You need to understand, Harry, that Voldemort was targeting your parents anyway. They had defied him three times – which was two times more than almost anyone else had survived, except Frank and Alice Longbottom."

Slowly, the warmth creeping from the hearth was touching him, sinking to bones chilled by a fear-frozen soul. Harry stared at the flames painting the room in colors of reassuring heat. Curiosity stirred. "Neville?"

"Yes; Frank and Alice are his parents."

"But nothing happened to them!" Harry burst out, surprised. "They're still alive -" A memory of the first Defense Against the Dark Arts class third year caught him. "Neville lives with his grandmother." Panic tightened his throat; confusion clawed his mind. "Sirius?" he pleaded.

"Shh, Harry. Shhh. . ."

He had to know. He didn't know why, but he had to know. "What happened to Neville's parents? They're still alive, aren't they?"

"Yes," his godfather said, sadness in the gentle petting of his hand over Harry's hair. "Yes, they are. They're in the permanent care ward of St. Mungo's Hospital. They were tortured by Death Eaters, not long before your parents were killed. It was . . . horrible."

And Sirius would tell him no more, no matter how much he pressed. "Your parents were human, Harry. And they were good people. They did make mistakes – but not when they had you."

A story followed, of their years in school and how his parents competed for grades incessantly, fighting and haranguing each other until seventh year, when they fell – deeply, inexplicably – in love.

Sleep took him, with Sirius' voice speaking quietly of the Marauders in the halls of Hogwarts, and dreams of pranks and years long gone followed him down.


Sirius' neck was bent at a painful angle. Remus winced. What are they doing down here? The wolf had heard night noises in the shape of a boy and pack-scent, but it hadn't been alarming or loud enough to rouse Remus from sleep.

"Sirius," he whispered, shaking one shoulder. Muscle bunched under his grip; a spine arched against deep red upholstery.

Pale eyes snapped open, clear and assessing.

Remus kept his gaze mild. "You looked a little uncomfortable," he nodded toward the boy's boneless sprawl across half of the couch and most of his godfather.

"Not so much." One hand sifted gently through messy black strands resting on his chest. Sirius carefully flexed abused limbs, winced, and threw him a grin. Harry shifted slightly in his sleep. The two men froze. Nuzzling more deeply against the heartbeat beneath his cheek, Harry settled. It was a moment more before the Marauders breathed easy.

Like putting him down for a nap when he was a baby. Remus was amused. "Need help?"

"Thanks, Moony."

Together, they managed to extricate Sirius from Harry, and bundle the boy more comfortably on the couch. Retreating to the kitchen, Remus tossed his fellow Marauder a questioning glance.

"Nightmares," the other grimaced. One hand lifted to rub at sore neck muscles. A soft curse was all too clear to the wolf, and Remus grinned.

"His or yours?"

The glare was only halfhearted, and so bounced right off. I thought so.

"Harry's, actually." Sirius yawned. And from the thoughtfulness that hadn't changed over thirteen years, shown in faraway eyes and one finger scratching absently behind an ear, Remus was forced to revise his earlier thought. "I'm worried."

Over a nightmare? Much as they both detested the truth of it, Harry had more than ample reason to be woken by fear in the night. "Why?"

Briefly, Sirius explained – and Remus was left with an uneasy sensation twisting in his gut. Voldemort – curse scar – killing a Muggle? – Wormtail. . . . Disjointed thoughts whirled as he absently sipped at a cup of tea. Sweetness burst onto his tongue, jolting him from unpleasant reverie.

"This is good," he said with some surprise. "When did you learn to cook?"

A snort diverted him to the stove, where a flick of Sirius' wand lowered the flames leaping from the burner. "Last time I heard, reheating didn't count as cooking."

"Oh. Someone else is up?"

"Looks that way. Left a note." Parchment waved in his direction; Remus snagged it. 'Gone for a walk. Tea fresh. P.'

The muted clash of pots in the sink brought his head up. Sirius was muttering to himself as he tried to find room for the used dishes resting idly on granite countertops.

Soothing rowan rested under his fingertips, reminding him of Sirius' trip to Ollivanders' a bare few weeks ago. Older, more mature, the both of us. Protectors – in need of protection. More true than he like to think about. And scarred. He chose to watch Sirius hunt for a sponge rather than survey the bleak inner landscape of his thoughts. A not-so-muffled curse had teeth clamping the soft flesh of his cheek. Don't laugh. "Scourgify."

Porcelain slipped from a surprised, soapy grasp. Remus lunged. "Immobulus!"

Reaching for the plate frozen halfway to the floor, Sirius tossed a grin his way. Strain lined the suddenly pale face; Remus was out of his chair and across the kitchen as the other turned away, plucking the dripping plate from its position midair. "Thanks, Remus. Wouldn't want Lucy to get mad at me for breaking one of her plates -"

A touch to one shoulder halted the flow of words. "I'm sorry." Sirius didn't do well with anyone casting while his back was turned. I don't even want to think about where those instincts are coming from.

Determined cheer met his probing glance. "So, none of the Pevensies are coming to the World Cup?"

Remus drew back with difficulty. Let him try it his way. Sirius is the most stubborn person on the planet. If he thinks he can do it, he usually can. Even if it almost killed him in the process. Not going to happen. He wouldn't let it. Shaking his mind back to the here-and-now, he saw Sirius reaching concernedly out to him, and shook his head. "No, they're not. Susan put her foot down, and she's right. They would stick out too much, never mind the strange sorts the Cup draws."

"Too right," Sirius muttered, fondness in the shake of shaggy hair. The Marauder cracked an egg into the pan, followed swiftly by a second. In moments, spitting sounds of cooking accompanied the fresh smell of food.

Deep in his stomach, the wolf growled.

Sirius smirked.

"You're coming with me to drop Harry off later, then?" Maybe if he could divert attention fast enough, he could avoid the –

"Hungry, Moony?"

– teasing. "No," he said baldly. The wolf grumbled, avid for the smell of food. Remus went for the plates, loftily ignoring the suppressed amusement rolling off his friend. "The Weasleys want Harry for supper, around sixish, Molly said. We're welcome too, of course, and the Pevensies."

Movement at the side of the room resolved into a groggy, yet dressed, Edmund. Susan was on his heels. "Welcome?"

"This evening, at the Weasleys'."

"That's right." Susan picked the note from the gray, granite countertop. "Peter's out?"

Her brother nodded through a jaw-cracking yawn. Remus' ears heard the shifting of wood as Edmund settled at the table. Something thumped overhead. "Lucy's up."

"How are you going to get to the Weasleys'?"

"Portkey." Remus polished off a slice of toast, taking in confused expressions up and down the table. It was so easy to forget, sometimes, that the Pevensies didn't know all the ins and outs of the Wizarding World. Until they jump on you with questions, he recalled, remembering the veritable interrogation that had taken place after their first trip to Diagon Alley. "It's . . . well, it's a transportation device. An object is enchanted to take all the people who touch it to a certain place at a certain time. Specialized magic, but not too difficult. Families generally tend to use them when they have a lot of people going someplace not connected by Floo." Or when mothers are unwilling to subject their infants and toddlers to a rough Floo ride. Lily had been adamant about Portkeying –

"Hmm." Edmund slathered raspberry jam on a slice of bread that looked two tiny steps away from being charcoal. "Maybe we should just get permanently connected to the Floo Network."

A forkful of omelette was followed by a sip of orange juice across the table. "Do you really think so, Edmund?" Lucy frowned. "Would we really have that many people coming and going, here?"

That's right. Remus put his own glass down. They can't use the Floo.

The dark-haired man shrugged. "The exchange rates for Muggle money are quite good, actually. It wouldn't be that much of an expense, and I think it could come in handy."

"What could?"

Remus blinked; the human would have jumped, attention on the conversation, but the wolf was always alert. Sirius didn't look surprised either.

"Morning, Peter!" Lucy bounced up from the table, Susan adding her own greetings to her sister's.

"We were just talking about connecting to the Floo Network," the younger Pevensie brother filled in.

The blond man dropped into the last empty chair at the head of the oaken table. "Well, if we don't try to undo the spell, it might be worthwhile."

"Try to undo the spell?" Sirius toyed absently with a few scraps of scrambled eggs. Remus blinked at the strange turn of phrase. Good question.

A few grimaces came from the Pevensies who had been at Hogwarts in the past year. Susan carted a few dishes to the sink and returned to listen, intrigue overflowing from blue eyes.

Peter was left to explain. "We found a lot of the time last year that we could interact with magical things, and creatures, without affecting the magic at all. Unless we concentrate on it." He accepted a cup of juice from Lucy with a grin. "Aegis Sanguinis protects against attack, of course, but passively it acts more as a shield than anything. We're still working on being able to control it." A twist of lips almost hidden by the short blond beard spoke to their success in that.

Aegis Sanguinis . . . "Blood protection?" Remus asked carefully. His plate held nothing more of interest. The wolf was satisfied, and more curious now than anything.

"The love of Aslan." Surprisingly, it was Susan who murmured the words. Aslan . . . The word still rang pure in his heart. Strange.

"Regardless," Edmund broke the mood. "Is it worth it to get connected to the Network?"

The eldest rubbed calloused fingers against blond strands. "It's up to you, mostly. I'm going to have to be in London most of this year, working." Remus caught worried expressions on the other Pevensies' faces. He knew something was going on with them and the Muggle government, but neither he nor Sirius knew precisely what. "And I have to find someplace to stay. The lease on my apartment ran out in June."

"Actually, I have someplace you might stay in London." Sirius mustered up a smile. "If you don't undo the enchantments that ward against Apparition and attack, and make the place Unplottable."

Edmund snorted.

Peter's grin was somewhat sheepish.

"You can't mean -" Remus pushed his dish away, frowning at the other Marauder. Pale eyes wouldn't meet his. "Not Grimmauld Place, Sirius."

A grimace gave him his answer.

The Pevensies' curiosity was so thick Remus could almost reach out and touch it. But I thought – "What about the bindings? The inheritance magics? Your parents removed them." Taking away Sirius' ability to control the protections and intricate magics of the Black family home. And almost killing you in the process. Remus was only barely able to contain the wolf's snarl at the memory. James had told the other Marauders, in quick whispers, after Sirius had revealed that he had been disowned. And then he had to almost hex us to stop us from doing our best to curse Sirius' parents.

That had been when they were younger, and Wormtail had been with them as a brother, fiery and angry and as ready as James and Remus to go tell Orion and Walburga Black exactly what they thought of those two sorry excuses for –

"Yes," Sirius' voice was tight. Damn Azkaban. Remus forced tense muscles to unwind before his grip snapped the table. "My parents transferred the enchantments to Regulus. They went dormant when he died. But after my parents died as well, the magics woke up again and reverted to me. Last survivor of the House of Black." Flat, emotionless words without even a trace of the sarcasm the werewolf was expecting.

He felt it, Remus realized, gazing at white features and clenched fists. He was alone in Azkaban, and when they died the magics clamped down, and he knew – "Dammit."

"It needs some cleaning, of course," Sirius said lightly, ignoring the Pevensie's startled looks at Remus' uncharacteristic slip. But the plate of food, half-full, went untouched. "It hasn't been lived in for at least ten years, and it was . . . it was a Dark place then."

Peter raised doubtful brows. "I can -"

The laugh was forced. "I'm going to be staying there while I go through re-training at the Ministry." Sirius wanted to be an Auror again in more than just instinct that had never died.

"Well." Susan moved to the sink, the sound of running water covering the clink of dishes against glass and metal. "I guess we can hash out the details later. Shouldn't Harry get up so that you can leave soon?"

"I'll get him." Excuse established, Sirius bolted.

Fingers wound into brown strands speckled with gray; Remus closed his eyes. As if it wasn't enough what with James and Lily, and Azkaban, and then what Harry's gone through at Hogwarts . . . Sirius had been at his most dangerous after hearing his godson recount Voldemort's attempt on the Philosopher's Stone his first year, and the ordeal with the Chamber of Secrets in his second. Remus had held him back, much as he too wanted a confrontation with Dumbledore.

The grasp on his own hair was almost painful. Dumbledore. Neither of them were members of the Order of the Phoenix anymore, and not for lack of offering. Remus only had suspicions as to why, but the wolf knew this hunt, this patient wait.

Sirius' recent conversation with the Headmaster had all but confirmed it. Remus had never stopped trusting the other Marauder's skills at reading people. Pranks couldn't be pulled without it. And what with that letter Peter recently received . . . something more is going on. Something that made the eldest Pevensie's face tight and distant; something he hadn't yet shared with his family. And it was important – the wolf could read the scents, and his nose never lied.

When Remus blinked his way back to the Mansion's sunlit kitchen, he found Peter staring into space two seats away.

"Where did everyone else go?"

"Hmm?" Blond hair turned his way. "Oh. Lucy and Susan have plans for today in Coombe Halt, I think. Edmund is off. . . somewhere. Doing . . . something."

Alarm at the implications surged through Remus; straight in his chair, he eyed the older Pevensie. Some of Edmund's jokes were nearly Marauder quality. What do you mean, you don't know where he is? "Peter -"

Messy black hair bolted for the table and the food still sitting out. "Morning, Remus. Morning, Peter." And then cutlery was flying, loading a plate with eggs, sausage, pancakes, and oatmeal. No more words made their way from the teenager, busy chewing and reaching for a glass of juice at the same time.

The other Marauder lounged in the doorway with a soft grin. The expression made Remus relax, a little. We still have time. Voldemort had risen again, yes – but they had time enough to plan. Time enough for life.


"Hey, Harry! You're early, we didn't expect you for hours yet!" Ron took the last few stairs on a flying leap. The sound of his landing rocked through the Burrow.

"Will you stop that!" Irritation echoed down the winding staircase.

"Sorry Perce," he called cheerfully back. "He's working," Ron explained to curious green eyes. "He's got a position at the Ministry, assistant to Bartemous Crouch, doing something – I don't really know what – and he's always working. More boring than ever. Oh, hi, Professor Lupin. Mr. Black." Oops. He'd kindof missed them for a minute. He hadn't seen Harry in weeks.

"It's alright that we're here?" Professor Lupin's brow knotted, and Sirius Black smiled at Mum's bustling approach.

"Don't jump down the stairs, Ronald."

The warning made him gulp.

"Remus, Sirius, it's lovely to see you, and Harry, dear! Have you eaten? Of course you have. We'll be having dinner in only a few hours. Ron, you can take Harry outside. Bill, Charlie and the twins are out playing Quidditch."

"Excellent!"

They'd barely cleared the door before something whizzed overhead. Ron was dragging Harry to the ground with the ease of long practice, but bristles combed through his hair anyway.

"Aiiiieeeee!"

Crunch.

Spitting grass, Harry blinked owlishly upward. "Ron. What was that?"

Red brows winced. "George. Always at it, really. But the early Cleansweeps can't take such close shaves." A twin staggered up from a hedge's now-crumpled leaves. Ron smirked. "They lose control, send you crashing."

"Ouch."

"Yeah. But it means we can beat 'em now that he's knocked a few screws loose."

"Ron," Harry trotted next to him towards the grounded teams. "Your brothers are Beaters. They've always got a few screws loose."

And Harry practiced with them, which was almost like living with them, Ron supposed. Not the same, of course. But I guess he'd know.

"How are you doing, Harry?" Charlie jerked his broom to a stop a few feet away; good thing too. He's got the one that needs a few extra feet to finish stopping. Which meant that the only two brooms left were the extra slow one and the one that liked to try to buck its riders off every so often. Charlie was of the opinion it had run afoul of one bludger too many, and gotten skittish. Ron thought that was Charlie's fault. It was his old broom.

Ron was taller than Charlie now, though only by a little bit – and Charlie worked with dragons and could beat him up any day of the week. Probably with one hand tied behind his back, nevermind needing a wand. But Charlie was generally about as laid-back as Bill.

The game grounded, and after a minute or two of debating between brooms, they lifted off again. Bill, Harry and George teamed up against Charlie, Ron and Fred. Only fair, Ron reckoned, ducking a bludger. Charlie could've played for England, after all, and Harry was really good too even though he was a Chaser now instead of Seeker. "Watch it, Fred!"

The reply was probably insulting, and mostly snatched away by the wind, but it ended in " – Ronniekins!" I'll kill him. We don't need a Beater, not with padded bludgers.

Red Quaffle arced, and Ron dove for it. Toes dragged in grass as his broom almost refused to pull out of the dive. Close. Too close! And he'd missed the damn Quaffle.

"Careful, there, Ron," teased Bill, long hair loose from its ponytail. He'd snatched the Quaffle and darted off toward their unguarded goal posts. The twins had gotten the best brooms because Bill had insisted. And practice set or not, none of us want Mum scolding over having to patch us up before dinner.

Ron shouted something back he knew Mum would have his head for, leaving the ground spiraling behind as he kicked off. The wind combed fingers through his hair. Almost at the posts, almost . . .

Thud.

"Whooo!"

And he was racing back toward the opposite end of the field, ducking a bludger aimed by George as he went. The Quaffle had hit him more than he had intercepted it, but he'd kept Bill from scoring!

Cheers on the ground distracted him a minute – Ginny, Mum, Dad, and Professor Lupin and Mr. Black had all come outside to watch. And it looked like Hermione had shown up too –

Ouch.

Padded or not, the bludger still knocked him spinning. Falling – bloody hell – oh! He found himself suddenly upright, and was shocked to feel wood still under his fingers. How he'd kept his seat, Ron had no idea – and as the Golden Snitch skittered past his face, no time to think.

In this game with no Seekers, anyone could catch the Snitch.

"Thirty-twenty!"

Down by ten, but if I can just – Ron stretched out for the golden blur bobbing just ahead. Shouts broke out from behind as he 'deserted' – sudden noise showed him both Harry and Bill on his tail. Charlie was coming up from the side, trying to pull Harry out of the running –

"Yow!" Damn, but Bill's elbows were hard! Ron slammed back into his brother, not caring. But Harry was ahead of them both, reaching for the snitch –

A blur of brown threw his friend clear as Charlie rushed up from the other side. Broom bucked, Ron realized. Harry!

But Harry's hand had knocked the Snitch off-course, and suddenly the four of them had collided mid-air and Ron felt the ground reach up and knock the breath out of him, hard.

He blinked. There was a foot a bare two centimeters from his face, and someone nearby was swearing. Ron grunted, feeling the ground shift unnaturally underneath him. What – earthquake?

"Ron, you great heavy git, get off me!"

Moving. He could do that. "Oh. Fred." Wasn't planning to suffocate him, but it might have worked – nah. Too many witnesses. "Oof!"

"Ron! Harry! Are you alright?" Hermione, bushy hair frizzed with heat and panic, dragging him away from the pile of his brothers.

At least there's only one of her. "Yeah." Ron pushed sweaty orange hair off his forehead. "Where's the snitch?"

"Where's the - " Brown eyes glowered. He cringed.

"Of all the hairbrained stunts to pull -" Mum was over by the twins, both of whom had managed to get caught in the pile that had Bill and Charlie still pulling themselves free. Mr. Black and Remus were helping Harry up – and –

"Well I'll be," Dad chuckled.

When did he get home?

"He got here just in time to see you all jump on each other like a pack of wolves," Hermione said tartly. Unnerved, Ron stared at her. Did I say that -

"Would you look at that!"

Ron looked.

Harry and Charlie both had a few fingers wrapped around the Snitch, holding it between them. The tiny feathered wings were crushed and a bit bedraggled on both sides, fluttering pathetically. Ron picked his jaw off the ground. "So who wins?" he managed when he could speak at all.

"Draw," Dad said firmly. "And a good thing too. There's just enough time for you to clean up before supper."

"Draw!?"

"No way!"

"Awww, Dad -"

"We were up by ten!"

"You father said it's a tie, and that's that!" Mum was glaring at everyone now, brushing Harry off firmly. Ron's friend gave him a panicked, helpless glance. He shrugged. She likes you, Harry. She's not yelling at you. Mum wouldn't – not a guest. It wasn't Harry's fault he and Charlie had both caught the Snitch.

"But Mum!"

"Yes, George?" Mum snapped. The twins froze.

Hermione pulled them away. "I think we should go get cleaned up for dinner. Come on," she said pointedly.

He could still hear Mum muttering angrily. " – playing so roughly. No sense, none whatsoever - and add that to the mess of Weasley's Wizard Wheezes besides! Not enough sense to fill a teaspoon between the two of them!" Ron dragged his broomstick from the pile. Good going, George. Way to attract her attention, and get her mad all over again.

"What are Weasley's Wizard Wheezes?" Harry asked. Ron left the shed open and they circled away from the dispersing crowd on the back lawn to head back into the house.

He couldn't hold in a laugh, and Ginny giggled too. She'd followed them to the small shed with the twins' broomsticks. "Mum found this stack of order forms when she was cleaning Fred and George's room." He left the window up behind them but shut the bottom half of the door. "Great long price lists for stuff they've invented. Joke stuff, you know. Fake wands and trick sweets, loads of stuff. It was brilliant, I never knew they'd been inventing all that . . ."

Hermione shook her head, tying bushy hair back as she climbed.

Ginny followed them up the stairs. "We've been hearing explosions out of their room for ages, but we never thought they were actually making things. We thought they just liked the noise."

Ron had, too. He rounded the landing with a sigh. "Only most of the stuff – well, all of it, really – was a bit dangerous." His shirt was sticking to him; Ron made a face, plucking at the sweaty cloth. Ugh. "And, you know, they were planning to sell it at Hogwarts to make some money, and Mum went mad at them. Told them they weren't allowed to make any more of it, and burned all the order forms . . . She's furious at them anyway." Furious was an understatement. "They didn't get as many O.W.L.s as she expected."

He'd never been so glad he wasn't someone else. But their O.W.L.s were coming up in only a year and a half, and he was dreading them. Merlin, if he didn't get enough Mum would be after him like the twins. Ron shuddered. I might actually have to start studying.

"And then there was this big row," Ginny was saying. "Because Mum wants them to go into the Ministry of Magic, like Dad, and they told her all they want to do is open a joke shop."

And that went over like a crate full of bludgers. Ron's ears were still ringing from the shouting. "Just don't take any candy from them. I know they haven't quit working on some of their stuff, and they've got this Ton-Tongue Toffee they've been trying to test out on us without Mum finding out -"

Percy's door snapped open, almost smashing him in the face. His brother's head poked out, and Ron stifled a sigh at the tetchy, aggravated look on his face. Here we go again . . .

"Hi, Percy," Harry offered.

Hermione gave his older brother a polite smile.

"Oh hello Harry." Percy sniffed. "I was wondering who was making all the noise. I'm trying to work in here, you know – I've got a report to finish for the office – and it's rather difficult to concentrate when people keep thundering up and down the stairs." This last was said with a direct glare at Ron.

If he hadn't heard this from Percy every day, twice a day, for the past two months, Ron might have been able to keep a lid on his irritation. Or not. Annoying git. Cauldron thickness, ha! "We're not thundering. We're walking. Sorry if we've interrupted the top-secret workings of the Ministry of Magic."

"What are you working on?" asked Harry.

Hermione actually looked interested. Ginny winced, and Ron couldn't help but roll his eyes. Here we go again . . .

"A report for the Department of International Magical Cooperation." Ron blinked. How can he sound so smug? No one'll ever see that silly report, anyway. Percy didn't seem to notice him, fixed on Hermione's interest. But Hermione thought everything was interesting, even Herbology. "We're trying to standardize cauldron thickness. Some of these foreign imports are just a shade too thin – leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three percent a year -"

Leakage data at breakfast, sneered at him when he used the loo, Mum asking Percy about it all the time . . . I can't take it anymore! "That'll change the world, that report will," Ron cut in. "Front page of the Daily Prophet, I expect, cauldron leaks."

He was rewarded with an unattractive-looking blush. Percy's mouth snapped shut. But only for a minute.

"You might sneer, Ron -" and from the tone of voice he just knew there was going to be even more information about cauldron leaks in his future – maybe Percy would corner him when he was taking a shower and read the report out loud – "But unless some sort of international law is imposed we might find the market flooded with flimsy, shallow-bottomed products that seriously endanger -"

Nah. Trapping him in the shower was more Fred and George's style. Percy would just talk him to death, right here on the stairs. "Yeah, yeah, all right." But at least he didn't have to stick around for it. Ron made for the next flight, wondering if Percy was smart enough to get out of the way.

Even clomping purposefully up to his room at the top didn't get all his irritation out. He could hear the noises even before he opened the door.

Squeak!

Oh, no . . .


"That was rude, Ron." They'd been climbing for so long, they must be close to the top of the Burrow.

Ron snorted. "He's been going on like that all summer. It's a nightmare, honestly!"

Squeak!

Harry was frowning; Hermione could hear the noise even trailing both her friends and Ginny up the stairs. "What's that noise?"

It was a tiny owl, zooming through Ron's room. Oh, that must be Pigwidgeon.

Hermione rolled her eyes as Ron groaned. "Shut up, Pig."

The Quidditch players in bright orange robes were alternately ducking or trying to grab or beat the little owl from their poster frames each time the feathery fluffball zoomed by.

She wiggled between two footboards, and caught Ron scowling at evidence of the cramped Burrow. He turned to Harry and grunted, "Fred and George are in here with us, because Bill and Charlie are in their room. Percy gets to keep his room all to himself because he's got to work."

Hermione'd never been in Ron's room. It's . . . really orange. And like the rest of the Burrow, it was larger on the inside than it looked on the outside.

Bedsprings creaked as Harry settled onto one of the beds. "Er – why are you calling that owl Pig?"

Ron pulled out a clean shirt and held it up, still frowning.

"Because he's being stupid," Ginny interjected. Hermione really liked the youngest Weasley. For all she had only brothers, Ginny wasn't at all what she'd expected. "Its proper name is Pigwidgeon."

"Yeah, and that's not a stupid name at all," Ron said sarcastically. "Ginny named him." He shook his head. "She reckons it's sweet. And I tried to change it, but it was too late, he won't answer to anything else. So now he's Pig. I've got to keep him up here because he annoys Errol and Hermes. He annoys me too, come to that."

But Ron didn't really mind it, she could tell. He complained all the time about Scabbers too, and then wouldn't speak to me after we thought Crookshanks ate him. The truth was a little bit scarier. Pettigrew was a murderer, and he was in the Weasleys' house for twelve years . . .

Harry interrupted her thoughts. "When did you get him?"

Ron's pause roused her curiosity. "Mr. Black didn't tell you?"

"Tell me what?" Harry had been lazing across his bed, but he sat up straight now.

"Pig's a gift from him," Ron explained. He'd yanked another shirt from the dresser, stuffing the other back in. "He sent him with a note saying that I should keep him, 'cause he felt it was his fault I didn't have a rat anymore."

They were all silent a minute about that, thinking about third year. And we really made a mess of Hagrid's hut. I'm glad he didn't mind after he found out why.

"Oh." Harry turned to her. "How's Crookshanks?"

Hermione grinned. "Mum and Dad love him. He's had such fun at home, even though there's nothing magical to keep his attention. I think he's learning about Muggles. But he loves chasing the birds." And catching them too, if the feathers are anything to go by.

"Sounds like fun," Harry grinned back.

Ginny giggled. "It's better than being stuck inside all day."

"Speaking of," Harry said amiably. "Percy's enjoying work, then?"

"Enjoying it?" Ron asked darkly, slipping back into the room. He was wearing a clean shirt, and red strands were dark with water. "I don't reckon he'd come home if Dad didn't make him. He's obsessed. It's unbelievable. Just whatever you do, don't get him started on his boss. According to Mr. Crouch . . . as I was saying to Mr. Crouch . . . Mr. Crouch is of the opinion . . . Mr. Crouch was telling me . . . They'll be announcing the engagement any day now. Percy practically licks his shoes. It's disgusting to hear him go on."

"Have you had a good summer, Harry?" Hermione was so tired of hearing him gripe about Percy. Every letter he'd written had whined about it and she'd had to tell him to stop in every reply. She supposed she could be patient, though. It wasn't as if he could tell Harry – for some reason, not even Hermes could find the Mansion. It's really strange. They'd tried to figure out why, but hadn't had much luck yet. But if it was Unplottable . . .

"Yeah." Harry brightened. "The Mansion is unbelievable, and Sirius and Remus are really cool. The Pevensies are nice too, and it's been the best summer ever."

It wasn't as if Harry had a lot to choose from. She'd never met the Dursleys. And I never want to. Awful people.

"So Sirius and Professor Lupin are coming to the Cup?" It's going to be really crowded in the boys' tent if they do.

Harry's face scrunched. "Sort of. Remus is going with us to the match, and he'll be staying in the tent too. Sirius will be there, but he's got to work. They need everyone on duty, because there are so many people coming."

"He's going to be an Auror?" Hermione sat down opposite Harry. The library didn't have so much current information – and none of the kind of things Harry probably heard from Sirius firsthand.

"Really?" Red hair spilled over Ginny's forehead; she blew it out of her face with an irritated huff.

"He was one before -" Harry swallowed. "Before. And he went back right after the trial, to see if he could become one again. I wanted to know why, after the way they treated him – but he said he had his reasons. "

"Huh." Ron smoothed the front of his shirt; twisted in front of the mirror to make sure there weren't awful wrinkles on the back.

"Did you – did you go to the trial at all?" Hermione wanted to know. She didn't dare ask Sirius what it had been like, no matter how much she wanted to know about the Magical justice system. She wasn't too keen on it, though, given what had happened to Sirius thirteen years ago. It sounds like they could use a few adjustments to the system. At least, if it's a medieval as the rest of the Wizarding world. She loved magic, she did, but she liked technology too.

Harry shook his head. "No. Sirius didn't want me involved at all." He hesitated, and his face went tight the way it had first year, when they'd known Voldemort was going after the Philosopher's Stone. But he looked at Ginny and shut his mouth, shaking his head a little.

Ginny caught the look and scowled, on the verge of –

Uh-oh. "Maybe you should go clean up," Hermione suggested, covering the weird moment. I wonder what he wants to tell us. But it was going to have to wait; perhaps they could find time at dinner, or even before the Cup. "Should we go down and help your mum with dinner?"

Ron rolled off the other side of the bed, and jumped on another mattress between himself and the door. "Yeah, all right."

Harry slipped into the bathroom, and emerged shaking water out of his hair. Mrs. Weasley was in the kitchen when they arrived, looking extremely happy. "We're eating in the garden," she said when they came in. "The Pevensies just arrived by Floo – they're outside. There's just not room for seventeen people in here. Could you take the plates outside, girls? The tables are all set up. Knives and forks please, you two," she said to Ron and Harry.

Potatoes were merrily popping out of their skins as they trucked out to the garden, and Ron's Mum had turned her attention to the dustpan.

"Hello Lucy, Susan," Harry called. The two women turned; Lucy Pevensie had been talking to Charlie, but Bill was deep in conversation with Edmund and Susan Pevensie. Peter Pevensie was speaking with Sirius Black, Professor Lupin and Mr. Weasley. "Peter! Ed!"

A few scattered greetings came back; the two women slipped away to join Mrs. Weasley in helping finish up dinner. Bill eyed the tables and muttered an Engorgement Charm under his breath; Charlie stretched the tablecloth to match.

A streak of orange drew Hermione's attention from setting the table. Crookshanks, bushy tail high, chased a gnome from under a bush and into a Wellington boot. Hermione smiled to see him having fun. She caught Ron snickering as he laid out the forks; Crookshanks stuck a paw in the boot, trying to reach the gnome. She could hear the little creature's high-pitched giggling from across the yard.

The sky was clear, deep blue at seven, when Mrs. Weasley, Lucy and Susan Pevensie brought the food out. All nine Weasleys, four Pevensies, two Marauders, and Harry and Hermione managed to fit comfortably around the tables. She was a little surprised at that, but Engorgement Charms had been created for a reason, she supposed. And the food is lovely.


" – Mr. Crouch that I'll have it ready by Tuesday."

Percy really needs to calm down. But if Bill knew anything about that younger brother, it was that Percy lived for order and rules. He couldn't help but shake his head. The Defense Against the Dark Arts professor was stuck making polite noises and casting pleading glances at Sirius Black for salvation.

Not that I really think he needs it. Bill forked a runaway potato, relishing the taste of Mum's cooking. If he's the first DADA professor to last more than a year, there's got to be more to him. After all, the position was cursed. No teacher had been able to hold it for more than a year since the 1950's.

Charlie and Lucy Pevensie were talking about dragons down the table; she was expressing a few noises about the disappointment of the Wizarding World's dragons. Charlie really likes her. Easy to see; no one else in the family could appreciate the giant lizards enough to see Charlie really get worked up about them. He'd save that piece of information for later.

"Where did you see dragons, then?" George interrupted, interested. Bill could see part of a drawing she'd made on a napkin.

"On an island in the Eastern Sea," was the vague reply.

Where's that? Bill bit into ham pie, his favorite.

Ron's friend Hermione frowned. "There's no Eastern Sea," she said doubtfully. Bill knew she was a Muggle-born, so he supposed she'd know. He knew for certain there was no Eastern Sea in the Wizarding World; he'd been traveling all over the magical globe for Gringotts since before he'd graduated Hogwarts.

Her explanation was cut off when Percy burst out at the other end of the table, "When I compare him to Mr. Crouch!"

Not again, Percy.

The twins were muttering lowly to themselves over something under the table – a Ton-Tongue Toffee, Bill had no doubt. He'd managed to extract the entire story from Ron, after luckily missing the row. Dad had warned him and Charlie about setting Mum off; they'd all been walking on eggshells for the past few days. Not like that'll really stop the twins.

"I can't see Mr. Crouch losing a member of our department and not trying to find out what's happened to them. You realize Bertha Jorkins has been missing for two weeks now? Her neighbors say she was back from holiday in Albania for three days – she even came back to work for two of them – but she hasn't shown up since!"

"Really?" Black interjected. Bill knew he was a former Auror. The man's plate was clean; he'd finished some time ago.

"Yes, I was asking Ludo about that," said Dad, frowning. "He says Bertha's gotten scattered plenty of times before now – gone running back and forth across countries because she's forgotten something . . . though I must say, if it was someone in my department, I'd be worried . . ."

Percy rolled his eyes. "Bertha's hopeless." He crunched around a bite of salad. "I hear she's been shuffled from department to department for years, much more trouble than she's worth."

Professor Lupin was still eating. For such a thin man, he managed to put away quite a lot of food. "She was a bit like that in our Hogwarts days," the Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor said wryly. "Hufflepuff, in our year. Always a bit featherbrained, but she would never miss class."

"That's worrying," Susan Pevensie put in mildly.

"And I can't believe you got an earring with a great big fang on it." Mum sighed. Bill blinked. She's been talking all this time; maybe if I'd paid more attention . . . "Really, Bill, what do they say at the bank?"

"Mum, no one at the bank gives a damn how I dress as long as I bring home plenty of treasure," Bill said patiently. Scooped another forkful of boiled potatoes and saw Ron start searching for the bowl. The Pevensies had brought bangers and mash along with a really fantastic-looking desert.

"And your hair's getting silly, dear." Mum had her going-to-cut-hair look, aimed straight at his head. "I wish you'd let me give it a trim. . ."

Bill felt hunted. Ginny came to his rescue. "I like it. You're so old fashioned, Mum. Anyway, it's nowhere near as long as Professor Dumbledore's -"

Talk of Quidditch dragged his attention away again.

"- got to be Ireland." Charlie had drawn Lucy and the twins into a discussion of the World Cup. "Peru was flattened in the semifinals."

Fred objected. "Bulgaria's got Victor Krum, though."

"Who?"

Charlie started to explain to Lucy.

George interjected, "Krum's one decent player. Ireland's got seven."

" – only wish England had gotten through," Charlie was saying.

Bill winced. "That was embarrassing, that was."

"Yeah," Harry interrupted. "It was awful -"

George groaned, pushing his plate away. "Crushed, by Transylvania -"

"Three hundred and ninety to ten," Fred moaned. "Unbelievable."

"Wales lost to Uganda, and Scotland was slaughtered by Luxembourg," Charlie sighed.

Sudden light illuminated the darkening table from overhead; Dad had conjured candles. The food had all disappeared more effectively than any spell.

" – going to the World Cup?" Ginny asked Edmund down the table over strawberry ice cream. Bill didn't really know any of the Pevensies, but for what they'd done for his baby sister, he owed them.

The counselor shook his head. "No," he smiled. "I have a lot of things to do to get ready for next year, unfortunately. So does Lucy. Susan's closing up her work in America and Peter's got to be back at our Ministry full-time, unfortunately. We don't have the time."

Muggles at the World Cup? Bill didn't think so, even though he knew they weren't Muggles precisely. Ron and Ginny had said a few things, and he'd caught his parents speculating on it a few times. Still, no one seemed to have anything but guesses and they seemed a decent sort.

Apparently the Professor was going with Dad and everyone to look after Harry Potter, and his guardian would be there, but Black was one of the on-duty Aurors and would be working the entire time.

Something shrieked lowly – the orange cat of Hermione's had managed to lure a gnome out of hiding in one of Percy's Wellington boots by pretending to ignore it. The feline was now chasing the little creature gleefully across the grass. Moths fluttered near the flames above them.

"Look at the time!" Mum exclaimed. Dishes were suddenly stacked with the flick of a wand, and making their way in to the sink. "You lot need your sleep – you'll be up at the crack of dawn to get to the Cup." Thank Merlin for Apparition. He didn't have to be up until nine.

Mum was still talking as the tablecloth disappeared. "Harry, if you'll leave your school list out, I'll get your things for you tomorrow at Diagon Alley. I'm getting everyone else's. There might not be time after the World Cup, the match went on for five days last time."

"Wow!" Harry grinned. "I hope it does this time! Thanks, Mrs. Weasley, but Sirius already took me; I've got everything for next year."

"Well." Ron saw his Mum shoot an approving glance the Auror's way; but the man was deep in conversation with Dad and neither of them noticed.

"I certainly hope the match doesn't take that long." Percy pushed off from the table to precede them inside. "I shudder to think of what the state of my in-tray would be if I was away from work for five days."

"Yeah," snorted Fred from behind. "Someone might slip dragon dung in it again, eh, Perce?"

Bill fought not to chuckle. The twins thought they were being discreet, but he'd known them since before they were born. Teeth dug into his lower lip at the sputtering sounds as Percy whirled. I won't laugh, I won't laugh –

"That was a sample of fertilizer from Norway!" Percy's face redder than he'd seen it all week. "It was nothing personal!"

Bill only just managed to keep a straight face at Fred's whisper, drifting back from just in front of him. "It was. We sent it."