Author's Note: Oh my God, that last chapter was such a beast to write. x] Not only was it boring (sorry about that by the way) but it didn't seem to want to end, hence my somewhat abrupt cut off with parts missing. I'm glad that you're all sticking with me through the boring stuff, but hopefully this chapter has the opportunity to redeem the last couple I've written, it promises in my head to be decent at least, but we'll see. This chapter is another massive chunk that I couldn't bring myself to miss, someone mentioned last chapter that its very much Goblet Of Fire rewritten, which is how I wanted it; in my own style with my own take on the characters and the relationships within the book. However on a brighter note it's almost over! We're finally getting to the part of the book I've wanted to write since I started this fiction – the final task. =] Won't say anymore I don't want to give anything away though I am getting somewhat frighten by all the threats that revolve around Cedric dying. x] Ya'll just to wait and see. Also you're lucky I got this finished tonight, tomorrow's my birthday! xD
Hope you enjoy this chapter it was actually quite fun to write! Ttfn. Ta ta for now! =3
One of the best things about the aftermath of the second task was that everybody was very keen to hear details about what had happened at the bottom of the lake, which meant for once Ron was getting to share Harry's limelight. Only now did he realise how boring it must have been for everyone to watch an empty lake for over an hour...he'd have to ask Neville what everyone did to pass the time. However, Harry noticed that Ron's version of events changed subtly with every retelling. At first, he gave what seemed to be the truth; it tallied with Hermione's tale at least – Dumbledore had put all of the hostages into a bewitched sleep in McGonagall's office, first assuring them that they would be quite safe and would awake when they were above the water once more. One week later though and Ron was telling everyone about his thrilling kidnap in which he struggled single-handedly against fifty or so heavily armed merpeople who had to beat him into submission before tying him up.
"But I had my wand hidden up my sleeve," he assured Padma Patil who seemed to be a lot keener of Ron now that he was getting so much attention and was making a point of talking to him every time she passed him in the corridors. "I could have taken those mer-idiots any time I wanted."
"What were you going to do? Snore at them?" Hermione jabbed waspishly and went back to her book; people had been teasing her about being the thing that Viktor Krum would miss the most and she had been in a rather tetchy mood for a couple of days.
Ron's ears went bright red and he reverted back to the bewitched sleep version of events for fear of being shown up by the girl again.
Cedric on the other hand, who had taken to hanging out with Ron and Hermione as much as he did his own friends, had enjoyed the red head's fabricated story immensely, and had questioned him teasingly about the fighting styles of merpeople. "So...there were twenty spear holders and about thirty swordsmen...I'm impressed, Ron; considering I've never saw a merperson with a sword down there, they all carried spears," he mocked gently, Harry between his legs and leaning against his chest while reading through his Potions homework.
"Oh bog off, Cedric," Ron muttered, going red again and he scrunched up a piece of parchment and tossed it at the Hufflepuff - ducking his head into his book when it bounced off of Harry's head. However even Hermione couldn't help but join the two boy's laughter when Harry peered over the top of his parchment and glowered in Ron's direction, only to placated when Cedric kissed the spot that had been attacked.
"I give up!" the Gryffindor champion hissed suddenly and tossed the work onto the floor in front of him, folding his arms and pouting. He almost shushed back at Miss Price when she poked her head round a bookcase to reprimand him for his sudden outburst, sending a disapproving look in him and Cedric's direction. They didn't care so much about her seeing them; she'd already caught them molesting each other in the furthest parts of the library and had promised not to say a word as long as they didn't do it again. Both boys held up their hands as if to prove they had just been sitting and Harry was shocked to see her half smile before skulking away.
"I can't do it; none of what I wrote makes sense!"
Cedric leant round him and rolled his eyes, snatching up his boyfriend's homework and pulled a pencil from his bag next to him. "Lemme have a look, it can't be that bad..." After a moment or so of checking even the Hufflepuff was frowning, scribbling furiously to alter any mistakes, mumbling something about horsefly wings, not dragonfly wings.
It took the older boy a good five minutes before he handed the much changed homework and smiled down at him. "There, copy that out tonight and you should get good marks on it."
"I love you so much right now," Harry grinned and leant up to press his lips to the prefect's in a chaste kiss, throwing the parchment ball from before in Ron's direction when he heard the red head dry retching behind them.
"You still coming to Hogsmeade with me on Saturday?"
"Of course," the dark haired boy chuckled and rolled up the parchment, placing it in his bag.
"Harry...You were going to go and see...you know, on Saturday," Hermione hissed suddenly, her bushy head poking up from behind her book, looking shiftily between her friend and the Hufflepuff.
Harry's heart sunk; he'd forgotten all about Sirius coming back...he'd been so caught up in his own life. He couldn't tell Cedric. He trusted him with his life, but he couldn't expect his godfather to; perhaps one day he could introduce them to each other; Cedric as his boyfriend and Sirius as his godfather and not the psychotic mass murder he was billed to be. Now he thought about it he had no idea how the Black would react to his sudden sexual change; the man had always spoken to him about girls. Probably under the assumption that Harry liked them.
"Is this another something I can't know about?" Cedric asked glumly, all but deflating behind him and watched as Harry sighed.
Nodding the dark haired boy turned to look at his boyfriend with a small apologetic smile. "I'm afraid so, Cedric...I need to ask, but as soon as I do and I get the go ahead, I'll tell you...I'll tell you everything about what happened last year right from the beginning. We might still be able to go out for a little bit? If you still want to?"
"Five minutes of your time is all I need, more would be preferable but I understand that I'm going out with a busy guy with lots of secrets," the Hufflepuff said quietly and pressed a quick kiss to Harry's forehead before getting up and tugged his bag onto his shoulder. "Just let me know tomorrow so I know whether or not to tell my friends I am or I'm not going."
Harry didn't need to be a mind reader to know that Cedric was putting on a brave compassionate and very understanding face for him and he had to refrain from shouting at Hermione for bringing it up when the older boy had been around...And she called Ron tactless.
As they entered March the weather became drier, but cruel winds skinned their hands and faces every time they went outside into the grounds. There were delays in the post because the owls kept being blown off course; the brown owl that Harry had sent to Sirius with the dates of the Hogsmeade weekend turned up at breakfast on Friday morning with half its feathers sticking up the wrong way. No sooner had he removed Sirius' replay from the twine around its leg the owl took flight, clearly afraid that it was going to be sent outside again.
His godfather's reply was almost as short as the previous one.
Be as stile end of road out of Hogsmeade (past Dervish & Banges) at two o'clock on Saturday afternoon. Bring as much food as you can.
Two o'clock...He could still see Cedric in the morning and then he could hang out with his friends for the rest of the day. It was the perfect set up, he just needed to find his boyfriend to tell him – apparently he had been right when he'd had the feeling Cedric had been upset by the lack of information because now Cho was glowering at him in the same way she often did at the Hufflepuff when he'd misbehaved.
"Surely he hasn't come back to Hogsmeade?" Ron asked incredulously, drawing Harry back into the conversation.
"Looks like it, doesn't it?" Hermione answered with a shrug, and turned to look at the dark haired boy to her left as if expecting Harry to say something. It was about now that he realised how stupid and reckless his godfather was being.
"I can't believe him," he hissed tensely. "If he's caught..."
"Made it so far, though, hasn't he?" Ron said almost gently as if trying to calm his friend down. "And it's not like the place in swarming with Dementors anymore."
With a sigh Harry folded up the letter, thinking. If he was honest he really wanted to see Sirius again. He wanted to tell him about Cedric and give him the go ahead to tell his boyfriend about him; they were both big parts of his life, he didn't want them to not know about each other. There may come a time when they met...
After finding Cho and relaying his message for her to give to Cedric Harry spent the rest of the day planning what he and Cedric were going to do the next morning; and each idea put him in an even better mood. He therefore approached the final lesson of the afternoon – double Potions – feeling considerably more cheerful than he usually did when descending into the dungeons.
Malfoy, Crabbe and Goyle were standing in a huddle outside the classroom door with Pansy Parkinson's gang of Slytherin girls; all of whom were huddled around something Harry couldn't see and sniggering heartily. Pansy's pug-like face peered excitedly around Goyle's broad back as the trio of Gryffindors approached.
"There they are, there they are!" she giggled and the knot of Slytherins broke apart, allowing Harry a good look at what the ugly girl had clasped in her hand. It was a magazine – Witch Weekly – with the picture of a pretty curly-haired witch on the front cover grinning toothily and pointing her wand at a large sponge cake.
"You might find something to interest you in there, Granger!" Pansy declared loudly and she threw the magazine at Hermione who caught it, looking startled. At that moment the dungeon door open and Snape beckoned them inside.
He and Cedric left the castle at half past ten the next morning to find a weak silver sun shining down on the grounds; the weather was milder than it had been all year and by the time they arrived in Hogsmeade they had both taken off their cloaks and thrown them over their shoulders. The food Sirius had requested was in his bag – unbeknownst to Cedric who had gasped at the weight of it when offering to help Harry take of his cloak – they had snuck a dozen chicken legs, a loaf of bread and a flask of pumpkin juice from the lunch table.
They both spent the morning ambling about and talking about their respective experiences in the lake, looking like two champions who had simply gotten to know each other better. They went into Zonko's Joke Shop where they were both accosted by Fred and George, who thankfully released them promptly with a wink from George, then into Honeydukes Sweetshop where Harry bought Cedric a large bag of Bertie Botts, which they both knew was an apology of sorts for ditching him later on. Cedric dragged in into Scrivenshaft's Quill Shop for some more parchment and ink and finally they stopped in Gladrags Wizardwear so Harry could buy a present for Dobby. They had a fun selection of the most lurid socks Harry had ever seen and it had taken them both forever to pick their favourites (Cedric had decided he wanted to thank Dobby as well once he'd found out what exactly the little house elf had done); finally picking a pair patterned with flashing gold and silver stars and another that screamed loudly when they became too smelly.
At about quarter to one they walked the Three Broomsticks where Harry had promised to meet Ron and Hermione and where Cedric had told him his friends would be meeting him at about half past one. The two Gryffindors were already there so they all sat and had a Butterbeer before they had to leave. Harry somewhat reluctantly bid his boyfriend goodbye and promised to meet up with him later on today and together he, Ron and Hermione made their way up the High Street, past Dervish and Bangs and out towards the edge of the village.
Harry had never been in this direction before; the winding land was leading them out into the wild countryside around Hogsmeade. The cottages were fewer here and the gardens larger; they were walking towards the foot of the mountain in whose shadow the village lay and when they turned the corner they saw a stile at the end of the lane. Waiting for them ins front paws on the topmost bar was a very large, shaggy black dog, which was carrying some newspapers in its mouth, and looked very familiar...
"Hello Sirius," Harry greeted bright once they had reached him and laughed as the dog sniffed his bag eagerly, wagged his tail once and then turned, trotting away from them across the scrubby patch of ground which rose to meet the rocky foot of the mountain. Harry, Ron and Hermione climbed over the stile without a word and followed.
Sirius led them to the very foot of the mountain, where the ground was covered with boulders and rocks; but it was easy for him, with his four paws, but the three of them were soon out of breath. They followed him higher for nearly half an hour only lead by Sirius' wagging tail, sweating in the sun and shoulder strap of Harry's satchel cutting into his shoulder.
Then, at last the large dog slipped out of sight and when they reached the place he'd vanished they saw a narrow fissure in the rock. Squeezing into it Harry looked round the low ceilinged, cool dimly lit cave; tethered to the end of it with one long rope around his neck, was Buckbeak and his fierce yellow eyes flashed at the sight of them. All three of them bowed low to the proud animal and after regarding them imperiously for a moment, Buckbeak bent his scaly front knees and allowed Hermione to rush forward and stroke his feathery neck. Harry on the other hand was staring at the dog which had just turned into his godfather.
Sirius was wearing ragged grey robes, the some ones he'd escaped from Azkaban in and his black hair was longer than it had been when he'd appeared in the Common Room fireplace and was matted and unruly once more. He looked awfully thin.
"Chicken!" he said hoarsely after removing the old Daily Prophets from his mouth and tossed them aside. Taking the bundle of food from Harry gratefully the man mumbled a quick word of thanks and tore into the meat feverously with his teeth. "I've been living off rats mostly – " he said in between mouthfuls – "can't steal too much food from Hogsmeade; I'd draw too much attention to myself."
Pausing in his rush for food Sirius grinned up at Harry, and he only reluctantly returned it, causing the man to frown.
"What're you doing here Sirius? It's not that I'm not glad to see you, but – "
"I'm fulfilling my duty as godfather," the ragged man interrupted, gnawing on the bone in a very dog-like manner. "Don't worry about me; I'm pretending to be a loveable stray."
He attempted another grin but seeing the anxiety still of Harry's face he added more seriously, "I want to be on the spot. Your last letter...well, let's just say things are getting fishier. I've been stealing the paper every time someone throws it out, and by the looks of things I'm not the only one who's getting worried."
He nodded at the yellowing papers on the floor and Ron picked them up and unfolded them, flicking through the headlines.
Harry however was still staring at Sirius. Why were grownups so reckless? He had more common sense than most of them. "What if they catch you? What if you're seen?"
"You three and Dumbledore are the only ones round here who know I'm an Animagus," the man said with a shrug and devoured another chicken leg.
"Hey, listen to this," Ron piped up, flattening the paper on his lap. "Ministry Witch Still Missing – Minister for Magic Now Personally Involved."
"Yes, well we haven't really had any disappearances since You-Know-Who was still about. I'm not surprised the Minister's getting involved. Carry on Ron," Sirius mumbled, tossing another bone to Buckbeak who eagerly snapped it up.
"Mystery Illness of Bartemius Crouch...I'll just read the gist...er...house appears deserted...St Mungo's Hospital for Magical Maladies decline comment...Ministry refuses to confirm rumours of critical illness..."
"They're making it sound like he's dying," Harry said slowly, looking between the three others with a frown. "But he can't be that ill if he's managed to get up here..."
"My brother's Crouch's personal assistant," Ron informed Sirius with a roll of his eyes. "He says Crouch is suffering from overwork."
"Mind you, he did look really ill the last time I saw him up close," Harry added, thinking back to the night this mayhem had all started, taking the paper from Ron to read the article himself. "The night my name came out of the goblet..."
"Getting his comeuppance for sacking poor Winky, isn't he," Hermione hissed tartly, stroking the feathers on Buckbeak's neck who was now crunching up the chicken bones being thrown his way.
"Hermione's obsessed with house-elves," Ron muttered to the shaggy man sitting not too far away, casting the girl a dark look.
Sirius however seemed interested in this information, "Crouch sacked his house-elf?"
"Yeah, at the Quidditch World Cup," Harry answered and quickly launched into the the story about the Dark Mark's appearance and Winky being found with Harry's wand in her hand and Mr Crouch's fury. He also spoke a lot about Cedric, hoping the man would ask him who he was, but Sirius didn't. Instead he was on his feet again and had started pacing up and down the cave.
"Let me get this straight," he said after a while, brandishing a fresh chicken leg. "You first saw the elf in the Top Box, she was saving Crouch a seat right?"
"But Crouch didn't turn up for the match?"
"No," Harry acknowledged, then continued, "I think he saw he'd been too busy."
Sirius started pacing again in silence and the three teenagers simply sat and waited, expecting some sudden epiphany. However before one could come there was the sound of a mini rock slide and what sounded like footsteps from outside the entrance to the cave and within seconds Sirius had grabbed Ron's wand, which he'd been using as a light to read by and was out in the open sending a stunner at the intruder. Heart in his throat Harry ran out after his godfather just in time to see a head of bronze hair duck behind a large rock to hide.
"No Sirius!" Harry shouted as the man started to say another spell and quickly knocked his arm out of the way. "It's ok."
Cedric's head popped out from behind the boulder, looking anxiously between him and his godfather, then the Ron and Hermione who had also joined them outside. For a moment neither said anything and the older boy cautiously slipped into the open, face red and gnawing his lower lip.
"I'm sorry...I shouldn't have followed you, but you went the opposite way to where I thought you were going and I worried...you know I don't thi – " the Hufflepuff's eyes settled on Sirius for a moment and then widened as he took a step back "- Harry you're standing next to -"
"Cedric this is Sirius Black, my godfather."
Harry watched as his boyfriend mouthed the word once or twice and then frowned. It was then that Sirius cleared his throat from behind him.
"Oh, yeah, er, Sirius this is Cedric."
"Right, the boy from the cup, you mentioned him before...And why did he follow you up here?" the man ground out, Ron's wand still in his grasp and eyeing the new comer in a way that let everyone know that if Harry hadn't have stopped him he would have been Obliterated by now and back at the bottom of the mountain. He didn't trust him.
"It's ok, Harry you don't have to. I'll just go, I shouldn't have followed you and – "
"Who says you're leaving?"
"Sirius," Hermione squeaked, looking fearfully at the ragged man standing next to Harry. So that was what Azkaban did to you? Made you ready to hex a student should they stumble across where you're hiding?
"Sir, I promise I won't say a thing I know – " Cedric started but was immediately cut off by Sirius who had raised the wand once more. He closed his eyes half expecting to feel a spell hit his square in the chest, instead he felt Harry's back against him with the younger boy glowering at his godfather.
"Sirius stop it!"
"I trust Cedric with my life, as much as I do Ron and Hermione."
"And how can you be sure he's not going to tell anyone because he's 'worried about you'?"
"I wouldn't do that!" Cedric snapped suddenly but was once again cut over, but this time by Harry.
"Because he's my boyfriend, Sirius...If I asked him not to he wouldn't do it. I was going to tell you about it today but Cedric...had an early start."
For a moment Sirius stood in dumbfounded silence, wand hanging loosely from his hand before he broke into a grin and chuckled. "Your boyfriend huh? Well, well, well. You always surprise me Harry. But I guess I can accept that as an excuse...for now. If you trust him then I think I can too."
No wonder they thought he was mad...
"Sorry about that then, Cedric was it? I can't be too careful you understand."
"Call me Sirius, I never bought into the whole 'sir' thing. How much do you know about me?" he added before slipping inside the cave once more, signalling for everyone to follow him in.
"Sorry about that," Harry mumbled gloomily and sighed, taking the older boy's hand in his, guiding him into the cave. "Mind your head."
"Don't worry about it...It was just...A bit of a shock. The man who was apparently trying to kill you is your godfather; isn't he a Death Eater though?"
Having not received an answer to his question Sirius decided to answer the question Cedric had asked Harry himself, after all, that meant his godson hadn't told him anything... Which now he thought about it was something he was a little thankful for. It meant the boy respected his privacy. "No. I've never been a Death Eater and I'd rather die than join them. I never betrayed James and Lily Potter and I most certainly don't want Harry dead. The only reason I'm here is because I'm also...worried about him."
"You're going to have to explain this all to me later," Cedric mumbled and quietly sat down, careful to keep his distance from Harry for Sirius' benefit. He didn't want to push his boundaries until he was certain that the older man was ok with it; he was just thankful that Sirius was as accepting as he was, he knew for a fact that his father wouldn't be.
Harry nodded and with an affectionate smile at his godfather settled himself down next to his boyfriend, chuckling as Cedric shifted away from him awkwardly; watching as Sirius handed Ron's wand back. "Does anyone know where we got up to before Siruis nearly blew Ced's head off?"
"We were telling Sirius about Mr Crouch forcing poor Winky to save a seat for him," Hermione answered indignantly, her cheeks blotching red with a mixture of anger and embarrassment when Ron glowered at her and Sirius raised an eyebrow in her direction.
"I remember...What I was going to say when Cedric...turned up," the man said diplomatically, though he could see Harry mumbling 'nearly had his head blown off' under his breath. Grinning he turned his attention to his godson, taking him by surprise. "Harry did you check your pockets for your wand after you left the Top Box?"
Cedric frowned and looked down at his boyfriend who shook his head and answered no, explaining that he hadn't needed his wand until they'd got to the forest. Ah, they were talking about the Quidditch World Cup and about who might have stole Harry's wand and conjured the Dark Mark.
"And then I put my hand in my pocket and all that was in there were my Omnioculars," Harry finished and started at Sirius as his expression became pensive. "Are you saying whoever conjured the Mark stole my wand in the Top Box?"
"Winky did not steal that want!" Hermione screeched and apologised quietly to Buckbeak as he rustled his feathers irritably. He snapped half heartedly at the girl as she attempted to start petting his neck again, but at the pout she gave him he yielded and bowed his large head for her.
"The elf wasn't the only one in that box," Sirius said solemnly and his brow furrowed as he started to pace again, his hands behind his back. "Who else was sitting behind you?"
"Loads of people," Harry mumbled with a shrug, counting them off on his fingers. "Some Bulgarian ministers...Cornelius Fudge...The Malfoys..."
"The Malfoys!" Ron shouted suddenly his voice echoing around the cave, the volume causing Buckbeak to toss his head nervously with a shrill squawk. Covering their ears Hermione, Cedric, Harry and Sirius glowered at the red head, but there was no stopping him. "I bet Lucius Malfoy took it!"
"Anyone else?" Sirius asked quietly, trying to sound like he was taking Ron seriously. They all knew that Lucius wouldn't be so careless as to steal Harry's wand in the Top Box of a major wizarding sports event.
"No one," Harry answered.
"Yes there was, Harry, there was Ludo Bagman," Hermione reminded him, pausing from her gentle hushing and stroking to try and soothe the Hippogriff now anxiously pawing the ground. He was also sending sharp looks in Ron's direction as if remembering why he hadn't liked him that much.
"I don't know much about Bagman except that he used to be a beater for the Wimbourne Wasps," Sirius said with a shrug and flopped down next to the bread, pumpkin juice and what was left of the chicken. "What's he like?"
"He's ok," Harry replied slowly, glancing at Cedric who was taking all this in avidly nodding now and then. "He keeps trying to help me with the Tournament..."
"Does he now?" Sirius mused, scratching at the stubble on his chin, frowning more deeply. "I wonder why he'd do that."
"Says he's taken a liking to me."
"Hmmm." Without another word Sirius picked up the second to last drumstick and tore into it with renewed vigour, chewing furiously as he thought.
Cedric on the other hand seemed to have noticed something completely unrelated to their current dilemma. "So that's why your bag was so heavy?" he asked quietly, eying the food being consumed by his boyfriend's godfather.
Harry nodded with a small smile, "Couldn't let him go hungry could I? Grownups need to be looked after, always need an eye on them."
"I second that," the Hufflepuff chuckled, though he looked a little sheepish when he noticed Sirius was now watching him very carefully. He was almost thankful when Hermione spoke and the man turned his unwavering gaze on her, though it didn't seem to bother her half as much as it did him.
"We saw him in the forest just before the Dark Mark appeared."
"Who?" Ron asked looking up from the paper he'd started to study carefully during the gap in conversation.
"Ludo Bagman!" she hissed in his direction before turning back to Sirius. "He came bowling through the bushes and apparated almost immediately afterwards."
"Yeah, but he went to the campsite didn't he," the red head argued, putting the Daily Prophet down in his lap. "The moment we told him about the riot he went to go help."
"How d'you know," Hermione shot back tartly, scowling at her friend. "How do you know where he Disapperated to?"
"Oh come off it Hermione," snapped Ron incredulously. "Are you telling me you reckon Ludo Bagman – the man who's had one too many bludgers to the head – conjured the Dark Mark?"
"It's more likely he did it than Winky," she sniffed, turning away to pet Buckbeak's plumage.
Pointing wildly in Hermione's direction Ron looked meaningfully at Sirius, "Told you! I told you she's obsessed with house- "
But Sirius held up a hand to silence the boy and shook his head. Harry was secretly glad, he hated it when they both bickered like that, it did his head in. "When the Dark Mark was conjured and the elf had been discovered with Harry's wand what did Crouch do?"
Eager to stop the two teenagers from arguing further Harry answered, "Went to look in the bushes, but there wasn't anyone there."
"But not before trying to pin it us," Cedric added, looking between Harry, Ron and Hermione. "It took a lot of convincing to get him off our case."
"Of course," Sirius muttered, tossing the stripped bone to Buckbeak and got up to resume his pacing. "Of course, he'd want to pin it on anyone else but his own elf...and then he sacked her?"
"Yes," Hermione hissed heatedly, moving away from Buckbeak to sit near Harry and Cedric, "he sacked her just because she hadn't stayed in her tent and let herself get trampled – "
"Hermione, give it a rest with the elf already!"
But Sirius shook his head again and waved Ron down, "She's got a better measure of Crouch than you do, Ron. If you want to know what a man's like you take a long good look at how he treats his inferiors, not his equals.
"All these absences of Barty Crouch...he goes to the trouble of making sure his house elf saves him a seat and then doesn't turn up...He works very hard to get the Triwizard Tournament reinstated and stops coming to that too...It's not like him. If he'd ever taken a day off work because of illness I'll eat Buckbeak."
The creature in question squawked again, this time a little quieter, and ruffled his feathers. Sirius smiled slightly, "Sorry mate."
"D'you...know Crouch then?" Harry asked.
Sirius' face darkened, and Cedric instinctively pulled Harry into his lap. He suddenly looked as menacing as the night the trio of Gryffindors had met him; the night Harry had still believed him to be a murderer.
"Oh I know Crouch alright..." he said quietly. "He was the one who gave the order for me to be sent to Azkaban...without a trial."
Ron and Hermione straightened up to stare at Sirius with barely contained outrage and Cedric was looking just as scandalized; Harry on the other hand paled and looked down at the ground with a small frown. "You were sent to the Dementors without a trial? I always assumed that – "
"That the evidence against me was overwhelming and that after much debating I was finally found guilty?" Sirius finished grimly and shook his head, flopping down for another chicken wing. "Crouch used to be Head of the Department of Magical Law Enforcement, didn't you know?"
Harry, Ron and Hermione shook their heads; Cedric was the only one to nod. "My dad mentioned it once," he mumbled in explanation and let Sirius continue.
"He was tipped as the next Minister for Magic. He's a great wizard Barty Crouch, powerfully magical – and a power hungry bastard...Mind my French," Sirius said with a small rueful smile, then seeing the look on Harry's face added, "Oh, never a Voldemort supporter. No, Barty Crouch was always very outspoken against the Dark side...well, you wouldn't understand...you're too young..."
"That's what my dad said at the World Cup," Ron cut across him irritably. "Try us, why don't you?"
A grin flashed across Sirius' thin face and Cedric saw at once why he and Harry were so fond of each other; there was a definite mischief about them both; though it seemed more concentrated in the older man than in his boyfriend. "Alright, I'll try you..."
For a second or so he remained silent, pondering over how to phrase what he wanted to say, and then said, "Imagine that Voldemort's powerful now. You don't know who his supporters are, you don't know who's working for him and who isn't; you know he can control people so they do terrible things without being able to stop themselves – killing your entire family for instance and then seeing how you react when you come back to your senses, he did that with four families."
Cedric stared solemnly at Sirius, vaguely aware that Hermione had crept forward to sit next to Ron who now had a comforting arm around her shoulders. However it was when he looked at Harry that he felt the panic in his gut, he'd felt the boy flinch when his godfather had given them an example and he was now staring blankly at the floor. Reaching over the Hufflepuff took his hand and squeezed, forcing a small smile. Thankfully Sirius noticed the signs and quickly continued.
"You're scared for yourself and your family and friends. Every week news comes of more deaths, more disappearances, more torturing...the Ministry can't cope under the mass panic and plunges into disarray. They don't know what to do and they're trying desperately to hide it from the Muggles. But meanwhile Muggles and dying to. Terror everywhere. Dread...confusion...anger...that's how it used to be with Voldemort slap bang in the middle causing it all.
"Times like that bring out the best in some people, and the worst in others. Crouch's principles might have been good in the beginning – I wouldn't know, but he climbed through the Ministry like a wildfire through dry grassland. He started issuing harsh measures against Voldemort's supporters; the Aurors were given new powers – powers to kill instead of capture, for instance – " Sirius glazed over the particulars this time and continued, tossing Buckbeak his bone " – and I wasn't the first to be handed straight to the Dementors without trial. Crouch fought violence with violence and authorised the use of the Unforgivable Curses against suspects. While most of us saw that he was being as ruthless and cruel as many on the Dark side he had his supporters, and they thought he was going about things the right way. He had witches and wizards clambering for him to take the position of Minister for Magic and when Voldemort disappeared it looked like it was only a matter of time before he got the top job. But then something very unfortunate happened..."
"His son was caught running with a group of Death eaters," Cedric interrupted and Sirius nodded grimly in his direction.
"Crouch's son was caught?" Hermione gasped and the scruffy man went on to explain.
"Yep, he was caught with a group of Death Eaters who'd managed to talk their way out of Azkaban, apparently they were trying to find Voldemort and return him to power," he mumbled, tearing the bread in half. "Nasty little shock for old Barty I'd imagine. Should have spent more time with his family at home. Ought to have left the office early once in a while...got to know his own son."
"Sirius that's an awful thing to say. He couldn't have known that it would happen..."
The man barked a laugh and shook his head, "I thought you had the measure of him, Hermione. That man cared about nothing but power and his job, family came second anything that threatened to tarnish his reputation had to go, he had dedicated his entire life to becoming Minister for Magic. I think it's just that the kid turned dark on him. It taught him a lesson. It's just a shame that he ended up with that git for a father..."
"Was his son a Death Eater?" Cedric asked after a moment of silence.
"No idea. I was in Azkaban myself when he was bought in. This is mostly stuff I've found out since I got out; the boy was definitely caught in the company of people I'd bet my life on were Death Eaters. But he might have just been in the wrong place at the wrong time, just like the house elf. Crouch's fatherly affection stretched just enough to give his son a trial and, by all accounts, it wasn't much more than an excuse for Crouch to show how much he hated the boy...then he sent him straight to Azkaban.
"Poor kid couldn't have been more than nineteen, I saw the Dementors bringing him in. He was screaming for his mother by nightfall. He went quiet after a few days though...they all went quiet in the end...except for when they shrieked in their sleep..."
The deadened look in Sirius' eyes became more pronounced than ever, as though the shutters had closed behind them. They waited for a moment until Cedric gently nudged the man out of it by saying, "So he's still in Azkaban?"
"No," Sirius replied dully. "No, he's not in there anymore. He died about a year after they bought him in."
"He wasn't the only one. Most go mad in there and plenty stop eating in the end. They lose the will to live. You could always tell when a death was coming; the Dementors could sense it and they got excited. That boy looked pretty sickly when he arrived, Crouch being so high up in the Ministry was allowed a deathbed visit. That was the last time I saw him, half carrying his wife past my cell. She died shortly afterwards, so I've heard. Grief. She just wasted away like the boy. Crouch never came back for the body, so the Dementors buried him outside the fortress, I watched them do it."
Sirius stopped talking for a moment and picked up the flask of pumpkin juice, draining it with a few long draughts; then sensing that the older boy had something to say he looked meaningfully in Cedric's direction. "What is it?"
"How did you survive?"
"In Azkaban?" the man asked and seeing the nod he sighed, scratching his face. "Hope. I knew I was innocent and I held onto that. I hoped I'd get to see Harry and Remus...and that I'd get to kill that traitorous son of a bitch Wormtail...That'll do for now, it'll make sense when Harry explains it all later on. But now you can just know that I made a promise to myself in there that I would fulfil my duty as godfather and that I would do everything in my power to protect Harry. From anything, no matter if it's Voldemort himself or...someone else who maybe might not mean to hurt him." Cedric shifted uncomfortably at that, more than aware of the threat in his words. "That's how I survived."
"And Crouch?" Hermione asked tentatively.
"Crouch lost it all just when he thought he had it made," he continued, wiping his mouth with the back of his hand. "One moment a hero, poised to become Minister for Magic...next his son dead, his wife dead, the family name dishonoured and, so I've heard, a big drop in popularity. One the boy had died people started feeling more sympathetic towards him, and started asking how a nice lad from a good family could go so badly astray. The conclusion was that Barty never really cared much for him and Fudge got the top job while Crouch was shunted to the Department of International Magical Co-operation."
Harry and Cedric looked at each other for a moment before the conversation turned elsewhere.
Sirius heaved an enormous sigh and rubbed his shadowed eyes. "What time is it?"
Harry checked his watch and then remembered that it hadn't been working since it had spent an hour in the lake. He'd have to ask Cedric if he could fix it later, but the boy was one step ahead of him; pulling out his wand the Hufflepuff muttered something under his breath and tapped the face. Grinning when he saw the second hand start to move once more Harry leant up to press a kiss to Cedric's cheek, chuckling when he blushed under Sirius' gaze.
"It's half three," Hermione interrupted and Cedric relaxed when the man turned to look at her.
"You should get back to school," Sirius said solemnly, getting to his feet. "Now listen..." he looked particularly hard at Harry – "I don't want you lot sneaking out of school to see me alright? Just send notes to me here, I still want to hear about anything odd. But you're not to go leaving Hogwarts without permission; it would be the ideal opportunity to attack you."
"No one's tried to attack me yet, except a dragon and couple of Grindylows."
Sirius scowled at him and waved a finger in front of him, continuing on in a much firmer voice. "I don't care...I'll breathe freely when this sodding Tournament is over and that's not until June. Don't forget if you're talking about me amongst yourselves call me Snuffles, ok?"
After getting a group nod from everyone he turned his attention to Cedric, "And you, I'm trusting you to keep an eye on him and keep him out of trouble. If anything happens to him I'm holding you accountable."
"You have my word sir. I'd...I'd give my own life if I thought it would keep him safe."
"Cedric!" Harry hissed, but this seemed to please Sirius enough and he tugged the older boy in for a one armed hug, patting him on the back hard.
"Good thing. I wouldn't trust anyone else with this. He's a pretty special kid."
"I agree, but he's not so much of a kid anymore..."
"Standing right here!"
Both of them turned to see Harry huff and fold his arms and they grinned, Sirius his usual wide toothy one and Cedric his crooked half smile, this time showing the smallest amount of canine on his right side. Tugging Harry into a hug Sirius ruffled his hair and after packing away the flask they four teenagers started the treacherous journey back down the mountain.
"So what did you think of him?" Harry asked anxiously once they'd got to safer, flatter ground.
"He's...nice. It's hard to see why they thought he killed all those people..."
"He'd just lost his best friend because their mutual 'friend' betrayed him; I can imagine he'd be pretty pissed off about that. Could come across that he was crazy," Harry retorted bluntly.
Wincing the older boy held his hands up in apology before, taking the dark haired boy's hand. "Point taken, sorry."
From up ahead they heard Ron talking to Hermione, breathing deeply and sighing. "Poor old Snuffles...He must really like you Harry...imagine having to live of rats."
Laughing they all finished the short journey back to Hogwarts, Harry and Cedric hand in hand until the steps to the Entrance Hall.