A/N: J.K. Rowling owns. In more ways than one. On another note, not a whole lot of Hepler in this chapter, but it's my fav so far. Just so you all know, as of right now it looks like this fic needs to go on a bit of a hiatus, but if I have something to post by next week, I'll be sure to do that :)
Wow, I wonder what it would be like to have a difficult life.
-Harry Potter, Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix. Copyright J.K. Rowling.
Morning comes too soon. Harry feels as if he's barely managed to blink, let alone sleep. It's getting harder to ignore everything that's happening with the letters and Percy, and if the worrying isn't enough to keep him up at night, the guilt sure is. Even with the letter tucked safely away in the pocket of his pants, the words it contains repeat themselves over and over in his head.
They're words he's familiar with: alone, mistake, running out of time. Each one represents a different issue he's already dealt with at least once. By now, he should know how to handle the stress, the fear, the anger. He should know better than anyone how to deal with the situation at hand. But he doesn't.
Harry supposes it'll be easier coming up with a logical plan when he's not living off of four hours of sleep. When his head doesn't ache, and his eyes don't strain to open. When he doesn't want to bury himself underneath the covers and stay there.
Clearly, if he wants to get anywhere, his first plan of action should be rolling over and sleeping for the next day or two.
But Ron clearly has a different idea as he tries to prod Harry awake. "Come on," Ron says. Harry feels his blanket being tugged away, but he ignores it. "Either Hermione or my mum"—poke—"is going to come in here" –sharper poke—"if we're not downstairs in ten minutes."
Harry slowly opens his eyes. "I'm up. Dunno why, though. The sun's not even out."
"Yeah, it is."
Feeling particularly argumentative, Harry scowls at his friend. "No, it's not. It's dark in here."
Ron points at the window, smirking. "I've got curtains. 'Member?" Harry doesn't answer, so Ron continues, "Breakfast's down in the kitchen. You better grab some, or we'll all have to hear Mum talk about how thin you'll get. No one wants that, 'specially since she finally started being happy about how 'healthy' you look. Says it only took you eight years to do it, too."
"I'll get some later."
"When? You can't buy food at the Cup. It'll cost you ten sickles just to get a water."
Harry suddenly remembers why Ron's waking him up in the first place, and that helps tremendously. Summoning up whatever energy he has, he rolls out of bed. Sleep or no sleep, he's just as ready to leave for the Quidditch World Cup as anyone.
Nine and a half minutes later, Harry appears in the kitchen on the first floor of the Burrow. Hermione's already arrived, busy declining breakfast from Mrs. Weasley, and Ginny's eating a piece of toast at the table.
Mrs. Weasley turns to face him from where she's standing near the counter. "Harry! I was just on my way upstairs. Before you go, have a muffin. Or we have toast, pumpkin juice, maybe some fruit if I can…" She continues listing off foods, but Harry's distracted by her appearance. She has dark bags under her bloodshot eyes, and her words are a brisker than usual. Apparently Harry isn't the only one who didn't sleep well.
Harry tunes back in just in time to hear her say, "…Arthur can't come this year."
"Sorry, Mrs. Weaslely, but he can't come where?"
Her response is short. "The Quidditch Cup, dear."
"But I thought—"
"He needs to look for Percy. I'm sure you'll be able to sell his ticket."
Ron appears behind Harry, squeezing his way into the kitchen. "Perce already told us where he is. Getting ready to work for the American Ministry, remember?"
Mrs. Weasley purses her lips. "Yes, that's what he said. Now, are you all packed? Got more than just that Quidditch jersey? What about your wand?"
"It's…" Ron pauses, clearing his throat. "Be right back." He leaves the kitchen with a frowning Mrs. Weasley in tow.
Harry grabs a cup of pumpkin juice, and Hermione approaches. "Do you still have the letters? Both of them?"
"I think you should leave them here with Ron's parents."
Ginny's head shoots up, and she stares at Hermione. "The last thing my mum needs is another reason to worry about all of us."
"The letter told Harry to meet Hepler in the field at noon today. Don't you think they should know? Maybe Percy will be there, too."
"Yeah, along with the maniac sending the letters," Harry says.
"Well, if you won't show the first letter to them, fine. But the second one is technically mine; it was addressed to me, after all. And I want them to see it. If they don't know what's going on, how are they supposed to know what to watch out for?"
Sighing, Harry pulls both letters out of his back pocket, handing them to Hermione. Ginny stands, putting her plate in the sink. "Make sure you tell my mum and dad not to open them until after we're gone. They'll never let us leave if you don't."
It's nearing ten o'clock in New Zealand—where the World Cup is taking place—when Harry, Ron, Hermione, and Ginny finally Apparate to their campground. Harry almost expects Mr. Weasley to appear beside them, telling them that Mrs. Weasley read the letters and wants them home immediately.
Ron seems to be thinking along the same lines, because his eyes dart around the campground. Not that he can see anything; it's almost pitch-black. "We should go get the tent re—ARGH." With a yell, Ron jumps as two hands clamp onto his shoulders from behind.
As Harry moves to pull his wand from his pocket, a husky low voice says, "Don't you know you shouldn't just Apparate into the dark? To the middle of nowhere? There's no one here for miles. No around one to hear you scr—"
Hermione beats Harry to the punch. "Impedimenta!"
The shadowy figure behind Ron flies back, hitting the ground. Harry takes a step forward, wand held in the air. "Lumos."
Five feet away, George Weasley is lying on the ground, grinning up at them. "Little tense, Ron?"
While a red-faced Ron swears and tries to steady his breathing, Harry leans down to offer George his hand to help him up. Behind him, Hermione says, "I thought I recognized your voice!"
"That so?" George ruffles Ron's hair. "Hermione knows what I sound like, but you don't? Thought we were closer than that."
Ron swears again, batting George's hand away. "Shut up."
"Oh, c'mon, you were supposed to be here hours ago. We had to set up the tent all by ourselves—nearly impaled myself on one of those pole things. Least you can do is give me a good laugh." He looks around at the four of them. "Where's Dad?"
Ginny steps forward and gives George a sideways hug. "It's just us. He changed his mind at the last minute."
"That why you're late?" George moves past them, his wand held in front of him for light. "The tent's this way."
Ginny doesn't answer at first. Instead, she casts Harry a sideways glance with that pretty smile of hers, and his heart skips a beat. Without looking away from him, she says, "No, we're late because Mum told us not to wake Harry up before we had to."
"Said he looked 'peaky'," Ron adds. Even though Harry can't see his face well, he can hear the hint of amusement in his voice.
George turns around to face the group of them, walking backwards. He nods at Harry. "Wish I would've known looking peaky was all it took to get to sleep in. Would've used that all the time." He raises his voice to imitate Mrs. Weasley's. "'George, come degnome the garden!' Sorry Mum, can't. I think I'm a bit peaky. 'George, it's two in the afternoon! Get up!' Nah, too peaky to do that. 'Get out of bed and give Ginny her doll back, Geor—'" He breaks off as Ginny gives him a small shove. He turns to face the front and looks at her over his shoulder. "You never did find that, did you?"
"I found her. What was left of her, anyway. After you used her as a substitute Bludger so you could practice your aim."
"And we were better Beaters because of it." George shines his light on a wobbly-looking tent in front of them. "Here we are. Home sweet home."
With a grunt, Hepler drags Percy Weasley's semi-conscious body to the middle of the field. He'd normally just use his wand to move him, but he figures a body flying through the air my draw more attention than one slowly creeping along. Though he supposes it's equally suspicious that the body appears to be moving on its own, since he's cast a Disillusionment Charm on himself.
He kneels beside the body and whispers, "Carry out the plan exactly as I've told you to do. If you're incapable of doing so, you will kill yourself in whatever way is most convenient at the time. You will not reveal my secrets."
Silent as possible, Hepler backs up and places himself behind the trees. He waits.
Before long, he hears a quiet voice coming from the direction of the house. "I don't see anyone. Are you sure the letter sa—Percy!"
A balding redhead hurries into his line of vision, and it's clear this man is another Weasley. If his hair wasn't enough to give him away, his obvious distress at finding Percy bruised and bloodied proves it.
The man shakes Percy, and then he moves his hand to check for a pulse. Before he can say anything, another person—Mrs. Weasley—runs to the middle of the field. Nearly hysterical, she crouches down and leans over her son.
"Is he alright?"
"He'll be fine, Molly."
"Let's get him into the house."
Hepler begins to breathe a sigh of relief, but he cuts off as Mr. Weasley murmurs a spell. Instantly, the man straightens up, looking around. "Someone's here."
"Then we need to get Percy out of here!"
Weasley gently shushes her, and he takes a step closer to Hepler's hiding place, twigs snapping under his feet as he walks. "Who's here? What have you done to my son?" He blindly casts a spell between a few trees, coming alarmingly close to hitting Hepler.
While it's not ideal, Hepler is prepared to fight the man and woman if he must. He can always command Percy Weasley to aid him in a duel, though he won't be much use until his injuries have healed.
"Arthur. We need to take Percy home." The man doesn't respond. "Now."
After one last look around, the man lifts his son up with magic, and he and his wife retreat to the house.
Percy returns to him, far later than Hepler wanted. But he doesn't hurt the boy yet—not when he has something he needs from him.
"Were you successful? Tell the truth."
"Yes. I feigned unconsciousness while my mother healed me. I listened to them speak, and now I've returned to you."
"Did they suspect you?"
"Good. What did you find out?" he asks, watching Weasley's face for the tiniest flicker of dishonesty.
"They left for the Quidditch World Cup today at eleven o'clock."
"My sister, Ron, Harry, and Hermione."
Hepler doesn't say anything at first. It's impossible to focus when he's so angry—so incredibly angry, because Harry Potter continues to ignore his warnings. Hepler doesn't like being spurned by an arrogant boy. Still, it's not as if he expected anything different. No matter.
"Where are they staying?"
"In a tent."
"Campsite 402. It's in the far left area of the campground, marked 'Weasley'."
Hepler doesn't wait for more. With the pair of Quidditch tickets secure in his pocket, he prepares to Apparate, watching Percy with a steady eye. "Hide. Do not allow anyone to see you, hear you, or otherwise become aware of your existence. If you do not follow these orders, or are incapable of doing so, say nothing about me. Tell them your name is Daniel Hill, and you lost your way after stumbling out of a bar drunk. You can find your way home, however, without their help. Do you understand?"
As a last minute thought, Hepler turns back to the boy. "Did you hear anything else of importance?"
"My parents have seen your letters. They believe you seek the Elder Wand. Or fame."
"Is the wand in Potter's possession?"
"Is he its master?"
"They heard him say that he is. At Hogwarts."
Hepler raises his voice, losing patience. "Is he the wand's master? Yes or no."
"Yes. Harry Potter is master of the Elder Wand."