Author's note: Behold! An update!
Harry Potter and the Puppet of Time
"Draco! What have you done?"
Draco's mind came up blank. His mother and sister shouldn't be here. There should have been no way for them to follow him. Now that they were here everything was about to go wrong. Worse, he had absolutely no idea how to prevent it. Even if he were capable of casting mind-influencing magic of sufficient strength like Obliviation, they were his family. He just couldn't do something like that to them.
Since absolutely no believable lie came to mind Draco simply told the truth. "I killed Barty Crouch junior."
His mother opened and closed her mouth several times without any sound coming out. Aquila wasn't affected in the same way, she just sounded confused. "Who?"
"A Death Eater who was supposed to be dead for over ten years." As Draco was speaking his thoughts started moving again. He needed a cover story. Fast. "I came across him, he launched a spell at me but missed. I think he didn't notice that in the darkness. Then I followed him. When he was about to cast the Dark Mark I… well, I killed him."
The reaction took him unprepared. His mother hugged him. "Oh, Draco."
Draco didn't quite know how to act. His mother was often fussing about him, but intense physical contact was not a frequent occurrence. Strangely, it felt more as if he was comforting her than the other way round.
Aquila was poking around in Barty's ashes. "The corpse is gone."
"I didn't want to leave traces for anyone to find."
Draco's mother took a deep breath, ended the embrace and grabbed him by the shoulders. "Draco, are you hurt?"
"No, I'm fine."
"Thank Merlin." She paused for a moment. "Did you use your own wand?"
Draco had been hoping to avoid that question. "No, I used one of the old family wands."
"I see. Give it to me. Now. Your own wand, too."
He considered objecting, but his mother didn't look like she was willing to accommodate him. Silently, he handed her both wands.
"Good. Aquila, get away from the ashes."
Once his sister had stepped away his mother silently cast several spells, causing the ashes and every other trace to disappear.
"Both of you take my hands. We are leaving."
Draco and Aquila did as they were told. As always, side-along apparition was very uncomfortable. As soon as the sensation of being squeezed through a straw disappeared they were back on the visitor terrace of their mansion.
Their mother pulled them along into the mansion without saying a word. Their first stop after getting rid of the night vision goggles was Aquila's room.
"Stay in your room. And give me your wand as well."
"No backtalk. I will speak with you later."
Aquila looked rebellious. "Yes, Mother."
"Jonny! Hicksy! Dobby!"
With a series of pops the house elves appeared. "Mistress has called?"
"Hicksy, make sure that my daughter stays in her room. Dobby, you will do the same for my son once I leave him. They are not to leave their rooms expect for the toilet. Watch them. Jonny, come to my room later. I will have a number of new rules and duties to assign."
Draco winced. This would throw all his plans for the remaining days of summer into disarray.
The house elves popped away and Draco's mother led him to his room. She sat them down on his bed before facing him.
Draco blinked in confusion. "Why what?"
"Why did you kill him? Why didn't you simply run away?"
"You know what an unrepentant inner circle Death Eater could do to Father, to the family, if he got caught. If I didn't take care of it, who would?" He gave his mother a defiant look. Her expression changed so quickly that Draco couldn't make out any particular emotion before it settled on what he considered his mother's 'standard expression when not wanting to give any thought away'.
"I… I see." Draco's mother slowly stood up. "We will talk tomorrow. Yes, tomorrow sounds good. It will give us all a chance to calm down from the excitement." She stopped at the door. "You can always call me if you need anything, Draco, you know that, right?"
"Of course I do."
His mother looked as if she was waiting for something, but Draco didn't have the slightest clue what it might be. Finally she sighed. "Good night, Draco."
"Good night, Mother."
A moment after his mother had left the room Dobby popped in.
"What did young master do?"
For a second Draco didn't know what to tell him, but in the end he decided to go with the truth. The elves would learn of it sooner than later anyway. "I killed a wizard."
The elf was silent for a few seconds, his expression indicating he was doing heavy mental work. When he resumed speaking his voice was very tentative. "Was it a bad wizard?"
Draco sighed. "Yes, Dobby. He was a very bad wizard, one of the most loyal followers of You-know-who. One of the ones who tortured the Longbottoms into insanity. Everyone thought he died in Azkaban years ago. He was a danger to the family."
Again Dobby seemed to be thinking hard. Then he walked over to Draco and patted his hand. "Young master Draco is a good wizard."
For some reason the elf's support made everything seem better. "Thank you, Dobby."
"Does young master want tea and biscuits? If young master promises to not leave the room Dobby will get them immediately."
"That would be nice, Dobby. I promise I will stay here."
'At least someone thinks I did the right thing,' Draco thought when Dobby popped away. The reaction of his mother was just strange. He harbored no doubts that the fallout would be enormous.
Draco looked at his wand hand. Killing had been so easy. He had thought it would be more difficult. Three years in a future that would never come to pass his other self had been literally incapable of killing Dumbledore. In contrast, he just did it with barely any fuss. Barty Crouch wasn't Dumbledore, granted, but he thought he should feel something about that. Not many fourteen-year-olds became killers, at least not here in Magical Britain.
He had spoken with his grandfather about the possibility of killing or arranging the death of someone, but only as a hypothetical that might happen many years in the future. Abraxas had apparently felt that Draco was far too young for that particular talk, but that he might not have the opportunity to do it at a more appropriate time. It had been a very uncomfortable conversation.
'My reaction is not what I have been expecting.'
The thought led him to wonder how much the memories of his future self had changed him. He was a very different person from what he could have been. Considering how pathetic his other self had been in his younger years that was probably a very good thing. Now he had only to avoid getting as crazy as he grew older.
'That's not a happy thought.'
His older self had definitely been completely off his rocker at the end. Some of the memories and plans were frankly insane. Slowly murdering his way through everyone who could oppose him was not in any way a good or sane course of action. If all you used was a hammer, everything started to look like a nail. Down that path lay Voldemort.
Lucius Malfoy hummed contentedly when he put his Death Eater garb away. The night had gone just as planned. The world had been reminded that they were still around. It had been a great deal of fun. Just like the good old times… although not much of that time had been really all that fun then. Still, he felt at least ten years younger. At the end things had gotten a bit dicey when that old bugger Crouch showed up with Ministry forces in tow, but they had gotten away clean. Knowing the deployment plan of Ministry wizards really helped.
A knock on the door interrupted his introspection. "Lucius, it's me. We need to talk."
He had not expected his wife to be still awake. It was already almost morning, after all, and the night had been eventful. The plan had been for them to safely stay in the forest while the raid took place, later return to their tent, which had been destroyed as planned, before going home. It was a shame, but appearances had to be upheld.
When the door opened he boggled at the sight. His wife looked terrible, with dark rings under her eyes. "Narcissa, what is the matter?"
"We met Barty Crouch junior in the forest."
For a few moments Lucius stared at his wife. He couldn't have heard that right. "Barty has been dead for many years."
"He was very much alive a few hours ago."
That didn't fit. To Lucius' knowledge Narcissa had never killed anyone or even inflicted serious harm. "Did you…?"
"Unfortunately, no. Draco ran ahead and was the one to encounter Barty just as he was about to cast the Dark Mark. Aquila and I were close enough to see, but not to interfere."
"Killed Barty, yes. I already said that."
Lucius sat down heavily. "Why?"
"Draco recognized Barty from the old pictures. Lucius, Draco asked me 'If I didn't take care of it, who would'? I… I don't know how to deal with this."
Lucius clenched his fist, barely resisting the urge to slam it onto the table. "That stupid old fool…"
"My father, of course. He filled Draco's head with so much nonsense."
Lucius stood up and began pacing the room. For the most part Draco was what every father wished for in a son, but who knew what foolish things Abraxas had told him? Not to mention Narcissa's relatives on the Black side. Several of them hadn't been right in the head anymore… if they had ever been. Ideas like taking Aquila hunting before she was even old enough to visit Hogwarts made Lucius doubt they had working brains left. What had they been thinking? Pure insanity. Children were easily influenced and they had been a very bad influence.
Now Lucius' son had become a killer at age fourteen, an age where he should enjoy his life and not think about anything else. Lucius didn't know how to deal with this any more than his wife. Smoothing over the consequences of some misbehavior or using his money and connections to further Draco's (and the family's) standing, that was something he had expected to do, not something like this.
"We ground Draco for the rest of the holidays and strike all his privileges. It's only a week until the children leave for Hogwarts, but it will have to do for now," he decided.
"Lucius, Draco killed someone!"
"I'm aware of that fact, thank you." Lucius tried to remember when he had killed another wizard for the first time. He had been eighteen or nineteen. Muggles obviously didn't count, but that had been about one or two years earlier if he remembered right. Lucius knew he wasn't close to his son thanks to the meddling of his old, foolish and thankfully deceased father. Still, he had to handle this somehow.
"We will speak with Draco. I can only hope he will talk to us. We can't keep him from Hogwarts, but I doubt there are any more wizards who should be long dead running around."
"How dangerous was Barty to us?" Narcissa asked after a few moments of silence.
Lucius sighed. "Very. He belonged to the Dark Lord's innermost circle. He knew a lot of dangerous things. It is a good thing for him to be safely dead."
Narcissa looked almost ready to cry, a sight he had never seen before. "But it shouldn't have been Draco."
Lucius embraced his wife. "No. No, it shouldn't have been him." There was nothing more to say.
Later, when Lucius was alone again and had a drink, he started thinking.
'So, Barty was alive all these years. I wonder where he was and why he turned up at the World Cup?'
It didn't really make a lot of sense. That Barty had escaped Azkaban somehow was obvious, but why turn up now? It seemed idiotic to risk his anonymity and freedom for a game. Then again, Barty had always possessed a fanatical devotion to Quidditch that was only slightly behind his devotion to the Dark Lord.
Barty had been one of the Dark Lord's favorites. If the Ministry had ever gotten the opportunity and inclination to truly interrogate him there was no telling what damaging information he could give. Lucius didn't fancy potentially being blackmailed by someone. No, it was an unambiguously good thing for Barty to be dead. Draco had done the right thing, but it shouldn't have been him who did the deed.
Some cowards like Karkaroff had blabbed when everything came apart, but fortunately neither he nor any of the few other traitors had been able to give a full picture of the Death Eater organization. Several memory-charmed people throwing false accusations around had helped as well. There had been many genuine Imperius-victims, so the defense was actually very reasonable if there was even the smallest bit of doubt.
Of course, some people were too fanatic for their own good, like his wife's sister Bellatrix. They would never publically deny the Dark Lord even if it would have been the smart thing to do. Barty had been smarter and denied any involvement to the bitter end. If he hadn't been caught red-handed he would have been home free, too. Or maybe if his father hadn't felt the need to make an example, not that it had really the hoped-for effect.
Then Lucius remembered that Sirius had escaped Azkaban just last year. Granted, his cousin-in-law had not been thought dead, but he should have been safely locked up. It seemed Azkaban was far less secure than commonly believed.
An unwelcome thought intruded. What if more presumably dead people turned up hale and healthy? What if the Dark Lord himself returned? As fun as last night's activities had been, Lucius didn't intend to make a habit out of it. Tweaking the Ministry's nose was one thing, but fighting an underground war was quite another. Lucius wasn't as young as he had been. Not to mention that he was now both close to the center of power and his own man. Nobody could tell him what to do anymore, only his own will dictated his actions.
Somehow Lucius didn't think the Dark Lord would appreciate such independence. Or him assuming partial guardianship of the Potter boy. Disavowing Voldemort could be presented as simple self-preservation, but not making any effort to search for him would be much more difficult to explain.
No, Lucius wouldn't like it at all if the Dark Lord returned. Still, there was precious little he could do about it. Nobody knew what precisely had happened that night at the Potter's and if some part of the Dark Lord still persisted. Voldemort had certainly alluded to being immortal, but if that was the case where had he been during the last decade?
Perhaps it was time to take care of some loose ends. But first he would have to talk with his son.
The newspaper hit the table with clap, the headline clearly visible.
SCENES OF TERROR AT THE QUIDDITCH WORLD CUP
"What a disaster. How could something like that happen?" Cornelius Fudge asked in a voice that didn't quite reach a wail.
"Obviously our security arrangements failed. Amelia, what do you have to say about it? It was your people who were supposed to prevent something like this!"
Amelia Bones calmly met the wizard's accusing gaze, but before she could reply someone else spoke up.
"Hem. Hem. I would like to remind everyone that the responsibility for the security arrangements around the World Cup was claimed by Barty." Dolores Umbridge gave the man in question a broad smile. It reminded Amelia of something living in swamps and having far too many sharp teeth. "Isn't that so, Barty? You said it was part of international magical cooperation. You brushed several completely reasonable objections to the side, if I remember right."
Cornelius turned towards Crouch. "Yes, Barty. Amelia was overseeing things at Diagon Alley, Hogsmeade and the Ministry. You were the one responsible for organizing the security of the World Cup site."
Crouch bristled. "And I would have been able to do that easily if I had not been forced to take care of Ludo's part as well."
Ludo Bagman, Head of the Department of Magical Games and Sports, rallied to the challenge. "I had important things to do."
"Important things like making bets with the goblins using your department's budget?"
"Investments, Barty, investments. I made back a good part of this year's expenses. Besides, you said you could handle everything."
Amelia relegated herself to watching the age-old game of blame shifting between the Ministry leadership now that the danger of ending up as scapegoat had passed. Sometimes she wondered if fate was looking out for her. Normally she would have been responsible for the security arrangements of the Quidditch Cup, but as it was Crouch had demanded and gotten that responsibility… and botched it. She privately congratulated herself for the decision to have Susan, Harry and their friends brought home after the match, too. There was no telling in how much danger the children could have gotten if they had stayed at the World Cup camping area.
A similar thing had happened with the Dementors of Azkaban a year ago. Like now, somebody else had taken responsibility and taken the fall for something going wrong.
'Although it didn't cause much long-term trouble for Dolores. More's the pity.'
For now the vile witch occupied a powerful position in the Ministry. Amelia needed her as an ally, no matter how distasteful the notion was. Her intervention to deflect blame from Amelia just now had proven that once again. Unfortunately, the same was true of Barthemius Crouch as well.
Amelia didn't particularly like Crouch, but she had to admit the man had his priorities straight in the last war. If he had been given a free hand earlier they might even have stomped out Voldemort and his followers instead of the country almost falling to them. Only the fluke of the disappearance of the Dark Lord after his confrontation with the Potters had saved them.
Now though the man seemed to have lost his edge. Still, they needed him and his supporters for the foreseeable future to keep the government stable. That meant she had to intervene if this wasn't to end in an even worse crisis.
Amelia waited until the argument about who exactly was to blame entered a lull. "If I may be so bold, it might be… disadvantageous to make any change in government at this point in time."
Crouch gave her a very displeased look. The man was sharp, although today he seemed far more agitated than his usual controlled self. His hands and mustache were almost quivering.
"What exactly do you mean, Amelia?" Fudge asked. "The ICW will be baying for our blood. Our own public, too."
"They will calm down. We have a lot of property damage and some injuries, but nobody was killed. It will blow over before long; we just have to provide a united front."
Fudge nodded, first hesitantly, then with increasing enthusiasm. "Yes. Yes, you're completely right, Amelia. What the public needs are assurances that we have everything under control. There is no need for everyone to panic just because of a few masked hooligans."
"The Tri-Wizard tournament will soon take the public's interest," Bagman added. "We only have to tide things over until then."
Crouch cleared his throat. "I believe I will be able to calm down the ICW. There are a few people who owe me rather large favors."
Slowly, a smile appeared on Fudge' face. "Wonderful. We will have cleared up this mess in no time at all. We only have to coordinate our response. Who wants to deal with the Daily Prophet?"
That gave the gathered wizards and witches another thing to argue about. Several hours later Amelia was finally able to leave the meeting for her office and get around to doing actually productive work.
"Anything new about the incident, Rufus?"
Her subordinate let out a breath of air, looking chagrined. "Nothing useful. None of the witnesses or Ministry employees we asked had anything helpful to say. If there were any useful traces at the camp they got lost after the crowd returned. On the plus side there was no use of Unforgivables and no dark magic. No Dark Mark, either. The Muggles are physically fine and have been made to forget anything about the World Cup, although there are lingering mental problems. I think the repeated memory charming beforehand is more at fault than anything else. "
Amelia tapped her fingers on the table. "No dark magic? Interesting."
"I thought so as well. There is no actual proof that Death Eaters were present instead of other trouble makers using their reputation. It is hardly difficult to acquire dark hoods and masks."
"I suppose that's possible. It has been thirteen years, long enough for some people to lose their fear of doing something stupid like that."
"The non-use of dark magic and especially the lack of Dark Mark point in that direction," Rufus shrugged. "For all we know this was done by a group of drunks who thought it a fabulous idea and let things get out of hand. Or it could have been foreign agents. There are enough countries who would like to damage our reputation."
Amelia sighed. "True enough. Continue the investigation, Rufus. Maybe something will turn up."
She didn't harbor particularly high hopes in that regard, but there was little else she could do. Personally she suspected some old Death Eaters who had escaped punishment had decided to have a little fun, but it was only that: her personal suspicion. The series of cases with near zero hopes of resolving was really beginning to pile up.
'If only Crouch didn't botch the security response.'
Amelia mourned the lost chance to get her hands on some of the remaining Death Eaters, if that was what the trouble makers had been. It would have been immensely satisfying to see some people disappear into Azkaban forever. On the other hand, perhaps it was better not to discover the identity of the people under the masks, at least in a public manner. It might well destabilize the current government, something she hoped to avoid.
After Rufus had left Amelia turned to the always accumulating paperwork. She had almost managed to get on top of it when a commotion outside her office made her stop. "What now?"
Walking to the door, she stuck her head out. Tonks was talking to a familiar, confused-looking witch. "Is something the matter?"
Tonks shook her head. "It's only Bertha Jorkins, boss. She wandered in here in search of her office."
Jorkins nodded. "I was sure it was here."
Amelia narrowed her eyes. Bertha had been floating between departments for a while until finally ending up in the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Her bad memory was legendary as was her nosiness and complete lack of anything resembling brains.
"No, Bertha, it's been years since you had an office on this floor. You need to go to level seven."
"Oh, right. Please excuse me."
The disruption handled, Amelia went back to her desk. Something was tickling the back of her mind, but after a few seconds of thinking she dismissed the feeling. There was much work to be done if she wanted to get home early enough to spend the evening with Susan and Harry.
Aquila pressed her ear tightly against the wall, trying to listen in. Normally the walls were too thick for that to work, but in certain places they seemed to carry sound. That was the reason she found herself in a small closet somewhere in the Malfoy manor.
"… wrong thing to do… not allowed… keep yourself safe…"
"Young Mistress should not be here," Hicksy said, pulling on her long ears. "Young Mistress is supposed to stay in her room."
Aquila suppressed a growl that threatened to emerge from her throat. "Psst! I'm trying to listen here. Just relax. You heard that I'm allowed to visit the toilet. Mother never said I had to directly go back to my room or how much time I was allowed to take."
The elf didn't look reassured, but she did stay silent, which was good enough for Aquila. She turned back to listening in on her parents talking with her brother.
"… Do you hear me, Draco?" That was her father's voice.
The answer was too muffled to understand.
"… running of… stupid… no sense…" And that was her mother.
As hard as she tried to listen, she only managed to catch fragments of what sounded like a serious chewing-out. Then, suddenly it was over.
"… look after Aquila."
Aquila quickly ran back to her room before her parents could notice anything, the house elf following in her wake. She had barely managed to get back into her bed and fake sleep when the door to her room opened and her parents appeared.
"Hush! She's still sleeping."
"Should we wake her?"
"Let her sleep. It has been a long night. Hicksy, has my daughter been following my instructions?"
"Yes, Mistress. Young Mistress only left the room for the toilet twice. Hicksy watched over her the entire time."
Her parents left. Before she knew it she was sleeping for real. It was much later when Hicksy woke her.
"Young Mistress is expected at dinner with no detours or delays," the house elf squeaked.
When she came down to the dining room she noticed her brother was missing. There wasn't even something laid out for him.
"Where is Draco?"
"Your brother is confined to his room until you leave for Hogwarts. You are not allowed to talk with him. Perhaps that will get him to think about what he has done," her mother said.
Father frowned. "I don't want any discussion, Aquila. You brother did something very stupid. He could easily have been killed."
For a moment Aquila considered arguing further, but then she reconsidered. If her parents were this way there was no use to it. She would simply have to sneak into Draco's room when her parents weren't looking.
Dinner conversation was very awkward that day. Her parents talked, but she didn't really get what it was about, admonishments not to run into the night or do anything else stupid, mainly. Fortunately she wasn't forced to stay in her room and had her usual freedom. She didn't get back her wand, though, and one house elf always followed her when she wasn't with her parents.
What she wanted to do was talk with Draco. His actions had shocked her, but more than anything else she wanted to make sure he was alright.
It took their parents four days to leave them alone. Or, to be more precise, that was the first time both their parents were away at the same time. Father had come and gone far more often.
Of course, when she approached Draco's room Hicksy began wringing her hands. "Young Mistress isn't allowed to visit Young Master."
"I only want to talk with him, make sure he is alright. Family has to take care of each other. You understand I have to do this, don't you? Will you really try and prevent me from seeing my brother? Or will you let me go ahead?"
At that the house elf began to tremble. For almost half a minute the trembling continued, then Hicksy gave a tiny nod.
Draco was pacing in his room when Aquila opened the door. Dobby was sitting in a corner, his eyes fixed on her brother, but the house elf was shaking like a leaf. "Sister?"
"Hello to you, too. Mother and Father are both gone for the rest of the day. I wanted to visit you. How are you?"
"I have been better. Look, I don't have time to talk. It is really, really important I look after my alchemy experiment, but Dobby won't let me leave. I need to go now. Please, I need your help."
Aquila didn't need much time to consider it. She knew it wasn't fair to do that to Hicksy and Dobby and she planned to make it up somehow, but if Draco thought it so important to visit his alchemy laboratory she would help him. He looked almost panicked.
It took a lot of pleading, cajoling and even some threatening to get the house elves to budge. Aquila really wasn't proud of herself, but finally she was running after Draco over the lawn and into the woods, the two house elves in tow.
A door in the ground opened when Draco tapped a particular rhythm on a stone pillar that didn't seem different from the other objects scattered through the grounds.
Sometimes she wondered how many secret vaults and hideouts there were on the Malfoy lands. With magic it was so easy to hide things. How many of her deceased relatives had build their own hidey-holes, only for them to be forgotten eventually?
When they arrived Draco stopped in the door, meaning Aquila had to shove him out of the way. The room looked mostly intact… if you overlooked the rather large patch of floor that was simply missing.
Draco stared forlornly at the gaping hole. "There go months of work. Damn it. Damn it all to hell."
Aquila carefully walked towards the edge and peered down. The hole had strangely smooth edges and was going way down, but she could see that it had filled with earth because the sidewalls had collapsed. In her two years in Hogwarts Aquila had been witness to a number of potionmaking accidents, but this one seemed rather extreme.
"What were you trying to make here, brother?"
"A particular form of Alkahest."
"And what is Alkahest?"
"The ultimate acid. It can dissolve anything."
Aquila looked back at the hole. It suddenly seemed a lot more dangerous. "Why would you try to make something like that? How would you transport it, anyway?"
Draco shook his head. "I said I tried to make a particular form, one that is harmless to flesh and a few other things."
"And what do you wanted it for?" This was slowly getting on her nerves.
"You don't need to know."
The temptation to stamp her foot on the ground was increasing. "You promised you would tell me what everything is about. Remember?"
"If you got good enough at Occlumency."
Aquila grimaced. After Harry had left them for the Bones she had studied Occlumency as long and often as she could stand. The training wasn't something she enjoyed and she didn't think it had gone all that well. Why did learning how to protect her mind have to be so bloody difficult?
Draco nodded knowingly. "I thought so. Besides, without a wand I can't test you."
The blond girl breathed deeply. Everything was just so frustrating. "Draco, I did a lot to get you here. I really don't like treating Hicksy and Dobby this way. Even if it was too late, I got you here. You owe me an answer."
"You know what? Fine. I got some visions of the future. There. Happy?"
Aquila looked skeptically at her brother, trying to determine if he was making fun of her.
Draco sighed. "You don't believe me."
"You have to admit, it sounds rather… well, crazy. I never took you for a seer. You don't look like Trelawny."
"Thank you for the vote of confidence, sister. Unfortunately, I'm serious. I told Grandfather some of what I saw. Everything seems to be accurate. The future looked pretty bleak. Or at least it was. We tried to change things, even if I had to kill a basilisk. Or murder Death Eaters like Barty so he can't impersonate next year's defense teacher and force Harry to compete in the Triwizard Tournament in order to resurrect You-know-who in an overcomplicated scheme."
"You did what?!"
"I killed Barty Crouch. You know that."
Aquila blinked, then she shook her head. "No, not that. I don't care about that. You killed a basilisk AND DIDN'T THINK TO INCLUDE ME!"
For a few moments Draco simply stared at her. "… I'm sorry?"
The blond girl stamped around the room. She was so angry. "Do you have any idea how rare basilisks are? I will probably never again get the opportunity to hunt one."
Draco continued to stare at her. Suddenly he began to laugh. Aquila looked at him for a while, still angry, but the anger was slowly fading. Finally she joined him in laughter. It was good to have family.
Ginny carefully put another piece of Spellotape on her copy of One Thousand Magical Herbs and Fungi. Then she sat back and examined her work. The book was still looking rather worn, but now it would last through the next school year with careful use and a little bit of luck. Maybe. Hopefully.
'Oh, whom I am trying to kid? It will fall apart before Christmas. It has been fixed so often even repair spells won't take anymore.'
Ginny was used to pitying looks and the occasional snide comment, but being used to it didn't make it any better. She hated the fact that her family didn't have enough money to buy new things. Hated, hated, hated it.
Suddenly a feeling of déjà vu overtook her.
Breathing deeply and regularly, she forced herself to stay calm. After half a minute the feeling finally faded.
'That was a bad one.'
After so many months it wasn't hard to figure out what triggered the feelings of déjà vu. Schoolwork did it occasionally, but the stronger ones were triggered when the anger about her family's less-than-stellar financial situation came to the forefront.
It wasn't a comfortable thought that she had something like this in common with the boy who would go and become Voldemort. He was still an absolutely loathsome being, but Ginny could at least understand what had set him on his path. If you knew who Tom Riddle was it wasn't too difficult to find out more about him: an orphan who wanted to become more… and at some point crossed the line into evil.
Ginny would never allow herself to become like that monster, but she would use the feelings of anger to maintain the drive to better herself. One day she would no longer be forced to use second-hand and third-hand stuff, and if and when she had children they would neither.
It all came down to planning. Now, it was hardly possible for someone as young as her to plan out their life, but at least she could get started.
A case in point, her brothers had wasted all their pocket money at the World Cup for trinkets that mostly stopped working a few days later. The twins in particular were still sulking after they had lost everything in a bad bet. In contrast, Ginny was saving up. She had a plan. It would take a while, but next year she would have enough to buy a new broom. Not a top model, but a solid one.
Then she could join the Gryffindor Quidditch team. She knew she was a very good flyer and she loved Quidditch. If she did well enough there was every possibility she could continue to play in a professional capacity after she finished school. From that position she could go to all sorts of places. At the same time she tried to keep her grades high, aiming for prefect in her fifth year and maybe even Headgirl in her seventh. Everything to open up more options of going forward.
'Hope springs eternal, I suppose.'
Ginny shook her head. She wasn't the only one who suffered from the unwise spending habits of her family. Ron had it particularly bad. At least Ginny got the occasional new thing due to being a girl, but her brother usually ended up with either hand-me-downs from the rest of the family or something cheap bought second-hand. She had seen the dress robes her mum had gotten for him. Apart from being a century out of date the lace looked as if it had been eaten by mold.
Very carefully Ginny picked up the patched book and carried it to her room. When she got back down Percy was preparing to leave.
"I just can't justify taking more time off at the moment," Percy told the room. "Mr. Crouch is really starting to rely on me."
"Yeah, you know what, Percy?" said George seriously. "I reckon he'll know your name soon."
Ginny had to suppress a snicker. Percy had always been pompous, but since he had joined the Ministry it was always Mr. Crouch this and Mr. Crouch that. She understood Percy tried to get forward in the world, but did he have to turn into such a brownnoser?
The last days before she had to return to Hogwarts passed in almost agonizing slowness. Bill and Charlie had come home for part of the holidays, but by now the novelty had worn off. Due to a steady drizzle they couldn't even go much outside and the family members were slowly getting on each others nerves.
It was with a profound sense of relief that Ginny found herself on Platform 9 ¾ two days later.
"I might be seeing you all sooner than you think," Charlie said, grinning, as he hugged Ginny good-bye.
"Why?" Fred asked keenly.
"You'll see," said Charlie. "Just don't tell Percy I mentioned it. It's 'classified information, until such time as the Ministry sees fit to release it,' after all."
"Yeah, I sort of wish I were back at Hogwarts this year," Bill said, hands in his pockets, looking almost wistfully at the train.
"Why?" George asked impatiently.
"You're going to have an interesting year," said Bill, his eyes twinkling. "I might even get time off to come and watch a bit of it."
Once Ginny was sure nobody could see her she rolled her eyes. Her parents and brothers thought themselves so clever. Aquila had sent her a letter more than two months ago, telling her about the Triwizard Tournament. It sounded interesting, but Ginny didn't quite understand the reason they kept it secret.
'Well, it isn't as if the Ministry if the world center of competence.'
Draco sat down in the compartment with a sigh of relief. The last few days had been tense. He had never imagined that the act of killing Barty Crouch would bring so much trouble on his head.
"Trouble at home? You seem unusually happy to leave for Hogwarts," Daphne said while Morag and Stephen were watching him curiously.
"You can say that again. My parents didn't let me leave the manor after the Worldcup."
Stephen winced. "Ouch. That must have sucked. Why did they do that?"
Draco shrugged. "I kind of ran off while the Worldcup was attacked. But enough if that, how have you been?"
The train ride was spent with the usual business of talking with friends and acquaintances. Some he had seen during the holidays, some he had written to and some he had last met at Hogwarts. All in all, the ride passed quickly. By the time they left the train even the rain had almost stopped.
He was just entering the entrance hall when Morag suddenly pushed him out of the way. A moment later a water-filled balloon splattered on the spot where he had just stood.
Draco narrowed his eyes and looked upwards, at the cackling poltergeist hovering under the ceiling. It wasn't the first time he was seriously tempted to research how to perform an exorcism and get rid of the menace once and for all. On the other hand, thousands of students had probably already tried and failed to do the same thing.
"Let's get out of here, before he throws even more at us," Stephen said as he helped Draco up.
Thankfully the Great Hall was warmer and drier than the entrance hall. Draco shook out his robes and was about to walk to the Ravenclaw table when he noticed someone at the other end of the hall. Mad-Eye Moody was sitting at the staff table, his magic eye fixed on Draco. The eye followed him the entire way to his seat and kept staring at him. It was outright creepy.
'Well, I know at least that this isn't Barty.'
Not once did the eye leave him during the waiting, the sorting or the feast. It didn't leave him when Dumbledore announced that the Inter-House Qudditch Cup wouldn't take place this year, under the protest of more than half the students. It didn't leave him when Dumbledore introduced Moody as the new Defense against the Dark Arts teacher. It didn't leave him either when Dumbledore announced the Triwizard Tournament. He had the sinking feeling that this would only be the beginning of his problems.
When Draco and his friends entered the Defense classroom a couple of days later for the first class Moody was already waiting for them, his eye staring at Draco. Although, to be fair, every few seconds it spun madly only to focus back on Draco a moment later.
When taking attendance Moody stopped at Draco. "You'll be Malfoy's son, eh? Well, I know your father of old, boy. You tell him Moody's keeping a close eye on his son. You tell him that from me. I would love to have a chat with him."
Draco was certain now: This year would suck.
One month later Draco felt like a prophet. The last month had truly, really sucked. One month of learning that the disguised Barty had apparently been a much better teacher than the real Moody could ever hope to be. One month suffering under Moody's constant, unrelenting scrutiny, preventing him from meeting with Ginny even once or doing anything else that might rouse suspicion.
One month without finding a way to destroy the blasted Goblet of Fire. He was just unable to come up with anything that could get through the blasted thing's protections. Considering the grief the goblet could potentially create in thirty to forty years letting this opportunity slip was almost unforgivable.
'What's done is done. I have to face reality.'
Reality was in this case that the opportunity was lost. Yesterday the delegations from Beauxbatons and Durmstrang had arrived and the goblet revealed. Even if he could come up with a way to destroy the goblet now, he wouldn't do it while several innocent people were magically bound to it. The consequences were not something his conscience could take.
The festive decoration of the Great Hall did nothing to lighten his foul mood and neither did the feast. His friends gave him some space, thankfully. They had picked up on his dark mood, but they obviously thought it was because of Moody.
Dumbledore's voice pulled Draco from his thoughts. "Well, the goblet is almost ready to make its decision. I estimate that it requires one more minute. Now, when the champions' names are called, I would ask them please to come up to the top of the Hall, walk along the staff table, and go through into the next chamber where they will be receiving their first instructions."
Draco leaned forward. He was very tense.
The blue flames inside the Goblet of Fire suddenly turned red and sparks began to fly. Then the first piece of parchment shot out of the flames.
"The champion for Drumstrang will be Viktor Krum!"
"The champion for Beauxbatons is Fleur Delacour!"
"The Hogwarts champion is Cedric Diggeroy!"
Seconds ticked by while Draco grew tenser and tenser. Then the flames suddenly guttered out.
Draco released a breath he had not been aware he had been holding. No fourth name came out of the goblet. Harry Potter was not chosen as a champion. At least that part had gone right.
Author's note: Sorry for the very long delay, but, hey, better late than never. I really didn't intend to stop when I did, particularly with such a cliffhanger, but I lost much of my drive to write.
Originally I wanted to wait uploading it until I had all remaining chapters finished, but that turned out to be far too long, so I decided to share the single chapter I did manage to finish. I can't guarantee that the next update will come anytime soon, but I'll do my best.