Sirius cast a glance towards Minerva across the reception room in Black Manor and sighed.
She looked like a cat which had caught a canary. She had positively glowed since Harry had told her about the night before and his animagus meditation. She also seemed very happy about his form, complimenting him on turning down the more sentimental and likeable forms for that of his raven. She had told him the form was a very practical one with the added bonus that it would give Harry the ability to truly fly. She was as proud as punch and hadn't stopped smiling smugly.
Frankly, Sirius had been completely unnerved by the whole experience and silently apologised to James for having laughed at him when he'd found Harry in the puppy form as a baby. It hadn't helped that it had been Hedwig who had alerted Sirius that there was a problem, flying in through his open study door and dive-bombing him, yanking his robes with her talons to get him up and moving to Harry. His heart had been pounding fast enough to win the Derby by the time he'd made it to Harry's room. Thank Merlin he knew the spell to force an animagus back into human form.
He could admit to a little disappointment that Harry hadn't chosen his puppy form but his explanation of the different representations had made sense. He was sad that Harry was no longer the happy-go-lucky chap who embodied the puppy but he was also happy that Harry was no longer the lonely wolf cub that longed for a pack.
He would need to read up on ravens, thought Sirius. Both he and Remus would need to know how to deal with a young raven. Not to mention they needed to come up with a Marauder name; Pronglet was clearly not applicable since a stag wasn't even an option for Harry but he hated to give up the name since it was the one James had approved of for his son. What could he call a raven? Blackie? Corvus? Wings?
He sighed and cleared his throat as Simeon and Anna finally arrived with Jason bundled into some muggle sling contraption that Simeon wore. Everybody had finally arrived: the Grangers, the Tonks (minus Dora who was on duty), the Longbottoms, Remus, Minerva, and the Blacks. The Malfoys were making their own way to the match as were the Weasleys. Everyone wore comfortable muggle clothing since the match was taking place near muggles; the teenagers wore jeans, t-shirts and light jackets for the most part; the younger adults wore a variation but Minerva and Augusta had stuck with long tweed skirts and blazers teamed with high-necked blouses.
Sirius whistled to get everyone's attention and smiled back at the happy faces in front of him. "OK! Our portkey leaves in five minutes! We have two hours before it begins so plenty of time to browse round the souvenir stalls and meet up with friends. Please stay with your designated buddies! We will convene in the Black box half an hour before the match. After the match, assuming there is time, we will make our way to the Potter Alliance After-Match Party in the designated tent. The portkey home leaves at ten o'clock. Any questions?"
Hermione raised her hand.
Sirius motioned at her.
"When are we meeting up with the Weasleys?" asked Hermione politely, lowering her arm.
"I though those interested could head to their tent when we arrive." Sirius said. Despite confiding the intelligence that they knew there would be a Death Eater attack at midnight, Arthur had elected to stay overnight as he had previously planned. He had understood Sirius's decision not to allow Harry to stay though especially after the death threat at the Longbottoms.
He handed out the rope portkey and carefully checked that everybody had a hand on it. Harry grinned at him from his position next to Sirius, sandwiched between him and Remus. He had been ecstatic that they'd still attend after the second death threat and Sirius hoped he'd made the right decision.
It would be fine, Sirius thought determinedly. The trouble wasn't due to start until midnight and Harry would be safely tucked up in bed at Griffin House by then. But the nagging voice in his head warned him to be careful and reminded him that Lucius had suggested it was someone outside of the old Death Eater circle – someone they couldn't control – someone who might not wait for the midnight hour.
He'd had Bill agree to meet them and guard their arrival at the portkey site just in case.
Sirius kept one hand on Harry's shoulder and Remus moved to do the same as the portkey activated. Harry had gotten used to floo travel, mostly because Andy had made him floo back and forth between Black Manor and Griffin House endlessly for over an hour, but he couldn't keep his feet with portkeys. So it proved as they landed at the portkey site within the World Cup stadium; Harry's feet weren't beneath him and only Remus and Sirius held him up.
Sirius exchanged a nod of 'all clear' with Bill who had his brother Charlie with him.
"Sorry." Harry muttered to Sirius as he regained his balance.
"Not a problem, Pronglet." Sirius frowned as the issue of the name came back to him.
Harry's face creased in concern. "What's wrong?" He murmured, keeping his voice low so it didn't travel to the others.
"Your animagus form doesn't exactly match-up with Pronglet." Sirius whispered.
"Oh." Harry's expression cleared but there was a hint of worry in his green eyes. "I guess not."
Sirius patted his arm. "Don't worry, Moony and I will come up with something."
"Yeah," drawled Harry with a mischievous quirk to his lips, "I think that's kind of a guarantee for me to worry."
"Hey!" Sirius sniffed. "We came up with…"
"Prongs," supplied Harry, "which I know my Dad hated because it said so in his journal. And while we don't mention the rat…"
Sirius grimaced because Harry was right; Prongs had hated Prongs mainly because Sirius had made up a limerick including Prongs, pongs and thongs which had been funny at the time. Of course, Prongs had changed his mind in their seventh year when everything had been lovely because he'd finally gotten Lily and she had loved the name. Wormtail had argued for days about Wormtail.
Remus cleared his throat and they both looked up to realise that the rest of their party was viewing them with a range of expressions from amusement (Remus) to exasperation (Minerva) to impatience (Hermione).
"Lord Potter, Lord Black; if you and your group could please vacate the portkey area." A polite voice advised them and they turned in unison to see a brightly smiling woman with a clipboard. "The Minister is waiting to greet you in the antechamber."
Sirius nodded and slung an arm around Harry's shoulders as he marched them to their doom – uh, Cornelius.
"Sirius! Harry!" Cornelius's smile could have lit up the stadium. "Ah, excellent! You're here! May I introduce you to the Irish Minister of Magic, Madame Derry and the Bulgarian Minister of Magic, Mister Oblansk…" he stuttered over the pronunciation and threw his counterpart an apologetic smile, "this is Lord Sirius Black and Lord Harry Potter."
A statuesque brunette in smart muggle clothing of a green suit with a crisp white shirt and an orange silk scarf stuck her hand out with an expression that said kissing her knuckles would lead to him getting them back as a fist.
Sirius shook hands solemnly rather than turning on the charm. "Madame." He was pleased when Harry followed his example after a quick look at Andromeda.
The petite man beside Derry encased in black robes with gold trim and the crest of Bulgaria adorning his right breast held out his hand which Sirius and Harry shook in turn.
"Honour to meet vou." Oblansk said politely.
Cornelius's eyebrows shot up. "You know English!"
"Leetle." Oblansk replied gruffly.
Sirius hastily stepped in and offered to introduce the rest of the Black party. Thankfully, Remus greeted the Bulgarian Minister in flawless Bulgarian and translated through the rest of the introductions.
"Are the Malfoys not with you?" asked Cornelius, glancing around.
"They were coming separately as they're hosting Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini." Sirius replied. "We thought we'd have a look around before we head into our box for the game."
"You and Harry are more than welcome to spend the game in the Ministry box, Sirius." Cornelius urged.
Sirius smiled tightly. "Thank you, Cornelius, but given the current situation I'd prefer Harry to remain in a box where I control the wards."
"Of course, of course." Cornelius said smoothly. "Terrible business." He gave Augusta a look of concern. "How are you, Augusta, after the shock?"
"Ready to hex whoever did it bald." Augusta replied sternly.
"A woman after my own heart," Derry said with a sing-sing Irish lilt that contrasted with the fierce expression on her handsome face.
Sirius only just managed not to laugh at Cornelius's taken aback expression.
"Perhaps we should be getting along, Gran. We have to go and say hello to the rest of the alliance." Neville offered his grandmother his arm and led her out with aplomb.
"We should head out too." Sirius said.
Cornelius motioned for Sirius to step aside a moment and Sirius was pleased when Minerva stepped forward to stand with Harry to talk to Derry since the Bulgarian Minister hadn't stopped talking with Remus.
"May I ask a favour?" asked Cornelius with a touch of desperation. "Crouch forgot to order a translator from the Embassy. Bagman didn't think of it either since Bertha is still AWOL."
"Still?" Sirius shook his head. Trust Jorkins to get lost on vacation – but then, hadn't Remus said that Arthur had mentioned her going missing in July? Surely it was time to think there was foul play or, knowing the young girl Bertha had been, a clumsy accident resulting in a hospital stay…
"Anyway, could we possibly borrow Mister Lupin?" Cornelius said shifting from a hint to outright desperation.
Sirius sighed. "You will owe me, Cornelius." He walked over to Remus and Oblansk or Bogdan as Remus was calling him. "Remus, there's been an administrative snafu and the Minister has been left without a Bulgarian translator. I'd be grateful if you would consent to help the Ministers for the rest of the day?"
"What about Harry?" asked Remus with a frown.
"I can stick with Harry." Bill offered immediately.
"Thanks, Bill." Sirius said. His eyes hopefully conveyed the message that Remus should take the gig; it would help with the Werewolf Legislation and make Cornelius indebted to them.
"In that case, I would be delighted." Remus gave a short bow to Cornelius before translating for Bogdan who broke into a wide and somewhat Marauder-ish grin. Sirius had a feeling that whatever Remus and Bogdan would discuss would be translated as something completely different for Cornelius.
Sirius and Harry said their goodbyes to Remus and the Ministers and Sirius led the rest of the group out of the antechamber and through the stadium out into the surrounding grounds. The Tonks' decided to browse the stalls with Simeon and his wife, leaving the Grangers and Minerva with Sirius and Harry.
"So where is your Dad's tent at, Bill?" Sirius asked, his wand was in his hand, his free hand on Harry's shoulder and he was already assessing the threat of the milling populace around them.
"This way." Bill said with an easy smile. "Charlie, why don't you bring up the rear with Professor McGonagall?"
Charlie nodded easily. "I can do that."
Sirius approved that they all had their wands out and ready. Hermione's parents stayed behind Sirius and Harry but Hermione moved to walk on Harry's other side. She chattered nervously about the crowd and the colourful banners adorning some of the tents as they made their way through a veritable village of the things until they reached a purple and pink monstrosity.
Bill grinned at their faces. "Welcome to Chez Weasley."
"Colourful," commented Sirius straight-faced. "Remind me again…are purple and pink Bulgarian colours or Irish?"
"You guys go on in, Charlie and I will stay out and guard." Bill said after they'd all finished laughing.
"How are we all going to fit?" asked Miriam worriedly.
"Magic." Bill promised Hermione's Mum with a wink.
Sirius nodded and he exchanged a serious look with the Weasley Heir to convey the gravity of Bill's job guarding them. He sighed as he ushered Harry, the Grangers and Minerva through the open flap.
He couldn't help thinking he'd made a mistake; that they should have stayed home. It was a slow feeling of dread sinking into his bones and putting him on edge.
Can't wrap Harry in cotton wool, Sirius told himself sternly. It was going to be OK.
Hermione stood speechless in the centre of what appeared to be a living room; her father stood next to her, open-mouthed. Her mother was whirling about like a mad thing.
"Look, it's bigger on the inside than on the outside!" Her mother waggled her eyebrows at Hermione.
Hermione rolled her eyes. "Mum, please!"
"Ah, you're here! Lovely to have you all!" Arthur Weasley emerged from the kitchen – the kitchen! – and waved a frying pan at them. "I don't suppose any of you know how to work one of these?"
"Don't look at me!" Sirius held up both hands in supplication. "I could burn the place down."
Harry grinned and gestured at the frying pan. "I'm a dab hand."
Arthur beamed at him and handed him the pan. "Ron's back there too." He held out his hand to Miriam Granger. "Good to see you again."
"Good to see you too, Arthur, or should that be Doctor?"
Hermione quickly followed Harry into the kitchen before her Mum could begin explaining Doctor Who to the wizards.
Ron was poking at the stove in a desultory fashion before he noticed them and smiled, cheering up slightly. "Guys!" He looked at them hopefully. "Do either of you know how to turn this on?"
"Move over, Ron." Harry pushed him out of the way of the appliance and with a few checks quickly had the grill turned on and a burner lit. Sausages went under the grill; bacon into the frying pan.
Ron looked at Hermione who shrugged.
"I'm good with desserts and as a sous chef," offered Hermione, "but I've never made breakfast before." She leaned against the small kitchen table. "Why are you having breakfast now anyway? Didn't your Mum feed you this morning?"
Ron shook his hair, the red catching the artificial light. "Dad thought it was better to come last night and beat the crowds otherwise we'd have had to set out at some horrendously early hour for a portkey. It worked out fine until all of us got up this morning and realised that we don't know how to cook in this kitchen and Mum didn't come!"
"I thought Ginny helped your Mum out usually." Harry said, handing them the loaf of bread with a muttered instruction to slice it. "Where's Ginny at anyway?"
"Celia Inglebee promised Mum to keep an eye on her. She went off first thing with her and Lydia to do something girly!" Ron sounded totally disgusted but he took the breadknife and carefully started slicing rather thick slices of the homemade bread. "And she said she wasn't cooking just because she was the girl!"
Hermione frowned at him. "She's right; she shouldn't have to cook just because she's female! My Mum and Dad share cooking duty. I would hope anyone I ended up with didn't expect me to be barefoot and pregnant, chained to kitchen sink."
Harry chuckled, handing her knife and pointing her at the mushrooms. "As if you'd ever end up with someone like that."
Ron paused in his slicing. "My Mum stayed at home and brought us all up. There's nothing wrong with it!"
"No, there's nothing wrong with it. It's a perfectly valid choice," Hermione said with a sniff, "it's just not my choice!"
"Are you insulting my mother because…" Ron said heatedly, his redheaded temper igniting because he hadn't listened to her.
"No!" declared Hermione hurriedly. "Of course I'm not insulting your mother!"
"It sounded like you were!" Ron waved the knife at her.
"Hey!" Harry intervened, tapping Ron's hand gently. "No waving sharp implements around! Hermione wasn't insulting your Mum, Ron. Keeping a home and raising kids is an important job and if your Mum wants to do that, then that's good. But can you really see Hermione making that same choice?"
Ron looked at them both slightly bewildered. "But why not?"
And this, thought Hermione with a sigh, was why Ronald Weasley would never be her boyfriend any time soon.
"Hermione wants to be a Healer, Ron, remember?" Harry flicked Ron's forehead.
"Oh! Right!" Ron said, turning back to the bread. "Why didn't you just say so?"
Hermione held her tongue and counted to ten. Ron was short-tempered because he was hungry. If she kept being irritated by everything he said, they'd have a rotten day and she didn't want that. She glanced over at Harry who gestured at the mushrooms.
"They're not going to chop themselves."
Hermione stuck her tongue out as Harry turned deftly back to the stove. A warming plate went under the grill when he took a moment to turn the sausages. He moved again and a second burner was lit and he competently made scrambled eggs.
"By the way, thanks for the shout-out in the article, mate." Ron said happily. "They even spelled my name correctly!"
"Sirius approved it all last night after dinner." Harry stopped cooking for a second to make a disgusted face. "I hated doing the interview."
"All three articles came out really well though, Harry." Hermione assured him, passing him the mushrooms.
"There were three?" inquired Ron, surprised. "We only saw Skeeter's in the Prophet."
"Skeeter took the most…sensationalist approach," she darted a look to Harry who snorted, "it was factually accurate but she led with Harry's comments about his parents and had the picture of him looking….well…"
Skeeter had used one particular photo of Harry clearly holding back tears.
"Wimpish." Ron supplied.
Harry went red and his motions as he transferred the eggs to the warming plate along with the cooked bacon before adding tomatoes and mushrooms to the empty frying pan were stiff and sharp.
"I was going to say upset." Hermione said briskly and decided to move on. "The Quibbler took the most straightforward approach – a nice picture of Harry and Sirius – and a question and answer approach. The International Wizarding Herald was the most political – it's obviously got it in for Professor Dumbledore and the British Ministry."
"So my prediction is in the international press as well?" Ron grinned. "Wicked!"
"Never mind the article," Harry said suddenly, obviously deciding a change of subject was in order which given he hated publicity Hermione wasn't surprised, "something happened last night that I have to tell you guys."
Hermione and Ron immediately inched closer to their friend and exchanged a hopeful look. They knew there were things Harry wasn't telling them both and they understood to some degree, but he'd always told them and it had always been the three of them on their adventures, and it hurt that he was keeping secrets.
He grinned at them. "I tried an animagus meditation last night!"
Hermione's mouth dropped open. "No!"
"Yes!" Harry continued to grin. "And I saw my form!"
"Blimey, Harry!" Ron muttered, slumping back against the table. "I didn't even know you wanted to be an animagus!"
Harry gestured at him. "I convinced Sirius to let me try because I want to be there for Remus and he only agreed if Aunt Minerva agreed so…I've only just started. But I was thinking…" his green eyes met theirs tentatively, "I was thinking we could all do it? I mean, it's a good defence if you do come across a werewolf and it gives you a useful way out if you're in a sticky situation."
"I'd love to!" Hermione said immediately. She was sure her parents would agree especially if Professor McGonagall was on board.
"I don't know," Ron said uncertainly, gesturing with the knife, "I mean, you have to be a powerful wizard to become an animagus and I don't think I…you know Transfiguration's not exactly my subject."
"Nonsense, Ron!" Hermione said as Harry plucked the knife from Ron's hands and placed it safely on the table, muttering something about it taking an eye out.
"If the rat can do it, you can." Harry said firmly.
Ron brightened, apparently not bothered by the comparison to Pettigrew although Hermione suspected if she'd made the comment, he'd have erupted.
"So, what's your form?" asked Ron eagerly.
"Yes," echoed Hermione, desperate to know, "did you really see your form? What was it?"
Harry took a moment to check the food before turning back to them. "You can't tell anyone ever. Sirius wants me to keep it a secret."
They both nodded in understanding.
He broke into another smile that lit up his whole face. "A raven."
"A raven?" Hermione immediately ran through the attributes of a raven in her head and wondered at how apt a form it was for Harry. "That's wonderful!"
"It is?" Ron asked.
Hermione kicked him and then glared at him for good measure.
"I mean, it is." Ron hastened to say.
"You'll be able to fly!" Hermione said authoritatively. "And ravens are known for their cleverness and problem solving, Harry." She frowned. "I've never understood why the totem for Ravenclaw was an eagle when a raven would have been better."
"But Harry's a lion! A Gryffindor!" Ron protested. He picked up a slice of bread and started munching on it. "Why would he be a raven?"
"Hey, standing right here!" Harry pointed out. He checked on the sausages and turned the mushrooms and tomatoes.
"Sorry, mate." Ron said insincerely. "Just…I get the flying but a raven's not a lion. I want to be something big and powerful."
"And totally useless." Hermione pointed out exasperated with him. "A raven can fly anywhere undetected. It can spy easily. It can get in and out of places quickly. It's a great form!"
"A lion is a better form!" argued Ron. "It can take down a man and scare any attackers!"
"I wanted a flying form." Harry interjected before Hermione could continue the argument. "And I've chosen the form now so that's that. No lion for me, Ron, so you can be the lion."
Ron smiled happily. "Maybe I will, mate."
Hermione refrained from rolling her eyes.
"This is about ready." Harry said, dishing up the tomatoes and mushrooms. "The sausages just need another few minutes."
"I can't believe you found your form so quickly." Hermione praised him, folding her arms. "It's supposed to be quite hard to reach the meditative state required."
"Meditation?" Ron's face dropped. "I'm screwed then."
"Or there's a potion." Hermione informed him crisply. "But you don't get to choose your form with the potion. You turn into your form – whichever one best suits your personality at that point in time. The meditation technique is supposed to give you more options but it is more difficult." She wondered at what the other forms Harry might have had.
Harry shrugged and smiled again softly. "I think I only achieved the meditation thanks to Luna. She kind of showed me the way."
"Luna?" Hermione asked, frowning.
"Luna Lovegood." Harry said, moving back to the stove to get the sausages from under the grill.
"You don't mean Looney?" Ron spluttered around a mouthful of bread.
"Oy!" Harry waved a spatula at Ron. "She has a name! Anyway, this is done. Why don't you go get your brothers and your Dad?"
Ron heaved a self-suffering sigh and left the kitchen,
Of course, the Lovegoods owned The Quibbler and Luna must have accompanied her father, Hermione thought slightly miserable at how happy Harry had seemed in mentioning the other girl. She tried to remember what Luna looked like and came up with blonde and pretty but not conventionally pretty, prettier than Hermione since she didn't have awfully big front teeth and bushy uncontrollable hair.
She bit her lip and rubbed her arms.
Hadn't she decided she wasn't going to do this? She wasn't going to crush on Harry or think about him as a potential boyfriend. She wasn't.
Even if Harry would make a great boyfriend.
Even if Harry was very sweet with her.
Even if she might possibly want Harry as a boyfriend.
The plastic kitchen door slapped against the plastic wall and the Weasley twins barrelled in along with Ron.
"Harry, Dad says can you put a plate together for Bill and Charlie and him?" Ron said sitting down at the table.
Hermione scowled. She had a feeling Ron had probably been asked and it was so like him to push the task off onto someone else. She opened her mouth to argue, caught Harry's eye and his silent message not to say anything and subsided with a huff.
"What about Percy?" asked Harry.
"He's off doing Ministry stuff." Ron shrugged unconcerned.
"This is great, Harry." Fred said.
"You'll make someone a lovely wife." George agreed.
Harry whacked George with the back of a wooden spoon.
"Ow!" George exclaimed, rubbing his upper arm where Harry had landed the blow with an exaggerated pout.
"He's got the Mum thing down too!" Fred pointed out and dodged when Harry threatened him with the spoon next.
Hermione couldn't help giggling at the good-natured teasing and Harry's pleasure at the underlying praise.
"You guys took a look around outside?" Harry asked as he put breakfast sandwiches together for Arthur, Bill and Charlie.
"Yeah, it's mad out there!" Fred exclaimed. "You'll never guess who we ran into? Bagman!"
"He was taking bets." George confided.
Hermione frowned at their twin expressions of glee. "Oh, you didn't?"
"Didn't what?" asked Ron, scooping up more mushrooms since Harry had finished with the serving spoon.
"Bet." Hermione said succinctly. She turned to look at the twins. "What would your Mum say?"
"I reckon she'd be talking with the wooden spoon." Fred admitted.
George nodded. "But…she's not here…"
"And we need money…"
"For the joke shop."
It was Harry's turn to frown at them. "I thought Remus said we'd invest if you got your NEWTs."
Fred and George looked to each other before they turned back to Harry.
"We just want…"
"To put in our own share and…"
"Do our bit."
Harry sighed but nodded in the face of their unwavering conviction. He raised the plate he held. "I'd better take this out before it gets cold."
"It's a good thing you wanting to contribute," Hermione began lecturing them as Harry disappeared into the front room, "but really betting?"
"You have to risk something…"
"If you want something." Fred concluded.
"Mum is going to freak." Ron pointed out, stabbing another sausage.
"Which is why nobody…"
"Is going to tell her."
The twins looked hard at their younger brother.
Ron swallowed and gestured at his brothers. "I'm not going to tell her but she'll still know. She's Mum."
Hermione's response was forgotten as Ginny and Lydia Inglebee entered. Their faces were painted in motifs symbolising Ireland; Ginny had gone for a fairly sedate green four leaf clover on her left cheek while Lydia had a sparkling rainbow arching into a small heap of glittering gold galleons. Hermione's eyebrows rose.
"Ooh, breakfast!" Lydia said, hurrying over to the table.
"Oy, get your own!" Ron complained. "Harry made this for us!"
"Harry made this?" Lydia giggled and nudged Ginny. "Isn't he awesome? He can cook!"
"Awesome!" Fred and George parroted, batting their eyelashes in unison as they mocked the girls.
"Behave!" Ginny threatened as she sat down and helped herself to food. "Lydia's our guest."
Hermione rubbed her head. Was she getting a headache?
Harry entered the kitchen and froze at the sight of Lydia and Ginny. Hermione felt a twinge of sympathy. It was probably his worst nightmare – well, beyond the whole thing with Voldemort and even then she wasn't too sure that he wouldn't prefer to have another confrontation with the evil wizard rather than face the two girls with the most obvious crushes on him ganging up together.
"Hi, Harry!" Lydia smiled at him widely.
"Hi, how are you doing, Lydia?" Harry asked politely as he quickly took up a position by Hermione.
She suspected he was intending to use her as a human shield.
Lydia shot Hermione a disgruntled look. "I'm good. This food looks amazing."
"I didn't know you could cook, Harry." Ginny followed up, evidently taking courage from Lydia's blatant flirting to actually talk with Harry.
"Hmmm, yeah," Harry pulled on Hermione's arm and sent a desperate look to Ron, "we should…"
"Check out the stalls while this lot finish breakfast and do clean-up." Hermione declared briskly. "You're very right, Harry. Let's go get Sirius and my parents. Ron?"
Ron picked up a final slice of bread, swiped it across his plate and pushed the whole thing in his mouth. He made a muffled sound which might have meant 'let's go.'
Hermione shot Harry a look of exasperated fondness at Ron's behaviour and he sent one back warm with affection and gratitude at her getting him away from the awkwardness of Lydia and Ginny. She felt a thrill of delight and happiness, and ignored the heated looks of jealousy emanating from the girls left behind in the kitchen.
Remus laughed at Bogdan's latest joke about Cornelius and turned to translate something funny but not related to the British Minister to the man in question.
In part he didn't mind the change of plans. Madame Derry – 'call me Kate' – was a lovely astute woman with forthright opinions and the Bulgarian Minister was a very intelligent and witty man. Both had expressed a deep appreciation of Cornelius's political acumen, but disappointment overall in the British foreign policy (which was effectively to ignore the rest of the world and progress elsewhere for fear it might contaminate Britain – Remus was going to have to discuss it with Sirius because politically they too had ignored the international arena for cleaning house at home first and it might be a mistake to ignore it for long). Both had also expressed amusement over Cornelius's attempts to engage Bogdan in conversation through mime and simply talking louder (as though volume would assist in understanding). Bogdan actually spoke reasonable English but a translator helped to avoid the embarrassing errors that neither Minister wanted to make on an international stage.
Remus was content enough – he had good company and the Ministry Box was resplendent. A very comfortable space with leather seats for comfort, as much drink and food as they could possibly want and a great view of the pitch as they were at eye level with the players. Yet he couldn't quite shake his worry about Harry.
He knew Sirius would never have agreed if he hadn't been OK in Remus leaving protection duty for Harry to do something else but still Remus felt that he'd let Sirius and Harry down in agreeing.
Or rather his wolf felt he'd let them down. It was fairly screaming at him that he should be with his pack.
Remus sighed and wrestled the wolf back once more with practiced patience. He could understand the wolf's unease.
Harry had received death threats. Not just the one on his birthday but another and the perpetrator remained at large and hiding behind a house elf of all things. They knew it had to be someone on the list of party attendees but nobody was ever going to give permission for the entire Wizengamot and the most senior Ministry officials to be compelled to take veritaserum for questioning.
What was more worrying was that whoever it was seemed to be operating in isolation. Neither Severus nor Lucius nor Bertie's spy had gotten wind of a plot to terrorise Harry – well, beyond the likely ritual they believed Voldemort was planning. But that ritual was to be performed on the eve of the Summer solstice and terrorising Harry now made no sense. Then again, when had anything to do with Voldemort ever made sense?
He rubbed his right temple thoughtfully.
"Is everything OK, my friend?" Bogdan asked concerned in Bulgarian.
"I'm just thinking about my friend's son." Remus said apologetically. "I am anxious given recent events."
"Ah, yes. I read the article in the International Wizarding Herald. It is shocking that someone so young can be targeted so horrifically." Bogdan smiled at him. "If you wish to take a break and check on young Lord Potter I will cope for a few minutes alone."
"You may but others will not." Remus turned to Cornelius who had started anxiously as the two had exchanged words. "Nothing to worry about, Minister, we were just commenting about the article in the Herald on Harry."
"Kurt is a good reporter." Kate said briskly.
"I'm afraid I didn't get a chance to read the Herald this morning but the article in the Prophet was well done by Rita as always." Cornelius said. "I was thinking perhaps we should have a day of remembrance for the Potters."
"It's a nice thought but I'm not sure it's what Harry had in mind." Remus said diplomatically. "We were actually discussing the death threats."
"A terrible business but I have confidence Amelia will get to the bottom of it." Cornelius said forcefully.
Bogdan nodded. "Eet is good to hear. Child should not be target."
Kate nodded her agreement. "It is a shame for the lad."
Cornelius smiled at them. "I couldn't agree with you more. Unfortunately, Harry's unique status makes him more of a target than I think any of us would wish on the poor boy."
Remus checked his watch. The match was about to start. He glanced over the box and was surprised at the empty seats. He guessed some of the Wizengamot and eligible Ministry staff hadn't taken up their tickets. Crouch was missing too which was a surprise since he had helped secure the World Cup as an event for Britain. Bagman was commentating so that wasn't a surprise.
A sudden sound at the door had them all turning and he wasn't surprised when the Weasleys, excepting Ron and Bill, hurried into the box and took their seats. He noticed Percy frowned at the absent Crouch's seat before taking his own.
Arthur hurried over and was introduced to the foreign Ministers by Cornelius, assisted by Remus.
Kate smiled warmly. "I would be happy to meet with you and discuss how we deal with muggles in Ireland."
Arthur smiled. "I'd like that."
Bogdan turned to Remus and switched back to Bulgarian. "Please inform him that we have a good relationship with our muggle counterparts and we would be happy to share how we have built trust and share information."
Remus translated for Arthur who said he would be delighted to meet them both at the first opportunity. A soft clearing of the throat behind Remus had him turning to look in surprise at Percy.
"I'm sorry, Mister Lupin, I couldn't help noticing you're translating," Percy said, with a frown, "Mister Crouch was insistent that he would translate."
"Well, if Barty wanted to translate he should be here!" Cornelius said sharply. "Mister Lupin has stepped in at short notice after his services were kindly offered by Lord Black. I'm sure I speak for Kate, Bogdan and myself that we are very happy with him."
Remus made a show of translating for the Bulgarian Minister but he had a feeling from the gleam in Bogdan's eye that he understood what had been said.
"Very happy." Bogdan said firmly.
"Mister Lupin has been a welcome addition to our party." Kate stated bluntly.
Percy immediately nodded subserviently. "Of course, my apologies. I was just concerned…"
"And so you should be, young Percy." Amos Diggory interrupted briskly having arrived in the box during Percy's approach. He gestured at Remus. "Cornelius, you are aware that Lupin is a registered werewolf? What are you doing letting such a creature near to any Heads of State?"
Cornelius drew himself up in the face of the criticism. "Amos, that is completely out of line. We are nowhere near the full moon. Remus is here at my request and he has been a complete boon to our discussions all day."
"Registered werewolves cannot be employed in the Ministry." Amos stated firmly, obviously believing the Bulgarian Minister couldn't understand him and apparently unaware that the dark haired lady next to him was the Irish Minister. "You know the law, Cornelius. I should have Lupin arrested but as you and Minister Oblansk are involved, I'll settle for Lupin making himself scarce."
Cornelius gaped in shock.
"Amos!" Arthur snapped. "You do realise you're insulting the Bulgarian Minister, our Minister, and the steward of two Ancient and Noble Houses! Lord Black and Lord Potter could challenge you on what you've said!"
"He's a werewolf!" Amos said firmly.
Remus felt the usual sick feeling in his gut from the immediate rejection and the look of disgust. It had happened to him often enough in his life. His nose scented alcohol on Amos's breath; the man had been drinking.
Amos glowered at Remus. "I don't want this creature in the same box as my son."
Remus sighed. "Perhaps it would be better if I left."
"Nonsense," Cornelius said, pinning Amos with a hard stare, "Mister Lupin isn't being employed by the Ministry and he isn't getting paid; he provided his services at the behest of Lord Black as a personal favour to me. There are no grounds for an arrest and, on the contrary, the only person I see causing a disturbance is you, Amos."
"I agree." Bogdan said gruffly. "Vou are about to cause an international incident. Ve do not have the same laws on verevolves and von of my guards is also verevolf." He gestured at the Bulgarian security detail behind him.
"If you don't feel you can stay in the same box then you are welcome to find seats elsewhere." Kate said sternly. "We also don't have the same laws against werewolves and I am quite happy with Mister Lupin's presence whereas I begin to find yours unacceptable."
"What is going on?" Crouch said, interrupting. He must have entered while Amos had been denigrating him, Remus thought absently.
"Ah, there you are, Barty," Cornelius said, "Amos was just about to apologise to my guests and Mister Lupin for a misunderstanding."
Amos flushed but gave a short nod. "My apologies, Ministers." He said stiffly. "Mister Lupin, my apologies to the Houses of Black and Potter."
Kate simply glowered at Amos but Bogdan nodded an acknowledgement and Remus followed his example. Amos darted away just in time for his wife and son to enter and join him unaware of the hullabaloo he had caused.
"Well, I'm sure there's no harm done." Barty said officiously and pointed to the pitch where the mascots were being announced. "Shall we watch?"
"Would you prefer to take over translation duties?" Remus asked politely, remembering Percy's comment.
Barty shook his head. "If the Ministers don't mind I will leave them in your hands." He wiped his brow with a handkerchief. "I'm afraid I haven't been feeling all that well."
A whiff of something drifted over to Remus. His nose wrinkled and he frowned unable to place the scent because of the overlay of alcohol from Amos that lingered.
"Vou are still recovering after Vizard flu?" Bogdan frowned.
"You should see a new Healer." Kate advised.
"I quite agree, Barty." Cornelius said. "Or take some more time off. You know we need you in tip top shape for the…the thing at the end of October."
"Thank you all. I may just do that." Barty sat down in his seat and the Ministers took theirs. Remus sat down off to the side with the Bulgarian security detail. He sighed and turned his attention to the antics of the younger men trying to climb over the railings to get to the Bulgarian Veelas. He wondered if Harry was attempting the same…
The Black box was situated at playing level across the field from the Ministry box and it was probably only second to the Ministry box in its interior décor. The colours of the Black family crest of green and black dominated the walls but they were accented by Sirius's preferred Gryffindor red and gold on the comfortable seating – no plastic that made a bum go numb in seconds.
Ron was impressed. He lifted up his brand omniculars (and he fully intended to pay Harry back regardless of Harry's 'consider it your Christmas and birthday gift') and felt himself sway at the sight of the Veelas. He took a step toward the railing…
"Easy there, Ron." Bill grasped his shoulder and pulled him back. "I don't want to have to explain you diving over the edge to Mum and Dad."
Ron shook himself. He watched amused as Lucius Malfoy pulled his son away from the railing, Zabini was holding back Nott. Beside him, Harry had placed a hand on Neville's shoulder and was quietly talking to him seemingly holding him back but Harry himself seemed unaffected.
Hermione nudged Ron. "Harry must have some natural immunity." She sounded unusually pleased.
Jealousy stirred in Ron's gut and he hated it; hated himself for feeling jealous.
Since the Flying Incident and his talk with Bill, Ron had made a conscious effort not to be jealous of Harry. He knew in many respects Harry would have loved to have had Ron's life; two parents, a houseful of siblings and more love than Ron himself sometimes knew what to do with. But he couldn't quite help the envy at Harry's new clothes, the money, the fame, and the lifestyle Harry enjoyed.
Well, didn't so much enjoy as had. Ron knew Harry would have preferred to have dumped the fame and his status entirely if he could. And it wasn't as though Harry had an easy life what with the death threats and the ever present threat of something happening.
The trip to the basilisk had been horrible. Ginny had refused to see the mind healer despite her hysterics during the return visit to the Chamber. Their Dad and Bill had tried and failed to convince her to go and after the one and only session their Dad had dragged Ginny to, kicking and screaming all the way, the mind healer had said that forcing her wouldn't work. Ron himself had tried to talk Ginny into it, pointing out that he'd been scared down in the Chamber himself remembering how Lockhart had almost obliviated him and the horrible, horrible wait for Harry to come back; that if Ginny went to a session, maybe he'd go to one too. She hadn't gone for it. Ron had quietly thought that they should ask Harry to have a word. He was fairly certain only Harry would be able to get her to go.
At least, Ron mused, Ginny hadn't been caught up in the drama of Ron's third year. She'd actually settled into Gryffindor. All of the male Weasleys at Hogwarts had been under strict instructions to watch her and make sure that nothing similar to the Chamber happened again. Ron would be quite happy if nothing similar to the Chamber happened to him either – and he could do without a repeat of being dragged into the Shrieking Shack by a Grim.
Maybe Harry was right about the animagus training. If Ron had been able to turn into a lion, he could have gotten away or scared the pants off Sirius anyway. He would try anyway for Harry. He felt very happy that Harry wanted to include him and Hermione in something like that since there was a lot going on that Harry couldn't talk about – or at least, Ron and Hermione suspected that there was a lot going on that Harry couldn't talk about. They'd both confided their worries about Harry to each other in brief conversations but Ron knew if Harry was keeping quiet it was because Sirius had made him promise and Ron wouldn't try to get Harry into trouble with his new Dad just to satisfy Ron's curiosity.
He smiled at the thought as the leprechauns came out in support of Ireland. They were flinging gold up into the stands and for a long moment Ron was tempted to go and grab some…
"Oooh! It almost looks real, doesn't it?" Hermione said out loud.
And that was a good reason why he shouldn't. Leprechaun gold was nothing but an illusion. Ron's lips firmed. If he wanted money, fame and status he would have to work for it as Bill had said in their discussions.
He felt a rush of happiness at the thought of his oldest brother and he glanced up behind him where Bill stood sentry ensuring Harry couldn't be attacked from the back of the box. His relationship with Bill had changed since their talk in Ron's room. Bill had taken time every couple of days to come over and chat specifically with Ron; sometimes they'd play chess or they'd fly but most times they ended up like the first time – just sat on Ron's bed, talking. Ron had found himself listening to more stories of Bill and Charlie as kids as well as Bill's time at Hogwarts. Instead of switching off thinking it was Bill lording it over him for doing something first, Ron really listened and had gotten to know his brother much better.
He'd sought Charlie out himself a couple of times after that to check Bill's version of events sometimes or to ask Charlie his advice about Quidditch. He'd even confided his Quidditch dreams and Charlie was helping train Ron for the try-outs. Ron was thrilled with his brother's support.
"Here come the teams!" Harry said excitedly, elbowing Ron and drawing his attention back to the game.
Ron grinned at him, and raised the omniculars again.
For long minutes they murmured 'ooh's' and 'aah's' as the professional teams took to the skies and play began.
Harry shook his head. "They're so fast!"
"So are you on that Firebolt." Sirius pointed out.
"He's right though, they're playing very fast – it's obviously Ireland's strategy. The Bulgarian Beaters have issues with speed." Ron said authoritatively. "See?" He nudged Harry. "They can't get the bludgers anywhere near on target."
"As much as I hate to admit it he's right." Draco Malfoy said.
All of the Gryffindors turned to look at the Slytherin in shock.
"Are you feeling alright, Malfoy?" asked Neville. "You do realise you've just complimented Ron?"
Nott snorted in the background.
"I agreed with his surmising of the Irish strategy, I didn't compliment him." Malfoy snapped.
Neville huffed and returned to the action. Ron gave the back of Malfoy's head a searching look before returning his attention to the game. He'd been told very strictly by everyone that he needed to be on his best behaviour with the Slytherins. The Malfoys were part of the House of Black, as much as Ron might hate it, and he was only in the box because he was a guest of Harry's. He didn't like the snakes but he guessed he could put up with them for the length of a Quidditch match.
Hermione sighed, sat back down and pulled a book out of her backpack.
Ron stared at her. "What are you doing?"
"Reading." Hermione said slowly as though he was the odd one.
"But…" Ron waved his arms out towards the pitch and the action.
"I only came to experience the atmosphere of a professional game." Hermione explained rather snootily in Ron's opinion. "I don't really enjoy Quidditch."
"But…" Ron stuttered out.
"You watch all the Gryffindor matches." Harry said, lowering his own omniculars to look at her with faint surprise.
Hermione squirmed in her seat, her fingers tightening around the book. "That's because you play and you're my friend so I support you." She'd gone red in the face as though she was embarrassed.
Ron exchanged a look with Harry over Hermione's head. Mental, Ron thought with horror; absolutely mental. How could she not enjoy Quidditch? He returned to watching the game.
"I wish our Chasers could play like that." Malfoy said with a sigh as Ireland scored again.
"They have too much muscle on them." Ron said without thinking. "Uh…"
"Too much muscle and they're too focused on blocking rather than scoring." Zabini agreed sliding in as though Ron hadn't paused in stupefied realisation that he'd just talked to Malfoy.
"I don't understand why Flint chose them when there are better fliers in Slytherin." Nott said.
"He wanted people who could intimidate others in the air." Malfoy said shortly. "Obviously."
"You don't," Nott said, "but there again you didn't exactly try-out, did you?"
"I'm a Seeker, I don't need to intimidate anyone." Malfoy retorted. "And I think I've earned my place on the team after the last two years, thank you very much."
"When you beat Potter we'll talk." Zabini said, throwing Malfoy a teasing wink that simply infuriated the other boy.
The Gryffindors exchanged a look at the Slytherins' exchange and Ron could see Sirius's lips twitching like he wanted to grin.
Ron shook himself and returned to the match. It was a beautiful display of aerial acrobatics. Suddenly Krum moved, diving for the ground.
"He's seen the Snitch!" said Ron excitedly.
"No, he hasn't," Harry said, "the Snitch is up by the hoop. He's feinting."
Harry was right. Another minute later and Lynch, the Irish Seeker, was being helped off the ground as Krum floated back to the air.
"How the bloody hell did you see the Snitch?" demanded Nott.
"Because he's the best Seeker at Hogwarts." Ron said proudly.
Malfoy gave a loud snort but he didn't argue the point. Maybe, Ron mused, the fabled truce Harry had talked about was actually in effect.
The match wore on. Ron explained some of the more professional plays and moves to Harry and got used to the Slytherins chiming in. After half an hour, Neville had gotten comfortable enough to add his thoughts and all of the male teenagers soon congregated together, house rivalries mostly forgotten in their discussion although there was the occasional jab.
Ron slowly realised that all of the Slytherins – Malfoy included which boggled his mind – were vying to build better relationships with Harry. He was almost amused but mostly concerned. He shot Neville a look (Ron was willing to admit that Neville was much better at the political stuff) and they nodded at each other in understanding; Harry would need to be protected. He was far too forgiving and innocent sometimes.
"There's no way the Bulgarians can win this now." Harry commented. "The Irish have scored too many for them to catch up."
"Krum will end it." Ron said convinced he was right.
Five minutes later, he cheered with glee as Krum did exactly what Ron thought he would; he caught the Snitch and put the Bulgarians out of their misery.
A silvery shape swept into the room and Ron realised it was a wolf patronus. It stopped in front of Sirius.
"Minister Oblansk and Minister Derry would like to invite you all to meet the teams in the Ministry box." Remus's voice sounded out from the wolf's mouth.
Everyone except Hermione turned to Sirius hopefully.
Sirius glanced at Harry. "It's risky. We haven't vetted them."
"Please, Padfoot?!" Harry pleaded softly.
Simeon cleared his throat. "Maybe a compromise, Sirius? Bring them onto our territory?"
Sirius raised his wand and a Grim patronus emerged. "Moony, we'll be happy to host the teams and the Ministers in the Potter alliance tent. Due to security reasons Lord Potter is restricted in his movements. I'm sure the Ministers will understand the necessity."
Harry nodded, accepting the compromise although Ron knew it didn't guarantee their meeting the teams at all. "Thank you."
Sirius ruffled his hair. "Come on. Let's get to the tent."
It took a good half an hour to exit the stadium and find the Potter alliance tent. The rest of the alliance – especially Terry Stebbins – was delighted that the teams might stop by. Harry and Neville went off to do the rounds while Hermione and Ron hit the buffet table set up at the back of the tent, with the Slytherins at their heels.
"You don't have to stick with us, you know." Ron complained.
Malfoy shot him a look. "This is the Potter alliance, Weasley. Most of them aren't too fond of the House of Malfoy or of Nott."
Ron cast a look in Zabini's direction.
Zabini shrugged. "We're neutral. They don't mind us." He paused. "My mother has almost finished completing an alliance deal with the House of Black and the House of Potter."
Malfoy and Nott looked at him with surprise.
"I thought she was still angling for marriage?" drawled Malfoy.
Zabini laughed. "Lord Black isn't as stupid as her usual targets. He knows what she is."
Ron frowned in confusion and he darted a look at Hermione who sent him one back that said she'd explain later.
There was a noise by the front of the tent and in the next moment the Minister arrived. Harry caught Ron's eye across the room and waved frantically at him to come over. Ron hurried, not wanting to miss his opportunity to meet the teams although really there was only one player he wanted to shake hands with.
Ten minutes later, he got his wish.
Sirius shook hands with Viktor Krum and congratulated him on catching the Snitch. "This is my son, Lord Harry James Potter. He plays Seeker too."
"Although not as good as you." Harry added, grinning happily at the thin dour looking Bulgarian with his large nose. "That feint you did was incredible." He motioned to his side where Ron and the others were standing. "May I introduce my friends and allies? Draco Malfoy, my cousin; Hermione Granger, a daughter of the House of Black; Neville Longbottom, my godbrother; Ronald Weasley, my best mate, and Theodore Nott and Blaise Zabini, my classmates at Hogwarts although we're in different Houses."
Viktor shook hands with all the boys and kissed Hermione's knuckles which made her blush furiously. He turned back to Ron. "Vou vere mentioned in newspaper?"
"Yes," Ron said, his heart pounding at having the famous Seeker actually talk with him, "Harry gave them my prediction when he was asked what he thought the outcome would be today."
"Vou vere right." Viktor commented dryly.
"Thank you." Ron felt his face heat up at the praise and knew he was probably as red as his hair. "I've followed your career. You're amazing!"
"Vou play?" Viktor asked.
"I play but not for my House team. I'm hoping to try-out as Keeper this coming year." Ron said, attempting to act normal, despite his racing pulse. He pointed at Harry who was indulgently grinning at him like a loon. "He was the youngest Seeker for a century at Hogwarts."
"I play Seeker too." Malfoy added, pushing into the conversation.
Viktor's dark eyes flickered to him before returning to Harry and Ron. "Vou must practice, practice, practice to be the best."
Harry nodded. "That's what our old captain, Oliver Wood, said. He's just signed with a British team."
"Well, I'm sorry to break this up but we should let Viktor move on and let others talk to him." Sirius prompted gently.
"It vas nice to meet vou all." Viktor said and fell into step beside his coach as they moved to the next group.
Ron watched him go and turned back just in time to be introduced to the Irish Seeker. Life just didn't get any better than this, he thought happily.