30th October 1994

Bill wasn't particularly fanciful – curse-breaking tended to lend itself to a hardy cynicism about tales of vengeful ghosts occupying dark and dank tombs – but he believed the Potter cottage at Godric's Hollow was haunted. Only it wasn't haunted by angry spirits but by the fog of lingering emotion.

There was the desperation and terror of parents whose love for their child knew no bounds written stark into the scars of the crumbling walls hit by destructive spells as James Potter had fought for his family, as Lily Potter had begged for her son's life. There was the horror of a child who had seen his mother killed protecting him scrawled in the chaos that was left of the nursery. And more, there was the devastating loss of the young family evident in the preserved remnants of the Potters' last day as a family – the dinner plates stacked in the drainer, the day's newspaper folded casually on the arm of the sofa, the baby toys that cluttered the floor in front of the hearth.

It was heart-breaking.

Like many of the wizarding world, Bill remembered the celebrations that had followed the night Voldemort had been defeated by Harry with a hazy fondness blunted by distance and childhood. He remembered snatches of the party that had been held at The Burrow with their neighbours eating and drinking and making merry – the childish certainty that something fundamental about the world had changed and the adults were happy. He remembered not giving a thought to the Potters, not even in passing, that day.

He had thought about them later in his life in an abstract kind of way when he'd gotten old enough to understand how the change he'd observed had come about; when he had heard his mother lull Ginny to sleep with tales of the Boy Who Lived; when the first Halloween he had spent outside of Hogwarts had his Dad pulling out the Firewhiskey after dinner and making a toast to those who had lost their lives in the war. Bill also knew the next year he hadn't repeated that toast and not just because he'd been in Egypt but because he hadn't thought to do it.

He hadn't thought.

In retrospect, one miserly toast – a toast that hadn't even recognised the Potters' sacrifice alone – was so bloody inadequate that Bill was hard pressed to find the words that expressed just how bloody inadequate.

If Harry's plea in the article in the Prophet that he wished the wizarding world would honour his parents had felt like an uncomfortable kick in the arse, the cottage was a punch in the gut. Bill was so ashamed he couldn't stand it.

They had been at the cottage for two weeks systematically packing up each room after careful checks of every item to make sure nothing was a horcrux. They'd started from the kitchen door and moved their way through the house. The dinner plates emblazoned with the crest of the House of Potter had been taken out of the drainer and stacked into a trunk with other crockery. The newspaper in the living room had gone into another trunk full of odds and ends for Harry to sort through when he was ready. The baby toys had gone into another trunk although Bill had kept the soft stuffed black dog with its half-chewed off ear and given it to Sirius personally.

They'd left the nursery for last because of the structural damage; the outer wall blown into smithereens; the roof in danger of collapsing in on the room. They'd found the dagger near what remained of the cot; a Goblin made steel blade with a ruby encrusted hilt that hadn't rusted despite the conditions. The dagger wasn't a horcrux but Bill knew with cold certainty that it had been intended to be used as one. They'd set it aside that morning in a dark black box. It would be examined by Bertie before they discussed what to do with it.

After that, it was mostly a salvaging exercise although to be certain they'd still examined every other item just in case.

Caro paused as the last book flew into the open trunk. "That's the last object here."

Bill nodded; they'd already been over the furniture. He waved his wand and the items he'd marked as sturdy packed themselves neatly into the trunk marked 'furniture.'

"Do we know what Sirius and Harry are going to do with this place?" asked Caro as she got to her feet and dusted down her jeans.

"I don't know." Bill shook his head. "I don't…I don't think they should keep it as a memorial."

"Yeah," Caro sighed and brushed her fringe back, "I'd be tempted to pull it all down; start fresh." She cast a sad look around the small room. The faint outline of mural of a forest on the far side of the nursery could just be seen under the dirt and spell damage.

"I know Harry wants to come here but…I think this place is going to seriously upset him." Bill commented tiredly. "It's…"

"It's a terrifying reality of what that night actually meant." Caro nodded in understanding. She met his questioning gaze with a rueful one of her own. "You think you're the only one feeling guilty?"

Bill grimaced.

"I was happy when we got into school the next day and heard the news that Voldemort had gone after the Potters and the baby had destroyed him. Happy! I knew I didn't have to worry about dying in some muggleborn baiting or thinking my parents might die." Caro said plaintively. "I don't think I've ever really considered until this year and meeting Harry that he lost his parents and any semblance of the childhood he would have had with them that night."

"You know how I was pleased that Brian hunted down the company that did the tours and got them to stop?" Bill waved a hand at her. "Now I want a list of everyone who ever took one of those tours so I can march them through this cottage and hammer the truth of what a tragedy it was into their heads."

"They wouldn't care." Caro sighed. "I mean how ghoulish do you have to be to do the tour in the first place?"

"Point." Bill muttered. "Merlin, this place is creepy." His side ached where he'd been hit by the curse at the World Cup. He was so tired.

"Hey, you alright? You've gone all pale again." Caro said solicitously, reaching out and putting a hand on his arm.

Bill motioned at his side.

"You do know that's not where your liver is?" Caro asked dryly.

"Alicia would hug me." Bill complained teasingly, folding his arms and pouting.

"Alicia is your girlfriend." Caro pointed out and raised an eyebrow when Bill winced at the term. "She has to hug you." She tilted her head and looked very much like her animagus version for a moment as she regarded him with interest. "So what was with the face?"

"What face?" Bill said, tapping the trunks so they were easy to carry; a featherlight charm took care of the weight. He scanned the nursery for anything they might have left.

"Oh you do not get to do that!" Caro declared, wagging her finger at him. "What was with the face?"

Bill regarded her thoughtfully. Caro's expression was light-hearted but her eyes were serious and there was real concern in them. They'd gotten closer since Lawrence had been declared sick; true work partners. He liked her but more importantly he respected her opinion.

"You know my mother…" Bill began.

Caro smiled. "You mean the force of nature that would only ever allow me five minute visits with you when you were recovering? That mother?"

Bill's lips twitched. "That's the one. She's kind of…" he made a whirly gesture that tried to encapsulate 'she's gone nuts about my relationship with Alicia and is already planning a wedding and I'm nowhere near ready for marriage, and I like Alicia but I don't know if I like her that much, or really if she likes me that much although she did save my life.'

"Ah." Caro said, translating the vagueness with superhuman speed. "So your mother's taking it all too seriously and you're confused. What does Alicia say?"

"I don't know." Bill admitted sheepishly. "I haven't actually talked about it with Alicia."

Caro stared at him with the same pitying look that Bill believed girls gave guys the world over; the one that said 'you're a man, I suppose you can't help being this stupid.'

"I should talk with Alicia." Bill said.

She patted his arm. "Good call. Come on." She started towards the door. "We should pack it up and head home."

Bill nodded. "I'll take the trunks to Sirius." He waved his wand and the trunks obediently floated behind him in an orderly fashion.

"I'll take the dagger to Bertie." Caro said. "Say hi to Sirius for me."

"I thought you liked Remus." Bill said confused.

"I'm waiting for Harry to grow up." Caro joked.

They exited the cottage and said goodbye at the door. Bill tapped the ward stone to set the new wards he'd constructed active and the faint shimmer of them moving over the cottage somehow made Bill feel better. He apparated home to London Street and took the floo to Black Manor, carefully ensuring the trunks went ahead of him.

Penny was on her way out as Bill flooed in. He smiled at her warmly. He liked Penny. She was a good match for Percy – and Merlin, he was turning into his mother.

"What are you doing here on a Sunday?" Bill grinned at her.

"I had a report to finish on Lord Wenlock's voting patterns." Penny said. "Sirius wanted it done before the November Wizengamot session. But I'm on my way home now."

"No hot date?" He teased as she adjusted her outer cloak.

Penny laughed. "I wish there was a hot date but no. You do know your brother has lived at the office since Mister Crouch came back off sick leave again and now there's the tournament." She shook his head. "I'll be lucky to see him before June next year at this rate."

Bill grimaced. He wondered if anyone thought the resurrection of the Tri-Wizard Tournament was a good idea anymore.

"But I do have a date with a glass of wine, some Chinese take-out and an episode of The X-Files."

"That's a television thing right?" Bill questioned. He'd watched some TV when he'd worked abroad in the States one Summer. Muggle TV had been integrated into the wizarding world there.

"Right." Penny smiled. "Your Dad keeps threatening to come over and watch."

"I think he saw it once in the Seventies but he knows it's improved. Mum says the day he gets a TV is the day she moves out. He keeps arguing he needs it for his new job." Bill said with a laugh. He was so proud of his Dad's new status despite the dangers. "I'd better let you go. I have these to drop off." He motioned at the trunks on the floor.

Penny frowned. "More stuff from the cottage?"

Bill nodded. He glanced over her face. "That bad, huh?"

"Sirius's face every time he takes ownership of these trunks…" Penny shook her head. "It's bringing it all back for him and I hate, hate what it's likely going to do to Harry when he sees…everything." She sighed heavily and shook her head. "You should leave them in the library with the others."

"Sirius and Remus are not here?" Bill asked.

"Remus is still in France although Madame Longbottom and Lord Bones came back," Penny explained, "Sirius said Remus had to check something out at the chateau in the South. He'll be back tomorrow morning."

"And Sirius?"

"At the Ministry all day." Penny said. "He arranged with Director Bones to be part of the security detail on the Goblet while it's being displayed in the atrium."

Bill understood. Sirius didn't trust anyone else to guard the Goblet to ensure it couldn't be tampered with in some way so Harry would be entered. After what had happened at the World Cup, Bill didn't blame him. He felt a twinge of guilt over how he'd failed to protect Harry. Sirius had told him it wasn't his fault but it was; he'd lost the duel.

Penny's hand on his shoulder yanked him out of his thoughts.

"Sorry." Bill muttered.

"You want to talk about it?" offered Penny.

Bill wondered if he was transmitting some kind of wounded bird signal to all the women in his life that made them want to comfort him. He shook his head. "I have to work it out for myself."

"Hmmm." If Penny had been Caro she wouldn't have backed off, and if Bill had been Percy he suspected Penny would have pressed the issue but she wasn't and he wasn't so Penny nodded and shared a small smile instead. "Once you've dropped the trunks, go home and get some rest, Bill, or I'll tell your Mum you're looking peaky."

"Merlin!" Bill stared at her horrified. "You're evil!"

"That's me!" Penny said cheerfully. She gave him a wave, shouted her destination, and disappeared into the floo.

Bill wandered down to the library. He could see the stack of trunks piled up by Remus's desk and placed those he held on the pile gently. He could see some of the older trunks had been opened and reclosed. He didn't want to think about how Sirius must have felt going through them.

He rubbed a hand over his face. Weirdly, he had an urge to go and see his Mum, see his Dad; wrap them both up in his arms and tell them that he loved them. Maybe that wasn't a bad idea for all he'd joked with Penny about his Mum.

He headed for the floo and shouted for The Burrow before he could change his mind. His Mum hurried into the living room as he stepped out, alerted by the chimes.

Her face brightened as soon as she saw him. "Bill! I thought you were working today!"

"I was." Bill said, accepting her hug and holding onto her when she would have pulled away.

She angled her head to look at him properly and frowned. "What's wrong?"

He avoided her eyes. "Just…it's been a hard day. Difficult."

His Mum held more tightly for a long moment before she rubbed his back and moved away. "A good cup of tea and a chat will help," her look stopped his protest before it was made, "you can tell me as much as you can."

It wasn't long before Bill sat at the dining table, a strong cup of tea in his hand and a plate of homemade biscuits on the table in front of him. His Mum sat beside him at the head of the table, waiting patiently.

"Where's Dad?" Bill asked procrastinating.

"He went to meet up with Leonard Abbot for a drink." His Mum said.

He tapped the side of the heavy ceramic mug. "Did…do you ever think about the Potters?"

His Mum frowned. "How do you mean?"

"It's…I vaguely remember the party the night after Halloween in 'eighty-one and I don't remember any mention of the Potters. And I know Dad made that toast that year I was here for Halloween but he didn't mention the Potters by name and…"

"I understand what you're asking," his Mum interrupted and sighed heavily, "and the answer is no, not really. Back then, I think part of it was because it felt right, you see, that they died protecting their child." Her eyes met his sadly. "Any parent worth their salt would do the same."

She would do the same, Bill knew. If his mother had been in the Potter alliance tent with him on the night of the World Cup, she would have stepped in front of him and taken every curse the attacker threw at him without hesitation.

She wrapped her hands around her mug. "So when the news came it wasn't a surprise or a shock to me that they were dead. It was…what was expected. Frankly, the fact that You-Know-Who was gone and baby Harry had survived swamped everything else. I think everybody reacted the same."

"And since?" prompted Bill.

His Mum took a sip of tea. "Your Dad does the toast every year to remember the fallen but…it's your Uncles that I think about. I think that's human nature; we remember the people we've lost who were close to us the most. I didn't really know the Potters. I'd met Lily a couple of times through various mother and baby groups, and James through Fabian and Gideon but the Potters were very young and had their own friends." She grimaced. "I thought about them a little when I met Harry, of course, mostly that it was such a shame they hadn't lived to see what a wonderful boy he'd become but…not in the way you mean. When I read Harry's words in the Prophet…I have to admit that I was stunned to realise that I hadn't ever acknowledged their part in what happened that night, their sacrifice." She raised her eyes and looked at Bill. "What's this about, Bill?"

"We've spent the last couple of weeks at Godric's Hollow." Bill admitted. "I can't say anything about why but…it got me thinking about them."

"I can understand that if you've been there." His Mum said.

There was something in her tone and Bill's eyes sharpened on her guilty expression. "You went on one of those awful tours didn't you?"

His Mum bristled but subsided with an unhappy nod. "Years ago as a present for Ginny. She wanted to see where the Boy Who Lived…where it had happened. I told myself I was doing it as a way of paying tribute to him, but as soon as I saw the place I…I knew it was wrong."

Bill knew it was pointless to berate her since she'd already come to the right conclusion. "I don't think Harry should see it. Ever. I feel like razing the place to the ground and sowing the earth with salt."

His Mum reached out and laid a comforting hand on his. "It really got to you."

"Yeah." Bill said.

"How about tomorrow you come over for dinner and we do something special to honour the Potters?" His Mum suggested.

Bill considered it and nodded slowly. "I'd like that."

"Good." His Mum patted his hand. "Now, onto happier news; I got a letter from Charlie today. He's coming back to England next month!"

"That's great." Bill said, pleased, even as he mentally tried to shift with the change of subject. "It'll be good to see him again. Why's he back?"

"Something work related." His Mum waved a hand dismissively. "He said it was all very hush-hush."

The clock chimed; his Dad was on his way home. His Mum got up. "I should start dinner." She frowned heavily. "I doubt Percy will make it back before nine."

"What's going on with Percy?" Bill asked curiously. "Penny said she's hardly seen him."

"Percy is working too hard. He's been out of the door first thing in the morning and back last thing at night for weeks including weekends." His Mum said briskly. "If you ask me, Barty Crouch is taking advantage but Percy won't listen to any of us."

"Not even Dad?" Bill asked half-teasingly.

"He told your father that it wasn't any of his business."

Bill stared at her as she turned away in mortification of having blurted out something he realised his parents had clearly meant to keep from the rest of the family. "He did what?"

His Mum stopped bustling around the kitchen and looked at him, shame-faced. "Your Dad didn't want the rest of you knowing he and Percy are…not getting along." She must have spotted his intent to head straight over to the Ministry and yell at his brother because her face changed to her 'I am your mother and this is serious' look. "Your Dad's decision, Bill, and you will abide by it."

Bill squirmed in his chair but she was right. He needed to respect his Dad's decision.

"Percy's…Percy's just going through a phase right now, Bill." His Mum nodded as though she was willing herself to believe it through force of will alone. "Are you staying for dinner?"

"Sure." Bill said, because he might not be able to talk to Percy but he could hang around and see if his Dad wanted a friendly ear.

His Mum beamed at him. She paused beside him and dropped a kiss the top of his head. "You're a good boy, Bill."

Bill felt his cheeks heat and he hid his face in his mug. But he was glad he'd made the decision to visit. And maybe in honouring the Potters, maybe he should honour his own parents and the sacrifices that they had made too.

o-O-o

"Is that who I think it is?" Bertie asked in a low voice as he moved to stand beside Amelia in her hiding spot by the large fern by the elevators in the atrium.

Amelia's lips twitched. "I have no idea to whom you are referring, Bertie." She kept her eyes on the entrance way where the Goblet was being displayed, encased in a glass box on a tall golden stand just in front of the Fountain of Magical Brethren. An Auror guard stood either side of the Goblet. There was a team of five switching in and out on an irregular basis. But in front of the Goblet, lying on the ground with his head resting on his front paws, was Amelia's lynch-pin; a large black Grim.

Bertie huffed out a breath of laughter and shook his head. "It's rather an ingenious way to guard the Goblet."

"I thought so." Amelia said with satisfaction.

The sight of the Grim had been enough to deter most of the spectators from lingering for too long the entire day. There had been three fainting fits, two women and one man, but it was worth it.

It was rather a shame that the Tri-Wizard Tournament Committee had rejected Moody's proposition that they repeat the security measure at Hogwarts. She guessed Bagman had a point when he'd suggested that it might deter some entrants from putting their name forth if they saw a Grim by the Goblet. Amelia though agreed with Moody's rejoinder that if entrants had issues getting past a Grim to put their name in the Goblet they were hardly likely to be Champion material anyway.

She also knew that Albus had warned Sirius off sneaking into Hogwarts to guard the Goblet anyway in human form. Unfortunately, his point that if Harry was entered some might claim Sirius himself had entered Harry for the glory was well made. She knew Moody had taken Sirius through the planned security measures and Sirius was comfortable with them; he just had a hard time letting go and allowing someone else to have the responsibility of protecting Harry. Amelia understood and she knew Moody did too.

"Has he been there all day?" Bertie asked.

"Since we placed it in the glass box." Amelia said dryly. "You should have seen people fleeing in terror."

"You sound far too amused about people fleeing in terror to be the Director of the DMLE." Bertie said, his own voice filled with laughter.

Amelia snorted. She glanced at him curiously. "What are you doing here on a Sunday?"

Bertie grimaced and waved a wand to form a privacy bubble. "Caro and Bill have finished their examination. Caro dropped off the item we think was the one that was meant to be used. They found it near what remained of the cot. I have it locked up downstairs now."

"Is it…?" Amelia asked hesitantly.

"No," Bertie shook his head, "the tests show it's clean." He sighed. "It's a priceless heirloom and historical artefact and I want to throw it into a furnace anyway."

Amelia nodded. "It was by the cot?" The thought of it made her shudder. How close had Riddle come that night to true immortality? If it hadn't been for Harry…

"The cot." Bertie shook his head. "It's been hard on them going through that house."

"Will they be ready to start at Hogwarts tomorrow or do they need a break?" Amelia asked bluntly.

"They'll be ready." Bertie sighed. "Caro said that Harry was right; that the wizarding world should have honoured his parents and it is a crime we ignored their part in all this; their sacrifice."

"They're not the only ones whose sacrifices have been ignored." Amelia's eyes strayed to the Grim.

"Indeed not." Bertie murmured.

Amelia straightened at the sight of Bartemius Crouch striding out of the elevators towards the Goblet, Percy Weasley following in his wake like a baby duckling following after its mama. Bertie dismantled the privacy bubble hurriedly and Amelia set off to intercept her former boss.

Merlin but Crouch was being more of a bastard than ever since his second return to work after the flu, she mused. He'd always been a stuffed shirt with a fierce ambition and a rather narrow view of things, but he'd been forgiven that because as the Director of the DMLE during the war he'd been ferocious in going after Death Eaters. His reputation had suffered when it had been discovered his son was a Death Eater, it had certainly lost him his coveted ambition of Minister, and while Barty had rebuilt his reputation somewhat in the years since, the admission that he had helped imprison an innocent man had tarnished him again. Perhaps that was at the heart of his antipathy toward Sirius, Amelia thought.

Her eyes slid to Percy. Why he had decided to attach himself to Crouch was a mystery to her. She had the sense that he and Arthur had fallen out; neither had been seen in the other's company for days. Personally, Amelia thought it showed common sense on Arthur's part to distance himself but she feared that the distance was more one created by an ungrateful son eschewing his father's advice rather than a father sensing the need to let his son make his own mistakes.

"Barty." Amelia caught him as he got to the Goblet.

"It's time for it to be transported to Hogwarts." Barty said impatiently, straightening his already pristinely straight robes.

Amelia nodded at Auror Pollock. "Fetch the box."

The Grim got to its feet and stretched. On the far side of the atrium someone shrieked.

Barty stared at it with distaste. "Should that beast be loose?"

Amelia placed a hand on the Grim's head. "Snuffles is fine."

"Snuffles?!" Auror Tonks chuckled and Amelia shot her a look. She sobered quickly. "Sorry, ma'am."

"As you were, Tonks." Amelia wondered for a moment if Tonks actually knew it was Sirius. She was under the impression that not many actually knew Sirius was an animagus. It had certainly been a surprise to her when Sirius had come to her with the idea and a belated request to have his animagus registration done and sealed as confidential under the DMLE authority.

Pollock arrived back with the box and Amelia tapped the glass in specific places to get it to release without setting off the wards she had cast earlier. She carefully picked up the Goblet with its ever-lasting blue flames and placed it gently into the box Pollock held open. She closed the box.

Crouch nodded crisply. "Excellent. I'll take this to my office."

"You're not going to floo from here to Hogwarts immediately?" Amelia pointed at the waiting fireplaces. "I thought they were waiting for you to begin the Initiation Ceremony?"

The Ceremony was the official beginning of the tournament. A piece of paper detailing the latest tournament, its dates and the tasks involved, would be fed to the flames. It primed the Goblet to accept the names that would be entered thereafter as candidates and to choose the Champions.

"I have a few things to finish up in my office and I prefer to floo from there." Crouch stated authoritatively.

"Why didn't you finish before you came for the Goblet?" asked Amelia irritated.

Crouch raised his eyebrows. "I wasn't aware that I had to clear my work schedule with you, Amelia. The Goblet was due to be transferred to my custody at five o'clock. It is now five o'clock. The Goblet has been transferred to my custody. It will sit on my desk while I finish my work and I will floo to Hogwarts shortly thereafter."

"If you need any help, Mister Crouch, I would be honoured to assist." Percy said obsequiously.

Amelia refrained from rolling her eyes at him. "Barty, Hogwarts is expecting the Goblet as soon as it is placed in your custody…"

"Percy, floo to Hogwarts and inform Dumbledore of the delay. You may remain there until I arrive when you will floo back to inform Director Bones of my safe arrival." Crouch ordered.

"Yes, sir." Percy headed off to Hogwarts without any other discussion.

"Is that acceptable, Director?" Crouch sneered.

"You'll have an escort to your office and at the door." Amelia snapped.

"Very well." Crouch huffed. He pointed at Pollock. "As you're coming along, you can carry the damn thing."

"I shall leave you here." Bertie said apologetically and made for the exit.

"Coward," muttered Amelia, disgruntled at his abandonment.

The rest of them all trooped to the elevators and down through the Ministry to Crouch's office. Pollock set the Goblet on a side table that Crouch picked out as he made himself comfortable behind his large desk.

"Thank you." Crouch muttered grudgingly.

"I'll leave Tonks and Pollock outside your door." Amelia instructed brusquely. "Get Percy to floo straight back to your office here when you get to Hogwarts so they can finish for the day."

Crouch nodded stiffly.

Amelia grimaced. She pushed the Grim towards the door. It went with an unhappy bark. As soon as they were out of the office the Aurors took up a position either side of the door. The Grim sat down and looked at Amelia stubbornly.

"Fine," Amelia allowed, "you can stay here until Percy gets back. I'll be in my office."

The Grim barked his agreement.

Amelia ignored the look Pollock was giving her and left them to it.

She had continued to work the odd Sunday as a Director, partially to show solidarity with the Aurors and Hit Wizards who had to work weekend shifts, and partially because the mostly empty Ministry was a boon to her work rate. She dived into the open reports on her desk, the cases that she was prosecuting, and the correspondence that included a note from her brother along with a small statue of the Eiffel tower which she placed on her desk.

She was in the middle of a report on the search for the pregnant women who had gone missing when there was a knock on her door.

"Enter." Amelia called, pulling her monocle from her eye and letting it dangle on the silver chain around her neck.

Sirius entered. He looked tired and worn. Concern shot through her. He hadn't moved all day. She'd ensured he'd received bowls of water and some food at lunchtime but he had to be hungry and thirsty.

"Sit." She ordered as she conjured up some tea and toast.

Sirius glanced at her as he collapsed into a chair. "You do know that just because my animagus form is a dog, it doesn't mean that I'll follow that order all the time?"

"Your animagus form is a Grim, Sirius." Amelia pointed out as she poured the tea. "It has as much in common with a dog as an unicorn has with a donkey." She passed him a mug and he took it with a murmured word of thanks. She turned her attention to fixing him a plate of jam and toast. She waited until he was eating before performing a tempus charm. "It's been an hour?"

"Crouch took more than half an hour to finish whatever it was that he was doing." Sirius said with disgust. He swallowed down some more toast with a mouthful of tea. "If I didn't know he was so completely against Death Eaters that he sent his own son to Azkaban, I'd be deeply tempted to suspect him of…of something. Unfortunately I think he just did it to screw with me."

"I think part of his anger towards you, Sirius, is probably wondering that if he made such a mistake about you whether he made the same mistake about his son." Amelia sat back and folded her hands over her belly. "Junior got a trial but…in truth, the fact that his wand was clean was all but ignored by the tribunal, despite his claim that he only led the LeStranges there and helped them gain entry. The sentence was harsh."

"I heard him yelling for days in Azkaban." Sirius commented almost absently as he slumped wearily in the chair. "Begging." He shook himself out of the memory. "I think I vaguely remember his parents visiting? Maybe I dreamed that."

"No," Amelia shook her head, "Barty got special dispensation to take his wife to visit because she was dying and wanted to say goodbye to her son."

"Junior didn't last long himself after the visit. Maybe he lost the will to live with the news his mother was sick." Sirius murmured. "It's a shame he's not alive. He could have answered some questions."

"You've had no luck trying to track down the LeStranges' paramours I take it?" Amelia asked dryly.

Sirius shook his head. "Everyone agrees that Crouch Junior and Rabastan were lovers, apparently devoted so no side dishes for either of them. Narcissa managed to recall Bella had a torrid affair with Oliver Mulciber but that apparently ended when Voldemort took an interest in her, and it can't be Mulciber who's the Polyjuice man because he's in Azkaban and we've checked it is him. Rodolphus preferred one night stands with women he'd picked up in bars; muggles, witches, whatever, so that's pretty much a non-starter."

"Has Snape had any further luck sorting through his memories?" Amelia asked.

"No, and the last time I asked he took great delight in telling me I only had myself to blame for the lack of information available to us because I was the one who'd killed the LeStranges." Sirius gestured at Amelia's look of disgust. "He was right in one way."

"And totally wrong in a much more important way." Amelia retorted. "I hope you see that."

"It's Snape." Sirius said simply with a ghost of his usual smirk. "Of course I know he's wrong."

Amelia smiled.

"Bertie was here?"

"Caro and Bill found the item they were looking for but it wasn't one of the objects? It's locked away in the DOM." Amelia explained.

Sirius nodded slowly and drank some more of his tea. "It's been hard for them going through the cottage."

And harder on Sirius, Amelia would wager.

"Bertie wants to throw the item in the furnace regardless that it's not actually…whatever it is that would bring Voldemort back to life." Amelia said. "Even if it is a priceless heirloom."

"Well, we've already destroyed Hufflepuff's cup and Slytherin's locket." Sirius said dryly. "If we find Ravenclaw's diadem that will be melted down too so…what's one more?"

"Riddle must have counted on sentimentality about the Founders of Hogwarts stilling the hand of anyone who would seek to destroy them." Amelia mused.

"He forgot the truth that the living are more important than the dead despite his obsession with immortality." Sirius agreed.

Amelia decided a change of subject was required. "Speaking of antiquities, my brother tells me he's off to Paris next week once more?"

"I'm putting Fevrier on retainer to get the Cavietti version of the Lumiere document." Sirius explained. "Even if it's not the exact thing, I don't want it available to anyone else."

"Wise." Amelia said. "Have you heard anything else from Remus?"

"Nothing more about Greyback, no." Sirius guessed where her main concern was and Amelia blushed.

"I'm also concerned for Remus." Amelia said defensively. "We know so little about the packs."

"I hate Remus getting involved with them again." Sirius sighed. "And then there's the whole problem that apparently the packs see Remus's family with myself and Harry as a new pack." He waved a hand at her. "We'll discuss it at the Council tomorrow."

Amelia nodded. It was late. She regarded Sirius critically. His colour had improved but there were shadows in his eyes and if Remus was away, all he had at home was a slightly crazy house elf. "Why don't you come back to Brian's with me for supper?" She said impulsively. "I'm sure Brian won't mind."

"I'm sure Brian will mind." Sirius countered with a faint grin. "I'll be fine."

She saw the thought flitter through his brain. "Do not go to Hogwarts." Amelia instructed briskly. "Go home, take a bath and go to bed."

Sirius glared at her without any heat. "I wasn't thinking…"

"Please." Amelia peered at him evenly. "I'm not stupid."

Sirius sighed heavily. "OK, so maybe I was contemplating that I'd sleep a whole lot easier if I just sneaked into Hogwarts and stole the damn Goblet."

"I'm not sure that's something you should admit to the Director of the DMLE, Sirius."

"It's not possible either," Sirius laughed weakly, "I helped Moody close the gaps that I used in the security last year."

"See: Alastor has it covered." Amelia said gently. "You have to trust that it's going to be OK."

"I thought that at the World Cup and look what happened: Minnie was injured, Bill was almost killed and Harry…I almost lost Harry." Sirius pointed out.

"You have to stop beating yourself up about it, Sirius." Amelia waved at him. "The majority of the decisions made by adults that day were well-intentioned and reasonable at the time they were made. I'm also fairly certain that Harry has learned his own lesson about running off alone after formidable opponents. In the two duels I've had with him in his lessons since, he's never once let himself under-estimate me." Although she was pleased that she had managed a victory in the second; it had been close but she had managed to get him off-balance and take his wand.

"I should have sent Harry home after the Quidditch match."

"You're trying to do your best to give him a balanced life and you thought any threat or danger would happen much later based on our intel." Amelia said softly. "I'm not certain that I wouldn't have made the same decision if it had been Susan."

Sirius nodded slowly and got to his feet. "Home, bath and bed. I think I'll follow your instructions, Amelia. And thanks." He gestured at her. "For letting me guard the Goblet today."

Amelia watched him leave, worried.

Sirius was under so much pressure, had so many responsibilities, and had so much to worry about given the very real threat to Harry's life…her lips firmed. Well, she would do her bit to make his life easier. She'd talk with the Rat Squad the next day; there had to be some way of finding Voldemort and his cronies, some way of tracking down the missing pregnant women, and she would find it.

o-O-o

31st October 1994

"I can't believe Moody treated it as an exercise for his guards and a lesson for us!" Ron complained.

"I think it was ingenious." Hermione said. "He knew you'd try to help Harry and instead of stopping it cold, he turned it into something useful."

Beside her, Harry scooped up some of the mashed potatoes and ate them desultorily as Ron groaned over how quickly Connor Sapworthy had been found lurking near to the Goblet. Harry agreed with Hermione; Moody was ingenious. He'd effectively made spotting the Potter alliance kids a game for the professors who were watching the Goblet in the entrance hall. According to a rumour that Robert Ogden had heard (he had actually lasted the longest with a superb disillusionment spell), Moody had offered a prize for the professor who found lurkers the fastest. All the caught alliance members were told to write an essay on why they had been discovered and how they could improve if they were to attempt it again; it was to be handed to Moody at their next DADA lesson.

Harry had offered to help with the essays as a combined 'thanks for trying' and 'sorry you got into trouble.' Since his own prowess in DADA was well known, the alliance members had jumped at the offer. He'd spent the hour before the feast going over several essays and drafts. It had been great. In fact, he would have preferred to have continued his unexpected tutoring session instead of being dragged to the feast.

He wasn't in the mood for the usual Halloween festive feast since he was acknowledging the day was the anniversary of his parents' deaths. He definitely wasn't in the mood for the new and improved tournament Halloween feast which saw a small cadre of press at a table off to the side of the Great Hall, the students from Beauxbatons happily sat at the end of the Ravenclaw table, those from Durmstrang at the end of the Slytherin, and their Headmaster and Headmistress sat at the high table either side of Dumbledore, along with Crouch and Bagman.

Bloody Tri-Wizard Tournament, Harry thought morosely. He couldn't wait for the naming of the Champions to be over so he would just know, so that Sirius would know. His call on the communication mirror the night before had worried Harry. Sirius had looked too pale and tired. He had just spent the day doing guard duty on the Goblet but Harry was concerned the worry of Harry being entered into the tournament was consuming his father.

According to Robert, there had been no successful attempt by anyone who wasn't going to enter themselves to get to the Goblet. Moody had even had the professors checking each note before a student submitted it to ensure it was their own actual name that they were entering and not a friend or a rival. The twins' attempt to enter by asking Angelina to submit their names had been foiled that way.

On the face of it, between Sirius personally attesting to the fact that nobody had tampered with the Goblet before it had been handed to Crouch and Moody's insane security controls, Harry should be safe.

Except that Harry didn't think he was.

He shot a jaundiced look at the Goblet sitting on a tall pedestal just in front of the high table.

Think about something else, Harry instructed himself firmly, and tuned back into the conversation around him which was disappointingly still on the tournament.

"I can't believe…" began George.

"…they checked the notes!" finished Fred.

Angelina pointed her knife at them. "It's just as well. Only one of you could have been chosen and if you had been chosen, I'd have been down a Beater!"

"Have you not entered, Angelina?" Hermione asked.

"Not with the Quidditch ban I'd get if I was chosen. It's better for my future career to keep playing this year." Angelina said with a grin and a wink in Harry's direction. "Especially when Harry invites Viktor Krum to come to our practices."

Harry smiled back at her.

"He's entered though, hasn't he?" checked Ron. "I'd heard that all of the Durmstrang lot had put their names in."

"The students from Beauxbatons all entered too." Neville said quietly.

"Which makes sense," Hermione said authoritatively, "they all did come here for the tournament."

"Who has entered from Hogwarts? Do we know?" Ron questioned Neville eagerly.

Neville shrugged. "All of the Gryffindor seventh year apart from Angelina but none of the sixth year…"

"We tried!" wailed Fred and George dramatically.

"Five seventh year Ravenclaws and three of their sixth years, all of the eligible Slytherins, and only a few Hufflepuffs but they do include Cedric Diggory and Robert Ogden." Neville said. "Blaise has a list."

"He's running another book, isn't he?" Hermione sniffed with disapproval. "What's the bet? Who'll be the Hogwarts Champion?"

Neville shrugged and smiled. "I have a galleon on it being Diggory."

"What about the other schools?" Ron waved his fork, a piece of chicken flying over the table and luckily not landing on anyone else's plate. "I bet Krum gets chosen for Durmstrang."

"Just because he's a good Quidditch player doesn't mean that he's Champion material." Hermione informed him briskly.

"Aha!" Ron cried out. "So you admit that Krum's a good player!"

"I never said he wasn't." Hermione proclaimed, raising her eyebrow as though to suggest Ron was wrong to even suggest that she had.

Harry pushed his dinner away as they fell into a familiar argument. He wasn't hungry. He cast a look around and caught Ginny looking at him. She immediately went bright red and stared down at her half-finished meal. Harry averted his eyes, staring at his own plate. Ginny was on probation with the Quidditch team after trying to sneak Lydia and Jessica into the boys' changing rooms; Angelina had given all three girls a dressing down and threatened to report them to Professor McGonagall if they did anything similar again. Harry was glad because it meant that the stalking had finally stopped even if heartfelt looks cast in his direction at meals were still on.

On the positive side, his plan to ask Hermione out was finished and ready to be executed the next day. They had Runes just before lunch and thanks to the kitchen house elves who were very, very helpful, Harry had sorted out a private table in the kitchen where he could take Hermione and ask her if she would do him the honour of accompanying him to the November Hogsmeade weekend. For his token, Neville was supplying Harry with a flower from the greenhouses that Harry would charm with an Everfresh spell so it was as lovely as the moment it was picked. Ron and Neville would guard the kitchen and make sure nobody interrupted Harry. It was a good plan.

"Treacle tart?" Hermione nudged his elbow with hers.

Harry glanced at the table and saw that it had switched to desserts. He shook his head. "It's kind of like the morning of a Quidditch match." He whispered noticing her concern at his refusal.

Hermione nodded understandingly. "It'll be over soon." She cut a small slice of lemon cheesecake for herself and spooned some vanilla ice-cream on her plate to go with it.

Harry smiled inwardly at that. He knew Hermione secretly loved desserts because they were the only sweet treat that her parents had occasionally allowed. She still didn't like chocolate all that much finding most of the candy oversweet for her tastes. It was the reason why he had decided against chocolate as his token.

"Shall we finish going through the year books tonight?" Hermione asked softly, once she'd almost finished eating. "Or would you prefer to call it a night?"

"Tomorrow?" suggested Harry. "Sirius wants me to call him right after the feast is over and…" he grimaced, "truthfully I think I just want to go to bed after." Maybe look at his photo album; think about his parents.

"It's OK with me." Hermione assured him. "I have the Transfiguration essay to start."

"You're not starting that already are you?" Ron said, overhearing Hermione.

"If you do it as soon as you get it, it's done." Hermione said firmly.

There was a sudden clinking sound that interrupted the babble of conversation and the noise in the Great Hall fell away gradually until silence descended.

Dumbledore smiled at them all happily. "It is almost time for the Goblet to select our Champions." He waved a hand at a doorway off to the left. "If the members of the press could make their way to the antechamber, please."

Harry watched as Snape, his face contorted in a sour expression, escorted the press to the room. He saw Luna wave to her father. Bagman looked jovial and smiley as he greeted them; Crouch looked bored as he watched on.

"As our Champions are chosen, they will make their way to the antechamber to receive instructions and a copy of the rules from one of the judges from the Ministry, Mister Bagman." Dumbledore smiled. "If my fellow Headmaster and Headmistress will follow me to the Goblet…" he invited them to move with a sweep of his arm, sending the bats on his pumpkin orange sleeve into flight across the fabric.

They walked around the table to the Goblet.

Dumbledore waved his wand and the candles around the Hall were extinguished except for those within the carved pumpkins that adorned every table. The semi-dark was dramatic and there was a collective intake of breath; a hush that fell over everyone as their eyes were drawn to the glow of the blue-white flames of the Goblet.

Harry heard his heart pounding and felt Hermione creep closer to him. He reached for her hand blindly and she quickly intertwined their fingers.

Suddenly, the Goblet's flames flared upwards, turning red and orange and sending a piece of parchment upwards.

Dumbledore plucked it out of the air and read it quickly. His face broke into a broad grin. "The Champion for Durmstrang is Viktor Krum!"

There was a cacophony of applause as Viktor rose from the Slytherin table, bowed slightly to acknowledge the students' show of support and walked quickly away to the antechamber.

Karkaroff gave a short nod to Dumbledore and walked off after his charge.

Everything settled again.

Harry held his breath as the Goblet flared a second time; another parchment spun in the air. "The Champion for Beauxbatons is Fleur Delacour!"

The applause was polite rather than effusive as had been the case with Viktor, but the beautiful Veela girl curtseyed politely to the student body and gracefully made her way to the room at the back along with her beaming Headmistress.

Silence descended rapidly.

Harry bit his lip. Please, please, please, he begged the universe, let it be someone else.

The flame shot up…

The parchment went airborne…

Dumbledore snagged it…

Harry closed his eyes. Please, please, please…

"The Champion for Hogwarts is…" Dumbledore paused, "Cedric Diggory!"

Harry's eyes shot open, relief flooding him.

The Hall erupted. Harry squeezed Hermione's hand gently and let go so they could join in the clapping, shouting and whistling that saw a blushing Cedric bow to the school and make his way to the Chamber with an incredibly happy Professor Sprout.

It took an age for the Hall to quiet down again.

"We now have our Champions!" Dumbledore smiled happily and clapped his hands together in glee. "I know you will continue to give them every support in the coming tasks. But for now please make your way out of the Hall in an orderly…"

The Goblet's flames turned red.

Dumbledore stared at the artefact, his smile falling away.

Harry felt his heart stutter in his chest as another piece of parchment was sent flying into the air.

Dumbledore caught it in a trembling hand. He read it and his face filled with sorrow. Harry shook his head.

"The Champion for the Light is Harry Potter."

Harry closed his eyes again tightly.

No.

It was a nightmare.

It wasn't happening.

Anger and fear bubbled up inside of him and his magic surged.

"Harry, my boy," Dumbledore said softly, "please make your way to the antechamber. We will try to determine how your name was put into the Goblet and…"

Harry kept his eyes closed. He took a breath, trying to keep a hold of his magic. If he lost control…

"Harry." Hermione whispered.

He took another breath and tried to keep his chaotic emotions in check. "Get Sirius." He whispered back. "Please! Use the mirror!"

He felt when Hermione moved, sliding away from the bench and running out of the Great Hall, her steps echoing.

A murmur broke out in the Hall.

Harry took another breath. His fingers curled around the edge of the table. All the candles in the Hall blazed with light as his magic flared.

A few of the first years shrieked.

There was a rapid clicking of heels in his direction and he suddenly felt Minerva's hand on his shoulder, comforting and solid, a flimsy anchor against the magic wanting to break free in him but enough…

"I stand in the stead of Lily of the House of Potter…"

"Take another breath, Mister Potter." She ordered briskly, her Scottish brogue colouring her words roughly, giving away her concern.

"And another one, Harry." Doctor Jordan's crisp instruction from somewhere behind him filled him with more reassurance. Doctor Jordan knew his control issues.

"Good." Minerva's hand squeezed his shoulder.

Harry warily opened his eyes and wished he hadn't as he realised he was the focus of every eye in the room. He felt his face go hot with shame as he glanced around and saw the astonished faces on the press and the other Champions who had wandered back into the Hall, no doubt to see what was happening…

"Come with me, Mister Potter." Minerva said gently.

He got up.

Neville immediately stood up with him and Ron followed; a mere second later the sons and daughters of the entire Potter alliance present in the Hall stood up. Harry noted with bemusement that Draco and Theo were also on their feet.

"Mister Longbottom, Mister Weasley…"

"Professor McGonagall." Neville replied forcefully. "The Potter alliance was well aware of the plot by Harry's enemies to enter him into the tournament. Clearly they've succeeded and that means the House of Potter is now at war." His gaze met Harry's stunned eyes. "Lord Potter has our fealty and our trust; we stand with him."

"We're here for you, mate." Ron's hand landed on his other shoulder.

Angelina suddenly stood. "I'm with you too, Harry."

"And us!" chorused Fred and George, standing.

The entirety of Gryffindor scrambled to its feet.

Cedric walked until he was just behind the high table. He looked at Hufflepuff and turned back to Harry. "The Hogwarts Champion stands with you."

Hufflepuff got to its feet.

Luna sprang to hers at the same time as Natalie Warren, the Head Girl, and the rest of Ravenclaw followed.

There was only the Slytherins left but one by one, they got to their feet. Some appeared unwilling and miserable about it but since it was clearly in their interests not to be singled out as the only person not to stand up, they got up.

Dumbledore sniffed audibly at the sight of Hogwarts united in appearance if not wholly in spirit. The visiting schools regarded them with shock and curiosity.

Harry's emotions surged again but this time with so much pride in the alliance, and gratitude and relief that the rest of the school accepted he was in the tournament against his will that he almost blacked out. He wrestled his magic back under control and took one shaky breath after another. He took courage from Ron's determined expression; from Neville's steadfastness; from the sight of Draco nodding at him from the Slytherin table, and twelve year old Connor Sapworthy smiling brightly at him.

Dumbledore cleared his throat. "Everyone, I appreciate there are political alliances in play here, but this matter needs to be resolved in a less public forum." He raised a hand and looked over at Harry. "I assume Miss Granger has gone to request Lord Black's presence as your guardian?"

Harry nodded jerkily.

"Well, then, if everyone else could retake their seats," Dumbledore motioned for everyone to sit down, "Harry will go to the antechamber with Professor McGonagall and we will await Lord Black's arrival."

Nobody moved except one lone Slytherin first year who almost sank into his seat, realised nobody else had, and froze half-way in what looked like an uncomfortable position.

"As the Regent Apparent of the House of Potter," Minerva said crisply, "I assure you all that I will stay with Lord Potter until Lord Black arrives. You may be seated."

Neville simply glanced at Harry for confirmation.

Harry nodded. "Thank you."

Neville reluctantly sat down and the rest of the school followed him. Ron waited until everyone else sat down before he sent his own look of 'are you sure' to Harry. Harry nodded imperceptibly back at him and Ron retook his seat with a heavy sigh.

Harry stumbled a little climbing out from the bench but Minerva steadied him. He saw Bagman ushering the gawping press – including an almost vibrating-with-glee Rita Skeeter – back into the antechamber.

"Professor Moody," Dumbledore said, "if you could bring the Goblet for examination?"

Moody limped over. He and Harry reached the Goblet at the same time.

"I'm sorry, lad." Moody said in a low voice.

Harry tried to smile but he couldn't quite make his face work. "It's not your fault." He was aware all eyes were still on them as he walked behind the high table and entered the antechamber; he dimly heard Dumbledore order everyone back to the Common Rooms.

"Harry!" Rita immediately moved to question him and Minerva blocked her.

"Mister Bagman," Minerva said briskly, "perhaps you can show the illustrious members of the press to another room while we await Lord Black?" Her icy stare seemed to slide right off Rita.

"We have a right to ask questions!" Rita argued.

"But not of a minor." Snape spoke up, sneeringly. Harry had barely noticed the Slytherin Head leaning against the far wall.

"Professor Snape is quite correct, Ms Skeeter," Dumbledore said as he entered, "and I am certain Lord Black will not be pleased should Harry be interrogated by the press in his absence." He waved at Bagman. "Please escort them to the Charms classroom, Ludo. We will issue a statement after speaking with Lord Black."

"That's…" Rita began to protest.

"Good enough for me!" proclaimed a stout woman with black hair and a calculating gleam in her green eyes. "The International Wizarding Herald is happy to wait for a statement and perhaps an opportunity to ask you questions, Headmaster?"

Dumbledore inclined his head. "Very well, Ms Goose."

"Esmeralda, please." She turned to Bagman. "Well, lead the way, Ludo. I went to Salem; I don't have a Scooby how to get to this Charms place."

"I know the way!" Xeno Lovegood offered his arm to his fellow reporter and the two of them made their way out.

Bagman smiled charmingly at Rita, offering his arm. She gave a sickly smile and they left.

Moody placed the Goblet on a side table and Minerva ushered Harry further into the room. Professor Sprout and Cedric both gave him supportive smiles. Snape glowered at him as usual. Everyone else looked confused and bewildered.

Harry rubbed his forehead at a stab of pain.

"Dumblydoor," Madame Maxime cleared her throat, "what is going on?"

"I would like to know that too." Karkaroff stated with a vaguely threatening air. "You have two Champions. Is this some kind of prank?"

"Hogwarts has but one Champion." Dumbledore replied. "Harry was entered not of his own free will but by those meaning to do him harm."

Fleur regarded Harry as though he was a particularly interesting bug. "But he is a child!"

Karkaroff snorted. "Are you so certain the boy didn't enter himself?"

"I didn't enter!" Harry said hotly. And there was another jab of hot pain inside his head. He shook it trying to dislodge the ache.

Viktor shifted, catching the attention of his Headmaster. "If Lord Potter says he did not enter, he did not enter, Headmaster."

Karkaroff looked as though he wanted to argue with his star pupil but he conceded with a small nod. "What happens now with the competition?"

Dumbledore frowned as he glanced around the room. "Where is Bartemius?"

"He muttered something about alerting the DMLE." Snape said, straightening to reply to Dumbledore.

"I've already sent a patronus to Bones and Croaker." Moody said as his wand began to wave over the Goblet.

Harry mused that he must have missed seeing it with his eyes closed.

There was a noise and Sirius entered the room at a run, Remus at his heels. Harry wasn't really aware of how it happened; one moment he was standing with Minerva beside him and the next he was wrapped up tightly in Sirius's arms.

"I didn't enter, I promise." Harry's words were muffled into Sirius's shoulder.

"I know, Harry." Sirius sounded choked. "I never thought you would."

Harry felt relief course through him. He'd known intellectually that Sirius would never believe he'd entered himself especially given the known threat of Voldemort entering him, but it was good to hear it out loud.

His head ached again.

Harry didn't want to move but he was too self-conscious about the others in the room to continue being hugged as though he were a small child. He moved tentatively out of Sirius's hold to stand beside him. Remus's hand fell onto his shoulder.

Sirius kept one arm around Harry's back and took a deep breath as he glared at Dumbledore. "How the hell did this happen?"

"A good question." Madame Maxime said.

"There're no obvious signs of tampering and nobody here at Hogwarts got near the Goblet who wasn't supposed to be near the Goblet, Black," Moody reported, frustration eking into his voice, "I'd swear to it."

"Well, nobody got near it at the Ministry who wasn't supposed to be near it either." Sirius retorted. His eyes widened. "The only time it was out of my sight was after Crouch took custody." He pointed at Moody. "He had it for half an hour before he turned up here."

"Was it actually Crouch?" Remus asked bluntly.

"It was at the Ministry." Sirius stated firmly. "Amelia did the identity checks herself before we picked up the Goblet from the DOM."

"And it was here too!" Moody glowered at Remus. "I can perform an identity check!"

"But Bartemius would never side with You-Know-Who!" Minerva said, shocked at the direction of the conversation.

"Imperius?" offered Remus as an explanation.

"I can spot someone under the Imperius!" Moody said indignantly.

"The same name." Harry blurted out, dragging the information from his lesson with Moody. "If someone is polyjuiced and they have the same name…"

"Crouch's son had the same name!" Remus said, breathlessly.

Snape scowled. "My memories…"

"There is no other secret LeStrange paramour!" Sirius said. "It's the one they kept hidden back then that we knew about now; Crouch Junior!"

"But he's dead!" Professor Sprout spoke up.

Everyone looked at her.

"I mean," Sprout said wringing her hands, "isn't he?"

"Maybe not as dead as we thought." Sirius snapped. "Where is he, Albus?"

"I will check the wards." Dumbledore closed his eyes briefly before they flew open again and he started for the door. "He is almost at the Forbidden Forest."

The door slammed shut of its own accord halting Dumbledore's progress. A shimmer of red rolled over the room.

"What's going on, Dumblydoor?" asked Madame Maxime worriedly.

"I do not know," Dumbledore said, his wand moving gracefully as he attempted to find out what was going on, "a ward has been raised preventing our exit and Fawkes's entry, but it is not of Hogwarts." His eyes widened. "It is the Goblet!"

There was another blinding stab of pain and Harry clutched at his head as it wrenched him from Sirius's grasp and sent Harry to his knees.

"Harry!"

Sirius made to take hold of him but Harry pushed him away weakly, driven by some instinct that told him it was a bad idea.

"No, stay back!" Harry felt his magic rising to meet the threat of whatever was causing him pain. He held his hand up in front of him shakily. His skin glowed gold; silver rippled over the surface.

"Oh Merlin!" Remus said. "Lily's protection has activated!"

"What does that mean?" Madame Maxime asked plaintively.

"The one who tried to kill him cannot touch him!" Remus kneeled beside Harry. "The Goblet binds the Champions. Since Barty Crouch Junior acted in Voldemort's name in entering Harry's name into the Goblet…"

"Dear Merlin!" Minerva said horrified.

"The Goblet can't bind with him because of the protection." Dumbledore determined. "That is why it has locked us in here; to prevent Harry from escaping. It doesn't truly understand why it cannot bind."

"Isn't this a good thing?" Cedric asked tentatively. "If the Goblet can't bind with him, he can't be in the tournament."

"Unfortunately, it is not that simple, Mister Diggory." Dumbledore said urgently. "The last time Harry's protection was activated to defeat Voldemort, Voldemort was ripped from his body and the cottage around Harry almost destroyed. If it attempts to destroy the Goblet to defeat the threat to Harry…"

"You need to get us out of here, Dumbledore!" Karkaroff snapped angrily.

There was another stab of searing pain; gold flickered all around Harry as he fought for breath as the shield around him flared.

Sirius kneeled beside Harry; he raised a hand to place on his back and lowered it again without touching him. "Harry, you need to control the protection."

"How?" asked Harry, struggling to focus.

Remus snapped his fingers. "The spell is powered by your family magic, Harry. Call it up and talk with the snake!"

Harry raised his trembling hand as pain lanced through his head. "Familius magicus!"

Gold and silver rushed out of his hand, pooling on the floor beside him into the totems' distinct forms. Immediately the griffin moved to surround him again, wrapping its wings tightly around Harry. He slumped into its embrace and closed his eyes, shivering with reaction.

The feel of the griffin changed a touch and Harry whimpered.

"Lily!" breathed Snape.

Harry's eyes snapped back open. It was his mother holding him, Harry realised; her golden spirit form and where the griffin's wings had encased him, her arms now held him. He swallowed on a lump of emotion.

"Mum?" Harry struggled to shift position so he could drink in her features, look into her eyes.

"Rest, my Harry." Lily's spirit whispered. "You are safe."

"Who dares threaten he who is shielded with my blessing!" A voice thundered.

Harry tore his gaze away from his mother. Merlin! He'd called Morgana again, he thought slightly hysterical.

She stood as a silvery shield in front of him, her long old-fashioned robe swirling about her, her hair streaming.

"My Lady, the Goblet is attempting a binding on my son after his enemy placed his name within it." Sirius explained hurriedly as everyone else gaped on.

Morgana's hand snapped out. "Spiritus manifestus!"

Instantly, Harry felt the pain go away and he took a deep breath, soaking up the feeling of his mother's love surrounding him.

The Goblet glowed. The blue and white flames flared and suddenly streamed out of the Goblet to land on the floor in front of it. They rose and shifted until the body of an old woman took shape.

Moody stumbled back from her. Madame Maxime pushed Fleur behind her and Karkaroff moved to do the same with Viktor. Professor Sprout tugged Cedric back. Minerva, Remus and Sirius surrounded Harry in a loose circle. Harry tried to ignore how Snape's focus was affixed to the spirit of his mother.

"You will explain yourself!" Morgana directed imperiously to the old woman.

"I owe you no explanation." The Spirit of the Goblet proclaimed.

Morgana bristled, the silver rippling furiously. "I am Morgana of the line of Le Fey! You are attempting to bind a child shielded by me!"

The Spirit of the Goblet frowned. "He has been chosen."

"My Lady Morgana, if I may?" Dumbledore said diplomatically.

Morgana stared at him for a long moment. "You may speak, Albus of the line of Dumbledore."

Dumbledore bowed his head to her before turning to the Spirit of the Goblet. "Spirit," he said, "you have chosen four Champions for a Tri-Wizard Tournament. Someone has magically confused you into doing so. There should only be three Champions."

"I am not confused. The initiation parameters for this tournament were clear; four Champions were to be chosen." The Spirit replied.

Remus cleared his throat. "Is it possible to see the parameters of this tournament?"

"Excellent question, Remus!" Dumbledore said.

The Spirit of the Goblet held out her hand and a parchment formed within it.

Dumbledore removed it from her hand, frowning at the charred edges as he read the contents. "It is as I feared; these are not the parameters we agreed for the tournament."

"Shouldn't the tournament be voided then?" Professor Sprout asked bravely. "If the parameters for the tournament have been altered from what was agreed previously?"

"Is there a way to void the tournament?" asked Dumbledore of the Spirit.

"No." The Spirit of the Goblet said. "Once the tournament has been initiated, the tournament must proceed to its end."

"Bloody Crouch must have initiated the tournament when he had the Goblet to himself!" Moody snarled.

"Then what was the piece of paper he submitted during our Initiation Ceremony?" Madame Maxime demanded.

"Potter's name presumably." Snape said. "It would satisfy his sense of arrogance to do such a thing right under our very noses."

Madame Maxime cleared her throat. "What are the new parameters?"

"The tournament schedule remains the same." Dumbledore said. "But there is a fourth Champion to be chosen for 'The Light.' One assumes that Harry was the only entrant. The number of judges has been reduced to four but it is no longer specified whether they are to be from the schools, the Ministry or elsewhere. Some part of the tasks we agreed remains but they have been altered."

"Dear Merlin!" Professor Sprout muttered.

"What about the age rule?" asked Sirius gruffly.

"The age rule was not part of the parameters but a conceit of our ability to prevent anyone under-aged from entering." Dumbledore admitted with chagrin.

"It's likely if it had been, it would have been changed anyway." Remus glanced at the Spirit. "What about the rule that they must enter their own name?"

Dumbledore perked up. "Traditionally, candidates submit their own names as, I believe, like in a normal magical contract, it provides the permission for the binding to form. Spirit, Harry did not enter himself and therefore should not be bound as he didn't give his permission."

"The original spells which created me did not restrict others from entering the names of the candidates. The rule of which you speak is usually spelled out in the initiation parameters." The Spirit replied. "It matters not who entered him to me, only that he was entered."

"Bloody idiocy! Anyone could enter anyone else!" Moody snarled.

"Probably the rule was added to the initiation after someone entered someone else maliciously!" Remus guessed.

"Alas it has been removed from the original wording of initiation in this document allowing Harry to be chosen." Dumbledore waved the parchment he held.

"Enough!" Morgana snapped angrily, silver swirls of magic surrounding her. "You will not bind the one I protect!"

"It is the bargain." The Spirit of the Goblet replied evenly. "Each Champion is bound to me to renew my flames with their magic. If they do not perform a task, their magic becomes mine. If they die, their magic becomes mine."

"And if they refuse to be bound?" Sirius asked harshly.

"They will be bound." She answered implacably.

"Then you will be destroyed." Morgana said and raised her hand.

"No!" Harry said, some instinct nagging at him.

Morgana paused.

"What happens when the, if the Goblet is destroyed, Spirit?" Harry asked.

"Good question." Sirius said quietly and Harry flushed with praise.

"At the moment of my destruction my magic would call to those who are promised or bound to me."

It was the price of being a Champion, Harry surmised. To have the glory and the respect given to a Champion, the individual risked their life and their magic. There was always a price to pay. And there were now four Champions, one promised but three already bound…

"All those bound?" checked Harry, with a sinking heart. "You would take those already bound with you at the last?"

"Mon Dieu!" Fleur muttered.

Sprout had her hand over her mouth, Cedric pale and unmoving beside her.

Viktor looked grim; his dark eyes gleaming.

Harry closed his eyes briefly before he reopened them and slowly got to his feet, his mother's spirit supporting him as he got upright. "I'll accept the binding."

"My son." His mother stroked his hair, gold drifting over him. "The binding is tainted with the touch of the one who tried to kill you."

"We will never allow it to touch thee." Morgana turned to him.

"But the binding isn't him, it's not really Voldemort." Harry argued. "Just the instrument of his evil. And…and you protect me but if we destroy the Goblet to prevent the binding, I may be hurt worse than accepting the binding." He looked into his mother's eyes deeply. "And even if you do somehow prevent the Goblet from taking my magic and life when it's destroyed, it's not just me. I can't…the other Champions shouldn't die or lose their magic. That's not fair or right. I won't let them be sacrificed for me."

He glanced at Sirius who looked at him with wet grey eyes but who nodded slowly, understanding his decision.

"I'm very proud of you, Harry." Sirius said softly.

"And this, thy great heart and shining spirit, this is why thou carry my blessing." Morgana leaned forward and kissed his forehead, disappearing in a shimmer of silver.

Harry wanted to hold onto his mother's spirit, to beg her never to leave him. His throat closed up and her golden hands tightened on his. "Your father and I have never left you, Harry, and we never will." She kissed his forehead and was gone in a fall of golden dust.

Harry felt drained of all energy; bone tired and weary.

"You, Harry James Potter, of all who entered, deserve your place as Champion." The Spirit of the Goblet moved forward and held out her hands. "You have resisted me so I warn you, this may hurt."

He remembered the stabbing pains and grimaced. Still, Harry nodded and slid his hands into hers…

Heat suffused him…

Flames surrounded him…

Pain everywhere…

And Harry slipped into unconsciousness with a grateful moan.