Part 8: Ensuring Pronglet Survives (The Dating is More Dangerous than Dragons Prank)

The Spirit of the Goblet transformed in front of their eyes, her essence changing from an old woman to a young girl such was the renewal prompted by her binding with Harry. She let go of him and shifted into flames, pouring back into the Goblet.

Sirius didn't watch; he was too busy, jumping forward just in time to catch Harry before he hit the floor. It was becoming too much of a regular occurrence, Sirius thought wildly as he cradled Harry against him and felt for a pulse.

It beat out a pattern under his fingers. He breathed out in relief, ignoring the rest of the room and the pounding on the door of the antechamber.

Remus crouched down beside him, waving his wand to assess the damage. "His hands are burned."

Sirius's eyes were drawn to them. He swallowed hard at the sight of Harry's beautiful hands, curled in on themselves, red raw.

Snape was suddenly on the other side of Harry. "I can perform a mild healing spell for the burns with your permission?"

"I will perform any healing, Professor Snape." Doctor Jordan suddenly appeared, and Sirius belated realised the door must have opened allowing others entry. She pushed Remus aside as Poppy did the same to Snape. Jordan's wand weaved authoritatively over Harry filling Sirius was confidence.

"We need to get him to the infirmary." Jordan stated briskly, conjuring a stretcher.

"I'll carry him." Sirius adjusted his hold very carefully in anticipation of picking Harry up.

Jordan slapped Remus's wand away as he made to do a featherlight charm. "No magic. This is why I conjured the stretcher. Sirius, be sensible and for Harry's sake use it. It'll be quicker so we can start treatment sooner."

Sirius hefted Harry into his arms but resisted his desire not to let go of his son and transferred him as Jordan had instructed to the stretcher. He had to do what was best for Harry.

"Thank you." Jordan took control of the stretcher with her wand.

It floated out of the door and beyond where Dumbledore was discussing the unmasking of Crouch Junior as their mystery rogue with Moody and Amelia. Sirius ignored them and kept pace with the healers. Minerva fell into step behind him as did Remus.

The corridors were thankfully empty. The students nowhere in sight which was something Sirius knew Harry would be thankful for when he woke up.

Jordan hurried down another flight of stairs, Poppy bustling along beside her. Another corridor and another and they were suddenly there…the doors of the infirmary in front of them.

They headed straight through the main ward to a private room, and Harry was transferred manually from the stretcher to a bed. Poppy and Jordan began stripping Harry of his clothes without using magic and Sirius's concern rose even as he moved to help them, quickly getting him down to his boxers.

Jordan motioned for them to stand back; green healing energy poured from her wand over Harry's body. "His core is unstable thanks to the binding. It…Sirius, do you remember that Harry's core healed of its childhood binding but there was some scarring that Noshi wasn't able to prevent or mitigate?"

"Yes," Sirius nodded, "I remember."

"The new binding is irritating the scars along his core and his core is unhappy for the want of a better word. I'm wrapping it in healing energy like Noshi did in the Summer." Jordan explained as she continued to work. "I may need to consult with Noshi to understand what this binding is going to do to his power and his control of it."

"Anything you need to do just do it." Sirius managed to croak out.

"OK," Jordan said, "on the minor side; Harry's hands are burned but easily fixed once I've got his core wrapped up like a Mummy. He's also suffering from severe magical exhaustion. I don't expect him to wake up until tomorrow night at the earliest."

Sirius breathed a little easier. He was going to be fine. "When can I take him home?" Because he wanted Harry home where Sirius could hide him away from the rest of the world and keep him safe.

"Sirius…" Minerva murmured warily, presumably anticipating his decision.

Jordan didn't look at him. "I want to keep him overnight; assess his core tomorrow. If his core is…not unhappy then I'll allow him to recuperate at home with the understanding that Poppy and I will pay regular visits."

"I can live with that." Sirius said.

"Wouldn't it be better for him to remain here?" asked Minerva pointedly.

Jordan shook her head. "It would be better for Harry to be at home in a familiar bed with people who love him taking care of him. It's medically proven to have a beneficial effect. However, he won't be moved until I'm certain his core won't object to magical transportation." She stepped back. "Poppy, if you can take over, do his hands and get him settled?"

"Of course, Doctor Jordan." Poppy said briskly, moving into position, a jar of ointment flying towards her from the potion stores.

Jordan rolled her neck tiredly. "He's all bandaged up now." She reached out to Sirius. "You can stay here. I'll get another bed put in the room for you."

Sirius nodded, more thankful than ever that he and Harry had gone to the Valley Clinic, that Helen had taken up the opportunity at Hogwarts and understood his need to be with Harry.

She glanced at Remus and Minerva. "You can both stay or visit if you wish. But I don't want students in here; any immature magic could destabilise the healing energy which would be very bad for his core right now."

Minerva nodded. "Thank you. All students were ordered to the Common Rooms after the Goblet selected the Champions. Once Poppy is done I'll update his friends."

"I'm going to go talk to Noshi." Jordan left swiftly.

Sirius walked over to the free side of the bed and conjured a chair to sit down. He watched as Poppy competently smothered Harry's hands in ointment and wrapped them in bandages, as she set the monitoring and body maintenance spells that would ensure Harry's bodily functions would be immediately taken care of without any intrusive interaction for as long as he slept. She covered him in a blanket and got him comfortable. She gave Sirius an encouraging nod when she was done.

"He's a strong boy, Sirius." Poppy said. "He'll come through this."

"Thank you, Poppy." Sirius said, reaching out to hold Harry's arm. He waited until she was out of the room. "Dobby!"

The house elf popped in, saw Harry and his overlarge eyes filled with tears and distress immediately. "Harry Potter is injured!"

"Healing." Sirius said succinctly. "Get Harry's things from Gryffindor tower and take them to Griffin House. We'll be coming home tomorrow; get everything ready."

"Yes, Harry Potter's Paddy, sir." Dobby popped away again.

Minerva gave a sigh. "I should get to Gryffindor tower before Dobby creates panic." She regarded him compassionately. "You're not intending for Harry to return, are you?"

"Would you?" Sirius asked brusquely.

"I'll leave Remus to argue about it with you." She sniffed and marched out.

Sirius cocked his head in Remus's direction. "Are you planning to argue me out of going ahead with plan A again?"

Remus conjured a second chair and sank into it. He rubbed his forehead. "No," he admitted, "wrapping Harry in cotton wool and hiding him away from the rest of the world seems imminently preferable to me right at this moment."

"Oh bugger! We need to contain what was seen." Sirius said, his mind starting to process and assimilate everything that had happened now it wasn't preoccupied with Harry's survival. "Remus…"

"I'll see to it." Remus left without another word, the conjured chair disintegrating in his wake.

Sirius kept his hand around Harry's arm and scanned the pale face. "I am so very proud of you, Harry, and what you did today. You have no idea. And I know this, being in the tournament, isn't ideal and pretty much what we were trying to avoid, but you're not alone and we will beat the son of a bitch. He may put you through nine months of trials but he still has to get you for the ritual and that part…that part I fully intend to screw with."

A gentle cough at the doorway had Sirius immediately turning to assess the threat.

Albus's eyes fell on Harry. "How is he?"

"He's magically exhausted, his hands are burned but they're healing now, and the Goblet binding is chafing against the scar tissue your binding left behind on his core." Sirius said harshly before taking a calming breath and reminding himself it wasn't Albus's fault that Harry had been entered into the tournament. "He'll recover."

Albus moved into the room and shut the door behind him. He glided up to the other side of the bed.

"There are many things I would change, Sirius, if I had the chance to do it over." Albus said softly. "When I…at the end of Harry's first year, when I realised Voldemort's ruse and returned, when I found Harry unconscious and exhausted and dying in front of the shattered Mirror of Erised…I hated myself in that moment in a manner that I have only once felt before when my sister died." He said. "I watched over him in the infirmary and…I swore I would protect him from Voldemort as much as I could for as long as I could. You brought home my failures in that regard this Summer. I pledged to do better, and yet here we are once more."

"What happened at the end of Harry's first year…that was your fault. This…" Sirius sighed heavily. "This isn't your fault as much as I…as much as I want someone to blame." He shook his head. "In many ways I have a greater understanding of the difficulties of the decisions you faced before I assumed Harry's guardianship than I did when I confronted you at the beginning of the Summer. It's…it's not easy to make the right decision; to get the balance right between protecting him and letting him live his life." His lips twisted. "I still think the decisions you made were wrong but…" But he understood that they hadn't been made easily. It soothed something of the hurt that learning Albus wasn't infallible, that Albus's decisions had hurt Harry, had inflicted. He motioned vaguely in Albus's direction. "This isn't something either of us could have anticipated."

"If that is your view then I admit I am confused." Albus said hesitantly. "On my way here, my path crossed with Minerva's and…"

"And Minnie hinted that I'm taking Harry home and probably not coming back." Sirius concluded with a sigh. He glanced over at the old wizard. "Honestly, Albus, I don't know what I'm going to do." He felt a bubble of hysteria rising and pushed it down ruthlessly. He took a calming breath. "All I know right now is that I want Harry home where I can protect him best."

"I can certainly understand that sentiment." Albus said, not without kindness. "But I would caution you not to make the same mistakes I made. For all his time here at Hogwarts has been and is filled with challenge, it does provide him with much happiness."

"I'm sure Harry will argue the same when he wakes up." Sirius admitted. He sighed and rubbed his forehead tiredly. "I'll not do a formal withdrawal until I've spoken with him, Albus, but apart from my…," wanting to lock Harry up for the rest of his natural life, his mind supplied, "my concern, I'm not sure how this will work now he's bound to participate in the tournament against the Hogwarts' Champion? And we still have to discuss his schooling in general. He's way ahead on a practical level," he gave a short laugh, "which considering what he's about to face is just as well but…"

"But he will need an independent lesson structure either way." Albus agreed sagely. "You are also correct that we will need to review how the Goblet is likely to interpret Harry's position, although I will say that if Harry becomes home-schooled, if the Goblet believes that constitutes 'The Light' within the initiation parchment, you will be subject to quite limiting rules on how you may help him with the tournament as a Professor."

Sirius nodded. "I'd like a copy of the original spell rules."

"I will arrange it, Sirius." Albus slid his hands into the sleeves of his orange robe as there was a soft knock and Amelia entered without waiting for an answer.

"Sorry, but I'd thought you'd want to know immediately." Amelia said briskly, brushing back a stray hair that had escaped her efficient bun. "It looks like Crouch Junior apparated but the magic in the Forest corrupted the trail. The Auror team can't get a lock to trace and follow." She nodded at the bed. "How is Harry?"

"He'll be alright." Sirius said succinctly.

"The Rat Squad and about half of the Auror force should be raiding Crouch's house shortly." Amelia continued. "It's more than probable if that's where they were that they've moved on but we have to try." She grimaced. "Rufus and I are agreed that the likely switch-over must have happened during the week Crouch sent word he had wizard flu."

"He never had it." Sirius corrected brusquely. "Crouch Junior must have taken his father hostage."

"Yes." Amelia nodded. "And no doubt he's been impersonating his father ever since. I feel so stupid. I should have realised something was amiss in Crouch's behaviour but frankly, I put his oddities since his return from the flu down to having to live with your presence and the very visible reminder of his making a mistake."

Sirius understood. He hadn't thought anything of Crouch's behaviour too caught up in his own anger about the role his former boss had played in sending him to Azkaban without a trial. "Why would we suspect Crouch? He was fanatical in pursuing Death Eaters and fighting against Voldemort, and his son was dead."

"Yet in hindsight I see every clue that is now apparent that he wasn't Crouch Senior." Amelia sighed. "He forgot names, he dodged meetings and responsibilities, he took additional time off sick…he left the World Cup early…obviously to change into the appearance of Auror Hollins."

"You're not the only one who missed clues." Sirius pointed out. "We've known it was someone connected to the LeStranges; we just didn't think it was him since he was, you know, dead."

"I want to know how he escaped Azkaban and survived." Amelia admitted sharply. "Crouch claimed the ashes and had them interred with his wife…" her eyes widened as she made the connection.

"His wife who died a mere day after visiting her son?" Albus sighed. "I fear we have found out the means by which young Bartemius survived. She was devoted to her son. Knowing she was dying, I am certain she would have taken his place eagerly in Azkaban."

"How he survived doesn't really matter," Sirius pointed out, "finding him now does." He paused, a germ of an idea forming in his head. "Kreacher!"

Kreacher popped into the room and his eyes immediately went to Harry. "Dobby informs Kreacher Master Harry is to come home?"

Sirius nodded. "Tomorrow, when the healer releases him. Kreacher, the Crouch family is part of the House of Black." There was no primacy though since the Ancient and Noble House of Crouch had equal standing – or it had had equal standing at the time the two Houses had been joined by matrimony. "Can you find Bartemius Crouch Junior?"

"He has no Black blood and his elf bond prevents it." Kreacher replied.

"Could you find his elf then?" Sirius asked.

Kreacher frowned. "Kreacher is uncertain but Kreacher can try to find Winky."

"Lock down Black Manor first," Sirius ordered, "send word to the other house elves to do the same on all Black properties; entry only for you, me, my Heir, the steward, Penny and Dobby. I won't be displeased if you can't find Winky but try and bring her to me if you manage to secure her."

"Do you wish her dead or alive?" Kreacher asked.

Sirius blinked at Kreacher's enthusiastic tone and knew if he ordered the house elf to bring Winky back dead he'd do it with no hesitation. "Alive."

Kreacher popped away.

"Ingenious." Albus praised him warmly.

"Maybe." Sirius muttered. "Let's see if it works."

Amelia scratched her forehead. "I'd forgotten about the elf." She sighed heavily. "Dear Merlin, Junior's had foreknowledge of every security measure we've taken even if we hadn't confided all the reasons why we were taking them."

"And poor Percy Weasley has been keeping him informed of all Ministry business." Albus sighed heavily. "He will be most devastated to know he helped to assist the man who attacked his family."

"We're going to have to do a full audit of the last four months in that department." Amelia grimaced again. "I suppose I'll be the one to break the news to Cornelius."

"I'm sure you'll do a fine job." Albus grimaced and pinched the bridge of his nose. "Ah, I had forgotten. We have members of the press sequestered into the Charms classroom. I shall have to speak with them."

"Speak to Cornelius first and get his view about what should be released to the media." Sirius advised. "He's much better at spinning a news item than we are."

"What do you want to say about Harry?" Amelia said gently.

"That the person who issued the death threats has succeeded in entering him into the tournament." Sirius had to fight against the lump in his throat to continue. "That because he initially resisted being bound, he was injured when he finally acquiesced and is undergoing healing. That I am taking him home and will be debating the repercussions with Albus and other advisors in the near future."

Amelia nodded. "The vultures should be satisfied with that." She made a face. "Can you imagine if they'd been present when the various spirits showed up?"

"Remus went off to make sure nobody talked." Sirius stated tiredly.

"Bertie was already on it although I'm certain he'd be grateful for Remus's help." Amelia smiled at Sirius's surprise. "You were rather preoccupied with getting Harry to the infirmary, Sirius. Karkaroff is going to be obliviated; Bertie didn't want to risk his keeping any memory of the event since he's a former Death Eater; the others including the Champions have agreed to take vows to keep the existence of Harry's protectors secret and to only share that Harry was forced into the tournament."

"We should go and call Cornelius now, Amelia." Albus said. "The sooner we speak with him, the sooner we can talk with the press."

"Will you be alright here alone, Sirius?" Amelia asked.

Sirius wondered what he must look like to have prompted the question but he nodded. "I'm not alone, Amelia. I have Harry."

"Yes, you do," she said pointedly and patted his shoulder, "keep that in mind, Sirius."

Sirius's hand tightened on Harry's arm as Albus and Amelia hurried out. He welcomed the silence; his mind churning.

Bartemius Crouch Junior.

There was no doubt at all in his mind that the Rat Squad would find the Crouch residence abandoned. He believed that they'd find Crouch Senior dead. With the ruse discovered there was no way that Voldemort would let him live; no way that Junior would let him live either.

He remembered Barty; handsome, charismatic, and popular. He'd played Quidditch; gained a position as a prefect if not as a Head Boy. He'd joined the Auror Academy right out of school with a set of Outstandings on his NEWTs, and yet his performance there hadn't indicated any particular prowess. But then, Sirius considered gravely, it was all too possible that Barty hadn't wanted to draw attention. Better to make people think that he'd been academically perfect but struggled in real life than for people to pick up on how powerful he was.

Cunning.

The death threats had been Barty, Sirius deduced. Barty had the house elf; she would have followed orders and sent the letter, written the words during the Longbottom party. Sirius was suddenly very angry and regretting his decision to have Kreacher bring her back alive if he caught her. The elf was bound to follow Barty's orders, he knew that, but…she had been a major part of events that had terrorised his son.

Still, he'd made the right decision. They needed intel. Whatever the elf revealed would be useful. Not that an elf would reveal much without coercion because of their bonds, but his grandfather had taught him a Dark spell that somehow usurped the elf's ownership for a brief time. Maybe it wasn't ethical to use it but Harry's safety was more important.

Which reminded him…

"Cally!"

A female house elf popped in wearing a fastidiously clean tea-towel embroidered with the crest of the House of Black.

"Master." She bowed to him.

For once, Sirius didn't correct her and urge her into less subservient behaviour. "Bring me the files on the LeStranges, and Bartemius Crouch and his son from the cabinet in my…my study."

She nodded and popped away again.

He'd rarely used the information locked away in his grandfather's cabinet. He'd hated how he'd boxed the Malfoys in using the primacy threat to force them into compliance, although it had been necessary, and he had hoped that he wouldn't have to resort to blackmailing or bribing or engaging in dubiously ethical behaviour ever again. But knowing his enemy was necessary, Sirius thought determinedly, and Barty Crouch Junior had been his enemy from the moment he had been Marked by Voldemort.

He was almost startled when the elf returned with the requested files. "Thank you, Cally."

Cally's eyes opened in her usual astonishment at being appreciated. She popped away.

Sirius looked at the weighty stack of files with foreboding but he reached for the top one with his free hand. He flipped it open and started reading.

o-O-o

Hermione felt a shiver of alarm go through her as she pushed her way through the crowd of students returning to Gryffindor tower and tried to find Ron or Neville or, even better; Harry. But she wasn't really expecting Harry.

Sirius had told her to stay in the tower; that he and Remus were en route to the school. She had gotten up from her place in the Common Room to go back to the Great Hall anyway a dozen times, and a dozen times talked herself out of disobeying the Head of the House of the Black who was effectively her wizarding guardian regardless that Andy was the one who sponsored her formally. Her lower lip throbbed with pain and Hermione was aware that she had bitten it to pieces during the excruciating wait. Finally, she spotted a head of familiar red hair.

"Ron!"

Ron's face wasn't encouraging, neither was Neville's as he followed Ron towards her.

"Where's Harry?" demanded Hermione.

"They kept him back with the other Champions." Ron said disgusted. "Did you get hold of Sirius?"

"He's on his way, Professor Lupin too." Hermione bit her lip again, unaware of the slip in how she referred to Remus.

"Good," Ron rubbed his nose, "bloody incompetents! How could they let someone enter Harry?!"

"That's what I'd like to know." Neville said, folding his arms and his chin jutting out defensively. "They should have let us guard the Goblet!"

Hermione pushed her hand through her hair. "I think I should go and wait with Harry until Sirius gets here."

"McGonagall's with him. She gave her word she wouldn't leave him." Ron sounded as unhappy as Hermione felt.

"We tried to stay with him," Neville said, "but they weren't having it." He tapped his feet impatiently. "I think I'm going to go write to my Gran. As soon as Harry gets back I can sneak out and send it with Hedwig."

"Beats hanging around here." Ron confirmed, waving a hand in irritation at the gossiping crowd around him.

Lavender materialised in front of Ron as if by magic as they moved to the boys' staircase. "You're not leaving are you, Ron?" She smiled at him. "I thought you were brilliant back there."

"You and Neville." Parvati said, smiling at Neville.

"Thanks but we still had to leave him." Ron muttered, sidestepping them.

Hermione was too distracted by her worry for Harry to think about offering Lavender another 'I'm sorry he's so dense but he will get that you like him eventually' look. She followed the boys up to their dorm room. It seemed natural for her to sit cross-legged on Harry's bed while Ron threw himself on his own, and Neville dragged out his parchment and quill.

"I don't know what to tell her," Neville admitted, "I mean, I assume Sirius will send all the alliance a message tomorrow anyway."

"Just tell her that Harry's in the tournament and we're all standing beside him." Ron suggested without raising his head, his gaze fixed on the top canopy of his bed.

Hermione nodded briskly. "Ron's right. Just keep it simple and…and I'm sure your Gran will like that you've taken the time to write to her whether Sirius contacts her before you or not."

Neville sent a grateful look. "Thanks."

For a while, they sat in silence together, the only sound the scratch of Neville's quill against the parchment.

"I just don't see how it happened!" Hermione burst out, unable to keep the thought that had been whizzing through her head silent any longer. "Sirius would never have allowed anyone who shouldn't have been near to the Goblet to get near to it and we know that Moody did the same here so where does that leave us?"

Ron sat up to stare at her. "So you're saying if everyone who touched the Goblet was meant to touch the Goblet…"

"Then whoever entered Harry was meant to touch the Goblet." Neville concluded.

"Who was meant to touch the Goblet then?" Ron questioned, excitedly.

Hermione shifted position, thinking over what Harry had told her about the Goblet's security procedures. "The Goblet is kept locked up in the DOM. Director Croaker was scheduled to handle the retrieval overseen by Director Bones and Sirius though so I don't think there was an opportunity to tamper with the Goblet then."

"So not Croaker or Bones." Ron said, stabbing a finger through the air.

"There was a small ceremony where the Ministry representatives, Mister Crouch and Mister Bagman, entered their names as the officials so the Goblet would recognise their authority during the Initiation Ceremony when the tournament details are entered." Hermione recalled.

"But they had the chance to enter Harry's name instead of their own." Ron said.

"No," Hermione shook her head, "only after the Initiation Ceremony are candidates for Champions entered."

"So it was probably someone at Hogwarts then," Neville pointed out, "because the Initiation Ceremony only happened once the Goblet got here."

"Unless…" Hermione grabbed her hair. "Crouch! Crouch was the one to bring the Goblet to Hogwarts! What if he…what if he performed the Initiation Ceremony when he was alone with it?! He would have plenty of opportunity to enter Harry's name then!"

"But wouldn't the Goblet get confused having two Initiation Ceremonies?" asked Ron, bewildered.

"Well, we don't actually know what the Initiation Ceremony is." Hermione said.

Neville raised his quill. "Gran said it was a fancy name for putting a piece of paper with the agreed dates and tasks in the Goblet."

"So it would be possible," Hermione said, "Crouch just had to do the latter, bring the Goblet here and then…enter Harry's name under the ruse of entering the details of the tournament!" She bit her lip. "Presumably nobody checked the parchments he was entering because they all trusted him!"

"Doesn't it have to be Harry's name in Harry's handwriting though?" Ron asked. "How would he have that?"

"I don't know." Hermione said. "But it makes sense."

"We should tell someone!" Neville scrambled off his bed, almost upending the bottle of ink. "Crouch could get away otherwise!"

"Right!" Ron made for the door and stopped, whirling around. "Who do we tell?"

Hermione frowned. "We should find a professor. Maybe Professor Flitwick?"

They'd just turned for the door again when there was a popping sound behind them.

Hermione's head whipped around at the familiarity of it. "Dobby!" Her eyes widened hugely as she took in the house elf's frantic packing. "What are you doing?"

"Nasty Goblet binding hurts Harry Potter!" Dobby said, not pausing in his task. "Harry Potter is injured! Harry Potter will be going home tomorrow!"

"Harry's injured!" cried Hermione in alarm. How had that happened? God, she knew it had been a mistake to leave him alone.

"But why are you packing all his things?" Ron questioned the elf brusquely. "He'll be coming back here when he's healed, right?"

Dobby pulled on his ears. "Harry Potter's Paddy ordered Dobby to pack all of Harry Potter's things."

It wasn't quite an admission of Sirius's intent but Hermione was smart enough to understand the implication; Sirius intended to keep Harry home after he had healed. And who could blame him? She sat down abruptly on the nearest bed.

Neville placed a hand on her shoulder and patted her awkwardly. "Hermione, we still have to tell someone about Crouch…"

"And Sirius is bound to be in the infirmary with Harry," Ron chimed in quickly, "we can talk him out of taking Harry home!"

Suddenly, Dean entered the dorm at a run. "Guys! McGonagall's downstairs!"

They all quickly made their way out, running down the staircase, and pushing past people standing in the doorway and in the Common Room until they were in front of their stern looking Head of House.

Professor McGonagall stood in front the portrait and nodded sharply at the sight of Ron, Hermione and Neville as they stopped, breathless in front of her. "I assume that's everybody?"

There was a murmur of agreement.

"We have identified who entered Mister Potter into the tournament and Aurors are presently trying to apprehend the perpetrator." Professor McGonagall informed them briskly. "Some of you may be aware that the Goblet binds the Champions who participate in the tournament into a form of magical contract, and unfortunately when it did this with Mister Potter, because of the circumstances and Mister Potter's…resistance, it has led to Mister Potter being injured. He is currently magically exhausted and will shortly leave to recuperate at his home. Do not attempt to sneak in tonight to see him. Students are currently banned from visiting Mister Potter in the infirmary as any immature magic may negatively disturb his healing. Am I understood?"

Hermione's heart sank but she nodded. She wouldn't do anything to harm Harry or put his healing at risk no matter how much she wanted to see Harry and convince Sirius to let Harry stay at Hogwarts.

Professor McGonagall's gaze swept across the room and settled on Ginny, Lydia and Jessica for a long moment, making Hermione wonder if she knew about the locker room incident. McGonagall drew in a long breath and her eyes moved on, softening as she took in the faces in front of her.

"In all my days in this school, I have never been so proud to be the Head of Gryffindor as I was tonight. Your unequivocal support for Mister Potter, a fellow Gryffindor was…" she paused, seemingly overcome, "inspiring." She concluded. "One hundred points to Gryffindor." She smiled at the cheers and held up her hand. "Curfew begins now for all students for your protection while Aurors are on Hogwarts' grounds." She gave a sharp nod and turned to leave.

"Professor, may we speak with you quickly?" Neville said immediately. "It's about who put Harry into the tournament."

"Let's go to your dorm, Mister Longbottom." Professor McGonagall ushered them through the crowd and up the stairs. She shut the door and erected a privacy bubble. "You wished to speak with me?"

"We think it's Crouch!" blurted out Ron.

"He had the only opportunity to interfere with the Goblet before the Initiation Ceremony." Hermione explained, nervously wringing her hands.

Professor McGonagall's expression softened. "We came to a similar conclusion except we have also determined that the perpetrator is likely to be Bartemius Crouch Junior."

"Isn't he dead?" Neville asked shocked.

"Everyone thought so but the evidence would suggest otherwise." Professor McGonagall said dryly.

Hermione shook her head dismissing the matter of resurrected Death Eaters for the time being as unimportant if everyone already knew who had entered Harry in the tournament. "How's Harry really?"

Professor McGonagall gestured for them to sit. They took Neville's bed, Neville sitting on the half-finished letter to his Gran uncaringly.

"Mister Potter's protection reacted when the Goblet attempted to bind him to it." Professor McGonagall explained gently. "It was likely that the protection may have succeeded in destroying the Goblet and preventing it from taking his life and magic with it, but when he learned that such destruction would endanger the lives and magic of the other Champions, Mister Potter made the decision to be bound regardless. Unfortunately, the delayed nature of the binding reacted badly with his magical core. The activation of his protection has left him exhausted. Doctor Jordan is confident he'll make a full recovery."

"Blimey." Ron muttered.

"Dobby took all of Harry's things." Hermione said almost accusingly.

"Doctor Jordan has indicated Mister Potter will recover better at home," Professor McGonagall drew herself up smartly, "I am certain that Lord Black will make the best decision for Mister Potter's future once he has had a chance to recover from the immediacy of this evening's events."

Hermione nodded slowly at the underlying message that Sirius needed time to process Harry being hurt.

"Now, I should go and speak with the other Houses." Professor McGonagall said briskly, taking down the privacy bubble in anticipation of leaving. "Do not stay up too late."

They chorused their agreement and she left.

Hermione hated crying but her eyes stung anyway and she felt the sob catch in her chest, near to her heart. Harry was hurt and gone and she couldn't see him. She covered her face with her hands, barely aware that either side of her Neville and Ron shifted uncomfortably in the face of her distress, exchanging looks to discuss silently who should deal with her.

Ron awkwardly put an arm around her shoulders. "He'll be alright. He's Harry."

"I know." And she did. Harry would recover and be fine and probably would return to Hogwarts but the memory of him holding her hand so tightly during the selection of the Champions was vivid in her head.

"He's going to be annoyed when he wakes up because he was…he was going to ask you out tomorrow." Ron said hesitantly, squirming when she lowered her hands to stare at him.

"Ron." Neville said exasperated perhaps with Ron spilling the beans but Hermione understood that this was Ron's way of cheering her up.

Hermione wiped her eyes. "I know that too." She managed a small smile as she poked Ron in the ribs. "Neither of you are very subtle."

"Well, then…" Ron said flustered. "So you know…he's liked you a while, he was just waiting to know about the tournament; said it wasn't fair to ask you to be his girlfriend if you didn't know whether he was about to be…well…"

Hermione swiped at her cheeks to brush away more tears. "I would have said yes."

Ron gave her a too-hard squeeze but Hermione appreciated the thought.

"I think we all kind of figured you would." Neville said softly.

Hermione glanced at him, smiling. "If you tell me you had a bet with Blaise about it…"

Neville shook his head hurriedly. "He said it was a sucker's bet to vote for you saying anything but yes."

And Hermione figured that meant she hadn't been exactly subtle either. Her cheeks heated a touch.

"What do we do now?" Ron asked after they'd stayed silent a long moment.

Hermione drew in a breath. "We're going to help Harry stay alive and win the tournament."

Ron nodded. "Right." He frowned. "And how are we going to do that?"

"We need to know everything about the tournament for a start," Hermione stated firmly. "the likely tasks, all that kind of thing."

"We can get the Potter alliance to help." Neville said. "There are a dozen families with personal libraries that might have additional information to that in the Hogwarts' library."

"Spells!" Ron offered. "We should go through the curriculum and make a list of spells Harry hasn't mastered yet but would have if he was seventeen."

"Good suggestion." Hermione said. She rubbed her head where an ache was building from the stress of the evening. "I think I'll have an early night, start on the plan tomorrow."

Neville nodded. "I'll finish writing to my Gran." He grimaced at the crumpled letter beneath him. "Maybe I'll start again."

"She'll probably appreciate that." Hermione commented. She got up and smoothed down her robes.

Ron got to his feet. "I'll, uh…"

"You don't need to walk me out to the girls' staircase, Ron." Hermione assured him. Yes, she'd been upset but she was fine.

He nodded uncertainly.

"Good night, you two."

Hermione made her escape, grateful for how sweet the boys had been but desperately wanting to get behind the privacy of her bed curtains to come to terms with the reality of what had happened on her own. She almost ran into Dean and Seamus as she got to the bottom of the stairs (and realised they had been hovering waiting for it to be alright for them to head up) and shot them an apologetic smile before she entered the Common Room.

She didn't linger but she caught sight of Angelina apparently once again laying the law down to Ginny, Lydia and Jessica. She slowed her step…

Katie Bell appeared beside her and nudged her onward. "Don't worry; the Quidditch team have got this. We're going to stay in the Common Room and make sure nobody sneaks out to check on Harry."

Hermione gave a grateful nod and hurried up the stairs to her dorm.

As soon as she entered, Lavender and Parvati got up from Lavender's bed to make their way over to her, and Hermione steeled herself for the usual press of questions and attempt to gossip – or more scarily, discuss Ron's sexy attributes. Instead, both girls simply hugged her. Hermione stiffened for a long moment before allowing herself to relax. Her throat closed up again at their silent comfort. They weren't close by any stretch of the imagination but their quiet caring touched Hermione.

Parvati tugged on Hermione's arm. "Come and sit down."

Hermione allowed herself to be led to her bed and she sighed in relief as she sank to sit on the edge.

"Harry's going to be fine," Parvati assured her, "he's Harry."

"I know," Hermione said softly, "it's just…he can't get a break from it, you know?"

Lavender nodded back surprisingly serious.

Hermione smiled at the two of girls. "Thank you both for this."

Lavender shook her head. "No need to thank us. I know we're not close, Hermione, but we – Parvati and I – we like to think we're your friends too?"

Hermione felt incredibly stupid – and guilty for thinking less than nice thoughts about Lavender and Parvati's gossiping and less than studious behaviour. Maybe she should make more of an effort to be friendly rather than just always dismissing them. "Of course we're friends."

They smiled at her again.

Parvati suddenly brushed a hand over Hermione's hair. "You have such great hair; it's so thick and the colour is fab."

Hermione blinked at her. "It's pretty untameable though. Yours always looks perfect."

"We could do yours for you if you'd like?" offered Lavender.

"Maybe…" Hermione motioned with a vague hand-wave, "maybe the day Harry comes back to school?" And she blushed as they both clapped their hands together in glee.

o-O-o

Draco immediately made his way to greet Professor McGonagall as she entered the Slytherin Common Room. It was a rare occurrence for the Head of Gryffindor to set foot in the dungeons never mind the Slytherin heart of it.

"Professor McGonagall, how is my cousin?" Draco asked, knowing the appearance of being concerned about Harry was critical and tried to ignore the tug of unacknowledged genuine concern for Potter deep down in his psyche.

"In a moment, Mister Malfoy," she rapped her wand against the wall, "everyone! If you could gather round, I won't keep you long."

The Slytherins were quick to move into position; each wanting to know what was going on.

"Aurors are on the grounds attempting to apprehend the individual responsible for placing Mister Potter's name in the Goblet." McGonagall said briskly. "Your curfew has been brought forward and begins immediately for all students for your protection. Please do not attempt to wander around the school."

"And the status of my cousin?" Draco prompted again.

She looked vaguely uncomfortable. "Mister Potter attempted to resist the Goblet binding him to the tournament; he was injured. He is in the infirmary overnight for observation and will return home tomorrow to fully recover."

"He felt the binding?" Marcus Flint growled.

Draco repressed the urge to roll his eyes at the Slytherin Captain.

"But only the most powerful wizards…" Philip Adams blanched and shut up.

McGonagall held up her hand. "I suggest you all stay away from the infirmary should you be tempted to leave the dungeons. Lord Black is with Mister Potter and is likely to cast first and ask questions later."

She adjusted her stance, something giving in her expression.

"I realise that many of your families have a very different political view from Lord Potter." The change in designation for Potter brought complete silence to the gathered Slytherins. "It cannot have been easy for some of you to make the decision to stand with the rest of the school in support of him this evening especially given our traditional house rivalry." Her lips twitched. "I commend your bravery."

Ouch, Draco thought with admiration at her Gryffindorish praise.

"One hundred points to Slytherin." McGonagall said crisply and left before Slytherin could do more than blink at her in shock.

Chatter broke out immediately.

The Head of Gryffindor had just awarded Slytherin one hundred points.

Flint straightened, silencing the room once more, and pinned Draco with a frank stare. "Let's not kid ourselves; most of us stood because not to stand when the press was watching would be the height of stupidity. But just how powerful is Potter?"

Draco raised an elegant eyebrow refusing to be intimidated and knowing that his reply was important to his own standing in a way that he had never before appreciated. "Powerful enough that the House of Malfoy welcomes the return of a resurgent House of Black and is happy to be under its protection." Slowly he flicked some imaginary lint off his robes. "It's not just Potter though. Did you know that Lord Black killed eighteen Death Eaters during his time as a Hit Wizard?"

There was an uneasy low murmur that rippled over the students.

"Why do you think the Houses of Nott, Wilkes, Gibbon and Selwyn have sought a détente?" Draco waved a hand at Theo who simply smiled enigmatically. "They don't want their Heirs killed when Black hunts down anyone who threatens ours, and he will hunt them down."

He flicked his wrist as he adjusted his cuffs. "Potter and I may not have the best history but Malfoys will always choose the winning side." He motioned at Flint. "You may have stood this evening because it was politically expedient; I stood because I fully intend to support Potter as he wins this tournament and defeats the bastard who thinks it'll kill him."

"There are rumours, Malfoy." Flint barked. "Rumours that the Dark Lord is rising again and the death threats are at his instigation."

Draco let his gaze travel around the room. "Longbottom was right this evening; the House of Potter will consider itself at war and by extension, so will the House of Black. Regardless of my previous point that Lord Black is fully capable of killing anyone who would stand against Potter, personally I'd rather stand with Potter than beside a son of a muggle proclaiming to be a Dark Lord fit to rule us all just because he's all that's left of the Slytherin line and has delusions of grandeur."

He felt a thrill at the number of shocked faces looking at back at him.

"A son of a muggle?" Millicent Bulstrode's nostrils flared. "You lie!"

"Look up the genealogy of Thomas Marvolo Riddle." Draco said firmly and dismissed her with an impatient hand-wave. "Perhaps it's time everyone considers that Potter defeated the Dark Lord when he was a baby; he defeated Quirrell who was possessed by the Dark Lord when he was eleven; he killed a sixty-foot basilisk at twelve; he has a fully formed patronus at thirteen," and wasn't that an embarrassing memory of him being chased down by said patronus when he'd pretended to be a Dementor, "who knows what he's capable of doing now? Did you know that Potter talks to our House family magic totem, a silver cobra? It loves him."

He was pleased to see how unnerved most of them were as he turned for the stairs. The Slytherin dorm was quiet and he sank onto his bed in relief.

Nott entered first. "Zabini's observing. I'm in the service to the House of Potter so I'm not considered trustworthy; nobody was going to say anything worthwhile if I stayed."

Draco nodded. "You have a theory on who entered him into the tournament?"

"So do you." Nott said. "Had to be someone with opportunity based on Moody's lessons, so it was someone who nobody considered to be a threat and therefore was allowed near to the Goblet."

"My thoughts exactly." Draco said. He wondered about Karkaroff, knowing the man's history.

"The Initiation Ceremony dictates when candidates can be entered so it had to be sometime after that." Nott continued. "Or within the ceremony itself. That means it was either Crouch, Bagman, Karkaroff, Maxime or Dumbledore. Moody observed only, I think, so someone would have noticed if he threw in a name."

"Bagman is an idiot."

"An idiot with gambling debts with goblins but he doesn't have any other motive." Nott mused. "And presumably the identity checks would have turned up something if it wasn't actually Bagman?"

"Maxime has no motive, Karkaroff does; didn't Crouch do their identity checks just on arrival and then they have diplomatic dispensation?" Draco mused out loud.

"It would mean that Karkaroff would have been replaced between arrival and the ceremony." Nott pointed out. "With Moody's patrols and security measures, how likely is that?"

"You have another candidate?"

Nott shrugged. "Crouch had the most opportunity and he has a grudge against Lord Black."

Draco nodded. "I guess we'll see when they release the identity of whoever it is to the public."

"I'll talk to Longbottom tomorrow." Nott said. "There's no way that somebody in Potter's inner group won't know."

"How do you think it'll play out?" Draco waved towards the door.

"I find it amusing that most of their parents haven't informed them about the identity of the Dark Lord." Nott admitted. "But it'll sway the majority of them especially once Bulstrode finishes her research and informs everyone of the truth." He looked at Draco contemplatively. "Your comments about Potter's potential and his power were well-judged; it may help sway others. Some won't have a choice either way."

Draco nodded. "What do you think the rest of the school will do?"

"The Potter alliance is going to snap tightly around Potter that's for sure." Nott said dryly. "As far as Hufflepuff and Ravenclaw go…it depends on how much influence the alliance members are willing to exert. Hufflepuff has an issue with Diggory since he's also a Champion. He's essentially competing against Potter."

"Diggory isn't a match for Potter." Draco commented. Potter did have incredible magical prowess; his practical skills the entire two months they'd been back at Hogwarts were far beyond fourth year level except in Potions and there he had to contend with Snape's biased view of not just Potter but Gryffindors in general.

"Then you intend to back Potter in the tournament?"

Draco raised an eyebrow in response as though the question wasn't worthy of a verbal reply.

Nott smirked at him. "Just checking." He made for his trunk. "I should prepare a letter for my father."

It was a wise decision. Draco moved to find his own writing supplies. He briefly wondered about Potter injured and in the infirmary, of Lord Black keeping watch over him. Perhaps, Draco mused, in addition to his own parents, a letter to Lord Black informing him of events in the Slytherin Common Room would also be appreciated.

o-O-o

Amelia grimaced as she almost lost her balance apparating to Bartemius Crouch Senior's home. When the Crouches' had lost their Wizengamot seat due to a scandal which was shrouded in secrecy, the old Crouch mansion had been lost in a massive fire. The family had retreated to what had been a residence for holidays, for those sworn to service…but an abode never intended to be a family homestead.

Lit up with the bright lights of the Magical Forensics Unit, Amelia couldn't help but see the crumbling façade and dirty windows; the air of desperation that called out from every angle.

Rufus strode up the garden path towards her. She erected a privacy bubble when he stopped, grim and determined as he met her eyes.

"Crouch Senior is dead." Rufus said bluntly. "Cutting hex to his jugular; paralysis hex prevented him from moving. He bled out."

Amelia closed her eyes at the confirmation of the death. She'd known intellectually it was likely he would be found dead but…she sighed and focused. Barty had been a hard boss to work with and a prickly colleague. She regretted his death but couldn't say she mourned his passing.

"We found Mickle's body beside him." Rufus said. "I don't think they kept her in case of needing more amniotic fluid but for sport from the looks of her. She died from the Killing Curse. Forensics say there were two different perpetrators given the magical residue."

"We already know Voldemort is likely travelling with at least Pettigrew, Crouch Junior, Greyback and Travers. Any of them could have performed the spell although Greyback would have just broken her neck." Amelia mused out loud.

"There's some evidence that Voldemort and Pettigrew were in residence in one of the bedrooms." Rufus grimaced. "We found traces of the advanced Polyjuice in the kitchen. Forensics was going to get it to a lab, see if they can come up with a counter."

"Good." Amelia was pleased at that.

"There's no sign of where they've gone." Rufus said. "Greyback's pack is a possibility."

"I'll ask Remus to make some inquiries." Amelia conceded. "But from what he has already said about the pack's willingness to follow Greyback in the matter of Voldemort this time around…I don't think we'll find him with the werewolves. If so, I think we can expect to hear the new location via Remus."

"You think Voldemort has another bolt hole?" Rufus asked.

"They're all Death Eaters. I think all of them had other locations to run to if their positions became untenable for whatever reason." Amelia said, mulling over likelihoods in her head. "Travers is too new to the group. I would think Voldemort considers him on probation so him trusting Travers to organise their next location seems unlikely."

"Greyback's brawn not brains." Rufus chimed in. "Like you said, we'll know soon enough if he has taken up with Greyback's pack but it seems unlikely."

"Pettigrew…Pettigrew's charged with Voldemort's safety and meeting his needs. He's a possibility." Amelia said. "Sirius and Remus would be the best sources of information on his life prior to being a rat."

"Crouch Junior is also an option." Rufus pointed out grimly. "He's had free run of the wizarding world this last few months without anyone being on the lookout for him."

"Get the Rat Squad focused on dissecting Junior's entire life up to his incarceration." Amelia said briskly. "Severus Snape may have information to offer. He spent some time with the LeStranges while Junior was involved with Rabastan."

"Is there a possibility Voldemort himself has somewhere?" Rufus asked.

"Other than Little Hangleton?" Amelia considered it and sighed. "Perhaps. I'll check with Bertie. It's possible that there are locations he's considered for the treasure hunt that may be relevant to us."

"What's the official position on this clusterfuck?" Rufus said bluntly.

"A statement has already been released to the press that the person behind the death threats has been identified as Bartemius Crouch Junior." Amelia sighed heavily. "That posing as his father, who conspired in his escape from prison, Junior managed to enter Harry Potter into the Tri-Wizard Tournament. Junior is considered armed and dangerous, etcetera, etcetera…" She grimaced. "Cornelius is assigning a Special Auditor to examine the Department to see what chaos Junior may have done in his father's place. We're all of the opinion that he couldn't do anything to majorly screw things up since he didn't want to draw attention to himself but minor things?"

"Speaking of minor things," Rufus said, "I've sent Shacklebolt to the Weasleys to make an assessment of Percy Weasley. It's possible Junior had him under the Imperius."

"Good idea." Amelia said but she didn't think it was probable. She motioned at the house. "Anything else to report?"

"Not yet." Rufus said.

Amelia gazed up at the house again. "Take it all apart, brick by brick. I want everything examined." Her lips firmed. "We're going to catch these bastards."

o-O-o

The bang on the door was almost a relief for Bill as he sat tensely in his parents' living room, sipping a Firewhiskey, and trying hard to ignore Percy prattling on about the Tri-Wizard tournament and how important Mister Crouch was to the whole affair.

His father got up and went to answer the door, a small frown on his freckled face as he registered the visitors were Aurors. "Yes?"

"Senior Auror Shacklebolt and Auror Tonks, Mister Weasley." The deep baritone echoed through the Burrow. "We need to speak to your son, Percival?"

Bill glanced at a surprised looking Percy. His mother got to her feet, concern already starting to appear on her homely face.

"I wonder what this is about." Percy said out loud, giving away his own insecurity as their father ushered the Aurors into the room. Bill recognised the older Auror from his work with at the DOM. He took in the sight of a serious looking Tonks with concern; she had gone to school with Charlie and he'd renewed his acquaintance with her through the various Black family events; she was usually very bubbly and friendly.

Shacklebolt's dark eyes landed on Percy with unerring accuracy. "Percival Weasley?"

Percy stood up. "Yes, that's me."

"If we can speak to you in private, Mister Weasley?" Shacklebolt said formally.

"I'm sure that's unnecessary." His mother cut in. "We're family."

"It's official business, Mrs Weasley." Shacklebolt said.

Percy frowned at his mother before turning back to the Auror. "Perhaps we should go to my room? We'll have privacy there."

"Tonks, you stay here." Shacklebolt ordered. "After you, Mister Weasley."

Bill wanted to protest as the tall Auror followed his brother out of the room. He exchanged a worried look with his father.

"This is silly," his mother said brusquely as Bill's father put an arm around her to comfort her, "can't you tell us anything about what this is about?" She gestured at Tonks.

Tonks shifted her weight, a regretful look of awkwardness crossing her features as she shook her head. "Senior Auror Shacklebolt will explain when he returns."

Bill's mind raced with speculation. Shacklebolt wasn't formally part of the Rat Squad but he was leading the investigation into the pregnant women and was associated with the search to find them, the suspicion it was Pettigrew and an unknown associate behind the abductions. It was likely then that the visit to Percy had something to do with that.

But what, Bill mused, rubbing his chin. He ignored his mother offering refreshments to Tonks as he considered the problem.

He truly believed that the Auror's couldn't suspect Percy of actually helping to abduct pregnant women. It wasn't just brotherly loyalty but just an understanding of Percy's own character. But if they were questioning him then it left three possibilities; firstly, that Percy wasn't Percy.

Bill ran over the conversation from dinner. Percy had been fixated on his work but he had joined in a discussion about the play about Merlin and the Dragons that Bill was going to take Alicia to see, and which Percy had already seen with Penny. He also vaguely recalled a rejoinder that had Percy poking fun at something in Bill's childhood so, Percy was Percy.

Not polyjuiced then.

Imperiused? That was the second option.

Bill sent an anxious gaze towards the stairs. He would have noticed if Percy was under an Imperio spell. Wouldn't he? His brother's behaviour – his workaholic tendencies and his adoration of Barty Crouch – was irritating but not prompted by anything other than Percy's own ambition. He was certain of it. But there was a sliver of doubt sliding through his veins that had him avoiding his father's keen gaze.

No, Bill considered with more confidence. He was sure he would have spotted something in Percy's demeanour if his brother was being controlled by a spell.

All of which left the third option for the Auror's visit; that they wanted to question Percy about somebody else's behaviour – someone in the Department – maybe even Crouch…

But wasn't Crouch supposed to be at Hogwarts dealing with the Tri-Wizard Tournament?

The tournament!

The thought smacked into him like a bludgeoning spell. His eyes widened as he realised something must have happened at the tournament and the naming of the Champions. Had Harry been named Champion? Did they suspect Crouch?

He shifted restlessly, wanting desperately to grab his communication mirror so he could talk with Sirius and knowing that if Harry had been entered, Sirius would be at Hogwarts dealing with the fallout. Maybe there was another way to confirm his suspicions.

He cleared his throat and caught Tonks' eye. "The tournament?"

Tonks winced and gave a small nod.

"Harry was named as a Champion?" Bill continued.

Tonks moved her weight, rocking from one foot to another. "I shouldn't say anything else, Bill."

That was a yes then and they suspected Crouch…

Crouch!

Bill had never liked the stuffy man but he had never pinned him for someone who would join up with the likes of Voldemort. But then hadn't his son become a Death Eater in the last war? Maybe that and the knowledge that he had screwed up any hopes of a political career with his wrongful incarceration of Sirius had caused Crouch to have a mental breakdown. Maybe.

Footsteps on the stairs had them all turning expectantly.

Percy was pale under his freckles and their mother immediately moved to his side, glaring at the Auror behind him.

"Auror Shacklebolt," Bill's father said briskly, "I can appreciate this is official business but as Bill has rightly guessed this has something to do with events at the tournament this evening, perhaps you can give us an overview? This family is allied with Lord Potter. I can assure you that whatever you tell us will go no further than these four walls."

Shacklebolt sent Tonks a chiding look but nodded slowly. "The news will be in the press by morning so I can tell you this much: Lord Potter was named as a fourth Champion by the Goblet of Fire earlier this evening. It was surmised that Bartemius Crouch was the only one with opportunity to interfere with the Goblet. However, his body was found in his residence approximately an hour ago."

"Oh goodness!" His mother raised a hand to her mouth in horror.

"Upon inspection, it's clear that he'd been held hostage for a while, possibly dating back to the notification that he had Wizard's flu." Shacklebolt continued. "As he passed the identity checks upon return from sick leave, we think the only explanation is that his son, Bartemius Crouch Junior, took his place using Polyjuice."

"But he's dead!" His mother exclaimed.

Shacklebolt shook his head. "We don't know how but we have found evidence that suggests Crouch was keeping the son locked up in the basement prior to the reversal of who was the hostage."

Bill frowned heavily, his mind racing as he worked out the sequence of events. "It was Junior at the World Cup? He was the one who attacked the Potter alliance tent and set ours on fire."

His father's mouth dropped open a touch but snapped shut again, anger replacing the shock on his face. "Is that true?!"

"We believe so," Shacklebolt said cautiously, "but all I can say is that an arrest warrant has been issued for Bartemius Crouch Junior which includes suspicion of being involved with the events at the World Cup."

"He's still at large?" His mother said anxiously.

His father hurried over to wrap an arm around her comfortingly again.

Shacklebolt nodded unhappily. "He and his associates escaped."

"Associates?" His father questioned sharply.

"Pettigrew at the very least." Shacklebolt said and held up a hand. "I really can't tell you anything more."

Percy sank into a chair, his gaze a blind glaze of shock. "I can't believe it."

"Thank you for letting us know as much as you have, Auror Shacklebolt." His father said stiffly.

Bill glanced at his parents and gestured towards the front door. "Why don't I show you out?" He led the Aurors outside, stepping out himself for a moment, closing the door behind him. "Is Harry alright?"

"Magical exhaustion," explained Tonks quickly before Shacklebolt could say anything, "he'll be right as rain in a couple of days. Sirius has put Black Manor on lockdown though since the healer said he can take him home to recover."

"Can't say I blame him." Bill sighed, pushing a hand through his hair.

Tonks gave him a sympathetic smile but turned to Shacklebolt and a moment later the two Aurors had disapparated.

Bill headed back into the house. His mother was bustling in the kitchen making tea; his father was talking in a low voice to Percy by the fireside.

Percy glanced up at Bill and flushed. "They were checking to see if I was imperiused!"

"Ah." Bill sat down on the sofa across from his brother. "I'm sure it was just a precaution since you've been in close contact with him."

"I should have realised that he wasn't Mister Crouch!" Percy said shakily. "I mean, he hardly acknowledged me the first few months but he was so complimentary to me when he came back after the flu…so supportive of my career goals and…I thought he just appreciated all the help and information I'd given him when he was sick!" He groaned and dropped his head into his hands. "Merlin, I was the one who told him about Harry's party here and the security arrangements at the World Cup!"

"It wasn't your fault, Percy." His father patted Percy's shoulder. "Nobody knew it wasn't Crouch. I'm sure Cornelius, Amelia and Rufus told him additional details or asked for his advice about the Cup. You weren't to know."

"I should have known!" Percy's head snapped back up. "You were all almost killed and I…" he lurched out of his seat and stormed out, clattering up the stairs and into his room; the door slamming shut and echoing throughout the Burrow.

"What did you say to him?" His mother demanded angrily.

"Nothing." Bill answered before his father. "Percy's doing a fine job of blaming himself." And Bill knew in his position he'd do the same. Percy had effectively been feeding their enemy information that could have killed their family for the past few months – unknowingly, yes, but feeding him information all the same. It was a bitter pill to swallow.

"Poor Percy." His mother cast a look up the stairs.

"Leave him be, Molly." His father said, sitting down heavily in the vacated chair. "He needs some time to come to terms with it."

Bill jerked his thumb towards the door. "I should head to Hogwarts and see if Sirius needs anything."

His father nodded briskly in agreement. "Let him know that he has our support; anything he needs…anything at all, he just has to ask."

He left with a hug from his mother and an admonishment to stay safe. Bill pulled on his leather jacket and, as soon as he was clear of the Burrow, apparated to Hogwarts.

o-O-o

Severus knocked back the glass and felt the familiar burn of mellowed alcohol hit the back of his throat as the sharp scent of peat and barley filled his nostrils. He poured himself another glass and knocked that back too as his mind drifted back to the antechamber and Potter's astonishing magic.

Lily.

Lily.

He closed his eyes and placed a hand over his brow as he brought up the memory; the shift of the golden Potter griffin into the familiar lines and form of Lily Potter. She had been a glowing golden spirit. She had been magnificent. Untouched by the ravages of time, still beautiful, still stronger in her beliefs than anyone he had ever known.

Grief stirred inside of him again, familiar and painful.

She hadn't looked in his direction once.

The spirit of Lily had been totally focused on her son, on protecting him. The image of her wrapped around her child…would she have held him the same way if she had lived?

Undoubtedly.

Would she have ignored Severus if she had lived?

Undoubtedly.

He was responsible for leading the Dark Lord to target her son, to kill her husband. And the hard truth was that Lily had not lived.

She had not lived.

If he had only kept the prophecy to himself…if he had only realised sooner the error in judgement he had made in joining the Death Eaters…

Severus knocked back another drink.

When Black had confronted him with the knowledge that Black knew it had been Severus who had told the Dark Lord the prophecy, Severus had felt sucker-punched. In some ways, he would have preferred Black to have reverted to form and beaten him bloody rather than being subjected to the look of complete disgust and the harsh, truthful words that had cut like a knife.

"…you are the reason why he doesn't know her; why the only memory of her he has is of her dying to save him."

Because hadn't that been the truth that he had avoided recognising for many years? Yes, it was far easier to blame the boy, the child, for existing; for being born with the power to vanquish Voldemort and so placing Lily in danger, causing Lily's death because she had died to protect her child; far easier that, than for Severus to accept the truth that he was at fault; that it was his own want to please a Master who cared nothing for him or any of his followers had ultimately started the chain of events which had led to her death.

It was Severus's fault Lily had died; Severus's fault that her son had only a spirit to protect him and not Lily herself.

Black was right about that and wasn't that galling?

He ignored the glass and took a swig from the bottle.

He shook his head.

Black had also ignored Severus during the events in the antechamber; he had also been focused on Potter to the exclusion of all else. Despite their history, Severus acknowledged that Black was a devoted father.

But once again they had all failed to protect the boy sufficiently.

Severus had failed to protect Potter. Again.

Why, why, why hadn't he understood that his memories had been hidden only because of Crouch Junior? Why had he assumed the presence of someone else? He had been so stupid.

He gave a small growl and took another gulp of alcohol.

He rubbed his eyes tiredly.

A loud bang on the door to his quarters almost made him drop the bottle he held. He settled for slamming it onto a nearby table and stalking over to the door. If it was a student, he was going to verbally eviscerate them for being out after curfew. He flung the door open and stared blankly at the sight of a glowering Moody.

"Why the dickens did you run off?" Moody snapped, pushing inside the room before Severus could stop him.

"Director Croaker had enlisted the help of Remus Lupin." Severus said tersely. "My presence was no longer required."

"It isn't a popularity contest, lad." Moody's magical eye whirled around the room. "Throwing yourself a pity party?"

"I checked on the students under my care," and found the Slytherin Common Room to be immersed in debate that he had effectively broken up with his entry and which had no doubt resumed on his exit, "and I decided to retire for the night." He breathed in sharply. Why was he explaining himself?

Moody sat down abruptly and conjured a glass. "You could at least share."

Severus was torn between outrage at Moody's presumption and…and some strange feeling of comradeship. He poured Moody a glass and summoned his own non-verbally to pour himself another. He sat down on the sofa.

Moody drank his whiskey, stared at the bottle in approval and placed the glass down with a small thud on the table. "It wasn't your fault."

"My memories…" Severus said stiffly.

"You couldn't have known that the only person within them of interest was Crouch Junior. You still have some to sort through don't you?" Moody pointed out brusquely.

"I should have gone to the mind healer as you suggested." Severus confessed, guilt surging through him and making his stomach roil. "If we had known there was no other involved with the LeStranges…"

"We might have concluded that it was a dead end since Junior was dead." Moody huffed. "Your subconscious probably knew; that's why you had the dead Death Eaters listed."

Severus glared at him. "You're not helping."

Moody picked up the bottle and poured himself another glass. He swirled the amber liquid around. "Senior's dead."

"His usefulness had come to an end." Severus murmured. The Dark Lord thought nothing of discarding people.

"They found one of the missing women." Moody noted in a clipped voice that gave away her condition more than a graphic explanation would have done.

Severus nodded gravely.

"Amelia wants copies of your memories on the LeStranges to give to the Aurors; we're trying to see if we can't find where they've run to hide." Moody said bluntly.

"She shall have them." Severus thought it was the least he could do.

Moody nodded. "Good. I told her we'll be in first thing before breakfast."

"We?" Severus's eyebrows rose in faint surprise.

"We." Moody said firmly.

Severus knew he should protest that he would go alone, that he didn't need someone to hold his hand when he was questioned by Aurors, but instead he inclined his head, his dark hair falling forward.

"I would also appreciate the recommendation for the mind healer you previously suggested." Severus said. "It would be beneficial to retrieve the rest of my memories quickly."

Moody grunted his agreement, raised his glass and tipped the alcohol down his throat. He set the glass down and got to his feet. "I expect you on guard duty in the infirmary immediately."

Severus's eyes widened in alarm. "What?"

"Three hour shifts; you're taking the first one." Moody stated blithely continuing without any acknowledgement of Severus's outrage. "Potter's healing means no students near his room. Some of the little buggers are bound to test that and Black's as likely to kill them as he is to send them packing."

Severus simply stared at him.

"You'll want a sobering potion before you take your post." Moody said and limped out.

For a long moment, Severus swore roundly at the DADA Professor before he accepted that he should take a sobering potion and do his duty. Moody was probably right about Black's frame of mind and the students' likely behaviour.

Five minutes later, he left his quarters and walked briskly towards the infirmary. He turned a corner and almost barrelled straight into Lupin. The werewolf stepped back to avoid the collision and Severus's lip curled upward as he registered Lupin's superior reflexes.

"My apologies, Severus." Lupin said politely. "Are you on your way to the infirmary?"

"Professor Moody was insistent that I take a shift to prevent Black killing any of the students." Snape snapped as they both began walking again, unfortunately in the same direction.

Lupin smiled sadly. "I can't say I blame Moody for his vigilance in the circumstances and Sirius…" he shook his head and focused on Severus instead. "Are you alright after…?"

Severus bristled. "I am fine. There is no reason for me not to be alright, Lupin."

Lupin hummed. "The first time the spirits appeared I spent most of the evening thinking of everything that I wanted to say to Lily and wishing I could have spoken to her just for a moment."

Severus stopped abruptly. "It's happened before?"

"Yes," Lupin said softly, "but the event was deemed need-to-know, just like this evening." His scarred face took on a chagrined air. "I suppose we shouldn't be talking about it."

"Especially as one of us is under a vow." Severus pointed out beginning to walk again.

"You're not to talk about it with people who were not present." Lupin rejoined. "I was there."

Severus considered it for a long moment but finally his curiosity was too great; he had to ask. "Did she…was she so focused on Potter the last time?"

"Yes." Lupin said. "But that's the nature…" he drew them to a halt and provided a privacy charm, "Lily cast an ancient spell to protect Harry; one based on Wiccan magic, the Old Religion."

"Which explains the presence of Morgana Le Fey; she was a High Priestess within the Old Religion." Severus said.

"Perhaps," Lupin admitted, "Bertie and I believe that at the moment Lily cast the spell, the Potter family magic was called to help power it, and somehow, Lily's sacrifice of life and magic became one with the family magic just as each Head of House and Heir of House are bound to it."

"Her spirit was consumed by the family magic?" questioned Severus sharply.

"In a way," Lupin said gently, "we believe the family magic recognised her sacrifice and honoured her by allowing an imprint of her essence to remain within it. It super-powered the spell."

Severus nodded slowly.

"But her last act was protecting her son; the reason for her being part of the Potter family magic is because she protected her son." Lupin continued. "She has only been called forth by Harry when he has been in need of protection."

"I see." Severus said trying to keep the sadness out of his voice. He studied Remus for a brief moment. "I am…grateful for your explanation." He said stiffly.

"I understand, Severus, and I do remember how close you were to her at school." Remus said. "She regretted the loss of your friendship quite keenly."

Severus stared at the werewolf in shock. "You can…you are not aware…" he lifted his hand briefly. "I was responsible for her death."

Lupin looked at him sharply. "Voldemort struck her with the Killing Curse. He is the one responsible for her death."

"Then Black didn't tell you…"

"That you were the one who gave Voldemort his reason for being there. Yes. I know about that."

And there was the disapproval and dislike he'd been waiting to hear from Lupin since they had begun speaking.

"I was there when Sirius found out and I admit that there are days I'd like to hex you for it, but then…" Lupin sighed wearily as he pushed a hand through his hair, "all of us played a part in the events leading to that night. You think Sirius doesn't blame himself constantly for encouraging James to go with Peter as his Secret Keeper? Or that I don't blame myself for letting my spying with the packs interfere with my friendships with James and Sirius to the extent that they mistrusted me and didn't choose me instead?"

Severus blinked as he absorbed Lupin's words.

"You made a mistake, a bad one." Lupin said strongly. "No matter who it was that the prophecy referred to, you had to know telling Voldemort was giving them a death sentence and any who stood between them." He drew in a breath. "But I figure when you found out it was Lily's child; when Lily died because of the sequence of events you telling him began…I'm sure there's not a day that goes by that you don't blame yourself for her death, Severus, and frankly, I couldn't come up with a better punishment for you than that; you simply having to bear the knowledge of what you have done."

Once again, it felt as though he'd been sucker-punched; all the breath left his body. Lupin's words lacked the vitriol of Black's but perhaps they stung deeper because of that.

Lupin dismantled the privacy charm and they set off again.

"I sometimes wish Lily and James had gone ahead with the portrait that Charlus wanted them to do after the wedding." Lupin said breaking the silence as they neared the doors to the infirmary.

"Why did they refuse?" Severus asked idly, at once regretting as Lupin did the lack of a portrait, and yet at the same time wondering if he would have been able to bear it if one had existed.

"I'm not certain." Remus admitted. "I think possibly both of them thought that they were too young."

Severus inclined his head. It would have been just like Lily. She had always loved life so much; to have believed that she wouldn't live a long and happy life would have been an anathema to her.

Severus was so preoccupied that he unthinkingly followed Lupin into the small private room. He froze just inside the doorway at the sight of Potter, prone on the bed with his hands bandaged. Black was camped out on the far side, surrounded by folders and pieces of parchment, yet one hand remained on Potter's arm, maintaining contact with his…his son.

Severus recalled Lupin's admission that both he and Black suffered guilt about the deaths of the Potters, about the death of their best friend. Severus stared at Black. It would have been easy for Black to have done the same as he, Severus mused, to have buried his own guilt and self-hatred, and blamed the child. But Black had done no such thing. Instead Black loved the boy fiercely; would gladly have accepted the pain and hurt Potter had suffered as his own, that was evident after the events in the antechamber. He had derided Black's position as Potter's godfather but perhaps James Potter had been right to give Black the honour; perhaps James Potter had known that regardless of whatever happened Black would love his son unconditionally. Severus wondered if he and Lily had remained friends, if he had been Potter's godfather…

Black barely looked up as Lupin entered but he did a double take as he spotted Severus. Black frowned as Lupin conjured up a chair.

"How is he?" Lupin asked. "Did Doctor Jordan manage to speak with Noshi?"

"His core will be fine." Black said with visible relief. "Noshi thinks it's just the scarring that's made it unhappy. He believes based on knowledge of the Goblet's interaction with previous Champions that the magical renewal won't affect his power levels."

"Good." Lupin said happily.

Black's eyes flickered back to Severus and he was clearly about to demand why Severus was there when Lupin spoke again.

"We've been asked to talk with the Aurors about Peter. They think him or Crouch are responsible for deciding where next to hide so want our insights into Peter." Lupin said.

"I believe I've been asked to provide my memories of my time with the LeStranges and Crouch for a similar reason." Severus said, understanding Black's look of distaste at having to talk about Pettigrew. "Moody and I are going tomorrow morning."

"Thank you." Black said tersely. "If we can find them…"

Severus nodded sharply, knowing that if Black found Crouch Junior or Pettigrew, nothing would stop him from killing them.

A knock on the door had them both turning to find Bill Weasley stood in the doorway.

"Bill," Black gestured for him to enter, "I take it you heard the news?"

"Shacklebolt and Tonks turned up to check Percy wasn't imperiused." Weasley explained succinctly. He pointed at Harry. "How is he?"

"Exhausted." Black replied. "But he'll live. How's Percy?"

"Suddenly regretting how helpful he's been to Crouch Junior over the last few months." Weasley sighed heavily. "He's very upset about it all."

Severus swallowed the harsh retort that jumped to mind.

"Nobody realised it was him or suspected anything." Black grimaced. "More's the pity."

Weasley nodded. "What are these?" He picked up a file.

"My grandfather's files on the LeStranges, Crouch Senior and Crouch Junior." Black stated succinctly. "Maybe there's a clue somewhere in here about where he would have gone."

"Dear Merlin!" Lupin said, looking at the vast amount of information. "This is going to take us years."

"I can help." Weasley offered.

Severus hesitated but plunged ahead anyway. "Perhaps I may also assist you?"

Black glared at him as though he wanted to refuse but he motioned with the parchment he held. "Conjure up chairs and pick one."

Weasley immediately drew his wand and conjured up a comfortable chair.

Severus paused. "I will alarm the corridor first. Moody assigned me guard duty in case there are foolish students who wish to disobey the order not to come to the infirmary." He fully expected the younger Weasleys would turn up sooner or later.

Black nodded.

Severus hurried to set the alarm and made his way back with a speed which surprised him. He conjured a chair at the foot of Potter's bed and reached for the nearest file; Bellatrix.

It bemused him that the late Lord Black had apparently kept files on his own family members.

He cast a look at Lupin and Weasley, both absorbed by their own reading, and finally toward Black, wanting to check how his old rival was taking his presence. Black's attention was elsewhere; he was smoothing Potter's hair back with gentle tenderness. Severus swiftly returned his gaze to the file.