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The Gryffindor and Ravenclaw third years sat nervous and excited at their desks, waiting for the start of class. Their latest Defense Against the Dark Arts professor had told them today was to be a practical lesson unlike any they’d ever had before.

“It’s no good just knowing what the Unforgivables are,” the grizzled ex-Auror had stated, pacing the aisles with a wooden thump to every step. “You need to be ready for what you’ll be up against. You need to feel just how hard of a fight it will be. And no curse is harder to fight than the Imperius.”

The electric blue eye had stopped swiveling for a moment as a dark look crossed the marred features. Every last student had held their breath.

“The older students have all completed this exercise. Some might say third years are too young to be expected to do the same. I say age doesn’t matter to a dark wizard who’s intent on bending you to his will.”

At her desk, Ginny Weasley shifted uncomfortably at the memory. No, age didn’t matter to dark wizards. Not even first years were too young. 

Fortunately no one else seemed to notice her discomfort. The bell had rung, their teacher had arrived, and they were all too busy following the barked instructions from Moody to get out of their seats and form a line. Ginny found herself shuffling near to the end of it.

“I will perform the Imperius Curse on each of you one at a time. Your job is to try and break it. It won’t be easy, and truthfully I don’t expect any of you to do it. Not on the first try, anyway. Even the slightest sign of resistance to what I ask you to do while under it is something to be proud of.”

The students exchanged a few looks up and down the line, some more scared than others. Ginny didn’t know how she looked.

Moody motioned with one hand. “Creevey, you first.”

Ginny did her best to remain calm as the distance between herself and the front of the line grew shorter and shorter. It was just Professor Moody. Her dad had always called him a great man, respected him for everything he’d done in the war. Ginny knew Hogwarts wasn’t always safe, but this was.

“Is it wrackspurts?” Said Luna, light and airy in her ear. Ginny tried not to jump; she hadn’t realized her Ravenclaw friend had gotten in line behind her.

“What?”

“You keep shifting about on your feet. I thought it was a particularly persistent swarm of wrackspurts giving you trouble.”

A shaky chuckle escaped her, relieving some of the tension in her shoulders. “Er, maybe, Luna.”

Up ahead, Demelza was doing a series of pirouettes. She looked pretty and graceful. It didn’t seem so bad. Nobody had fought it off yet, and Moody didn’t look frustrated.

“Weasley,” he said, and with a gulp she stepped forward. The professor raised his wand. “ Imperio .”

A fog seemed to settle over her eyes and in her mind. Ginny forgot all about Professor Moody and the other students standing and watching her. She felt calm, totally at peace, and couldn’t remember why she’d been so nervous.

Skip in a circle , said a voice in her head, one Ginny did not recognize. It was soothing, persuasive.

Just like Tom had been.

The calm that had washed over her vanished in an instant, replaced by a blinding panic.

This can’t be happening, not here, not now .

Skip in a circle , the voice repeated with insistence. A perfectly reasonable request. Not like before, not like the times she’d been made to do the other things.

Tom’s requests had started off reasonable, too, though. Write to me, Ginny, I’ve been so lonely. Tell me about Hogwarts, I’ve missed it. Who is this Harry Potter?

The voice said skip in a circle , but all Ginny heard was come to die .

No!

Her arms were thrown out in front of her as the classroom slammed abruptly back into place just in time for her to watch a wave of something burst from the wand that she didn’t remember putting in her hand and hit Moody square in the chest. He flew back into his own blackboard and slid down the wall.

There was a horrible beat of silence, pierced only by a few murmurs and one whispered, “ Bloody hell.

Their professor’s magical eye swiveled about before fixing unerringly on her. A hoarse noise escaped him that it took a moment to identify as a laugh.

“Wicked, Ginny!” Colin was practically vibrating with excitement and looked ready to dive for the camera he still kept in his bag. The other students were all staring at her in a mixture of shock and what seemed to her fear.

“I think the wrackspurts have gone,” Luna remarked brightly. “That was quite clever of you.”

Ginny ran past Luna, down the aisle, and out the door. She kept running down corridors and up stairs, trying to put as much distance between herself and that room as possible. Her thighs started to burn with the effort, and at last she pushed past a tapestry Fred and George had shown her hid a secret passage between the fifth and sixth floors.

Once in the secluded space, her steps slowed and Ginny leaned against a wall before sliding down it as her legs gave out. The frenzied escape over, her actions started to catch up with her. Ginny stifled a sob with one hand, then squeezed her eyes shut as tears sprang to them.

She just had to still let Tom get to her, didn’t she? When everyone else had long put it behind them and hopefully forgotten. Now there was bound to be more of that talk. And Merlin, Professor Moody had to think she was bloody mental! She didn’t have the first clue how she was going to explain herself, much less show herself in that class again. Maybe it was lucky she’d knocked him down; with that eye of his, he’d have been able to follow her straight here, and Ginny needed the space to breathe.

She was not alone for long, however. A pair of footsteps coming from the opposite direction echoed towards her before stopping.

“Ginny?”

Oh no. “H-harry?” Of course one of the few other people who was privy to knowing of this secret passage was one of the last people she would want to find her like this.

Harry appeared, tucking what looked like an old bit of parchment away in his robes. His eyes were wide and still brilliantly green in the dim light afforded to them. “What’s wrong?”

Ginny hurriedly wiped at her eyes. She knew crying tended to make Harry uncomfortable. “Nothing. I just, um, sort of ran out of Moody’s class right in the middle of it.”

“Moody’s class? What for?” He took a couple steps closer, lips quirked in bemusement. “I mean, he’s a bit mad, but brilliant.”

She hung her head. “It was stupid. He was training us to resist the Imperius Curse, and I threw it off.”

“Really? That’s amazing, Ginny!”

He sounded impressed, and Ginny wanted to be happy about that, but she couldn’t. “No, but my magic sort of — I hit him with it. I didn’t mean to, I just panicked. I know it was just a lesson, but all I could think of was first year.”

Harry had gone very quiet. “Oh.”

Her eyes squeezed shut. “It’s probably stupid, but after- after that year, I promised myself no one was gonna force me to do anything I didn’t want to do again. And I know Moody wasn’t going to make me do horrible things, but I...I’m not sorry I forced him out. But I didn’t want everyone else thinking about it and talking about it all over again.”

The sound of him moving caused her eyes to open again, and Ginny could only watch as Harry sat beside her on the floor.

“They might not,” he tried to reassure her. “Loads of people have had bad reactions to Moody’s lessons. You should have seen Neville when he went over the Cruciatus Curse.”

Ginny sent him a withering look. They both knew being compared to Neville wasn’t usually considered a compliment. Not that that was Neville’s fault.

Harry grimaced. “Well, at least you did throw it off. I didn’t even manage that on the first try. I sort of half-stopped myself and banged my chin on the desk.”

She couldn’t help a small snort of laughter, which Harry laughed at.

“I don’t really know what I did. I guess it was accidental magic. I haven’t had an outburst like that since before Hogwarts.”

“At least you didn’t blow up your aunt,” Harry offered sagely. He was quiet another moment or two, his eyes studying her. “Do you want to go back to class?”

Ginny frowned at her shoes. “Not really.”

“I think you should see Madam Pomfrey.”

Ginny turned bright red. “I’m not ill—”

“No, but you’re pretty shaken. Ginny, I — I knew you were unhappy, but I didn’t think it was my business two years ago, and I let it happen to you. I don’t want to make that mistake again, not with a friend.”

She stared at him, not knowing what to say, or maybe how to say it. Why did she still have to get so tongue-tied around him?

Harry drew back and seemed to falter for the first time since finding her. “That is if you want to be friends.”

“Of course I do,” Ginny blurted. “I mean, we are, aren’t we? Why wouldn’t — oh.”

The dismal look on his face clued her in.

“Harry, you know I’d never believe those things people are saying.” How could she think for even one second that the boy who had rescued her from the Chamber, comforted her through her tears and shielded her from those who might have accused her, be the attention-seeking brat Rita Skeeter was painting him as? Even the nice boy who stayed at their home over the summers and seemed perpetually surprised by her mother’s hugs didn’t fit that image.

“I never thought Ron would believe them,” he muttered to his trainers.

Ginny rolled her eyes. “Just because he’s my brother doesn’t mean I’m a prat, too.” Harry’s lips twitched, though he said nothing. “He’ll come round. Can’t force it or he’ll get more stubborn about it.”

“Yeah,” Harry agreed.

They both stood, each accidentally reaching for the other’s hand to help them up. Ginny stepped back first, desperately fighting the blush that wanted to transform her whole face into a tomato.

Harry didn’t comment as ever and began leading them back the way he’d come.

“Haven’t you got a class next?” Ginny asked. “That must have been where you were headed.”

He shrugged. “It’s History of Magic. I doubt Binns will even notice.”

Ginny smirked. He was probably right about that. “Why were you in a rush to get there so early, then?”

“I’m trying to avoid crowds,” Harry answered bluntly.

As it was, the bell rung just as they’d reached the sixth floor, and the two of them had to fight against the flow of foot traffic as everyone else streamed out of classrooms and towards the main staircase. A couple of nasty looks were sent their way, and she caught the flash of a Potter Stinks badge here and there.

“Potter!” Called a particularly nasal voice, and Ginny glanced to see Harry’s expression instantly sour. She couldn’t much blame him; she’d done the same. “Got a new Weasel to be your best friend?”

Ginny looked round at Malfoy’s smug face. “Haven’t you got arts and crafts to get to? Got to be too early for nap time, but you are getting a bit whiny.”

She kept walking, not even bothering to check what impact those words might have had. Malfoy was already being buffeted in the other direction by the crowd anyway.

Harry quickly fell in beside her as they finally cleared the crowd. “Ginny, that was brilliant. I don’t think Malfoy knew what hit him.”

She gave a shrug. “He’s a prat. Him and his whole family. He’s lucky I don’t hex him.”

He cast another glance at her. “Do you know a lot of hexes?”

She dared to flash him a grin. “Comes in handy when you want Fred and George out of your hair.”

They pushed open the doors of the Hospital Wing and entered the empty ward. Madam Pomfrey was near the other end of the room, refilling various jars and bottles. She looked up at their approach.

“Ah, Mr. Potter. I was hoping not to see you until the first task, at least.”

“Er, no Madam. Actually I was just bringing Ginny here,” Harry explained, taking a slight step backwards.

The mediwitch hummed and turned her eyes on her. “What seems to be the problem, Miss Weasley?”

“It’s really not much. I was just a bit shaken, and Harry thought I should see you about it,” Ginny said, unable to help downplaying it. “I sort of did a bit of accidental magic in Professor Moody’s class when we were practicing the Imperius Curse.”

Madam Pomfrey dropped the jar of ointment she was holding but didn’t seem to notice it shatter. “Practicing the what?”

Ginny shared a look with Harry. “The Imperius Curse, Madam.”

“Practicing it on what? The students?” When they could only nod back at her, the mediwitch lost all color. “In beds, both of you.”

“Er, I had that class a couple weeks ago—”

“No excuses, Mr. Potter! Stay in those beds until I have summoned the Headmaster!” She swept from the room and slammed the door behind her. They both heard the sound of it locking on the other side.

Ginny turned to Harry with a single eyebrow raised. “Still think this was a good idea?”

“I didn’t think she’d go mad,” he replied, frowning at the door. Knowing they were stuck for at least some time, the two of them found a pair of beds next to each other and sat on the sides to continue talking. It was actually quite easy to talk to Harry once they got going, she was beginning to realize. “What’s she getting Dumbledore for? He would have told Madam Pomfrey about the lessons if she needed to know, wouldn’t he have?”

Ginny thought for a moment. “Moody said he got special permission to show us the Unforgivables. You reckon he was lying?”

“I don’t know.” Harry’s brows had practically knit themselves together, and a deep frown had set on his face. Part of her wanted to ask what he was thinking, but another part told her it was better to give him the silence.

They both looked up when the doors opened again and Madam Pomfrey swept through with the Headmaster close behind. They stopped in front of the space between both beds.

“Good morning,” Professor Dumbledore greeted them pleasantly. “I’m glad to see you both appear in good health. Madam Pomfrey seems to believe the situation rather urgent.”

“Miss Weasley, if you’d tell the Headmaster exactly what you told me,” the mediwitch prompted. At the same time, she started waving her wand over the pair of them, and Ginny could only assume she was checking for damage.

Ginny couldn’t quite find her voice for a moment. The last time she’d had this much of Albus Dumbledore’s attention, she’d only just been rescued from the Chamber and been convinced he was going to expel her. Her eyes landed on Harry, who gave an encouraging nod.

She drew in a breath and said, “Well, I came to see Madam Pomfrey because Harry thought I was a bit shaken up. You see, he’d found me after I ran out of Defense Against the Dark Arts.”

The Headmaster’s head tilted in a mild sort of curiosity. “And why did you do that?”

“I was embarrassed and a bit scared, I suppose. I’d done some accidental magic when Professor Moody used the Imperius Curse on me.”

A stillness seemed to settle over the room. Professor Dumbledore hadn’t moved, but even so his demeanor seemed to change entirely.

“Mr. Potter says his class has undergone it as well,” Madam Pomfrey added, twisting her wand between her fingers as her eyes darted between them and Professor Dumbledore. “What is he thinking , Headmaster?”

“I believe that is something only Alastor can answer. Poppy, if you would fetch Minerva and Severus and ask them to meet me at Professor Moody’s classroom, I’d be most grateful.” His gaze remained calm, but he wasn’t even able to muster a smile as he added to them, “It is best that you both remain here under Madam Pomfrey’s care for the moment.”

“Is something going on, sir?” Harry asked.

“I’m afraid that is yet to be determined,” the Headmaster answered. He left the Hospital Wing before either of them could ask anything else.

“I expect to find you resting when I get back,” Madam Pomfrey warned them as she, too, made for the door. “Especially you, Miss Weasley. The Imperius Curse, what next?”

The door slammed behind her, and they were left in silence.

“You don’t have to stay,” said Ginny.

“Pretty sure I do,” he replied. “Anyway, something’s happening and this seems like the best place to hear more.”

Ginny felt herself smile even as she shook her head. “Should’ve known.”

“What?”

“Always the mysteries with you.” She leaned back against the pillow she’d propped up against the headboard. “Moody’s mad, everyone knows that. He already turned Malfoy into a ferret without asking. Dumbledore’s probably taking McGonagall and Snape with him to give him a lecture.”

“Maybe,” Harry grudgingly admitted. He leaned over the side of his cot and rifled through his bag. “Might as well start on Divination. Not like I need the book for that, anyway.”

Ginny hummed in agreement.

Harry placed an inkwell on the nightstand and looked up. “Which classes did you pick? I never asked.”

She shrugged. “Never mentioned. I’m in Care of Magical Creatures and Ancient Runes. That one’s not much of a blow-off, but I hear it beats Trelawney most times.”

Harry grimaced. “Wish someone had told me that.”

“What can I say? Perks of being the youngest.” 

She’d put on a false airy voice, which caused Harry to snort. He then started outright laughing at her bemused look.

“Calm down, that’s nowhere near my best stuff,” she found herself saying, a little worried for him. She had always felt Harry had a more refined sense of humor, considering it tended to match her own.

“Sorry,” he said, still grinning. “I guess I just haven’t had much to laugh about lately. Especially with Ron not...well. Not that Hermione isn’t brilliant,” he rushed to say. “But she’s, er, not exactly—”

“Gifted with a funny bone?” She guessed.

Harry nodded. “Exactly.” He frowned a moment later. “Which probably makes me sound like an ungrateful git.”

“It’s okay to need more than one friend in your life, Harry,” Ginny said. “You can’t expect Hermione to be everything you need, but it’s not wrong to feel a lack.”

He stared at her for a long time, so long that it was very hard for Ginny not to turn away. It occurred to her that this was perhaps the longest conversation she’d ever had with Harry, and that she’d been rather carefree with her words. What if he didn’t appreciate that?

When he spoke again, his voice sounded strained. “I want to be angry, but I just miss him.” His untouched Divination homework was shoved to the side, and Harry drew his knees up to his chest. “I just don’t know how to fix it.”

Something in her ached, watching him like this, so small and vulnerable and desperately lonely.

But before she could speak, the Hospital Wing door was thrown open, and Madam Pomfrey strode through with a stretcher floating behind her. Ginny and Harry both exclaimed in shock at the occupant.

“Professor Moody!”

Ginny felt nearly overwhelmed with terror. What had she done? Moody had still been conscious when she’d fled the classroom and — hang on, what had happened to his leg?

Madam Pomfrey did not acknowledge either of them. Instead, she transferred their Defense Against the Dark Arts Professor onto a bed of his own and drew curtains around it, only to emerge moments later and head straight into her office.

“What’s happened to him?” Harry asked when she returned carrying a number of bottles and jars.

“The Headmaster will explain as much as he sees fit,” she snapped, though her voice shook badly. Ginny and Harry exchanged wide-eyed looks.

Neither one of them could see beyond the curtain, and Professor Dumbledore’s explanation didn’t seem to be coming any time soon as the minutes dragged on and he did not return.

When the large double doors finally did open, they were both surprised at who came in.

“Ron?” Said Harry.

Her brother blinked at them a moment. “Oh. You two are alright, then.”

“Course we’re alright,” said Ginny. “How’d you two even know where to find us?”

For Hermione was right behind Ron. She gave him a little nudge to go on.

“Malfoy. He was telling all his friends you and Harry were at the Hospital Wing.”

“So you wanted to see for yourself?” Harry asked. His chin was raised in clear defiance.

“No, of course not, Harry!” Hermione said. “The way Malfoy was talking, he made it sound as if something awful had happened to you and Ginny.”

“Should’ve realized the git was lying,” Ron added, scuffing his shoe on the floor. “He kept looking over to see if we were listening.”

Ginny could feel a smile starting to form. “You were worried about us.”

Ron’s face was turning a splotchy red in places. “Well, yeah.” He chanced a glance at Harry, who looked considerably more relaxed. “It’s not like I want something happening to my little sister. Or, well…” Her brother trailed off, clearly at a loss.

“A friend,” Harry offered cautiously.

Ron nodded stiffly. “Yeah. My- my best friend, really.” Then he didn’t need another push from Hermione because he was starting towards their two beds, Harry’s in particular. “Look, mate, I really didn’t mean all those things—”

“Me neither,” Harry spoke right over her brother from sheer eagerness. He got off the bed and they met on a sort of awkward handshake that morphed into a hug midway through.

Ginny and Hermione exchanged smiles tinged with a silent boys .

Then the other girl walked over to join them. “What are you two doing in the Hospital Wing, then?”

“Sort of a long story. Moody’s way worse off though,” said Harry, nodding to the curtain Madam Pomfrey or her patient still had yet to emerge from.

“Moody? What happened to him?” Ron asked.

But the doors to the Wing opened yet again and in strode an ashen-faced Professor McGonagall. She drew up short at the sight of all them.

“Mr. Weasley, Miss Granger. Well, I don’t suppose it would make any difference to ask you to leave. The whole school will have to be told soon enough.”

Hermione spoke up for the four of them. “What do you mean, Professor?”

“The Headmaster had tasked me with informing Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley of the results of our meeting with Professor Moody on the subject of his lessons.” The normally unflappable Transfiguration professor drew in a breath and released it. “It transpired that the man we questioned was not, in fact, Professor Moody at all.”

“But Harry said he’s right over there!” Said Ron with a wide sweeping gesture towards the curtain.

“Yes, we rescued him from his captor. I don’t suppose any of you are familiar with Polyjuice Potion?”

Ginny watched Harry, Ron, and Hermione exchange a look that seemed rather significant. “No, Professor,” she decided to answer for them.

“It is a potion which allows the drinker to take on the physical appearance of another person for a certain period of time,” McGonagall explained.

Hermione gasped. “Professor, you don’t mean to say someone has been impersonating Professor Moody?”

“I’m afraid I do, Miss Granger. And a very dangerous individual at that. I don’t mean to exaggerate the situation, but had Mr. Potter and Miss Weasley not brought their concerns to Madam Pomfrey, serious harm could have been done.” She took a couple steps forward. “As it is, Potter, we have discovered how you were entered into the Triwizard Tournament.”

Ginny felt her mouth drop open. She couldn’t believe the turn the day had taken. And all because she’d ran out of class and bumped into Harry!

—-

Just because Harry often had shocking news presented to him didn’t mean he’d gotten any more used to processing it. His heart was pounding in his chest all the while his mind had gone curiously blank. Yet something in him managed to voice the demand, “I want to see him.”

McGonagall’s lips almost immediately pursed. “Potter, I don’t believe that to be wise.”

“But Harry’s got more right to than anyone else!” Ron protested, and Harry felt a surge of warmth. Having Ron back as his best friend was easily the best thing to happen all day. Ginny had been right; it had just needed time.

“He’s not still dangerous, is he, Professor?” Hermione questioned.

McGonagall frowned, which meant Hermione was right. Before she could answer, however, Madam Pomfrey drew back the curtains around the cot.

“Bloody Hell!” Cried Ron.

Hermione’s hands had flown to her mouth. “He looks awful!”

“That’s the real Moody,” said Ginny. 

This Moody was much thinner and paler than the one they’d thought they knew as well as missing both his magical eye and wooden leg.

“The Headmaster wished for me to tell Mr. Potter to come to the Defense Against the Darks Arts classroom when he was ready.” It was clear by her tone that the hospital matron did not approve.

Professor McGonagall sighed through her nose. “Very well. Potter, with me.”

None of his friends tried to argue with her to come along, too, not that it mattered. Harry knew he would end up telling Ron and Hermione all about whatever happened. He added Ginny to that list, seeing as it was only due to her that they’d found all of this out.

Harry followed McGonagall all the way to the Defense classroom and up the stairs to Moody’s office — or not-Moody’s office, rather. The atmosphere of the room was tense, the only sound being the buzzing of an insect by the window.

“Has the Minister been called, Albus?” McGonagall asked.

“He is on his way. Thank you for bringing Mr. Potter, Minerva. Harry, I would like to introduce you to Bartemius Crouch Jr., though I believe you have met before.”

“Crouch?” Harry repeated.

Dumbledore inclined his head. “Yes, Harry. The son of one of our Triwizard organizers, though Mr. Crouch Sr. is apparently unaware of this particular development.”

Harry stared down at the young man, for he was fairly young, with sandy blonde hair and vacant eyes. That apparently had more to do with the Veritaserum, or truth potion, that Snape had given him. Snape himself stood against one wall, his dark eyes boring into Crouch Jr. with the intensity he usually reserved for a particularly hated student.

“He was just explaining to us how it was he who stole your wand at the Quidditch World Cup to cast the Dark Mark into the sky,” Professor Dumbledore continued.

“Then it wasn’t Mr. Crouch’s House Elf?”

“Apparently not.” The Headmaster turned back to their captive. “How did the Elf come to be framed, Barty?”

“I was stunned by the Aurors while wearing the invisibility cloak,” Crouch Jr. answered in a dull, even tone. “My father searched the bushes and found me with Winky. He knew what I had done but he couldn’t admit it, so he fired her.”

Dumbledore continued to ask questions of the Death Eater, as he bluntly stated himself to be. The longer Harry listened, the more a cold dread began to overtake him. This whole time, one of Voldemort’s servants had been among them, pretending to help him, secretly plotting Harry’s demise at his master’s hands. He shivered at the thought. Then, faintly, a woman started to scream...

Harry jolted with shock as his brain finally caught up with that cold, creeping feeling. “Professor Dumbledore, I think a Dementor’s here!”

Dumbledore looked up sharply. “Minerva.”

Professor McGonagall strode to Moody’s open office door and gasped. “Minister Fudge, what on Earth —”

The helpless feeling of the Dementor was nearly upon him. Harry screwed up his courage and searched for something happy — his parents, smiling and waving from Hagrid’s photo album; Sirius asking him to live with him instead of with the Dursleys; Ron, his friend again; the sweeping relief that had filled him when Ginny woke up in the Chamber — and cried out, “ Expecto Patronum!

Prongs burst from his wand and charged out of the office, causing the Dementor to flee down the corridor.

“Merlin’s beard! Dawlish, go and wrangle it!”

The man the Minister had brought with him nodded and ran off.

Fudge marched inside. “Albus what is the meaning of all this? You said there was a Death Eater in the castle!”

“And there is. A Dementor was hardly necessary, however.”

“But safety! And how could a Death Eater have gotten into Hogwarts?”

“You may ask him yourself, Cornelius. He has been disarmed and dosed with Veritaserum and is therefore quite harmless.”

Fudge approached slowly, his bowler hat turning rapidly in his hands.

“What is your name?”

“Bartemius Crouch Jr.”

“And how are you alive?”

“My parents smuggled me out of Azkaban with my mother taking my place. I was a prisoner in my father’s home under the Imperius Curse until my master sent for me.”

“And who is your master?”

“The Dark Lord. He sent his servant Wormtail to free me, then tasked me with infiltrating Hogwarts and delivering Potter to him at the end of the Tournament.”

Wormtail. The half-remembered dream he’d had this past summer was real. And if it was...

Fudge didn’t seem to know what to say to any of that for the moment. He looked to Harry once, then collected himself.

“Who is this Wormtail? What is his real name?”

“Peter Pettigrew.”

Harry’s heart soared.

“But Pettigrew’s dead!” Fudge snapped. “Black killed him!”

“Pettigrew escaped Black,” Crouch Jr. droned on. “He framed Black for the whole thing. Betraying the Potters, killing the Muggles. It was all Pettigrew. Then he hid as a rat when his information nearly destroyed my master and Black came after him. He returned to my master out of fear, but his efforts allowed my master to find me.”

A confession from a trusted servant of Voldemort’s. Harry could hardly believe the sudden upturn in his luck. Sirius would have to be declared innocent!

Fudge asked a few more questions, mostly going over the same things that Dumbledore had. By that time, Dawlish had returned with the Dememtor, though it seemed subdued somehow. Harry still kept his wand in his hand and one eye on it.

“He’ll have to be taken back to Azkaban. Maybe even Kissed,” Fudge said to Dumbledore.

“And as to his information concerning Sirius Black?” The Headmaster asked in the same sort of tone that one might use to inquire about the weather.

Fudge pulled a face. “Well, he’s mad, isn’t he? Azkaban must have done it.”

“Ah, but you forget, Cornelius, that young Mr. Crouch here hardly spent time in Azkaban.”

“Well then there’s something wrong with the potion!”

“My Veritaserum does not produce false results, Minister,” said Snape, though it looked as though it pained him a great deal to confirm a story that proclaimed Sirius’ innocence. “If Crouch says Pettigrew was the traitor and still alive, he is.”

“Then it appears there has been an error in the justice system, Cornelius,” said Professor Dumbledore. “With this new information, it seems Sirius Black ought not to be hunted, but asked to come in for a proper trial.”

Harry stared at the Headmaster in shock. Sirius had never had a trial?

“Information from a Death Eater who’s been harbored by one of my Department Heads?” Fudge emitted a short laugh, though it hardly sounded amused. “Albus, just think. We’re in the middle of hosting an international tournament here!” Fudge looked around at them all. “If this got out, it would put the magical community at large into a panic! Not to mention how it would look to the other schools or governments. It cannot get out!”

“But Sirius!” Said Harry.

“Black seems in little danger of the Ministry at the moment. He’s evaded us for over a year,” Fudge said with an embarrassed flush creeping up his neck. “After the tournament, after the other schools have gone, then perhaps the matter can be looked into.”

“Very well, Cornelius,” said Dumbledore before Harry could protest again. He turned to the Headmaster in disbelief, but was ignored. “What of the matter of Lord Voldemort?”

Fudge wasn’t alone in wincing but was definitely the worst of the lot. “He’s dead, isn’t he? What’s he to do with it?”

“Crouch just told you he’s still alive,” Harry said before Dumbledore could even open his mouth. “Why not ask him where he is? Send a Dementor there ?”

Fudge shook his head. “It’s preposterous, that’s all. Probably Crouch managed to break free of the Imperius on his own, convinced himself You-Know-Who was still out there. No, he’ll have to be Kissed.”

Harry couldn’t believe the events happening now, but for a much worse reason. Fudge was just going to ignore Voldemort and his plans? There was proof right in front of his eyes!

“Cornelius, I implore you—”

“I’ve an escaped prisoner to return to Azkaban, Dumbledore. My schedule is full enough without discussing wild theories. Dawlish, bring Crouch Jr.”

The Minister and the man called Dawlish left with Crouch and the Dementor.

Professor McGonagall’s lips were thinner than Harry had ever seen as they passed her, and she turned to Professor Dumbledore scarcely after they had departed the room.

“Albus, what’s to be done?”

“I’ll have to reach out to some contacts. Lord Voldemort cannot be allowed to escape again.”

“Headmaster,” Harry spoke up, stepping forward. “What about Sirius?”

“Sirius will have to wait, I’m afraid.”

“But—”

“In case you don’t realize, Potter, the Headmaster has far more important matters to attend to,” Snape cut across him with a vicious sneer. Harry glared back.

“Severus,” Dumbledore intoned with some authority. His voice turned more pleasant as he continued to Harry, “For now it would be wise for you to return to your common room. I am sure Poppy will have her hands full seeing to all the students who have been affected.” A frown deepened the lines in his face. “It is a troubling day to learn that the Unforgivables have been performed inside Hogwarts’ walls.”

Harry was sent on his way by the professors, angrier than he could ever remember being at all three of them, especially Dumbledore. How could they all stand aside and let the Minister do as he pleased? How could they expect him or Sirius to sit around and wait? This was his godfather’s freedom on the line!

He was still fuming as he entered the portrait hole and would have missed his friends if not for them calling his name. Harry turned and headed over to where Ron, Hermione and Ginny were seated near the fireplace.

“Pomfrey let you all out, then?”

“Yeah. She’s got a line out the door of the third through seventh years, though,” Ron told him. “Reckon that will take all night.”

“Well, I feel better knowing the teachers are taking this all seriously,” Hermione stated. “It should have been obvious Moody wasn’t who he claimed to be when he used an Unforgivable. I don’t know how I didn’t see it.”

“It’s hard to see someone for who they are when they approach you from a position of trust. Or friendship,” Ginny pointed out quietly. Harry nodded; Ginny had more experience with that sort of thing than most, maybe even more than him. She pulled herself out of her own withdrawn mood, lifting her chin as she regarded him. “Go on, Harry. Who was he, really?”

“It’s gonna sounds mad, but he was Mr. Crouch’s son,” Harry stated.

“What?” Ron exclaimed.

At the same time, Hermione began, “You don’t mean Mr. Crouch—?”

“I don’t think he was in on it. This was Voldemort’s plan.” Harry went on to explain everything Crouch Jr. had told them under the Veritaserum. By the time he had gotten to the part about him being taken to be killed by Voldemort in the third task, Hermione’s eyes were brimming with tears while both Ron and Ginny were almost deathly pale.

“Oh, Harry,” Hermione said. “It’s horrible. And Moody even said — or not Moody, but he- he said someone might be using the tournament to kill you. And he knew the whole time!”

“Yeah, well that’s not the worst part,” Harry said. “It’s Sirius.”

Hermione and Ron both sat up a little straighter, but Ginny tilted her head in confusion. “Sirius Black?”

Harry winced. He’d forgotten — but then, perhaps the more people who knew and believed now, the better. “Yeah. He’s my godfather and he’s innocent — we met him last term.”

Ginny’s eyebrows both shot up. “I mean, people were talking about you and a run-in with Black, but...hang on, why’d he attack your bed, then?”

She was looking at her brother now, who explained, “He wanted Scabbers, cos Scabbers was an animagus the whole time. He was the bloke that really killed all the muggles and betrayed Harry’s parents, not Sirius.”

“Scabbers was a person the whole time?” Ginny’s face wrinkled up in disgust. “Ron, he slept in your bed some nights.”

Ron’s face turned very red. “It’s not as if I knew!”

“I know, but — are you alright? Do mum and dad know? You should- you should talk to someone.”

Ron was turning a bit green now as he considered his sister’s words, while Harry did the same. He hadn’t put much thought into how Wormtail’s disguise affected Ron. He never considered much how things affected anybody after the fact. Not when Hermione had been petrified, or Ginny possessed. A part of him always assumed they’d get on with it the way he did, but maybe that wasn’t quite right judging by Ginny’s current concern for her brother.

“Harry, what does Crouch Jr. have to do with Sirius?” Hermione asked, no doubt trying to keep him on track.

He nodded. “Crouch said he’d had help from Wormtail and told the Minister that Wormtail was Peter Pettigrew, that he’s alive, and that Sirius was innocent — but Fudge won’t call the search off for him.”

“What?” The cry of outrage had come from multiple of his friends. Even Ginny looked angry on Sirius’ behalf, and she’d never met him.

Harry scowled. “He’s worried it’ll cause a scandal and about how it’ll look to the other schools. He didn’t even really promise they’d look into it after the tournament. Just said something vague. It’s just like when they sent Hagrid off in second year.” He was about fed up with the Ministry of Magic these days.

Hermione looked just as troubled. “I can’t believe how much injustice is being done. I mean, it turns out poor Winky was innocent, too!”

Harry turned towards her sharply, about to snap a retort that Winky’s fate of being fired was far less severe than Sirius’ twelve years in Azkaban or even Hagrid’s short stint, but a hand reached out and touched his arm lightly. He looked and found it had been Ginny, who let go almost as quickly as she’d reached out. But it had done the trick in keeping his temper from boiling over.

“Um, Harry, what did they say they would do about- about You-Know-Who?”

He frowned, but replied, “Dumbledore said something about contacting people after Fudge left, but I don’t really know.” He sunk down in his armchair as he reflected on how little he really had learned.

“Well, at least the tournament should be safer now, right?” Ron asked, clearly trying to lift Harry’s spirits. “Apart from the tasks.”

“Yeah. Apart from them.” He still didn’t know what he was supposed to be facing in the first task, and it would be upon him before he knew it he was sure. Still, Harry’s mind was on Sirius and his situation. How could he help?

The portrait of the Fat Lady swung inward to allow some of their housemates through, effectively ending the conversation. Harry decided to head up to an early bed, not wanting to face whatever inquires other students might have.

Despite his attempt to catch up on sleep, Harry tossed and turned all that night, waking up in a sour mood the next day. His two best friends and Ginny accompanied him down to breakfast regardless, which he was somewhat grateful for as the stares and murmurs from the students of all three schools was even worse than usual. No doubt at least some of the story about the fake Moody had leaked out. At least they all knew now he hadn’t entered his own name into the Goblet.

Some of the third years were not as keen on him, he realized after a few moments. The Gryffindors and Ravenclaws in particular were staring at Ginny. She kept her gaze fixed resolutely forward as she took a seat on the bench next to him, asking Ron to pass the kippers as if it were merely just another day. How much had she had to put up with rumors and other people’s eyes over the years? It probably didn’t help she was easy to pick out in a crowd. Her hair was a mane of fiery red and her eyes a bright brown.

Perhaps, a small voice in the back of his head pointed out, Harry had been doing his own fair amount of watching Ginny Weasley since meeting her at Kings Cross.

The morning mail arrived and with it a copy of the Daily Prophet for Hermione. Harry hardly paid any attention to it, at least not until Hermione let out a shriek.

“What?” He snapped.

“Oh, Harry, look! That Skeeter woman’s article — it’s about Sirius!”

Harry dropped his fork and nearly ripped the paper from her hands to read the headline.

 

DEATH EATER AT HOGWARTS

DISAVOWS SIRIUS BLACK AS MEMBER AMIDST MINISTRY COVER-UP

 

“Bloody hell! Skeeter’s actually helping you out for once, Harry!”

“But how could she know all this?” Hermione seemed too stunned to even remember to admonish Ron for language. “She wasn’t there. She couldn’t have been!”

Harry shrugged. “Who knows? But now the Wizarding World knows there’s not something right with what happened to Sirius.”

“You should talk to her,” Ginny said.

He stared at her in disbelief. “Skeeter?”

“She’s the only reporter that’s been hanging around Hogwarts with any regularity,” Ginny pointed out with a shrug. “Plus she’ll want to talk to you.”

“Ginny’s right,” Hermione admitted grudgingly. “It’s going to be important to keep this story in the news.”

“Skeeter put you in a good light, too,” Ron added. He was scanning through the article. “Says here that ‘the young boy stood his ground against the Minister’s call for censorship’. Powerful stuff.”

He rolled his eyes at Ron’s teasing grin.

“Have you got any photos of Sirius?”

He blinked up at Ginny. “What?”

“Any good ones. You know, not the Azkaban one. We could ask Colin to make a copy and you could send that to Ed to run with another story. Change the public perception of him.”

Harry thought of the photo of Sirius from his parent’s wedding, handsome and smiling broadly. “Yeah. Yeah, I’ve got something. You think Colin would help?”

“Course he would,” Ron answered before his sister could. “Him and his brother only run your fan club.”

A few more owls were still arriving to drop off deliveries. One landed in front of Ginny with a note that she took. “It’s from Charlie.”

“What’s it say?” Ron asked.

“Hold on. He’s in the country, near Hogwarts. He wants to meet by Hagrid’s Hut to show me something. Says you can come, too, Ron, as long as you promise not to tell Harry.” She looked up with a cheeky grin at him. “Oops.”

Hermione suddenly clutched at his arm. “Harry, if you can’t know about it, it has to be about the tournament.”

That made a perfect amount of sense, though the follow up realization filled him with dread. “And if Charlie’s involved…”

All four of them paled.

“Don’t worry, mate. Ginny and I will go check it out. See what you’re up against.”

“It might not be a full-sized dragon,” Ginny offered.

“Yeah, could be Norbert-sized before he got too big for Hagrid’s.”

“He still bit you,” Harry pointed out. Ron grimaced but had no reply. “I don’t know what I can do against a dragon.”

“Borrow the sword of Gryffindor?” Ginny suggested, only half-joking he thought. Maybe if he said some real nice things about Dumbledore, Fawkes might take pity on him?

“Sirius might have advice,” Hermione pointed out. “Anyway, you should get in touch with him to see what can be done about all this in the Prophet now.”

“Yeah. Yeah, I’ll do that,” Harry decided.

“Whatever happens, we’ll all help you, Harry,” Ginny promised. Ron gave an affirming nod, and even those small assurances made him feel better.

Ginny’s belief in him in particular was an unexpected boon. Though she’d never been one of his naysayers, they’d not often gotten to talk like this. It made him glad he hadn’t turned around and gone a different way that afternoon when he’d spotted her dot on the Marauders’ Map. But the sound of her soft crying, rather than repelling him, had tugged at something in his chest and he’d had to see what he could do. He wasn’t sure why.

Whatever the reason, he thought he might just be making yet another good friend. And he’d have to think of some way to thank her. If not for actions against a disguised Death Eater and their subsequent journey to the Hospital Wing, who knew what might have happened?

—-

Sirius nearly didn’t believe it at first and was glad to have a copy of the Prophet Harry had sent along to verify his claims. People were speculating as to his innocence?

He wasn’t sure what he remembered if anything about this Skeeter woman, but if she was raising the alarm surely others would pick up the story. And that left him with a decision to make. Did he come forward? Seek a trial after all these years? Without Pettigrew in hand, did it truly matter?

He left the cave he’d scoped out in the mountains overlooking Hogsmeade in order to go to Remus’ for some advice. When he reached his old friend’s house, the other man reached to pull him up to standing, hardly seeming to realize he was still a dog.

“They’ve got him, they’ve got him, Sirius—”

“Who?” He asked once he’d transformed.

“Peter!” Remus declared with an almost unhinged glee. “Caught in a raid! An Auror named Shacklebolt brought him in. Amelia Bones in the DMLE says if you surrender yourself in forty-eight hours you can have your trial. She’s gone completely over Fudge’s head!”

“It- but how? What raid? What were they raiding?” He asked hoarsely.

“I don’t know. I suspect Dumbledore had something to do with it, but he only owled me to ask if I’d been in touch with you or not. He’s promised to meet you in the Ministry atrium himself to make sure it’s all above board.”

Sirius could hardly believe his own ears. They wanted to give him a chance to prove he wasn’t guilty of those crimes. After all these years, after ordering him to be Kissed on sight.

“Give me some parchment. A quill. I need a barrister.”

The next several days were a blur of legal jargon and papers. He was seen by an extremely limited Wizengamot. Mostly only the pureblood families, though for once that was in his favor. Regardless of their personal feelings for him, they were all no doubt offended by the implication the firstborn son of an Ancient and Noble — or ignoble, by his reckoning — House could have received such shoddy treatment by the law until now. With a living rat in custody and even a severely weakened Mad Eye Moody himself testifying that Pettigrew was one of his attackers this past summer, his innocence was secured. He was a free man.

The first thing he’d done was write to Harry. The letter was hardly legible, his hands had been shaking so much. Then some Aurors had escorted him to St. Mungo’s for treatment on the Ministry’s sickle. Remus had met him there; he hadn’t been allowed to sit in on the trial or even wait outside, much to both their anger. 

He’d been pleasantly surprised to discover that one of his escort was also his own cousin, Nymphadora Tonks. They’d had an awkward catching up session, but she’d promised to pass on his love to Andy. Maybe they could see about repairing that old bridge.

Harry’s reply came back while he was still in hospital. He was overjoyed but frustrated because the professors wouldn’t excuse him to see Sirius. He also asked if Sirius’ offer to come live with him still stood. He wanted to give a definitive yes, but one moment in his trial stood out to him.

“As Mr. Black has been cleared of all charges, his official guardianship of the minor Harry James Potter will be reinstated,” Madam Bones had declared.

“I should add that Sirius will share that guardianship role with Harry Potter’s Muggle relatives,” Dumbledore had spoken up, as was his right as Chief Warlock. “They are the boy’s primary caretakers over the summers, and it would be far too disruptive to change that.”

Surely the Headmaster wasn’t trying to dictate where Harry lived anymore? He’d understood it before, but now?

Instead, he focused on the other part of Harry’s letter dealing with the tournament and the dragon he was going to have to face. Harry would need all the help he could get in coming up with a strategy. Sadly, Sirius wasn’t deemed well enough by the Healers to attend the first task, but he sent Moony in his stead. He reported back that Harry’s flying had been spectacular.

Once released from St. Mungo’s, he grudgingly returned to the old Black family home. Not because he particularly wanted to use it — the memories were unpleasant and the company was worse. But since the Headmaster was acting stubborn in the letters he’d sent about having Harry stay with him over the summers and holidays, Sirius was bound and determined to prove he was just as concerned about his godson’s safety. Grimmauld Place was already Unplottable, and he and Remus had been cooking up other protections as well.

The first thing implemented was releasing Kreacher from his service the minute he’d realized the old Elf was still kicking around in the filth and grime. Apparently that had been too much for his heart, though Sirius would be lying if he said he’d miss him.

They had some time to make all other arrangements, as Harry wouldn’t be leaving the castle for the Christmas holidays. There was an event for the tournament he was still being forced to compete in. And perhaps to try and save face, Sirius had received a curious invitation from the Ministry itself in the leadup to Christmas Eve. He decided to keep it a surprise to his godson.

With a new shave and haircut and the cleanest and finest set of robes he’d worn in over a decade — complete with a Hippogriff feather in his lapel courtesy of Buckbeak — Sirius returned to Hogwarts on a chilly December evening. Dumbledore greeted him pleasantly enough at the door, and he was directed to wait inside the decorated Great Hall with the rest of the staff and other adult guests. The youngest there was a man with red hair and glasses who could be guessed to be a Weasley of some kind. He shook the kid’s hand but otherwise kept his attention on the double doors.

They finally opened and students began filing in. As Sirius caught sight of a familiar mop of messy black hair, he decided to extend the ruse a little further. He left his seat for a few moments, taking his name placard with him, and pretended to examine one of the ice sculptures with his back to the room.

As one of the champions, Harry soon arrived at the table with his date on his arm, another redhead though this time a girl. Possibly a Weasley? It’d be a first for generations.

“Harry, Ginny, very good to see you both,” the young man from before stated with a very grandiose air.

“Sure, Perce,” the girl named Ginny said. “Merry Christmas to you, too.”

“Percy, who’s this empty chair beside us?” Harry asked, always one with a keen eye. Had to be the Seeker in him.

“Well, that place is for a very special guest, the Minister arranged it all personally or so I hear.”

“Oh yeah? Spill then, who is it?” Ginny prodded who had to be her brother. As Sirius turned around, however, Harry finally caught sight of him and rushed forward.

“Sirius!”

He couldn’t help a laugh as his arms went around his godson. Laughing was coming easier since he’d seen those Healers, truthfully. “How’s that for a Christmas surprise? How are you, Harry?”

“Fine. You- you look great,” Harry said, stepping back a little. He seemed to remember he’d left behind his date to get to him and backed up a couple of steps. “Ginny, er, this is Sirius. My godfather.”

“I could guess,” the girl said, though her dry tone didn’t match the warm smile she wore watching the pair of them. “Harry’s had so much to say about you the last few weeks.”

“Well he’s been positively reticent about you,” Sirius replied, reaching out to shake her hand. “Ginny- Weasley, I’m guessing?” She nodded, and his eyes darted to puffed up Percy in the background. Proud older brother, then. “That’s good. Harry’s lucky to have gotten in with all of you. And finding a girl to boot!”

Ginny’s face turned a bit red, and Harry hastened to say, “Ginny and I are here as friends. I mean, we’re not dating.” He looked at his date, a smile rising on his lips. “I sort of owed her a favor.”

“That’s how he asked me, too,” Ginny told him, and she gave an exasperated shake of the head. Harry had the grace to look sheepish. “But it was a favor, in a way. I wouldn’t be allowed to attend otherwise. I’m a third year.”

Ah, bit young then to be thinking of anything beyond friendships then, the both of them. Sirius had never quite grown out of that stage, it seemed. Still, they seemed to like the other’s company well enough.

Hermione came over to their end of the table as well, as she seemed to be the date of the Durmstrang champion. Then they all had to be seated quickly in order to begin the meal.

Sirius enjoyed talking to both Harry and Ginny. The three of them kept up a steady chatter that drowned her brother out; too bad it wasn’t Ron with them instead. He thought he spotted the other boy down at one of the tables with another kid he could swear had Alice Longbottom’s round cheekbones.

He had an altogether enjoyable night. Harry hardly wanted to leave his side, though he did nudge his godson into taking Ginny out onto the dance floor for a couple of songs even after the obligatory champions dance. Neither of them were pros, but they seemed to get on well enough. He did get in a conversation with Ron, though he didn’t meet the boy’s date; she seemed to have gone off on her own. Such was life. He let Harry’s friend know dating wasn’t all it was cracked up to be sometimes and not to worry too much if the right person hadn’t come along, yet or ever. That only marginally helped. Sirius suspected the right person might actually be dancing with the Bulgarian Seeker at the same moment.

He bid Harry and his date a goodnight and happy holidays in the Entrance Hall before returning to Grimmauld Place, humming carols under his breath. It was hard to remember ever being so happy in a long time.

Harry continued to write over the months, and Sirius was amused to note Ginny’s name was cropping up far more often in the letters, along with Ron and Hermione’s of course. Perhaps his godson was slowly coming round to the point. He wouldn’t push him.

The second task was one he could attend, though he almost wished he couldn’t. It was bitterly cold down by the lake in February. Luckily, a few warming charms took care of that for himself, Remus and Harry’s friends.

Neither Ginny nor Hermione were among them, though the reason for that became clear as the challenge was announced. He and Remus both exchanged surprised looks at the idea of putting actual children at the bottom of the lake — sure, when they’d banished all the Slytherins’ beds out there in third year it was against school rules, but actual children — and watched closely to see what Harry would do.

When Harry eventually returned after all the others with not one but two hostages, Sirius felt his heart swell a little with pride. The poor boy had sacrificed a possible lead in the competition to ensure everyone’s safety. Whether it was needed or not, he was glad to see the moral character of his godson shining through. And the judges saw fit to award him a fair few points for it as well.

They hadn’t discussed whether or not Harry ought to be trying to win this thing anymore. Crouch Jr.’s plan beforehand had called for it, but now that all of that was out of the way, it wasn’t as if winning came with extra consequences. Sirius was of the mind that if Harry was being forced to compete he ought to make them all feel sorry they’d forced it, and whether or not that involved taking the Triwizard cup for himself was up to Harry. He wouldn’t tell him what to do either way.

The next time he saw his godson was the day of the third task, just as he had finalized the changes to Grimmauld Place. Family had been invited to spend a day with their champion at Hogwarts, and Sirius curiously found himself accompanied by Molly and Bill Weasley. He knew from everything Harry said that the Weasleys had been a big part of his life since joining the Wizarding World, and the matriarch in particular seemed wary of him. A thirteen-year reputation did that sometimes.

“Molly, it’s good to finally meet you. Fabian and Gideon were some of the best of the best I ever met,” he decided to begin with.

She blinked in some surprise, caught off guard. “Oh. Yes, they- they were both excellent wizards.”

“Ron might be giving them a run for their money, though. And I’ve met Ginny as well. Harry seems fond of her in his letters.”

She latched onto that detail eagerly, and he thought he caught her eldest trying to hide a laugh. Harry joined them soon enough, so they stopped their idle gossip in favor of sharing stories about the castle through the generations. Over the afternoon, he met the final two of the Weasley bunch who were still in school, a pair of twins whose humor ran towards the ostentatious end of the scale. They carried it well with their double act. Yes, Sirius could see why Harry enjoyed himself so much around the whole group.

Together, he went with the Weasleys and Hermione to the Quidditch pitch which now looked a sight with all the hedges growing up out of the grass. James would never have stood for it; that was sacred ground. He smiled to himself at the thought.

They cheered for Harry as he entered at the same time as the Diggory boy, the other two following after certain intervals, then they all sat and waited.

“Who planned this tournament?” Sirius asked after fifteen minutes of staring at hedges. This was the second time he was sitting in some stands watching a bit of scenery. “Can’t believe Remus got to see the only good one—”

“Sirius, look!” Hermione cried.

Harry had reappeared with the Diggory boy, each holding one handle of the trophy and grinning broadly. They all rushed down to the grounds to meet them. Ginny got to Harry first, her small form managing to slip through the crowds quickest, and enveloped him in a hug. Young Mr. Diggory was receiving the same treatment from a girl he thought the boy had been dancing with at the Yule Ball if he remembered correctly.

Ginny pulled back from Harry and the two grinned at each other with full blushes staining their cheeks. Then Ron was clapping Harry on the shoulder and Molly Weasley was going in for a hug that looked painful. Harry’s eyes searched out the crowd for his.

Sirius took his turn and gave him a hug of his own. “Well, I’d say you showed old Voldemort, Harry.”

Harry grinned up at him. “Yeah. Apart from the fake teacher and the plot to kill me, it’s not been a bad year after all.”

Sirius threw his head back and barked a laugh.

—-

Albus entered the Ministry and quickly headed down to the lower floors rather than to the Minister’s office. Cornelius had been voted out shortly after the conclusion of the Triwizard Tournament, and thus his days of advisement seemed to be at an end. Rufus Scrimgeour was a far more guarded man.

Nevertheless, Albus was here on a different errand entirely. It was nothing urgent. Rather, he took this trip to reassure himself, as he had once a month since the middle of last fall.

He was admitted into the Department of Mysteries and taken to the little room by a guide, as they were expecting him. There he viewed the small wraith suspended in its case, the same as all the times before.

Lord Voldemort himself.

They hadn’t known what to do with him upon arriving at the old Riddle House and incapacitating both Peter Pettigrew and the snake Nagini. The latter had proved interesting, as there had been great difficulty in killing her. His old suspicions were gaining new life, it seemed. There were likely other things he needed to see to in Little Hangleton yet.

Though the pitiable creature had been able to raise a wand, he was no match for Albus’ power, and a quick disarming spell had taken care of any threat. Now, the Unspeakables told him, he grew weaker even in the stasis they held him in.

It was not foolproof. Albus did not doubt that someday some servant perhaps even more deranged than Barty Jr. might arrive to release their master from imprisonment. Sybil’s prophecy, after all…

But for now, they were at an impasse. Harry was not yet ready to complete his destiny. Only a select few knew that what remained of Tom Riddle — consciously, at least — was here. Sirius suspected, perhaps, and was pushing for answers to give to Harry, but for now he would have to ask both their patience. Harry was young, after all, and deserved a childhood with all the usual things like schoolwork and friends and even, perhaps, a blooming crush on the youngest Weasley.

Sirius had pushed for one more staple of childhood; spending time with family, and not the Dursleys. He’d been loathe to agree but also loathe to get into the details of why Harry needed the blood protection from his aunt at this time, so he had conceded. He know only knew of where the boy was because Sirius had deigned to share the location with him. He had learned from past mistakes and made himself Secret Keeper of his home.

Things were on a far different path to what Albus had started to expect, he reflected on the lift back up to the Ministry atrium, particularly when he had received that letter from Harry about the dream he’d had over the summer with Tom and the old Muggle. But perhaps it wasn’t for ill; an indirect blow had been dealt to Lord Voldemort by Harry Potter, and all through a simple act of care towards a friend.

Love sometimes wasn’t grand nor was it always mysterious. And he knew few who had the intuitive grasp on it that Harry Potter did.