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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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“I’ll read next, Mum.” Harry took the book she offered and turned to the next chapter. “Looks like we’re back to Hermione’s point of view.”

Chapter Six

Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes

Fred cheered.

“What are Weasleys’ Wizarding Wheezes?” James asked, looking amused.

“Didn’t we tell you?” Fred asked. “It’s the joke-shop George and I are planning to open.”

“You mentioned a shop, I think.” Jen told him. “But not a joke shop.”

Fred’s eyes lit up and Ginny groaned. “Now you’ve done it. Fred, just show them the snack-boxes and be done with it.”

Fred stood up and asked the room for a bucket. “Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you the next generation. Don’t you just hate it when you’re stuck in class, unenthusiastic and unmotivated? Don’t you wish you could escape? Well, fear not, because we have a range of sweets on offer for just this purpose. Hermione, would you be so kind as to join me?”

“Oh dear.” Hermione sighed, getting to her feet. “Alright, but get on with it.”
Fred pulled a small sweet from his pocket. “Allow me to present Puking Pastilles. In class, simply bite down on the yellow half and chew …” He demonstrated, handing the other half of the sweet to Hermione. After a few seconds, his face paled to a sickly green colour and he hunched over the bucket, emptying his stomach.

“Your co-conspirator,” Hermione continued, letting him suffer for a few minutes, “helps you from the room and aids you in eating the other half.” With difficulty, she pushed the purple half of the sweet into his mouth and helped him to chew it.

Again, within seconds, his complexion was back to normal and he straightened up, Vanishing the bucket. “And hey presto! It restores you to full fitness, enabling you to pursue the leisure activity of your choice, during an hour that would otherwise have been devoted to unprofitable boredom.”

“That was incredible.” Sirius said fervently. “You invented those?”
Fred nodded, sitting down again. “We’ve also got Nosebleed Nougat, Fainting Fancies and Fever Fudge.”

“However,” Ginny said, “the sweet in question this time was the Ton-Tongue Toffee, which …”

“Makes your tongue weigh a ton?” Jen guessed.

Fred nodded with a grin. “Get reading, Harry. I’m sure it’ll be explained.”

During the last few weeks, Hermione had realised that Sirius had been right.

“Always the tone of surprise.” Sirius muttered with a smile.

It wasn’t that she’d ever really doubted that, but blindly acting on the word of someone she’d only known for a few weeks wasn’t exactly a smart thing to do, even if that someone was your best friend’s godfather.

“You really had no idea, did you?” Lily asked sadly.

Hermione shook her head. “Couldn’t remember it at all.”

The Weasleys were the kind of family that anyone would want to belong to. Even when sibling arguments erupted – which they frequently did – it was always more fond bickering that full-blown rows.

“Well, most of the time.” Ginny smirked at Fred, remembering the number of times her mother had screamed herself hoarse at the twins over that summer.

After a couple of days, Ginny convinced Hermione to tell her brothers about her parents and all five – Percy had been at work and wasn’t really the kind of person you could tell something like this anyway – promptly adopted her as an honorary Weasley, just as they already had with Harry. Bill and Charlie then talked Hermione into telling their parents.

“Good.” David turned to Sirius and Jen. “I don’t know why you didn’t tell anyone.”

“We did!” Sirius protested. “Mum and Dad know.”

“I meant me.” David elaborated. “Why didn’t you tell me?”

The twins shrugged in unison, their gazes fixed on the floor. Recognising their discomfort, James gave his father a look pleading for him to drop it, and gestured for Harry to start reading again.

Like she thought, Molly immediately invited her to stay with them the following summer as well, despite Hermione’s insistence that she would find other arrangements.

On Sunday evening, the day before the World Cup, Arthur, Fred, George and Ron went to get Harry from the Dursleys via floo

“Floo?” Lily repeated. “If I know my sister, they won’t have an open fireplace.”

Fred grinned. “They didn’t.”

Hermione was sure the Dursleys wouldn’t have an open fireplace, but Arthur had gone to such trouble to get the house hooked up to the network she didn’t say anything.

Fred flung his arms around Hermione, fake-sobbing about how proud he was.

Besides, Harry’s aunt and uncle deserved to have people show up in their chimney and have to blast the living room apart …

Sirius grinned. “Yeah they do!”

… which was exactly what happened.

James and Sirius burst out laughing, and Lily’s lips twitched traitorously. “What happened?”

“Well,” Harry began with a grin, “they were a little late, so Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia …” He trailed off as another piece of paper appeared in his hands with a note. Just read it. He cleared his throat. “This will probably do a better job.”

Ten past five … then a quarter past five … Harry was starting to feel anxious himself now. At half past, he heard Uncle Vernon and Aunt Petunia conversing in terse mutters in the living room.

“Where were you?” Lily asked.

“In the hallway.” Harry answered. “I was expecting them to come through the front door and figured then we could get the whole thing done without too much interaction with Uncle Vernon.”

“No consideration at all.”

“After fifteen minutes?” Lily rolled her eyes. “Typical.”

“We might’ve had an engagement.”
“Maybe they think they’ll get invited to dinner if they’re late.”

Fred snorted. “What? And miss out on Mum’s cooking? Not likely.”

“Well, they most certainly won’t be,” said Uncle Vernon, and Harry heard him stand up and start pacing the living room. “They’ll take the boy …

“He has a name!” Lily hissed.

… and go, there’ll be no hanging around. That’s if they’re coming at all. Probably mistaken the day.

“Hey!” Ginny protested. “We’re not stupid. We just had to wait for Dad to get home from work.”

I daresay their kind don’t set much store by punctuality. Either that or they drive some tinpot car that’s broken d-AAAAAARRRRGH!”

James and Sirius burst out laughing again.

Harry jumped up. From the other side of the living room door came the sounds of the three Dursleys scrambling, panic-stricken across the room. Next moment Dudley came flying into the hall, looking terrified.

Addie smirked. This kid needed to be taken down a few pegs.

“What happened?” said Harry. “What’s the matter?”
But Dudley didn’t seem able to speak. Hands still clamped over his buttocks …

“Why?” Neville asked in bewilderment, as the rest of the room sank into laughter.

“When Hagrid came to tell Harry he was a wizard, Vernon made the mistake of insulting Dumbledore in front of him.” Hermione explained, having kept at least some of her composure. “He gave Dudley a pig’s tail.”

Addie burst out laughing. “I knew I liked Hagrid for a reason!”

… he waddled as fast as he could into the kitchen. Harry hurried into the living room.

Loud bangings and scrapings were coming from behind the Dursleys’ boarded-up fireplace …

“Why was it boarded up?” Regulus asked, realising what the book had meant by an ‘open’ fireplace.

“Very few Muggles have open fires any more.” Hermione told him. “Coal’s too expensive and wood isn’t exactly high in supply. Most of them have fake fires that run on gas or electricity.”

… which had a fake coal fire plugged in front of it.

“Electricity in this case.” Hermione concluded.

“What is it?” gasped Aunt Petunia, who had backed into the wall and was staring, terrified, towards the fire. “What is it, Vernon?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “Oh, honestly! Our house is hooked up to the floo network – she’s seen me floo before! Hell, that’s probably why she made sure their house had a fake fireplace – just so I couldn’t drop in to visit like that.”

But they were left in doubt barely a second longer. Voices could be heard from inside the blocked fireplace.

“Ouch! Fred, no – go back, go back, there’s been some kind of mistake …

“No, really?” Remus asked with a snigger.

… tell George not to – OUCH! George, no, there’s no room, go back quickly and tell Ron –”

“Maybe Harry can hear us, Dad – maybe he’ll be able to let us out –”

“Good idea.” Mandy agreed, giggling.

There was a loud hammering of fists on the boards behind the electric fire.

“Harry? Harry can you hear us?”

The Dursleys rounded on Harry like a pair of angry wolverines.

“Hey!” Lily snapped, humour evaporating.

“What is this?” growled Uncle Vernon. “What’s going on?”

“They – they’ve tried to get here by Floo powder,” said Harry, fighting a mad desire to laugh.

The Marauders weren’t bothering.

“They can travel by fire – only you’ve blocked the fireplace – hang on –”

He approached the fireplace and called through the boards.

“Mr Weasley? Can you hear me?”

The hammering stopped.

“I’d take that as a yes.” Jen smirked.

Somebody inside the chimney-piece said, “Shh!”

“Mr Weasley, it’s Harry … the fireplace has been blocked up. You won’t be able to get through there.”

“Damn!” said Mr Weasley’s voice. “What on earth did they want to block up the fireplace for?”

“You should have lied.” Fred sighed. “We never shut Dad up.”
“They’ve got an electric fire,” Harry explained.

“Really?” said Mr Weasley’s voice excitedly. “Ecklectic, you say?

Lily giggled. “It’s not that hard.”

With a plug? Gracious, I must see that …

“Good old Arthur.” James grinned fondly.

… let’s think … ouch, Ron!”

“I guess George didn’t go back.” Arabella chuckled.

Fred mock-gasped. “What? And miss all the fun? Of course not.”

Ron’s voice now joined the others’.

“What are we doing here? Has something gone wrong?”

Sirius shook his head, his voice weak from laughter. “Oh, no, of course not. That’s where they wanted to go.”

“Oh, no, Ron,” came Fred’s voice, very sarcastically. “No, this is exactly where we wanted to end up.”

“Great minds.” Sirius stated, giving Fred a high five.

“Yeah, we’re having the time of our lives here,” said George, whose voice sounded muffled, as though he was squashed against the wall.

“He was.” Fred sniggered. “Although I’m slightly confused how you could tell us apart through plaster.”

Harry shrugged. “I couldn’t. I’m guessing the author used poetic license.”

“Boys, boys …” said Mr Weasley vaguely. “I’m trying to think what to do … yes … only way … stand back, Harry.”

“Don’t worry and stand back.” Hermione repeated with a smile. “Apparently, it’s hereditary.”

Harry retreated to the sofa. Uncle Vernon, however, moved forwards.

“Idiot.” Remus muttered.

“Wait a moment!” he bellowed at the fire. “What exactly are you going to -?”

BANG.

“Yes!” James and Sirius exchanged a high five.

The electric fire shot across the room as the boarded-up fireplace burst outwards, expelling Mr Weasley, Fred, George and Ron in a cloud of rubble and loose chippings. Aunt Petunia shrieked and fell backwards over the coffee table; Uncle Vernon caught her before she hit the floor and gaped, speechless, at the Weasleys, all of whom had bright red hair, including Fred and George, who were identical to the last freckle.

Harry was reading through laughter, and nearly everyone else was shaking with amusement.

“That’s better,” panted Mr Weasley, brushing dust from his long green robes and straightening his glasses. “Ah – you must be Harry’s aunt and uncle!”

Harry put down the manuscript, wiping tears of mirth from his eyes.

Following his son’s example, James stood up and shook Fred’s hand heartily. “Thank you so much.”

“You are more than welcome, Mr. Prongs.” Fred grinned. “Anything for our littlest brother.”
Harry grinned and picked up the book again. “Now where was I?”
“Which was exactly what happened.” Hermione quoted.

“Oh, yes.” Harry found his place again. “Thank you.”
Hermione and Ginny were just walking downstairs, discussing Ginny’s class choices for her third year …

“What did you take?” Lily asked.

“Ancient Runes and Care of Magical Creatures.” Ginny answered. “I’ve never been good with numbers, can’t stand Divination, and I’d learn more about Muggles from Hermione than Professor Burbage. Besides, Bill and Charlie influenced me. I just took their favourite classes.”

… when Molly’s voice came floating out of the kitchen.

“Tell me what, Arthur?”

“Uh oh.” James murmured with a smirk.

“Uh oh.” Ginny muttered with a grin. “Dad’s going to get it.”

“What do you think happened?” Hermione asked.

“Well, Dad only ever threatens the twins with Mum.” Ginny reflected. “I bet they pranked Harry’s cousin.”

“We did.” Fred confirmed.

“How?” Sirius asked eagerly.

“We ‘accidentally’ dropped a Ton-Tongue Toffee on our way to get Harry’s trunk.” Fred explained. “It was four foot long before they let Dad shrink it.”

Everyone roared with laughter, even the Slytherins smirked at the mental image.

“So why is your father going to get it?” Hermione pressed.

“Because ‘wait until I tell your mother’ is always an empty threat.” Jen answered simply.

“Because when Dad says, “Wait until I tell your mother,” he never intends to tell her anything, so Mum will keep at him until he does.” Ginny explained. “We’d better go and rescue Ron and Harry.”

“Thanks, Gin.” Harry grinned. “I wasn’t sure we wouldn’t get caught in the crossfire.”

When they opened the kitchen door, Molly was glaring at her husband, who was stuttering excuses, Bill and Charlie were openly grinning, Fred and George looked worried and Ron and Harry seemed to be trying to fade into the background.

“And failing.” Hermione added.

The two girls smiled at Harry, who grinned back at them. Out of the corner of her eye, Hermione saw Ginny flush pink and elbowed her lightly.

Ginny glared at Hermione, the effect ruined by the pinkness of her face. “Thanks a lot.”
“I noticed, Sis.” Harry told her softly. “I just didn’t mention it.”

“Tell me what, Arthur?” Molly repeated.

“It’s nothing.” Arthur mumbled. “The twins just … but I’ve had words with them …”

“What have they done this time?” Molly asked in exasperation. “If it’s got anything to do with Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes …”

Fred sighed. “Mum doesn’t want the joke shop to happen. Says it’s a stupid dream and that we’ll never succeed.”

“Are you kidding?” James asked. “With those things you just demonstrated? You sell just those and I guarantee you’ll make it. You two were born to do this.”

Fred perked up. “Really?”

Hermione poked the side of his head.

“What was that for?” Fred asked.

“A Marauder just complimented you.” Hermione shrugged. “I figured I’d deflate your head before you took off.”

Fred rolled his eyes and turned back to James. “You think so?”

“Hell, yeah!” James agreed. “You need a start-up, we can get you a start-up – Harry …” he trailed off. “You won’t be able to access the vaults, will you?”

“Not until he’s seventeen.” David shook his head. “Unless you gave him permission before you were attacked.”

“Permission?” Harry asked.

“You can’t enter a family vault without the Head of House unless they’ve given you permission.” Sirius explained. “Not even if you’re the heir. It’s a bizarre rule, but there you go.”

“I did.” Hermione frowned.

“Well, that wasn’t the family vault.” Sirius explained. “Even if it was, verbal permission counts. The family vaults don’t have keys.”

“Thanks guys.” Fred grinned. “But we’ve already got a start-up.”

Lily turned to Harry, who was staring at the ceiling. “Tell me you didn’t take the money from your trust vault.”

“I didn’t take the money from my trust-vault.” Harry told her.

“Then where’d you get it?” Lily asked.

Harry smiled weakly. “You’ll see.”

“Ron, why don’t we show Harry where he’s staying?” Hermione suggested, sensing danger.

Ron looked confused. “In my room. He knows where that is; that’s where he stayed last time.”

Ginny groaned. “Oh, Ron …”

Hermione resisted the urge to roll her eyes. “We can all go.”

Ron’s eyes widened in understanding. “Right! Follow us, Harry!”

“Yeah, we’ll go too!” Fred added.

“Like that’s going to work.” Remus chuckled.

Fred shrugged. “It was worth a shot.”

“You stay where you are!” Molly snapped.

Ducking away from the twins’ attempts to use them as human shields, Harry and Ron hurried out of the kitchen and the quartet made their way up to Ron’s attic room.

“What are Weasley’s Wizarding Wheezes?” Harry asked.

Fred sighed. “I’d forgotten there was a time when you were so uneducated.”

“Well, I don’t think anyone in Gryffindor can ask that now.” Neville commented. “Not after that little demonstration.”

Fred grinned at him. “Did we ever thank you for helping with that?”

“No, but then you didn’t tell me I was helping with it either.” Neville replied dryly.

Ron and Ginny began laughing. Hermione’s mouth twitched, but she fought her own laugh back for the sake of appearances.

Fred gasped and hugged her. “I knew you loved us!”

“Fred, get off!” Hermione protested.

“Mum found a stack of order forms when she was cleaning the twins’ room last week.” Ron explained. “Price-lists for things they’ve invented; joke stuff. Fake wands …

“Fake wands?” James questioned.

Hermione rooted around in her bag. “I think I’ve got one in here somewhere.”

“Here.” Fred took the bag from her and aimed his wand somewhere into it. “Accio fake wand!”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “Why didn’t I think of that?”
Fred handed James the wand. “Here.”

James examined it. “Just looks like a normal wand to me.”

“Yeah, but try to use it.” Fred smirked.

James gave it an experimental wave and burst out laughing when it turned into a rubber chicken. “Nice! Simple, but effective.”

… trick sweets … loads of stuff. We’d been hearing explosions coming from their room for ages, but we never thought they were actually inventing things; we thought they just liked the noise.”

Fred snorted. “Yeah, that’s what it was. Actually, some of it was that.”

“I knew.” Ginny smirked. “Mind you, they hadn’t really tested properly and a lot of the stuff was, well, dangerous …

“It’s not dangerous!” Fred protested.

“Not in theory, no, but none of it was tested yet, was it?” Ginny repeated. “So some of it was dangerous. Still is, actually. You two proved that when you tested the Fainting Fancies the other week and George didn’t wake up for six hours even with the antidote.”

… and they were planning to sell it at Hogwarts …”

“Not just at Hogwarts.” Fred corrected. “We just knew we should start small.”

“Mum went mad at them.” Ron continued as they reached the first floor. “Told them they weren’t allowed to make any more and burnt all the order forms. She was furious with them anyway; they didn’t get as many OWLs as she expected.”

“We got enough.”

“And then there was this big row.” Ginny sighed. “Because Mum wants them to go into the Ministry of Magic like Dad and Percy and they told her that all they want to do is open a joke shop.”

“She really needs to stop comparing you to your brothers.” Lily stated. “It’s not fair. I can’t see either of you behind a desk and you’d be really good at this.”

“Mind you, Bill said your parents wanted him and Charlie to go into the Ministry too.” Hermione added. “And she’s fine with that now.”

“No, she’s not.” Ginny shook her head. “She’s always going on about how Bill should get a job closer to home or how Charlie needs a safer job – things like that.”

Before Harry could comment on that, Percy’s door flew open and his head poked out again, just as it had on the day Hermione had arrived.

“Hi, Percy.” Harry greeted.

“Oh, hello, Harry.” Percy frowned. “I was wondering who was making all the noise. I’m trying to work in here, you know – I've got a report to finish for the office – and it’s incredibly difficult to concentrate when people keep thundering up and down the stairs.”

“Thundering?” Jen repeated. “Dramatic, isn’t he?”

“We’re not thundering.” Ron rolled his eyes irritably. “We’re walking. Sorry if we’ve disturbed the Top Secret workings of the Ministry of Magic.”

“Well, DMIC is a very important department.” David said fairly. “Although I doubt Percy was doing anything that important just yet.”

“What are you working on?” Harry asked, obviously trying to sound interested.

Percy looked smug. “A report for the Department of International Magical Co-Operation. We’re trying to standardise cauldron thickness.

“A good idea.” David conceded. “But it’s not too important as long as you buy British products.”

Some of the foreign imports are just a shade too thin – leakages have been increasing at a rate of almost three per cent a year …”

“Merlin, does he ever shut up?” Sirius asked.

“No.” Fred answered in a dull voice. “Eventually, he just sort of fades into a dull buzz in the background.”

“That’ll change the world; that report will.” Ron interrupted. “Front page of the Daily Prophet, I expect, cauldron leaks.”

The Marauders sniggered.

Percy’s ears went slightly pink, just like Ron’s did when he was embarrassed.

“Weasley curse.” Ginny sighed, running a hand through her vivid hair.

“No, the rest of you blush on your face.” Hermione told her. “It’s just Ron and Percy whose ears turn.”

“You might sneer, Ron, but unless some kind of international law is imposed we may very well find our markets flooded with flimsy products that could well endanger …”

“Yeah, alright.” Ron began to walk off and Percy slammed the door.

As Harry followed Ron, Ginny smirked suddenly. “Three … two … one …”

Shouts from the kitchen echoed up to them …

“Good timing.” Jen chuckled.

… it sounded like Arthur had told his wife what had happened.

“Good timing, Gin.” Hermione complimented.

Jen and Hermione exchanged a smile.

They followed the boys up to Ron’s attic room, faintly hearing Ron explaining to Harry about the new sleeping arrangement and trying to shut Pig up.

“That’s never easy.” Fred smirked. “Easiest thing to do is feed him an Owl Treat and his beak gets stuck together.”

Addie shook her head with a chuckle. “Only you, Sirius.” She repeated.

“Alright, can we stop picking on me for the owl?” Sirius asked. “He seemed eager to do the job, so I got him to do the job.”

“Why are you calling that owl Pig?” Harry asked.

“Because he’s being stupid.” Ginny answered, squeezing into the room. “Its real name is Pigwidgeon.”

“Yeah, because that’s not a stupid name at all.” Ron snorted sarcastically. “Ginny named him; she thinks he’s sweet.

“He is sweet.” Ginny protested.

I tried to change it, but it was too late; that’s all he answers to now. And I’ve got to keep him up here because he annoys Errol and Hermes. He annoys me too, if I’m honest.”

Hermione avoided Harry’s eye, knowing he was thinking the same thing. Fury and betrayal heated the air and Hermione took a deep breath to stay calm, laying a hand on Harry’s arm.

“Scabbers?” Mandy guessed quietly.

Harry nodded. “Ron used to say that all the time, but he was still pretty damn upset.”

Harry glanced sideways at her, clearly surprised that she’d read his feelings …

“Actually, I thought you’d read my mind.” Harry admitted. “Which, apparently, you could have done.”

… but didn’t mention it. Instead, he asked, “Where’s Crookshanks, Hermione?”

“Out in the garden, I expect.” Hermione answered. “He’s never seen gnomes before; he loves chasing them.”

“So do my cats.” Arabella chuckled. “Really annoy the little buggers.”
Ginny laughed. “Mum wanted to keep him just to keep them under control.”

Harry sat down on his bed. “So Percy’s enjoying work then?”

Fred snorted. “There’s an understatement.”

Ginny laughed out loud and Ron snorted. “Enjoying it? I don’t think he’d come home if Dad didn’t make him. He’s obsessed! Just don’t get him started on the subject of his boss. According to Mr. Crouch … Mr. Crouch was telling me … As I was saying to Mr. Crouch … Mr. Crouch is of the opinion … They’ll be announcing their engagement any day now.”

Sirius frowned. It was no wonder Percy had been sucked in by the Ministry, if his first experience was Barty Crouch.

Ginny and Harry laughed. Hermione tried to look disapproving, but gave up after a few minutes and cracked a smile. “Have you had a good summer, Harry?” She asked. “Did you get our food parcels and everything?”

Harry grinned at her. “Yeah, thanks. They saved my life, those cakes.”

Hermione rolled her eyes fondly.

Trust Harry to remember the cakes.

“I remembered the other things to.” Harry insisted. “But … cake …”

Hermione laughed, taking pity on him. “I know.”

 “They’d better have done.” Hermione teased. “We laboured over those.”

Ginny nodded in agreement, the pink flush spreading across her face again. “I think they’ve stopped fighting; we’d better go and help.”

“That was nice of you.” David commented.

Ginny laughed. “No, it was either we went of our own accord or Mum dragged us down anyway.”

“How’s Jessica?” Hermione asked, as they made their way downstairs again.

“Oh, she’s fine.” Harry answered. “Says hello.”

Jessica was the only way Hermione could get Harry to talk about Privet Drive, but it didn’t look like it was going to work this time. She sighed, knowing that she’d have to tell Harry about her parents; it was only fair, since Ron and Ginny knew.

“Yeah, it is.” Harry muttered.

Harry threw a friendly arm around her shoulders. “You alright?”

“I’ll tell you later.” Hermione murmured.

Harry narrowed his eyes at her. “Promise?”

Hermione chuckled. “You know, for someone who answers every single question with ‘I’m fine’, you’re very picky about our well-being.”

“Promise.” Hermione nodded.

They found Molly alone in the kitchen, looking extremely bad-tempered.

“We’re eating in the garden.” She told them shortly. “There’s just no room for eleven people in here. Could you take the plates outside, girls?

“Lucky.” Harry muttered. “You escaped the rant.”

“Let me guess.” Fred sighed. “She doesn’t know where she went wrong with us – she never had this sort of trouble with the other three.”

“That’s not fair.” Narcissa frowned. “Everyone’s different.”

Bill and Charlie are setting the tables up.”

“That’s one way of putting it.” Hermione murmured.

Ginny and Hermione grabbed the plates and walked outside as Molly told the boys to collect knives and forks.

“How long do you think it will take Ron and Harry to follow us?” Hermione asked, knowing her best friends tended to dawdle.

Ginny laughed. “If they’ve got any sense, it won’t take long. Mum’s in a … What on earth was that?”

Lily stiffened. “Oh dear …”

Harry chuckled. “Don’t worry, Mum. It wasn’t anything bad.”

A loud crash from up ahead had made both of them jump. They hurried around the corner to see Fred and George laughing while Bill and Charlie made the two tables, about ten feet in the air, crash into each other, each trying to knock the other one out of the air.

“Table Wars!” Sirius and James cheered.

Ginny joined Fred and George and, by the time Ron and Harry joined them, Hermione was hovering by the hedge, trying to decide whether she should laugh or worry.

“Lighten up, Mya.” Fred grinned. “They wouldn’t let anyone get hurt.”

Her decision was made for her, however, when Bill’s table caught Charlie’s with a bang and knocked one of its legs off.

“Laugh.” Hermione sniggered.

Before anyone could comment, Percy’s window clattered open and his head appeared. “Will you keep it down?!” He demanded.

“Spoilsport.” Fred muttered.

“Sorry, Perce!” Bill grinned. “How are the cauldron bottoms coming along?”

“Bill’s the only one who could manage to say that without making it sound mean.” Ginny commented.

 “Very badly!” Percy snapped, slamming the window shut.

Chuckling, Charlie reattached the table leg with a wave of his wand and he and Bill settled the two tables on the lawn end to end and conjured tablecloths out of nowhere.

As always, Mrs Weasley outdid herself with dinner. Hermione tucked in to chicken-and-ham pie, potatoes and salad …

A loud growl echoed through the room and Lily sighed. “Sirius, we only just ate breakfast.”

Sirius blushed slightly. “It wasn’t just me.”

Everyone turned to Remus, who shrugged. “Full moon’s in a week. Speaking of, how does that work?”

Another note appeared. You’re in a time-locked room, which basically means the phase of the moon stays the same until you exit it.

Remus breathed a sigh of relief. “Good.”

… only half listening to the conversations around her.

At the far end of the table, Percy was telling his father all about his report on cauldron bottoms.

“Poor Arthur.” Sirius said solemnly.

“I’ve told Mr Crouch that I’ll have it ready by Tuesday,” Percy was saying pompously. “That’s a bit sooner than he expected it, but I like to keep on top of things.

“That, and it’s the only thing you’ve got to do.” Fred muttered.

I think he’ll be grateful I’ve done it in good time. I mean, it’s extremely busy in our department just now, what with all the arrangements for the World Cup.

“Which means he won’t have time to read it.” David said kindly.

We’re just not getting the support we need from the Department of Magical Games and Sports. Ludo Bagman –”

“Ludo Bagman?!” James asked eagerly. “Do they mean the Beater for the Wimbourne Wasps?”

Sirius snorted. “Trust you to support them now they’ve pulled ahead.”

“I don’t support them.” James scowled. “But he’s a damn good player.”

“Pity he’s not as amazing as a Head of Department.” Fred snorted.

“I like Ludo,” said Mr Weasley mildly. “He was the one who got us such good tickets for the Cup.

“I like him.” Sirius decided.

“I don’t.” Fred scowled.

“Fred, let it go.” Harry advised. “He got his.”

“What did he do?” Regulus asked curiously. Support of the Wimbourne Wasps was one of the only things he and Sirius had in common.

“You’ll find out.” Fred sighed. “I don’t want to talk about it.”

Hermione swatted his shoulder. “Then stop bringing it up.”

I did him a bit of a favour: his brother, Otto, got into a spot of trouble – a lawnmower with unnatural powers – I smoothed the whole thing over.”

“Oh, Bagman’s likeable enough, of course,” said Percy dismissively, “but how he ever got to be Head of Department … when I compare him to Mr Crouch!

“Barty Crouch is not a saint.” Sirius muttered.

I can’t see Mr Crouch losing a member of our department and not trying to find out what’s happened to them.

“That’s true.” Sirius conceded.

“Why don’t you like Barty?” David asked.

Sirius pondered his answer. “I admire his dedication.” He said finally. “But as much as we need to fight back against the Dark Side, we have to be careful – plus, I happen to have a personal reason for despising him. I go into it in great detail later, I’m sure.”

You realise Bertha Jorkins has been missing for over a month now?

There was a sharp intake of breath.

Went on holiday to Albania and never came back?”

“Albania.” David muttered. “And that’s where she ran into Wormtail.”

 “Yes, I was asking Ludo about that,” said Mr Weasley, frowning. “He says Bertha’s got lost plenty of times before now – though I must say, if it was someone in my department, I’d be worried …”

“Oh, Bertha’s hopeless, all right,” said Percy.

Fred scowled, muttering something under his breath.

“I hear she’s been shunted from department to department for years, much more trouble than she’s worth … but all the same, Bagman ought to be trying to find her. Mr Crouch has been taking a personal interest …

David narrowed his eyes at that. It was unlike Barty Crouch to do something like that unless there was something in it for him.

“Guilty conscience.” Harry whispered in Hermione’s ear.

… she worked in our department at one time, you know, and I think Mr Crouch was quite fond of her – but Bagman just keeps laughing and saying she probably misread the map and ended up in Australia instead of Albania.

“That’s not Bertha.” Addie said quietly. “She had a big mouth and no sense of when to keep it shut, but there’s no way she’s that stupid.”

However,” Percy heaved an impressive sigh, and took a deep swig of elderflower wine, “we’ve got quite enough on our plates at the Department of International Magical Co-operation without trying to find members of other departments too. As you know, we’ve got another big event to organise right after the World Cup.”

“I wonder what that is.” James mused. “Must be important if it’s mentioned.”

He cleared his throat significantly and looked down towards the end of the table where Harry, Ron and Hermione were sitting. “You know the one I’m talking about, Father.” He raised his voice slightly. “The top-secret one.”

“That’s just mean.” Jen said. “It’s obvious they don’t know what’s going on.”

Ron and Hermione rolled their eyes. “He’s been trying to get us to ask what that event is ever since he started work.” Ron muttered to Harry.

“Even if we had, he wouldn’t have told us.” Fred said.

“Probably an exhibition of thick-bottomed cauldrons.”

“No, something tells me it’s a little more exciting than that.” Arabella disagreed.

Lily sighed. “But I don’t want it to be exciting. I want it to be a quiet year.”

“Not possible with me, Mum.” Harry grinned.

In the middle of the table, Mrs Weasley was arguing with Bill about his earring, which seemed to be a recent acquisition.

“It was.” Ginny confirmed. “He didn’t have it when we went to Egypt the summer before.”

“… with a horrible great fang on it, really, Bill, what do they say at the bank?”

“They won’t care.” Jen said. “As long as he keeps bringing home the gold, they won’t give a damn how he’s dressed.”

“Mum, no one at the bank gives a damn about how I dress as long as I bring home plenty of treasure,” said Bill patiently.

“And your hair’s getting silly, dear,” said Mrs Weasley, fingering her wand lovingly. “I wish you’d let me give it a trim.”

“What is it with mums and hair?” Hermione asked. “It’s like an obsession.”

“I’d say it’s a course in the hospital.” Lily answered, eyeing Harry’s hair. “But I already have the urge to grab a comb and try to tame that mess, so it must just be an intuition thing.”

“I like it,” said Ginny from beside Hermione. “You’re so old-fashioned, Mum. Anyway, it’s nowhere near as long as Professor Dumbledore’s …”

“No one’s is as long as Professor Dumbledore’s.” Draco pointed out.

Next to Mrs Weasley, Fred, George and Charlie were all talking spiritedly about the World Cup.

James, Sirius and Regulus perked up.

 “It’s got to be Ireland,” said Charlie thickly, through a mouthful of potato. “They flattered Peru in the semi-finals.”

“Sounds like a good team.” Regulus mused.

“Bulgaria have got Viktor Krum, though,” said Fred.

“Seeker.” Hermione said, anticipating the question.

“A good seeker can make all the difference.” James commented.

“But if the Irish chasers are good enough …” Regulus argued.

“Stop!” Lily sighed. “Debate later, read now.”

“Krum’s one decent player, Ireland have got seven,” said Charlie shortly.

“That’s what I …” Regulus trailed off, catching Lily’s eye. “Never mind.”

“I wish England had got through, though. That was embarrassing, that was.”

“What happened?” James asked eagerly.

“What happened?” said Harry eagerly …

“Alright, I’m saying ‘like father, like son’ one more time.” Jen smirked. “No one else say it again.”

… regretting more than ever his isolation from the wizarding world when he was stuck in Privet Drive. Harry was passionate about Quidditch. He had played as Seeker on the Gryffindor house Quidditch team ever since his first year at Hogwarts and owned a Firebolt, one of the best racing brooms in the world.

“Only you, Sirius, would buy a thirteen-year-old an international racing broom.” Addie chuckled.

“Went down to Transylvania, three hundred and ninety to ten,” said Charlie gloomily.

“How in Merlin’s name does that happen?!” James demanded.

Fred shook his head. “Don’t ask, James. You really don’t want to know.”

“Shocking performance. And Wales lost to Uganda, and Scotland were slaughtered by Luxembourg.”

“So Ireland really is our only hope.” Sirius summarised.

Mr Weasley conjured up candles to light the darkening garden before they had their pudding and it was while they were finishing up some delicious home-made strawberry ice-cream that Harry fixed Hermione with a stare and said, “It’s later.”

Hermione rolled her eyes. “For someone who’s more cryptic than a crossword sometimes, you’ve certainly got something about opening up to people.”

“Hermione, stop repeating yourself.” Ginny teased.

She took a deep breath and told the bowl in front of her – which was somehow easier to look at than Harry’s expression – everything that had happened with her father in an undertone. Even though the other Weasleys knew what had happened, they didn’t know about the physical abuse that she’d suffered, because she’d only told Ron and Ginny.

“I wish you’d told us.” Fred said in an undertone. “We’d have sorted him out for you.”

By the time she’d finished, his arm was around her shoulders again and he’d abandoned his ice-cream.

“If I ever meet him …” Harry trailed off ominously.

“Get in line.” Fred muttered.

“Get in line, mate.” Ron muttered.

Fred smirked at their expressions. “We’re brothers. We’re bound to say the same thing sometimes.”

Hermione couldn’t help but smile at her best friends’ protectiveness. “So I decided to do what Sirius suggested and …”

“Hermione!” Harry hissed, nodding almost unnoticeably at Ginny.

Hermione rolled her eyes. “What do you take me for?”

“Someone who accidentally let it slip?” Harry guessed innocently.

Hermione blushed slightly. “I’m allowed to make mistakes.”

“You’re about three weeks too late.” Ron told him. “Ginny knows.”

Hermione sighed. “In my defence, I was a little distraught when I told her.”

Harry squeezed her shoulder lightly, before removing his arm. “You won’t tell anyone, will you, Ginny?”

Ginny rolled her eyes as well. “Come on, Harry. Would I?”

“Just checking.” Harry muttered.

Ginny mimed doing up a zip across her mouth. “Not a soul. I swear.”

“Solemnly swear?” Harry asked and Hermione knew immediately that he wasn’t really upset.

“You had a glint in your eye.” Hermione smirked. “Wasn’t till I got here that I realised it was a Marauder trait.”

“Yeah.” Ginny looked a little confused. “Was that a joke? Because, if it was, you might want to warn us in future, so we remember to laugh.”

“Ron and I chuckled.” Hermione reminded her.

“That’s how I knew it was a joke.” Ginny grinned.

Harry grinned at her. “Inside joke, Gin. We’ll explain everything after the World Cup.”

“Why not now?” Ginny asked curiously.

“I don’t know the Silencing Charm.” Harry explained. “I’d rather tell you when we can actually talk about it.”

“Smart move.” David nodded. “You never know when people are listening in.”

Ginny nodded. “That makes sense.”

“Speaking of …” Hermione searched her pockets and pulled out the photo that Sirius had duplicated. “Long story.”

Harry smiled at the picture. “Thanks.”

Ron leaned in. “Harry, have you heard from …” he glanced up and down the table “… Padfoot at all?”

“Dramatic.” Draco commented. “You’d already mentioned his name once.”

“That’s Ron for you.” Ginny responded.

“A couple of times.” Harry answered. “Big birds though.”

Hermione laughed quietly. “Tell me about it. He’s written to me a couple of times as well.”

“Oh, that’s who the other letters were for.” Harry nodded. “That makes sense. I wrote to him the day before yesterday, so he might write back while I’m here.”

Lily frowned. “I’d forgotten about that.”

Hermione felt a strange expression rise briefly in the air; worry mixed with … grief? Fear?

“You couldn’t tell back then?” Harry asked.

Hermione chuckled. “I never can with you, Harry. You and Draco are polar opposites in that regard.”

“What do you mean?” Draco asked.

“Well, you have amazing facial control.” Hermione explained. “It’s very difficult to read you with a glance, but your emotions are so easy to find that I don’t need to look for them – it’s like you’re throwing them in my face. Harry, on the other hand, is harder to break into than Gringotts, but he wears his heart on his sleeve, so I don’t usually need to.” She smiled at their expressions. “So, no, Harry, I wasn’t entirely sure what I was picking up. Might have been both.”

“You okay, Harry?”

Harry raised an eyebrow. “Fine.”

Hermione smirked. “See what I mean? That’s your answer to everything, Harry.”

“No, you’re not.” Hermione accused.

Harry sighed. “I’ll tell you after the Cup, okay?”

“How did you do that?” Ginny whispered.

Hermione paused, wondering how to tell them that she was a classified Dark Creature.

“We …” Ginny broke off mid-protest and Hermione smirked at her. Her fears had been justified, at least partly, by Ron and Ginny’s reactions.

She had just steeled herself for it, when the adults stood up.

“Time for bed.” Mrs Weasley announced. “You’ll be up early tomorrow.”

“How early is early?” Sirius groaned.

“Before five.” Hermione answered.

Hermione jumped to her feet, glad for the distraction, and they followed the Weasley matriarch inside and up to their rooms. Outside their room, Hermione hugged both boys goodnight and the two girls slipped into bed.

“Well?” Ginny asked into the darkness.

Hermione grimaced, knowing her room-mate couldn’t see her. “After the Cup.”

“Telling people things like that is never easy.” Remus sympathised.

“End of the chapter.” Harry announced.