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Price of Peace 4 - Uncovering the Truth

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“Succinct summary.” Fred commented as he took the book.

“Were you ever going to tell me any of this?” Lily asked James weakly.

James grinned at her. “Eventually.”

“After you get married.” Sirius corrected. “I flooed in in the aftermath – Lily needed a rather strong glass of firewhiskey. Of course, I think that was because you’d just received a ‘congratulations on your wedding’ card from the royal family.”

The remaining colour drained from Lily’s face and she closed her eyes. “That was probably the reason. The royal family recognises it?”
David nodded. “The royal family and the Muggle prime minister are all aware of magic, although the latter has to be obliviated as soon as he leaves office.”

Sirius disappeared into the kitchen and returned with a strong cup of tea, handing it to Lily. “Looks like you need this.”

Lily took it but hesitated. “Is this the same strength tea you said you gave James when Harry was born?”

Sirius smiled. “Not quite, but it does have a small shot of firewhiskey in it.”

Lily shrugged. “What the hell, I think I need it.”

Fred turned to the next chapter. “Well, now that our future Mrs Potter …” Lily blushed “… has calmed down a little, I shall continue.”

Chapter Nine

Bagman and Crouch

“You meet Bagman?” Sirius asked.

Harry nodded. “And Crouch, unfortunately.”

Before Hermione could really think this through, Percy, Bill and Charlie came strolling out of the woods towards them.

“Just apparated, Dad!” Percy called in his usual pompous manner.

Fred rolled his eyes. “He can be a complete idiot sometimes. Shouting that where Muggles could hear.”

“Ah, excellent; lunch!”

About halfway through their lunch, Arthur jumped to his feet, waving and grinning at a man who was striding towards them. “Ah, the man of the moment! Ludo!”

Hermione glanced up and choked on her sausage …

James and Sirius sniggered.

Addie rolled her eyes and smacked them both over the head. “Mind, gutter, out!”

… Harry patted her on the back, a look of something close to shock on his face.

“Why?” James asked.

Ludo Bagman was the most recognisable person they’d seen all day, including Archie in his flowery nightgown. Bagman looked like a powerfully built man who had slightly gone to seed; his robes were stretched across a large belly Hermione was sure he wouldn’t have had when he played professional Quidditch.

“I should say not.” Sirius frowned, looking slightly betrayed.

His nose was squashed …

“Bludger.” Sirius and James said together.

… but his round blue eyes, short blond hair and rosy complexion made him look like an overgrown school-boy.

“You saw it too then?” Harry sniggered.

But his robes were the most noticeable thing about him.

David groaned. “No wonder that Muggle’s getting suspicious.”

They were long Quidditch robes in thick horizontal stripes of black and yellow and there was an enormous picture of a wasp splashed across his chest.

“Wimbourne Wasps.” Addie and Sirius said in unison.

He was walking as though he had springs on his feet and was clearly in a state of wild excitement.

“Ahoy there! Arthur, old man!” He huffed as he reached the campfire. “What a day, eh? What a day! Could we have asked for more perfect weather? A cloudless night coming …

“Good conditions.” James said happily.

… and not a hiccup in the arrangements … Not much for me to do!”

“Somehow I doubt that.” Ginny murmured near Hermione’s left ear.

As if to prove Ginny’s point, a group of haggard-looking Ministry wizards went rushing past them, pointing at some sort of magical fire in the distance which was sending violet sparks twenty feet in the air.

Lily sighed. “Wonderful.”

To Hermione’s surprise, Percy, who had been saying just the day before how much he disapproved of the way Ludo Bagman acted and ran his department, hurried forwards with his hand outstretched.

“Suck-up.” Jen muttered bitterly.

Harry caught her eye and they both grinned. Apparently his disapproval didn’t stop him from wanting to make a good impression.

“Ah, yes!” Arthur grinned.

“Dad saw right through it too.” Ginny grinned.

“This is my son, Percy; he’s just started at the Ministry. And this is Fred – no, George, sorry – that’s Fred …

Fred shook his head. “He had it right the first time.”

… Bill, Charlie, Ron – my daughter, Ginny – and Ron’s friends, Hermione Granger and Harry Potter.”

Bagman, who had shaken hands with everyone as their names were mentioned, did a tiny double-take at Harry’s name and his eyes performed the familiar flick upwards to his scar.

Harry rolled his eyes. “I swear people don’t think I notice.”

“Everyone,” Arthur continued, oblivious to the exchange, “this is Ludo Bagman. You know who he is; it’s thanks to him we’ve got such good seats.”

Bagman waved his hand beaming, as if to say that it had been nothing. “Fancy a flutter on the match, Arthur?”

Lily raised an eyebrow, setting her empty cup on a nearby table. “He is not gambling in front of my son.”

He asked, eagerly rattling his pockets, which seemed to be full of a large amount of gold.

“I think he is.” James told his outraged girlfriend.

“I’ve already got Roddy Pontner betting me Bulgaria will score first – I’ve offered him nice odds, considering Ireland’s front three are the strongest I’ve seen in years – and little Agatha Timms has put up half-shares in her eel farm on a week-long match.”

David rolled his eyes. “Bit much, that.”

“You know, Lily Potter would skin you alive if she was here now.”

“Damn right, I would.” Lily muttered.

Bagman turned around. “Mandy! Arabella!

“We’re on first name terms with him?” Arabella asked in surprise.

“Mandy works with him.” Sirius reminded him. “Or for him, I suppose.”

Lily smiled at them. “Thank you!”

Good to see you! Er … why?”

Mandy nodded to Harry. “Gambling in front of her son.” She turned to Arthur. “I don’t believe we’ve met.

Amanda Cotswold; a friend of Lily’s.”

“Didn’t we say last book that Lily babysat the twins?” Mandy asked.

“You did.” Sirius confirmed. “But it was always Molly who dropped them off.”

“And Arabella Figg; same.” Arabella put in.

Arthur shook their hands. “Arthur Weasley.”

“I just remembered a promise I made to James if Harry’s first professional Quidditch game happened without him.” Mandy continued, holding up a camera with a cheerful smile.

“Oh!” Hermione dived into her bag. “I have that picture! No, I don’t.”

There was another flash of light and Harry picked it up. “But I do.”

“That doesn’t sound like something I’d ask for.” James commented as the photograph was passed around. “Lily, definitely, but something tells me that wasn’t the promise.”

“Scrunch together everyone and smile!”

“That was the promise?” Hermione asked, once the photo had been taken.

“No.” Arabella admitted.

James smirked. “Told you so.”

She fished a few galleons out of her pocket and handed them to Harry. “Get yourself a souvenir.”

That sounds more like me.” James nodded. “Although he’s got the money …”

“It’s the principle of the thing.” Arabella finished. “I get it.”

“You don’t need to …” Harry protested.

“Nonsense.” Arabella cut him off breezily. “It is my constitutional right as your God-Crazy-Cat-Lady.”

The girls burst into giggles.

“I never understood that.” Harry admitted.

“Inside joke.” Lily told him, catching her breath. “You kind of had to be there.”

“My what?” Harry asked.

“Another time.” Mandy grinned. “We need to go and rescue Remus from the matches.

“I’m a half-blood, Mandy.” Remus reminded her. “I’m sure I can handle it.”

Enjoy the game everyone!”

They waved until they were out of earshot, then Bagman turned back to Arthur. “So what do you say?”

Lily rolled her eyes. “I see you two made an impression.”

“Oh … go on then.” Arthur relented. “Let’s see … a galleon on Ireland to win.”

“A galleon?” Bagman looked a bit disappointed, but recovered quickly. “Very well; any other takers?”

“They’re children!” Lily hissed.

“Bill, Charlie and Percy aren’t.” James pointed out fairly.

“They’re a bit young to be gambling.” Arthur pointed out. “Molly wouldn’t like …”

“We’ll bet thirty-seven galleons, fifteen sickles and three knuts,” Fred interrupted, as he and George quickly pooled all their money, “that Ireland wins – but Viktor Krum gets the Snitch.

There was a sharp intake of breath.

“That’s a risky bet.” Regulus commented. “But it might just work.”

“How so?” James asked. “That hardly ever happens.”

“But the book’s mentioned that Ireland has a particularly strong team and that Bulgaria has a particularly good Seeker.” Regulus pointed out. “It’s possible.”

Oh, and we’ll throw in a fake wand.”

“Is that possible?” Hermione asked quietly, while Fred dug around in his pockets for the wand.

Harry nodded. “If Krum gets the Snitch when Ireland are more than a hundred and fifty points ahead.”

“You don’t want to be showing Mr. Bagman rubbish like that!” Percy hissed, when Fred had finally extracted it, but Bagman didn’t seem to think it was rubbish at all.

“Man after our own hearts.” James chuckled. “Why don’t you like him?”

Fred scowled. “I’ll tell you later.”

On the contrary, his boyish face shone with excitement as he took the wand from Fred and, when it gave a loud squawk and turned into a rubber chicken, he roared with laughter.

“Excellent! I haven’t seen one that convincing in years! I’d pay five galleons for that!”

“Who wouldn’t?” James asked.

Percy froze in what seemed to be stunned disapproval.

“Boys …” Arthur murmured. “I don’t want you betting … that’s all your savings … your mother …”

“I’m surprised Molly didn’t kill you.” Sirius commented.

“She never found out.” Fred told him.

“Don’t be such a spoilsport, Arthur!” Bagman boomed, rattling his pockets excitedly. “They’re old enough to know what they want!”

“You weren’t of age though, were you?” Lily asked.

“No.” Fred admitted. “But we would be the next April.”

Ginny frowned. “I don’t think he should be encouraging them.”

“He shouldn’t be.” David agreed.

Ron hushed her. “It has to be legal, Gin …

“It’s legal.” David admitted, when everyone turned to him. “But not advised.”

… or he wouldn’t let them. And they might actually be on to something.”

“You recon Ireland will win, but Krum will get the Snitch?” Bagman repeated with a grin. “Not a chance, boys, not a chance … I’ll give you excellent odds on that one. We’ll add five galleons for the wand, shall we?”

Arthur shrugged helplessly at Bill and Charlie …

“He could stop them.” James pointed out.

“No, Dad tends to pick his battles.” Ginny shrugged.

… as Bagman jotted the twins’ names down in a notebook.

“Cheers.” George took the slip of parchment and tucked it away inside his shirt.

Bagman turned cheerfully back to Arthur. “Couldn’t do me a brew, I suppose? I’m keeping an eye out for Barty Crouch. My Bulgarian opposite number’s making difficulties and I can’t understand a word he’s saying.

Hermione hid a smile, remembering the Bulgarian Minister’s response to Cornelius Fudge.

Barty’ll be able to sort it out. He speaks about a hundred and fifty languages.”

“That’s impressive.” James commented.

Hermione was about to comment on this, when Percy suddenly abandoned his poker-stiff stance of disapproval and began practically writhing with excitement.

“Writhing with excitement?” Jen repeated in amusement. “Really?”

“Mr. Crouch? He speaks over two hundred! Mermish and Gobbledegook and Troll …”

 “Anyone can speak Troll.” Fred interrupted, waving his hand dismissively. “All you do is point and grunt.”

The Marauders laughed and James, being closest, gave Fred a high-five.

Percy gave Fred a nasty look and vigorously stoked the fire.

“Any sign of Bertha Jorkins?” Arthur asked, as Bagman settled himself next to them on the ground.

“Not a dickey bird!” Bagman answered, cheerfully.

“You’d think he’d be a bit more concerned.” Lily frowned.

“But she’ll turn up. Poor old Bertha … memory like a leaky cauldron …

“That’s not Bertha.” Addie stated. “She had an excellent memory.”

“How do you know her?” Remus asked. “I can’t think who she is.”

Addie turned slightly pink and glanced at Sirius. “It’s a … long story.”

… and no sense of direction. Lost, you take my word for it! She’ll wander back into the office in October, thinking that it’s still July.”

“You don’t think it might be time to send someone to look for her?” Arthur suggested tentatively, handing Bagman his tea.

“Barty Crouch keeps saying that!” Bagman admitted, his eyes widening. “But we really can’t spare anyone at the moment …

“Surely the safety of a young woman is more important than Quidditch!” Lily protested. “Why haven’t DMLE launched an investigation yet?”

“There’s no proof she’s missing.” David answered. “Especially since she’s abroad.”

… Ah, talk of the devil! Barty!”

A wizard had just apparated next to the campfire; a wizard who couldn’t possibly have made more of a contrast with Ludo Bagman, sprawled on the ground in his Quidditch robes. Crouch was a stiff, upright, elderly man dressed in an impeccably crisp suit and tie, with an almost unnaturally straight parting in his grey hair and a moustache that looked as though it had been trimmed using a slide-rule.

“Sounds boring.” James commented. “No wonder Padfoot doesn’t like him.”

Sirius smiled weakly. “Trust me, Prongs; I wish that was the reason.”

Hermione exchanged a disbelieving glance with Harry. It was clear that he too had seen why Percy idolised him: Percy was a strict believer in following the rules and Crouch had complied with the rule of Muggle-dressing so thoroughly, that Hermione doubted that even a Muggle aware of the magical world would have guessed Crouch for what he really was.

“He was very well disguised.” Harry conceded. “I don’t think even Uncle Vernon would have guessed.”

“Pull up a bit of grass, Barty!” Bagman offered brightly, patting the ground beside him.

“No, thank you, Ludo.” Crouch said impatiently. “I’ve been looking everywhere for you. The Bulgarians are insisting we add another twelve seats to the Top Box.”

“Oh, is that what they’re after?” Bagman asked. “I thought the chap was asking to borrow a pair of tweezers. Bit of a strong accent.”

“How on earth do you get those two mixed up?” Remus asked incredulously.

“Mr. Crouch!” Percy had sunk into a kind of half-bow that made him look rather like a hunchback, in Hermione’s opinion. “Would you like a cup of tea?”

“Suck-up.” Jen ‘coughed’ again.

“Oh!” Crouch seemed surprised to see Percy there. “Yes – thank you, Weatherby.”

“And he can’t even get his name right.” Sirius sniggered.

Fred, George, Hermione, Harry, Ron and Ginny snorted into their own cups, while Percy, red around the ears, busied himself with the kettle. Bill and Charlie were too mature to laugh at something so trivial, but they were still smirking at him.

“Oh, and I’ve been wanting a word with you too, Arthur.” Crouch added. “Ali Bashir’s on the warpath. He wants a word with you about your embargo on flying carpets.”

“There’s always one.” Regulus sighed.

“It’d be a good idea if Muggles couldn’t get hold of them.” David added.

“Why can’t they just be given a Muggle-repelling Charm?” Lily asked.

“Well, because …” David trailed off. “Actually, Lily, that’s a very good question.”

“Because they wear off too regularly and you need Ministry approval to cast them.” Regulus answered. “Mother had to apply for new permission to cover Grimmauld Place.”

“Do we have Ministry approval?” Hermione asked curiously.

“No.” Sirius answered. “But then, as far as the Ministry are concerned, the place doesn’t exist anymore.”

Arthur sighed heavily. “I sent him an owl about that just last week! If I’ve told him once, I’ve told him a hundred times: carpets are defined as a Muggle Artefact by the Registry of Proscribed Charmable Objects, but will he listen?”

“I doubt it.” Crouch took the cup from Percy. “He’s desperate to import here.”

“Well, they’ll never replace brooms in Britain, will they?” Bagman asked.

“No.” James and Sirius answered.

“Ali thinks there’s a niche in the market for a family vehicle.” Crouch explained.

“Well … that’s true.” David conceded. “But most people floo everywhere or take the Knight Bus.”

“I remember that my grandfather had an Axminster that could seat twelve – but that was before carpets were banned of course.” He added sharply, as though not wanting leave anybody in any doubt that his family had always abided strictly by the rules.

“His son says that.” Alice commented.

Harry nearly choked. “Really?”
Alice nodded. “Yeah, he’s a few years below us, Hufflepuff. I tutor him in Herbology sometimes.”

Neville seemed ready to have a heart attack, but he hid it well.

“So, been keeping busy, Barty?” Bagman asked breezily.

“Fairly.” Crouch answered dryly.

Sirius snorted. “Who knew he had a sense of humour?”

Addie squeezed his hand to get his attention. He glanced at her and she raised an eyebrow, silently asking permission. He nodded slightly and she concentrated, his voice floating into her head. “He was the one who sent me to Azkaban – without trial.”

Addie gasped. “Bastard! You know what – that’s too kind – it’s an insult to all the others. I could … why that …”

“Calm down.” Sirius soothed, tweaking her hair gently. “I think you’re scaring people.”

“What did he do?” Addie whispered.

Her future counterpart shook her head grimly. “Don’t ask.”

“Organising Portkeys across five continents is no mean feat, Ludo.”

“I suppose you’ll both be glad when this is over?” Arthur offered.

“Glad?” Bagman repeated incredulously. “Don’t know when I’ve had more fun! Still it’s not as though we haven’t got anything to look forward to, eh, Barty? Eh? Plenty left to organise, eh?”

James raised an eyebrow. “Think that’s the Top Secret event that Percy was on about?”

Hermione glanced at Harry, Ron and Ginny; the latter shrugged in confusion.

“We agreed not to make the announcement until all the details …”

“Oh, details!” Bagman interrupted, dismissing the word easily. “They’ve all signed, haven’t they? They’ve agreed, haven’t they? I bet you anything these kids’ll know soon enough. I mean, it’s happening at Hogwarts …”

Jen looked thoughtful. “So it’s something to do with Hogwarts that involves Magical Games and Sports and International Cooperation. Any ideas?”

“Only one.” David frowned. “But that can’t be it – it’s been banned for over a century.”

“Ludo, we need to meet the Bulgarians, you know.” Crouch cut him off sharply …

“Well, whatever it is, Crouch doesn’t want it getting out yet.” Sirius commented.

… handing his un-drunk tea back to Percy. “Thank you for the tea, Weatherby.”

Bagman struggled to his feet, swigging down the last of his tea, the gold in his pockets clinking merrily. “See you all later! You’ll be up in the Top Box with me; I’m commentating!” He waved, Crouch nodded curtly and the two wizards disapparated.

“What’s happening at Hogwarts, Dad?” Fred asked at once. “What’s happening?”

“They’re not going to tell you.” Remus predicted.

Arthur smiled mysteriously. “You’ll find out soon enough.”

“It’s classified information, until such time as the Ministry decides to release it.” Percy added stiffly. “Mr. Crouch was quite right not to disclose it.”

George groaned. “Oh, shut up, Weatherby.”

There were a few snickers as Fred grinned in remembrance. “He beat me to it.” He said ruefully. “Right, who’s next?”